The Continuing Series

Title: The Continuing Series
Time Period: April 12, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Duncan pays a steep price for his own peace of mind and Luna's cooperation.

Days have turned into more than a week since Luna's invitation to Duncan made him her favored client. His schedule busy, as it always is, has only allowed two days at most that he's been able to free enough time for more visits. Each time he's been turned away by one of the other girls, not allowed further up the stairs but offered consolation by way of one of the other rooms. Luna is ill, the explanation simple, she hasn't come down and wishes no visitors.

It's a measure of respect for his mistress that gave her the peace and quiet she desired but when the third attempt came, he wasn't turned away. Luna is still claiming to be sick, he's told by one of the older women, but her business is her own to cull if she wishes. So he's allowed past the last door and up the stairs to the attic, where the door is locked as it always is, but he has a key.

Dark inside, she's curled into his chair, shivering and eyes closed. It would seem that sleep has her in its grips except for the lazy slits that appear when an unfortunate creak of the floorboards allows her to see boots coming near. She doesn't look up all the way, instead her eyelashes fan downward to close again. She's too pale, the color of a fish belly, and when she tries to stand to greet her guest, it's a small struggle that's given up a few seconds in.

"Please go away," the blonde croaks through parched lips, "I don't want you to see me like this."

At first Duncan suspected a game, another coquette’s ploy meant to incite him to further ardor. He considers himself above such persuasions, but he took no offense; with patient patronage he accepted Luna’s desire to augment her value through rarity, even now - especially now, that he has shared fullness of her company. She seeks, he reasons, to remind him how easily what she now shares can be withdrawn. Very well, let her insist on this point. He’s no ravager.

He is, however, something of a presumer, and when he finally is let past the gatekeepers and up into Luna’s room, he enters with a half smile prepared, and chiding ready to be let loose from sling of his tongue. What is her sickness, he might say, compared to his own pining after her? Such flatteries have served him well so far.

But then he sees her, and she cannot even stand. The smile fades, and he is quickly disarmed, disillusioned. No ploy, this, unless Luna possesses by nature, an actress supreme, those qualities his daughter aspires to.

He disregards her request. He draws closer, not further away.

“I don’t wish to see you so,” Duncan affirms, “but more than that wish, I wish to see you.”

So now he sits upon the edge of the bed, across from where Luna sits, and reaches out to feel her forehead with the back of his fingers. She looks cold, but she may be burning.

“Saint Luke…” he breathes, a rare moment of religious expression, “how long?” Has she been so ill, is what he means.

A hand, bound at the wrist by a leather cord, rises to brush long bangs from her face at the same time, brushing Duncan's fingers with ones that feel as cold as ice. Luna's forehead is cool but clammy, possibly a side effect from lingering withdrawal. The rest of her turns slightly away from him, covering a thin nightshirt, worn too many days, with an afghan. The hand tucks back in under the blanket and entwined in a fistful of wool. The bead pressed against her pulse feels just as cold as the rest of her, creating a desire to have it off but that desire is not strong enough to will the other hand to work at the knot that keeps it on.

"I don't recall," she answers, opening her eyes again to meet his. Usually they're bright and filled with whatever excitement she's had in the day but today they're dull and dark. "I've not had any medicine," is no explanation of the ailment, "and I weathered the pain, but I feel so weak now.”

Sickness has a way of dissolving all time into an limitless twilight, a state of crepuscular stasis where the usual demarcations of sleeping and waking give way to a ceaseless ebb and flow of consciousness. Duncan knows this as every child who has suffered sickness and survived it knows it. Sickness is a liminal state, between proper living, and death.

And she is so cold. Like death. Duncan’s chest tightens, as it never does when he sends men forth with a flash of powder and a flower of blood.

“I am witness to your bravery,” Duncan says, for she does this without resort to drugs, a temptation that must be many-fold greater for her, “as to your beauty, your grace.”

He kisses her forehead.

“I’ll be witness to your recovery, too. Your health, and the color that will return to your cheeks.”

“You’re no nursemaid,” she whispers back, a smile appearing thin and cracked on her lips, “I’d think you’d be much too busy with keeping the town in order to bother with the likes of me.” Even though she’s been the one refusing to see him, not the other way around.

The air in the room is stale, filled with heat from the floors below and whatever thing’s been ailing her. It’s familiar, this sickness, chillingly so, but something that’s been hitting the poorer areas of Dornie, never in the more well to do areas. Despite any reservations one might have about the wares of the Dovetail, its residents do fairly well compared to most. Its decoration can attest to it and not just the human variety with their fancy clothing and greasy makeup.

A tired glance toward the doorway leads to her dark blue eyes drifting to meet his for a moment. Then they drop to the floor, as though she wishes to say something but is too bashful or embarrassed to continue, but he’s already attested to the bravery that has them lifting again. Her eyebrows, ever expressive, curl up at the inner edges in question and she parts her lips before taking in a breath that seems to take all of her energy.

“I haven’t had a bath in days,” quite an admission from a woman who is as meticulous about personal hygiene as the man sitting across from her. “Could I bother you to fetch me some hot water and a cloth? Just so I can feel a bit cleaner and more human.” And in better quality to visit with him.

Duncan gives a soft huff of laughter. She’s right, he’s no nursemaid, and though it was she that blocked his entry, it’s also true that he’s oft times occupied, elsewhere. “I will bother, or be bothered,” he says, speaking his worry should he not know how she fares, “but there are better hands than these for healing.” Those of his brother’s warbride, for example.

Whom he could afford to send Luna’s way, he supposes. Duncan is hesitant to purposefully involve Aislinn, whose bleeding heart tends to leave a mess he has to mop up, but this irritation is itself a symptom of her cleverness and compassion, both of which might well serve Luna. And Luna’s own good opinion of him might serve to influence Aislinn in turn, make it harder for her to conceive of him solely as a brute, solely as ‘Donaugh’ or whatever it is she dubs him when she seems to disapprove.

Such pragmatism, such political thinking, in this of all situations.

“That,” Duncan says, in reply to Luna’s request, “is no bother at all.”

And so he rises, to make arrangements for the lady.

"There's more nightshirts in the wardrobe," she adds, half expecting him to comply to that need as well. After all, a clean body is no good without clean clothing to put over it.

The wardrobe itself is overstuffed with gowns and laces, some of which he has seen while in her company, some on other occasions. All but the nightshirts themselves are rich in color and composition, the nightwear is completely the opposite. Made with material that's nearly see through, they're folded neatly in a pile beside a basket of underthings. As Duncan filters through the clothing, Luna lifts herself to watch which of them he chooses.

"The one with the drawstring at the neck is my favorite," the one she was wearing the night he interrupted her former client. She seems a little cheerier with the prospect of a long needed bath and change.

With Luna so sick, Duncan’s encounter with the sheer fabric of the nightshirts is more contemplative than anything else. His fingers run against the material, brushing like against like as he thinks upon ladies and their things, ladies in their underthings, but without the avidity of an adolescent or the abandon of a swain. The plucks the one in question - he knows it’s familiar, but can’t quite recall just how and why - and bears it over to Luna, holding it in a falling wave across the span of his hands.

“You won’t be too cold,” he asks, examining her pallor, the flimsy shirt, “coming out the bath?”

She can’t help but crack another smile at the question and shakes her head in answer. Reaching for the shirt, she folds it over her arm and lets it hang there for the time being. “I shouldn’t be,” she says shortly afterward. “I should be hot from the water and then I’ll have you to warm me until you need to leave, aye?” It’s a hope that he’d want to stay, despite the fact that she’s too under the weather to entertain him in the usual fashion of the Dovetail.

“And there’s the fire, of course,” Luna adds as an afterthought. “It should be enough, I think, to keep me well until the morning. You will stay as long as you can tonight? Not the whole night, you have a family to consider, but at least until I fall asleep?”

“‘Til then,” Duncan agrees, nodding.

If the usual attractions of the Dovetail were all Duncan sought, he’d not be in Luna’s room. Something other is what brings him here, keeps him here. Though not a nursemaid, he is a protector, or fancies himself such; it is a better name for what he is - and what he does - than others promulgated on testy tongues with bitter breath.

“The better I soothe, the sooner you sleep,” Duncan observes, “and the sooner I leave you. So if I truly longed to linger, I’d be best served in keeping you up.”

Luna's bath, as it turns out, is a complex mess of powders, perfumes, and ritual. The ones enjoyed by Duncan an her other clients are a far simpler affair than the ones she treats herself. It’s over an hour before he's finished helping her with undressing, washing, and drying. Wrapped up in towels and a long robe, they make their way back to her room. For some reason it pleases her that both he and she are smelling as sweet as a field of spring roses. She is feeling and acting more like herself than the sickly creature he came in on.

The milky color of the water prevented him from seeing them before but after her hair is brushed straight, slick down her back, and the robe is slipped off, they are there. Through the glass of the mirror, Luna stares at Duncan, worried as her fingers spider along her skin. Two puncture marks on her lower back, off to the side near her hip are lightly touched upon before being pulled away. “I don’t know where they came from,” she says quietly as the favored night shirt is slipped over her arms and head. Glancing over her shoulder at the protector, her eyes raise to meet his. “Or when, I don’t remember a pain there.” Just everywhere else, a side effect of her withdrawal.

This is a private ritual, a for-herself instead of for-someone-else, and it's a palliative for both of them, she in the doing, he in the witnessing. Duncan has been with enough paid women to have a widower's hunger for those lapses and revelations of comfort and privacy, the honest instants of intimacy.

Another sort of lapse is the glimpse of those twin wounds, but this brings no comfort. Duncan advances, reaching out to make a small shadow of her hand with his own, as he assesses the punctures up close. His brow clouds over.

"When did you take notice?"

“Just now,” she intones as she slips one arm into her night shirt and then ducks her head through the hole at the neck. It’s a little backward but Luna is quite reluctant to break off tactile contact with Duncan. Finally, her fingers brush against his as she retreats and pokes her hand into the final arm of the clothing. A moment later the wounds are out of sight, if not out of mind.

Turning her head, she stares at the bed for a long while. Unwilling to climb into it because of the prison it represents. She’s spent too long laying in what used to be its comforts, now she only has sores. “Did you bring me any new books? I’ve run out of things to read, I think I have the tourist guide memorized already. If I was caught in the time before, I’d make a regular living at ferrying people back and forth between places.”

With his daughter bitten to the bone not so long ago, Duncan is reluctant to let things lie like that. A discovery like this, he judges, warrants more than passing comment. He lets her retreat in body, but as to the topic of discussion, he gives chase.

"Don't make light of it, Luna," he says, then - not a plea or a request, but an directive - "you'll see a healer."

Though he knows better than to use force alone. "Do that, and I'll suss out some series, bring it to you volume by volume." Getting consecutive texts can be difficult, so this is not a mean order.

Luna's eyebrows draw down and her lips twist into a grimace. "But I'm getting better, the pain is all but gone. Aislinn's been by… She has but I was getting better." Despite her protests, it's quite clear that if she did have a turn for the better, it was fleeting.

But she doesn't argue for long. With the promise of a whole series, Luna nods once and swallows any tears she might have at the implication that her better is really worse. "I want Nancy Drew," she says with a bit of a pout, knowing full well that it's an enormous price to pay. "I read fifty-six when I was a wee lass, I wish I could find out what happened in one through fifty-five."

"I'll put my best man on it," Duncan pledges, all sardonicism retained within the confines of his own mind, a product of his own tilted perspective. He moves behind the chair, taking it by the back and offering it to her. An alternative to being bedridden.