Truth Be Told

Title: Truth Be Told
Time Period: June 15, A.E. 135
Characters Appearing:

Summary: No one knows what's going on with Duncan and Luna, so everyone claims they do.

"I can't believe that Miss Owens is actually gone. Mister Duncan had me put the sheets over the furniture this morning."

"Truth be told, I didn't think she'd ever leave."

"Oh, you didn't hear? Apparently the Miss didn't want to leave. Mister Duncan had to drag her by the arm and put her on the boat himself. She didn't come back up on deck to say goodbye either. I heard that he'd had her tied and gave orders not to set her loose until the ship was well away from Dornie."

"You think that's why he sent all those militia along? To make sure she don't come back?"

"Naw, if he didn't want her back he wouldn'a sent Hossfeld and Wartooth along. She'll be back, mark me, then she'll be worse than before."

Trunks filled to the brink of overflowing drive ahead of the small procession toward the docks. Luna's chin is lifted high in pride as they pass by pedestrians, hands curled over the horn of Duncan's saddle, clinging so tightly her knuckles have turned white. Something is different about her though, instead of the smiles and waves of goodbye that are expected there are tear stains on her cheeks.

"Duncan, I'm scared," she murmurs, too quiet for the onlookers to hear. "What if Mister Fogg is right? What if I never come back?"

One hand is on the reigns, the other secures her. These are the last moments, then. He knows it, and she knows it as well, since she speaks it. Duncan would like to think himself as a man who favors truth, but lots of people like to think lots of things about themselves, and truth has no necessary involvement.

"Then I will be a hundred kinds of cross, and a thousand kinds of sorrowful. So you'd best return, for you'd be unkind not to."

She leans back against him, needing the comfort that his steady breath and strong heartbeat give her. Cold fingers, clammy from nerves, intertwine with the ones holding her close. "Promise me that if I'm lost you'll come find me." It's a rather large request and she knows it. "Beisdean said that he would look for me, if I die he'll know and send word. Don't bother then, but if I don't come back, find me and bring me home."

Turning her head to catch a glimpse of the militia man's profile, she sniffles, trying to stop yet another onset of tears. "You know that if I could, nothing would keep me from returning. If I can't, I'll need you."

That Duncan pauses before answering must be read as a sign of his seriousness. It is not that he hesitates to make oaths, it is that oaths can never be made lightly.

"Aye, I promise," he says, at a little length "And I'll be kept to it, too, if only by the fear that if I did not, you'd fight your way back just to revenge yourself upon me for a faithless oaf."

As they come upon the boat and Duncan halts the horse, Luna goes rigid. Rather than sliding down to the ground, she suddenly grips hard to the saddle and clenches the beast tightly with her legs. Unbidden, large tears make a slow trickle down her cheeks and drop from the point of her chin. All of her excitement for adventure has flown away and what she's left with is the strangling choke of terror.

"I can't," she squeaks, refusing to let loose her hold. "Please don't make me go, keep me here, please Duncan. I'm going to die, I'm nowhere near ready for such a thing. I'm weak, I can't lead your men."

At first, Duncan says nothing at all. He simply folds his arms around her in an encompassing embrace, and - placing kisses upon her head - murmurs soothings. He tends to the specters of fear at the place of the fear itself, the dread shape that the world casts into the shadow theater of the mind.

Of course that won't suffice. Not in the long run, not now.

"You will," Duncan says, "because you will."

"And what if I don't?" Luna's challenge comes through sounding weak and interrupted by hiccups born from terror. "What if I fail at this as well, wouldn't it simply be better to keep me here? Safe and unscathed?" Looking down at the crowd already gathered, she scans for faces more familiar to her. "My nearest and dearest aren't here to wish me well. Even Constance hasn't come to see me off, I can't go without saying goodbye to her."

Finally the grip on the saddle is released, only to find Duncan's forearm to pry it away from her body. "You can turn the horse around, take me back to the castle. I'll feel much better for the journey if I can tell everyone goodbye."

Under the shadow of the ship masts, they've come too far. "You'll nae walk out those doors with true purpose again," Duncan answers, "this I know. Don't make me urge you from me - I don't want to find if I've the strength. Go, lass- 'tis a moment of proof.

"Don't bother with farewells. Save room for the greetings you'll need when you return."

With a little help from Duncan to descend gracefully, Luna's heels alight on the ground, the rest of her wavering a moment as she finds her footing. Her hands find his and she holds them for a long while as she searches his face. Whatever she might be looking for, she must find it because the lines of worry disappear and the tears dry from her eyes.

"You'll always be the stronger one, my Duncan, I don't think I could stand to send you away like this." It's not said with any malice, in fact it's the opposite, there's a measure of admiration in her words. "Wait for me and stay true. Don't visit the Dove while I'm gone and I promise that I will come back to you."

Letting him loose, she gathers her dress in her hands and makes for the plank. If she was going to bother with a farewell before, his persuading has quelled the urge.

No- not like this. Duncan has proved too persuasive. In half an instant, he dismounts, striding after Luna and promptly takes her hand in his, drawing up beside her. It doesn't lead into an embrace or a deferral - he matches her steps with his own until they arrive at the plank. He turns to her, lifting her fingers to his lips, kissing her knuckles.

"Your ship, my lady," he says, low, his eyes on hers, "safe travels until your return."

“Well I hope she’s not worse behavin’, I can’t understand why Mister Duncan puts up with all them shenanigans. Did you know she was beratin’ the upstairs maid for hanging some of her laundry with the rest of ours? Like she’s any better than the scullery maids, she works for the Mister same as any of us.”

“Until he puts a baby in her belly. Then she’ll be sent home or back to the Dove, I expect.”

“That won’t happen, I hear she’s as barren as a desert plain. With the way they’s been carrying on since she moved to the castle, she should’ve been with child months ago.”

“Ain’t that the truth! Seems they can’t even walk past each other in the corridor without one of them starting the chase. I’m surprised he let her go on this fool’s errand at all, if you’re right about Wartooth and Hossfeld. What do you think he’s playing at?”

“Might be trying to make people forget what she is, nothing but a common whore…”

The afternoon sun puts a yellow glow on nearly everything in the tower room. Specs of dust and fat wisps of pollen float through the air mingling with the sounds of tired breathing and soft sighs of satisfaction. On the floor, clothing lays scattered from the door to the foot of the four poster bed, it's dark wood polished to a shine that reflects on the stone walls. There was no time for sheets or blankets.

Luna's fingers massage through Duncan's hair, looking down the contours of his body as he rests against hers. His head on her shoulder, she curls her wrist to cradle it as she kisses his crown. "What in heaven's name are you doing there?" she smiles, squirming slightly under his touch, "it tickles."

Nothing scandalous, assuredly. Nothing beyond tasteful, artistically sensible forbearance. Luna's elegant midriff, marked with a winedark scatter of marks above the gentle yawn of her navel is surely a thing worthy of immortal mimicry. His hand rests upon this sublimely aesthetic plane.

This miracle of God's hand is, however, marked by man's handiwork. Duncan's thumb touches against the strange, hooked wooden piercing that mars the smooth course of her stomach. A grim little wooden skull looks back at him, askance.

"Truth be told, lass-" Duncan says, his inflection as careless as it is put on, "when I've even thought to ask, I've nae dared."

Silence answers the question that Duncan still hasn't asked, almost as if Luna didn't quite understand what he's getting at. Her stomach, his fingers on the ring, it dawns on her as she lifts her head from the pillow and looks down at the soldier's fingertips playing with the bead.

"That?" The smile is still in her voice and on her face. "It's one of Fletcher's charms, the first one he ever gave me." Moving her hand over his, she laces her fingers through his in and attempt to remove the attention from the ugly little thing. "It— If I'm wearing it, I'll not get pregnant." But she never takes it off.

"Does the look of it bother you?"

A clear enough answer. Duncan considers the little wooden skull with new knowing. It's meaning, obscure before, becomes clear. When he touches it again, it's not quite what he felt before.

"You deserve deathless metal and shining jewels," is his verdict, delivered with the utter opposite of his previous diction. His head turns, to look up at her, eye to eye.

"You don't want a child then?" Not that he is saying he does - but she wears this on her own initiative, not at his behest.

Luna's eyebrows knit together and the smile wanes to nothing. She stares at him, unblinking, for a long while until her own resolve breaks and she looks toward the window with a new smile, a false one, on her lips. "What babe would ever want Luna Owens as a ma?" Skillfully evading his question with another. "I haven't thought of children since Fletcher put the ring in, I've had no need to worry. When I did, I thought of other women from the Dovetail. I've seen some of their children, and watched how they grow up. If I'm ever sent back there, I couldn't bring a child with me."

Inching down the mattress, she stops when she's more at his eye level. Her smile turns more genuine after she gives him a quick peck on the lips. "But if you're offering jewels, Duncan, I'll gladly take them."

However great the gender divide that spans between them, Duncan is not blind or ignorant. The change in her tone, her temperament - he's a little too familiar with her at this point not to know her tells.

"You don't want my bastards," Duncan says, "your children deserve better."

He lifts his head, leaning down to place a kiss high on her stomach.

"You would make a radiant mother."

Her smile widens at the compliment, basking in it like a cat in a sunbeam. "You think I would? I'd be all swollen and fat, like every other woman expecting a babe." It's not something Luna dwells on for long though, cupping his cheeks with her hands, she draws him in for another kiss. "We've got the charm, so you've no need to worry either, aye? You'll not be fathering any children today."

Their lips graze, then touch lightly. Then she pulls back to look him in the eye, one brow arcing high on her forehead. "What is this deathless metal you're on about? Do you think my little charm is like death?"

"I've fathered three children," Duncan reminds Luna, an unashamed proof of his virility; he shifts to one side, leaning upon an elbow so as to retain his vantage over her. He brushes a stray strand back from her pale forehead. "Motherhood made Leah no less beautiful."

It is strange for him to speak of his wife at all. Is it stranger still that he speaks of her now? It's fondly, but in so being, it's not mournful. It doesn't lessen his presence or warmth. He finds Luna's eyes.

"Nae- more that it's like living, as we're living." Which while not a life, per se, ought to count for something.

"Aye, you have," Luna's tone is a little dull in saying it, a feeble attempt to hide the jealousy she harbors toward the dead woman.. She doesn't shrink from his gaze but hers does drift lazily as she draws invisible patterns on his chest with her fingertips. "But that was some years ago, wasn't it? Love has a way of blinding young fools. Your vision might've gone a bit off." A coy grin makes its home on her lips as she looks up at him. "And your memory might be a bit spotty, because you were younger then and you're so much older now."

Her hands make quick work to protect herself from whatever retaliation he might have in might with a light push against his chest. Then they slide up to gently tug on his shoulders to bring him closer.

"No. I know it is true. The truth of what I felt," Duncan says, and though he doesn't match her dullness, he makes up for it in unexpected gravitas, "I do not love idly."

She brings them together. He takes her in his arms, holds her, but that gravity remains.

"You should know this." Meaning, more specifically: you should know this by now.

"Because you love me?" The question itself is host to some disbelief, after all, who could love a whore. Especially when the recipient of the question is of such noble blood. "That's how I should know?"

After all that he's already done for her, Luna shouldn't really doubt it.


"Give me proof in action, Duncan," she whispers, caressing his cheek with her fingertips. Her nose grazes against the side of his but she doesn't let her lips connect, instead she bites at the air between them. "Proof in action, then proof in word when I'm worn to exhaustion."

Asked so pointedly, who is Duncan to refuse?

"The most curious thing, I heard, from Penny at the castle laundry. Said she had a whole set of fancies dresses arrive for washing, all smelling of gunpowder. Miss Owens’ dresses!"

"Can't be! Can it?"

"I wouldn't doubt it. Won't say where I heard it- but the way I have it is- he's been taking her down to the plots near the barracks, to the range and all."

"What, so she can watch him shoot? Men…"

"Nay, so she can learn to shoot"

"Not so! Is it?"

"I believe it! He's already had her down there before, riding- and I'll wager it wasn't sidesaddle."

"What's Lord Rowntree's youngest up to? Does he aim to raise a whole whore cavalry?"

"The first mounted strumpet brigade? Saints preserve us."

"I don't think that's what's meant by 'love conquers all'."

It's not a defect in her eye. It wasn't long at all before she was hitting her targets. And he was complimentary and encouraging - but his enthusiasm was muted by some reserve. She was, indeed, a fast enough learner - but marksmanship is one thing.

Her next shot causes the wood slat to break nearly in half. A fine hit. Smoke curls from the end of the rifle's barrel, and he doesn't even need to help her reload. But still, there's a shadow on his brow.

And then he asks: "Do you like to curse, darling?"

Curiosity meets him, enough to kill all the strays in Dornie. "Curse? I can curse, I have cursed." Whether Luna likes to, well that's another matter entirely.

Sliding the bolt, she expels the spent cartridge and proceeds to jam another into the chamber. It's a wise thing not to trust her with more than one bullet at a time. Not that her anger is ever unleashed on Duncan, but he has men around. Men prone to whistling and lewdness. Of course none would dare in Duncan's presence but the few times she's been out without him, there have been whistles. Unappreciated whistles.

"But I haven't liked to curse since I was a girl,” the butt of the rifle is placed to her shoulder as she aims at her target again. And down again as she glances over her shoulder at him. “A few mouthfuls of soap cured me of any desire, why do you ask?"

He once favored having his hands on her, firmly managing her motions, feeling the way her slight frame received the kickback from the weapon - a teacher’s touch. Now when he touches her, it is as much for touching’s own sake - and thus he touches her lightly, because they are here to shoot, because that slight frame and all its beauty will profit him nothing if it joins the dust in Liverpool. A hand at her waist, another testing the angle of her shoulder, he examines her form in a mostly instructorial mode.

“Yet you don’t now wince when you hear a curse-” Duncan conjectures, “unless it is an uncommonly vicious oath, striking a weakness unexpectedly, or shocking something held sacred-”

His voice lowers, a smile twisting his lips. “Or if it excites some other unbidden feeling- as when a lover promises some pleasure with an unexpectedly unalloyed expression.”

"Have you forgotten so quickly, my Duncan," she smiles, leaning slightly into the hand at her waist, "that I lived too long at the Dovetail to allow such things to betray my feelings?"

The barrel of the rifle is lowered toward the ground and held out to the side as she makes a half turn toward him. There's a slight flush to her cheeks, obviously in remembrance of the most recent of one of those lover's expressions. Her grin turns a bit shy after stealing a peck from his cheek. "And why is it that you're asking about it now? Is my next lesson going to be in making sailors blush and making grandmothers turn in their graves?" Hers is still alive, but she's fairly sure his isn't.

With so direct a question, a direct answer is surely what Luna deserves. Duncan catches her eyes, making sure she is ready to hear and understand, and then explains:

"When we curse, we know a conversation has ceased to be polite- one is getting to the heart of the matter, in a sense. When we use weapons, fire shots, it tells us much the same thing; coaxing words and ways failing, we've turned to harm.

"Most people of gentle birth and rearing cannot keep their heads in a heated argument - less still in a firefight. For a gunshot is an obscenity. To an innocent ear, it is shocking. It should be.

"But both are indispensable, and both best serve neither she who quavers and hides, nor he who rages wildly; the latter may seem more fearsome than the former, either casting forth a torrent of invectives or firing a hail of bullets, but both are, in truth, victims of fear.”

Duncan is never found without a sidearm outside the castle walls. Without warning he draws his pistol, firing three rounds into one of the wooden slats. It cracks, splits, then shatters. Duncan’s face remains impassive the entire time, showing no reaction to the deafening peals of the weapon, which can be no softer to him than to her.

Once the reports dissipate into the morning air, he holsters his weapons, eyes returning to Luna.

"You must learn to shoot as you curse, and to hear gunshots as you would common bawdry - you must not flinch even when you are their target. They can only harm you it they hit home; if you aim best and first, you will leave your enemy wordless as the grave."

But the loud burst of a bullet isn’t the same as hearing a rowdy customer use colorful language.

Unintentionally, Luna flinches each time Duncan’s firearm goes off. When the slat shatters and his eyes turn toward her, her lips twitch. Her eyes betray the same fear they held when he first laid hands on her in the parlor of the Dovetail and though she is trying to mask it with a smile, it’s turning up null.

“I suppose you mean that I should learn to shoot better than I curse or act as I would at the Dovetail.” Not exactly as she would at the brothel, but the assumption is there that the soldier knows her meaning. She nods toward the pistol recently stowed and takes a shaky breath inward. “Do it again. And again. And one more time after it’s become second nature to hear it.


She needn’t hide her fear. Hidden fear is buried fear, and buried fear will always shift the ground beneath you, making misstep when you most need firm footing. Fear is like a flood- you don’t conquer floods, don’t hold them back. You wait them out, keeping your head above water. And between calamities, the wise practice holding their breath.

Duncan takes out his pistol, and aims it down range. But he doesn’t yet fire. Instead he nods at Luna’s own weapon, hanging by her side. She’s to take aim as he does, fire alongside him, mimicking the layered cacophony of a firefight.

“Together,” he says, “until clamor becomes silence.” One way or another.