One Evening at Darkenhold

One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Mon Sep 02, 2019 9:02 am

Evening is upon this place at last.

The day had been devoid of cloud cover and the sun brought its late summer heat down upon the landscape. The barest breeze stirred among the trees sometimes, fluttering leaves and swaying grasses, but otherwise it had been still and somewhat oppressive. Darkenhold’s residents had finished their work outside before the temperature rose and then sought the cool corridors of the keep to wait out the day in peace.

And here as evening finally approaches, clouds that had begun forming over the mountains drift in and loom massively overhead, with the coral colors of sunset painting their rain-wisped underbellies with shocking hues. The temperature has fallen, but the land still harbors its heat; there will be mists come cold morning.

Since his return, after the retirement of all pressing foreign affairs that long kept him from home, the architect has undertaken a process of interacting with this place, and with neighboring Aithne, his own estate. Whether by horseback or on foot, he traveled the landscape, exploring familiar ground and taking inventory of any and all changes that differ from his memory of goings-on. The condition of the keep’s interior, as well as its entire grounds inside the curtain wall and out — gardens, orchards, fields, pastures, meadows, the groves, and most importantly the people who live here.

This evening, and having no issue with the possibility of oncoming darkness, there being these eyes that do not require light to see, the man walks the pastures well beyond the majestic black walls and towers of Darkenhold itself. There is a remarkable quietness here these days, a kind of calm generally available here, but decreasing the nearer to Myrkentown one might go — in the past, at least. It appears the region enjoys a period of mundanity without imposing threat; a calm between storms. He is aware of it but chooses not to trouble all of their good fortune by musing on what hazards the future brings.

No, the mind is clear of thought here during intentional wandering, focusing only on observation and nothing else. But wandering is perhaps too loose a word for what he does, for though his pace is unhurried he has purpose for being here. A narrow and unobtrusive waterway was constructed to supply the fortress and it is this he inspects, following its minimal footprint along the perimeter of the pastureland toward the trees.

Is it possible to design a ditch system to be elegant? If this is any indication, then yes. The stonework is pale, creating a deep v-shaped channel down which this glittering mountain water runs clear and cold and brightly-hued under the radiance of the setting sun. Along the top of masonry on both sides of the channel, beautifully sculpted capstones arch outward, smooth and rounded. As he walks along its line, he searches for signs of stress in the stones themselves, looking for cracking in the blocks and weakness in the mortar. Occasionally, he fetches a small branch out of the water, or some other minor obstruction, jacket sleeves folded back to allow for reaching in.

At the tree line the channel continues on, no longer open to the air, but covered over by arched masonry to prevent the intrusion and transport of debris that would invariably clog the screens of the reservoir beneath the keep. Intermittent portals allow access to the duct in the event maintenance is required. At one of these portals, the architect pauses to dust leaves and tree litter from the hatch, then grips its steel bolt and slides it back to heave the hatch open that he might lean and look inside, filtering the shadows and confines with sensitive eyes and equally sensitive hearing. The echo of the water comes to him constrained by the arched canopy and he listens for drag in the water, a sign something is caught up inside, washed down from higher up the terrain. Hearing nothing but normalcy, he closes the hatch and bolts it.

While he is stopped, he turns to face the pastures still visible beyond the trees and he takes time in this relative silence — not true silence, for the forest is alive with activity — and observes the colors of the fading day, the mighty clouds high above, and both feels and hears the stirrings of a welcome breeze folding down through the canopies, pushing leaves into one great cumulative voice; the song of the forest itself. A melody he lends himself to with stillness of thought and body.
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Mon Sep 02, 2019 11:01 am

It was still a touch too warm for her cloak, but judging by the clouds, it mightn't stay that way after the sun went down. Hastily she turned her pouch inside out, all the accumulated junk dumped on a chair's seat so that she could cram in a handful of letters, since it never hurt to be able to back up one's claims, as well as a pot of rose-petal jam since one did not go empty-handed to these things, though she hoped it didn't make the letters sticky. Pouch on one hip, dagger on the other. Though she’d done her best to tame her hair with sweet oil and a comb and myriad threats, within the space of an hour it had bloomed back into its usual willful, flaming gorse-bush, but you learned to live with it. Just as she started for the steps, she hesitated a moment, then turned back, took her bow off its pegs, strung it, and slung it across her back.

When she climbed up into the late afternoon light, the sun still glittered on the lake, but the willow shadows had already elongated, sharp and black, practically to her feet. Lugh-sun was on the wane. Next week, there'd be stars in the east at this hour.

"Goin' hunting?" Benedict asked.

She shrugged. "I might do."

But he saw her pause and break an arrow in two, then stoop to prop both halves against an elm before she rose again, silently, and vanished into the shadows. Forest-truce.

* * *


By the time she arrived the forest was silvery-black and alive with sound, buzzing and hissing, the crunch of leaves beneath unknown paws, branches creaking, rattling insect wings, a delightful cacophony. It would have been a lovely night for running if she hadn't had business. She herself moved silently, the hem of the red cloak lapping around her ankles like a rose-red sea and her bow patting her right shoulderblade, keeping time.

Ahead, the darkness thinned. A glimmer of sunset gold yet remained, though partially obscured by the harsh black silhouette of the curtain wall.

She found herself halting in spite of herself, nose crinkling. It smelled of smoke, of course. And fresh-turned earth. And tultharian. Horses and horse-dung. And, oddly, fruit. She lingered, trying to break down the varieties. Grapes and apples and...figs? and other things she could not identify.

Something scraped and clanged, iron on iron. It made her cringe in spite of herself, her teeth grinding together. Then a heavy wooden thump and another long, ominous metallic rasp, the sound of a dungeon door sliding shut. Then silence.

She found herself wondering if she oughtn't just written ahead.

Foolishness. She was already here. And she'd brought jam. If you brought jam, you were a guest, and if they did ill to a guest then anything that happened after that fell on their heads, not hers.

And there was a fellow. It would do no harm to inquire, at any rate. At worst she could honestly say she'd tried and been turned away

From the outside, it might appear that a long stretch of shadow had separated itself from the Wood's edge, approaching in long strides and resolving itself into a tall figure in a bright red hooded cloak, striding toward him. The height, the width of the shoulders, suggested a man, but the lightness of the step and the more liquid body language was that of a woman. A few steps closer to the light revealed a coil of red hair hanging over her shoulder, and by then she was practically upon him, pushing back her hood. Long ear points sprang upward, almost comically. The chancy light of the sunset shifted the very bones of her features, so that she might have any kind of face, or every kind. Only the black eyes remained fixed amid the kaleidoscopic planes—overlarge, unblinking, not a glimmer of white.

"Hallo," the woman said brightly, "I am the Queen of Fairy. A friend suggested I look for a man called Sylvius Ducks-knee here. Do you know where I might find him?"
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Mon Sep 02, 2019 3:56 pm

It may as well have been centuries, this span during which the man has stood in silence. As the sun submerges below the visible horizon, bleeding its last arc of blinding color behind a terrestrial haze, he considers that it is not the sun in motion but the very world on which he stands rooted, with its force of gravity pinning all matter in place.

In his hand, gloves are loosely held, removed earlier that he might fish into the water for debris. And though now it is useless, the line of his hat-brim styled in a rightward cant lends his features a shadow, adding to those already accumulating there after the departure of the sun. But he does not stir, not yet, listening still to the pulse of the forest; hearing the scuffle of tiny padded paws and claws, the whispers of slithering things, the scatter of flighty birds’ wings as they jockey for their roosts, the soft-edged hoot of owls, the first two hundred yards to his left, the second a mere fifty of yards behind and to the right.

Far beyond these, coyotes in a pack chatter and yowl, moving in a northerly trajectory. Ahead of him, across those fertile pastures, he listens to the quiet and distant activities of the kitchen and the stables; dishes and harnesses clinking there. Wagon wheels and shod hooves clatter across the courtyard and their sound narrows and changes as that vehicle passes through the wall’s gates, proceeding on its way back to Myrkentown.

Yet something new emerges here in this mix of sounds. So subtle, so utterly faint as to tempt his hearing further —

The whisper of fabric in motion, at distance. No footfalls, only this.

He lowers his chin somewhat, lowering his hat-brim in equal measure, and tests the breeze with a studious breath drawn through the mouth. There — a sweet taste, one he cannot quite identify. A thing of nature, yet not as its occurs in nature. Crafted.

But it is the movement that will alert him of another’s presence first; motion in approach. Thus the architect finally dislodges himself from a statuesque posture and partially turns to look into the increasing darkness of the forest. There, he spies the figure in the vibrant red cloak walking toward him, and though his posture is casual the man is alert and acquiring detail with every second that passes and every step taken. A female, tall and capable and not human.

Enough ruddy light lingers here that her cloak and coil of hair are notably saturated, according to his sensitive vision, and as she nears and presses back her hood, he observes these seemingly changeable features, the eyes without white, the long points of her ears. And not once has he moved, neither a gesture of hand, a tilt of head, nor a motion to turn fully toward her, for it is observation alone that will decide him. Suspicious, no; prepared, yes indeed.

Her brightness of voice and greeting will begin to loosen him from this stillness in degrees, but it will be her statement of purpose that fractures his reserve. Humor draws its way from one edge of his mouth to the other. Ducks-knee. That one is new. “Good evening,” he offers, with rasp and accent in the voice. Being a gentleman he reaches to pinch the crown of his hat and draws it down, letting it rest against the outer measure of his thigh. Still, green eyes continue their close watch. “You need look no further. I am he.” No effort to correct her on the pronunciation of his name. “How may I be of service?”
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Thu Sep 05, 2019 4:47 am

"Ah." Her brows arched, ever so slightly. To simply walk over and by chance introduce oneself to the objective of one's quest was not the way these things usually went. Now she felt a bit overbrazen and tongue-tied, which was not the way she usually went. She took a small step back, a polite physical distance to give herself mental space. A brown hand slipped from inside the cloak to rest over her breast, and she lowered her eyes and bowed her head to him--a simple, elegant gesture. "Well met, sir."

Her face lifted once more, eyes looking over the new stranger with acute interest and curiosity. In contrast to his stillness and careful, reserved movements, she seemed a simmering copper kettle of enthusiasm with only propriety and manners preventing her from bubbling over. Letters still retained a quality of magic to her, and that a thing in a letter really existed somewhere--that someone could describe it on a page, and then you could go there and find it yourself--had not yet ceased to delight her. If she had reservations, they were counterbalanced by boundless confidence, evidenced in the not-quite-haughty lift of her chin, the loose ease of her posture under the cloak, and a starry sparkle in the bottomless black eyes. Of course nothing bad would happen to her, and if it did, it was nothing she couldn't handle.

"I'm a friend of Glenn Burnie's." A bit watchful there, a quick flicker of her eyes to his face, just in case the man was not quite as close to Glenn as Glenn might have let on. Walking Glenn's backtrail made one wary of any craters left in his wake. "He mentioned you to me, and as we are somewhat neighbors--" a hand trailed through the air, indicating the Woods over her shoulder "--I thought it best we make introduction."

The other hand emerged from the cloak, clutching a small, round, clearly hand-pinched pot of white clay. Pressed into the wax that sealed it, half a dried pink summer rose to denote the contents. "For you. A gift."
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:31 am

Her elegant gesture will be met in kind.

Though the man had stood with one boot positioned forward, with his weight channeled into the other, he moves himself to alter this formerly casual posture and face her more fully. His arm bends behind his hip that the hat still held among his fingers might be removed from view, and he bows his head and upper body in degrees in an offering of respect for her, accomplished with all the reserve and grace of a lord. “I am pleased to make the acquaintance of my neighbor,” he says after, straightening once more, “and most honored to receive your gift.

“You have me at disadvantage, I fear. I have no similar token to offer you.” Had he known, he would be far more prepared to receive her. And yet — their circumstance limits the formalities that so often bind conversations; he was intimately versed with this phenomenon. The man makes an open-handed gesture toward the graceful towers of Darkenhold, their spires bright with the last threads of sunset colors. “Would you care to visit the keep? Refreshment, perhaps.”

As the forest grows gradually more dim, the man’s focus retains its study of her, unaffected by the night’s exchange of light for shadows. Her interest is observed, alongside the simmering enthusiasm she possesses and the confidence in the lift of her chin. To be watched by the whole blackness of her eyes would surely lend discomfort to some, they being different and therefore difficult to read, yet the man does not appear intimidated. Rather, his green eyes are unswerving.

A friend of Glenn Burnie’s, she told him a moment ago. He traced the watchful flicker of her eyes when she offered the name and her association, and an honest smile emerged at the edges of his mouth; in those moments, she would not have discovered hesitation at the mention of Glenn, nor a spec of dis-ease, only a sense of openness.

“What may I call you, Lady?” he asks her, after having proposed his offer.
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Thu Sep 05, 2019 11:48 am

His greeting simultaneously bemused and delighted her. Informality if not outright hostility tended to be the general rule of Myrken, but this was nigh court-levels of formality, as if he were single-handedly making up for the overall lack. How Glenn responded to such court was a matter for future conjecture, since he'd never reacted well to hers. She tried to damp down her smile, lest her host think she was making fun, but it pricked at the corners of her lips all the same. In any case there was no keeping the amusement from her voice.

"An invitation is as good as a gift, good neighbor." It was the polite response, and had the added advantage of sincerity. "I should very much like to visit, an it be no inconvenience. I realize not all keep my hours." Her accent emerged prominently, though unconsciously, on the word hours, turning it into something one would use to row a boat. Overall it was less an accent than a cadence, a faint lilt with a gentle pressure on the vowels. She did not strive to conceal it.

Still that black curtain wall and the needle-tipped towers loomed high above them, causing her stomach to prickle with a touch of apprehension. Her gaze went upward, following his gesture. She'd never quite gotten over the idea that tall structures were fated to collapse as soon as she was standing under them; how the tultharian managed to sleep inside them was a complete mystery. Then there was the wall itself, like a circle enclosed. Walls did not always mean keeping things out.

She turned back toward him, and returned his smile easily, not a trace of inward apprehension revealed by the smooth, genial brown mask of her face--like a winsome doll with the features but painted on. "I'm called Victoria," she told him. "What manner of place is this? How long has it been here?"

Her real question went unvoiced. How did it get here? Why the middle of the Woods, tame order amid the wild? It hardly seemed the sort of thing that was built; more that an enormous hand swept down and scraped the land clean, then plopped the black fortress whole and complete on top.
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:45 am

“Very good,” he says, with a small bow of the head and a quiet smile at play. Once more, his open hand gestures — this time, it is invitation and indicates a path for them to follow. “There is no inconvenience. Many keep unusual hours here, myself among them; some prefer the night, others the day.” There is gentle pleasure in the speaking, an appreciative humor untarnished by even the barest hint of criticism. “Darkenhold hosts much variation among its residents.”

He will fall in with her on this casual walk, back along the line of the elegant water channel through the trees and eventually out into the openness of healthy pasture beyond. Yet rather than choosing the line of the duct, a retracing of his earlier path, the architect’s trajectory offers them a more direct route to the keep’s rear gate. It will take time for them to reach it, being near two-hundred yards distant from the tree line where they met.

“Victoria,” he echoes, offering the name a measure of his own accent; the old damage of his throat lends its rasp also, always. To free his hands, he restores the hat to his head, placing it in its distinctive tilt, forward on the brow and canted to the right.

Lamps have been lit outside the gates now, lamps structured of iron and diamond-paned glass, the latter having been crafted with striations of pale color so as to uniquely diffuse the brightness of the flames inside. Along the wall and beyond it in the interior, similar lamps are being lit — each one casting its rays with welcoming grace, but throwing clean shadows from the structure’s own stately lines. The architect observes this nightly ritual, reminded of the year-end tradition in his motherland: the Festival of Lights. A smile haunts the edge of his mouth.

He makes a quiet sound in his throat, a musing note, and presses his gloves into a rear pocket. “Darkenhold was raised — ah, some ten years ago and more. Its concept originated with young residents of Myrken, one of whom approached me with the request. Its purpose has been first a home to those in need and second a failsafe, some manner of defense against ever-changing potential in this place. Fortunately, we have never had occasion to fortify and it is my hope we never will.”
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:49 am

The woman made no secret of her curiosity; if anything, she was unselfconscious to the point of seeming gormless--country lass lured off the farm by city lights--as her head turned left, right, climbed straight up the walls and back down to the path again, trying to take everything in and memorize her way out, both at once. Her hands, seemingly without her control or even her knowledge, wandered on their own separate journey; in passing she pinched a berry off a bush, rolled it thoughtfully between her fingertips, then pitched it neatly into the next bush. The duct caught her interest for a long moment, and she almost narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out how it was put together and if it was any more useful than her sad little attempt that collapsed on itself the second day...but by then they had whisked past it, and she realized she had been lingering.

She quickened her step so as not to make her host wait. She was scarcely a handswidth shorter than he, and she moved long strides and fists swinging confidently at her hips. The gold bangle on her wrist flashed a metronome as it winked in and out of the lamplight.

"Residents?" Finally she managed to turn her head back, looking at him from over a shoulder. "How many live here?" An undiplomatic question--and if take awrong, even a rude one--but the first thought that came to mind was that the whole town of Myrken might conceivably be crowded into these walls if no one minded four-to-a-bed. Absently she brushed the gate's inner arch with her fingertips as if testing its strength, proving it could withstand the weight of all those imaginary townsfolk who might, as far as she knew, be congregating on the other side.

But it was too quiet for that. The stone muffled sound but it didn't have the feel of a place well-populated. So many bodies generated warmth, lent a different humidity to air others had breathed, raised a subtle vibration she could feel in her ears if she held still and held her own breath.

Within, the scattered iron accouterments made her skin prickle with cold, and her upper lip briefly curled into a silent snarl before she smoothed her expression once more. It wasn't much better or worse than most other places in Myrken. One grew used to it, or, if one could not truly grow used, then one tolerated. Her shoulders shrugged to shift the cloak over her goose-skinned arms. Not that it made any difference. The chill carried through just the same.

She took his quiet throat-clearing as an indication to pay attention, or at least to stop touching things. Obediently both hands went behind her back, left hand clutching right wrist, and she turned her bright, piercing attention to him as he spoke, her brows rising slightly. "Potential is an interesting word for it."

Then again, she was a potential potential, a turn of phrase that made her return his smile. "I hope you never need fortify it. It seems...welcoming." She considered that statement, wondering if it was mere flattery to play nice to her host, then decided it was not. A small laugh caught in her throat. "Which is not something I often say about buildings Here, so I must mean it. Glenn has...well, he and I have been speaking a little on that. Potentials for Myrken. I suppose that's why he recommended you to me."
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Fri Sep 13, 2019 7:13 am

The man would have lingered also, if this waterway was a thing she desired to examine. Perhaps another opportunity will arise, for though they have stepped beyond its pale structure and into the pasture, the channel will rejoin them nearer the wall. His pace is calm, sensitive to her interests, and he will slow or stop altogether if she indicates something has caught her eye.

As the bright colors of sunset deepen and fade toward blues and purples, and as the light overall continues to fade, the heat of the day slips slowly away also. This is late summer, nearly autumn, and when the sun disappears for the night, the temperatures will creep slowly downward. If they linger long out of doors, he might wish for one of his coats. “There are at present twenty-seven people in residence here. By this I mean they live here and nowhere else, but there are another forty that come and go, living here or elsewhere part of the week. Some come from town to work and then return; some come from the farms and then return.” He looks at her with a smile growing. “A small but intimate community of souls.”

An edge of his attention tracks the flash of gold bangle, the particular sway of red cloak. And he will take note of how tactile she is, reaching to touch the things she encounters, as if this unlocks mysteries for her, informing her experience of this new place. A familiar practice for a man with his own particular sensory acuity.

In approach of the gate, the turf will give way to cobbling and in the rich color of evening, with lamps lit, the stones glisten as if they lie at the bottom of a bubbling creek, covered over with moving water. The arch of the gate itself has been constructed of carefully dressed blocks — massive curving blocks carrying the load above rather than smaller individual blocks more commonly seen in structures of this sort. Each block spans the entire width of the gateway and each one was sculpted to accommodate and support the drop arch shape of the gate’s portal. The gate’s guards will exchange evening pleasantries with them as they pass through.

As the keep looms gracefully above, an elegant home, it seems every join of stone and mortar is immaculate.

Every diamond-paned, reinforced ogee window —

Every ascending level rising in geometric and sometimes asymmetric order —

Every elegant spire — Immaculate.

And yet the grounds possess a carefully — or not — maintained wilderness; a fertile chaos that lends the place a certain frontier quality, not the meticulously groomed elegance one might expect of a palace. No, not here.

The place seems to say, calmly and with good heart, We are alone but never alone in a hostile world.

Passing the wall’s back gate, one will emerge into a defensive gap running the entire inner circumference of the wall itself. To one’s left, surrounded by green overgrown turf gone to flower, a small but productive orchard of fragrant and healthy trees; to the right, service buildings stand, constructed of the same black and intermittent white stones used to the build the keep itself. These include the stables, a smithy, a textiles shop, and the master gardener’s shop, along with other smaller structures in and around.

The road proceeds forward ahead of them in a straight line to and through the courtyard, extending to and past the front gate, eventually meeting the road to Myrkentown miles distant; it is all similarly cobbled, but in such a way as to permit water drainage through its construction. Water seems to have a special importance in this place, treated with utmost care, become more valuable than gold. And standing water of any sort was rarely discovered here, even in winter and spring thaws and rainfalls, for the man, having spent half his life in Lanesse’s very fertile and wet lowlands, understood the dangers of stagnant water and took care to avoid it here.

The courtyard ahead is itself designed as a great circle. Here, the pavement becomes wholly flagstone fit angle to curve and angle to curve; a warm, smooth gray stone. Where there ought be a fountain, a simple but elegant inlay rests, many fragments of broken blue glass pieces decorated here and there with shapes — a moon, a star — fragments of the cherished fountain at Aithne’s mansion, destroyed by violent explosion years upon years ago.

No fountain, being a frivolity and a waste of water. No such elegant addition for this place. Darkenhold is meant to be a home first, but is also a fortress and engineered for defense, evidenced by the outstanding guard houses either side of the main and back gates and the crenellations at regular intervals across the wall, appearing throughout the levels of the keep itself.

The great entrance to the keep, from their point of view approaching from the rear gate, will not lend itself to direct observation at this angle. Victoria will notice its pale semi-circular stair and perhaps catch glimpse of large stained glass windows throwing soft color from inside where candles and lamps have been lit for the evening. Rather than enter the place from that imposing but lovely main entry, the man would guide her toward the orchard and the wide cobbled path that leads ‘round to the kitchens. This might offer a more intimate acquaintance with the place, its beating heart and not its more formal aspects, from which one might develop a misguided sense for the way life is lived here. Darkenhold often intimidated its visitors, but most all learned before long this must be among the more welcoming households in the province.

As they pass the orchard, the man reaches to pluck a small pear from a heavy-hanging limb and takes a moment to breathe the scent of its skin; ripe and ready to eat. And he is slowing somewhat, looking sidelong at her beneath the angled turn of his hat brim. A smile is at work at the edge of his mouth. “The world brims with latent possibility, yes,” there is a gesture of the hand as if to represent an overflowing. “To design a structure like this without such latencies in mind is to risk much, overmuch, I think. Thus I tried to accommodate both the best and worst cases, and everything between, as much as was and is possible.”

As they approach the kitchens, open windows emit not only light but the aromas of warm bread and sweet pies and the natural sugars of sliced fruits, like pears, apples, apricots, and plums. The man slows to pause, studying the pear in his hands, not with eyes but with a sense of touch capable of noting even the slightest variation in texture, and more besides. He lifts the pear to her, an offering for her own senses and curiosity. “I am pleased it seems thus to you. Welcoming.” Green eyes survey her, a gentleman’s thoughtful study; he begins a smile. “It is meant to be.”

Beyond the kitchen’s open doors, a woman is quietly humming while halving fruits; there is a sound of pits clanking into a tin in the midst. The architect’s smile becomes quietly more like a grin. “Recommended, mn?” He gazes outward into the rows of trees at hand, observing how light from the kitchen’s ogee windows throws itself warmly on the leaves and fruits and trunks of those in the row nearest. Somewhere in the orchard, birds jostle for room on a branch, chirping and then settling.

“Potentials for Myrken — those words house a great deal.” He felt somewhat reluctant to introduce the subject more fully at this particular moment, yet the man bows his head to her, adding, “I shall do my utmost on the subject when it arises and hope to satisfy you.”
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Wed Sep 18, 2019 11:29 am

Hidden by a fold of her cloak, she silently patted her fingers against her palm to get the number right. Twenty-seven and forty was…was…well, it was seven nines plus a small-half, or nearly as many people as composed her own Court, which seemed like both a great many and far too few for the size of the place. Was this what Glenn meant for her to see?

But for now she was starting to get the unsettling sense of being observed. She was not, in general, a self-conscious woman, nor a modest one. Under ordinary circumstances, she would attribute any attention to the simple fact that she was, invariably, the most radiantly attractive creature ever to pass through most people’s portals—but that was only looking-at, not observing. For one who operated in the gaps in people’s attention, between blinks, it was disquieting; she found herself poised between the obligation to remain a good guest and a perverse and playful urge to wait until his attention shifted—just for an instant—then swap glams so completely he would wonder what had become of his original visitor.

Hospitality won out. He’d done her no ill. Besides, Glenn had asked her not to be obnoxious. For his sake, she would be good.

“And what are you?” she asked. “Are you laird here, or do you live here with the others?”

At the gate she allowed her host to do the speaking, though she flashed the younger guard a furtive smile and added a swish to her hips as they passed by, enough to let him know there was a body underneath the cloak—her usual flirtation with any tultharian under sixty. The swishing vanished like the false promise it was as soon as they were clear of the gates, resolving back to her former brisk gait as she watched Sylvius with an amused, thoughtful glint in her eye. The pear was cupped in her hands, held to her face as she closed her eyes and breathed deep of the scent—there, that was one of the scents she hadn’t placed—before she passed it back to him untasted.

“Order,” she said in reply to his description of the place’s function. “Back home we just have rules. Lines people don’t dare cross. But it goes both ways—when things happen, you don’t intrude on them.” She looked around them again as they moved along. Was any safety worth living behind such walls? In spite of all the tiny perfections they contained, could anyone really live here forever? “That’s something I’ve never been sure of Here. Your folk like things to be all tucked away and predictable when they can’t be, really. There’s too many things to account for them all.”

Then she caught herself, jerking her face back around to him with an apologetic dip of her head. “Ach, I am sorry. I don’t mean to…I don’t know the word. When you try to say that something won’t work when you know nothing about how it works. Disparage?”

The kitchen was much more her speed, the smell of fruit, the calming pink-pink of pits dropping in the pan. Still her posture tightened, ever so faintly. Kitchens were both pleasant and perilous, a little labyrinth of obstacles to steer around: iron hangers turned out of the cooking fire and knives unattended. The back of her neck prickled in spite of herself, an autonomous reflex she could not contain.

“Well,” she admitted, smiling, “he didn’t recommend you, really; he didn’t send me. Nor did he know I was coming. He told me he’d written of you recently, and he spoke highly of you.” There was a note of warmth, a tenderness, to the way she said he, one that could not quite be concealed by mere politeness. “It’s been one of the things we’ve been talking about for a long while—Myrken, and how it fairs. I believe he’s hunting allies. So am I, for that matter.”
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Duquesne » Thu Oct 24, 2019 12:19 pm

“That may depend on who you speak to,” this, for the question she had of what he is to this place. He had smiled, a quiet expression housing some humble reserve. “There are folk here who know me as lord and call me by that title — they are countrymen and women who fled here during a period of war in our homeland, and have thus brought with them those traditions. The rest address me similarly, or by Mister Duquesne, or simply by my name.

“As for what I am,” they had been approaching the keep in the midst of this, on their way to that kitchen destination, “I am merely the architect. Darkenhold has no lords or ladies — its society relies on autonomy. The people here are specialists in their work and all contribute to upkeep. If pressed, I might say I am the steward of its larger concerns; those that effect it politically, for instance, or those that effect its physical state or its overall function. As a lord elsewhere and as the designer of its features, I am best suited to address them. Just as others work from their specialties here, or else develop them through apprenticeship, these, as well as other skills, are my own specialties in this place."

The architect laughs quietly when she apologizes for the thoughts she voiced and he lifts a hand to stomach-level, offering a calm gesture of reassurance. “Please, do not apologize for your honesty. You are correct. We human creatures desire predictability and organization, and are pressed to establish it everywhere we can, carving it from the preexisting and much superior order of Nature itself, an order we routinely fail to identify and appreciate. We then cloister ourselves within those constructs, fretting over that which cannot be predicted, that which cannot be neatly tucked away, as you say, and making a true mess as we go.”

A good-humored grin establishes itself on his mouth, while the man rolls the pear among his hands. “As an architect, in the business of raising structures, you might say I am the guiltiest of all when it comes to matters of order and organization and predictability. Though I try not to be deluded — there are other and better ways of being in this world, in this life. I do not assume humanity's is the best approach; it is not the best, being a far, far cry from what it could be.”

Still, the plink of fruit pits from the open kitchen door surface alongside their talk. Here a striped orange cat trots along the shadowed stonework of the structure, slinking up the steps and pausing on the threshold of the door. Suddenly painted with lamp-light from that space, it pauses with a paw uplifted, peering back at the pair of them with an uncertain look, then vanishes inside. He is greeted with a fond cry from the woman who works, “Where have you been, Our Davy!” The response to her enthusiasm is an equally enthusiastic, grumpy, hungry complaint. Cats.

Syl observes his guest with an attentive gaze, with green eyes that exceed the capacities of usual human vision as she explains Burnie had not openly recommended him, nor had he sent her — she has arrived of her own volition, though the former governor's words had inspired. The man listens to far more than her words, studying her accent, hearing tone and inflection, hearing sentiment in the crafting of her responses. The warmth and tenderness of expression when she speaks of the younger man interests him.

As does this matter of hunting allies.

The edges of his mouth stir, renewing the smile he earlier kept; a meditative smile, evidence of the mind at work behind his patrician features. “Please, come inside. I have kept you waiting overlong, I'm afraid.” He gestures to the door of the kitchen, inviting her to step inside if it pleases her. And if she chooses to enter, she will find this space not at all a cramped environment. Rather, it is spacious and warm from the fires that burn in hearths and brick ovens along one wall. Above, the ceiling’s pale underarch vaults and modest chandeliers offers this chamber a sense of liberation — kitchens often seemed tight and compressed and too low on light, but not so here. Oblong and round loaves bake fragrantly in the ovens, while freshly cut herbs radiate scent as they hang in clusters from a wooden rack, suspended from the ceiling above a long table. And it is at this table that the woman they have heard humming and working sits astride a bench, sleeves rolled up and pantlegs also; her bare feet tap the stone floor as she hums her tune. The fruits of her labors are arranged on the tabletop — peaches and pears, apricots and apples, figs and nuts, all undergoing preparations for either baking or preservation. What’s more, she seems to be most content with her work. The ruddiness of her cheeks and sweat at her temples — the room is warm from the ovens — offers her a youthful look, though she must be into her fiftieth or sixtieth decade of life.

“Well, well, Syl Duquesne returns and not the worse for wear,” she says, having heard talk outside and recognizing his voice among the two. Her blue eyes flash critically over him as if she were expecting dirt, knowing he had been checking the waterways — no one was to track filth into her kitchens, it is known — and then her gaze sweeps to Victoria. This assessment is a beat longer than it might be otherwise, but not by much; evidently, the woman is not stunned or surprised to have another species arrive. No, it is something else entirely that grips her here. “By all the gods, your hair is like holy fire.” She very nearly springs from her bench, but knows a moment’s restraint; surely Duquesne’s guest would frown upon being fawned over by a woman with apricot all over her hands.

The man is grinning at her response and pauses to make introduction. “Maurina, allow me to introduce Victoria, Queen of Fairy — our neighbor of the Woods. Victoria, this is Maurina, the visionary of Darkenhold’s kitchens and more besides.”

"Queen." Wholly and thoroughly overlooking the compliment, Maurina does not restrain herself this time — she leaps from her bench to stand and pinches the side-seams of her pants when she curtsies, leaving orange smears on the fabric. "I am honored to meet you, Lady. Welcome, welcome to Darkenhold."
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Re: One Evening at Darkenhold

Postby Niabh » Sun Nov 03, 2019 2:37 pm

It was hard not to smile a little when someone clearly took such pleasure and pride in his creation. The woman listened attentively, nodding to encourage him along—though he scarcely needed encouragement; he reminded her of a woman talking about her new baby—and interrupting only once: “Wait, Doo-kane?”

Her face jerked back toward him with a glassy startlement. Better to be caught stealing the silver than to call one’s own host by the wrong name. Duck’s knee indeed. “Beg pardon, I’ve only ever seen it written out. Duquesne.” Once he said it, she could pronounce it without a trace of an accent, a thing apart from the rest of her speech. “I’ll remember.”

It was enough to keep her quiet and mortified for, perhaps, all of ten heartbeats together. Gradually she loosened up, head cocked, listening attentively while still trying to take in her surroundings. In spite of company manners, certain questions bubbled up: how were such craftspeople found? Did he seek them out, or did they come here? Both? And what became of them should they outlast their usefulness? What place was he laird over, and why was he here and not there? How did the rest of Myrken feel about all this? Lugh’us Dannan, let the man get a seat under him before you barrage him.

In exchange for her apology, he apologized, which was a game that could go back and forth forever if you let courtesy dictate conversation. She cut the volley short with a grin and a slicing gesture of her hand through the air. “Where I’m from, we say a bee doesn’t tell an ant how to do her job.” She half-chuckled. “I suppose that’s why Glenn said anything at all. I’ve been complaining to him that I don’t much care for how things are done Here. Mayhap he wished me to see other ways of doing it. He’s very…optimistic of humanity, is he. And of Myrken. But then, of course he would be.”

With a friendly shrug of her shoulders, she continued to stroll alongside Sylvius, her head at a thoughtful cant as they walked toward the kitchen. At this gloomy hour, the open doorway looked bright and inviting, and the yeasty aroma of warm bread made her stomach gurgle.

Abruptly her foot rooted to the floor and her ears swiveled backwards, briefly laying almost flat before they pricked forward, tips quivering. For a comically tense moment, she matched the cat’s golden-eyed gaze with a frosty stare of her own until it sauntered through the door, whereupon her shoulders slowly relaxed. By now she knew he’d noticed.

“Allergies,” she explained without being asked, then followed without further comment. The gods alone knew what the nasty wee beast had even seen when it looked at her.

But once inside—after a quick scan of the corners for further strays—all was comforting and clean, a fresh crusting of flour-dust riming the oven doors, a heap of fruit upon the table, and a pink-faced round tultharian woman who looked exactly as if she must be a cook chiding her host as if he were a lad pinching crusts before suppertime. It was cozy enough to make her smile, and to bring out an odd ache—half sorrow, half sweetness—in the old empty spot behind her sternum. It seemed such a long time since anyone had scolded her for intruding on their cooking.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than she found she was being addressed, albeit almost the exact opposite of what she had been imagining. As if pleased by the compliment, her hair blushed a brighter red-gold and writhed on her shoulders like vines. The tall woman smiled in return, placed a hand to her breastbone, and bowed her head. “’Tis my privilege to be welcome, Mistress Maurina.”
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