Introductions at Breakfast

Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Rance » Fri Nov 29, 2019 10:56 am

"I do," Gloria said, inclining her chin toward Adeline — or perhaps toward those puddings, baked into the likeness of clever little flowers. "I believe friendship is defined by those moments, not when we are at our very best, but when we are forced to be our worst, and tasked with putting the best of ourselves in the hands of others. I trust you with that—" already, she did not add, for the implication rung itself free like a bell, "—and hope you'll not find yourself too exhausted by the task."

And that was that. Boiled down to simplicities. To do any more, to harp upon the process to come, would be to diminish Adeline's capacity to have chosen on her own. Now, with teacup held in the cage of her fingers, she drank, and found herself warmed by the proximity of them—

There. It was the girl's retractive motion that briefly drew Gloria's attention — the lowering of a self-conscious hand, coiled with all the tension of a secret slid back beneath a tablecloth. A glimpse was all she needed. Brief memories smarted in her own knuckles. From punching walls. Because she wanted to. Because she deserved to. Because when the brain had too many words bogging it down, sometimes blood did all the talking. Bruises, too. The coolness of her dark face betrayed itself: her lips pursed, tightened, even smiled.

Then she drank again, getting full on tea.

"Your father's seen me at quite my worst. In fits of pettiness and anger, mostly. At others, and sometimes, at myself. Tantrums that didn't befit my age, but that nonetheless I expressed because I did not often know what to do with that fury and that confusion. Mostly," she reasoned, "when I felt like something unjust had happened to others or to me, but sometimes—" a grin, then, revealing bleak teeth, "—when my studies got the best of me. Books flew. Especially with mathematics. In fact, in the South Corridor, there's a divot in the plaster. Have you seen it? I tried to blame it on my copy of Six Algorithms, but books don't often leap from hands to do that kind of violence on their own.

"So our lessons shifted from numbers to early mornings with great heaps of plaster. And talks," she reasoned, "so — so I could better understand what was happening in my head and body when I became so furious. So it leads me, Anumakhet, to questions. Four, to be exact."

Circuitous, this route, but necessary. Gloria placed her tea back upon the saucer, and shifts herself ever-so-slightly, so that her lone hand could find Adeline's beneath the edge of the table. Her own palm was Sun-warm, nearly hot to the touch, and slick with sweat.

A needle-callused thumb touched on each unseen knuckle. Once, twice, three times. I see.

"Was there good reason for it?

"Did you throw the first punch?"

"Did you win? And finally—"

A clearing of her throat. Then a squeeze. For trust. Because even if there'd not even yet been a thrown fist, there was never a poor time for an easy lesson to begin.

The first: growth did not occur in comfort.

"Does your father know?"
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Duquesne » Wed Dec 18, 2019 12:14 pm

Through a young girl’s composure, and not unlike her father’s own way, a subtle smile develops on Adeline’s mouth for the trust given her by Gloria. And they have only just met, she realizes — but no, her father had set down foundations of detail that had long made Gloria seem very real. They have been long acquaintances in mind all this time, and now that they are presented with one another in physical terms, they are friends.

But this idea of friendship being defined by one’s worst moments, trusting friends with both the best and the worst self — well, this gives the girl a thing to think on. No one ever quite said something like this to her and it is sure she will later neglect books in favor of a walk at a later hour, solely that she might reflect on the implications of what this definition of friendship truly means. Evidence of thought is already at work on her features, between vivid eyes and solemn features. She does not respond to the notion that she might be exhausted by the task, because this is not a daunting matter in her mind. No, the girl is drifting right into her thoughts, growing distant by the moment so that her newly rewarmed tea is losing its steam and her food is all but forgotten and her spine is sinking slowly into a more relaxed posture.

Gloria’s voice interrupts this untimely process, better reserved for other hours, and the child straightens automatically, blinking the woman back into focus. Your father’s seen me at quite my worst, the woman is saying now and a child’s eyes dart toward her father, the man in question. She finds him smiling while he stirs a conservative measure of sugar into his tea. But wait — “That was you?” she blurts, leaning forward. “The divot in the plaster?” The eyes are wide and the mouth wants very much to laugh, yet she contains herself lest this is not something to laugh over to begin with. That would be embarrassing. “You threw the books?” And she does laugh, unable to help herself. This time, she does not cover her mouth when she does.

“For this reason, we consulted average copies of those books,” Syl adds, offering Gloria an expression of gentled humor, “and why I kept a local book binder busy with repairs for several weeks after we sought wisdom and changed our morning tactics, yes?” He is preparing to sit back from the edge of the table that he might cross one leg over the other, but movement in the open doorway gives him pause. Tea poised among the fingers of one hand, he studies the look of the fellow outside the doorway who has indicated his presence without a single word, and with a quiet murmur in his throat, the architect sets his tea down. “Pardon me, ladies,” he offers quietly, so as not to interrupt the four questions Gloria prepares to ask. “I will return shortly.”

Standing from his chair, napkin left aside, he bows his head to the both of them before stepping around the table in approach of the door. As he does, the fellow who has come to see him — a messenger of sorts, by the look of road and travel on him — withdraws a leather wallet and hands it to his employer. The architect accepts and unfolds this wallet and its pages to view, performing some initial scan of the topmost document before angling himself away from the doorway and thus out of sight. Soon, both men are out of view but have not gone far down the corridor outside, for sometimes their quiet voices can be heard in conversation.

Adeline has watched this, twisting a moment in her chair to keep the distinctive figure of her sole living parent in view — right until he sidesteps and deprives her of his shape and his precious details. And then she straightens her seat once more, looking at Gloria because questions are in the air and she cannot begin to imagine what —

A touch to her knuckles beneath the table, a touch nearly hot and sweat-slick, so that Adeline’s attention is suddenly focused on the woman. It seems her discreet attempt at hiding aging bruises was not successful. She would need to be more mindful of evidence in the future, if she were to continue developing her sense for hiding things. But that Gloria noticed and did not simply let the matter go, as was often the case in her uncle’s household where girls were not to be traipsing about like boys and getting into fights, grasps her attention and holds it steady. She does not flinch at being discovered, not even slightly.

After a long moment of consideration, the girl takes a deep breath and sighs it away, letting formality slide away with it. “Yes… yes… of course, I did… and…” some hesitation, with a girl biting the edge of her lip. “He probably does. You know him.

“Maybe he does not know why, but he knows something.” She lifts this hand and flattens it on the tabletop, taking a moment to stare down at it. There is healing evidence of nail-biting and some slow-fading ink marks, as if she’d grown bored during lessons and drew patterns on herself instead of attending her books. Finally, she looks up at Gloria.

“These boys, Rhodri and Maks and Egan, they were — anghwrtais iawn — to my friend Satiyah. She — looks different than we do. She is half human and half something else — ” some hesitation here, because the subject is touchy and because she is still angry about it, by the look of her. “She is lovely and kind and they were making fun of her eyes, Gloria, saying terrible things. So.” Adeline closes her flattened hand into a fist and squeezes. “I hit Maks square in the face and then beat him until he cried. Then the other boys grabbed him and ran away, but Rhodri said he would be back to give me a dose of the same, that I should count on it. And I do.” She looks up at Gloria, frowning. Clearly, the girl was either born with or has learned from her father’s distaste for injustice. “I’ve been waiting for him to come back and he hasn’t, but I’ve a mind not to wait. I’d rather go find him and end this."

The girl sits back and folds her arms, her messy bun and pretty blouse doing nothing to detract from the formidable expression of her mood — one need only count the steady stream of departing governesses and tutors and personal guards, one after the other, to understand what sort of girl this is. A Duquesne, indeed, but one that has not learned the finer points of diplomacy yet. She does not see opportunity in cultivating relationships with those who have some responsibility in her life.

"Satiyah lost everything, you know? Her family, her home, everything she knows. I have been helping her laugh and have fun again and those cetors made her afraid. Now she hides from everyone every day. I can't bear it. I won't."
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Rance » Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:48 am

There was an easy solution to it.

But first, she listened. Attentively. With not just her ears, but her stone-dark eyes, things that dared not look away nor diminish the severity of the girl's soft complaints. Here, Gloria knew — perhaps from Sylvius's tutelage, or perhaps even from her own awareness — that her voice meant nothing in the moment. What mattered was her limitless attention. So she did not drink her tea, nor nibble upon a scone, but turned her body to Adeline and nocked her chin like a hunter's arrow. Her halved arm rested in the lap of her skirts while the other propped itself, balanced on an elbow, against the table's edge. A meaty finger scraped thoughtfully at her temple. Her mind registered the foreign words, how they flowed from the girl like a punctuation to her fury.

And for the longest time after the girl's final proclamation, Gloria's only response was this: the line of her dry lips slowly lifted, formed a calm and gentle smile, as if to offer soothsay to the Duquesne girl's frantic, impassioned explanation. "Menna Satiyah," she began, after demonstrating a long, deep breath, "did not lose you — which is a grace in the face of hardship and fear. There's great difficulty in — in watching someone we love be hurt again and again, especially when we want nothing more than to protect them, like a shield. She is fortunate to have you. What a gift you've given her, to care for her feelings, to be angry for her, so that she can wage that fight that's going on inside her heart and her brain."

Her hand lowered, ever-so-slowly, to find the one Adeline splayed upon the table. She lifted it, draped it upon her own, and displayed the yellowing bruises crowning the girl's knuckles. Gloria examined them, head canted, with certain satisfaction. "Your father, I think—" Gloria said, leaning forward, "—understands that while you may be prone to mania, to fits of fury, a girl oughtn't hide her truest self. He's said nothing to you, I imagine, not because he is disappointed, but quite the opposite. Some prides are best not spoken, Adeline, in order to — to—" The words slowed; she pieced them together carefully. "In order to subvert the expectation that — that we should unnecessarily repeat the action if only for a surge of praise.

"Silence is good trust. He believes in you, but a father lives in — in two places, I think. To want his daughter safe, and to want her to be strong. And he's conflicted, I imagine, and very afraid, and confused and inside himself and hiding. Doesn't that sound like someone else you know?"

Her jaw tightened, though. Because not so long could she speak without filtering back to the initial thought. Boys hitting girls. Children's cruelty. The seemingly harmless kind that digs runnels and canyons deeper than any knife or spade.

There was an easy solution to it.

A glance up, toward Sylvius's departure. Matters of business and estate.

He trusted her to guide.

Her palm, sweating tar, betrayed her. So did her left knee bouncing, tha-thum, tha-thum, underneath her dress with a rhythmic whisper of harsh fabric brushing, brushing, brushing against itself.

There's an easy solution to these boys. Boys break like glass—

"These cee-tors." She applied the word, if clumsily. "Be honest with me, Anumakhet: if you sought these boys out today, how would you bring the fight to them? Lay it out for me. A good plan is one worth sharing."
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Duquesne » Sun Dec 22, 2019 9:15 am

“Rhodri is the leader,” the girl replies musingly, and not unlike her father; a response crafted in advance of a thought’s whole completion, buying her time to form her words, just as he often does.

But her mind is swimming with ideas: her defense of Satiyah as a gift; caring for her feelings, being angry for her so that she did not have to be — not yet, at least. Adeline wanted her friend to be angry, to know how the power of that emotion could be useful in overcoming a struggle. It would take time to cultivate.

And she is swimming in the idea of her father being simultaneously proud of her and conflicted and afraid and inside himself, which she understands distinctly. It is strange to imagine him being anything other than stalwart. The man was an anchor, weathering all things, at least outwardly, with composure and dignity. But here she must begin to imagine him as… vulnerable, just as everyone else is vulnerable, and it leaves her silent for long moments. She listens to the whisper of fabric as Gloria’s knee bounces — knows the sound of it because she, too, is prone to that exact behavior, and knows it to be some energy released by way of repetitive action, like a syphoning off of the excess.

“The other boys don’t matter as much as Rhodri. They are followers, not thinkers. He is their courage; without him, they do nothing.” The girl finally ends the long stare she had offered the edge of her plate and looks at Gloria, a subtle furrow on her smooth brow and a serious kind of thoughtfulness in her eyes. “If he does not respond to reason, then we will probably fight because people who cannot be reasoned with are often the kind that only respond to force. And I need to best him in one go or else things will get worse — not just for Satiyah, but for me too.”

She lifts a shoulder in a quiet shrug and leans forward, reaching to pick up her fork solely to prod at the few remaining slivers of fish on her plate. “I don’t know, beyond that. Sometimes I think better in the moment. It’s easier to figure out what to do when it’s all in front of you, you know? That’s why I don’t have much of a plan.” She offers Gloria a small smile. “But I know not having a solid plan could get me into an equally solid pickle. Again.” A small laugh for her small smile here, as she sets down her fork and lifts her napkin onto the table. Smoothing it out with both hands, she begins arranging food on it; snacks for a later time, it seems.

But after balancing a pastry atop another pastry, next to a stack of dried apricots and slices of apple, she pauses and sits still several seconds before looking up at Gloria in earnest once more. “My father is… an important man in Lanesse, and in other places. It’s why he is… kind of stranger to me, because he has been gone so much.” A moment’s hesitation, because she is unsure of her words and a little unsure of what she asks. “Is he important here, too? Is — is he going to leave a lot, like before?” Her hands sink into her lap, arms folding in as she leans forward; a guarding posture. “I do not want him to be important. Is it selfish to think this way?”
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Rance » Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:35 am

Which of these was of greater import? Testament as it was to Adeline's whole self to protect Satiyah — her fresh and youthful selflessness, her powerful grasp on justice, and her powerful recklessness — the cracks formed rapidly: this Rhodri was but the ache to a broken toe, or the blood from a broken nose. I want to hit something, Adeline screamed without screaming. I want to hit something. The way Gloria looks at Adeline, it might as well be staring into a mirror, as if recognizing the same crinkles at the corner of the eyes, the same stiffness in Adeline's lips as she often saw in her own. Watched her intently, as if watching herself.

Watched, too, this calculated stacking of pastries. Food for a future's hungry belly, snuck away in some quiet and unspoken demonstration of rebellion. What food Adeline could access in this well-stocked place! But there was no better food than that gained by one's own industry, even if it meant it had been secreted away...

Like an unwound clock, Adeline slumped forward and asked that final question. Gloria, meanwhile, placed her own napkin before her and began to deposit into it a collection of goods: dried apple leather, a sliver of overcooked fish, a handful of grapes.

I want to hit something.

Did the girl know how loudly she spoke it?

"It's hardly selfish, a'dosh. Daughters deserve their fathers. Sometimes fathers forget to deserve their daughters," she said, returning Adeline's earlier smile with one of her own. "I tell you this: while perhaps Myrken Wood may not call upon him with the same desperation of Lanesse, I have no doubt he will find his way into matters before long. Problems of societies and governments and peace, I think, are like his Rhodri — he oughtn't necessarily face them how he chooses, but he shall, and the world's desires be damned.

"I imagine it's not so much a matter of — of not wanting him to be important," Gloria reasoned, tilting her head enough to the side that her wax-tipped bonnet-strings swung like silent wind-chimes, "as it is that you want to be the most important to him. What would you tell him, if you had one opportunity, to help him understand that this place, with you, is where his energy should be?"

She finished her own ziggurat of fruits and offerings. Then, very gently, she reached out to touch the small of Adeline's back — to remind her to sit upright, even here. Not a demand, but a quiet and friendly suggestion. "Always upright and — and stacked, shoulders over hips over feet. No good fight is fought when we're as small as a chestnut, especially when we can be as big as a sand-dune. When you fight Rhodri, he'll expect you to crumble. He would expect that of a girl. You batter his expectations first, you only need to hit him half as many times to make him yield. And it is yielding you will want from him: not domination, not annihilation, but choice.

"He ends his fight," Gloria reasoned, "because you've ended the war. You understand?"

Here, she slid the pile of gathered bounty before Adeline—

"Tie it, please? I can't—" Four fingers lifted, as if in playful apology. "And give those to Satiyah when you deliver the others, won't you?"
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Duquesne » Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:39 pm

What would she tell him, her father, if she had a single opportunity to make him understand? Thought and concentration have together formed a solemn aspect about her eyes and mouth, and because she has been encouraged to straighten her form a thousand times in the past, she responds wordlessly to Gloria’s touch upon her back — but happens to appreciate the first explanation as to why she should sit or stand straight, because it relates to something other than the expectations of high society and the standards dictated by the influence of her family name.

Such a question would take time to answer. She did not know what she would say to her father — can think only to fasten herself to him in an embrace and never let go. But of course she cannot rely on a desperate, everlasting hug. There needed to be more. She needed to appeal to him reasonably, because she understood he functioned best in a reasonable state of mind and overwhelming him with emotion never worked as well as she hoped. Just look what she got in return for her defiance back in Lanesse — an elite unit formed by men and women loyal to her father: half of them Lanessian, half of them r’Chyr’laud, blood-guards all and sworn to protect her day and night. Though she hadn’t seen them this morning, she knew they were not far even now.

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Gloria’s advice on the subject of Rhodri is seeming more relevant to a conversation with her father in the moment — batter his expectations first; hit him half as many times to make him yield: not domination, not annihilation, but choice.

He ends his fight, because you’ve end the war.
It’s this bit, in context with her father, that gives her cause for silence and for long seconds. How will she end the war with him? Food for thought, indeed.

The girl stares down at the preparation Gloria has assembled, having thought she was secreting away snacks for her own self, but it seems this is to be delivered alongside her own parcel of food. Touched, she looks up at Gloria at long last, solemn but smiling for the first time in minutes.

“Thank you,” she says, lifting her hands from her lap to tie the corners of the napkin together, protecting the food inside. “For listening to me, and for — advising me, too. I will think about what you said about Rhodri. I don’t want there to be a chance I look stupid in front of him — “

“That wouldn’t happen to be Rhodri O’lgrud, would it?” asks the architect, returning from the corridor and his brief meeting with his messenger. He pauses at the end of the table, leather wallet and all its papers tucked under his right arm, and eyes that rest thoughtfully on his daughter’s face. It is sure he notes the surprise in her glance, but her expression is as marshalled as she can make it in the moment.

“Yes,” she answers, with a glance toward Gloria, then back again.

The architect smiles somewhat, attention shifting to Gloria. “The son of your former guard, Gloria.” His eyes return to his daughter. “Woger O’lgrud, Rhodri’s father, once escorted Gloria to and from her lessons here, years ago. A good man. It would seem perhaps the son has not learned from the father?”

Adeline’s brow is furrowed, for these are developments she had not anticipated. Now, the matter has become more complex — had Rhodri been almost anyone else, things would be simple. But that is no longer so. She remembered stories about Woger and understood him to be in her father’s employ, a trusted fellow and to some extent even a friend.

And never in her life has she been more relieved to hear the prim clip of her governess’ heeled shoes in the corridor, an echo she knows by heart and always dreads. Not so this morning, for that is the sound of her liberty. “Maybe!” she hops up, leaning to hug Gloria and kiss her on the cheek before she sweeps the food parcels into her arms. “I have to go, time for lessons!” A quick detour to her father, where she must stand on her very boot-toes just to kiss his cheek, and just as quickly. And then she about-faces, awkward bun bouncing as she hastens to the door. On the threshold, she turns around to flash a smile at Gloria and waves before running to meet the governess in the corridor.

Syl hesitates a moment, then looks at Gloria. “This may the first time I have witnessed her excited for lessons. Highly peculiar.” But said with a small grin. He moves toward his former chair and lowers to sit down at the table again, placing the wallet beside his table setting. “So. You have finally met. What do you think of her?”
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Rance » Sat Jan 11, 2020 2:13 pm

"Learn hard enough to want to throw a book, a'dosh, else it's worth nothing at all."

Before she could truly savor the embrace, the girl had already vanished. And as quickly, as wistfully as she had come, Adeline Duquesne was but a series of memories again. Too long, too quietly, Gloria stared at the door, lone hand frozen in the timid wave she had offered — until the fingers remembered themselves, and one-by-one, collapsed into her palm. How could she ask him so bold a question, now? Her face tightened into a rictus mask of wholly unreasonable anger — a crinkled vestige of the furious, too-angry Glour'eya she'd desperately tried to smother — before her gaze blinked tired apology, and she stared down at her food. At her crumbs. And picked at them, bit by bit, to place them into unwilling collections.

Before her voice came, her throat danced, spasmed. "You know what I think of her, Proctor. You know me too well, too intimately, to require that I belittle the extravagance of my feelings with words. I think she—" She pursed her lips at a sliver of browning apple, directing this sudden, constrained fury at it, as if her gaze might further dry and wither it. "I will apologize to Messa Woger personally. He was far too good to me, and far too patient with me, to deserve anything less. Fathers are not their boys, and boys are not always their fathers. Some matters are best handled in the mud."

A wild, unrestrained energy began to blaze in her. The knee jittered and bounced so rapidly, now, that the board upon which its foot rested groaned aloud. Her gaze darted here and there upon the mountains of food.

Entirely indecisive. Profoundly overwhelmed. A bead of tarsweat trembled on her nose.

"It is no good that a child feel unsafe. Satiyah, ser — do you know the name? I should think that if your daughter believes it necessary to act decisively, then so should we. But outside of the mud," reasoned Gloria, though hers were sentences half-composed, and thoughts half-realized, as finally she looked up and met his eyes. As if only now just seeing him, or remembering in that moment that he was there. The frantic breath behind her voice began to simmer more slowly in his presence. As she stood, her remaining hand rested thoughtfully across her abdomen and drummed the ribbing of her stay. What would he think of her, if she articulated every intent that came suddenly springing into her mind?

Her chin jerked toward the wallet beside his fork, as if she was prepared to say something to it. About it. Concerning it.

But no. With too much love and respect for him, being curt would do no good. She knew only half of these new stories; she knew less than that.

"Will you walk with me? Breakfast satisfied, and — and the company couldn't be finer. Now I want for the exercise," Gloria said. "I'd like fresh air, and more room to think and talk. I think—"

A hoarse breath hissed in the back of her throat and wheezed in her nose. She stared down at the table.

"I think I want to hit something."
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Duquesne » Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:20 pm

He had begun to reach for the teapot, but reconsiders and lowers his hand to a thigh instead; a casual resting posture, while the man makes some assessment of the woman seated nearby — interested less in the particular organization of those crumbs than the particular organization of her features in expression. And from them, from the familiar tension in her tone when she rejects his question, he understands something transpired during his relatively brief absence from the room.

It is something he has experienced before when entering a room after or just before his daughter had left it, and he quietly leans back in his chair this small measure. In the process of drawing in a deep soundless breath when she states a need to apologize to Woger, the man halts with a question in his look.

Her bouncing knee is audible to him, a presence he cannot not listen to and it distracts his voice for moments longer, so that when she goes on to mention Satiyah, he is — No, to describe this as surprise would be in error. The man’s expression is more aptly characterized by a state of alertness: a certain unwavering mood of the eyes, a certain focus to the arrangement of his patrician features. Good that she does not address the matter of the wallet after her jerk of chin its direction, a movement he is sure to have witnessed and interpreted.

“It is a fine morning. I am glad to walk with you,” he says, with a measured tone, calm as usual but contained, “once you tell me what happened to fuel all of this.” Has the man not deduced likelihoods already? The O’lgrud boy, Satiyah, and it seems Adeline is outraged because Gloria is standing there, eager to hit something and brimming with an energy he knows well. But he must hear her explain it now while it is fresh in her mind. “Please — call me Syl,” a quieter tone; he is no longer her teacher, so she ought to call him by his name.

The man needed to understand now if he was destined for diplomacy later today — if so, he would need to change the schedule and dust off the role of Myrken lordship for serious discussion, negotiation, deliverance of justice. The O’lgruds are loyal tenants of Aithne, making them his concern, but they also happen to be his countrymen and rules are different between them; also Woger O’lgrud has become a friend over the years. A particular stack of protocols is required of him today, indeed, for he cannot do nothing; now he knows. Three very particular children are involved, one destined for punishment, one his personal charge, one is his only child. He’s not merely dusting off one role now, but four — and chief among them is alert Father, a condition that also envelopes Satiyah. The man is hoping for the least grave news here, but prepares himself for the worst. “Sit with me or pace the room, but I must know before we do anything else.”
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Re: Introductions at Breakfast

Postby Rance » Sun Jan 12, 2020 8:43 am

Sit with me or pace the room, but I must know before we do anything else.

Rarely did Gloria's emotions render themselves in secret, or under disguise. Never, without absolute preparation, could she manipulate them well enough that they should hide — and certainly, certainly not in the presence of trusted souls. The table shook as she stood, her hip jutting clumsily against it. An red pear shook on the platter, then rolled toward the edge of the table. Gloria captured it in her hand, polished it on her kirtle, then replaced it. Then, under his guidance, she began to walk: ten paces to the left, then a militaristic pivot, before twenty paces back the other way, her skirts snapping like thrown curtains whenever she turned.

"When I was a girl, they thought it their place to jest about me," she said, daring a glance at him — to ensure he knew she had listened, and that she understood: this was his attempt to slow her mind, and simultaneously come into the know. "I was taller than most other girls in the seamhouse, and broader, and wider, and my — my work was impeccable: it was rapid, consistent, and it came easily to me. What I lacked, however, was a mind for numbers, and I was slow to understand my Odos. They took it for difference, and they took it for weakness: they battered me in my bed and spoke cruelties and curses on my mother. Once, they — they put a scorpion in my shoe—" she raised thumb and forefinger, pinched them together, demonstrating size, "—and its sting, it made me throw up during t'chavek ritual. The most important religious ceremony of the year, and what did Glour'eya do? She puked right down the back of Juvik Kitterack's brightest t'chava, like some drunkard who couldn't hold her beer.

"And I felt very ill, and the girls laughed, and I couldn't have been further apart from them all in that moment. I stared at my feet, realizing that — that I had no bridges to them, and yet I was expected to be as proper as I could be. If you poured Jernoah into — into a cup, it would be exactly that: propriety on its surface, and truth somewhere beneath the foam.

"So I —" She flattened her hand, scooped it downward, as if demonstrating a diving eel, "—returned the abuse as a Jerno should: I snuck into their rooms, those girls, and I broke out their teeth, or clamped their noses and mouths with my hands until they were moments from death. I pummeled them with my elbows, or drove my thumbs into their eyes. I got my way. I bled the unkindness from those girls, and — and stitched Desra, the most heinous offender, a charm-bracelet decorated with her best friends' eyeteeth."

Then she was beside him, speaking not to him, but to the edge of the table. Orbiting in his general presence, but lost somewhere else, staring at drifts of sand and narrowing her eyes at stains of blood remembered on other girls' clothes. Perhaps he was magnetic; perhaps she neared him like a moth to a flame, finding reason and comfort in the closeness of him. So near, not even the cinnamon sprinkled in her hair could detract from the sudden, sweltering proof of the young woman's rage: she stank of hot sweat and breathed, in-out, in-out, as if she'd just finished running to this place from Aithne, from beyond.

She dragged over an empty teacup. Wanting some. Wanting anything.

"Adeline's Satiyah," Gloria finally said, "will see the ugliest part of herself reflected in little Rhodri's eyes if he cannot stop demeaning her. I don't even need to — to know the girl to understand, but I dread for her that moment when everything explodes, and she does what she shouldn't simply because she must."

Now flat on the table, her lone hand splayed beside one of his. Her smallest finger, dark and thick, reached out to gently touch his. Apologetic. The timid, too-reluctant request for forgiveness, that touch, as her lips formed a tight smile and she shook her head left, right, left. Ashamed, but determined.

"Adeline will raise her fists to him no matter what you do, and no matter what I do. Your daughter, Sylvius, is miraculous. She wants to be the shield for her friend. I suffered her no discouragement."
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Rance
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