(1867-06-22) Not All Business
Not All Business
Summary: Esyld catches up with an old friend in Bloodfield, ahead of Jon's wedding.
Date: 06-22-1867 IA
Related: None
Esyld  Vorian  

Sword and Shield Tavern - Bloodfield
In set

The Sword and Shield is a tavern for knights and Serjeants, for men and women with a bit of coin. For the elite of the t'Maren forces, both Yeoman and Noble alike. Of course, typically, the knights group in amongst themselves, and the Yeomen Serjeants keep their voices well down. But here and now, all is in flux — the wedding has brought so many new faces to Bloodfield, and so many fresh retinues of guards, that it is hard to keep track of who belongs where. But it has also brought a universal delight for soldiers and mercenaries alike — fresh bodies. Fresh beautiful, supple, women. Fresh clean-cut young knights looking for a bit of rough.

The place is in chaos, close to overflowing, and there is such an air of general merriment that after a few drinks all sense of reserve has fled from many of the guests. And the household t'Maren knights, for their part, seem determined to lay out the welcome mat instead of throwing down the gauntlet. Sir Vorian t'Maren, for his part, has eyes on a pair of beautiful young girls. They must be sisters, to judge by that chestnut hair and the way they finish one another's sentences. And Vorian is leaning forward slightly, hanging on their every word, his pale eyes alive with interest.

It all seems to be going swimmingly — a hand on each girl's knee — until another young man steps out of the crowd. This fellow's about as common as a man can be, wearing homespun, sweatstained, woolens. A livid scar runs all the way from his cheek down to his collarbone, but he appears to be of an age with Vorian.

"Sir.. Could I have a word? It's Talbot." And like that, Vorian is on his feet, abandoning the sisters. One of them begins to protest, and the young knight turns a cold eye upon her. "Silence." It's a command — an ungracious command — and he looks back to the scarred man. "Drunk again?" The other nods. "Over at the bar, sir. We can't get him to leave."

How exactly does one measure 'belonging'? What's the defining aspect of such a claim? Being born here? Serving here? Keeping the peace or being instantly recognisable? Esyld Draven can lay claim to each and every one of those and yet never did a woman so emphatically /not/ belong. Still, a tavern's a tavern. She's content enough, and keeping to herself, for once, within the crowd. She hasn't bothered to procure a table, nor a spot at the bar - too many comings and goings. Instead, she's leaning a shoulder to a pillar, equidistant between door and ale supply. A good plan, seeing as her flagon is already nearly emptied.

With such a crush of bodies in here, another woman isn't likely to draw much attention. Especially when both posture and demeanour calmly imply a lack of interest in it. But once men are in their cups, it's only a matter of time; no matter who you are or where you go, men will take a shine to the unusual and presume themselves to be worthy of taking it, on a whim. Roused from her reverie as a trio of young men encircle her, Esyld arches a brow, affecting an expression of polite enquiry, nothing more. They're not knights.. mercenaries perhaps? Or squires, at a push. It makes no difference to her. The exchange cannot be overheard, given the clamour of the establishment.. but the body language of the three is suggestive enough, particularly when their ringleader gestures for the main door, smirking brazenly at the blue-eyed woman.

She doesn't look to be either a whore /or/ a lady, no matter how fuddled one might be by too much merriment. Travelling leathers, rather than a world-weary gown. Ale, not wine. To a keen mind, these would be warning signs. But all they seem able to focus on, as the raven-maned creature offers a simple response and turns to stroll toward the door, is the unassuming, inviting sway of hips. Ohhhh dear. A few of the House Guard, seeing the situation unfolding, nudge one another and observe, looking utterly unperturbed as the Baron's daughter is openly pursued out to the darkening streets. This ought to be good, appears the general consensus.

Vorian makes his way through the crowd with a steady ease, that horrifically scarred young man at his side. The two sisters look at one another in disbelief — to be abandoned for a common soldier? What cheek. At the bar, a cluster of similarly-garbed young men are gathered around one of their number, who seems to be wavering between tears and belligerence, waving his tankard. "He.. And then he.. He shoved me back. And he looked at me and he smiled the sweetest fucking smile. Sweetest smile. And then the bastard stove in his skull. And where were all these fucks? Eh? Eh? Where were they at the Breach?"

Vorian listens to the story from a short distance, careful not to hear that last question — he almost visibly dismisses it. These men, like Esyld, do not belong here. That much is obvious. And what's more, from the way they all look to the young knight, they are here on his word. "Talbot." The drunkard looks up, and immediately straightens — rocking back and forth on his heels. "Sir Vorian. Sir. Just speaking of.." And Vorian cuts him off with a smile and a gesture.

"I know what you were speaking of. I miss your brother too, mate. But you can't.." He seems about to continue, but the small circle forming around Esyld draws his attention instead. And the attention of the cluster of hard-faced, universally scarred, men around him. Even Talbot. Especially Talbot, who smiles such a sweet, sweet, smile that one can imagine his brother for a moment — another golden-haired youth, perhaps. Talbot was certainly once a beautiful boy, until someone sheared the skin off half his jaw.

Too loud, carryingly loud, Talbot asks Vorian, "Ain't that Esyld Draven, sir?" And Vorian says, placing a hand on the man's shoulder, "Is, too. Here's what it is, Talbot. I could send you home t'your mother in a wheelbarrow again. Or we could get stuck in it with the lads bothering our Baron's daughter." As if it were a question. Talbot wipes his eyes, smiling slowly. "Let's rip their heads off, Sir." The two men — the others stay at the bar — advance from the rear on these three bold gentlemen. Esyld certainly doesn't need their help, but Talbot needs a distraction. And Vorian always provides what his men need.

One needs a distraction. One feels obligated to provide. And Esyld? Esyld's just spoiling for a fight, for whatever reason. Propositioning any young woman in so uncouth a fashion deserves a dressing-down. Propositioning /her/, as if she were some army-follower? That's going to be punished with more than a few sharp words. The Captain strolls only a short distance from the doorway, the trio practically salivating as they follow at her heels. Fucking mongrels. When she does begin to slow, the ringleader, far too confident, quickens his last few paces until he's pressing up against her, his chest to her back, hands too swift to seek exploration of her leather-clad form, wine-scented lips trying to clumsily through her dark tresses to the vulnerable curve of her throat. His companions, seeming to know their place, simply leer and prowl closer; content to wait their 'turn' with this prize. More fool them.

For a moment or two, the Fox holds herself perfectly still, lulling her oh-so-dashing suitor into a false semblance of safety. But just as those sweaty palms make a foray upward toward the full curves of her bosom, the mercenary smirks to herself and tenses within the grabby circle of his desperate embrace. With a sudden sharp motion, she jerks her head back into his face, encountering his nose with an audible *CRACK*, then whirls as he staggers back, dazed, bringing up her elbow to land a further strike to the side of his jaw. It sends him reeling into the wall of the tavern, too off-guard to have uttered a sound as yet, with blood gushing between his fingers as they rise to the lower half of his face.

As for Esyld, the momentum of that violent spin has her turned to face the door, the lamplight catching her features in a moment of feral, predatory enjoyment. But the lecher's friends are not so cowed as one might expect. The stockier of the two grapples her from behind, hauling her bodily back toward the shadows of the building. Hmm. Some men /do/ enjoy a little spirit. Snarling furiously as her booted feet scrabble for purchase in the dirt, Esyld wrenches and squirms, seeking a single moment of weakness to use to her advantage.

"Go fer her, sir. I got this one." Talbot is stringy, beneath that blond hair, his beautiful blue eyes glistening now with some different emotion than drunken grief. He surges forward, and the remaining man turns to face him, hands coming up. But he's really not prepared for what he encounters. The man that descends upon him is all knotted fury, elbows, and teeth. Talbot drives his forearm forward, catching the fellow's arms and pushing backward. And as the man seeks to regain his balance, he drives his other elbow into the poor bugger's temple with a thunk. And then he's upon him, and there is a screech of agony as something nasty happens around the vicinity of the man's cheek.

But the maddened young man is forgotten by Sir Vorian, who truly does see a woman in distress — at least, for the moment. And he doesn't hesitate. Whatever else might be said of him, no one has ever called Vorian indecisive. The man is practically backing right into him, after all. Stepping forward, the narrow-built knight solves this issue by the simple expedient of wrapping an arm around the man's throat from behind. The man holds Esyld, and Vorian holds him. And squeezes, his bicep pressing into the fellow's carotid artery, his other hand coming up to lever the man's head downward. He whispers soothing noises. "Shhh. Shhh. Go to sleep." The fellow continues to struggle, forgetting to keep his grip on his 'prize', but those struggles are rapidly becoming weaker. Until Vorian is the only thing keeping him on his feet, his head slumped forward, hands falling down to his side.

Over the man's shoulder, the jet-haired knight smiles to Esyld. "What's it been?" he asks conversationally. "Six years? You've grown up." He loosens his grip on the fellow, but doesn't release him, holding him upright like a target dummy. "I hope you don't mind. It was getting rather dull with those two hags in the corner." Off to the side, men are hauling Talbot off his victim, blood on his lips. The poor man's face is positively red.

In spite of herself, and the circumstances, Esyld is at least vaguely impressed by the ferocity of that onslaught, as it happens. Being a mercenary, rather than a knight, she's perfectly used to such gruesome displays. When it comes to it, who cares how you fight, so long as you /win/? Not a sentiment shared by her family, usually.

There's a moment of confusion, as the grip around her loosens, and she hurls herself free of her would-be captor, off-balance a step or two. It doesn't last long. Before the man /quite/ loses consciousness, the t'Maren-by-blood rights herself and hefts a solid kick right between his legs, connecting /hard/ with the bony part of her shin. That's gonna hurt in the morning.

Only then does she take stock more fully, withdrawing from the slumped figure and the taller one keeping him aloft. Raking her hair back with one hand, sweeping away the errant raven locks that had tumbled forward in the scuffle, she meets Vorian's eyes with her own crystalline hues… then grins broadly in recognition.

"Hello, Vorian. And no, I don't suppose I mind… far be it from me to keep you and your.." A glance flits aside. "..friends.. from a little sport." Dusting herself off - rather unnecessary seeing as she's escaped without a scratch - the brunette continues, conversationally, "Here for the wedding, I assume? And here I thought /I/ would be at the bottom of the invite list.."

Vorian turns and shoves the unconscious man into a post, hard. Head-first, as it happens. And the figure hits with a smack, dropping down hard onto the tavern floor. Several more of Vorian's 'friends' appear, grabbing him around the shoulders and ankles, and quietly dispose of him. They're grinning, speaking quietly to one another, nudging and chuckling. There's a lot of "Good ol' Sir Vorian, always down in the muck with us," and talk of that nature.

"Home from the wars, as it happens," replies Vorian with an answering grin. "We nearly crossed paths at Valetta, you know, but I was laid up after the battle. Well done, you." The scuffle of a moment before seems to be absolutely forgotten, apart from the way he glances after Talbot. "Let me buy you a drink. Ale? Or something stronger?" The childhood friend has grown into a tough-looking young man, a scar creasing his cheek, others just glimpsed.

The pair have an escort, as it happens. Yet more of the commonly-dressed men have lingered, ignoring the glares of other Knights who speak — quite loudly — about propriety and dignity. They're standing at something just this side of attention, keeping an alleyway open between the bar and the two old friends. "Afraid I've been put out to pasture," he continues. His voice is cheerful, but just a touch brittle. "They want my lads and I to become instructors."

Dismissing the tossing-aside of the failed assailant, having lost interest in the matter entirely now, the woman chuckles, low in her throat; accepting the compliment for her part in the battle with nothing more than a modest nod. "Aye, and no doubt I was already being sent elsewhere. That's what happens when you stay standing - you get given more work. Clever you, thinking to fall down at the opportune moment." It's just good-natured ribbing, the same she'd allow with any of the men formerly under her command. But it's also a way to feel out the old friend who she hasn't set eyes upon in so long, to ascertain just how much she can get away with. Best to decide those boundaries right from the start, in her opinion. Propriety is a finnicky beast. So many rules and nuances that are lost of her.

"Oh, if you're buying, then definitely something stronger." The reply is cheerful, the remnants of the mischievous young miss Vorian once knew still visible in glimpses, beneath the similarly battle-scarred and hardened Captain now before him. "And I suppose we're rather long overdue for a catch up. I'm glad to see you're still alive, obviously." With that, she turns on a heel and saunters back into the warmth and illumination of the tavern. The pace is slowed when she hits the crowd, sidestepping her way through the throng and raising her tone as she calls back to the man accompanying her, unperturbed. "Instructors? Well, that's decent enough work, if you can get it.."

"Bugger that for a game of soldiers," responds Vorian as he walks alongside the woman, the utter crassness of the expression perhaps unexpected from a knight. He throws a few elbows, and his men saunter along, just outside of arm's reach. They're spectators, surely, and not bodyguards, chatting idly amongst themselves. But there's not a person in the room who would mistake these men for farmers, or even for your run-of-the-mill levee soldier. The way they move together, like a wolf-pack with Vorian at its center, speaks volumes. "Two whiskeys — the good whiskey, mind." Vorian has managed to catch up to the leaner, more graceful, Esyld through main force.

"My men are going crazy. We spent six years in the North, Esyld." His voice is quieter now, not meant to be overheard, as he rests his elbows atop the bar. "They're not garrison soldiers. They're not meant for the soft life. And they want to split us up." And it is this last, it seems, that truly pains the knight. As the whiskey is set before him, and one before Esyld, he shoves a few coins forward. "Anyway. Enough about that. Tell me, do you still put snakes in Jonathan's bedroll?" His eyebrows quirk upward with sudden mischief. "Do you remember that?"

Upon arriving at the bar, the last stretch of crowd parting before her quite easily - no doubt thanks to the intimidating company she keeps - the woman rests an elbow atop its edge, leaving room enough for Vorian too join her and able to face and regard him easily, when he does so; clasping her hands loosely. "Yes. I'm quite familiar with the concept of a soldier, Vorian." She points this out wryly, without ego. Just a gentle reminder that, for the sake of a title and recognition, they're not particularly different. Maybe only in the measure of fortune.

Following a contemplative pause, Esyld reaches for her whiskey.. but for the time being she merely dangles it, gently swirling the contents as she consider. Those feral blue eyes linger on the man before her, taking in the new scars, the hardened lines of still-handsome features that once bore the innocence of youth. As did hers, presumably. Once, long ago. Still, the reminiscence does rouse the quirk of a smile to play across her lips and she nods. "I remember. Truth be told, though, I don't see much of Jon, nowadays. Save when he deigns to visit Lonnaire. And I imagine those visits shall diminish considerably, once he has a wife to set his mind upon." Lowering her gaze, she frowns down at her whiskey, then takes a daringly large sip. Her elder brother, it would seem, is something of a sore subject. That's a pity. Inevitable. But a pity. "Besides.. I've predators enough interested in my own bedroll. I haven't the time to concern myself with anyone else's."

Absently, she captures her lower lip between her teeth for a moment, returning her focus to Vorian's gaze. "So what is it you want, then? Now that the war is done, you have to choose /something/." A slow burning curve tugs at her lips. "I might be having an idea. But give me a moment. It happens so rarely, I need to make sure."

Vorian takes a slow sip of his whiskey in kind, watching Esyld over the rim of his tumbler. He lets the alcohol sit on his tongue for a long moment before swallowing, and shades a slow smile in response to Esyld's own. His pale eyes are intent on hers, apparently unbothered by that strange hue. "I want to keep my men together," he says simply. "I owe them that." There is no vainglorious pursuit of fame in this young man, it seems.

He is returning Esyld's attention with a scrutiny of his own, entirely unmasked, gaze drifting down to the lip caught between her teeth and back up to her eyes, head canting just slightly as he turns to face her more fully. "I've always liked your ideas," he says carefully. "They always end up in such fun." The news of Jonathan, he absorbs with a rather careless nod, as though he expected as much. "Heir to the family seat. Married. He's finally growing into the role he created for himself when we were children. Do you think he remembers how to smile? I hope so, for his bride's sake." He keeps his voice well down as he says this, but his smile only widens a touch, showing a quick flash of white teeth.

He absorbs, also, the jest about the bedroll. Apparently of his own will, his eyes flash downward to the woman's frame, taking her in quickly, before he yanks his gaze back to her eyes. "I cannot imagine why," he says lowly, "you should have such trouble. Any man, looking at you, ought to know — this is a woman who hunts in her own turn."

"I understand." There's no judgement from Esyld, in this. A good leader actually cares for those under their command. For their wellbeing, certainly. But also that they share the bonds of brotherhood that may, one day, keep them alive. A man's loyalty cannot be bought in such ways. It's forged from shared battles and hard-won victories. "They're fortunate to have you. /My/ men.." She twists her lips in displeasure, averting her gaze for a fleeting moment. "Well, they're still together. That's something. I'm just no longer their Captain." Flicking her ethereal eyes back up, she softens back to a smirk. Ahh, we must be approaching a point, at last. "You remember I squired at Highwater? Well, full circle. I am now in service to the l'Saigner Family. Directly, rather than as a mercenary." Perhaps an unspoken toast to herself, she takes another sip of whiskey, likewise watching Vorian over the rim. "As it happens… my lady's husband is seeking men of a particular ah.. 'skillset', to increase the numbers of the force he commands."

It's a subtle thing, the way she refers to him as the Lady's husband, not as her Lord. Well, he's not. She serves the l'Saigners, not the l'Correns. "It may well be that he'd be willing to consider your unit as a whole, rather than picking you apart. If the notion appeals to you, of course. And no, Vorian. I don't think Jon quite recalls how to smile."

She does, though. It's proven a few beats later, in the wake of the softly-voiced compliment. "Who said I was troubled by it..?" she teases. "You know me. If it isn't dangerous, it's unlikely to hold my interest long."

Vorian may be no politician, but he knows soldiers through and through — and he knows Esyld. His brow twitches very subtly upward at the way she refers to the l'Corren Lord, and he doesn't answer for a long few moments. Instead, he raises his whiskey in a silent toast of congratulations and takes a brief sip. Apparently, the man is determined to keep his wits about him. Which, given the subject, is like a very wise decision. His men are still about, scattered in the crowd around them, and though they aren't actively eavesdropping, well, if one hears something accidentally-on-purpose, it's not their fault, is it? So he chooses his words with care.

"I'm sorry you're not with the Foxes anymore," he says cautiously, watching Esyld with a penetrating intensity. "I know what it's like, being separated from your family." It's unspoken between the pair, the shared bonds of battle, the intertwined lives even among men who cannot stand one another. "But, selfishly, I'm glad you're serving the l'Saigners directly. This is.. well, I've been bloody praying for an offer like that." His candid exposure of desire is at odds with the careful way he's been picking his path through the conversation thus far. "It more than interests us," he says, apparently confident that he speaks for his small band entirely. "And we're not wasted space. We won't embarass you, you speak for us."

And then he falls silent for awhile, just staring at Esyld over the rim of his drink, considering her. "Danger," he finally says. "Without it, where's the fun?"

"Well of course you wouldn't embarass me." Esyld snorts softly in amusement at the very idea. "You're t'Maren trained." Just as she is, though she doesn't bother pointing that out. No need. "If it please you, I will certainly make mention of you and your company, upon my return. The rest is up to you… my opinion won't carry much weight, I'm afraid." Emptying her glass - leaving little doubt that the rumors of her carousing are quite true - she sets it aside and offers Vorian a smile. Genuinely unperturbed, or covering it well? She might not be a politician but she's still a woman.

"I am sorry, too.." she murmurs, "Though, I have always, in my heart, served and protected the Duchess and her kin. Now I do so from a position of trust in her own daughter's retinue. My old friends understand.. and the Foxes will always endure. That being said.." Reaching up, she pulls at one side of her jacket, revealing a livid, recent scar across her shoulder. It looks deep, too. Though, all in all, it's not very sizeable. A soldier would recognise it as being the passage of a bolt… all the way through. "..the job is not without its own excitements." She wrinkles her nose down at the purplish mark, then resettles her garment in place. "Bandits. We've yet to root them out, too. Far too close for comfort, that one." That's an understatement. A few inches across and.. ah well. No sense living on ifs and buts.

"Quite." she replies, crisply, to the young man's summary of risk. But the lack of words is off-kilter with the way she holds his gaze so intently. Seeking evidence of a kindred spirit, perhaps? "And you can speak plainly around me, Vorian. I hope you realise that. It's only me. The girl whose braids you once burned with a candle. Though, I'd strongly advise against playing with fire /now/."

"I don't know, Esyld. I like to hold my fingers to the candle from time to time. Feel the heat." Vorian displays his teeth again in a slow, slow, grin. His eyes never leave Esyld's as he speaks, and he shifts his weight slightly, resting up against the bar. "Another?" His whiskey, too, is tossed back. It's unfair, after all, to make one person do all the drinking.

And then, back to business. Well, of a sort. "You get me the introduction, my men and I will do the rest." It's not a boast. Like Esyld said, they're t'Maren trained, the best soldiers in all the North. Examining the scar, Vorian reaches out absently, tracing the air just above where the garment now covers it, making a small circle. "Through and through," he observes. "No bone. But very close range. You were being clever, weren't you?" And he recites an old adage that Sir Jessin, the knight he squired under, once made him write a thousand times. "Clever counts, but steel cuts." It's not a reproof, so much as the fragment of a memory, an invitation of sorts. "I really hate bandits," he says after a few beats, his gaze returning to hers. "And these particular bandits are on my special list now."

"I'm glad to hear we aren't going to be sitting on our tails or polishing the ramparts. Like I said, my men are craving the action. It's funny, when they were in it, all they did was bitch about wanting to be home. Now we're home, and all they do is bitch about wanting back in the fight." His mouth says 'they'. But his eyes: his eyes scream 'me'.

"Please." As if there were any other answer, for the offer of a drink. Everyone else is well in their cups, she's no noble… why not? Esyld does, however, for the moment, have the good sense to ignore that teasing jab from the taller Knight; simply offering him a faux-withering look aside before casting her attention out to roam across the crowd. Habit. "I'm always at the vert least /trying/ to be clever, Vorian.." she murmurs, reasonably enough, as she watches the rowdy, cheerful patrons. Some have found secluded corner tables a suitable enough place to vent their pent up desires. Others, pairing off as the night goes on, more subtly take their leave. And the remainder are here simply for the excuse to revel and rampage. Good enough for her.

"We were very lucky to escape. They ambushed us in the fog." A frown darkens her countenance.. and the expression is really rather formidable, even when not directed upon one in particular. The woman simply exudes, at all times, an air of quiet menace. A caged lion may stroll luxuriously back and forth behind the bars, but you can rest assured he still imagines devouring those who stop to admire him. "Thankfully the Lady and her children were unharmed." Her anger is palpable. Anger at not only having been bested, but at her charges being in danger. Forcibly rousing herself, however, the woman cuts her gaze abruptly back to the man beside her, summoning a smile. "Oh, they're on mine, too. Believe you me."

Nudging her empty glass toward the man behind the bar, silently ordering the same again, Esyld continues the conversation as if that fleeting darkness had never existed. "What do you know of this Knight my brother is to wed, then? I've not had many dealings with t'Artans." Well, why would she have?

"You must've fought like buggery to hold them off. An uncomfortable situation." In the same moment, some of Vorian's masquerade slips away. The grin, the mischief, gone. There, beneath that velvet cover, is the true steel. It wasn't a compliment, what he said — he's examining the woman with a keen, wholly disinterested, intelligence. The words are a conclusion, not praise. But Esyld seems keen to move past this moment, and so Vorian lets that smile slide back onto his features, his head tipping just faintly forward as he stares at her. He slides some more coin over to the bartender and the man pours, then makes his departure. Leaving them in the relative privacy of a bar-top conversation.

"Truth is, I've never even met the woman," he says in answer to the question. "Only saw her once, and that was from a distance." His voice is casual and even a bit bored, though the marriage of the Heir must certainly hold some importance to him — after all, the t'Artans are now bound to his House by bonds of love. One presumes.

"I can't imagine she's much fun, though," he says after a few moments. "Probably sits up at night scrubbing rust from her breastplate and sipping barley water. That's if they actually let Jon choose who he marries." His lips quirk again, this time with genuine humor, and both brows rise up. "I remember Sir Jessin saying that he was more in need of a wedding party than any man he's ever met." He waggles his brows slightly. "And you? Y'say you don't know much, but what've you heard?"

"I did… from what I remember, anyway." Oh, that bodes well. Not remembering the end of a fight. But she shrugs it off. And only then does she feel the weight of the gaze upon her, flitting her vivid eyes aside to catch Vorian in that stare. "What." Turning her back on the merrymakers in the tavern proper now, she folds both arms comfortably atop the bar, nodding her thanks to the barkeep for his prompt service.

As the discussion moves on, she doesn't press the matter; smoothly following suit. "I haven't met her. I don't think, strangely enough, that introducing her husband's bastard is quite at the forefront of the Baroness' mind." Some things, it seems, never change. But at least the friction between Esyld and her stepmother is only a gently simmering animosity. Maybe that will improve to sheer indfference, now that the darling heir is to be wed. One can but hope. "Besides.. what does it matter what /I/ think of her?" The tone implies the fiery mercenary - former - may already have made up her mind, on that score.

"There's no shame in caring for one's equipment, Sir Vorian." The airy remark is pointedly teasing, and deliberately well-spoken as she mocks him, briefly. Taking up her fresh whiskey, Esyld gestures gently toward the man with a tip of the glass. "I know /exactly/ who Jon would have married, were the choice his and his head not so far up his own arse." She steals a sip, dragging out the tension just to amuse herself. "My old quartermaster in the Foxes. Now there was a woman that could draw him out." Her features sober to an almost wistful mien as she contemplates this, those ferocious eyes wandering to the middle-distance. "Wasn't to be, though. What do you suppose is worse. Knowing love and having to abandon it for the sake of title… or being ignorant of it entirely?" On the further question of Alexandra, the brunette merely shrugs, a raise and drop of one shoulder. Whatever she may have heard, it's either forgotten or not interesting enough to bother retelling.

Vorian has the trick of listening with his whole body. As Esyld talks, the man seems to lean closer and closer in — without actually shifting his weight. It's something in the way he watches her, blinking only occasionally, his eyes locked onto her face. Oh, certainly, he knows the placement of every pair of boots in this establishment — quick sweeps as he speaks ensure this, the only times he looks away. When she questions his look, the man doesn't answer verbally, simply lifting his shoulders in a slow rise and fall, letting his attention speak for itself.

"I'd never criticize a soul for polishing their kit," he says after a long and considering pause. His brow has knit together just slightly as he listened to the woman, and it seems as though he has formed a priority of answers in his mind. His smile remains in place, unyielding despite the more weighty questions put to him. "What does it matter what you think? Esyld. This is me, remember. The boy who once burned your braids with a candle." He throws her words back at her gently. "Your opinion means a great deal to me, if no one else." He very carefully does not comment on the long-standing feud between Esyld and the Duchess, and that in itself is telling. The weight of his support rests, it seems, with the person whose opinion matters to him.

"That's a shame," he says slowly, turning his attention to the most serious topic. "What you tell me about Jon and your Quartermaster, that is." He takes a slow sip of his whiskey, head canting further as he stares at Esyld, perhaps hunting for something in her expression. "I don't know which would be worse," he says finally. "But I'll tell you this for free, and you'll never repeat it to another soul. Loving — finding love — is far better than not. Even the memory of it must be better." 'Must' be better. The man speaks as though he is guessing, and Esyld's is not the only wistful expression.

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