Completed Tar and Tackle

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A city floating in the center of a lake, Ravok is a place of dark beauty, romance and culture. Behind it all though is the presence of Rhysol, God of Evil and Betrayal. The city is controlled by The Black Sun, a religious organization devoted to Rhysol. [Lore]

Tar and Tackle

Postby Caspian on March 1st, 2020, 12:50 am

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    50 Winter 519
The orange walls seem to strenuously beat down even when Caspian closes his eyes.

They’re the morning sun, if he wills them to be, or the humid haze of the late afternoon, the skyward setting of somewhere dry and arid and preferably as far away from here as one can get. Everything in the room is colored citrine, or else some similar hue in solar glow, and it’s a ghastly sight to behold, or so he remembers pronouncing the first time he’d discovered it – but the lurid strain is something he runs to now, and for the past few days his primary escape.

It’s been 30 days since he and Taalviel had taken on the job; 30 days since the funeral, and Nicolette had taken him home. More than 30, if he’s being honest – but to consider the number in greater and more definite terms is precisely the kind of thing that has him running for the orange room. Before that it had been the green, and before that –

There he goes again, counting ever higher.

Nicolette doesn’t like him peering out the windows. To a certain point he’s not sure he likes it either – all it shows him are people who move from one place to another of their own free will, who, as far as he knows, didn’t tail a stranger home in the name of long-lost treasure and the promise of mizas and that thing he mildly refers to as his day job when so much of it, in fact, trickles on into consecutive nights. To date, here, thirty –

“Mattie, darling -?”

Caspian jumps. Nicolette had crept into the orange room in her unsettlingly undetectable way, and is now hovering just behind his armchair.

When Caspian opens his eyes, it’s not him fawning up at Nicolette, but the stolen amalgamation of a persona he’d dubbed Marcus Matterly.

“Up rather early, aren’t you?” he asks. He’d hoped he’d have at least another half-bell to himself.

“I had the most awful dream…” she begins to simper, sliding around and onto his lap.

The old gaudy ruby pendant glitters at her breast – to which he finds his face suddenly duly pressed.


“Oh?” he dutifully inquires. “What of?”

“It was horrid!” she exclaims with a wide-fluttered warble that wouldn’t have been out of place on a stage. “Why – I dreamed that you’d up and left me, Mattie. Imagine how terribly distraught I was when I woke and you weren’t there.”

I’m sorry, darling,” he murmurs in Shiber against the skin exposed by the gap in her robes, the pendant etching its outline into his cheek.

She giggles, shifting her weight in what would have been an enticing way had it not been for the fact that the last time she’d let him outside was a fortnight ago, when she’d allowed him to lie under strict supervision in the backyard. The walls were high and made of stone, and the sun seemed further and filtered away.

“Say something else,” she orders – she’d asked him a while back where his features come from, the depth of the tones of his skin, and unable to come up with a reasonable falsehood but also not sure the general truth would necessarily be of any detriment to him, he’d told her his mother had been among the Benshiran. She had found this incessantly exotic – and maybe that had been it, then, the real nail in his coffin that he’d hammered of his own making. Fool he was to make himself more compelling to her than she already found him.

Drown me in the dune,” he whispers, as he’d sometimes heard his mother curse.

She laughs with delight and hops off his lap, pulling him to his feet. “You must teach me that one later. But for now – breakfast! And a bit of dictation.”

By now, he knows better than to ask if he might linger here alone for even a moment longer.

With Marcus Matterly’s rakish tilt, he gestures grandly towards the door. “Lead the way, my duchess dear.”

With her back to him, he allows Marcus’ grin to falter.

Tonight, he’s going to get a message out to Taalviel – because the Powell jewels or not, he’s not certain he nor Marcus can stand any of this much longer.

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Last edited by Caspian on September 26th, 2020, 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Tar and Tackle

Postby Caspian on August 30th, 2020, 5:50 pm

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    There aren’t any Powell jewels in the orange room. This much he’s been able to sort out over the past 30-and-cough nights.

    They aren’t in the green room either, which is not the verdant and arboreal retreat any homemaker in their right mind might have cast it as, and instead resembles the rush-and-lily mash scraped every few days from the bottom of a ravosala.

    And the purple room –

    He shudders. It’s not his favorite. There aren’t any windows here and the only light comes from candelabras perpetually burning, despite no one inhabiting it. That’s another odd thing he’s come to learn – no one really seems to live here except for Nicolette and an old dowager sometimes referred to as “Mumsy”. Whether or not Mumsy and Nicolette are of any real relation –

    It had not been stated outright, any direct familial linkage between the two; in any case, Mumsy could be found without fail at the breakfast table, inquiring avidly after Nicolette’s coquettishly social pursuits, the two of them chatting energetically, with about as much energy paid to him as one might do with a saucer.

    This morning, though –

    Mumsy’s wearing a heavy bolt of a ring shaped like a scarab. It’s blood-red, hewn from the same stone sometimes hanging around Nicolette’s neck.

    “It’s a jolly good likeness,” he says when he’s halfway through picking candied walnuts off a bun.

    Had the real Marcus Matterly, to any of his recollections, ever actually used a term as insipid as jolly?

    He does now.

    “Just – really singular!” he goes on when the women ignore him.

    With excruciating slowness, as if being forced to contend with the natterings of a woefully socially impaired child, they turned their eyes to him.

    “What was that, Mattie?” Nicolette said, a dangerous edge to her usual simper.

    “Miss – “ What was the dowager’s name again? “- Flaxton, I was just admiring your ring – it’s rather well done, really takes me back.”

    “Oh, Mumsy, the little doll just means the bug on your ring,” Nicolette supplies. And to Caspian, as if rewarding the aggrieved child for reciting his times tables over his toast, she coos, “Regular sight in the sands, weren’t they? All the way in Eyktol?”

    He hasn’t told her he’s never actually been.

    “You’re a foreigner?” Mumsy never really speaks to him directly, but to the born-and-bred Ravokian, this piques her interest.

    “Blessed now under Rhysol’s watchful eye,” he replies quickly.

    “Oh, leave him alone, Mumsy!” Nicolette exclaims. “You’d never be able to tell, his Common’s so good. Though there is a bit of an accent.” She glances teasingly at him.

    Accent?

    Again, he doesn’t correct her – what she’s hearing is probably the tail end of his Sunberthian snarl.

    Mumsy always finishes breakfast last. She likes to linger over the morning paper and a third cup of tea. Caspian would find a way to hang about too, except –

    Nicolette drags him towards the library. As they round the corner, Caspian catches one last glimpse of the scarlet ring splayed across the folded printed post. That makes not just one but two pieces of the missing jewelry he’s seeking, and Mumsy’s room is one he hasn’t yet searched.


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    Tar and Tackle

    Postby Caspian on August 30th, 2020, 10:37 pm

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      To each their own, surely – but Caspian isn’t very amused to note that Nicolette finds his sorry excuse for handwriting something to be fussed over.

      It’s not the same as a paintbrush, or the bit of charcoal he’d bring with him on normal outings, to scribble on a bit of parchment as a means of diverting from the fact that he’s got his eye on a target or three. Maybe that’s what’s holding him back – or so he thinks rather desperately as Nicolette hovers over his shoulder, watching his hand cramp with gleeful delight. What’s the difference, if they’re all just shapes on pages, with handwriting simply denoting a particular practiced set of said shapes?

      All repetition, isn’t it? And he likes repetition, at least when it involves metal strings against ebony fingerboards and the air around him in resonance. So why not take all of his past experiences and throw them here, find some commonality between the things he’s lived through and the ordeal he’s undertaking now –

      “Could we take a break?” he finds himself squeaking rather than saying. She’d suddenly drawn rather close and while it hadn’t been a surprise, it also wasn’t any less startling to behold.

      “A break?” she echoes with a bright beam of a smile. “But I’m not tired. Are you?”

      His heart thuds in his chest. He nearly drops the quill – thinks better of it, with her eyes piercing him like ice.

      “N-no. Of course not.” The man who would play Marcus tries to grin.

      Devil that she is, she leans in suddenly, like a serpent’s strike – and kisses him on the nose.

      “You’re doing so well, Mattie,” she coos. “Now let’s try that line again. On the crest of the hillock, the Syliran knight, with his helmet tucked beneath his arm, his expression grave – “

      Something calls her away later in the afternoon. Like so many Ravokian socialites she has a calendar to keep, a schedule Caspian comes to worship. They’re the only moments she truly leaves him be, and though he’s fairly certain she’s instructed the chambermaids and the cook to keep a watchful eye on him – it’s more than once that they slip into a room after him, and stare pointedly and silently until he takes his cue to move along – the air finally seems to fill his lungs as it should, just knowing she’s away from the grounds. These, then, are the times he takes advantage of, to skulk through the house at large.

      But first –

      The library might be the most interesting room in the house. It’s on the second floor, and unlike the rest hadn’t been condemned to monochromatism or absence of natural light. There are more things to look at here, but they all go together – leather-bound tomes, gilded manuscripts, the writing table filled with cozy odds and ends. If it weren’t for the trials she puts him through, he think he’d find it rather comforting.

      Habits are hard to break, and after discovering how effervescently and disarmingly devious Nicolette can be, the last thrill afforded to him off his own making is petty theft.

      The library’s rife grounds for it. From the start he’d determined the jewels aren’t here, nor are there any pieces of damning corresponding to suggest they might have been, or their movement to and fro. Taking a break from the prime directive, at first he shuffles the books, stuffs smaller ones behind others to see if she’ll notice the discrepancy in count. Then he messes with the quills, the many bottles of ink in all range of hue, the stamps and pins and decorative memos. Today it’s wax, red for sealing, and he tears off a corner and tucks it into an inner fold of the cuff of his right sleeve.

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      Tar and Tackle

      Postby Caspian on August 30th, 2020, 10:41 pm

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        The absence of contact from both Taalviel and his employer (and her boyfriend? Yuck.) is a bit unsettling. Surely they know where he is, and where things stand, which unfortunately aren’t much further than where he’d left them – and without additional direction from either of them, what remains is the mission at large, and the unsolved matter of where the late Powell’s treasure might lie. From what he’s seen, Nicolette’s got the one necklace and Mumsy the ring – which is guilt to some degree, but he’d been told the estate covers an entire trove of shiny, irreplaceable things, and there might be another member of the family he would have been better off infiltrating instead.

        Of the house at present, he’s determined there’s nothing to be found in Nicolette’s fuchsia quarters; nothing in the green room, nor the orange, nor the purple – though of the latter, he rifles through repeatedly, because it’s just for some reason full of so much stuff, and it would be ridiculous and embarrassing if his eyes had missed it in the thick of the miscellania. The blue room at the end – he’s tried only once more since that first night to peer into it, but was thwarted again by the head housekeeper, whose sharp exclamation and expression like an executioner’s had chilled him to the bone.

        One of the rooms is white. At first, he thought he liked it more than the rest – the mess and havoc of purple being the bar, perhaps – but he finds he can’t be in it for longer than a minute or two. Something about the starkness is deafening – and it’s odd that it’s so awfully empty, and any of the linens and hangings and furniture made of gossamer and gauze. It’s like someone created a room full of frost and nothing else, nowhere solid upon which to plant his feet.

        That’s six rooms down – then, the color of which is yet unknown to him, old Mumsy’s.

        It’s the one right before the blue. She hardly ever leaves, though on occasion she makes social calls like Nicolette. Waiting around in the hallway like a broken sentinel, or even lingering in Nicolette’s with the door cracked is too obvious. She makes quite a production when she does anything, though – throwing orders to any of the passing servants to grab her handbag, her coat, to search for a certain pot of rouge.

        What he yearns for more than rummaging through an old woman’s things is space, light, air – and with Nicolette gone and the bat in her cave, he might steal away with it, at least for a moment.

        Before leaving the white room – and he doesn’t know why he comes in here, if not for the sake of imagining a wintry chill, for the hell of feeling something aside from tedium and despair – he fiddles with one of the crystal knobs on a dresser. There are six slim drawers, and he finds he can unscrew the knobs. It’s disconcerting, how much more discerning Nicolette’s proved to be – really wildly upsetting that for some reason she’s got some knack for skulking about without his notice. He wonders how much she really knows about him; he’s afraid of how much she truly sees.

        Will she see this, then?

        He pockets the lowermost crystal knob. It’s a heavy, guilty weight in his right pocket, miniature globe of snow.

        On his way to the backyard, he stops by the kitchen. He approaches gingerly, peers in – and there’s one of the maids, reaching for crystal glasses on a high shelf. Her name might be Marie – but they never speak directly to him, except when they’re reminding him he ought not to poke around in places he shouldn’t be. With her back to him, he slips one of the discarded newspapers from the waste bin, and tries not to cringe audibly when the date confirms that it has, in fact, been somewhat more than 30 days of isolation.

        None of the staff have noticed he’s gone yet; thankfully, they don’t share Nicolette’s uncanny aptitudes for stealth. Also in his pocket is a little pen he’d taken from the library, near the beginning of his stay, the first instance of his testing whether Nicolette was as clairvoyant as her searching gaze seemed to suggest. She’d hadn’t said anything – which, really, proved nothing – and it’s reassuring having some kind of weapon on hand, though it’s no longer than his palm.

        On the bit of news, in the blank of the margins, he writes carefully and slowly, in miniscule script:

        R U B B L E A N D R O T

        He tears the missive off and folds the strip.

        Truthfully, he might write anything – what really matters is the crystal globe.

        Moving quickly – it won’t matter if he’s caught, it just needs to be after the fact – he tosses off one of Mumsy’s many dog-eared novels from the latticed garden chair upon which it had been abandoned, and drags it to the nearest wall. Hopping up – and it’s a stretch – he manages to grip one of the protruding stones enough to drag himself higher, enough for his fingertips to brush the top of the wall. With one last look towards the house – he sticks the folded message with the stolen bit of red wax to the underside of the globe, and sets the whole of it paper-base side down on top.

        It’ll glitter – it’ll gleam. It had near blinded him the moment he’d stepped outside, just as he’d hoped.

        And he knows very well who’s got a penchant for shiny things.


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        Tar and Tackle

        Postby Caspian on August 30th, 2020, 11:18 pm

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          The bite to his ear sends him shuddering.

          As she’s wont to do – or maybe she simply doesn’t care – Nicolette takes it as a sign to do it again, and harder.

          “Say it again,” she breathes against that same ear, the contrast against the pain she’d just inflicted somehow more disturbing.

          Dune –“ he rasps in Benshiran against her neck, “– drown me –

          It's a wonder he can still do it with a straight face.

          For better or for worse, she hasn’t realized he’s been mumbling the same words over and over again whenever she plies him to, just in a different order. Truthfully, he doesn’t know much more of his mother’s language than that, and when she gets frighteningly specific with her requests he rattles off absolute nonsense, most of it half-hatched cursing.

          Nicolette is beautiful. He’d seen as much when they met at the funeral – fallen for it, for a moment, when they were alone at the reception. It’s something to bank on when she gives him that look that means she wants him to toss her back onto her bed, further something to cling to like a lifeline when he lets the gravity of his virtual imprisonment actualize itself in his thoughts. As of late, though, it’s become harder for him to fake it – the evidence of his body being, unfortunately, entirely self-evident – and she’s begun to notice.

          One supposes that being battered across the back of the head by the lumbering doorman when he’d made the foolhardy attempt to escape one night might have something to do with it.

          Surely he could have tried harder – still could, and if he really loses his mind, take this to the extreme by stealing one of the sharper letter openers from the writing table and driving it right between her ribs, into that cold excuse for a –
          She’s reaching between his legs. He yelps, tries to turn it into a laugh –

          But she’s already reared back, regarding him crossly.

          “Sorry, just – if we could, maybe – go slower –“

          The sharp retort she’d readied is interrupted by a knock on the door.

          “Yes - ?” she shouts over her shoulder.

          “You’ve got visitors, Miss Nicolette.”

          Ten minutes later, Caspian’s in the drawing room, actively pretending he knows neither his own sister nor their employer Telemius, on whose arm – gag – she’s hanging.

          Not for the first time, Caspian wonders if Telemius knows Taalviel’s just putting on an act.

          Would it be worse, though, if he did know, and had made peace with it?

          Even worse than that, if the feeling was actually sincere and – BLEH – mutual?

          “Not that I’m not delighted to see you, cousin,” Nicolette says as one of the servants places a silver platter of tea and biscuits on the table before them, “but it’s a rather funny hour to call, isn’t it? Angling for dinner, are you?”

          “Oh, I wouldn’t be so bold. I only meant to drop by.”

          “Sure – lovely! And who’s your charming friend?”

          The cloyingly sweet smile Taalviel throws Telemius and then Nicolette nearly decimates Caspian’s stone-faced façade. “Rahima. So nice to meet you.”

          “And yours?” To Telemius’ credit, despite coming off as the blathering, stuttering shut-in when he’d first hired Caspian, he’s all coolness now.

          “Marcus Matterly. And – can you tell? He’s all the way from Eyktol.”

          Caspian decidedly turns his gaze away from his sister, who conceals a flinch of humor with a polite cough.

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          Tar and Tackle

          Postby Caspian on September 7th, 2020, 3:33 pm

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            They don’t rescue him that day.

            From behind Nicolette’s shoulder, Caspian treats Taalviel to the full force of his incredulity. Telemius, at least, has the decency to look extremely flustered about leaving him here to rot. The expression must be one he wears often, though, because Nicolette doesn’t think very much of it, and is threading her arm possessively through Caspian’s as they’re shutting the door.

            It isn’t easy, but he schools his expression into one of vapid cheer.

            “That was fun, wasn’t it?” he says brightly.

            “Fun indeed,” she says, but she isn’t looking at him.

            “Are you very close?”

            She blinks, whatever she had been ruminating on vanishing for the moment. “Close?”

            “You and your cousin. Oh, what was his name?” He fakes a fumble.

            “Telemius, my dear. And – I suppose we are. As close as cousins can be.”

            More than anything, he wants to be rid of her grasp; he figured out a while ago that he can crawl into the back of the kitchen cellar and kip behind a barrel, and if he draws his legs up all the way one can’t see him unless they’re really trying. Alternatively he’d rather have the library; she at least sometimes takes another armchair while they’re there, and distance, any amount of distance would be preferable to her hold on him now.

            But this, finally, is a thread he can use – and maybe, infuriatingly, that’s all the help Taalviel had meant to give him, despite the blatant cries for help he’d plastered across his eyes over dinner.

            “You didn’t know her, did you?”

            Caspian startles. Does every woman he crosses paths with possess the ability to read minds?

            “Who?” he says.

            “The little frip who came with – ah – what was her name?”

            “Taalviel, my darling?” it’s his turn to supply. “No, I – I can’t say that I do.”

            “Rather pretty, wasn’t she?”

            As pretty as one can find one’s sister, sure.

            “Can’t say she’s my type,” he says, allowing a tinge of very real dismay at the thought of anyone finding his avian sister attractive to shine through.

            “She was at the funeral too.” Nicolette pauses them outside her bedroom door – lets go of his arm, like it’s a test.

            At the end of the hallway beckons the blue.

            Caspian tears his eyes away from it, and fearing himself under scrutiny, does precisely what the real Marcus would have done, and with his now freed hand combs his hair rakishly to the side.

            “Was she?” he replies. “They must be fairly serious, then.”

            “That, or – you know how crows are with carrion.”

            The comment is another cause for his mild cardiac arrest. Does she know –

            She pushes him into her room, the door locking with a click of finality behind them. “I had a whole string of callers, actually, when word first spread that Uncle Padrius had fallen ill.” With businesslike efficiency, she unties his cravat, flicking it to the floor. “It’s appalling, the whole thing – to think they can lock down a grieving relative and take their own piece of the will, just before it’s read.”

            “Y-you – must have gotten away with a good bit, though, I suppose?” he asks. No matter how far he backpedals, she’s right on his toes, and by the time the backs of his knees knock into the bed, she’s already tugging off his shirt.

            “Nothing at all, if you can believe it. The reading’s on hold – some of the estate’s gone missing. But even if it were found, Mumsy and I weren’t Uncle Padrius’ favorite branch of the family. Neither is Telemius’, actually. If there’s anything to bind us, it’s that we both expect a pittance.”

            There’s a beat in which neither of them move.

            Nicolette raises an eyebrow.

            As if he’d only momentarily forgotten his lines, Caspian springs up, fingers working hastily down the buttons lining the front of her bodice.

            “Missing? What? And how?” Mollifying what he suddenly becomes worried is too piercing of a line of questioning, his lips find the crook of her neck.

            She scoffs. “Jewelry, none of which old Uncle had any real interest in himself. He had a sneaky habit of giving them out to his mistresses of the hour – wouldn’t be surprised if every biddy in Ravok owns a bit of Powell family heirloom. Actually – “ She unbuckles his belt.

            He shuts his eyes.

            It’s entirely too obvious if he asks about the necklace.

            “ – Mumsy’s got some locked up.”

            He reaches beneath her skirts, his breath hitching with interest – lets her think it’s something to do with her touch. “The ring?”

            “More besides. I remember whole boxes of it, all red and gleaming. I used to play dress up when I was a child.”

            In a wild, valiant rush of triumph, Caspian swings her over, tossing her onto the bed and unraveling the rest of her clothes in what she takes as earnest.

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            Tar and Tackle

            Postby Caspian on September 12th, 2020, 6:42 pm

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              The immutable woman known as Mumsy has a habit of cutting up all of her food before eating it. Even something like pudding, she’ll take a spoon to, bisecting repeatedly until the innocuous lump is divided into a softly indented grid. The one thing she does not necessarily do, though Caspian half expects it, is that she eat said apportioned dollops in any particular order – row by row, maybe, or strictly counter-clockwise. Over the course of many days, for lack of any real stimulation, he had watched, keenly, for any traceable signal or pattern, and had come up disappointing short. It turns out, in the face of absence of evidence, that Mumsy’s rather regular just like the rest of them.

              There are other games he’s been playing to stifle his growing dread – when Nicolette’s out, he’ll purposefully knock things over in the kitchen just to test the boiling point of the waitstaff. He starts small, wooden spoons and shifting sacks of grain; then on to things that clatter, namely the rose-handled silverware and the odds and ends in the miscellaneous cutlery drawer; then there’s the real clanging of the pots and pans, and the overturning of the waste bin, until finally the harried looking head housekeeper emerges from her quarters to shoo him away from the mess he’s made.

              They never linger long, the people come to scold him – only proving his point, which had not been, as it seems at surface level, to make the staff’s lives harder than they need to be, but that Nicolette means even at the level of exacerbation to isolate him from anyone who might help him escape.

              None of her behavior comes at a shock to him. Bit of a nasty revelation, but one slow-burning, and admittedly beneath his watchful eye. To some degree he had underestimated her penchant for vicious control. But when he looks back, the signs had always been there – in her iron grasp the first time they’d wound their hands together; when he’d felt he’d perhaps taken one or two hits too many and the headache behind his eyes spelled next day’s disaster, and she had ground him down until he’d taken another; every time she pours him a drink and points out, in her piercingly saccharine ways, that he’s barely touched a drop. To punctuate her point, she watches him with an eerily wide, doll-like smile, until he gets the message and tips back the full contents of his glass – which she’ll then immediately refill. Maybe he should thank her for that last one; it makes everything that tends to follow go down a little easier.

              But when it comes to Mumsy –

              It’s the morning after Taalviel and Telemius paid their disappointingly unfruitful visit. Approximately seven minutes ago – so says Caspian’s internal clock – Nicolette had suddenly recalled she’s meant to be helping set up a charity auction taking place tonight, and had dashed out the door with hastily thrown-on feathers and frills. In Mumsy’s bowl is porridge, which Caspian can determine, thanks to her methodical division, is 65% depleted.

              On her wizening fingers is the Powell ruby ring.

              It had taken the past seven minutes and perhaps the seven prior for Mumsy to get this far through her breakfast; another seven, and she’ll be through.

              Is seven minutes enough?

              If he got up suddenly, would she suspect?

              It’s not all cut and dry; Mumsy doesn’t know the jewels are what he’s after. She’d been at the funeral but had stuck to her circles, other dowagers of her ilk, and whether or not she recognizes that as being the place from which Nicolette had plucked him, she doesn’t much seem to care. So if he abruptly excused him, she’d –

              Well, perhaps her apathy might prove as thorough as the pointedness with which she handles her victuals.

              Six minutes now; he’d wasted one fretting.

              Now (there’s no telling when Nicolette will leave again) or never (and he’s not sure he can stand this much longer) –

              With a mumbled monosyllable he’s not sure was either his fake Eyktol or Common, he rises from his seat and noisily scrapes his chair back. Mumsy hasn’t looked up from her bowl or the morning post. Even if she were to get up now, she’s spry but she’s not exactly fighting-fit, and though his direction’s a guilty one he’ll always be at least a pace or two ahead.

              But fear catches him, the one that envisions what life would be like were Taalviel and Telemius to never come again, and in sudden bleary blindness with the clock against him, his step hitches up to a quick shuffle, then a bolt –

              Barreling him right into someone turning the same corner in the hall.

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              Tar and Tackle

              Postby Caspian on September 13th, 2020, 2:45 pm

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                “Thance –?!” Caspian begins, hand flying to cover his mouth when Thancerell raising a warning finger to his own.

                From behind Thancerell flies in Saticath. Over shoulder and under her other arm are two heaving bags, with a burst of brushes and combs tucked into the outer pockets. Before Caspian can exclaim again, she shakes her head, and he takes a step back to create the distance more likely to be found between strangers.

                The head housekeeper flurries in at the end of the line.

                “Where’d you say she was? In the back, was it?” Saticath asks the housekeeper a little too brightly.

                “I said she wasn’t home – “ The housekeeper squeezes, with much effort, past Saticath and her double burden, and in greater fluster past Thancerell, who’s all broad shoulders and inexplicably wearing an array of tools belted at his waist. Now beside Caspian, she wrings her apron uncertainly with her mouth held in a taut line, as if meaning to head off any further invasion into the home but unsure as to how she might meaningfully accomplish it.

                “Not home?” Saticath repeats, and Caspian groans inwardly. But how could they have known Nicolette would dash out? “Ma’am, I’m on a set schedule – I’m going to be paid whether services are rendered or not. But I think it’s a right shame to have dragged all my kit here, and come away with no one to handle.”

                “Well – “ The housekeeper shifts from one foot to the other. “The Madame didn’t go to the salon last week. I can ask if she – “

                “ – yes!” Saticath jumps in – again, a lot more eagerly than Caspian might have played it, but it is what it is – “Her. Let’s.

                The housekeeper turns her eyes to Thancerell.

                “Just, ah – as I said! Windows.” Thancerell coughs. “Here to wash ‘em.”

                “And so fortunately for us, that the both of you have shown up at the same time,” Caspian says before he can stop himself.

                Thancerell immediately wilts beneath Caspian’s glare.

                Someone comes once a fortnight for said window washing, and the housekeeper doesn’t appear to think much of it – but as she leads Saticath to Mumsy in the kitchen, Caspian overhears a wobbly “You’re not the usual girl –?”

                To this – entirely unnecessarily – Saticath bursts out into high and nervous laughter, leaving Caspian and Thancerell alone in the hall.

                Caspian crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow, and despite Thancerell’s much larger frame, the merchant’s son and part time hunter manages to render himself flimsy.

                “Could you – show me, uh – “ Thancerell gestures helplessly.

                “The windows?” Caspian supplies dryly.

                “Yes! Yes, if you don’t mind.”

                Barely concealing equal parts expaseration and mirth, Caspian leads Thancerell into the orange room and shuts the door behind them.

                Eyes wide, Thancerell takes in the startling monochromaticism of the room.

                “Practically camouflage,” Caspian scoffs at the sight of Thancerell’s red hair against the décor.

                “Gods, Caspian – are you alright?” Thancerell blurts out.

                “No, I am not. Now what the hell took you so long?” Caspian snaps.

                “I dunno! I mean – you tend to come and go, and I thought, well, this must be one of those times of going – “

                Caspian groans. “But for thirty days? Didn’t either of you give a petch enough to look for me sooner?”

                “We did! We went over to your place – your sister said you were on a job – we came back a week later and she said you were still on the job and we thought, well, either it’s going very well or very bad –“

                “Bad!” Caspian hisses. “It’s going bad!”

                “Right, which is what your sister said yesterday when she rounded us up.” At Caspian’s deepening scowl, Thancerell seizes forward and wraps his arms around him.

                On reflex, Caspian tries to shove him off – but the familiarity and above all safety of Thancerell’s touch nearly undoes him. He sighs heavily, and despite himself, sinks in. “I’m – “ He eases away – remembers he should be Marcus, and sweeps his hair to the side, a mask of disaffectedness sliding on. “I’m okay. But I don’t think I can do this much longer.”

                “Then – “ Thancerell pulls him towards the door.

                “No! I mean, I want to. Very much so. But I’ve finally got a lead, and – “ What would Taalviel do, if she were in his shoes? “ – I’m not coming away with nothing.”

                This seems to upset Thancerell – who is a terrible actor, so maybe it’s rather lucky after all that Saticath’s here to diffuse any attention.

                “I just need to search the old dame’s room,” Caspian says. “The ruby ring on her finger – that’s one of the heirlooms, but Nicolette says she’s got more locked up. How long can Saticath keep her busy?”

                Thancerell shrugs. “Not exactly my area.”

                “I’d say twenty minutes, at least. I think she’s got sense enough to stall? I’ll give her a look, see if we can’t draw this out. And with the dame locked down and Nicolette out hopefully until noon – I can do this. We can do this.”

                Thance leaves the room first.

                Caspian takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and basks in imagining the room on fire.


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                Tar and Tackle

                Postby Caspian on September 13th, 2020, 5:35 pm

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                  Mumsy’s room is a macabre shade of bone.

                  There’s a tinge of jaundice to everything, as if it had once been snow, now left to soil. It’s something like phlegm, or parchment half-eaten by weevils, or the front teeth of that weather-beaten old codger who sometimes pesters women outside the Silver Sliver. In Mumsy’s fairer days, perhaps the effect had been powder, maybe even silver, but to Caspian now the impression is one of irreversible decline.

                  The vanity table is his first target; but there’s nothing there, save for the currently empty pedestal upon which she must keep the ring when it isn’t on her finger. That would be too easy, perhaps, especially for treasure considered absconded – so he searches her chests of drawers, the standing armoire, the second standing armoire, and the far reaches of her closet.

                  Nothing.

                  Terribly frustrated, Caspian rests on Mumsy’s vanity stool and ponders the room at large.

                  This had been the best lead he’d had – in some ways, the only lead, and he had been so certain it would amount to something that he’d allowed himself to make more of a racket than usual. Suddenly stricken by the mess he’d left in his wake, he spends the next few precious minutes straightening back out the contents of the drawers, the closet and the doors of which he’d carelessly left ajar. The most interesting thing he’d stumbled upon had been a ribbon-tied stack of letters, but from flicking through a half dozen they seemed nothing more than the usual penned missives of adoration you’d expect a woman of her station to have accumulated in her youth.

                  There’s a knock against the window.

                  Caspian peels back the curtain and finds Thancerell on the other end, hanging by a line, squilgee in hand. The window doesn’t open, though, no matter how hard Caspian pries.

                  How long? he mouths, but Thancerell shrugs and cups a hand to his ear.

                  Back to the vanity – and Caspian finds a memo pad and stick of kohl. He writes the question down and presses it against the window.

                  Thancerell holds up two hands, all fingers splayed.

                  Ten? Caspian soundlessly repeats.

                  Ten mi-nutes, Thancerell says again more emphatically.

                  Heart plummeting in his chest, Caspian makes a rude gesture and flicks back the curtain. Apart from having no time left to carry out the one thing he was meant to do, it had been extremely irritating that Thancerell had the gall to look like he was having fun.

                  For lack of a better idea, Caspian paces the room. Though very little sound from the street can be heard, there’s a racket in his head, and he rubs tiredly at his temples, willing each tick and bell to slow until he can decide what to do next. In his worrying, he feels the outer shell of his façade begin to crack, and he halts suddenly, forcing himself to regard his reflection in a standing mirror in the corner of the room.

                  Breath in – breath out. Threading of his fingers through his hair – a flick of the longest locks to the side. The real Marcus Matterly had a funny way of shaking hands, Caspian remembers – he jumped to do it the moment anyone approached his tobacco stall, and while it naturally had a way of scaring off potential customers it also made him memorable enough for people to return. Caspian calls the old Sunberthian memory to mind now, standing before the mirror and reaching out with both hands towards his reflection, as Marcus had done – grasping both grandly, pumping up and down one-two-three-four-yes, five times, which in many regards was five too many. He rears back, and – Marcus had a way of shifting his weight when business was slow. He shoves his hands into his trouser pockets, just like Marcus used to, peering at his reflection as if scrutinizing the comings and goings of a dusty Sunberthian road. In the exercise, he feels the mask stitch itself back together, and his anxiety at least momentarily quelled.

                  He’s about to take one last breath in solitude when he notices something odd.

                  There’s something behind the mirror.

                  Caspian reaches behind it and discovers hinges, a handle, and a compartment door left slightly ajar. Heart thudding in his chest – finally, for the right reasons – he rummages and draws out a ruby bracelet and a pair of earrings.

                  The distinctively flat red gleam is verification enough. Stifling a crow of delight, Caspian tucks the jewelry into an inner pocket of his shirt – thinks better of it, and slinks the lot down into his left sock.


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                  Tar and Tackle

                  Postby Caspian on September 19th, 2020, 2:16 pm

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                    By the time Caspian finds Saticath in the kitchen, she’s already on the last of Mumsy’s wizened digits. To cover up her frightful anxiety over – gasp! – committing acts of deceit, Saticath has taken to chattering out as many questions and anecdotes as Mumsy will allow. Wisely, the cosmetician has not so far admitted that the great majority of her clientele are the employees of the largest brothel in the city, and with bemusement Caspian overhears her backtrack and pave over a story about a supposed ducal heiress breaking a nail the night of her debutante ball; in reality, her name was Mindy, she’d accidentally overbooked herself one night, and she made crossing her ankles behind her head look easy.

                    “You know what – “ Saticath suddenly veers, having caught Caspian’s eye, “I think this one’s gone a bit wonky. There – a bit smudged - ?”

                    Mumsy frowns and inspects her right hand, where the ruby scarab ring glitters.

                    “No need to fret!” Saticath exclaims, clearly the only one fretting at the table. “I’ll – I can fix it! Yes, in a tick – now if you wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t want to ruin your ring – “

                    Though still visibly unconvinced, Mumsy removes the target in question and places it on the table beside her. “And what do you want?” she asks, turning to Caspian.

                    He freezes and wills himself to look anywhere but at the ring.

                    “The window washer, he – “ Caspian clears his throat, buying himself a few seconds of time to think. “He wants to know if he can wash, um, inside? He noticed some dreadful smudges, and, ah, he seems to think it’s not for any lack of elbow grease.”

                    Mumsy ponders this for a despairingly long moment, before sighing and shifting her attention back to Saticath’s overfussed ministrations. “He’s certainly more than thorough than the usual.”

                    “Right,” Caspian nods emphatically. “Capital effort.”

                    Saticath barely hides her snicker behind a cough.

                    “But the thing is – “ Caspian ventures – and here’s that thudding, here’s that plunge, the prefix to all risk that he chases even when the dividends aren’t as high as sensibility dictates they ought to be.

                    Here, though, with the clock ticking down and Nicolette potentially due to return any minute, it’s everything.

                    “The thing is,” Caspian begins again, with a more casually affected tone, “the worst of it’s in the room at the end of the hall.” The blue one. Whether from Nicolette’s perturbing clairvoyance or simply frustrating coincidence, the door had been shut and locked against him for the past 48 hours. “And – it’s locked, so – “

                    “So get the key,” Mumsy waves him off.

                    Caspian waits.

                    She sighs impatiently. “It’s in my room. Check my right bedside cabinet; you can’t miss it – “

                    “Oh, I couldn’t possibly. I’d really rather not pry,” Caspian interjects smoothly. And here – just like the real Marcus Matterly when confronted with women, he tosses his hair and treats her to a look of bashfulness he hopes is winsome.

                    Another sigh, and louder from Mumsy, as if she’s in utter disbelief she’s to be subjected to incompetence at this hour – and blessedly, she rises from the table.

                    “Well?” she says, when Caspian hasn’t moved from the table.

                    “R-right!” He’s no choice to follow her down the hall. He throws one last look at Saticath over his shoulder, at the ruby ring gleaming out among all the brushes and tinctures and tools laid upon the table, and hopes she does the right thing – that thing, unfortunately, yet to be determined.


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