[P] dust, noise, a culture of excess
#1
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Set during The Call to Court.

227 words

With the mock-battle concluded, and the feast underway, Grievous did his best to enjoy himself. He was careful to be contentious of their hosts' limited wealth, though Salsola had brought its own supply of foodstuffs to help feed themselves. It was only proper, good manners. Besides, they had come in such number it would have been dreadfully rude to demand so much so soon. Undoubtedly, that would come later.

Though he did not gorge himself as he so often did at Salsola's Suppers, Grievous was comfortably full and keeping warm with a cider that he suspected had come from their cache. Heating the drink up had been a nice touch, and with things clearing up he was content to observe the goings-on of the gathering.

All of these people looked like a motley assortment. They had not been together long enough to properly assimilate, and figuring out the who's-who of the Caledonians was made easier by this. Grievous imagined this was just as true for their envoy. It's highest ranking members were not always the most well dressed. The King and Lord Reagent had made themselves known earlier, and Grievous often looked for them in the crowd. He cold see Iomair engaged with one of his subjects.

Grievous made the unfortunate mistake of meeting Athras' eyes and soon saw the dark-haired man make his way towards him.



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[/html]
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
#2
[html]

[465]

Nursing the contents of a second cup the Lord-Regent at last found a moment of respite. He had not withdrawn from the crowd so much as paused to observe it, the faces Caledonian and Salsolan set apart by the latter’s expressions of circumspection. He weighed them from person to person cataloguing faces for future reference and made guesses at the ranks and importance of each based on how they interacted with one another. It became something of a game for he was in a merry mood.

His belly was warmed by drink and better than average fair, his head pleasantly light. He could not risk another Casa di Cavalieri, as the New Caledonian town square was sadly bereft of a fountain on which to drape his addled, over-indulgent self. How his stomach churned at the thought. Never again.

Instead he occupied himself with a swirl of his cup, its bouquet sickly sweet in his nostrils, but nonetheless tempting. What thoughts he had he kept to himself, silently assessing all and everyone with too-bright eyes, an enigma in the throng, the “half-shadow” of House Eryn.

It was inevitable that his gaze would fall upon the Equinist, a towering glacier of a man with uncanny eyes that seemed to be looking at him from across the room. This was as good an opportunity as any and Athras seized it with interest, making his way across the room with practiced grace. The Lord-Regent moved like a cat, each step placed with the utmost care and yet he made it look effortless. It wasn’t necessary in a crowded room, his steps could not be heard over the din regardless and he had no reason for stealth, but he couldn’t seem to turn it off. The cloth of his newly tailored robe whispered behind him, designed for his height and build- it was opulent, if not quite as decorative as he would have liked. He closed the distance at last, keeping his cup angled away from himself so as to prevent it from splashing on the fabric on the off chance that an unpracticed dancer bumped into him. He simply had too few to spare.


“I imagine this is a sight more modest than you’re accustomed to.” He said, sidling up to the man, his front kept open to passers-by. “It would not be possible without your Queen’s exceedingly generous donations to our welfare, and I am personally grateful for her patronage.” ‘It was a shame she could not be here,’ was a sentiment felt rather than said. And for a moment, a brief suspended second in time, his gaze was mildly wistful. “How fare your charges? Have they settled in?” He referred to the horses the Salsolans had brought with them, creatures in excellent health and in satisfying colors.

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#3
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The Lord Regent (an auspicious title, Grievous thought) was very much the mouthpiece of this whole thing – he seemed like the sort of man who enjoyed spectacle. What else might one call that display from his fighters?

People would talk about it. They would remember this event, even if the lesser details slipped away. They might forget about the horrible weather and simple housing. Salsola would remember what it had given, of course. Grievous would remember each horse they left here. Given that this decision had fallen upon his shoulders, he felt the weight of it keenly.

The wolf made an effort not to look down upon the New Caledonian leader, finding interest in his clothing, his hands, even the ever-moving throng of people spread out before them.

I will let her know, Grievous said. Elphaba would get reports from every single member of the Faction, he thought. He spotted a familiar face in the crowd, but lost them a moment later. Given how many people are here, I would say this is a fair feast. As far as the horses go, they seemed to have taken to your pasture well enough. They aren't my charges anymore, he added a breath later, thinking the rogue might be testing him. So I suppose you'll need to ask your own Horsemaster, when you appoint one.

I saw your horse earlier, Grievous went on, hastily changing the subject. He's tall – he looks hot blooded. The Oriental characteristics in the stallion's face had been obvious to Grievous, who had several horses in his charge of similar make. They were flighty, spirited animals, fast, and more headstrong than something so small ought to be.



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[/html]
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
#4
[html]

[375]

It was all to his benefit, a bit of show something for the Salsolans to remember them by— or him, specifically. All to his design. Not even Iomair had foreseen his plans. The King was far too occupied with his queen who this night was livelier than ever, Athras noted. It was trifling, to carve a hilt out of deadwood then enact the swap when no one was looking. Sleight-of-hand was well in line with the druid’s skills, as a man who frequented the dark places of the world. A bit of show, a good laugh, and a hint of things to come.


Had Grevious been one of Athras’s own subjects he might have complained about the strain to look upon him at his great height. He’d done so once to the Lady Fennore who approached him standing while he’d been seated. When he rubbed his neck it could have been an idle thoughtless gesture and not a means to soothe the growing ache. O’Riley was much the same, both mountains of men, and yet Grevious’s presence did not stoke his adrenalin in quite the same way. He was polite but not overly so. It was refreshing if dull.



“My thanks,” he said smoothly. “Mm, yes. I’m quite pleased with the turnout. It's exceeded my expectations.” He nodded, eyes cast in shadow as his smile briefly widened. “I suppose.” The Lord Eryn replied pleasantly enough. The Equinest was keen enough to change the subject and the rogue had to wonder why that was. The Salsolans were guarded creatures which did not sway him his regard. If anything it was fun to puzzle them out.


“A noble creature to be certain, and quite loyal.” He did not let on how much the stallion meant to him, or why. “He was bred and trained by the Horse-lords of Menel, a Clan of the former Caledonia. Would that there were some here tonight, I’d have happily introduced you.” His face fell briefly, but it was angled in such a way that it shielded him from the man’s infernal gaze. But the lord’s mind worked quickly and his smile returned as did his attention.


“Should Salsola have need of new blood, I could be persuaded to offer his services.”

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<div class="fancytext">Athras</div><br>
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#5
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His years of working with animals both equine and more familiar (O'Riley, in particular) and his youth surrounded by strong personalities had shaped Grievous into this sort of false-calmness. He was passive but not unaware – and that was why he was wary of this long-faced, silver-tongued ruler.

They did not know enough about New Caledonia or its people yet. What had this man been before he came here? Had he been just or cruel? Would they find themselves betrayed in the seasons and years to come, as Inferni had betrayed them?

It was not his place to think about these things. All he had to do was whatever they asked of him, and the space between was his own.

In this place he had filled up with acts and interests he liked. Herbs and healing were one part of him, but the greater, the one which had become his new career, were horses. And horses were something Grievous could talk about.

He sounds like a quite the animal, Grievous offered, unwilling to yet commit but decidedly interested. What would you say is his best quality? Has he sired foals before?



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[/html]
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
#6
[html]

[377]

The Lord Eryn’s knowledge of equines was passing. He knew how to ride and how to keep one’s horse in control as well as the basics of their care. He could manage at speed and enjoyed the thrill. And he was especially skilled over difficult terrain as his people had long called the sprawling forest of Caledonia home. Beyond that, however, he was no expert. He couldn’t spot the discrepancies that made one horse infinitely better than another save his own preference for such beasts that matched him in spirit and energy. And truth be told Hasufel-- precious to him now, and of a favorable alignment-- had not been belonged to him originally.


The Salsolan was measured, interested if Athras’s read of him was correct. Athras wouldn’t call it enthusiasm but the questions that followed made it obvious that the Regent’s offer hadn’t been discarded. “That he is.” The words were crisp and clear in his pleasing and cool baritone, but softer somehow when they spoke of the stallion. “Just one?” He laughed gently but didn’t continue to boast. “Ah, but I am biased.”


“Best?” He repeated, thoughtful, and clearly considering. “With his build, it should be obvious as to his speed. You were accurate when you called him hot-blooded, however, while energetic his temperament is exceptionally pleasing. I imagine undesirable traits were mostly bred out of his line. But I couldn't say for certain, he was sired before my time.” One question bled into the next in a natural rhythm. Athras spoke earnestly, for as much as he knew.


The latter he answered easily, “he has not.” Perhaps Hasufel’s inexperience would not bode quite as well, but he was an appropriate age and fair temperament and that could weigh in his favor. All things considered, if Grevious was willing to take the risk this might very well count towards repaying Salsola’s generosity. The Equinest appeared to be discerning and to genuinely care for the beasts. Athras noted how the man watched Iomair as he inspected hooves and carriage. He wondered if he mourned their loss.

The idea came freely and, generous, he extended his offer, "would you like to see him up close? A bit of fresh air? It's astonishing how quickly the air grows stale."

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#7
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Grievous forced a polite smile onto his face.

Men like Athras reminded him of the world beyond Salsola – which, was indeed this kingdom called New Caledonia. Out here there was no Law, even if there was universal understanding of what was and was not acceptable. Listening to braggarts and silver-tongued salesmen was not a duty that Grievous enjoyed, but he had a new position that required as much.

All the things that Athras promised in his horse suggested a worthwhile lineage. Unable to know better, or to compare this stallion to his kin, Grievous could only take Athras' words for truth.

Luckily, the offer to examine the horse came next. Eager to escape the goings-on of this party, Grievous was quick to agree. If you would allow it, he said.

Deferring to the Lord Reagent, the taller wolf followed after the second-in-command. Athras led him away from the crowd and out into the night. The land here was not like Salsola. Some of it felt familiar – the mountains and the smell of the ocean – but now that these people had settled it was already changing. The buildings and the torches, the smell of their masses, each track and trod path cut new lines in the wilderness and closed it off.

These Horse Lords you spoke of – would you tell me more about them? It's a noble business, raising good horses. It's something we do, he offered, as if Athras had not already gleaned such information from their gift. Salsola's best animals were not so freely given, though he knew better than to make this fact apparent tonight.



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[/html]
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
#8
OOC: So sorry for the wait! WC: 412
Athras was predisposed to mingle in powerful circles. Where a smile was as much a danger as any set of bared teeth, and this was no different for the Lord-Regent. His expression was genial, loose at the edges as to appear genuine and comfortable in response to the other’s tighter purely courteous expression. Grevious’s enthusiasm for release was palpable and so the Lord led him out into the cold, where a gentle flurry began to settle in his dark hair.

Though soothed into a languid sense of enduring calm by drink and other vices at all times the shadow was keenly aware of his companion’s affiliations. Wary, even if he did not look it, the Lord-Regent would forever uphold the superiority of the Caledonian kingdom and its people. Alliance was necessary, “friendship” a loose enough term that provided him the space to maneuver. The king felt the weight of Salsolan debt, a mantle that settled uneasily on his shoulders and yet the shadow sought out certain loopholes, spaces between words that were yet undefined. Without blood to bind one people to another Athras Eryn was beholden to nothing and no one. Not even their Queen.

The stallion was sheltered beneath an overhang, draped in pelts to keep him warm. He turned to look at the approaching pair with big dark eyes, blowing mist out his grey nostrils.

“Discerning traders with odd sleeping habits.” Was his poor and undeserved synopsis. Hasufel was their greatest achievement in Athras’s regard, the rest he had little use for. Their god or gods, had him often confused. Were they one being with two faces or two separate entities bound by the cosmos? And he had no particular desire to learn the tenets of their faith. “Their horses were expensive and not often parted with. But, undoubtedly the best. Naturally, they were sought after by the nobility.

"Some are shepherds, we have a small family of those here: the fir-Chlis. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to meet Arran and his grandmother? Others are not only competent riders but falconers as well.”

“More than that, I couldn’t tell you.” His smile was stark against his dark lips. “The Clans were united but briefly.”

Aside the grey stallion the lord stopped, allowing the beast to snuffle his hand. “I trust he doesn’t disappoint.” He gave the Equinest his space, but his eyes lingered ensuring with the greatest certainty that no harm would befall his most prized companion.
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#9
There was a reason Athras had sought out Salsola – he was similar to them, even if neither side fully grasped this yet. Deception and superiority were matters of importance to both Kingdoms, though Grievous did not understand the deeper guiding rules to which the lord Eryn subscribed. He would never have sired children with an Outsider for political gain, for example: they would be bastards and of far less value than a child born and raised in a proper, nuclear family.

What little information Athras spared about these former horsemasters provided little insight to Grievous. To him, it sounded as if Athras didn't entirely understand what went into a good horse – flash and silver-tongued words might charm those ignorant, as all traders did.

The handling of animals was, however, worthwhile. Hearing that a few livestock wranglers remained was knowledge Grievous tucked away (he would mention it to Katinka later).

Surmising their conversation about the Caledonia before this one was finished, Grievous instead focused on the stallion. He was a fine looking animal. His master had cared for him, certainly, and from his alert expression and clean coat Grievous saw signs of health. There was more to examine, certainly, and with permission, Grievous slowly set about this.

He felt the stallion's haunches and legs, looked at one back and one front hoof (the latter more carefully, keeping himself aware of the stallion's teeth), and touched his chest and neck with measured, certain motions. Grievous did not go so far as to examine the horse's mouth, not wanting to offend his host.

“I would be interested,” he finally said, stepping away to show he had finished his examination. “We have several mares who might pair well with him. I'll decide upon one, but I would want to wait until spring,” Grievous added. “And it may be best if you bring him to us – it would better increase the chances of a foal taking,” he said. This was speculation on Grievous' part, but he was not eager to lead a mare in heat across the vast expanse of land between their kingdoms.
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
#10
OOC: WC: 233
There was a labyrinthian mind behind his striking gaze, one-- at times-- waylaid by whims, passing fancies that did him small injustices. Distracted by vices, beguiled by beauty, it was easy to underestimate how keen a mind it was. Ruled only by the guiding tenets of a Druidic faith there was little that could keep him at his word. Their ways were intimate, secrets passed down from generation to generation as they sealed their pacts with blood: that of their hands and that of procreation, germinating belief.

Athras knew enough to keep his stallion clean and in good health, far from others of his sex. He knew little more for his skills were better served in silent penumbra where he could put his slender speed, stealth, and agility to good use. And on the political stage where he excelled: a rare and ostentatious example of rogueish artistry.

His gaze lingered on the veritable glacier of a man, seeing that the stallion was not ill-treated while measuring his response. For his part Hasufel did not react unfavorably, seeming to tolerate this sort of handling, though he was eager to return his hooves to solid ground. The conclusion gained, the shadow smiled. "I accept those terms, when the time comes, send word and I will bring him to you."

"I trust I will be accommodated? I prefer to be present, after all, he's quite valuable."
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#11
The Lord Regent reminded him, in many ways, of other men who had thought their words could carry them through life. Grievous thought that his request was quite unreasonable – no Outsider was permitted to linger in Salsola territory beyond sunset.

For his own part, Grievous felt the sudden pressure exerted by this simple question. Speaking out of turn would put him (and by extension, his own family) in an uncomfortable position.

Still, he showed little sign of this. Expressing himself had never been one of Grievous' strong suit. In some ways, like now, this helped him greatly.

“That decision falls to the Boss,” was all the Equinest said. He looked down at the long-faced, bright eyed man. Though he was of importance and power here, all of that was worthless beyond the borders of the Thistle Kingdom. “You understand, I hope.”
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull


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