a circus in three rings

POSTED: Tue Apr 14, 2020 5:45 pm

fyi clem doesn't actually know that cal is her cousin lmao it's an ironic term of endearment since everyone in the troupe is basically a big family?
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La Estrella Roja’s proximity to Salsola bothered her for entirely personal reasons. They knew who she was—who she pretended to be, anyway—but not what she was, and it was bound to get out one way or another. The wrong person might grow suspicious and follow her home, a Salsolan could begin to wonder how it was she’d amassed such a loyal web of merchants, traders, and other shady individuals…

… it was too good to last, and it was such an incredible opportunity that no one in possession of their mental faculties would let it slip through their fingers. She imagined her sister would agree with this, and though she wasn’t doing anything wrong, Clementine enjoyed this odd monkey-in-the-middle position she’d found herself in.

Today she took Fingal. It wasn’t a decision that stemmed from any sort of practicality on her part, no; the jewelry on her arms and fingers said as much. She wore white, light fabrics of fine quality. The Troupe might balk at this, what with many of them wearing twice or thrice-mended clothes, but she was not beholden to them; she was not beholden to anyone. Her home, her house, her trade network, and her wealth were hers and hers alone.

She was not a demure young woman but allowing the way she presented herself to speak for her was useful in certain situations.

Standing in as-of-yet unfinished schoolhouse, she poked her head into one room and then the next, noting where closets had clearly been removed, blown-out windows had been decoratively boarded, and the cobwebs had been swept from the corners. Slowly, she was beginning to see what it was Calrian had envisioned. The Apprentice was a practical woman, however, and she needed more than dreams.

This was something more.

It’s really coming along, She complimented affectionately, hearing rather than seeing anyone approach. Turning, Clementine grinned the moment she recognized him. you should be proud, near-cousin.

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POSTED: Tue Apr 14, 2020 11:21 pm

[000] • hello my lady hello my honey hello my ragtime gaaal

Around the schoolhouse, the grounds had become an obstacle course of sorts. Tools, objects with potential, and half-finished furniture laid strewn throughout. There was never a slow day now, even as the season grew longer, and for most of them the construction of La Estrella Roja consumed their time and attention. Calrian could not have been prouder of their effort, even if it was evident that some of their skills were truly more of the intangible kind than practical. Thankfully, Gaston brought a much-needed expertise when it came to woodcraft. While Calrian did his best to assist the older dog, his true gift was in procuring goods and not making them. Since they cleared out the debris and fought back some of the overgrown areas, he turned away from hard labor and began to plan his tour.

La Estrella Roja was a great endeavor, and at times the sheer reality of it daunted him, but he knew the moment for doubt was far past. They would need more support than the little bits and pieces they brought or made themselves. Locked away in the quarters they claimed for their own, Calrian poured over his work until his mind whirled and tumbled. The creak of the floorboards was a welcome distraction, although as he went for the door, he wearily noted that they would need something to soften the sound.

He slipped into the hallway with a playful glint in his eye. Their visitor was not a regular face, but a welcome one all the same. Slinking by the fur tufts of his paws, he got close enough to see the detail in her long, red hair before she turned.

"Shoot!" he laughed, "Caught me." He folded his hands behind his back as if to tuck away his mischief, and grinned. While she was still the same Clementine who would visit them in whichever hovels they performed on the road, she was no longer a child. Wreathed in threads fine and gossamer, her pale neck decorated with real jewelry (not the stuff he pawned off as metals), she had all the dignity and refinement of a bust of antiquity—a proper woman.

Had circumstances been very different, perhaps there would have been something more in the way he regarded her. Given that he had known her since she was young, however, his smile turned fond rather than roguish, and he stepped forward to embrace her with a familial warmth. No matter how proper she became, she was family to their band of scoundrels (and to Mateo, his actual niece).

"You too," he said, pulling away to get a better look at the little trinkets and shiny things that adorned her now. The Salcedo family seemed to thrive wherever they went. "You look beautiful, love. I'll bet you've got suitors to the moon and back."

Ordinarily he would have offered her a drink or time to rest, except she seemed lively despite the journey. For anyone else this might have been worthy of note. Calrian never pursued the topic; the fact she had never mentioned it was reason enough for him to suspect that it was somewhere she would rather not share. This was fine by him. These things had their way of coming to light eventually, and Calrian didn't see how it mattered as long as their relationship remained amicable. In any case, she seemed to be living very well, and that was a factor they could not afford to overlook.

Moving ahead, he gestured toward the last door in the hall, the Showroom.

"Have you had a chance to see this room yet, our pièce de résistance?" He made a flourish with his hand as he said this. The doorway was recently fitted with a thick and beautiful textile curtain, one which he had traded nearly half of his possessions (and, to be honest, some of his dignity) in order to procure. They were all working hard to make this vision a reality, and the costs were stacking. By some stroke of luck, a blessing by the Lady Fortuna herself, Clementine had been sent to their midst, and not a moment too soon.

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POSTED: Thu Apr 30, 2020 7:16 pm

It was a mess, really, but she was a merchant. Like Calrian, she saw things as they were, but also what they could become. In the right hands, with the right words, even the most mundane of objects (or places, as was the case in this instance) could be transformed into something valuable. They were not dissimilar, she thought, though she’d been too young those many moons ago to see beyond her own idealized version of him.

Parts of that impression remained, largely due to their continued interactions. She came here infrequently, having business to conduct elsewhere, but her interest in the wayward group of questionable individuals never waned. They were the sort of folk that Salsola would be interested in; guards, thieves, even a fortune teller. A few of them—Malik, for instance—would likely wither in such a place, his creativity stifled and choked out by thorns, but then again… if they knew of any such place, it had never reached her ears.

Smiling at Calrian, she wondered if he knew anything of this place, of the kingdom within riding distance, and hoped he didn’t.

He looked much the same as he always had, though the swelling of his motley crew’s numbers had benefited them all. No longer did he appear hungry, nor did she see any other reason to worry. Mateo’s absence was still there, but she was constantly reminded to push away her concern; they’d told her time and time again that he was probably in Portland getting up to his usual mischief.

At the mention of suitors, she allowed a slow grin before shrugging. Men’s faces grew warm in her presence, their gestures languid and bashful; for the most part, she ignored it, and when she didn’t… well, that was her business.

A few, She admitted; no one approached her about romance specifically, knowing to be wary, but there were a number of folks who found excuses to discuss any number of things with her. Sometimes gifts found their way into the mix, and these she kept. nothing will come of any of it, though.

She might have been talking about a trade deal, except her mind was momentarily elsewhere; never a defeatist, her tone made it clear that much of the resistance was on her part.

The Showroom, his pièce de résistance as he called it, had likely looked like the lovechild born between a dungeon and a taproom, once. Cleared of old furniture, it was an open space. Someone had swept into every corner, and though there was evidence of work being done, the stage was still its highlight. Properly set up, it would become the perfect space for Cal’s brother to play his lute, or for Mateo to sing his ballads.

You'll have people sitting here, drinking, listening to music? She gestured to where a table was still on its side, a delicate brow raised in question. Are you going to have dancing, too?

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POSTED: Mon May 04, 2020 4:57 pm

There was a coyness to her response about suitors that drew Calrian’s attention like a bird spying fish from great heights. He was proud to see a confidence in her which would repel less than deserving types; after all, a woman like her was a catch, and she most of all ought to know it. “They should be so lucky,” he said with a wink.

Padding ahead to the open space, he stretched out his arms and gave a showy twirl. The potential became more apparent with each cleaning they gave it; the room’s incarnation thus far was the most promising of them yet. Rather than ooh and ahh the way he hoped, she found the overturned table right away. They needed to repair the legs on the other end, and Gaston was waiting on Calrian to procure either some type of adhesive or metals for the task. With any luck, after today, that wouldn’t be an issue.

The Broker put on his golden smile. “Yes! My thoughts exactly,” he agreed, focusing on her imaginative abilities than what her arched brow might suggest.

If only because they lacked the material to make more tables, Calrian had also come to the thought to make a dancing area. Malik had a few high tempo ballads (though nothing as raucous as the ones at Biff’s), and if patrons liked these enough, he was sure he could be goaded into writing more. To her query, he replied, “Oh, absolutely. I was thinking that a dance floor would be here in front of the stage, so that patrons in the seats will have two shows, if you catch my meaning.” Crowds could be just as entertaining, after all, so why not exploit that free labor?

He gestured for Clementine to come closer, and then held up his hands to frame the stage. “A pair of tapestry would look grand there, don’t you think? I want this space to be transformative.” His hands dropped to his hips, and with a sigh he said, “I want people to escape here. Come alive here. Fall in love here.”

His ears flicked back, and he passed his own coy smile to the young, wealthy woman. “And of course to make a profit, but that’s not as romantic, is it?”
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POSTED: Sat May 16, 2020 11:13 am

A work in progress was something she could appreciate. Having flung herself far and wide into trade deals, small-time business ventures, and agreements with those who came from all walks of life, she knew that things—objects, weapons, clothing, alcohol—did not simply spring into existence from one day to the next. Hard work, effort, and diligence were required.

It was for this reason that she was able to ignore the room’s current state of disarray. The overturned table, the mismatched stools, they bothered her not a whit. What few resources still existed in the crumbling city of Amherst were slowly being decimated by inclement weather; the blizzard, the shaking of the earth, these things were destroying their reliance on the ancient relics of those denizens who’d come before.

Clementine saw a sort of poetic balance in this but did not voice it.

“Crowds often have a mind of their own,” She agreed, thinking of another time, another place. “your guards will have to make sure they don’t get out of hand.”

He sketched out his plans for her, illustrating his vision. Practicality, sensibility, those were the things she practiced, but she also understood the power that ceremony and decorum played; she was Salsolan. So much of their culture was ingrained in the past that she couldn’t help but be pleased with what he’d designed in his mind’s eye.

“You could try Halifax,” she ventured carefully, shrugging. “it doesn’t see the same influx in population as Amherst, not anymore.”

Not since the packs of the South had disappeared.

She thought of Salsola’s seamstress, Mirte, and wondered what the green-eyed woman would demand in trade for a set of tapestries. Something exorbitant, no doubt.

There was a promise here in La Estrella Roja that spoke to the core of almost anyone; the promise of love, of wealth, of good food, of riotous debauchery. It reminded her of Saturnalia, and the chaos it sewed.

“Is that all you need, then? Fabric for the tapestries?” Her violet eyes found him with his hands still on his hips, and she grinned. He looked like what she imagined a proud father would look like.
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POSTED: Thu Jun 04, 2020 3:14 am

[--WC] they'll hang up a painting of Clementine in the showroom for the world to see

Sometimes it surprised him how thoughtful Clementine was compared to her uncle. While they shared a similar magnetism, her vision was attuned to the practicalities of their universe, while Mateo's expanded far beyond any reality known and unknown to them. Without knowing, he came closer and closer to a larger picture of the family and all that had been left out of his history.

At the mention of Halifax, he made a soft noise of consideration. "Really? That's good to know." In truth, the abandoned city was closer than Amherst, but he had previously written it off because of the Dampwoods and the packs in the region. Her statement implied a change in the latter, and Calrian had to ask, "Why is that?" There was no question to the value of such information. The last thing he wanted to do was wander into an active war zone.

Calrian dusted and righted things as they moved along.

Much of the renovations came down to simply cleaning and restoring what was already there. Decoration was not an imperative, although he had seen that Salem and Adrianna took ownership of their quarters in a way that was nothing less than inspiring. As it turned out, the women of the Troupe were far more capable of securing goods than the men. What they couldn't scavenge from the surrounding areas, they pulled in from other venues and acquired with their services. Clementine herself, with all her warmth and mystery, seemed to make beautiful things appear out of thin air.

As if trying to conjure up a tapestry by staring at the wall, Calrian forgot himself for a moment. He shook away the shroud of fantasy at the sound of her voice and turned to her, smiling. "If it's need we're discussing, then I think Gaston would kill me if I didn't say more nails. Actually, here, I have a list."

Calrian handed off the scrap of paper he'd pulled from his breast pocket and peered at her reaction, hungry for an indication, be it sweet or sour. More to soften his own expectations than hers, he added, "Anything you can spare would help, honestly." They weren't so far along that the list was very specific, although some of the items were as far-fetched as a tapestry for the showroom. Like Calrian, it was a careful balance of dreamer and realist.

He got the sense that Clementine, for all her cleverness and charm, was a bit like him too. Calrian would have whisked her away had she not seemed to be so contented in her own life. There was a place for her with them, if she wanted it.

"There is one more thing," he said, and began to move towards what would someday become the stage. "What do you envision, Clementine? Where are you in all of this?"
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POSTED: Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:52 am

Her heartfelt uncle’s continued absence concerned her in a way that she could not explain; it wasn’t anxiety, or the fact that he was so terribly unlike his sister, her mother, but a simple yearning for a blood relative that wasn’t her parents (to tell her what to do) or a sibling (to judge her). He was at once easy-going and high-strung, prone to adventures at a whim, and she liked that about him. Lilia was like that a little, full of boundless energy, always waiting to hug you or embrace you in some way.

Baltasar, Lyra, and herself diverged sharply away from the path of that bloodline, however; as warm and gregarious as they could be, there were darker, rougher undercurrents that spoke of the dark roots spiraling back endlessly in time, of serpents slithering over stone, their tongues darting about, searching for unsuspecting prey.

“It was highly populated, once,” She knew, she’d checked. “but there’s only one pack in the south now, Casa di Cavalieri. Krokar, Sapient, Inferni, Salsola, New Caledonia, and all the rest of them…”

Her tongue slid over her teeth.

“at one point or another they picked through almost everything Amherst had to offer.” It felt strange—she thought, looking at Calrian—explaining this to someone who was older than herself. It was something she was slowly coming to terms with, speaking with others who weren’t of an age with her as if they were equals in terms of the depths of their knowledge.

Specializing early on in the acquirement and dissemination of knowledge had allowed her to turn the entirety of her ambition in one direction.

“Nails,” She repeated for her own benefit, grateful when he handed her the scrap paper, he’d jotted a few things down on. Some of the items were practical in nature (salt for meat, fishhooks, alcohol for serving) and others were not (the tapestry, extra lute strings). A few, she had, though this was largely due to a previous request made by Jethro and his compatriot.

“Do you mind if I keep this?” Clementine asked, though the way her hand twitched towards her coat’s inner pocket suggested she very much didn’t care if he agreed to let her do so. “I have a few of these things; wine, salt, fishhooks, mostly. I can look for the rest, seasonings for food, meat for servings, if you like.”

While he contemplated the stage, she considered (without knowing) his next question. There was no proper place for her here, though she knew they’d make room for someone of her talents if she made that choice. No; they didn’t know it, but it was simply impossible.

She’d worked too hard for too long to abandon her goals now, to leave Salsola.

“In all of this?” Her lashes fluttered slightly. “I’m not going to join the Troupe, if that’s what you’re asking.”

It wasn’t, and she knew that. Whatever excuse she had existed solely in the province of his mind, so she didn’t bother giving one herself.

“I could provide goods though, behind-the-scenes.” She smiled again, though she had never completely stopped. “Wine and food and such, and a few of these things on your list; I could direct folk your way too.”

She folded the piece of parchment carefully, examined its creases.

“It wouldn’t be for free; I'm a merchant, I don’t deal in charity.” Looking at him, gauging his reaction, she shrugged. “Maybe Malik could be convinced to write a song; beyond that, I’d expect payment.”
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POSTED: Tue Jun 23, 2020 1:31 pm

It was always useful to get another perspective. Encouraging this was easy enough; many people, although not Clementine perhaps, enjoyed imparting their hard-won knowledge upon fools such as him. Calrian found that it was nicer to receive it from a place of trust, rather than compelled through his own feigned ignorance.

Turned away, he smiled to hear the name Krokar listed among the rest. Only then did it strike him how many packs had risen and fallen, and what ones remained.

Some were unfamiliar to him—New Caledonia—and others missing, like the Vale or the coyote gang to the north. Calrian said nothing of these places that the Troupe had skirted around in order to reach the remains of Krokar, believing that she had her reasons for excluding them. What mattered was that only Casa remained in the South; gone were the places of his mother's time, the Court, the Tribe, Anathema, and of course, Inferni.

More than war, time was the great leveler of all things. When he looked ahead, it was not so far as to dishearten his present motives.

She called, and Calrian looked back.

"Please!" He insisted, gesturing with a nudge that she pocket the list already. With paper and ink a scarce resource, the Broker had developed many ways of keeping tabs on things. Mostly he imagined an enormous estate, with everything he ever needed to remember in the form of some object or room. It was easy to get lost, sometimes. "Yes. The seasonings especially, I think, would be grand for Cook. Thank you, Clem."

He did not puzzle over how she would come to acquire anything, choosing to aim his focus at more practical things, like the stage before him. She didn't respond to his query in the way he anticipated, but when he turned again, he smiled graciously, as if to say it couldn't be helped. Every now and again they were bound to come against this impasse—the invitation would never expire, and she would never yield. "The door is there, if ever you change your mind." He threw to her, feeling it was better to confirm the offer aloud.

Now that their own understandings of business and each other were firmly shored up, she went on to answer the real question. His smile grew, golden and warm like the amber of his eyes. He was so proud of her. He had nothing to do with raising her, but he'd seen her at stages of her growth, and that was enough for his overly-sentimental heart to pump joyously at the shrewd merchant she had become.

More than a merchant, now. An investor—a Benefactress.

"Alright, then!" He laughed, turning fully to face her. "I think we can recoup starting costs by winter." That was a fair estimate, but Calrian didn't plan to let La Roja sit and run after they opened. He had a lot of ideas, a lot of plans, still waiting to be hatched. "Of course, the more business is turned our way, the faster we can start seeing a return. I won't be sitting idly once we open the doors."

He made a circuitous route back to where she stood, hands still clasped thoughtfully behind his back as he spoke. "Payment-wise, I have to ensure that everyone who puts in the work gets their cut, and that the roof over our heads doesn't fall on us, literally and metaphorically speaking. I don't suppose you'd settle for two songs?" His grin suggested it was a joke. "If not, a fifth of the profit is all I can reasonably extend. I hope you understand."
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POSTED: Tue Jun 23, 2020 4:25 pm

The ripped piece of foolscap disappeared as soon as he indicated she could do so, gently tucking it against her chest where it wouldn’t fall. Her memory was better than most, but she didn’t foolishly rely on it to remember things of importance; an endeavor such as this—a personal one, yes, but also one that might eventually Salsola (should she see fit to tithe a portion of her goods to the common stores)—was certainly important. It was no longer the dutiful, polite interest in her role as Mateo’s niece that guided her.

Commerce was her specialty, trade her métier. Mentally noting that the spices in particular would be beneficial, she immediately thought of Lyra, who’d occasionally traded in such things during her stint in Portland. Her sister didn’t have to go, of course, if she didn’t wish to; Clementine was perfectly willing to make the trip to Portland.

Some part of her felt guilty at the firmness she used with Calrian, whose overwhelming enthusiasm sometimes ran away with him. The grace with which he accepted his choice choked out the room for a moment, and she could not help but imagine what a life here would be like. Without politics, without deceit, she could be… she could be Antiope Scali, a merchant’s daughter, the girl Valan had met.

She wouldn’t feel so guilty when she met him again; the Troupe would only want her happy, they wouldn’t care whether it was a good match or where he came from.

A good life.

An easy life.

It simply wasn’t for her. She didn’t know how not to meddle, to turn and twist the thorns to shape her vision like some master gardener.

“You know me, Cal,” Clementine said, thinking that he’d throw her out if he knew where she came from. “I’m a wanderer.”

He hadn’t raised her, but he’d never questioned her, never made fun of her youthful crush (which she suspected he knew about). That was more than some folk got in their entire lives, let alone the sort of support some might expect from their parents. He was like a fun uncle telling great jokes, but surprisingly serious when the occasion merited a somber mien.

“Winter seems fair.” She said the words slowly, clearly multitasking. If anything, she preferred that he undersell and over-deliver rather than the other way around. “I travel through the north more than the south, but I can make an exception if it means you’ll get more business.”

She could use another contact or two, even if meant her web would grow wider and less controllable.

Raising a brow when he suggested two songs as payment, it was undeniably lucky that he moved on from that statement as swiftly as he did. When he’d finished, her smile was sardonic, then perhaps a bit self-gratifying. One could almost hear the words before she said them.

“One song...” Her smile extended toothily. “and a quarter sounds fair. I hope you’ll understand.”
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Sticks and Stones