|A Lesson in Common Propriety|
|Summary:||Aylene and Nathaniel meet along the coast again and have a long chat before they are joined by Faulon who scolds them.|
|Related Logs:||Midnight at the Oasis|
A small dock is being constructed of thick northern timbers, with mooring space for two large ships, or perhaps a half dozen smaller craft.||
|July 24, 289|
The summer sun is dipping toward the horizon, and a soft, salty breeze is blowing from the west. Nathaniel is sitting on one of the larger rocks while the tide begins its slow but relentless rise. He has a small piece of wood in hand, and an occasional flash from the blade signals, to any who would see, that he is carving the wood. Seagulls are beginning to gather along the shore, finding their own roosts for the night.
Teetering down the beach is Aylene. The skirts of her dress have been pulled up and are tucked through a belt, revealing her legs up to the knee and her feet are bare. The blind girl is happily splashing through the water with Sphinx, giggling and laughing. For not being able to see, she seems very confident in the water, even when the larger waves roll in, tugging at her legs, tempting her further out.
Nathaniel lifts his head and looks down the coastline when he hears Aylene's joyful laughter. He grins broadly on seeing her. He continues to watch her splashing in the surf, and then he looks down at his own booted feet. He yanks off the boots and drops deftly from the rock. He tosses the footwear far inland, beyond the last bits of driftwood that mark the tide's usual height, and notes the location. Then he turns to sight the girl again, and trots toward her. He calls merrily to her, "I've heard tales of sea nymphs, but I never thought that I would meet one!" He watches for a sign that he has her attention while he wades further into the water. He lowers his voice when he is near enough for that, and advises, "Aylene? It's Nathaniel. I hope that you don't mind. You looked so happy. I thought that I would join you."
Sphinx takes note of Nathaniel first, bounding across the open space, barking in a friendly greeting, his great black tail wagging around. Aylene looks in his direction and a bright smile appears. "Sea nymphs never come so close to shore," she says seriously. "You'd have to swim out until you were close to drowning to even possibly catch a glimpse of one."
Nathaniel leans down to catch Sphinx's wet, shaggy head in his hands and scratch him under the jaw. "Hello, Sphinx!" he greets the animal as if he expects a conversation. "I worried for a moment that you might guard your lady too closely, and not let me near." He glances again to Aylene and smiles before he adds, "But I suppose that you had a talk with her. If I'm blessed, she told you not to kill me immediately." He ruffles the wet hair. Then he urges, "Come! We must see that she the the sea doesn't snatch our princess from us." He takes a few more steps, and breathlessly greets, "Good day, fair Aylene! I hope that you are well. You seem happy enough."
Sphinx gives a small bark in return and prances after Nathaniel back toward Aylene, but he stays where his paws are firmly planted in the sand, while the girl herself has ventured further out into the water, letting it grab at her waist when the waves come rolling in. She doesn't seem to care about the fact that her dress is getting wet, but instead is drawn out by the sea's call. "I love the ocean," she says brightly. "You can… feel it. Smell it. It's everywhere and cocoons you in its strength. You don't need to be able to see to feel her moods."
Nathaniel glances down to Sphinx, and murmurs, "Stay." Then he rushes into the waves after Aylene. "If you're not careful, the sea will cocoon you in its dark depths!" he calls to her urgently. He reaches out to catch her if possible. She might not see the panic in his eyes, but it is clear in his voice.
Aylene pauses as she looks back toward Nathaniel. And here comes the big wave. Thwack. It strikes at both of them, sending the small girl reeling. And she disappears beneath the water.
Nathaniel has only a fraction of a second to gulp a huge lungful of air, and then he lunges forward, groping frantically for the girl. His heart pounds in his chest.
Tumble. Tumble. Round and round she goes. She ends up on shore a little ways down, shaking her head and trying to refind her surroundings. The waves lap up over legs, and Aylene just seems content to sit there for a moment. Sphinx goes barking and comes up, licking at his mistress' face, though the girl pushes him away. She's unhurt and just laughs.
Nathaniel surfaces and glances around him frantically. He spots Sphinx first, because the dog is dark against the pale sand. The dog is running, and so Nathaniel starts to head in the same direction, first wading, and then, when he is close enough, running to the girl. Once again he is breathless. "Aylene? Are you hurt?" he calls. He sees Sphinx licking her face, and then sees her shoo him away. He runs toward her and drops to his knees beside her. "You're alive! You're safe." he pants. He looks at her, utterly drenched in her dress, and smiles. "You're safe," he repeats, quieter now, and not caring that his own clothes are in the same sodden state, and he has lost the strip of leather that usually binds his long hair behind his neck.
Well, her dress is likely ruined from the salt water but Aylene doesn't seem to care. Instead she beams up at Nathaniel. "I'm alright," she says. "It isn't the first time I've been completely knocked over by the waves. Even when I had my sight. You don't have to worry about me, Nathaniel. I'm at a disadvantage, but I'm not fragile. I promise I won't break." She smile she offers is warm and lights up her entire face.
Nathaniel sighs. "I know that you're strong, Aylene. You wouldn't be here if you were. But I … I was afraid that you'd met your match, and more." He takes another slow breath. "I was afraid that the sea had claimed you, and I had lost you forever. We are friends. I don't want to lose such a friend."
"If the sea chose to claim me, I'd make sure to come back and visit you as a sea nymph," Aylene promises. She reaches out to lay her hands very gently on Nathaniel's face. "I can watch you from my spot deep in the water and find ways of letting you know that I'm still watching over you."
Nathaniel smiles when Aylene reaches for his face, remembering the first time, when she worried about being rude, and seeing that now she has lost that worry. "I would be honored to have such a guardian, just as you are to have Sphinx." He quickly licks his lips to rid them of the salt water before her fingers touch them. "If I distracted you, or caused you to lose your footing, I'm sorry. I wanted to wade with you, if you like."
Aylene shakes her head, "I just did not hear the next wave beginning to swell," she replies. "It will sometimes happen. Help me up?" she asks. "I will still very much like to wade in the water with you, if you would like."
Nathaniel pushes with the palms of his hands against the soft sand, and then reaches for Aylene's hands. He pulls slowly but firmly, allowing her time to plant each bare foot. "I would like that very much," he confirms. "You like this place very much. I hope that you'll return often."
Aylene nods vigorously, "I do like this place," she says happily. "I like the beaches. I like the water. It is familiar, and yet different. I hope that Master Faulon has reason to keep coming back here. I would be sad if I got to make friends, only to never see them again."
Nathaniel nods as well. "If you ever tire of the traveling, you could come and live here," he suggests, "Then you could be always near the sea. Of course, you could do the same at Seaguard." He releases her left hand and shifts to stand beside her, but he does not release her right hand. "I'll stay right here beside you while we wade," he assures her.
"I don't know if I'd want to stay in one place," Aylene admits. "I like the travel and being in new places." She smiles a little. "There's a wanderlust that has to be sated. Maybe once that's done, I could settle down somewhere. But I don't even know how long that will be." She squeezes Nathaniel's hand. "I like that you're right here."
Nathaniel smiles when Aylene squeezes his hand and then lifts their joined hands to show her the smile. "That's why I said, 'If you ever tire of the traveling.' You've told me that you love the travel, and I understand that. When times are good, I travel more and enjoy it very much, although I don't stay at inns that often. There are dangers, but there are good people in all lands that I've known. I haven't been to the north, but I'm willing to believe that even there I would find good people. They might be different from us in some ways, but still good." While he talks, he leads her, cautiously but steadily, back into the cool water of the incoming tide. "What is the farthest place that you've visited?" he asks.
"My last Master spent some time in Riverrun and I got to go with him," Aylene says after some thought. "It was definitely the… biggest, grandest place I had ever been." She nods slowly. "I do understand the dangers of the road. I guess it's one of the reasons I'd rather apprentice to someone than travel alone. At least with Master Faulon, he will protect me and I won't be seen traveling by myself. I've done it before and it's hard. People have… well, it's dangerous."
Nathaniel remains quiet while he listens, with the waves swelling around them. They are at the same point where she lost her footing. The tide tugs at their legs and he holds her small hand more securely in his own, not enough to hurt but enough to assure her that hie is there and will not allow her to slip from him. "I'm sorry that it was with your other master. That probably puts a dark cloud over the memories," he guesses. "You can't apprentice forever. What will you do then?"
Aylene wrinkles her nose. "I don't know what I will do," she admits. She just skips right over the mention of her last master. "Eventually I guess I'll have to travel on my own. I don't think I could do very well as a bard who only stays in one place unless I was taken in by a House and kept on retainer. But that seems unlikely."
For a few minutes, even after Aylene finishes, he walks in silence beside her, allowing the sea to swallow him in its presence. Finally, he mentions, "The Terricks took me as a retainer. Perhaps they would take you when you are ready. Then you could stay here. If not …" For another moment, he is silent. "If not, I would travel with you, if you like."
Aylene is content in their silence, just walking along, hand in hand. "I don't think the Terricks could afford to keep a bard on retainer right now, and maybe not for a long time," she points out. "I've heard that they're still just trying to find a way to keep food in the mouths of their people. You're important. You're needed. A bard is…" She gives a smile. "We're a luxury that not everyone can afford. And I don't want to just be normal, and serve a House, while playing my music on the side. I want my music to be everything. Let that be my life, even if it makes it harder." The offer makes her head tilt. "Why would you want to do that? You'd be giving up a lot."
Nathaniel counters, "Important? I spend most of my time doing other things, hunting, helping in small ways to rebuild, and more than anything waiting on the lords and ladies of the tower." He chuckles. "I am /hardly/ important. I might lose a little, but I would gain much. I would travel with you, and hear beautiful music every day, not just at special feasts. As a courier, I travel swiftly, and do not often have time to enjoy the lands. And, as much as you might not want to admit it, I could help you. I could care for you when you need care, and keep you safe when you needs safety." He glances to Sphinx, who is not far from them but certainly not in the thigh-high water that now surrounds them. "Sphinx is a fine dog, Aylene, but what if something happens to him. More than most, and more than you like to admit, you will need someone to care for you."
Aylene comes to a halt and stares up at Nathaniel. "But why should it be you who has to take care of me?" she asks. "All of your reasoning is sound and good, but why should it be you that gives up everything to have to watch over me? It doesn't seem fair. Especially since you hardly know me. I played you a pretty song and we got to talk a little, but that doesn't seem like enough to have you give up your entire life."
Nathaniel chuckles again, and says, "You describe it as if it would be drudgery, and you talk about me giving up everything. I have seen enough to know that you are kind, considerate, respectful, far more humble than any bard whom I have known, and joyful. You are a treasure-box, and those things are your treasures, unless I am quite mistaken. If anything, you should wonder about me. I've told you that my brother is a scoundrel. You have good cause to believe the same of me. Yet here we stand, as proof that you do not think that of me. As for giving up my life, what would I give up?" He sighs. "But we do not need to settle this question now, Aylene. I don't know how long a bard serves as apprentice, but you still are apprentice. We have that time to know each other, and strengthen our friendship. When the time comes, and you are free from your apprenticeship, perhaps then we should speak of this again."
Aylene bobs her head up and down, "As you say, Nathaniel," she replies. "But even I could see what a gentle and caring man you are. You have been nothing but kind to me since I came to Terrick's Roost. I would be honored if you still wanted to travel with me once I've completed my apprenticeship." She gives a sunny smile and starts walking again. "But you still shouldn't worry about me. I get by. No serious injury and obviously no death yet."
"You honor me more than I deserve," Nathaniel answers. "I do want to help people, but I owe some of that kindness to you. You, with your spirit, give me reason to be kind. When I saw the clear difference between you and the squire, I wanted even more to be kind to you. I wanted you to be happy because I liked what happiness does to you. When you smile, you are sunshine. When the time comes, if we still agree, I would travel with you. My horse is my own, so we would travel farther and faster than some. As I've told you, I know how to hunt and fish. I know how to live in the woods if the need arises." He pauses, and adds, more solemnly, "But I am sure that I will care about you, and hope that you are safe and happy wherever you are while we are apart."
Aylene blushes a dark red. "You should have been a bard yourself with your gift of words," she replies with a faint smile. "I think I'd like it if we got to travel together at some point," she muses. She considers as she walks along in silence but then looks towards Nathaniel again. "Sela says that a bard should experience love in order to sing about it. But I don't think she's right. Bards don't have to know every emotion and experience to do it justice. Sometimes we're allowed to pretend, right?"
Nathaniel utters a soft, "Hmm." Then he answers. "Bards sing of wars that they did not fight. They sing of death, but they have not died. The song that you sang for me at the inn is not something that you know from your own life. Parents tell stories to their children about giants and ogres even though they have seen neither. A sherif might try to think like a thief to catch a thief." He pauses, and then concludes, "I suppose that a bard could sing of love before she knows love." Then he asks, "Why did she tell you that? Did you sing a song of love?"
"We were talking about love," Aylene replies with a wry smile. "She seemed disappointed about something and I wondered if maybe she was supposed to have a secret liaison," she explains. "But she denied it. Love seems complicated and tricky and a big mess. I told her that as a bard, I wouldn't have to deal with that. I go from place to place, never staying in one spot long enough to fall in love. It would seem sad to be in love and travel all the time and not get to see them." She frowns at this very notion. The blind bardette and Nathaniel are walking together in the water, or more of wading in the water, with both of them looking fairly drenched by the sea with the girl's skirts tucked up into a belt. Sphinx is trotting along with them further on shore.
Nathaniel speculates, "I'm sure that love would be more difficult for her, considering how she survives." He continues to walk, with Aylene close at his side. It is not clear from a distance, but they might be holding hands. "If she had someone waiting for her in secret, she would be careful." A particularly strong wave hits them, reaching up to his waist, and higher for her, to drench them again, but he seems oblivious to it now. "I once carried a message, without knowing it, for a secret lover," he confides. "You probably noticed my nose. I paid for carrying that message, although I was unaware of its contents."
Down from where the coast meets a tower, a lone figure casts out from the shadow. Wearing the trappings of a man— shirt, pants, shoes— he seems to be in a great rush. He hurries along the coast, looking for something by the way he searches the horizon on either side of him.
Aylene tilts her head. "How does she survive?" she asks curiously. "I think that if anyone were to meet a secret lover, they'd want to keep it a secret," she adds with a bright grin. When the wave hits them, the girl teeters, using both hands to hold on to Nathaniel so she doesn't get swept away by the water. Again. "It doesn't seem fair to attack the messenger if you don't even know what you carry."
When Aylene falls against him, Nathaniel holds her gently in both arms until the wave has passed, and then releases her. He chuckles at her comment about that injustice. "It wasn't fair, but the man was in a rage. He took the letter from his wife before she could read it. He ordered me to stand there while he opened it. Her lover had written instructions for her to go to a place where they could meet," he explains. "As for Sela, she wears a brand on her hand."
The man's found what he's looking for nowand that something just fell into arms of a dubious nature. Well, perhaps Nathaniel of all people is not dubious himselfbut at this distance, Faulon can't know that. "HEY!" The bard cups his hands around his mouth and shouts down to the waves.
"A brand?" Aylene asks curiously. "What sort of brand?" Obviously, she's completely ignorant of anything that the girl might bear. "Sela seemed nice, if a little skittish. But I think I liked her." She gives a beaming smile that only brightens when she hears a familiar call. "That sounds like Master Faulon," she says cheerily. "Do you see him, Nathaniel?" And she twists about, seeking to face in the right direction.
Nathaniel turns and scans the shoreline. He sees Sphinx, and then the bard. Nathaniel squints for a moment, and replies, "I believe that it is, Aylene. I haven't seen others like him recently. I'll take you to him." Then, he leads Aylene by the hand, walking slowly through the surf of high tide toward the shore.
And now they're holding hands? It's as if Faulon forgets Aylene's occasional need for assistance. He doesn't stand there waiting around for the two to make up the shoreline, no. With a dreadful purpose, the bard stalks down the rocky beach—his furious eyes targeting Nathaniel's face. "Let go of her," he snaps, and waves a hand to demonstrate how quickly. "What are you doing out here?"
Uh oh. Aylene passes a bright smile in the direction of Faulon's voice. "Good day, Master Faulon!" she says with perhaps more cheer than is necessary, or even appropriate for the situation. "Nathaniel was showing me the coast of Terrick's Roost. Wasn't that nice of him? He even came running to rescue me when a wave threatened to sweep me back into the sea."
Nathaniel does release Aylene's hand, but only after giving it a gentle squeeze. He does not move from her side, but stops where they are, and watches the tall bard.
Faulon stops short of towering over Nathaniel, but he's standing close. Very close. He seems not to hear anything Aylene's said, as he grits out a scol through a hard set jaw. "Sphinx is not a septa, girl." Eyes flash between the two younger commoners. "And you may not be a lady, but I'll be damned if I let you wander off with /boys/ while you're under my watch."
"But Master Faulon!" Aylene protests. "We weren't doing anything wrong. I like getting to spend time with Nathaniel." She is thankfully immune to the glares from the master bard. "I don't need a chaperone to watch over me anymore than you do." And that is said with just a stubborn sulk.
"Then you are damned by your own admission, master," Nathaniel says quietly. "She is here. However, she came here alone. I was here already. She arrived here quite unharmed on her own, and she remains unharmed except by the water."
It's right about now that Faulon realizes he's acting like the overbearing father in this little situation. So as quickly as he crashed their impromptu meeting, he backs off. "Fine. Fine. But she had better stay… /unharmed/… or I'll know who to find." There's a finger hovering near Nathaniel, now. He still hasn't addressed Aylene directly, but neither does he look like he's going anywhere any time soon at this rate. Plenty of time to get back to the girl.
Aylene's jaw sets. "I am perfectly capable of staying unharmed all by myself!" Her voice rings out with indignation. "I like Nathaniel and he's been nice to me so I can spend time with him if I want to. It doesn't interfere with my learning from you, so you shouldn't care what I do."
Nathaniel glances to Aylene, and then tilts his head slightly to look put to Faulon. "She is safe with me. She is my friend, and I protect my friends. I know quite well that others would take advantage of her … difficulty. For me, that is more reason to treat her well, and to care for her."
Faulon levels a gaze on Nathaniel's face, as if seeing him for the first time. There's a huff like a frustrated dog, told to stay when a meaty bone's just within reach. "You work with the Terrick's, aye?" He doesn't wait for the answer, he remembers now. "I'm well connected there." That's all the warning he serves. Finally, /finally/, he looks at Aylene with a raised brow and a sound in his voice that almost approaches amusement. Almost. "Oh, it doesn't? It doesn't interfere with /your/ learning if /my/ business is affected by the rumors of /my/ student?"
Aylene wrinkles her nose. "What rumors? Who would care enough of me to spread rumors?" she scoffs. "Especially when there are so many nobles that they can gossip about instead. I am a nobody, Master Faulon. I play pretty music, but they would forget me just as soon as I walked from the room." Her arms cross over her chest. "When have they ever cared about us, anyway?"
Nathaniel nods when Aylene asks about the rumors. "Consider this, master," he offers, "If Aylene knows that there are many nobles here, then their presence is overwhelming. They take little notice of smallfolk unless we fail to do what they require. I know that from my service at the tower. I live here. I know where the dangers are. As a courier, I know how to watch for those dangers even in strange places. As I told you, she will come to no harm from me, and might escape harm with me that otherwise might fall upon her."
Anger flares again while the two youths argue their points with the bard. "Shut up," he says flatly to Nathaniel, a hand out to stall anything else the young man might say. He rounds on Aylene, next, speaking too quickly to give Nathaniel a chance to stop unless the courier tries by force. "Cared about us? Cared? I could give a shit if they /cared/ about us, but it's our /jobs/ to be noticed—or did your former Master," he nearly spits that man's vague claim to such out of his mouth, "Teach you absolutely nothing? We're commoners, aye, but we rub elbows with better cloth than that. Or at least anyone who pretends to the high honor of a /Master Bard/ would do very well to remember."
Aylene immediately droops down under the scolding. "I-I-I didn't… I didn't mean it like that," she says in a little voice. "I'm sorry, Master Faulon." Such a sad expression crossing over the girl's face. Downright disheartened and shamed. "I won't do it again." And she looks apologetically in Nathaniel's direction. Or what she thinks is Nathaniel's direction. She's only off by a little bit.
Nathaniel looks at Aylene, and frowns deeply. "If you must go with Master Faulon, I understand, Aylene," he tells her, speaking gently. "But remember that I am your friend, and that I would not allow harm to come to you if I can prevent it." Then he offers, "I will go if you wish."
If Aylene's going to look like a kicked puppy, there's not much Faulon can do but try to put a lid on the temper and explain in less caustic tones: "Look, you can be friends," he says to them both, though is voice is still tight. "But walks on the beach, hand in hand? I know, I know," Faulon sighs again, "Of course it's understandable why you would take a man's arm, girl, but even if you can't see, you have to look through the eyes of others. You have to /pretend/, and you have to put on a good show."
Aylene's expression brightens immediately as Faulon gives the green light on them being friends and following the sound of his voice dances over to give the grumpy Bard a hug. "Thank you, Master Faulon!" she beams with her cheery smile. "We will be better, I promise! We won't do anything that makes people look twice at us. Honest. And nothing that will make them look twice at you." Because that's obviously what's important here. And that thought doesn't dim her happy nature at all.
Nathaniel nods again when Aylene makes assurances for both of them. "I do understand, and we will be careful." He looks toward the sun sinking toward the horizon, and notes, "It is late. We should return to the village together. Then there should be no question."
Well, if they're just going to agree, then Faulon's got nothing left to argue about. Fine. He lets Aylene claim a hug, though he stiff-arms it and pats awkwardly at her back. To Nathaniel he grudgingly offers the lead with a hand waved at the path they must take. "By all means," he says, then falls in step behind the two.