(1310-07-25) Close Encounters of the Lupine Kind
Summary: Lord chevalier Augustin de Trevalion and lady huntress Isabelle de Valais band together to save two village children from an unnaturally large wolf, overall an interesting gateway to a new acquaintanceship.
RL Date: July 25, 2018
Related: None
isabelle augustin 

Countryside

The road that leads from the city winds its way through lush countryside. Drenched by the sun in summer months, it provides a fertile ground for fruits and crops, with well-tended vineyards that produce some of the finest grapes for summer wines. To the south, a rocky coastline slopes down to the silver sands of beaches, and where coves and inlets are littered with fishing boats that plumb the depths of the sea for the fish and seafood that makes up the traditional Eisandine diet. Small stone buildings crouch in the fields to provide shelter from the sun for those that work the land during the heat of the summer months, and there's an open-fronted wooden stall set back from the road where produce such as melons, peaches and a variety of other fruits might be bought when in season.

Trees line the banks of a river where it cuts along dividing fields towards the end of its journey that started somewhere in the Camaeline mountains. Swallowed by a rocky gorge to the south it disappears from view, though a well-trodden path that follows alongside allows a person to track its course towards the ocean.

It is a summer night. The weather is warm and drizzling.


She spends most of her early mornings here in the idyllic countryside in the outskirts of Marsilikos, where grass is plentiful and the woods are deep. As ribbons of red, gold and violet streak the skies, heralding the early dawn, her dark silhouette cuts through the morning mist. A few of her retainers have set up the course for her target practice, though it was never enough for her to settle for stationary targets - a life mostly spent out of Terre D'Ange means one lived with more adventurous leanings. To do this without any difficult challenges would be boring.

Her horse is a black thoroughbred of Aragonian stock, with a sleek, jet black coat painstakingly brushed by her stable minders before every morning ride; both the stallion and his mistress cut a striking pair in the midst of the banishing shadows. The prodigal daughter of House Valais, herself, is dressed in a light riding coat and breeches, with long boots pulled over the knee, and with heels thin enough to punch holes through a body. There is a riding crop in her hand, but she hardly needs to use it, kept in a small ring attached to her saddle from behind as well as a few arrows. Her hair is secured by several pins, though the coiffure leaves a few locks to frame her face.

Her valet, Guillermo, a man pushing well into his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair, dressed in his sharp blacks-and-whites, comes up to the horse's side and murmurs a few words, to which she inclines her head, elegant brows lifting slightly.

"That's today?" she murmurs, tugging her gloves up her wrists.

"Si."

"I certainly picked quite the time to stop drinking anything stronger than wine," Isabelle laughs, flashing the older man a blazing smile, liable to blind the unawary, and put distant stars to shame. "Send Gustav to the mademoiselle's manor and— "

A shrill, bloodcurdling scream pierces the hillside. Her dark haired head whips towards the direction of the sound, eyes tracking past the hazy, dewy film and to the distant outline of trees. Narrowing her eyes, she tugs on her reins. "Guillermo."

The man moves to the small, covered area where a canopy is set up over a table and the lady's breakfast. A black recurve bow is flung into the air, swept up by deft fingers as the woman taps her spurs into her horse's flanks. The horse leaps forward, cutting like dark lightning towards the woods.

—-

Even in the early morning, near a city like Marsilikos there is hardly every no one else; and so that is true this morning as well. Far more simply and less strikingly dressed comes a rider from the city, moving along aat an easy gait. The horse is rather plain and brown; the rider somewhat more fancy. He wears a simply pair of dark blue trousers tucked into black riding boots with silver spurs, a cream colored shirt, and a similarly dark blue vest and coat; all embroidered with white swans. His nobility is signalled by the long sword in a sheath hanging from the saddle; either his unimportance or confidence signalled by the lack of guards. He casually looks around, apparently enjoying a morning ride.

Until the scream, at least. Then his head snaps too, and he is whipping his horse around to go as fast as possible toward its source. The gallop reveals he is not the world's most confident rider by any means, and most likely is hoping to get off the horse when he is there.

—-

The woods outside of the city are lovely, dark and deep, surrounding vines and leaves carrying with them the unmistakeable scent of rain; the blanketing mist parts as both horses tear through the film in different directions. Like passing through the corridor of the unknown and falling in the verdant embrace of another world, branches seem to stretch towards the heavens, dripping water towards the world below. They cling to their hair, skin and clothes like diamonds from above…

There's another scream, and closer to the source, they'd at least be able to identify the gender and the age of the screamer - whoever it is, it is young and female.

And frightened.

It is Isabelle that finds her first; a girl no more than ten years old, shielding a much younger boy - cuts and scrapes form a bloody mesh over her arms, through the torn sleeves of what was once a long-sleeved peasant's blouse. Her bonnet has been pulled down from her run, slung around her neck, and she's trembling as she slinks against the trunk of a massive oak behind her. The boy with her is crying, and clutching at her skirts.

It isn't the state of how she finds them that alarms her, however. It is the fact that they're alone and clearly frightened, the cause of it nowhere on sight.

Isabelle rounds her horse just in time to catch the glimpse of a massive shape leap at her from the trees.

The screams that Augustin hears would be compounded by other noises as he courageously speeds to the center of the trouble; the sound of a neighing horse and the cries of another voice:

"Take him and go! Cazador, vete! Vete ahora!"

Pushing through the trees and tall, emerald blades of grass, the Knight of the Swan would catch the glimpse of a black horse trotting further into the woods, carrying two children. There is a woman ensuring their passage of escape, her hair pulled half-free from its bind, blood coursing down the tear on her jacket and down one visible arm. But her bow is up and a single arrow is nocked upon it, moving slowly in a sidestep. Her eyes are anywhere but where he is.

And she has a very good reason why she can't afford to divide her attention.

The wolf slowly stalking her is massive - the biggest Isabelle has ever seen and certainly large enough to do some serious damage to a full-grown bear, its predominantly black fur mottled with hints of gray. Its muzzle twitches at every growl, its teeth bared and gleaming, crimson drops staining its fangs.

Isabelle's lips purse, her whistle low and slow. Eyes flicker upwards towards Augustin, but lower again to fix on the wolf, the sound she makes keeping its attention as she takes another sidestep, which the gigantic creature mirrors.

—-

By the time that Augustin hears additional screaming he has unsheathed his sword, because he knows what screams of terror sound like. By the time that he sees two terrified and bloodied children riding out on a large black horse he's girding himself for something akin to a mild apocalypse. As he gets in to the copse of trees he abandons his horse, which appears to be much more akin to an easy rider than a charging courser. That's the problem when you make knights out of people who can't ride horses, silly monarchy.

On foot Augustin approaches indirectly, coming from the side in case something is going to come right out at him following the children. As such he sees Isabelle backing away at an angle. Her intent look and desperate focus keep him from calling out to her; he follows the tension of her arrow, and barely manages to keep his own breath from catching as that gigantic a wolf comes out toward her. But even with that reaction there is no hesitation from the man. As she whistles to keep its attention he stalks forward with the fluid grace of someone who could adequately describe this as 'not his first rodeo'. He carefully moves forward waiting either for the moment when he can strike, or he is forced to by its movement.

—-

"Now, now, darling…" Isabelle murmurs; for someone staring at her death directly at the jaws, her words are soothing and surprisingly calm. She wields a practiced hand, perhaps, in dangerous situations, though those familiar with her reputation would find that to be rather outlandish. "What are they feeding you out here these days….?" She looks like any other D'Angeline lady, albeit touched by the hints of exoticism left there by the royal house of Aragonia.

The response from the wolf is a throaty growl, its head lowering and haunches rising - the animal instinct to look bigger in the face of a threat. Golden eyes fix on the dark-haired woman as she takes another sidestep in an effort to draw it closer. But it isn't because she suddenly feels like being suicidal. Augustine de Travalion, hero of a hundred skirmishes, would probably recognize what she is doing - it is a concentrated attempt to turn the gigantic creature's blind side towards him.

For a moment, there is silence - tension snaps taut like steel cables, thickening the air and the sense of brutal, bloody inevitability weighing down on those present - the lady, the knight, the wolf. Those dark, gold-flecked eyes watch the hairy predator as keenly as it watches her, but between them, there is a clear winner. It is faster, stronger, larger. The question is whether she is fast enough to save herself from further injury when the time comes.

And the time comes upon them in a flash.

It starts with a lowering of the wolf's back haunches and as it springs forward, Isabelle's arrow flies. It finds the soft meat of the animal's shoulder as she leaps sideways and away. As it follows, it leaves itself wide open for the Knight of Swans.

—-

Augustin doesn't fail to notice the scene that is evolving in front of him, nor does he fail to understand what his part in it is going to be. He keeps his eyes focused and his body loose, his movements smooth and the sword kept low by his side. He breathes out in slow, careful breaths so that it neither throws off his movements nor gives away his presence. While his body is loose there is a tension there, a coiled spring waiting for the moment.

The moment the wolf's stance shifts to launch, so Augustin does as well; he throws himself forward with a speed that is almost unnatural. He gets to the wolf only two heartbeats after the arrow thunks home, and his sword flashes in the morning light as it buries itself in to the wolf's side. The blow strikes true— it is most likely a kill shot, but it is not an instant kill. Fangs flash in return, and Augustin joins the shoulder/arm wound club with his own muffled grunt of pain.

—-

Dawn's own light flashes from the blade of the master swordsman before it buries in a streak of silver and crimson through a hide thickened by fur. The wolf does defend itself with a snarl, spittle flying as massive jaws close over the man's shoulder, its sheer size able to knock the man away and set it free from the dangerous edged weapon that he wields. Blood drips on the ground, hungrily swallowed by the earth.

Those feral eyes flick sideways - to the woman with the bow, to the man with the sword, and it turns to move. Long legs and large paws make a quick retreat, the beast hurtling back into the woods amidst the rustling of trees and grass. And after a moment, there is nothing but harsh breaths coalescing into mist, and the thundering heartbeats of two people who have just survived a sudden brush with danger.

Isabelle waits for a moment or two, but not for very long. Her own quick feet move to where Augustin is, reaching for him with both hands. Sharp, critical eyes fall over his injury.

"We should stay just long enough to see to the toils of the day," she suggests, reaching into the inner lining of her coat to pull out an embroidered handkerchief, with which to bind his wound should he let her. "But I think a quick rendezvous with our horses and those children is in order." Eyes like embers lift to meet his, lips hooking wryly on the corner of the pliant curve. "Wolves typically hunt in packs. Likely not that the rest of his brethren are as big as he is, but between you and me, my lord, I'm not exactly enthused to find out for myself."

—-

Augustin curses as he is knocked away, pinwheeling to both keep his feet an his sword which lets the wolf take the time to pull away and reconsider its life choices. For however long it may have a life, depending on how deeply Augustin struck his blow—but that's a matter for another time. He grunts as Isabelle comes over, switching his sword to his left hand with which he seems equally comfortable. He shrugs out of his coat to let her have more access to the wound; the arm doesn't seem to be moving terribly well right now, and his pained eyes belie his calm manner. "No, I'd rather not fight a full pack at once. Even if I won the songs they'd write would be terribly annoying." He motions with the sword. "You have the range, my lady; you go first and I'll guard the rear. If you have to shoot over my shoulder, I pray you shoot true."

—-

Once his jacket is out of the way, she ties her handkerchief over his wound securely, but she is clearly an experienced hand with minor injuries. "My practice site isn't far from here," she tells him. "Where my retainers and my personal chirurgeon are. I'll have him avail himself of his expertise when we get there."

His suggestion is sound, and after inspecting her own injury, she dismisses the look of it as something less worrisome - claw marks are less concerning than bites. Her bow spun on one hand and an arrow nocked in the string, she nods; his suggestion is sound. "You needn't worry about my aim," she tells him reassuringly, long-legged strides taking her further into the woods. "Let's find those horses, shall we?"

They find them in short order at least; Augustin's is right where he left it, and Cazador comes when he is called, still carrying the children. While the journey back to the clearing takes a few more minutes, they'll find it once they break out of the treeline. The colorful canopy bearing the colors of House Valais beckons their sight, and a small obstacle course has been set up for Cazador. The table within the canopy is laden with a simple but filling breakfast, the scent of hot coffee and tea in the air.

They are intercepted by Isabelle's retainers - the children are brought to the table, where they are fed some fruit, cheese and bread, and Isabelle's chirurgeon quietly inspects Augustin's injuries once he's found a seat. "We'll need a poultice to disinfect," he informs the knight. "The wounds themselves aren't too substantial, but it is infection that we must prevent. Gustav, my bag."

Isabelle has found a seat herself, with Guillermo having carefully removed her coat and leaving her in her torn blouse; simple and elegant under the more elaborate outerwear, the pale cloth stained with crimson. She has her arm out for one of the chirurgeon's apprentice's to inspect, while the other holds up a small book.

"All these appointments are for just this afternoon?" she wonders, rolling her head towards Guillermo.

"Yes, my lady."

"Ugh. Well, it can't be helped, I suppose." To her guest, she inclines her head. "How does your arm feel, Vicomte?"

Ah, yes. She knows who he is.

—-

"Convenient," Augustin murmurs as he keeps his eyes out for any friendy-friends that happen to come see what happened to their big brother wolf. "At this point I'd take a Skaldi holmgang as long as they weren't more aggressive than the wolves." He moves after her, keeping his back to her and front toward where the wolves came from. After a heart wrenching walk, where every shadow could be a wolf waiting to pounce, he is happy to mount his horse again and ride with her towards safety.

He isn't a confident enough rider necessarily to guide just with his knees while keeping the sword out, so he settles for loosely sheathing it but keeping it close at hand as they ride. And when the colorful canopy breaks through the trees and in to their sight he finally relaxes enough to wince at the pain in his shoulder. He slides off his horse and moves to let the chirurgeon inspect him. "Of course," he grunts about the infection. "I'll have some fun new scars to show off, but let's keep me from losing the limb for sure," he offers with gallows humor. He offers a little nod to Isabelle.

"It hurts, my lady Valais, but the pain is nothing terribly new to me. It's never been from a wolf before, however. You make such charming friends," he offers with a wry smile.

—-

"Isabelle," the brunette offers with a smile; though one would expect someone who looks so delicate to be fatigued by the morning's adventure, it only seems to galvanize her. Dark eyes glitter with those occasional motes of gold, cheeks flushed through her light tan, and there's an indulgent look towards the children they've managed to pull out of danger as they shyly help themselves to the breakfast that the woman's household provides. It's clear that they are hungry.

Still, the offerance of her name is indicative enough of her place in the dizzying array of nobles that take up the city's heart; the niece of the Comte de Digne and his trusted agent abroad and enjoys a certain infamy among the fashionista circles of the D'angeline elite. The daughter of the Comte's brother and his wife born from the royal house of Aragonia. If her mother tongue wasn't so flawless on her lips, Augustin couldn't be blamed if he thought her to be Aragonian from the start.

You make such charming friends.

"It would certainly be accurate if you count yourself among them," the woman replies, the twist to her smile equal parts amicable and mischievous. "One can't have too many dangerous friends if not for the benefits those provide. You conducted yourself befitting of the songs I've heard, however - I confess to being a skeptic, most days, but it appears that your skill with a blade is no exaggeration. Did you know they translated 'Sir Augustin and the Nine Blades' to Aragonian? It's quite a hit in the capital."

—-

Augustin chuckles at the response, and offers a nod of his own. "Then it is Augustin, my lady, and a pleasure. Not too many ladies in the city would speak Aragonian, and ride an Aragonian horse, and have the look of the Royal Family," he offers wryly. He looks energized by the danger and the morning, but in a different way. Not like it made him more alive, but instead like instincts are still firing and he is out of his normal and comfortably wry way of viewing the world.

He snorts at the compliment. "You seem dangeorus to be friends with, Isabelle, if this is how you go about meeting them. Not exactly bumping in to one another at the market," he teases wryly before he sighs. "I did not know it had made it's way to the court of the Rey, no. I had hoped it stayed stillborn in Elua. I will have to live with my disappointment," he shakes his head. "But I am not sad to have made a believer out of you, in the circumstances."

—-

"The pleasure is mine," Isabelle says; despite her estrangement from the D'angeline court, its etiquette comes naturally to her as breathing. There's a glance to her chirurgeon when he finishes applying the poultice and binding the man's wound, then offering the knight a small cup of something strong and herbal to cleanse his blood of any impurities that might come from the wolf bite. There's a mild interest in her eyes when she regards the man's care of the other, but otherwise she does little to impede his work.

When the chirurgeon finally turns his attention to the claw-marks on her arm, she laughs in response to what Augustin offers her in return. There is nothing girlish about the sound; nothing so crystalline or angellic as most of those blessed with angels' blood. It is low and rich, meant for candlelit rooms and to be savored with brandy or cognac. "The lone spider among the roses, I'm afraid," she tells him, the fingers of her free hand lifting to tug on an errant, midnight curl in emphasis. "Though I am impressed that you're able to tell immediately. I take it you spent a considerable amount of time in my mother's country?" Her smile returns, albeit its a subtler thing. "What did it ever do to deserve the presence of el caballero de cisnes?"

If nothing else, it confirms his conclusions - her Aragonian is just as flawless as her D'angeline, her contralto unfairly suited to its signature rolling r's.

He snorts and she laughs again. "I am perfectly capable of meeting acquaintances in the market, if that is your preference, but such mundane occurrences make for less riveting stories. Dinner conversations would be much more exciting if one starts with an encounter with an unnaturally gigantic wolf in the woods." Though his sigh earns him a look of sympathy. "I suppose such acclaim can be a double edged blade. It's a fantastic icebreaker with someone with whom you're making a new acquaintance, but probably terrible in the long run. I can only imagine how many challengers it brought to your doorstep - in my experience, career soldiers find little actual joy in the sport of dueling. Not that it is surprising, mind…those who by nature defend others would rather bare their blades for a cause more worthy."

—-

Augustin grits his teeth at the final application of poultice and then the binding with more formal and presumably sterile a bandage than the lady's handkerchief. He reaches out to take the drink and swallows it in one go, before he sits back when the chirurgeon switches to another patient. He chuckles at the response of being a spider among the roses. "I was in Aragonia for a number of years, yes. Both attached to the navy hunting pirates with the Aragonian fleet, and as military advisor and personal duelist for the ambassador. Same reasons I spent most of my time abroad, to tell the truth."

Here he switches to equally fluent Aragonian. "It is a beautiful country, and I became very much a fan of some of the local spirits while I was there. I hope some day to go back." He says this sincerely, and fondly, before he switches back to d'Angeline.

"It is much more interesting a way to meet people," he admits. He chuckles at her comment about acclaim. "You have it very much on the nose. Young men looking to make a name for themselves, more mature men looking to be the one to unseat me. And the expectation that I'm seeking a duel or that I enjoy the act of hurting people."

—-

"I barely spent any time in Terre D'Ange," Isabelle confesses. "Most of my life was spent in other countries." This time, her lips take on an easy, wry cast. "My own 'ambassadorship' was built on style, not that I could complain. It has made me independently wealthy and in the end, my personal freedom is very important to me." Her head tilts to her chirurgeon who finishes applying poultice and bandages, the same drink given to her in a small cup, which she also downs with a hearty swallow. It is bitter going down, but as people often say with respect to medicine, its taste is commensurate with how effective it is.

"So does that mean that you have only recently returned to Terre D'Ange?" she wonders, dark eyes lit with curiosity as she regards the man's handsome profile sidelong. "You've had your fill of life abroad?"

His own demonstration of Aragonian has her smiling faintly - a subtle thing, but her eyes are sharply assessing and there is an understated hint of approval there. "Bueno," she tells him. "Well, should the desire return, you can always accompany me back here - there is, after all, safety in numbers. I return to Amilcar on the regular, mostly during the fall, to keep abreast of the news there, and to get to know my relatives and their mercantile interests. Wines are of interest, as you say, I've always been fond of Aragonian grapes, but textiles, also. And horses, especially. My beloved Cazador was foaled in its plains."

Everything about him could make an impression; he is tall, handsome, accomplished and titled. But it is his last words that strike a more visible effect on the woman seated near him. Watching him quietly for a moment, she shifts on her seat, an elegant hand lifting to gesture for her young page, Gustav. "You can always take an accurate measure of a man not with how he treats his friends, but how he treats his enemies. The shortsightedness of some never fails to amaze me. Any person blessed with a modicum of common sense would anticipate a man of your history to tire of bloodshed, not to revel in it."

—-

"I've only recently returned to Terre d'Ange," Augustin agrees. "I spent a terrible summer in La Serenissima, where too many people tried to kill me and the Ambassador. I came back to a father trying to arrange a marriage, and a duel when I didn't want to go along with it from the young woman's brother. Marsilikos is…a happy medium for the time being, where there are no knives in the night and my father isn't trying to extend his personal dynasty. I miss travel, but I don't miss that so much of my travel ended up being 'Go somewhere they are going to try to stab the ambassador, and fight them,'" he offers with a wry smile and a shake of his head.

Augustin smiles genuinely at the offer. "I appreciate the offer, and I hope that some day I can take you up on it. Aragonia was one of my favorites— the least people trying to kill me, and the most enjoyment. Only tied with Khebbel-im-Akkad," he confesses before he chuckles at her assessment. "And yet…there are many in the city you will find who do revel in it. Who seek violence and pain, because it fills something in them. I think a man must either become tired of it or grow to need it; and I thank the Companions I fall in to the first category. But it is true in almost any field, I suspect— young courtiers coming up to steal thrones. Just less violent, one hopes."

—-

"La Serenissima can be beautiful under even the poorest circumstances, but a world apart from us D'angelines," Isabella observes, pausing when Gustav returns with a couple of crystal glasses of chilled fruit wine - Aragonian, as it happens, but that isn't surprising given the company. "There's an infamous custom as to how Caerdicci women manage to convince their husbands to stay so faithful….slow-acting poison, in which only they know the antidote, to ensure that their men return home to them every night. If anything, I thought the anecdote succinctly illustrates its nature as a whole - the City of Canals is just as beautiful as it is deadly, so I'm not surprised when you tell me that too many shadows have tried to end you and your ambassador."

She plucks hers from the tray, and the blond boy turns his almost disconcertingly blue stare towards Augustin, himself, offering him the same refreshment. While Guillermo is clearly Aragonian, the page is not…if anything, he looks distinctly Skaldi. There's a slight cant of her head. "I suppose that in your case, issue would be a concern. What was it about the match that you didn't agree with?" Amusement glitters within those gold-flecked eyes. "I mean, other than the fact that the lady's brother obviously has a penchant for exercising tremendously poor judgment."

He mentions other places, even Khebbel-im-Akkad, to which she laughs and takes a sip of her drink; it is an expression as bright as the sun, favoring the Aragonian way of throwing oneself body and soul in everything she does, including mirth and the entire broad spectrum of human emotion. "One of my favorites, tied with Menekhet, as far as exotic, far-flung places go. It's the scent…oil and spices, and the stark contrasts between the heat of the day and the chill of the evening."

Because it fills something in them.

That particularly astute observation has her smirking faintly. "Aye, but that's the rub, my lord," she says, tracing her fingertip along the crystalline lip of her cup. "Men such as those are clay receptacles with an indiscernible hole in the bottom. That specific void is impossible to fill. The world is full of men, and women, like that. Makes it infinitely more dangerous." There's a hint of a smile there, long lashes hooding over her eyes and rendering the look of her somewhat feline. "Thankfully, I'm no craven. I'm better equipped to handle what's out there than most."

—-

Augustin reaches out to take the fruit wine from the young man. He notices the foreign looking features, and decides to take a stab. "Thank you," he thanks in fluent Skaldi, before he looks back to Isabelle and switches back to d'Angeline. "I will concede that it could be quite a delightful city in other circumstances. I'm not thrilled with the general custom of women being illiterate, but it isn't like Khebbel-im-Akkad is much better for that," he admits. "Mostly it was the people trying to kill me. And they certainly did not use the slow acting poison."

He keeps up with the switches in conversational topic well, even in mild pain. A quick conversationalist, it seems. "The forced aspect. I'm sure the young woman was lovely, but she was also…ten minutes out of her family's estate and chosen by my father primarily for her family's shipbuilding industries. I objected to that, and her brother assumed that it was more personal than that." He leans back in the chair a bit, and then smiles. "It was a beautiful city. I duelled a Prince who rebelled against his family, and spent weeks dining with the Sultan and his family. Yes, there is something to it— and the ancientness of it, the fact that it was so important to the Tiberians and to the Yesuites. I love old cities, where the gods were old when we were born and you can feel it in the stones. That was the part of La Serenissima I most enjoyed, too."

He takes another sip of the wine. "The hole is larger in some than in others, as well. Some can be satisfied with a little, and some can not be satisfied with a great deal." He snorts. "Yes, you proved yourself far from a coward today."

—-

Gustav blinks in surprise at the man's fluency in Skaldi. "You're welcome, my lord," he utters, before wandering off. Ever observant, Isabelle's dark eyes follow the boy as he rejoins the rest of her staff; they do not seem to be the sort that misses much, sharp as an eagle's.

His own observations of La Serenissima are taken in stride, and the brunette inclines her head at him quietly. "Well, that befuddles me also." Lips pull upwards in a flagrantly teasing bent. "That women would be so hampered in those societies and denied these necessities to live a truly fulfilling life. What do you think, my lord?" Pristine white teeth clip faintly against the crystal cup she holds, golden motes within each iris glittering with sardonic mirth. "Are we truly so fearsome sprung from the womb that such measures need to be undertaken to level the playing field between genders?"

No poison to kill him, but that doesn't surprise her in the slightest. "Probably because it isn't 'masculine' for one man to kill another with poison, in La Serenissima. A failing, but also a blessing. It's an infinitely more terrible way to die. Though the point, in the end, is not to die at all, yes?"

His quick wit and ability to follow her conversation is much appreciated; she had described herself a spider among the roses earlier, albeit out of self-deprecating humor, but there may be more truth to that after all - she thinks in webs, directs talk in webs, and manages to track each line as if she's managing just one instead of multiple others.

And it seems that her appreciation only grows when he tells her of his love of old cities. "The same," she murmurs. "Though I suspect for different reasons than you hold."

She doesn't elaborate, however, when her page returns to slip a sealed message in her grasp. She inspects the seal carefully, though she doesn't open it in his presence. She tucks it in her pocket instead, those burning ember-eyes falling on the knight once more. "A sound conclusion, and one, I trust, not made lightly - you must've encountered your own share of such men and women, considering the varied attempts at your life." Far from a coward? She laughs, another sip taken of her cup before she unfolds herself from her chair. "While I'm gratified to hear it, courage only goes so far. Though I suppose depending on the circumstances, it can go very far indeed."

—-

Augustin nods a little bit as his suspicion is confirmed, and turns his eyes back to Isabelle. "I would say that I've never found a woman to be so fearsome out of the womb that we need to take such measures, but my older sister is Margret de Trevalion and my cousin is the Duchesse so I would not want to lie. Especially for Margret I've felt sometimes like I need any advantage that I can beg, borrow, or steal."

He snorts at her comment about not dying. "I've always found it infinitely preferably if the other gentleman dies for his country rather than me having to die for mine; altough to be fair they've all likely felt the same way." He quirks an eyebrow as she doesn't elaborate…but doesn't ask as she is given a message instead. "Courage isn't the only virtue; it was certainly wiser to retreat once you had protected the children. But it is a virtue."

—-

His remarks about two of what is undoubtedly several formidable women in his life earns him another one of those low, rich laughs, Isabelle lifting her crystal cup slightly towards him. "A most astute reply," she praises, good humor bled into every syllable. "You may have the influence of a thousand cultures in you, my lord, but at least when it comes to conversing with women, your angel's blood betrays you. You truly are a formidable creature."

Augustin's words about courage has her lifting her eyes. "True, that, but I was more alluding to ability to pair with courage. Because much like you, my lord, considering your earlier statements about people trying to kill you, I would very much like to live past forty and I'll certainly shorten my potential lifespan if I acted on every reckless impulse I was capable of having. Once upon a time, I wasn't so discerning." Her smile takes on an easier cast. "I was quite the thorn on my father's side in my earlier youth because of it. I'm hoping, between us, that I've managed to improve on that front."

She draws her jacket from the back of her chair, and slips her arms through it. She angles a wink in his direction. "But the day is still young. I might disappoint you yet."

—-

Augustin smirks a little bit at the salute and the words that follow, raising his glass to match hers in turn. "I will admit that I don't mind being called formidable for something besides swordplay for once in my life, I'll have to treasure the moment," he offers, and it is clear that he is mostly being truthful. Teasing her a little bit, certainly, but genuine as well.

He grins a little bit and shakes his head. "Once upon a time I considered 40 to be…unattainably, unrealistically old. I wasn't going to make 30 necessarily, so why bother thinking about 40. Now it seems like if I were to not make it to 40 it would be such a loss of time and potential. Aging makes fools of our younger selves." He snorts. "I'm still a thorn in my father's side. I'm not sure that will ever change. He is too much who he is, and I am too much who I am, and we've never managed to make those work together well."

He smirks, and wiggles his eyebrows. "I doubt that you will be disappointing in any way, my lady. You don't seem to be the kind who tolerates disappointment."

—-

"At the moment, I'm more interested in what you've seen and experienced than the edge of your blade," Isabelle tells him unabashedly and gestures for him to stand. "Come, my lord. Run the course with me - while anyone would be satisfied with fighting off an unnaturally large wolf for the morning exercise, I don't think I've had enough just yet. Dawn has yet to truly settle on the horizon, though somehow I'm not surprised to discover you're an early riser like I am."

Long-legged strides start moving towards their horses. Cazador's sleek, black mane tosses backwards, nostrils flaring at his mistress' approach. "But if nothing else, I'm gratified to leave you with one happy memory of me." Her head tilts back as she laughs. "You can say I'm in the business of bringing joy as much as I am dedicated to attracting the occasional spot of trouble."

A soothing hand passes over her horse's neck, patting it gently.

"Why is that, if I may ask?" she wonders, bracing her boot on a stirrup and swinging upwards upon the saddle. "That you think yourself a thorn on your father's side? I venture it isn't simply because you refuse to marry women who aren't willing to enter into such an arrangement - the choice of your profession, perhaps?"

His professed faith in her ability to please earns him a winning, winsome grin - broad enough to chase out an errant dimple from her left cheek. "It's not in my nature to rule anything out," she tells him, expression crystal in its enjoyment and amusement at their bantering. "But I appreciate the note of confidence very much in my ability to satisfy." That grin widens; unmistakably of D'angeline stock, the blood of angels runs through her veins, but at the moment, she looks more devil than anything celestial. "Doubly complimentary, I think, when I've no courtesan training whatsoever."

With that, she taps her heels lightly on her horse's flanks, and spins it around with the deft flick of her wrist, to start the course.

—-

Augustin laughs, and while he shakes his head he doesn't remain seated. "Despite being a chevalier I am actually not much of a horseman. There's a reason I dismounted to deal with the wolf," he confesses, even as he does begin to move toward his horse. "I will do my best, but in this I will have to tolerate failure I suspect."

He mounts his horse before he answers her question about his father. "It's been that way since I was a young man, it has nothing to do specifically with the marriage. I am not the heir unless Margret marries a Duc or a Prince, but I am the eldest son. He wants me to be an extension of his own fame and influence, his dynasty. I've never wanted that. He was the Royal Admiral, so he wanted me to be as well; so I wanted to join the army."

—-

"Just a trot, then," Isabelle suggests. "It's more conducive to conversation, anyway."

She clicks her tongue between her teeth, and Cazador starts forward, though the stallion gives Augustin, and his own horse, a wary eye. Keen intelligence, so apparent that it is almost unnerving, gleams from the animal's dark eyes. But that is a trademark of the Aragonian strain - spirited, but sensitive, and remarkably smart, not prone to tolerating abuse.

"I profess that I find very little difference battling between land and sea," she tells him, easing her horse into a companionable canter along with his, moving along the course at an easy pace. She sideskips the obstacles entirely. "I gather that the rules are different by necessity, but in the end, what you do now falls well within the business of war. Just because you were born close to the sea doesn't mean you have to act as if beholden to it." She casts a more halpless smile his way. "Certainly not the words your father would like to hear from a young woman acquainted with you, considering my own colorful history with my parents, but that is what I believe. And it isn't as if you haven't flourished in what you've chosen to do and you can count yourself a stellar example in that you don't always have to follow the agenda set out for you."

She threads her reins between her fingers. "If my father had it his way, I would have been engaged at fifteen and married at eighteen, to an Aragonian or D'angeline lord. That was the plan, and I knew it when I was young and it was one of the main reasons why I made Papa's life so difficult. Terrorized my siblings, my other relatives." Her eyes fill with mirth and she lowers her voice in a conspiratorial whisper. "Set fire to the current Vicomte de Marcoux's hair when he was nine and I was seven."

An elegant hand lifts, waving sideways. "Water under the bridge, now. I've a fair mind for business and I capitalized my talent for design to go with it. You can say it's bought me the freedom I wanted for so long. Life is so much easier when you're capable of making your own fortune."

—-

Augustin snorts. "There are a variety of differences between the two, I will assure you," he offers as he puts his own horse in to mootion. "Oh, I have a very difficult relationship with the sea. I love it for its beauty but did not want to make my trade with it. I ran away to join the army the minute I was old enough, and had to be dragged back by my father's guard. The Duc my uncle made a compromise where I would join the naval infantry," he expresses. He is, true to his word, not the world's most natural horseman. "But as a result all of my warfare has been at sea. And my father has long since abandoned hope that I will be a Royal Admiral; while he is proud of what I've done it is a source of frustration."

He laughs at her own example, shaking his head. "Has he ever forgiven you?" He asks, before she answers the question and he nods. "There is an element of that in my own rebellion. I wanted a life where I could find out who I was, not just be a shadow of my father. I found it, and like all granted wishes it was never what I expected and more than I wanted in so many ways. There is much I would not trade, and some I would. And yes…part of my leverage was the fact that if I walked away I could be a Captain-General in any mercenary army in the world, or even foreign nation's, if I was willing to sell my honor down the river. I wouldn't, but I could, and there is some freedom there."

—-

Has he ever forgiven you?

Isabelle directs upon him the devil's own smile. "Absolutely not," she tells him airily. "Given the title he holds now, he will deny it, but I personally think he still sweats every time I light a candle." She bats her lashes at him, all playful innocence - though one that nobody would believe. She does not have a face suited for demureness.

Horse hooves plod in a quick, but easy clip on compact earth and she does nothing for the moment but keep an eye on her surroundings and concentrate on moving with her horse instead of against it; the basic principles of dressage are built on this harmony, and woman and beast find it immediately - a testament of years of practice, or perhaps being one another's boon companion. While silence reigns, for just a few moments, it is nothing oppressive and through the mist, she cuts a svelte, elegant figure, though there is something else with the way that she holds herself upon such a spirited creature that speaks of more.

When she does carry on the conversation again, she turns her eyes his way once more. "So if you were posed with a conundrum," she begins. "Say to be saddled with a responsibility you absolutely don't want, but important and necessary, and thus cutting you off from any chance of living a life you actually want outside of Terre D'Ange…would that be worth your honor?" She meets his blue eyes sidelong. "I suppose what I am asking is whether there is a point where enough is enough, for you."

—-

"You ask if it would be worth my honor," Augustin answers after a moment's thought. "It would be on my honor to stay and take the responsibility. It would be turning my back on my honor, and my duty, in order to live a life I want to live." He is quiet for a moment longer as he moves his horse along. "They are also not necessarily opposed. I have had many opportunities to live a life of villainy; to do the easy thing for money or title or freedom. I have not done so not because it was not tempting, but because I value…doing what's right. Being the kind of person who does what's right. I could have kept right on trotting when I heard the wolf, but I did not."

He rides carefully through the course, cutting much less of a dashing figure while mounted, but managing with his own dignity. "I won't say there is not a moment where I would say it is too much. That marriage in particular, my father going too far with his machinations…but it would probably not be outright to a foreign army to serve as an officer, and almost definitely not to be a sell sword. If disowned I am still a knight, and I could still find a place in the army or in the Lady of Eisande's service."

—-

It is a solid answer, but what she actually thinks of it is an opinion she doesn't voice, dark eyes going back to the path they're taking until they hit the point of the man-made course where they must turn around. Or perhaps it is such a question where an opinion needn't be given, nevermind that she embraces this particular tendency to say what she thinks. The question, after all, was a personal one. Quite frankly, she's rather surprised the chevalier deigned to answer it at all.

"I suppose to take a knight's honor away would mean killing the designation, itself," Isabelle murmurs, finally. "Though the definition of what's right tends be quite nebulous when you're out there."

That statement, too, underscores something more, but the lady huntress is already espying Guillermo from a distance, waving his gloved hand.

"Time flies," she tells him, an apologetic stamp upon the dewy curve of her mouth. "That is my valet's way of saying that, unless I would like to smell like horse and blood and fruit for my next appointment, I should be away to prepare. It was a pleasure meeting you, Augustin." Her smile broadens a touch and she gives him an angled look. "I expected your sisters to be charming, especially Ailene, but I'm a confident woman enough to say it most definitely runs in the family."

—-

Augustin doesn't fail to notice what isn't said, but he doesn't speak on it; either too much of a gentleman, or letting her speak in her own time out of respect. He chuckles, and offers a little bow over his saddle. "It was a pleasure to meet you as well. Let me recommend both sisters to you; Arianne has a more subdued charm, but it is also in some ways stronger for not having to prove itself. May the companions bless you, and keep you safe from wolves."

—-

"Oh, I intend to get to know her better, especially when they seem to be very intent on spending their brothers' money on new wardrobes more suited for the city," Isabelle says with a laugh, throwing a wicked grin over her shoulder at him. "Fortune must favor you, Sir Augustin, when I've elected to caution them to ask for your blessing first before making such expenditures. Safe travels, my lord." With another wave, she coaxes her horse to a gallop, to find her way back to the Valais canopy.

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