(1310-09-26) The Fault In Their Stars
Summary: After a late afternoon ride, Lady Desarae de Mereliot takes the opportunity to learn more about her new Cassiline protector.
RL Date: September 28, 2019
Related: None
nicolas desarae 

Le Cascade

Taking a smaller path that splits from the main one, following it through the trees and down a small slope, and a person would find themselves in a large glade at the foot of a waterfall. Entering the glade is like stepping into another world; for no views of the city, or the sea that can be heard in the distance, are possible from here due to the trees that surround it. It's here that the river which has wound its way through the Eisandine fields, tumbles over a fifty foot cliff and into a pool at its base before continuing on its way. Over the centuries the rocks surrounding the pool have worn smooth, and the natural hollows and formations of which they comprise allow for sitting or bathing in the sparkling clear waters, or for stretching alongside the pool in the warmth of the Eisandine summers. Trees around the edge of the glade offer respite for those that prefer to seek shade when the sun is high, and one large flat rock that overhangs the pool is a popular spot from which to dive.

At some point in history, someone carved a small grotto into one of the rocks behind where the water cascades, and lovers will often place a devotion to Naamah here, asking her for blessings.

The afternoon ride is vigorous enough to do what it is meant to, a bit of exercise to wind down the day and to expend additional energies to ensure a relaxing sleep after. It had been Nicolas' suggestion, in the end, in hopes that it would assist the young lady to have a dreamless repose by the time she relinquishes herself to the Sandman's embrace, but wounds are unpredictable in that regard; sometimes the body wins, sometimes the mind prevails.

He proves himself an able enough rider. While he hasn't been trained as a cavalry man, his training and travels have left him with the posture of a seasoned adventurer. His ward may doubt his interest, she has not been shy in expressing herself in that regard, coming down from protecting a duc to the heiress of a marquisate. But there has been nary a complaint from him and never once did he look bored - it has been a calling since he was a young man to protect people, or so he believes, and he has enough faith in his order that he has been sent here for a very good reason. He simply has to be patient in order to determine what that reason is.

His steed is the one that he arrived in, a stallion dappled with gray and black with a white mane. It is no warhorse, not the sort that would bear heavy, armored knights to battle, but a sleek and hardy animal built for speed and long distances. All through the ride, he had kept up with the young lady's pace, going as fast or as slow as her prowess would allow, but after a few hours of chasing one another across sprawling fields mottled with the warm, rich colors of the fall, they have to take a break eventually. It ends with them situated under the shade of a large oak, its leaves already turning and reflecting the dying embers of the sunset. Twilight has settled in, the first stars of the evening appearing one by one over the horizon.

There's a small repast of bread, cheese, dried fruit and sausage laid out in a square of cloth between them, as well as a waterskin - Nicolas is nothing but prepared, willing to share his simple snack (the days since his arrival would have led her to discover that the young man eats several small meals a day). His lean, broad-shouldered form is situated in his effortless, boneless sprawl upon the cradle the roots make underneath the bole, a wooden shape in his hand and a carving knife in the other, deft fingers whittling away.

It looks like a bird, but nothing drawn from life - a miniature of a mythical creature that he has seen illustrated in books, his ridiculous memory capturing it down to the last detail.

Desarae's own mount is clearly not of d'Angeline breeding, but is instead a graceful looking black mare that possesses the tell-tale arch-necked carriage and dished-face of a Menekhetian bloodline. A gift, one would imagine, to either her mother's stables or those of the Duchesse herself. She stands tethered a few yards off, her saddle removed to allow her to recover from their energetic afternoon, whilst grazing nose to nose with Nicolas' mount. Desarae has similarly unburdened herself, the peacock blue jacket of her riding ensemble, unbuttoned and removed, and her cravat loosened to allow a whisper of air to touch to her throat.

"I haven't been this far out of the city so late in the evening," she remarks to Nicolas, helping herself to some of the cheese he's provided. She's sitting a few feet away from him, her legs stretched before her with the split of her skirts thown open to reveal the kid-skin leather of pants worn beneath. "Looking back, it's not something I questioned at the time, but now it feels odd. All this beauty. Denied." The hand that holds the bread is swept about them, taking in not only the grass and the tree beneath which they sit, but also the purpling sky with its steadily brightening prickles of light. "Though," she corrects herself a second later, "I suppose that there was Chavaise. But here, in Marsilikos, this is a first." She filters the stars through her lashes, contemplating them for a moment before angling her attention towards Nicolas' hands. "What are you carving? You're always so busy."

Nicolas' mount is similarly situated, and contentedly grazing in the sleepy way most horses do when left to their own devices and freed of the burdens of a saddle.

The Cassiline is dressed in his usual drab-gray uniform that marks him as part of the august company of some of the deadliest men in the realm; it is a structured affair with little embellishment and made up of sturdy, tailored lines fitted to the breadth of his shoulders and the way the rest of him tapers to a narrow point at the waist and hips. Serviceable boots, polished but clearly well-worn, a foot propped up on one of the arches the roots make underneath him. Violet eyes lift to regard his ward, though his fingers do not abandon the work his hands are presently engaged in.

"Well, you're not denying yourself now," he observes, lips pursing to blow away at the chips of wood he has dislodged working on a few details at the base of the sweeping, elaborate tail upon the miniature. "Which I think is a good thing, my lady. Life ought to be savored when you can and seasons change at the blink of an eye." A smile tilts easily on the corner of his expressive mouth. "Autumn's a personal favorite, so I'm glad you decided to take the time out of your education to enjoy it now and then."

Nicolas turns over the miniature in his hands when she asks about it, brushing off the dust his whittling has caused, and offers it to her. It is a seemingly delicate thing, made out of fragrant wood of a pale honey sheen. It has a bit of weight to it, however, the thing sturdier than it looks and should she take it, it fits in her palm easily - a fantastic creature with a long elegant neck and elaborate tail and crown feathers, like water waves or tendrils of fire given tangible shape and form.

"It's known by many names across different cultures, but I'm most familiar with the Ephesian version," he explains. "It's a simir. A glowing bird from a far off paradise that often heralds a long trial or quest. There are several stories associated with it, but I'm fond of the one where it gifts the protagonist of the story with its much-coveted feathers - beautiful, wondrous things that one has to burn in order to receive its blessing or aid in a difficult task or another. It's a lesson as ancient as the world, I suppose, illustrative of the willingness to sacrifice something precious for a wish to be granted."

Desarae's fingers close about the carving when it's passed to her, and she holds it tightly in the centre of her palm. Green eyes meet with violet, and her head tilts fractionally to the left. "A simir?" Curiousity for the tale colours her expression, brows pulling low 'til they knit above her eyes. "I've not heard of a simir before." Digit by digit, she unfolds her fingers, revealing aspects of the carving as if revealing a gift. First the tail, the body, and then the head. "It's an elegant looking creature, though I expect that this is the closest I'll come to meeting one." A half-smile plays her lips as she balances it on its feet within her hand, and carefully lifts it so that it's on a level with her eyes. "I wonder, would you have gifted me your feathers were you real?" It's a question most earnestly asked, and after it's asked, she extends her hand and offers it back.

"I like the autumn too, and the gathering of the harvest. When I was little, before I was given to Naamah's service, I would visit the farms of Chavaise with my father at harvest time. When it was done, a grand fête was held, to which our tenants would be invited. The smell of autumn, the richness of it, reminds me of home." She pulls a face, the tip of her nose crinkling as she swivels where she sits, and folds her legs crosswise in front of her. The cheese she still holds is popped into her mouth, and she rests her hands on her knees.

"Do you know lots of stories like that? Of mythical creatures and things unknown?" The fullness of her lower lip is pulled between her teeth, and her eyes are cast back to the skies. "Do you know any stories of the stars? I know some, but not enough. They're magical too, don't you think?"

The wooden creature stares at her as it rests on her hand, eyes easily meeting hers with the way she positions it on her palm and lifts it to her level stare. It doesn't speak - it would be shocking if it did, but she asks the question so earnestly that Nicolas can't help but maintain that easy, somewhat inscrutable smile, shifting on his seat; a leg bends at the knee so the point of his elbow can brace upon it, hand cupping the side of his face as he observes her. When she attempts to give it back, however, he shakes his head. "Keep it," he says; he had heard from Florent that the young lady prefers diamonds - such lavish gifts are beyond his ability to provide. "I mean, it can't hurt, can it? Maybe it'll hear you in the hour of your direst need, if you had it with you."

She is surprisingly upfront about herself and in spite of his easy manner, the keen look in that violet stare betrays his attentiveness. He said it before, after all - he remembers everything he experiences and hearing her voice, watching her say the words are enough to score her history and preferences in the relentless traps of his memory. He eases from his seated position, to lean, folding his arms behind his head as he braces the back of his head and the point between his shoulderblades against the trunk behind them, staring up at the deepening night and the pinpoints of light that are starting to multiply above them.

"I spent most of my early life in cities," he offers after a pause. "It couldn't be helped - my father and grandfather were both chevaliers, they served ducs and royals. The Brotherhood was my first taste of rural life." Angling his face to her direction, he flashes her a quick wink. "I liked the harvests, too. The festivals that followed, you can smell it in the air, and the colors are warmer. I was fond of cider growing up, Siovalese brew isn't as gentle or as sweet as L'Agnace concoctions, and it's more tart than Azzallese ones. I'll try to find some for you, the next time I can."

Her last question brings a more contemplative expression on his features. "Sure," he tells her, his smile returning. "I remember everything I read. I wouldn't consider myself a great academic, but outside of training, there isn't much to do in the monastery but avail oneself to its library, or the daily chores. Reading's been a good escape from the mundanity of it. Mythological beasts, dangerous adventures, stars…" He inclines his head at her. "There are plenty of those. Would you like to hear one?"

Genuine pleasure's to be found in Desarae's face at the granting of the gift, and the smile that had lurked about her lips, grows more pronounced. "Thank you, Nicolas. I'll look after it well." Despite that smile, there's a seriousness to the tone of her voice as she accepts the miniature carving, and she rubs the pad of her thumb gently across the feathers of its tail. The tales he's heard of her preference for diamonds don't, perhaps, extend to all gifts received. Scootching across, she settles herself in the fork of the tree's roots next to where he sits, bringing her knees up so that the simir can be balanced upon the apex of the one closest to him.

"I like cider, though have only had it spiced and warm in the winter," she confesses, keeping the tip of one finger pressed lightly upon the simir's head as its balance is minutely fine-tuned. Her profile's a study of concentration, her brow furrowed and her eyes locked tightly to her task whilst she speaks. "I would love to try some of the one of your preference, I rather like the tart and sharp." Carefully she withdraws her hand, the simir standing proud as her eyes cut sideways to the man at her side.

"I would like to hear one. It's as if since Béziers, everyone is worried about either offending or upsetting me. It'd be lovely to be normal again, if only for a while, and to listen to stories of magical things. There has to be a little of that in our lives, don't you think? It can't be all duty and service, and doing what's expected of you…"

"Cider is best in Autumn, when the apples are its freshest - they're crisper then, and tart. Maybe you'll find it more to your liking. If we ever make it to Azzalle or Siovale, I'll show you where the good ones are found, if I can't bring them to you myself."

She shifts to maneuever closer to him, as if reading his mind; Nicolas was about to ask her to move closer so she could see where he's about to point. Surprise flits over the deep violets of his irises, but his grin broadens enough that a hint of teeth are visible, and he shifts so she could settle in next to him, making room for her on the same set of cradling roots. "Well, with that ringing endorsement, who am I to refuse?" he tells her with a laugh, a hand reaching up to scrub through his hair in a self-conscious fashion. "I can't guarantee my performance as a mendacant, but I'll do my best." Face turning, his eyes sweep the stars and leans towards her, an arm extending to point towards a set above their heads.

"We're in the right season, at least. Do you see those two constellations, the Eagle and the Lyre? There's a particular story about their two brightest stars." One has a reddish tint, the other a pale blue. "From what I read, back East, they represent two lovers - an immortal princess and a mortal shepherd. Some would say their love was doomed from the start, but despite eternity waiting for the young lady, she continued to defy her family and kept meeting him in secret. They loved one another so intensely that the princess was willing to give up her immortal life to stay with him on the mortal plane. But their happiness wasn't to last. Her father, the Sky King, heard from his sparrow-spies of their elopement and in his rage, he banished the two lovers to the stars."

After a pause, he turns his eyes back to Desarae's profile. "They tried to hang onto one another as they fell, and fell, and fell through the stars, but the fall was such that the winds eventually tore their hands from one another and they drifted apart on the opposite banks of the Glittering River." He gestures to the array of smaller stars separating the two constellations. "And the princess mourned their separation while her love was forced to look upon her grief from across the way, unable to reach her. The sparrows, burdened by the guilt of causing such tremenduous sorrow to one so gentle and beautiful, decided to aid the two lovers in the only way they could - on the twenty-ninth day of the ninth month every year, they would form a bridge above the Glittering River, so the princess and her shepherd could meet. The arrangement isn't without its complications, however."

Glancing over at her, the character of his smile hints at an apology. "If the weather is terrible, if it rains or storms, the sparrows can't form the bridge, and the princess and the shepherd can't meet, and would have to wait until another year has passed to try again. So I suppose in the next few days, we get to discover for ourselves whether the two of them get to see one another." Watching the way the clouds drift over the darkening skies, he ventures, a little more quietly: "Hopefully the weather holds."

Desarae listens, spellbound, as Nicolas weaves the tale about them, and her eyes remain fixed upon the stars that he's pointed out, her expression a perfect composition of attentive composure.

"I very much hope that the weather holds too," she admits once he finishes. "Do you suppose that we might ride out again on the twenty-ninth? I would like to watch them meet, if it does." Her face turns to his, and there's a softness to her expression that Nicolas might not have been granted sight of before, his story having touched a part of her that she keeps so often hidden. "Though, as wonderful as the story is, I can't help but feel how terrible it also must be to love someone that much. I am not sure that I could ever be as selfless as the princess." Her eyes lid, the green of them darkening with the weight of her lashes, and a quietness descends on her shoulders.

A wisp of hair that's worked itself loose gets captured in the curl of her fingers, and she smoothes it back behind her ear whilst studying Nicolas intently. "I'm so very glad that your story wasn't one about Elua and His companions. As inspiring as those are, I much prefer to hear stories not heard before. I feel that I know everything about Elua that ever there was to know." Colour paints its way across her cheeks with that admission, and with a skew of her mouth she looks back to the stars. "You're very different to Florent, he would never have told me such stories, or entertained me in this way. I wonder if he'll miss me now that he's returned to the monastery. Probably not, I imagine, he's likely glad of the peace."

"Of course, we'll go around the same time of day," Nicolas replies, when she asks whether they can ride out on the twenty-ninth day to watch the two star-lovers meet. Something about his easy demeanor gentles also at the sight of the expression on her face and the endearing way she poses her words - a request, rather than a command, nevermind that she was well within her rights to make it. He can't help but inwardly marvel at how a subtle change could render such profound effects, with her perfect composure softening in the edges and leaving the famous Mereliot warmth on her cheeks, the line of her mouth and the green of her eyes. She carries the name, but there is so much about her everyday demeanor that tends to favor her Kusheline roots and perhaps this is the first time in which he is glimpsing the other side of her ancestry.

"When I was traveling in Hellas and Ephesus with the late duc de Chalasse, I was often told that Love is the d'Angeline curse," he tells her. "That since we are encouraged to love as we will, and because most of our countrymen exercise the precept so liberally, foreigners have come away with the impression that it's an urge that is uncontrollable if you were born within the borders of Terre d'Ange, and we end up carrying the brunt of its terrible consequences. I don't think that's quite right though." He hesitates, but only briefly, before he continues. "It isn't Love that hurts. Longing, jealousy, loss, the helplessness that comes with not being able to express it for whatever reason…those hurt, but while they're sometimes incidental to Love, they're not the thing itself, and we often can't make that distinction because we're human and fallible, and important nuances tend to be lost at the wake of acute suffering." He turns his head up to look at the stars again. "But in truth, Love's probably the only important thing in this world that isn't painful."

As if sensing her intense scrutiny on the side of his face, the Cassiline turns his own to look at her directly, his smile returning, albeit faintly. He does so readily, always, whenever he finds the cause. "You did mention that you wanted some magic, and that not everything can be about duty and service, and since my duty and service is utterly tethered to the teachings of Elua and the Companions, I had to look for a different avenue." Didn't he say he remembers everything?

The comparison earns Desarae a laugh, Nicolas leaning back and examining her openly, brows lifted in an expression that's almost teasing. "You're going to have to enlighten me as to whether that's a good thing or a bad thing," he tells her gamely. "But you'd be surprised. Cassilines become very attached to their wards when they're decent and treat them like human beings instead of glorified meatshields expected to win duels for them and the like. If you were as kind to Florent as you are to me, I'm certain that some part of him does."

"Do you mind that your vows mean you can never know the full extent of Elua's precept?" Desarae's eyes remained firmly within Nicolas' as she asks the boldest of questions. It's a common enough one, and one that's been asked a hundred thousand times and more by women just like herself. Having tamed her hair, her hands now join in a loop about her shins, the miniature carving wobbling precariously until, with an effort of will, she steadies it into submission. "I mean," she continues on when that perfect balance is once more achieved, "I imagine that you must know the love of a parent or sibling since you speak with such authority on the matter. Or, is love another thing that you've learned from your books?"

A breath is drawn, and the colour that had risen to her cheeks is quelled, her lower lip chewed briefly upon before she further goes on to add, "It's just that I find the state of your being such a curious one. If a courtesan leaves her service to Naamah, no shame is attached. But if a Cassiline abandons the Brotherhood…" A shake of her head. "Florent was different to you, though not in a bad way. He liked it when I chose to spend the evenings in the quiet of my rooms, and we would settle ourselves with our books or our letters, exchanging few words. I would ply him with treats from the kitchens at times, and I swear he had a fondness for the apple pastries." A pause. "You're not overly-fond of quiet nights in. Are you?"

Was there hope in that question?

It's true - the question has been asked of him many times; ladies in the former duc de Chalasse's court, women he encounters in a tavern in the midst of his travels. Plenty of men, too, though from them it's often from a place of pity. Nicolas grins, however, unashamed when he answers the question. In fact, he even leans in, as if imparting a grave secret, lowering his head to better meet those inquisitive green eyes with his deep purple own: "Mind? No. Do I wonder now and then what it would be like or how different my life would be if I did? Of course. We strive to be paragons of discipline and restraint, my lady, but I'm afraid that under the famous vambraces and the drab, boring gray uniforms, we're very much human, still, and to wonder about the things that could have been is a failing even the best of us can't escape. As for Love and speaking with such authority on it…" A shoulder lifts upwards. "At the end of the day, I'm a priest. You can say it's well within my job description to try and love as many people as I can…and between you and me, no better inspiration exists to fuel the drive and need to protect someone."

Her following words are almost an apology, and he shakes his head, a lock of dark hair falling across his brow at the gesture. "I wonder about that myself," he admits. "But the Brotherhood follows Cassiel's example, and Cassiel is called the Perfect Companion due to the fact that he didn't abandon anything or anyone. Neither Elua or the promises he made before he decided to join him in his journey. So I guess you can consider the very act to be the complete antithesis of everything the Brotherhood stands for, which is probably why the stigma is so persistent."

The lady, too, provides some insight on the older Cassiline, and ever attentive, he files those words away in the endless capacity of his memories. "You sound as if you might miss him, yourself," he tells her - a mere observation, with no sense of an affront to him attached. "But no, I'm not. I like to keep busy. Do you prefer to be out and about during the night hours?"

I do," Desarae admits to Nicolas. "Florent was with me in the aftermath of Béziers, and he pulled me through the darkest of my times. He was so much more than just the meatshield of which you spoke a second ago. He was my guardian, my companion, and also my confessor. He listened in silence when I'd unleash despair and anger upon his head, and he perhaps saw more of me than anyone else in the months just gone. He was my father when my father was unable to be so for me." A shadow floats briefly behind her eyes, pain crossing her expression at the memories she invokes. A press of her lips. The thread that holds her eyes to his is broken when she presses the crown of her head to the trunk of the tree, her face turned to the skies.

"And yes, I do prefer the nights. I'm a product of the late hours I kept whilst training at the Salon. Can we stay out here for the night, and watch the dawn break?" She asks the impossible of him, and doesn't apologise for doing so. Nor does she negate the asking of that question by punctuating it with a laugh or a sigh, but leaves it just as she asks it, the light from the stars reflecting in her eyes.

The request is not so impossible, in the end.

"That's easily done," Nicolas says, his posture adopting that same, casual lean, his leg drawing up by the knee, once more, his arm draped over it as he watches her, wondering inwardly whether it was true - that she would be able to stay up until daybreak. She looks so delicate that anyone would expect her to turtle in and fall asleep on the grass before the sun peeked over the horizon. He makes no assumptions, however, as always willing to be surprised.

As expected, he, too, is accustomed to sleepless nights.

"If you can't help but fall asleep waiting for the dawn, however, you needn't worry," he tells her, leaning back fully against the tree next to her, the stars in her eyes matched by the faint traces of warmth in his smile. "I'll wake you once the skies change color."

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