(1310-09-30) The Lady Doesn't Quite Say 'No'
Summary: Take your grandmother to work day, only not.
RL Date: 29/09/2018 - 01/10/2018
Related: Follows on from Perhaps A Modest Cheeseboard. Also, Incarnadine Admirer.
oriane gal 

The Citadel — Marsilikos

High on a promontory on the southern peninsula of Marsilikos, the Citadel stands tall and firm against the winds whipping in from the sea. Its only approach is from the north, a set of stairs carved in a coil directly into the granite of the mount, wide enough for only two to pass shoulder to shoulder, rising to meet the single gate room between the inner and outer walls of the citadel, both of travertine, white against the dark grey bedrock that rises high over the port, studded with guardposts, each flying the billowing blue banner of Marsilikos.

Within the twin walls of the citadel the granite has been leveled into a flat rectangular surface, atop which a variety of buildings have been built. The most well-fortified of these is the great octagonal watchtower, crafted in grey granite blocks which match the terrain, rising ten stories higher than the top of the citadel itself, in the top belfry of which is kept a wide array of spyglasses, alarums and masive flags to haul aloft to warn the town below of the arrival of various ships from sea. On the other side of the courtyard are two shorter granite buildings with big bronze doors, under guard all day and all night: the Treasury and Armory, respectively, of Marsilikos. There is also a wooden barracks-building to house the troops which staff the citadel, and the bulk of the citadel floor is open and used for military drills and exercises.

Never in the institutional memory of Barracks House B has any of its denizens received quite such a letter as arrives one morning for the lucky occupant of Bunk 6. The vellum — thick, white, lustrous, smooth to the touch. The handwriting — never has the 'G' on 'Gal' known such flourishes, that amount to a pretty little improvised design wrapped round his name. The ink — the very blue of the sea beyond Marsilikos, with a delicate silver shimmer and not a single blot. The wax — silvery too, and impressed with a seal in which the "OE" ligature is formed with a crescent moon. Whose initials can those be? Speculation is rife, especially among those of Gal's bunkmates who got to the mail delivery first and thus were in a position to pass round this tempting billet doux and sniff the fresh, feminine fragrance of white flowers arising therefrom.

Dear Gal,

Your invitation to show me the Citadel and its view of the city at night, has been much in my thoughts — alas, duty has required that I pay heed first to more terrestrial matters. But do you suppose this Saturday evening might prove convenient? I should not trespass too long upon your kindness.

After a word or two of conjecture on the subject of where they might meet and when, the signature reads: Oriane Somerville de Toluard.

No doubt the mail call is of particular interest to the occupant of Bunk 5, perched solidly as it is on four oaken posts in the air above Bunk 6, the former and present home of Gal's former but not present boyfriend, Ercole Andetre. The great thing about hooking up with your bunkmate is that it's easy to sneak around curfew. The awful thing about hooking up with your bunkmate is that breaking up can make things awkward, especially when one is in receipt of finely scented and orthographically elegant correspondence. It took just a little bit of a fistfight to retrieve the letter from Cole's taunting clutches, and then he went down to the harbor to get a tea in the upper floor tea-shop of the Kraken's Den, where none of his usual cohort hang out, and read the letter in peace. The great thing about the tea shop is that it is geared toward a more refined clientele, and so asking for a bit of paper and ink to pen a reply came as nothing to the staff. They even provided the services of a page to deliver it to the house with the blue door in the Rue du Port. His answer, a simple one: to meet at midnight Saturday below the threshold of the citadel grade.

The appointed midnight hour finds the more gainfully employed of the city's watchmen crying aloud that all is well, whilst empirical proof of this fact lies in wait for Gal: the black and white litter he's walked past several times in the entrance hall of Oriane's house, is standing now below the Citadel with its silver moons dulled by shadow. Four suitably muscular bearers ensure the lady's safety as she waits within; one is just seeing off too nosy a nocturnal passerby when the latch of the door pops open at Gal's approach to reveal Oriane.

She's wearing one of her night-black dresses, a white shawl wrapped softly about her head and her shoulders against the chill, and a smile of greeting.

It wasn't— exactly what Gal had expected, but, then, looking back, he realizes well that he should have expected it just the same. With one shoulder he's propping up the outer wall of the massive stairwell as it rises from the level of the street to haul itself aloft to the citadel above. Leaning there in the shadows, he might disappoint Oriane briefly in thinking he had not turned up at all— and then he's stepping out into the angular slice of moonlight cutting across the angle of the grade wall. He lifts a hand in case his person is not well noted, yet, and then approaches the litter bearers with an unthreatening gait, in case they didn't know he was the one they were looking for. When Oriane's door opens, he steps to and holds up his hand to aid in her descent. "Oriane," he greets her. "You look beautiful tonight." And Gal's pulled out all the stops, too. A little bit of rose oil to accentuate the curls in his hair. A scrub behind the ears. A white top, laced at the chest, and a sturdy black woolen jacket with shallow diamond-cut tails and thick cuffs buttoned in brass. He could pass for a gentleman, in the right light. And the moonlight is definitely the right light.

Oriane appreciates these efforts made in her honour: why, her very first thought as she regards Gal is that his sleeves are the right length tonight… She offers him a hand gloved in fine black kidskin and with her other hand clasps her shawl to her bosom as she steps out of her comfy padded litter and into that patch of moonlight. Her dress is wool, not silk — a sensible choice for an autumn evening — thousands of tiny crystal beads glint and shimmer upon the softer white wool framing her face, in a pattern suggestive of climbing roses. "The moon is an old friend," she suggests in a wry murmur, "and in the habit of kindness." Looking up at the silhouette of the Citadel blotting out the stars above them, she adds, "It certainly looks bigger, when one is just beneath it."

And just like that, a hundred totally inappropriate things to say about things looking bigger from certain vantage points dart through Gal's skull. "Eh-hheh, yeah," is all he does say, though, a big goofy grin obliterating the lower half of his face as his free hand lifts to the back of his head, scratching among the curls in an effort to tame his thoughts. "It's kind of a hike to the top, are, uh— is your litter going to make the trip?" he wonders. Presumably more about the guards attending, in all honesty, but diplomatically phrased. He'll leave his hand right there, gently supporting her fine kid glove, if she'll let him.

This is not the first adolescent male of the species with whom Oriane has, in her lifetime, conversed; from wondering what she said that was so funny, she reaches the answer in the blink of blue eyes, which thereafter sport a slight twinkle in competition with her lavish crystal beading. "Oh," she explains easily, reclaiming her hand, "I wore my walking boots." And with both hands she lifts her skirts just an inch or so, to exhibit sensible flat-heeled black leather footwear that appears to be laced up with frivolous white silk ribbons. She lets go and the ribbons vanish. "It's a pleasant evening," she says, "and I shouldn't like to make any difficulty for you — there's a difference, isn't there," she lowers her voice confidentially and nods toward the formidable structure above, "between one friend, and one friend and her litter and four men who might be anybody. They'll wait here for me, they've got good warm coats." She made sure of it.

Oh, she caught him. That's hot, too. Twinkle met with twinkle, Gal lifts his chin in approval at her footwear. Or the fact that she'll come up with him alone. While it might have been entertaining to see the litter-bearers try to mount the steep incline with their burden, Gal beams with the smile of the cat about to get away with the cream. "Yeah, a little," he admits. "But they're used to the various retinues of the nobility. It wouldn't be a real problem. Except, you know, getting the litter up there might be a pain." He should say it's a non-starter, that she'll have to go up alone with him, but— lying has never been a skill of his, and at any rate he's accustomed rather to laying things out on the line and letting people make their own decisions.

"It's easier to walk, I should think," agrees Oriane, "and I can't imagine I'll face any great danger to my person with you to show me where to go and to keep me from plundering the ducal treasury." A puckish little smile. She makes some unnecessary feminine adjustment to her shawl, offers a friendly word to the chief amongst her bearers, and then looks to Gal again, to show the way.

"Yeah, shoot, you don't know how many people accidentally start to do that before they can be warned not to," Gal eagerly plays into the joke. Maybe a little too eagerly. But he offers her his arm to take, and then will escort her up the stairs. And up the stairs. And up the stairs. There are many fine vantage points of the city on the various landings as the stairwell starts to cut back and forth into and along the cliff face when the going gets too steep to go straight up, and he'll pause to point out a couple buildings and structures of note as they come into view in the bright spotlight of the full moon. Then there's a checkpoint, and Gal's introducing the Lady to the guards on duty who were totally not teasing him about his letter only days before.

Even scions of Anael can tire, when they're approaching seventy. Perhaps Gal's arm becomes less a courtesy and more a practical help as they climb higher and higher, but Oriane is not about to ask to stop and rest. She does however make the most she can of those pauses to reflect upon the view: lingering at each parapet to see what she can see, pointing out half-recognised buildings and speculating about the prettier rooftops which come into view at each switchback. Espying the curve of the Rue du Port and her own blue-tiled rooftop is a particular delight. There's a light in her window, waiting.

To Gal's cohorts she introduces herself as Oriane Somerville, without the telltale Toluard; she asks their names and makes a civil and kindly remark to each of them, in her best grandmotherly style, without once mentioning why she's here or how she's acquainted with Gal. She knows what a conundrum she poses and isn't above enjoying it. On the one hand, she looks far too expensive all over to be the granny of a lad from Barracks House B; on the other…

On the other, Gal is whisking her through the checkpoint with far too much boyish eagerness, after the guards' due diligence is satisfied but their curiosity surely not, for one escorting his grandmother to his place of work. He enjoys the way she plays with them, beaming at her in lidded-eyed admiration and then stealing her away with a skip in his step, showing her the sights; the treasury (the thing she's not supposed to rob), the observatory (also don't break into that), the barracks and training yard (oh, please no). Sweeping hither and yon about the well-planed travertine of the citadel plaza, a place sore devoid of plant or greenery, looking in the moonlight as though they were traipsing across the very gleaming surface of the moon. Then, to the walls, where Gal finds that sweet spot where they can be ascended from plaza-side with a good leap and some upper body strength— or a boost. "Here, up this way," he puts himself into a lunge, providing his knee and thigh for her to use as a stepping stool to clamber her way up.

Sometimes a pace or two behind, but no more, Oriane follows Gal obligingly to and fro and doesn't steal anything except perhaps his heart, by the doubly devilish means of a suitable appreciation of his position of trust within the Citadel, and low laughter at his jokes. The moon's gentle rays and all that white about her face, and the crescent-moon brooch of diamonds set in silver that fastens her shawl and flashes so brightly at her bosom whenever it catches the light, lend her a luminous quality that has at its root a sincere enjoyment of each new diversion proposed for her. She does like seeing new things.

And, as Gal no doubt calculated, a woman who rides out every morning of her life doesn't balk at the pursuit of new sights that happen to require a leg-up. Oriane hitches up her skirts a little with one hand, gets a firm grasp upon Gal's shoulder with the other, and climbs from the plaza to his leg to the level above with enough aplomb to satisfy her honour. She kneels a moment within the dark pool of her skirts, her hem just dangling over the edge, getting her feet under her with care and certainty rather than unbecoming haste.

And a hnnrrrk! While Oriane is finding her feet a place to stand, Gal just gives a mighty leap and grapples his way up and over the edge of the wall. The ledge that they've landed on steps down into a lower granite path carved with ridges to ensure a solid tread even in the rain. On the other side of the pathway is another wall of granite, about chest high, the far side of which falls away into the sheer precipice that plummets almost straight down into the sea, the moonlight lighting up the froth of the even mild waves that crash against its base, the roar only evaporating upward in the form of a distant whisper to the ears of those lucky enough to look out over the breathtaking vista of the moon over the sea, the gleam of the water against the matte of the arcing coast, the rock moles that break the waves on their way into the harbor, the little island with the ever vigilant lighthouse. Gal's been up here before. He's been up here plenty of times. But there's something about this view that always just takes his breath away. Unrelated entirely to the acrobatics he had to do to get up here unassisted. Once he makes his feet and plants his hands to lean out of the outer edge of the fortifications, he just breathes it in.

Oriane has just found her feet when Gal sort of hurtles past her, propelled by his own momentum; she steps down onto the path a second later, rather more decorously. The glimmer of moonlight on water arrests her in the very act of brushing dust from her skirts: her hands rise instead to curl about the edge of the wall in front of her and hold on, as though even behind the protection of so much solid granite she fears to float away into the vastness of the night. The acrobatics required to get up here have set her shawl slipping back on her head — but she neglects that too, neglects and forgets her appearance, her company, and the dignity supposedly bestowed by her years, as she gazes bright-eyed out into the meeting-place of night sea and night sky, radiant with her sudden delight, breathing in and out with the crash and the retreat of the waves.

"Yeah," Gal breathes out the word, only sort of sharing the moment she's having and responding to it on the back of a sigh, just as bewitched as she by the plummeting visages of infinity meeting infinity, that dizzying sensation of leaning out over the wall and feeling as though you might just fall forever. "There's, um." There's not much to point out, really, but before the silence grows into the infinity of the space he thinks it right to fill it, "the lighthouse… down there, look at how small it is. We could walk around the fortifications and look at the harbor from up here, too, if you want. Looks like toy boats from up here," he grins. "Or, uh," he tips his head bashfully at the second option, "We could stay here and make out for a while, if you want."

There's plenty of nothing to see, but it's so beautiful—! When first Gal speaks Oriane doesn't take her eyes off the star-touched waters, she only listens with half an ear and lets out a couple of faint meditative sounds acknowledging that, yes, there's a lighthouse down there and, indeed, it's the size of a toy… But then he offers a different sort of diversion and her laughter rings out over the parapets, warm enough to include him too in her amusement as she turns to size him up with fond eyes. "How refreshing you are, Gal," she informs him, smiling. "I'm sure you bring girls up here all the time, don't you?" she teases. "I'm sure I would if I were you. I haven't seen anything so lovely in… a long while," she confides, one gloved hand lingering on the wall in a sort of caress.

Gal turns to lean an affable elbow upon the granite battlement, coaxed by her gently inclusive tone into laughing along with her with a crooked, boyish smile. Caught again, he leans his head toward his shoulder with an admissive roll of his eyes, "Yeah, OK," he cops up to this place kind of being the ace up his sleeve where the ladies are concerned. "This place has dropped its fair share of panties. It is really beautiful, though. Sometimes I come up here just by myself to be alone for a little bit." He shifts his stance just a little bit closer. "But I like it better with company?" is a statement voiced as a question. She didn't say no, exactly, after all.

Oriane raises her eyebrows at the spectre of all those descending undergarments; but her gaze resting lightly upon Gal's moonlit face has more in it of conspiratorial amusement than grandmotherly dismay. She straightens from her slight lean into the wall and offers him her hand, with no pretense that she's only going to pat his. "Why don't you show me your toy boats?" she suggests, chin lifting as she smiles at him. Again, it's not a no, exactly.

By the time they pass through the guard checkpoint going the other way, Oriane is talking of some particular architectural feature of the treasury building with which she at least is on first name terms, which reminds her pleasantly of some other building she liked somewhere else, and which she fully intends to incorporate into a greenhouse one day because she'd so like to see it done in glass. She remembers the men’s names, too, and bids them so serene and civil a good evening in between speculating upon the source of so much fine travertine marble (she knows too well from the building of her own chateau that a specific shade can be hard to match in such quantities), that their own speculation — which has kept them well entertained meanwhile — suffers a serious blow. What, so Gal really did bring the old lady here to look at the Citadel—? There’s just no accounting for some people’s idea of a good time.

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