(1310-10-05) Choices
Summary: Aboard a ship sailing for Chavaise to answer the sudden summons by its marquis, Lady Desarae de Mereliot and her Cassiline reflect on the choices that brought them to where they are in the present.
RL Date: October 5, 1310
Related: A Letter At Breakfast
nicolas desarae 

On The Open Sea

Aboard a ship bearing the ducal colors of House Mereliot, sailing for Chavaise.


Travel arrangements have been made swiftly and the day sees the Lady Desarae de Mereliot and her small household - her maid, valet and her Cassiline, aboard one of the ducal ships, to be ferried off to Chavaise in order to answer the summons of the Marquis de Chavaise. They embarked on the vessel in the early morning and set sail just before breakfast and the subsequent hours after that were spent doing largely nothing but watch the water as they drift and the sailors performing day-to-day tasks on deck. Ever one to keep himself useful, and with the risks to his ward rather slight when surrounded by those who have sworn themselves to the service of her aunt, the Duchesse de Eisande, he has spent the morning re-familiarizing himself with the ship's operations and rotations and even assisting crewmen in swabbing the deck and keeping track of the rigging. Despite having professed that he hasn't been on a ship since his travels with the late duc de Chalasse, he clearly remembers how everything works and his nimbleness served him well when he decided to take up the perilous climb to the crow's nest to deliver something to the lookout stationed there, his uniform jacket removed, boots off and trousers rolled up to the knees.

As twilight descends, with the stars just appearing over the horizon, and a few hours yet from their destination, Nicolas can be found propped on the rails close to the ship's prow, a foot propped on top of it and his knee bent, fingers pressing folds over a square sheet of paper. It won't be apparent, at first, as to what he's doing - certainly he's not writing a letter, there's no stylus anywhere on his grip. But whatever he is fashioning out of it gradually starts to take shape. Lanterns swing from nearby hooks, casting planes of light over his largely silhouetted form, buoyed by the movements of the ship.

Judging by his appearance and the easy manner in which he conducts himself the entire time they are there, it is apparent that a life of adventuring suits him and in the midst of their day's voyage, she'd see him in his most casual - hair in disarray by the wind and his structured gray jacket open to reveal the collared white shirt he wears underneath. His vambrances remain despite it, however, as well as the visible length of the longsword buckled on his side - a well-loved heirloom that features the heraldry of House Guillard at the crossguard.

Whilst Desarae is no sailor at heart, the crossing as the crow flies between Marsilikos and the coastal town of B├ęziers to the west has been relatively calm. Lunch had been taken below deck; a simple fare of bread and fruit that had been guaranteed not to upset her stomach, and the rest of her time had been spent in the company of her maid, walking up and down the length of the ship, or watching the dolphins that played from time to time beneath the ship's bow. Wearing the warmth of a thick woollen cloak that's draped over a winter's-weight gown, she's a silent and thoughful figure as she approaches where Nicolas stands.

"What are you doing?" Her question to her Cassiline is a direct one, tendrils of her hair teased free by the fingers of the wind, losing themselves in a capricious dance about her head as she leans on the rails. Though their journey is across an open stretch of water, they've nevertheless stayed mostly within sight of the Eisandine coastline where it curves from the grandeur of Marsilikos in an arc towards their destination. Now that night is falling, twinkles of lights flare to life, marking villages and towns where the lives of those that inhabit them continue oblivious to their future Marquise. "It looks complicated. May I see?"

He senses her approach before he even sees her, and she would find those violet eyes lift from his work in anticipation of her arrival. Shifting to make room for her on the rails, he drops his attention to what he is doing, creasing the ends of the sheet carefully. The folds look complicated, somewhat triangular when flattened against his thigh just below his turned knee. "There was a book on Eastern paper folding in the monastery," Nicolas explains. "I picked it up one day out of curiosity. Brother Maurice Beaufort, the Prefect's main aide-de-camp, contributed it to the library's collection from some of his travels in the Far East." He pauses for a few minutes, folding the corners over before he hands the shape over to her - at the moment, it is a flat piece with nonsensical angles when she takes it in her hands.

With a faint smile, he reaches out to tap his finger lightly on a single triangle on the end. "Pull that."

When she does, the shape unfurls - from something flat and shapeless to a three-dimensional paper figure of a bird in flight, its angled neck holding a meticulously folded head with a hooked beak. Its wings hold the strategic creases from the span of both and it stands on her palm in a pedestal fashioned by two folds that function as its feet.

"If you wait for the wind, you can toss it and watch it fly," the Cassiline instructs, slipping off the rails so he could stand next to her, leaning against the wooden frame, arms crossing over his torso. His dark-haired head tips back, brine from the ocean teasing his nose while the breeze rustles through his unruly strands.

"From what I read, at least back there, the art started with butterflies," he continues. "In the Empire of the Sun, they're a traditional motif in weddings performed there, but since capturing butterflies is a costly task, they substituted them with paper models instead, and the practice took root from there."

The revelation of the bird is quite magical, and Desarae stares at it once it's done. It sits, crisply white and beautiful, within her hand, and her fingers curl protectively about it to prevent it taking flight before she's ready. Her touch is light, a gentle capturing that won't put undue stress upon the delicacy of its construct. "It's so clever, Nicolas. I've not seen anything quite like it before." As with the tiny wooden carving that he'd gifted her on their trip to the waterfall, she lifts it for inspection, her hand on a level with her eyes. "You know so much about so many things, is there anything you don't know?" Her eyes slip from the little white bird to refocus upon Nicolas, her question asked with a solemn wonderment before returning to the matter of the bird. The wind lifts, and it stirs in her hand, and for a moment it seems as if the creature has been bestowed with a life of its own.

Its wings shiver, and its head appears to lift. "Okay, little bird. If you must!" She stretches her arm across the rail, and the wind catches the carefully constructed folds of the paper more fully. "Fly!" Fingers splay and the bird soars upwards. Desarae's laughter spills. "How far do you think it will fly? Do you suppose it might fly to the stars?"

Is there anything you don't know?

The sincere question, so earnestly delivered by green eyes widened with surprise looses a quiet laugh from Cassiel's priest, Nicolas' hand making a pass through his hair as he ponders how to answer it. "There are many things I don't know, my lady," he tells her - it sounds fueled by humility, but it is objectively true. "It's simply that my memory is an exceptional thing and if I'm not careful, more bane than a boon. Though I can't take the credit for the cleverness of its devise and construction. That, we will have to lay upon the feet of enterprising souls long dead who have recorded their attempts to breathe life into the inanimate, taking inspiration from the world around them. Even something as simple and flat as paper."

Zephyrous gusts buffet against the delicate thing and before their eyes, the paper bird lifts from Desarae's hand and sails upwards, carried by the winds that rustle the sails of the ship. It glides across the air, a streak of white over endless blue, higher and higher until it is but a speck amidst the growing, glittering canopy of stars above their heads and towards the black silhouette of a distant horizon. Nicolas himself turns to watch its wake, a foot propped at the base of the railing, arms folding over the top as he watches. Those sharp eyes take in the distant lights of remote villages, the further they get away from the bustling port of Marsilikos.

Her delighted laughter inspires a grin, an angled look cast her way. A few weeks into her service, this is the first time he has ever heard it. Some part of him finds some semblance of relief that her travails have not completely burned the ability out of her. In his opinion, she is too young to be so dour.

Though nobody could begrudge her of it, either, if she grew to be.

"The winds tonight are good," he continues. "So hopefully it'll go far. I'm not certain whether it will actually reach the stars, but like I've told you before, I'm always amenable to being surprised."

"I'd like to think," Desarae says, her head tilted back as her eyes track the bird, "… that it will find its way to the princess and her shepherd boy. Perhaps it will help them build their bridge across the river of stars." She speaks nonsense, she knows she does, but there's an escape to be found in the magic of stories, and so she allows herself to be invested. "And did you make paper birds for the duc too?" Her hands now wrap the railing alongside Nicolas', her cloak flapping at its edges as if it, too, would like to take flight.

As they continue to talk, the dusk of twilight deepens, the remnants of the day fading along with the bird, and the growing darkness of the sky turning the sea to ink beneath their ship. "I wonder that your head isn't twice the size of anyone else's with all the things it retains. I wish that I could remember and recall things as easily as you, for it would surely help with all the things I'm expected to learn. It doesn't help that my own feels stuffed with cotton." Even had Desarae not confessed to Nicolas her dreams and her nightmares, he'll be aware of how broken her nights have become; the sudden cries that bring her handmaids running, and the lights of the oil lamps that flicker beneath his door when she chooses to read into the hours of the morning.

A sigh filters between her lips.

"I used to dream of nights like this when at Rose Sauvage," she admits, her face turning to his once more. Her complexion is silvered by the light of the stars, and the night now leaches the colours from her flesh and her clothing. "I used to wonder what it would be like. All those days, watching from the windows, all those years, outside looking in. I was a part of my family, but it felt like I wasn't. I'd get letters from home, from my brothers and my sisters. I lived vicariously through them." A press of her mouth. "I was jealous."

Her recollection of the story he told her about the two brightest stars of the Eagle and the Lyre constellations has Nicolas' head turning towards her, the upward twist to his mouth lingering. "It can't hurt," he allows. He could be humoring her, but with her so presently engaged in pulling herself out of the maudlin moods that often ensare her when she thinks nobody is looking, he is only all too content to oblige her. "As for the duc…" He directs his attention to the water again, his profile towards her - sturdy lines, handsome in their own right, but marred by the faded scar caught by the lamplight. It is a strange placement, as if the tip of a sword had managed to drag from his forehead, over his nosebridge and to the top of one cheek, so faint that it hints at an injury delivered when he was quite young. A close call in getting his head cleaved in two.

"It was more that he tried to teach me than the other way around." His tone is absent and inscrutable. Whatever hides behind his eyes at the memory of Vincent de Chalasse is carefully hidden away by the way he has shifted his body to regard the water instead.

Whatever that means, he doesn't explain. At the words regarding his eidetic memory, she'd find him grinning as he maintains his oceanic vigil. "It's a gift, though it's not all advantage. If I'm not careful, I'll tire up here rather easily." He taps a finger to his temple. "And I need to keep a clear head to best protect you." After a moment, he finally meets her eyes again along the curve of his shoulder, brows lifted in inquiry. "You were giving due consideration to a visit to one of the Salons to alleviate the severity of your dreams…perhaps you should, once we return to Marsilikos. I don't think that our visit to your father will take too long…will it?"

He lets the inquiry hang, but with the conversation turning to her confidences, he finally turns, side leaning against the rail, the hinge of his elbow draped upon it. His other hand frames a narrow hip, fingers curling against the hilt of his sword. After watching her expression silently for a few heartbeats he ventures, quietly: "Did you not have a choice?" he asks. He does not hesitate when he poses his own questions. "From what I understand, before what happened in Beziers, you had two younger siblings. Was there a particular reason why your parents chose to give you up to Naamah's service?"

Nicolas' question is received in silence, and Desarae's teeth pick quietly at her lower lip before she responds. "It's such an honor to be given to the service of Naamah, that I didn't question it. I was six, and in very many ways I felt that I were special in a way that my brothers and sisters were not." She folds her arms along the top of the rail, hitching herself onto her toes to add a modicum of comfort to the way she now leans. "It doesn't mean that I didn't yearn for the freedoms that they enjoyed; but there was so very much that I missed, and it stung." Her sigh is loud, though given as it is to the wind, it's quickly snatched away. "But yes. I did. And I'll seek a Gentian of Coquelicot on my return to the City. I spoke to Aunt Emmanuelle yesterday and asked her if she could help me in the meantime, but she was reluctant to do so, saying that it would only mask my malaise and that I'd grow inured to any benefit. She's right, of course, though did send me something to give me a single night's sleep." A shake of her head is given, loosening further lengths of her hair from its ribbons. They snare across her face as she turns to face Nicolas, catching in the crease of a solemnly-set mouth. "I've decided not to take them. She warned that they might sink me into a sleep that it might be difficult to be roused from." Worry shows in her eyes. There's no need to vocalise what that might mean for her were she held captive in her dreams and there's another moment of quiet, before she goes on to say, "But I still know so little of you Nicolas. Like how you got the scar on your face. Was it terribly long ago?"

I've decided not to take them.

"Your aunt appears to be an expert in such matters," Nicolas observes, turning when she does so he could watch the waves the same as her - though with the deepening night, the gradients of blue present underneath them are becoming difficult to see. In a few more minutes, it would be nearly difficult to determine the point in where the sea ends and the sky begins - a corporeal glimpse of Eternity, wrought upon the Earth's canvas with nothing but the stars to hint at the sky's presence. "If I had been in your position, I would have done the same. There are potions and powders to alleviate pains, to be sure, I've been given some during the most difficult years of my training. But the chirugeons in the monastery were always careful to prescribe them only as necessary, also, to prevent the development of dependence. That and I was told that pain is the body's way of alerting a person that something is wrong and if the ability to detect it is removed entirely, one would have no way of knowing that a problem exists…and that could make it worse." There's a glance over at her direction. "Your pain might not be physical, or tangible, but it is still real."

The windblown nest of ribbons that enmesh her face incites further movement from the Cassiline, a pinky hooking into the satin length that snares over her mouth and drawing it away. But even that is done carefully when he confines his touch to the ribbon itself and not the young lady's complexion.

But I still know so little of you.

There's a hint of a laugh, though it's not a sound that escapes fully-formed. He leans further into the rails, shoulders hunching over and stooped low enough that his chin almost rests on his folded forearms. "I honestly didn't think I was all that interesting to you," he tells her wryly. "Haven't you been told that all Cassilines are cut out of the same cloth?" It's said in good humor, but with the way he delivers the statement, it's clear that he doesn't believe it himself.

But when she asks about the scar, he lifts a hand, thumbing the center of his forehead where it starts. "I was very young," he tells her. "Eight years old, attempting to fight grown men with decades of war under their belts. You can say the incident set me on the path I am now." He smirks faintly, though he doesn't look at her as he continues: "I suppose even then I was convinced that if the will was there, I could stand against the inevitable. But some lessons, I think, are best learned the hard way."

"Yes, and no," Desarae says, standing unmoving as Nicolas frees her face from her ribbons. Her hand lifts to finish what he's started, wrapping the tangle of both hair and silks in a twist about her hand before tucking it beneath the collar of her cloak, the edges of which she fastens more securely about her throat. "I hadn't had the luxury of getting to know any beyond the briefest of nods and an hello before Florent was assigned to me. He likes fishing, books of military campaigns, and lutes." A pause. "Not that he can play one, for his fingers are too callused, more used to practicing with his weapons than to easing a tune from a fine set of strings. I gave him one nevertheless, and hid it within his trunks on his return to the monastery."

A frown finds its way to her brow.

"What sort of a man would raise his sword to an eight year old?" she queries, her focus settling once more on the scar that crosses his face. It's probably the question that she shouldn't have asked, and she traces the course of its fading line from his hairline to his cheek. "You could have died. You're lucky you didn't. I'm not so certain that learning the hard way is the right way at all, if those ways are the ways that put your life at risk." A pause. "Was your fearlessness what recommended you to being pledged to the Brotherhood?"

"You're very kind, my lady." Nicolas pauses, and angles a more appraising look in her general direction. "And more mischievous and crafty than anyone expects." Doubtless that Florent would have said something about not deserving the gift, so Desarae relieves him of the choice entirely, leaving him no recourse but to accept it.

Something to keep in the back of his mind at all times, he decides. Not that he would ever expect her to dodge him, she seems very serious about her safety, but just in case.

What sort of man would raise his sword to an eight year old?

This time, he does laugh, though the sound is faint, its volume blunted by the rise of the wind and the way the waves crash against the bottom of the vessel. "A very angry one," he tells Desarae, violet eyes lit with his own mischief; it is a painful memory, and one of his earliest, but Time has at least paved a way through it in which he could find humor in one of his most glaring childhood mistakes. "And done out of instinct. Though regarding that, you'd be surprised…a person is capable of learning things very quickly when in a dangerous situation." He straightens up slightly from his leaning position, fingers linking against one another.

Her last question prompts a silence that stretches on - he couldn't blame her if she ended up thinking that he elected to ignore it, or simply didn't hear her.

Finally: "It was my choice, in the end," he tells her, his voice neutral and stripped of its characteristic easy and affable tones, pitched low in an effort to mask a deep-seated melancholy entrenched in those memories. Not for his sake, but for hers, already so burdened by pain that to add onto it further was, in his mind, unconscionable. "I didn't have anywhere else to go."

He takes a breath, inclining his head towards her. His smile returns. "But if we kept dwelling on the circumstances that brought us to the present, I assume it would drive most of us a little mad," he jests. "Despite the teasing and the ridicule, life as a Cassiline is better than most. Besides, on a night like this…standing here, it's all so clear that I'm where I'm meant to be."

Desarae shivers as the wind gets beneath her cloak, and she takes a half-step to the right and tucks herself a little closer to her Cassiline. "I'm glad that you're here," she admits, her shoulder touching to his arm with her newly adjusted position, "I trust that you will always have my welfare at heart, but I'm afraid that I'm stubborn by nature, and it's something that at times put me at odds with my superiors at the Salon. I'm growing up fast and trying to temper my moods, but there are, and will be, times when I will rail against you and the things which you feel necessary in order to keep me safe." A deep breath is drawn, and her brows knit over her eyes as she stares out and across the water, a pause hanging between them in the cool of the air.

"I was to have had a signale thought up for when I was to debut, but I never did choose one. Perhaps," she hesitates, "…that given my nature and the stubbornness of my will, there should be a word between us which, when given by you, tells me that you need me to comply." Another shiver is given. "I might go below and try to sleep soon, and you should too. Perhaps the motion of the ship will lull me into a sleep."

The caveats about her stubbornness has Nicolas grinning broadly. "Stubborn? I gathered that about you the moment we met," he tells her, his face turning to tilt down towards her when she shifts closer and rests her hand on his forearm. After a moment, he straightens up, so he could roll one hard shoulder, dislodging the open jacket off the frame his upper body makes.

She is a fey, delicate, but proud and defiant thing - no doubt the best and worst parts of her Kusheline half, but if that intimidates him, there is no sign when he fits the jacket over her shoulders in an effort to stem her shivering, leaving him with his collared white shirt. The weather doesn't seem to affect him much, neither the chill of the evening or the wind rippling at soft, white cotton. He is taller than her, weighs more than her, the drab-gray of his uniform practically engulfs her with how petite she is.

"A signale?" He pauses - the customs of the Night Court are, understandably, a mystery to him. "…alright," he allows after a moment's consideration. "What about astra?" The line of his mouth takes on a lopsided cast, shoulder nudging into hers. "It's the Hellene word for the stars, since you're so fond of them."

Desarae smiles as the weight of Nicolas' jacket settles upon her shoulders. It adds a layer of warmth, coccooning her in the comfort of its masculinity. "Thank you, Nicolas." Her words are heartfelt, the stars stealing the green from her eyes and rendering them silver as she turns her gaze upwards. "No." She sounds quite determined upon the matter of the signale to be used, and she pulls her hand from his arm and sliding it beneath the coat and the cloak that she wears, to find the pocket that's concealed in the seam of her skirt. "Not Astra." Her hand's brought up, and her fingers uncurl to reveal the intricate carving of the tiny simir that Nicolas had given her. The story that he'd told her on its gifting, perhaps inspiring her choice. A protection of sorts. A smile melts on her face. "Simir."

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