(1310-10-07) Complications
Summary: In the privacy of Desarae's suite in Castle Chavaise, she confesses her worries and fears to her Cassiline, Nicolas Guillard, who attempts to bolster her with his conviction that no harm will come to her. But then, her father, Armand Morhban de Mereliot, throws a wrench in the works that promises to make his vows all the more difficult to fulfill….
RL Date: October 14, 2018
Related: Everything in this page.
nicolas desarae 

Castle Chavaise - Beziers

Surrounded by a second ring of stone wall is the castle at the top of the hill, a pleasant but also impressive building with the banners of House Mereliot flapping lazily in the faint breeze, from spires as well as flagpoles planted upon the towers, overlooking the city of Beziers as well as the river Orb winding its way down towards the Mediterranean Sea and the harbor.

The main keep can be accessed from the courtyard, and it has a great hall, where walls are adorned with tapestries the castle is famous for. An audience chamber, a music room, kitchens and servant's quarters are to be found downstairs. Whereas the upper floor is where the private quarters of the Marquise's family can be found. There is a wing with rooms for guests and other nobility living at the castle. There is also a private library, the door of which is usually locked.

Outside, there is a garden with a small orchard, where apple trees in full bloom are adding a certain charm to the scenery.


Nicolas is not the kind to let food, especially good food, go to waste.

With a fine meal prepared and with travel under their belts, he has managed to fix Desarae a small, but simple plate of fruit, cheese, bread and some smoked meat while his own is piled high with whatever offerings Leonard has deigned to bring them. Everything is fresh, and it had taken every ounce of his willpower not to fall onto the table and consume everything while the man and his ward were exchanging greetings and pleasantries. But now that they've been left to their own devices, with the doors closed and the drapes shut, they can finally let themselves rest.

The Cassiline has taken off his jacket, left in a plain linen shirt with its sleeves pushed to his elbows. His plate is empty and while he had partaken on some wine, it is as always diluted with water and he has limited himself to a cup. The rest has just been fresh, cold water. Despite his hunger and youth, he has miraculously not made himself an embarrassment in front of the lady, quietly encouraging her to eat in the middle of his own bites. He had made promises - to take care of her, protect her against all comers, put her welfare about all, and that apparently extends to his own very egregious caloric requirements.

The nearby fireplace is alive with flame, the warm glow of it banishing the encroaching chill, predominant as that is with old castles. It leaves the rest of her chambers with a comfortable ambience despite the darkness in which the present picture is framed; shadows flit as if alive, teasing their peripheral vision, flickering in time with the firedance in the hearth. Save for his small encouragements, he has said little, but his violet eyes are intent on her proud, but worried visage.

It feels as if he's waiting. For her.

Whatever it is, however, is a mystery as of yet.

Desarae eats with the appetite of someone that's worried. She picks at her food, and pushes it around her plate. She cuts slivers from the fruits and cheeses, and leaves them untouched. Firelight plays with her features, artificially warming a complexion that's grown pale again with the stress of the last few days, and the armor that she's so carefully constructed about herself in the wake of the deaths of her family is peeling apart to reveal the vulnerable girl beneath.

A vulnerability that's made all the more apparent now the two of them are alone.

"Papa looked so terribly ill," she comments, fingering back hair from where it's fallen forwards to curtain her face. Long, silken and dark, her maid has brushed it to within an inch of its life before the pair had sat down to eat; clips and combs that had held it restrained now neatly tidied away upon one of the chests. She's still in the dress that she'd worn for the trip, because late as it is there's little point in changing to anything else.

A pause, her eyes remaining firmly on the dissection of her food when she speaks.

"Nicolas, we've not really spoken about what happened to my family and me. Do you believe in curses and the supernatural?"

Does he believe?

Nicolas props his chin on his hand, his other arm slid sideways to brace against his side of the table in an angle. His expression is contemplative - so much so that the indolent way he sits (typical of young men, to take up as much space as humanly possible) is incongruous to the look; like a young lord watching his beautiful companion pick at the food on her plate. It would be a convincing enough of a facade, were it not for the seriousness present in his eyes and the fact that they tend to shift from her face to the rest of the room. He has memorized all of its details by now, stored in his endless memories, but experience has forced him to learn that tranquility can vanish in the blink of an eye.

A Cassiline's effectiveness is founded on constant vigilance.

"I'm a devout follower of Cassiel, my lady," he replies after a pause. "And I spend at least a few minutes of every day in worship. I believe in the existence in the divine and infernal, and one would think that also extends to the things in between." He hesitates, but only briefly, before he continues:

"But I'm a creature of reason, also. And it's always in me to exhaust more reasonable avenues of inquiry first before lending weight to miracles or curses."

After a moment: "What matters to me at present, however, is what you believe," he says, gently, opening the door in invitation for her to step through, to impart her confidences should she wish.

"I don't see how it would be possible to do anything but believe." Desarae's eyes flick from her plate to Nicolas' face. "You saw my father's study." She lays the fruit knife that she'd been toying with down, setting it at an angle upon her plate that neatly bisects the remains of her supper. "So many books and writings upon the subject. How can there be that many words written by so many people if there's not a grain of truth in it."

Her hand lifts to her throat, fingers splayed protectively across that slender column. The skin beneath her fingers seems darker where she touches; though it's perhaps an illusion that's cast by the shadows and light that play in the room.

She draws a heavy breath, rubbing at her neck before making a conscious effort to pull her hand away and find another occupation for her fingers. She reaches for her wine. "I was away from all this, a whole day's travel at the very least," she continues quietly on. "My father tells me the witch performed a ritual in front of him, one that specifically cursed me." Her glass is lifted to her mouth, and her lips stain darker with the touch of the wine. "Maybe," she adds, "some of the effectiveness is in what a person allows themselves to believe. It wasn't a curse that killed my family, but a very real person and their need for revenge."

How can there be that many words written by so many people if there's not a grain of truth in it?

His expression twists, easing back against his seat. His hand absently rubs the back of his neck and while there is some willingness to let the lady be as she is, Nicolas has never been the sort not to deliver his opinion now that the discussion has been opened to it. "Culture," he begins. "Natural phenomena that have yet to be explained in full by our most learned minds. I can think of a few. But given what I do for a living, what I am, if there is truth to any of it, I would accept that, too."

But not yet, he adds silently, glancing at the door and his lips curving into a frown.

The shadows that play around her throat look like a noose, and uneasiness stirs within his stomach, if not just because he can't help but wonder. What if it is true? He is a stranger coming into the family, he was not present when the crisis occurred. All he has for background are reports, which he has read over and over, despite the fact that his unique skillset as an eidetiker means that he doesn't have to. But reports are hearsay, also. It doesn't change the fact that he was not there.

"You said," he continues after a few heartbeats. "Back in your father's study that you felt that the curse…left you. That you felt it break. You needn't revisit the moment if you don't want to, my lady, but all I had to read in the monastery was a third party account of what had happened to you while you were bedridden and ill. If I may ask…what did you mean?"

Desarae nods. "No. You should know what happened and how it was, Nicolas. How can you protect me if you don't know what I faced then. What I may face again…" Her own words give her pause for thought, and there's a factional lift of her shoulders as if she's warding off all possibility of that curse, even now, resting upon her head.

"When Alexandre performed the cure that he'd found, when the ritual was performed, there was a moment of such intense agony that I thought I would die." Her eyes dig deep into his, their colour bright and vivid as she relives the moment. "I couldn't breathe, and the rash about my throat started to seep blood as if my skin were cut. For a moment it was as if all the darkness that had plagued my soul were being ripped from within me. I could feel it seeping through the pores of my skin, from the tips of my fingers and the breath in my mouth. A wind blew through the room, though no windows were open, and then… nothing." "I slept for the first time without a fever that night. I slept without dreams."

There's a darkness that pools in her eyes, the brightness of them reduced to a sliver of colour about the periphery of her pupils. "I'm scared, Nicolas. I don't want to die, I have too much that I still want to do." Her hand slips into her skirts, and she pulls the small wooden carving from within the folds of her pocket, placing it quietly on the table between them. "If only this simir were real, I would beg a feather from his tail."

What I may face again.

"That is not going to happen."

The words are spoken with a quick, razored vehemence that narrows his eyes into steely amethystine flints, his expression grim and determined, the cut of his jaw all the more hardened by the unexpected lash of impotent temper, unable to direct it at something tangible. It may be because of the fear he senses in her, or the injustice of witnessing a young woman who has already gone through so much go through even more. It could be the situation and all the things he doesn't know, the things he hasn't seen. It could be the sudden and irrational desire to go back in time, armed with what little he does know, and reverse everything if not just to spare her from the pain. It would probably generate a disastrous causality, at the very least, if that were possible. It is likely that he would not have cause to enter her life in the first place - but if he could do all of that, at the low, low cost of erasing himself from her history…

…he would do it. In a heartbeat.

Perhaps the words surprise even him and he falls quiet, but his eyes do not drop on the table in contemplation. They remain direct, and intent, on her profile when she finally confides in him details that couldn't possibly be any of the reports - how could it? The experience must have been so personal, how could anyone describe it accurately on paper without Desarae's input?

And what she describes is harrowing and it does nothing for his present state of volatility. Nicolas closes his eyes and prays for temperance, but she makes it so difficult, especially when she withdraws the carving he had given her on a whim and lets him know, however inadvertently, that she keeps it on her person like a charm.

He reaches out then. His fingers close over her own.

"I told you," he tells her, placing his faith on his spiritual patron and the things that have driven him all of his life. "That is not going to happen. You are not going to die." He meets her virid stare. "You will finish this ritual, and grant your father the peace of mind he requires. After that, I'm taking you back to Marsilikos, so you can be with your cousins and your aunt, other impressive women who will guide you and groom you. I'll see you grown up and become even more beautiful and resilient than you are now. I'll see you take your place as Marquise de Chavaise. I'll see you married, have children, replenish your line and rule these lands. I'll see you grow old."

Something eases in him after that, and his smile quirks up at the corners. "And hopefully I'll be gone by then, so I don't have to watch you die."

"You make it sound so terribly simple." A tear sheens the corner of Desarae's eye, and there's nothing that she can do about it. Perhaps it's Nicolas' faith that all will be well, or perhaps it's simply his faith in her, but it breaches the cage of her lashes, and makes its slow trail down her cheek. Beneath his hand, her fingers are cool, and they close about the simir, holding it tight within her hand. "Tomorrow we will know more." Her head dips to hide her fallability behind the curtain of her hair, though she hides much more than simply that.

But Nicolas' words have spun a magic of their own about her, something which was perhaps his intention when he spoke of the future and all it would hold. It dispels to some degree some of the hopelessness of her thoughts, and the dark paths down which they've led her. A moment of silence holds the tenuous threads of awe within itself before she speaks again. "I like the way that you see things, and I like hearing you speak of them in the way that you do. As if there's no question but that things will be as the way that you see them. You're very unexpected, Nicolas."

You make it sound so terribly simple.

Self-deprecating humor broadens his smile. "I'm a Cassiline," he reminds her. "People survive so long as we're in the room. Far be it for me to fail in an ancient tradition." His expression reclaims its earlier seriousness, his voice taking on a lower pitch. "I've sworn my vows seventeen years ago, my lady, but before that, I was raised by chevaliers. I suppose it's part of me, too, to reaffirm my oaths whenever there's need for it. Now that I have, I'll have my bones broken first before I break any of the promises I just made you." He pauses, and glances down at his sword, lying on the table and within reach of him. "I suppose I should have gotten down on a knee." His tone is light there, another attempt at a jest. "And presented my blade to you in the way the knights of old have done."

Slowly, Nicolas' fingers release her own, but only to take up the task of reaching up and brushing away the trail of moisture that glints off her cheek with the second knuckle of his index.

Maybe, in the end, that's what the present situation needs. If there is a curse, maybe a blessing is what's needed to nullify its effects. Maybe it's enough, to have such things come from a priest.

You're very unexpected, Nicolas.

His hand retracts, rubbing the back of his neck in that way of his whenever he feels a touch self-conscious. He does not have the tendency to blush, but there are aspects of him that remain that can't help but remind someone that he is still young, several years away from thirty. "Well," he begins, smirking faintly. "It isn't as if you'd find me the most credible of all counselors if I looked uncertain."

Desarae's tear glistens on Nicolas' knuckle when he brushes it from her cheek. "I'm sorry. I didn't want you to see me cry. You must think me so terribly young and immature." Her apology is quiet, though no less heartfelt. "When it happened, when I needed to cry, I would walk in the rain. I found myself liking the rain more than I ought." She tilts her head briefly to his touch, but then his hand's gone, and her hand lifts to finish what he's started. The heel of her palm presses to the corner of each eye, stemming further tears that might follow the first.

"My cousin Augustin is a Knight of the White Swan. I think you'd have made a fine Knight of the Order too. I'm sure that you'd have done something that would have shown your loyalty to the King and the Throne, you simply have that something about you that says that you would." The hand not occupied with holding the simir upon the table slips into her pocket, and she draws from it the packet of powders supplied by her aunt. "I should tell one of the servants to take these away, I'm sure I'll sleep tonight with you to watch over me."

Eyes linger at the way she tilts her head towards his hand - a brief hiccup in his attempts to take care of her and reminded, rather suddenly, how different it actually is to protect someone so young and looking like she does, in contrast to an experienced and aged duc.

But he recovers quickly. There's a shake of his head. "Never apologize for that," Nicolas tells her, and while his voice is gentle, his tone is firm, looking at her directly in an effort to impress the fact with his expression. "That takes courage too, you know. To show someone else that you're vulnerable." As she wipes her own tears, he looks somewhat abashed, as if remembering something, patting around in his pockets until he produces a handkerchief. It's folded rather oddly, as if its owner had done it while in a hurry before placing it in his pocket, but this, he offers to her.

Her words about her cousin - for who wields a blade and hasn't heard of Augustin de Trevalion? - earns her a smile that's somewhat strange, melancholy in its bent, and the expression in his violet irises shrouded by the dip of his head, as if in acknowledgment of her compliment to mask the twinge that delivers somewhere at the center of him. There's a pause, and then: "My grandfather was fond of telling me that I ought to keep a handkerchief with me at all times," he begins, reminded by the object in his hand. "Not because I would need it, but because another person might."

Once it is taken, he lowers his hand again, and her faith that she'll be able to sleep has him nodding once. "I'll send for one," he says, rising from his seat and offering his hand to help her off the chair. "Meanwhile, you should get ready for bed, and get some rest." He falls quiet again, but it is brief, before: "I'll tell you another story, if you'd like. About anything. And if I don't happen to be able to tell one about the subject, I'll make one up. But you have to promise not to laugh too hard at me, if I do."

Desarae takes the 'kerchief that's offered, and for the span of a second, buries her nose in it. It's not scented like her own, nor has it delicate lace edges or her initials embroidered so neatly within the angle of one corner. She breathes it in, then gives her hand into his, the rise from her seat slow as she takes a moment to collect the simir.

"I don't feel courageous, but thank you for that." Her eyes meet with his. "It's perhaps my nature and my training that despises any weakness within myself to be shown." She studies him as she speaks, the fact that she were raised to serve the Night Court something that might, perhaps, be a difficult subject to broach between herself and he. "But I would love to hear another of your stories tonight, and though I'll try hard not to laugh, I can't promise you such." There's the start of a smile on her lips as she tells him that, and she passes a hand around the back of her neck so she can gather her hair and draw it forward over one shoulder.

"I'll prepare for bed, and leave you with a request for a tale of a handsome chevalier and the lady for whom he takes a knee." The darkness of her mood lifted by his offer, she turns from the table to head for her bedchamber. There'll be two maids waiting there to help her from her travelling clothes and dress her hair in a braid for the night.

It's a square, white thing, and hemmed with gray and black, made out of soft cloth but without any embellishments that come standard with any d'Angeline finery. It is simple and functional - plain, really, and nothing like anything she has in her wardrobe. But it will do the job well enough.

With that smile finally manifesting on her lips, Nicolas seems bolstered by the sight of it, taking some quiet pride and pleasure in bringing some much-needed good cheer back on his ward's mien. There's no sign of any other reaction than that, on the tail end about her training in the Night Court - but there is no comment on that, either. Perhaps he knows it is a thorny issue - there have been conflicts between Cassilines and courtesans before. Perhaps he harbors opinions that aren't all too popular in the Brotherhood about it. Perhaps, even more simply, it is enough for him to be content with this small victory in banishing the shadows from her face, at least for just a little while.

And then her story request comes in.

"…uh…" His hand lifts, an index finger lifted, the look of him comically indescribable as she flutters off towards her maids. His brows furrow as he thinks back to all of the stories he's read. Does he have one of those? He mostly liked ones that dealt with battles and harrowing adventures, and mythological tales regarding heroes and their quests….

"Damn," he mutters, but despite himself, he can't help but grin faintly.

He'll just have to improvise.

…..

….

..

.

At breakfast, he had to come clean.

"The story I told you last night," the Cassiline tells her in a conversational fashion while he escorts Desarae to the Solar where their morning repast is waiting for them. "I have a confession to make. I had to take an existing tale and switch roles around. The chevalier was actually a cantankerous ogre, and the princess was…well, she believed herself to be a princess her entire life, but she was actually an ogre ensorcelled to look like a beauty." The handsome lines of his face is wreathed with a sheepish expression. "But considering how enthralled you were when I spun it, I didn't have the heart to tell you. Other than the bittersweet tragedies commonly found in mythological tales, I'm utterly worthless when it comes to romances. Should I read more of those, do you think?"

The doors to the chamber loom before them, and dutifully, Nicolas takes several steps forward to open the door for the lady.

Despite her misgivings, Desarae had managed to rest. Curled within a next of pillows and blankets, Nicolas' story had lulled her to sleep and kept the demons at bay. Whilst it wasn't a full night's sleep, it was more than she'd been used to in recent weeks, and he'd been quietly watching her as consciousness returned.

She emerges from her morning ablutions, her hair neatly drawn from her face and braided into a loose romantic knot at the nape of her neck, her gown a pale ivory brocade that's fitted through the sleeves tailored to make the most of her figure. She stares quite disbelievingly at Nicolas. "An ogre, you say…" The faintest of frowns blossoms upon her forehead, and her mouth settles in a moue of a pout. "Perhaps you ought, but then if you did, then I'd probably be hearing stories that I've heard before. Besides, I think you might ask for a new ward if I ordered that of you."

Her smile is brighter, as is her mood, the benefits one supposes of having an unbroken night's sleep, and with thoughts of meeting with her father playing upon her mind, she steps towards the door that he opens.

As the door opens, light spills inward from the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominate the Solar. Outside is a beautiful Fall day, where its vibrant colors are present upon the distant chestnut trees that Desarae loves, specks of red, gold and brown over rolling hills that still look green, at least from their vantage point.

Considering what is happening in the Solar, however, all that beauty may remain unnoticed.

There is a contingent of guards waiting for them, all dressed in the uniforms of House Mereliot, with whatever embellishments that render them unique to the Chavaise branch of the family. There is about a dozen of them, their stony faces and determined stares facing the pair as they step inside. A familiar gray-clad figure is at the head of the semi-circle they make, his hand on the pommel of his sword.

His expression is determined too, but conflicted. Something like an apology is hinted at by the frown on his lips.

Guillame, the Marquis de Chavaise's Cassiline, turns to regard his younger counterpart across stone and empty air.

"My apologies, my lady." His dark eyes fall on Nicolas. "Brother. This is highly irregular, but I'm bound by the wishes of my lord."

And with that, he takes a breath, and turns to focus squarely on his fellow Cassiline.

"By order of Armand Morhban de Mereliot, Marquis de Chavaise," he continues. "Nicolas Guillard of the Cassiline Brotherhood is to be confined to the cells of Castle Chavaise, to be released once and only when certain details of his background and motivations are ascertained."

TO BE CONTINUED…

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