(1310-12-25) Under the sign of Stumbling Pony
Summary: Eneas and Helene continue on their journey, stopping the night in an Inn
RL Date: 2019-01-05
Related: Shortest Day Disappearances Plot
eneas helene 

The Stumbling Pony Inn

An inn a half day's ride east from Marsilikos.

About twenty-four hours of head-start. That is what they can gather is how much the wagon has on them, that they are trying to chase down. Perhaps as much as thirty-six and while they are on horse and thus will make better time than a laden wagon in muddy roads, it still means they will have to give chase to it at least for a two days at the least. Assuming they pick the right road and the right turns at first try.

So when the sun begins to set and the sky to darken behind the clouds as they draw closer and closer to the mountains that mark the border with the Unitas, they will be forced to turn in at the first proper way stop on that road, to give the horses a rest, food and warm them back up, not to mention the riders.

Once they pull into the courtyard of the Inn, Eneas swings his leg over the saddle a bit stiffly, grunting when he has to bend knees to descend from the stirrup, handing the reins over to one of the stable-hands, and handing him a ducat for the troubles. "Give him a proper rub-down, lad, will you? And an extra portion of food.". Only then does he step up to Hélène's horse, to offer her a knee and thigh to step on, as well as two helping hands to dismount, if she wishes it.

Hélène looks tired, but determined, and more than a little damp. Late December in the south? Light snow, and a lot of rain, which while it benefits their pursuit, does not make for easy riding. In her defense, Hélène has been a trooper about it, and aside from some dry remarks the most recent time the rains began, has not had a word of complaint. They likely stopped a few places to see if peddler had been through, and give the horses water, but mostly they have been riding.

Hélène takes one of the hands to help her dismount, giving it a squeeze before letting go, and offering her reins to the stable hand. "Same goes for this one, and Jean-Marc's, he should not be far behind." Or rather, far ahead, as he had offered to scout part of the road before joining them.

She adjusts her skirts for a moment, wrinkled as they are from riding astride rather than side saddle, and undoes the strap that holds bow and quiver in place, holding them loosely in her hand as she starts towards the main inn doors. "Eat, then plan, Eneas?" she asks.

Squeezing her hand back, Eneas seems actually in better spirits than the last few days. While it is a long shot, it is giving him a quarry to chase, a clear purpose to pursuit, to focus his energies into, rather than the diffuse frustrations and annoyances of stabbing in the dark as the first day in the City has been, paired with having to push people to act swiftly and do as they are told without questioning him too much. Ahem.

Pulling his gloves off his hand, he does lift a hand to cup Hélène's cheek, if she lets him, to check just how cold her skin is, and if it is as cold as it looks, before he nods his head. "Food in front of a fire, for you, young Lady. Perhaps even a hot bath…", he tells her, smiling a bit wryly. "You're not as big a boat as I am. You loose heat faster…". Leave it to a Camlach born to know about such things. After all, they travel the mountain passes often and even in the summer they can get frightfully cold.

"If they have a proper we can both take one Eneas," she answers without a trace of innuendo in her voice for once. He may be more accustomed to the cold than the southern born woman, but a long day of riding still breaks a sweat, and still leaves muscles aching. They make their way inn though, and Hélène asks for a pair of rooms, preferably with fires already going, and tells the innkeeper to watch for Jean-Marc. There is at least one often kept by for passing nobles at least, and while the fireside down here looks inviting, Hélène shakes her head and gestures to the stairs instead. "I don't want to talk down here, out in the open. I have no idea what other ears they have paid for," she tells Eneas before following up the narrow stairs.

They are led to the far chamber, a large enough, comfortable place with seats by th low fire, and a bed made with fresh straw. Hélène waits until the innkeep has finished flaming the fire and adding wood to bring it up before asking food be brought to them up here and passing more coin. When he leaves, she finally speaks again to Eneas, "I can get a third room if you like, but for now we raise fewer eyebrows together.". Though she speaks to him, she does not turn to look his way, instead kneeling in her wet clothing beside the growing fire, hands stretched towards it.

Well, he gives Hélène a look as she suggests a bath back at him. "Yeah, yeah.", he tells her, rolling his eyes at her. "I meant more so you don't fall ill, not for mere comfort.", he explains, but he does not seem too eager to have an outdrawn argument about it. With their horses taken care of, Eneas does make sure that if more riders arrive asking for him by name, that they are given places in the stables for their mounts as well and he be informed of their arrival. Apparently Eneas had send word to some sell-swords that there is coin in the offering if they can catch up to him before daybreak. Ahem.

When they enter, Eneas agrees with seeking some privacy over the fire in the common room, and he lets the Lady arrange things as she sees fit.

By the time they are alone, he has settled near one of the windows, crossing his arms, and staring out into the rapidly darkening world, which might be while he is a bit sluggish to respond to her suggestion. "Hmm? For the two sell-swords? Nah, they'll….", he pauses, blinking, perhaps finally catching on that she meant the two of them. Eyes turn to regard her, as she kneels there like that, and he sighs, stepping towards her and if she does not resist, those hands of hers will be taken up into his, to pull her back to her feet by them. "Don't be silly.", he tells her, leaning down to nudge her nose with his. "Have I been so cold that you thought I wouldn't share a room with you?", he wonders, studying her.

That earns him a weak smile, but a compassionate answer, not a harsh one, "Not at all, and I did not think of it until we were already up here. I thought, with all that has happened, you might want privacy and a chance to think on your own. You have lost someone you love, even if only temporarily, and I thought you might want time to process what has happened without me.". She gives him a soft kiss, "It was meant as a kindness, not a rebuke my love." She let's go of his hands then, and turns around asking, "Now help me out of this dress, so it can dry by the fire and stop making me colder. The innkeep can see me in my shift and breeches. Hoe far ahead do you think they will be in the morning? The wagon will be a heavy load, so they will have to rest the horses more often or else find fresh ones, which would be too costly if they are keeping up the pretence of a mere peddler.". As he works she tips her wet boots off and kicks them onto the hearth.

Eneas seems to sigh again at the answer, though at least this time it seems in some relief. "I…I know I am horrible company right now.", Eneas does admit, and perhaps a bit rueful, even after she kisses him. And yet, he covers her lips with a finger, before she can launch herself into defense of him, and he shakes his head. "Yes. I have reasons. But they make poor excuses. You have been nothing but helpful.". A pause. "Well, apart of the part where you wandered the dock district on your own.". Yep, he is still slightly sore about that. Ahem.

Still, when she turns around, Eneas does move to help her with the ties, with the buttons and knots to peel her out of her dress. "You sure? I am sure I can haggle the price for the room down if you hang your shift out to dry, too..", he comments, oh-so-dryly.

"And the price of your sell-swords, I am sure," she answers dryly, "You might even get an evening's entertainment out of watching them argue over whose turn is next." Yup, she went there, her voice a deadpan in contrast to the escalating joke. She sets the dress to dry, and loss and kneels before the fire once more, hands rubbing together

“And the price of your sell-swords, I am sure," she answers dryly, "You might even get an evening's entertainment out of watching them argue over whose turn is next." Yup, she went there, her voice a deadpan in contrast to the escalating joke. She sets the dress to dry, loosens her hair, and then kneels before the fire once more, hands rubbing together. "And Eneas, I already agreed to take more security to the docks, but I notice you haven't stopped me from coming along on this adventure. So far it is you, me and Jean-Marc, and no idea really how large an operation we are about to piss off or have already."

Escalating indeed! Eneas cannot help but to chuckle in surprise at the way she decides to take his almost innocent jest, attempt to lighten the mood to paint him in quite the horrible light. Ahem. "They might even agree to work for free, but then you run in the issue of never paying a Merc in full beforehand, and a Merc never working without an advance…". If she wants to be naughty, surely, he will indulge her? And yet, those blue eyes do narrow a little, perhaps not quite fond of the…thoughts and images that conjures up, after all.

Thankfully, she distracts him then, with the questioning, and he turns, leaving her take the heat of the fire as closely as she can stand, before he sits down on the low seating, to work on his own boots, so they can be placed nearby to dry, as well as the socks. Thankfully the leather pants he tends to prefer do not really take rain that well, though the vest and shirt underneath the cloak he hung up are soaked through in places.

"I am certain we will have two more swords in the morning.", he tells her. "At least. Perhaps as much as four.". A pause. "I was thinking of telling you to stay behind, but…", he gives her a tired look. "You'd have argued. And even if I trussed you up, tossed you over Jean-Marc's horse and he rode off with you into the city, you'd be on the way after me by now.", he declares. It sounds like a dry joke, doesn't it? And yet, Eneas actually seems rather earnest in his assessment of her stubbornness. "If we get close and it gets dangerous, I will send you off with Jean-Marc. Right now, we are not yet too suspicious, even if they have lookouts and spies along the road.".

Hélène's eyebrow rises slightly and the murmurs, "And here I thought there wasn't a jealous bone in your body…" Or perhaps it was just his protectiveness, but still, the topic moves, and sweeps the surprise, and tenderness from her face to be replaced with a more business-like tone.

"Jean-Marc would not have let you. He knows better than to try and force me anywhere," she answers plainly before shaking her head, "I am not about to run head first into a warehouse of enemies Eneas, and not for myself. You would be ineffective if you thought you had to both protect me, and find Gwen and the adept, Lois. And I… if I were caught, I would make to good a hostage to use against you. I do not want to put you in the position of having to choose between us, or face losing both the women you love."

Her skin is turning pink as cold meets heat, and she rises up to join him as the food is brought in. It is simple country fare, bread, cheese, and a howl each of lamb stew, with a jug of young wine to wash it down.

Eneas gives Hélène a look at those words, lips to part, as if perhaps to say something, but for once keeps his tongue, letting that moment pass, letting the task at hand distract them from that topic. Perhaps it is not the best time to get into it, right there, is it? Ahem.

“You sure about that? I think he might be reconsidering after your adventure today…". Yep, he might have a bad influence on Hélène and make her take more risk, but perhaps he also has a effect on the older guard? Isn't that a scary thought?

And yet, when she speaks of hostages and scenarios and not wanting to complicate matters, Eneas moves to draw her in, if she lets him, to kiss her cheek. "This is not that much unlike a battle, Hélène…", he tells her, quietly, gently, but with a certain finality in his voice. "The smallest skirmish in the world, perhaps, but still. There will be chaos, love. And there will be things we cannot control. Yes. I need you to stay as safe as you can if we actually draw steel or are drawn upon. But…I can think of hundreds of ways how it might put you in danger to leave you in Marsilikos, now that you left your name at every street corner. Or if you were to make the trip back now. Or if you stay with me. Or if they are more clever than we anticipate. Or…", he trails off, closing his eyes for a moment. "At least like this…I can affect things directly.". Is he worried? Yes. Does it stop him? Hell no.

Hélène sighs and leans her fire warm cheek against his still cool shoulder, "I cannot promise I will not do anything rash, but I will try not to. I am a better shot with a bow anyway, than I ever have been able to wield a blade, so I know I would be useless in a fight, if not at setting a trap. I.." Hélène pauses for a moment and takes a bite of bread dipped in the stew, chewing thoughtfully before adding, "I feel safer here with you than I would at home anyhow. And I feel safer doing something, even in the city, than sitting around waiting for something to be done /to/ me, even though I admit, I may have taken too many risks this time.". Hélène pauses there, and her voice turns much lower, spoken softly into his ear rather than into the still of the room.

Eneas leans back against the backrest, even as she leans against his form. One arm to attempt to cross over her back, her shoulder, before he nods his head. "You are too much like me in some parts…", he half-jests, half sighs at her. A moment passes. Another and there might be a flitter of true despair to wash over his expression for a moment, "…I told her of the risks. Tried to teach her some moves with the knife and … what did it matter?", he wonders. Poor Hélène might get squeezed a bit tighter then. "…I should know better than to buy into the illusion of control and security by now, but it is a beautiful lie, so easy to convince yourself.". As she turns to whisper, he takes a deep breath, turning to regard her, to whisper back, before words fail him and he shakes his head, pushing his forehead against hers.

[The scene fades until the following morning]

Of course, when light starts to light up the room once more, Eneas will find Hélène next to him, sleeping on her stomach, her hair a mess around her head. The blankets are pulled up against the December cold, but he can just see a hint of fabric, a cuff around her wrist that certainly she did not have when they fell asleep. Closer inspection would reveal that she is in fact, wearing his shirt, and little else, and her breeches have been tidily folded beside the bed.

Closer inspection? Like, Eneas lifting the blanket to peek at the shape of the body cuddling up to him? Despite everything, there is a hint of forbiddeness to that, is there not? And while he might be smiling faintly at the act, there is a mixed reaction of finding her half clothed in his shirt. A hint of disappointment, yes, but also curiosity, and on some level a satisfaction, too. Well. She might as well be wrapped in an Eneas-flag for the same purposes, right? Ahem.

Still, he gently tucks her under the blanket again, before he tries to slip out from next to her, to begin the routine to wash up and get clothed again so they can indeed get underway.

As he tries to slip out, a hand reaches out to press down in the centre of his chest, gently pushing him back towards the bed. Green eyes blearily blink open, and Hélène tries unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn, which only highlight the thin line of drool on her lip and on the pillow that must have emerged during her sleep. "Hmmm… she murmurs, fighting against the morning in a very uncharacteristic manner for the woman who is normally such a morning person. Removing her hand, she rolls on her back, her hand rising to protect her eyes from the golden strains of early light. "Eneas," she starts softly, "What time is it?"

The hand to his chest does indeed stop him, though it is with a low chuckle, probably because of the fetching image she makes drooling on the pillow. Ahem. Reaching up, Eneas does seek to cup her cheek, to use a thumb to help her out with that a little, at least, before she rolls on her back. "Don't know.", he answers, shrugging his shoulders in an almost dismissing fashion. "Sun up.". That is all that matters, really, isn't it. Their quarry cannot have moved before now, so they are still on time. Clearing his throat, Eneas does shift, leans over to kiss her forehead, if she lets him. "Got cold during the night?", he wonders.

Hélène shuffles on the bed after he kisses her, moving to sit up and look down at the shirt she wears. Head shaking, she answers, "No, no…" Hélène sighs, and reaches for the plate of now stale bread and hardened cheese beside the bed to grab a few pieces. She sighs and, her voice growing less groggy, tells him, "We had a visitor, just after midnight. Jean-Marc and I went down to speak with him. You were out like a light love."

Eneas draws back when she starts to shuffle, to sit up. Blue eyes watch her, yes, somewhat warily, but even when she turns to grab the food, which seems to be more to stall than sudden untameable hunger, Eneas half turns to lie on his side, prop on arm up so he can hold his head. "A…visitor?", he wonders, studying the woman. Yes, that sounds ominous, but she is apparently fine now, right? "What and Who happened, love?".

"Marco Mereliot, a cousin of Gwenaëlle's apparently. He had the livery, and signs of his family, and came with a group of guards to find us. I mistook him for one of your mercenaries at first," Hélène explains, her head shaking slightly in a dismissive gesture, suggesting there is less to worry about than he might initially have thought. "He wanted to know what we knew, and I… I believed his intentions to be honest. I did not tell him everything, but enough for him to return to Marsilikos to look for accomplices there." She raises the cheese to take a bite, but then stops, adding, "I didn't necessarily trust him enough to want him to stay with us, but… I… He wants to find them both." She sighs, then takes a bite, "And I have no idea if any mercs appeared overnight, but we have a few Mereliot guards in full livery downstairs. I would not say we would, or would not take them on our road, but would leave it to you to keep or dismiss back to the city."

Eneas shakes his head a little after a moment or two. "I…do not think I met the man.", he says, though when she explains further, speaks of multiple guards and livery, Eneas shakes his head once more. "Not a cousin by blood then.". Well, they talked as much before in the d'Aiglemort line, after all. Yes, they are related somehow and tend to call each other cousin or near-cousin for ease of familiarity, but the branches in the Cadet lines can range back several generations at this point. "At least I don't think her family is closely related to the Duchess or the other Mereliots that are landed.".

Still, when she speaks of accepting a few to bolster their number? Well, Eneas gives a shrug of shoulders. "They might come in handy. We can garb them in less…attention-grabbing clothes, make them take off their tabards.". Oh, yes, that will go over swimmingly with them, won't it? "If you think him honest, then yes, help back in Marsilikos might still pay off. The more irons we have in the fire, the better?".

Hélène nods as she listens, even as she is getting ready for the day. She slides her legs off the bed to stand again, and immediately starts dressing, starting by removing the borrowed shirt, and tossing it unceremoniously at its owner. She reaches for her shift and breeches, dressing swiftly and carelessly. This is not a day that requires her to be at her most presentable after all. "Good luck getting them to wear plain clothes," she answers, "Still, I'd keep their livery close at hand for when we get to the border, if we have to go that far in the end. Might come in handy to be travelling with Mereliot guards."

She takes a cord and uses it to pull her hair back off her face for riding. That done, she heads for the fireplace where her now dry gown resides, and continues, "I think it can't hurt Eneas. And I sent him with a note with my seal, so if the port opens, and he has information, hopefully they can get it to us faster, or send a ship to bring the women home on."

Eneas shrugs his shoulder once more. "They can do as they are told, or they can ride back to Marsilikos.", is all that Eneas really says on the matter. Yep, still being uncompromising, even after a night's sleep. Perhaps that is just his bull-headedness and not the sleep-deprivation. Ahem.

"But yes, they should keep it close. Might come in handy if we have to deal with any other patrol or yes, the boarder patrols or any local Lords or Knights.". Lending itself some official cloud, a step up from their vigilantism. Ahem.

With the shirt back in his possession, Eneas does sit up more firmly, to give it a shake as if to 'air it out', before he does pull it on, before he starts the dressing process as well, splashing some water into his face, but he does find a brush to start to brush his own hair out, even as he starts to spread the map that he stole from the temple to map their goal for the day. Along the main roads, the ones who would be best maintained and not too muddy, with trying to incorporate some of the smaller villages along the way, to see if the wagon and duo of peddlers has been spotted. Or any other foreign riders that might passed through, either with or without suspiciously large rugs on the back of their horses. Ahem.

Hélène comes to lean over the map as well, adjusting the gown over her shift and breeches to find a comfortable medium before she starts pulling the laces to tighten it. "Right," she begins, eyes taking in the routes ahead, "There are a couple of forks that a wagon could take, if they want a less direct route to the border, so we should definitely ask about the peddlers there." She points to first one, then another of the villages he noted, "as for the rest?" Hélène shrugs slightly. "I admit, it's been ten years since I took these routes."

Eneas nods his head while pulling said brush through the hair a few more times, before using it to weigh down the corner he kept having to push down with his hand. "Yep. Depends also in what condition the roads are. They might have to take detours if they hear of blockage or the like.". Riders can jump or go around a fallen tree, after all, less an option with a wagon. "We should also not forget your idea of the ship waiting ashore for them.", he states, pointing out further bays and coves along the shore. "We might have to send those guards this Marco left off to check those out, and then rejoin us at intervals.". He takes a deep sigh at that. "Scouting. IT is much easier if all you look for is a huge army though. But I suppose the same tactics apply for wagons.". He grits his teeth for a moment, once more letting eyes roam the map, as if there is a hidden feature that he missed and might jump out of him and suddenly make it all clear where they went. Meanwhile, he does tug the leather cord from his pocket to start to bind his own hair into his usual ponytail to keep it out of his eyes.

There is a knock at the door, which Hélène turns to answer, calling out, "Who is it?" There is a moment of nervousness in her eyes, but it is quickly replaced as Jean-Marc announces himself, and on invitation comes in, looking haggard and bleary-eyed.

"This one, waking me up in the middle of the bloody night," he grumbles, pointing towards Hélène before looking to the map, "I'll get the horses and the new guards up and ready. How long do you want?"

Hélène lets Eneas answer that, him having more experience, but turns her attention instead to the map. "There are potential moorings here," she points to a sheltered bay, "and here." Her finger touches another. "But neither is quite on the direct path. The road only loosely follows the coast. We will have to decide if it is worth the extra hour or two to check there, or… Non, easier to let messengers find horse and catch us up." Her eyes narrow as she considers the sea-ward options.

Eneas takes a deeper breath again, contemplating, before the knock comes, and he gives Jean-Marc a faint smirk, even without looking up from the map. "You wanted her to take less risks. Not meeting a strange man in the middle of the night without guard is taking less risks. You cannot have it both ways, old man.", he tells him, quite simply. "We should ride as soon as possible. Once we figured out how to split up where and where to reassemble.", he pauses, finally glancing at the guard. "Would you make sure the horses are ready and then herd all who showed up in here? We should have a semblance of a plan by then.", he wonders, a touch kinder toned then.

With that said, he turns to the spots Hélène touches, considering them. His expertise is not maritime at all, so he can only guess which one are the most likely. "The further we get away from the City, the more the paths will branch. They might take any of the roads and the million of trails that are not even shown on the map. Or they might have shelter prepared to wait out a few days. Without a trail to follow, someone who sighted them?", he shakes his head. "We'll lose track of them if we don't pick up their trail here. We have to go down every branch until we hear word of them. Split up, in pairs if needed.", he points at the first intersection down the road. "Reassemble there. Split up. Reassemble. Until we reach the next Inn near nightfall.", he points it out in a frog leap manner. "It will slow us down, but…I see no other way.".

That earns a half smirk and laugh from the elder guard, who gives them both a mock salute before turning back and disappearing, his voice carrying from out the door, "Aye aye. Someday I’ll just make her someone else's problem." It is warm statement, even if sarcastic, and clearly the result of their almost twelve years together.

Hélène listens intently as Eneas explains his plan, considering the places. She bites her lip for a moment as he speaks about splitting up, but then nods, answering slowly, "You are right. I can take Jean-Marc and try the ports and harbours. I am more comfortable there than you are, and you should take your party towards the foothills. That is your terrain." She takes a deep breath, looking up at him for a moment, and it is clear she does not love the idea of splitting the party, but also is determined in the task, and sees the merit in doing so.

Ah, yes. That is apparently not something Eneas had considered. That the Verreuil would offer to be one of those pairs heading off. For a moment Eneas freezes at that suggestion, before blue eyes turn back to her. "Turn back at the first whiff of trouble or them.", he tells her, and Jean-Marc might be proud of him at the amount of determination he puts behind those words. "We can gather up and rerun to whatever you find in force when we reassemble, Hélène.", he lets her know, before his shoulders slump a little. "Or…you could stay with my group….", he asks. Yeah, that he put it last already should tell her how much he expects that to work.

Hélène's expression softens as she looks back at him, a hand reaching to rest on his shoulder, "I'll take the two harbours, and yes, I'll turn back if I learn anything, or have any sight of them. And if there is word anywhere else, I will stay with you. I'll take one of the Mereliot guards as well in the meantime." Letting go she turns to gather the last of their things, stating plainly, "Right, let's go."

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