(1311-10-25) I Thought You Died
Summary: Two old duelists— wait, there ARE two old duelists?
RL Date: 10/25/2019
Related: None.
athenais augustin 

The Kraken’s Den — Port of Marsilikos

A tall-tottering inn with a variety of rooms to let on the upper floors, from three fine suites just above the main floor to a collection of ramshackle one-cot rooms that sway with the harder gusts of wind in off of the sea in the upper levels. It has seen its share of fires and renovations, and every time it falls in ashes it seems to rise higher in the aftermath. Outside, proudly burnt-carved signage displays a huge black-tentacled kraken winding its limbs about in repetitive knotwork patterns. It hangs from a post on four links of bronze chain, and creaks when the wind hits it.

The main floor is part restaurant, part lobby, with a warm hearth next to a counter at which guests in the rooms above can pay their bills or ask after vacancies, many fine chairs and some a little less fine to fill out the number. Small tables amid all the seating provide room just enough to have a tea or a beverage and maybe play a game of cards with your mates. A low bannister-fence separates off the dining area from the lobby, to keep some semblance of order among the diners and to keep out the riff-raff.

Riff-raff, of course, is welcome to make its way downstairs, or else to descend into the alleyway behind the tavern and find the rear entrance into the half-basement, where a bar slings some of the hardest-scorching liquor known in Port Marsilikos, and attracts some of the roughest elements of society. It's dimly lit, with rough stonework walls and flooring and sturdy oaken furniture which must have been built in order to best resist any effort to shatter said furniture over someone's head. Fights are the nightly norm here, black eyes and sopping intoxication, and for those without the coin to attract the contract of a proper courtesan, some affable ladies are usually present in the evenings in case any gentleman wants to buy one a drink.

The heat of the Kraken's Den — engendered by the fire in the common room's great hearth, and then bolstered by the addition of body after warm body coming in from the chill October evening — is at first a slap in the face, and then an invitation to doff cloaks, unbutton coats, and leave hats and gloves aside.

Thus, at any rate, has it affected the woman seated at the far end of the bar. Drinking a glass of white wine and picking at a plateful of shrimp done in an assortment of the many spices which flow into Terre d'Ange's greatest port, she has long since opened the gorgeously-cut black frock coat worn over her dark red leather breeches and her plain white linen shirt. The laces of the latter are loose below a throat from which even at this season her golden suntan hasn't quite faded away. Her boots are for riding. Her white-streaked blonde hair is scraped back and tied with a leather cord. And the rapier belted about her hips occupies a plain black leather scabbard. She is alone, and it may be the considerable length of the latter that has kept her so, as the rest of the stools fill up with sailors and local merchants seeking to stave off the autumnal chill.

Sometimes you don’t want the high end bars and noble hangouts; sometimes you just want a good, honest bar where people get punched in the face. And so Augustin steps in to the Kraken's den wearing a well made but low key blue coat and breaches, with a white shirt underneath. Besides the fact that the clothing is well made, the thing that most stands out about him is the same that keeps people from around Athénaïs: The well maintained but obviously long used Akkadian sword slung from his belt, curved and exotic and clearly a comfortable weight at his side. He moves through the crowd carefully and easily, and pauses to raise an eyebrow at the sight of Athénaïs.

Admittedly most of the punching happens downstairs, with only a light and friendly tap or so reserved for the more fragrant upper premises where the food is served on actual plates— but Athénaïs, perched at an angle on her barstool and casting a glance over her fellow patrons as she chews one of the last of her shrimp, contrives to suggest to the man she's just discovered staring at her that pugilism is an option, all right. She does this by holding his gaze with her own proud and unflinching blue-grey eyes and bringing up an eyebrow to match his. She swallows the shrimp. With so much talk in between them she can't be heard, but her unpainted lips unmistakably form the syllable: "What?"

Augustin chuckles at the response, shaking his head at the mouthed word. He slides his way through the crowds to end up much closer to her, sliding between people with an almost preternatural smoothness. "You present quite a sight, madame," Augustin offers in explanation. "The very picture of confidence. I did not mean to disturb such a portrait, I promise."

Athénaïs’s eyes narrow in her study of Augustin’s approach. The placement of his feet, the way he weaves in between, how notably his curved Akkadian blade does not get tangled in anybody else’s legs even in such close quarters. Perhaps that’s what inclines her to a degree more courtesy as he comes into speaking distance and addresses her with the manners of a courtier, to match the handsome cut of his coat. Or perhaps it’s the Azzallese accent—? There’s but a tinge of the north left somewhere deep down in her own voice, in which an Eisandine lilt is leavened by a few crisp vowels borrowed from the City of Elua and a touch of l’Agnace besides. “You don’t disturb me. Sit if you’re going to sit — it’s a public bar,” and she lifts her hand from where it was resting upon her thigh, near the hilt of her rapier, to pick up her glass. She has the hands of a labourer, strong and variously callused, with short clean nails.

He could just be a very good dancer, perhaps; although that doesn't necessarily explain the sword. He does raise an eyebrow at the slight change in aggressiveness, but the smile doesn't leave his face. "Oh good, I hate to be disturbing," he offers wryly. He moves to lounge casually in the seat the she indicates, crossing his legs and looking around the room. There is a quiet confidence in the way he considers it, and in the pose he takes. Just this side of arrogance. When he reaches a hand to flag down a passing server, he has hands similarly use to work. "A lovely blade, from the look of it," he compliments.

Thus it becomes a double portrait — a study in Azzallese languor and pride. “It does the job,” allows Athénaïs briefly and neutrally. She sips from her glass and then swivels in toward the bar, turning her handsome profile toward Augustin beside her. She puts down her glass and picks up her fork, and stabs idly at another shrimp in the dish on the bar in front of her. Next to it there’s a pair of finely-stitched black leather gloves, and a red woolly hat folded in half. “I might wonder how you came by that one, though,” she admits in an undertone, without looking at him.

"That's what makes a sword beautiful, the ability to do the job," Augustin points out. "Gold and gems, spikes and barbs, detract from that. The beauty of an instrument is in it being used what it was made for." He reaches down to pat the sword at his side after her question. "An Akkadian pirate lord surrendered to me his ship and sword, terminally, after a duel. I took them both, but let the navy keep the boat since I was never much of a sailor," he explains.

His first point, Athénaïs concedes with a tilt of her head and then a nod. She sets her cutlery across her dish and pushes it away from her toward the inner edge of the bar, signaling that she’s had enough shrimp for one evening; and then she picks up her glass and takes another slow, savouring sip. “Not much of a sailor,” she repeats dubiously, and sips again before putting it down. “Have the pirate lords just not heard about that, yet?”

"I'm not," Augustin confirms to the 'not much of a sailor'. "They didn't put me on a ship to sail it; they put me on a ship so that the people sailing it didn't have to do their own swordfighting." He chuckles. "Well, while I'm sure they've been replaced, given we took back his crew in chains and killed most of the rest. I duelled their captain because he was a lord, related to the Khalif, and it was the quickest way to convince his crew to surrender.”

Athénaïs shrugs at that, shifting her stance again upon her barstool and leaning against its low back. She has one foot hooked around a leg of it while the other just touches the floor. For a woman she’s decidedly long-limbed. “What am I supposed to say now?” she drawls. “I’ve no war stories to tell and I’m not much given to pats on the head.”

"You asked how I got it," Augustin responds with an equal lack of concern, shrugging. "I was merely sharing the story as requested. I don't need a head pat. I'm fairly certain you have more stories you could share, if you were inclined; but I also don't have any need to force you if you're not interested." He orders a glass of wine from a server who finally comes, and leans back. "Since I doubt the sword is there for the aesthetics," he finishes.

“Fair enough, I asked.” And Athénaïs sighs, and lifts her hand with leonine grace to take up her glass and drain it. Less patient than her companion, she draws the barmaid’s attention (and plenty of other people’s) with a quick, sharp whistle; then she points to the absence of her wine in a manner implying a distinct wish to see it present again. She’s still turning over Augustin’s words. “Do you always equivocate?” she asks, finally looking at him.

Augustin chuckles, considering Athénaïs in return at the direct question. "No, sometimes I bloviate," Augustin offers with an artless shrug, the smile never leaving his face. "And I've been known to pontificate on occasion. I didn't think that statement particularly equivocating," he says, leaning forward. "Are you always so blunt?" He asks in return. The words are direct, and would be blunt if he did not seem to be genuinely curious.

“That must be a treat for your friends,” muses Athénaïs, though there’s a ghost of a smile upon her lips as the man next to her deprecates himself so charmingly. “Yes, I’m blunt,” she agrees with similar candour; “it saves time.” Their glasses arrive on the bar in tandem and she raises her wine to him and utters a wry, “Salut,” before she drinks.

"It would explain the fact that I'm not married, perhaps," Augustin offers wryly. "It does at that," he agrees. He takes the wine, and holds his glass up to match her salute. "Salut," he returns, before he takes a deep drink of the wine. "Augustin de Trevalion," he introduces himself finally.

The rangy blonde woman on the next stool coughs once as she swallows, then has further resort to her wine to wet a suddenly irritated throat. The glass is half-empty by the time she restores it to the bar and rests her elbow next to it and looks Augustin over again, mapping his appearance to his name. “Athénaïs de Belfours,” she concedes.

Augustin raises an eyebrow as he watches the coughing, followed by the chugging, and then the scrutiny the woman gives him. It would be symmetrical for him to be taking a sip when she introduces herself; but alas, he has finished his sip and so just looks very surprised. "No bullshit?" He asks, a little bit stunned. "I thought you died when I was thirteen. I wanted to be you when I was thirteen."

Way to make a woman feel vivacious and lovely.

But Athénaïs is half-expecting something like this, and thus she’s prepared to answer the succession of reactions she sees in Augustin’s eyes with the resigned uplift of a single brow. “No,” she clarifies, quietly. “I lived. As you see.” Her left elbow still on the bar, she lifts her right hand in a stylish and sardonic gesture toward her own person.

Something crosses Augustin's face for a moment, and he laughs and shakes his head at the resigned expression on her face. "I'm sorry," he offers sincerely, leaning back and laughing a little bit more. "I'm not normally on this side of the equation, and I would have hoped that I would have handled it better. I didn't mean to make it weird or be a little shit. Genuinely. I will admit to being happy that someone I thought so highly of is still around."

For a moment Athénaïs regards him with a studied blankness. Then she shrugs and observes, “There aren’t a lot of old duelists, that’s true. But I hear tell I always was the exception.” This comes out not quite as a boast, coloured as it is by the same sardonic note— and the same adopted Eisandine lilt, softening her Azzallese tongue. “And you?”

Augustin shrugs. "The same as anyone else who makes it to middle age in a young man's game; lucky when I needed to be. A combination of luck and skill good enough to keep me from getting butchered when I was almost too stupid to live." His voice softens a bit describing it. A little bit wistful, a little bit sad. "And now too many young idiots coming to try to earn a name for themselves."

Athénaïs picks up her wine glass. “I used to get one or two of those myself,” she drawls, tilting the glass and looking down into it. “Helps if word gets round that you’re dead. Have you tried that?” she asks, looking up at him with the same faint smile as before.

"I hadn't really given thought to the idea, no," Augustin offers, amusement returning. "It might have changed my relationship with my father, if I'm honest. And Companions know that I had enough times it came close," he admits with a little bit of a shrug again. "Maybe I'll think about it if he tries to get me to wed against my will again."

Again, Athénaïs responds in a style that’s blunt and sharp at once. “Isn’t that heresy?” she drawls, lifting an eyebrow in question and her glass to her lips.

"It's heresy to force me to the altar," Augustin responds with a sigh. "It isn't heresy to try to convince me that if I don't marry, or go in to the career he wants, or whatever, that I will be dishonoring the family and threatening to throw me out. It's one of the reasons the Duc my uncle gave me a title, to keep the two of us from going after one another hammer and tongs."

From Athénaïs there’s a long, low ‘mmm’, suggestive not of considering in this moment but of consideration long ago. “The Belfours threw me out when I was twenty,” she remarks, to Augustin rather than to her glass, “and it hasn’t done me any harm. If you have the balls to go your own way and stick to it — they can’t touch you.”

Augustin chuckles. "Oh, my entire life has been the tension between me running away to do whatever I wanted and occasionally having to deal with him. He was Royal Admiral, and wanted me to follow him in to the Navy; I joined the Marines. He wanted me to control who I would marry; I ended up dueling the young woman's brother. Some day he might come for me and have a very ugly reminder that I have not been afraid of him physically since I was about fourteen years old." He sighs. "Although I hope it does not; because despite everything, he is my father. The old asshole."

For a time Athénaïs falls silent, sipping what’s left of her wine. She’s not drunk, not precisely, not on a few glasses of her usual libation taken with most of a generous helping of shrimp; but for a certainty the gifts of the grape are accentuating her habitual frankness. “You frame your entire life,” she drawls at last, quietly, “as a reaction against someone else—?”

"Mmm, when I say it outloud it's a fairly terrible existence, isn't it," Augustin offers wryly, taking another long draw of his wine as he considers it. "It's been the framing story of my life, at least. Most of my most serious decisions and mistakes came about because of my father's interference. But not all of them; I do have some ownership of my own existence."

“Do you wait till he dies, then, to take the rest?” wonders Athénaïs. She hasn’t quite finished her wine but already she’s pulling a small cloth purse out of the loose neckline of her shirt — thieves are welcome to fucking try it — and counting out the requisite coins on the bar. “You’re going to have a few more shitty years, at that rate,” is her opinion.

"I'm not sure, truth be told," Augustin allows. "When I was younger I wondered if that had to be the case. When the Duc gave me a title, it felt like that part of my life was over; that I was finally and firmly away from any scheme of his. Although who knows; with Reina out and away again, it may be that he could end up with the title himself someday." He finishes his wine. "You put a hood on a falcon, and train it to do certain things when you take it off. When one day the hood is gone forever, do you wonder if the falcon knows? Or does he keep looking for it out of the corner of his vision for the rest of his days?"

“I don’t,” states Athénaïs after a moment, “feel sorry for you.” She pushes the coins across the bar, to where their glint catches the barmaid’s eye and they’re soon snatched up; she gathers her gloves and her red woolly hat into one hand and turns again on her stool, toward Augustin. Her right hand rests again on her leather-breeched thigh, near to the hilt of her sword. Her blue-grey gaze narrows as she ruminates. “I’ll kick your arse if you like,” she offers suddenly, “since you seem to be in need of it — but that’s as far as it goes.”

"I'm not asking you to," Augustin responds with equanimity. "If you want to spar, I can't deny my younger self the chance to spar with Athénaïs de Belfours; I'll be happy to test the legend. But I'm not sitting here stewing in pity. I've traveled around the world, I've defended innocent virgins. I've also helped relieve some of them of that terrible burden, when they were interested." Here is a more self-satisfied smile, the cat that ate the canary. "I'm not asking for pity. I could have run away and been an anonymous monk in some obscure cult, and never been seen again. If I've come back to the orbit I'm in, it's because I chose it. Maybe I really should be the Falcon of Azzalle, rather than the Lion."

“How lovely for your virgins,” Athénaïs drawls. She pulls her knitted beret over her pale head; the pattern worked into that faintly watercoloured deep red yarn is one of narrow cables intertwining till they meet at the crown. “Of course, such inexperience is always easily impressed, isn’t it—? Good evening, my lord Trevalion,” and she rises.

"That's what draws the lash of your tongue? I'll make sure to brag of my prowess with mature women of discerning taste next time," Augustin offers in amusement. "It is a little bit unusual that it is something we brag about, I'll admit." He rises to his feet to offer a polite bow at her rising. "Good evening, my lady Belfours."

“Yes, I’d have thought you’ve have better boasts to make,” agrees Athénaïs, already slipping one hand into a finely-made leather glove. She raises the usual eyebrow at him and then moves away, her eyes first and then her body. Her progress through the crowded common room is every bit as deft and lyrical as his: Azza’s blood outs itself always, proudly.

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