(1312-02-17) Wine and Butthurt
Summary: Drinking wine and watching acrobats hurt themselves is Philomène's idea of a good day.
RL Date: (1312-02-17)
Related: None
alair andrei gal philomene 

Rue du Port

North of the bustling Marsilikos Port lies the Rue du Port, a wide avenue of a road that boasts the homes of some of the wealthier residents of the City, and those that find that the family townhouses in the Noble District are not to their liking. The road runs northwards following the coastline, running parallel to the bay and offering panoramic views to those houses which have been built on the seaward side of the road. High walls and iron gates offer privacy and security to those that choose to live here, and the occasional business might be found tucked between the family homes.


It's not even cold. At least not by the standards of Podgrabczyna, a three-town independent nation high in the Chowatti mountains bordering up to Skaldia. Sure, the snow comes down in the occasional flurry and the air is crisp and clear, but as long as you can breathe without your beard it's not freezing, as the mountain men say. Andrei Anghelescu, at least, looks entirely toasty and comfortable in his long black winter coat trimmed in silver fox-fur, a dark blue scarf keeping his neck and chin warm, and as no one has suggested he walks into a frozen pond today, he probably is entirely content with the mild, mediterranean winter.

There's a bench conveniently situated outside the house of a lady with whom he is fast becoming friends (even if neither of them are entirely certain what that's about but what the hell). He's sitting on it because it's a beautiful day and he doesn't really feel like spending it indoors. The poor maid in Lady Philomène's employ already did ask him inside but he instead suggested that perhaps the maid's employer might wish to join him out here instead. People watching. Read: Getting drunk.

"I heard there was some drunk sat out on my bench," Philomene greets him as she limps out of the door with a couple of glasses in one hand and a bottle in the other. "So I thought I ought to help. No kitten rescuing today, then? The young ladies of the town will be so diappointed."

Anghelescu visibly shudders at Philomène's greeting. "What was I supposed to do? Tell a highborn lady to stand and wait for the damned thing to drown? Honour demands some courtesy, even if one feels like an idiot acknowledging it. Besides, she did ask me very nicely."

"Oh, I'm not actually complaining," Philomene insists, setting her face in that studied neutral expression as she settles down on the seat beside the foreigner, hands over the glasses and begins to pour without even bothering to ask. "I'd rather you rescued drowning kittens than drowning people on the whole. Kittens didn't ask to be drowned. People are very often begging for it."

The Carpathian smirks. "I'd argue that climbing into a tree then falling out of it and into a pond is asking to drown. But what the hell. Maybe some angel will put in a kind word for me somewhere about it, save me a few minutes in Purgatory." He rests his silver-tipped walking stick across one knee, stretches the other leg, and watches the traffic glide past; carts and carriages and people, high and low, rich and poor. Compared to his home, Marsilikos is an endless ocean of people.

<FS3> Alair rolls Tumbling: Failure. (1 5 6 5 1 2 2 2 4)

Winter is always an especially lean season for performers. One has to get up early and work harder to earn less. Given the direction Alair is walking from, he may be returning from a visit to one of the residences on the road, for whatever purpose, and looks like he's bound for the port. But given the possibility inherent in the passing of traffic, he pauses to execute a tumbling pass, surely in hope of ginning up a bit of coin. As a result of his negligence in securing good ground for it, however, he's halfway through a handspring when he slips on an unseen patch of ice and ends up flat on his back, air rushing out of his lungs with a faint groan.

There's very little chance that Philomene would have been delighted by random 'entertainers' finging themselves deftly into the air, and the scowl on her face as she sips at her wine certainly seems to back that up. But the moment the man slips, the corners of her lips curve upwards and she even applauds. This is entertainment. People hurting themselves! Yay!

Anghelescu is apparently the lesser git of the two people sitting on the bench. He, at least, is not laughing — out loud, anyhow. He cants his head and murmurs, "Goodness. That had to hurt," before waiting to see if the man actually gets back up. For all he knows, it's part of the act; one man draws the attention, the other picks the pockets of everyone watching.

Alair would love to pop back up and instantly regain dignity, but it's one of those falls where you can only feebly wiggle limbs for a moment before the breath comes back to the body. After an agonizing moment, Alair pushes himself up to sitting, then a hands-and-knees crouch before he carefully climbs back to his feet. His thinly-padded jacket may have taken enough of the force to keep him from cracking his ribs on the hard-packed cold road, but certainly did not make the fall comfortable. After the battle to get up, Alair has a go at dusting off the back of him. The laughter of a child in a passing carriage can be heard, at which he distinctly turns his head and scowls.

Philomène considers for a moment, then in an unusual fit of empathy no doubt brought on by her companion, lifts the bottle of wine. "Hoy, if you can still walk, here," she offers to the man with bruised pride and coccyx. "I'll grant you that's the most entertainment I've had today, so perhaps you deserve it."

"Grant the poor man a glass and a bottle as well," Anghelescu suggests. "That looked like it hurt."

Alair can still walk, but the steps that carry him over are stiff with the lingering pain of so impressive a fall. He doesn't seem to be surprised to be hailed, so he must have been keenly aware of the people who just watched him in a spectacular fall. He hasn't sorted out his facial expression yet, though, and still looks a bit pale and stunned as he starts the mechanical movement over toward the offer of wine, but by the time he's getting close, he's working toward an expression of light chagrin that acknowledges his fall while showing a bit of humor as well. "I'd offer to teach you, but you guessed my secret," he says to Andrei. "It hurt like hell." Now at least one dimple has been summoned, and the smile is shared with Philomene as well.

"And should I ask what you were doing, throwing yourself around in the street?" Philomene asks, topping up her own wine and offering the glass over. "A sudden magnetic force that pinned your hands to the ground, or were you suddenly possessed by demons?" She leans back a little to call back towards the brightly painted door, "Caroline, could we get another glass, please?"

Anghelescu moves aside to make room on the bench next to himself though he still keeps a respectful distance to the lady at the far end; manners must, and all that. He studies the other man curiously with blue eyes, one of which is shielded by a monocle, giving him a rather — prissy appearance, to be honest. "I think I may skip this lesson. I've learnt many a painful lesson in my life but I think I can do without breaking my backside on a Marsilikan street, in truth." He speaks with a clear accent — northern, maybe, or eastern, or both, but definitely not from around these parts.

Alair takes the glass in a bare hand, nodding thanks. "In a sense, it's my profession," he says. And he seems to think it kind of Andrei to move over for him, since he smiles at the gesture and takes the seat. "Which city's street would you most like to break your backside on, then, friend?" he asks in a humorous tone that sounds only a bit on the thin side. Then he lifts the glass. "Cheers," he says, and helps himself to a deep swallow.

"You must have a very forgiving physician," Philomene notes drily, glancing up with a smile as her maid appears from her front door with another glass. And, because Caroline has clearly been with Philomene long enough to know, another couple of bottles. "Or a grateful one, I suppose. A dummy to demonstrate all sorts of injuries on."

The foreigner looks skywards a moment and thinks. "Somewhere it's warm all year round and dry," he concludes. "But as it happens to be, I'm from a small country in the Chowat that no one here has heard of, much less is able to pronounce the name of. I am keeping a list of the many interesting ways Lady Philomène here makes the attempt." He nods towards the older woman and then looks back at the performer. "Andrei Anghelescu. Pleased to make your acquaintance — out of the two of us here on the bench, I'm the one who doesn't bite."

"I haven't got one at all," Alair replies to Philomene. "Only Nature, to heal what she will." And now to the foreigner: "Then you're especially kind to take the center seat," he says. "May I ask, since I don't know the customs of your country: are you a noble dignitary or a merchant?" The silver fox is obviously too fine for any ordinary person.

Philomène rolls her eyes. "One, I've never bitten anyone, and two… Podshabsha?" she hazards, wrinkling her nose. "Monsieur Anghelescu is a gentleman here to discuss trade," she then adds to Alair's question, obviating the need for Andrei to answer. "Lumber in particular. The wood sort, not the part of your back you fell on sort."

Anghelescu hesitates a moment and then bursts into quiet laughter, hiding most of it behind one hand gloved in black silk. "Forgive me," he apologises. "You are the second person to make that particular observation, and correctly so. While a fair number of nobles proclaiming themselves eagle-eyed diplomats have missed that point." He sips his wine. "It is as the lady says. I am here to trade and for the sake of my health. But I am indeed of some station in my homeland, not that such matters much in Terre d'Ange."

"My lady is very clever," Alair acknowledges. "Have you ever thought to write for the stage?" And back to the merchant: "I mean no disrespect in asking," he says, but he wears a smile rather than a worried expression. "Only that I can read the signs for d'Angelines and hesitate to guess with foreigners. I don't like to call you the wrong thing, is all. So you must tell me if you like some special title. Does that fur come from your homeland, then? It looks terribly soft."

"I would love to write for the stage, as soon as I come out of surgery to have every last shred of self-respect removed," Philomene insists with a light smile. "Really, it would have been more efficient to have that removed at the same time as my sense of humour, but alas, we didn't think of it at the time."

"Even if I were indeed a d'Angeline lord — which I am not — I would not be your lord, friend. Monsieur will serve — more so if you will tell me your name in return. A man should know the name of the people with whom he is sharing wine," Anghelescu says with a small smile. Out of the two, he certainly seems to be the more easy-ogoing one. And, glancing at his sleeve, he adds, "It does, at that. Foxes are one crop that we can grow in our cold mountains at least." He probably doesn't mean that quite literally, or the people planting them better wear some serious protective gear.

"Ah, I see," Alair replies to Philomene, with a certain crystallization of that smile he wears. "A loss for the rest of us." He pauses to drink and then turns his attention to the more sympathetic foreigner. "I am called Alair de L'Ange," he supplies smoothly, the wine already starting to ease some of the tension of pain out of his posture. "Foxes," he repeats. "How charming. I have seen foxes now and again, but I think their movements would be especially charming in deep snow. Do you get deep snow there?"

Philomène fills her glass, then settles back with it, content to drink, occasionally listen, and then even more occasionally add some sort of acerbic comment.

"Mine is a northern country, yes, and high up in the Carpathian mountains. I came here for sakes of my health — I was promised I might live a bit longer in this more gentle climate." Anghelescu does bear a vague resemblance to a very well dressed burrito, in his longcoat and long scarf and tall boots. "Have you come to town for the Tournament, then? If you are performing I shall have to cheer for you — we share a name after all, it seems."

"Yes, I think it is impossible to miss the opportunity to perform," Alair replies with a grin. "What a glorious day that will be. But I suppose you're right, there is something in your name that sounds like mine." He looks to Philomene. "My lady, will you take part in the competitions? Are you perhaps a duelist?" he guesses.

"I'm not a duellist, no," Philomene responds, settling back with her wine quite comfortably. "A duel is a very artificial setup. There's never a single time on a battlefield you would be able to set all your attention on one opponent like that. I don't see the point in being good at a duel. I will, most likely, ride, though," she adds with a slight smile. "I've a good horse and we get on well."

"She does at that — a very fine horse. Not that I am by any means an expert on matters of an equine nature, but I asked the grooms." Anghelescu sips his wine with the lazy manner of a man who has every intention of ending up drunk but is no particular rush to get there. "Will you be tumbling and doing acrobatics then, Monsieur Fellow Son of Angels, or do you have other tricks in your repertoire?"

"It's a fine thing to watch horses run at their best," Alair opines agreeably. "And surely good riding is the most practical skill." He drink sagain and looks curiously at the two of them. "I think I would like to perform a dance," he says. "Perhaps there could be tumbling in it, but then again perhaps not. What do you think?" he asks of the two wealthier folk. "What would be the finest type of performance you can imagine?"

"I don't think I'm the one to ask," Philomene admits. "My idea of a good time is to ride far away from people and not have to deal with them at all. I've certainly no love for dancing or tumbling or music on the whole. Two people, a bottle of wine, a horse and a sunset for me, thanks."

"… This begs the question as to out of you and I, who is the horse." Anghelescu smirks and then gives the performer's inquiry due thought. "I am somewhat partial to a good tale or song, but perhaps those who go to a tournament expect something more… action-oriented. I'll have to trust your judgement on that, Monsieur. I have never been one for grand festivities myself."

"It may be my own inclination, but I think dancing is more breathtaking than singing, at that scale," Alair opines, pausing to drink the rest of what was in his glass. "And how often is one afforded such a stage? I sing at the Black Pearl every week, but I could not do a grand dance there." He smiles at Philomene. "It is a pity that I cannot capture a sunset in a dance."

"Neither of you are the horse," Philomene insists, sipping from her wine. "I like horses." She sets down her glass, exhaling and leaning forward a little so she can look Alair over. "I've no objection in general to watching a dance. I have been known to spend time at the opera house, enjoying the ballet there," or at least ogling the girls dancing which is much the same thing, surely, "but I'd rather something lively with character than something too abstract. What I object to is when everyone is expected to dance, regardless of ability or wiling."

"The Black Pearl? A curious place. I nipped in there and found myself sipping Ephesian mint tea while a young lady of some noble house or other — I confess, I cannot keep them apart — told me she studies at the university here." He doesn't say it; wisely, because he is well within Philomène's reach, but the implication is clear: Women, in university? The d'Angeline are crazy.

"I don't see why anyone should be made to dance, when there are plenty of us who would happily do so in their places by profession." Alair smiles again, a habitual expression. "How good to hear that you go to the opera house. Should I do well in the competition, I'm sure I'll be performing there soon, myself." He holds the empty glass caged between both hands. "Oh, you really must come more often, Monsieur," he says encouragingly to Andrei. "You can hear all sorts of things there, from gossip to ballads."

"Men, in the ballet, are merely useful furniture to display the women," Philomene insists, leaning over unbidden to top up all three glasses. "But if you can do a passable job of that, I won't object."

"I was indeed thinking about it," the foreigner murmurs and attempts to the performer's glass on the sly. "It reminds me of home, odd as that may sound. Some of the Chowatti nations share a border with Ephesus, and their customs are not entirely unknown to me — certainly more familiar to me than some of the things I have come to find quite everyday business to the d'Angeline. At least I have a liking for their sweet, strong tea. Do you perform regularly at the Pearl, Monsieur?" Philomène's comment warrants a smile on thin lips though. "There's an accurate description of marriage as well, my lady."

"But that's simply untrue," Alair argues with Philomene before he thinks better of it. "Men can be as fascinating in ballet as women. It only takes an excellent performer." He gives thanks for the quiet filling of his cup by refreshing his smile. "Oh, you really must," he says. "I sing there twice a week at least. If you come often, you shall surely have the chance to hear it."

Well, isn't Gal just looking spiff today? His usual working man's tunic has been somehow swapped for something more refined, tailored, and a cloak added on top, not his blue duty cloak but something equal parts warm against the winter and well-constructed, brown with a glimpse of gilt and red embroidery that goes with the tunic below. His trousers are still the guardsmen's issue, but someone has polished the plates along the sides and even the leather so that it gleams a little, and someone industious enough with a needle has fitted them better to his thighs and buttocks — to whose benefit, exactly, one can hardly know, but might guess, eventually, on seeing the scamp making an amorous-eyed afternoon escape from around the side of the seaside manse with the blue door, thumbs tucked into his baldrick and singing to himself— quietly, but, at the very least, completely off-key.

"And you are that excellent performer?" Philomene asks dubiously, peering over at Alair. "I find myself unconvinced, but I remain hopeful to be proven wrong." She pauses, eyeing Gal's jaunty step, and notes drily, "Ah, now there's a dance I recognise. The very best sort of lunch break."

Anghelescu glances in the direction the lady indicates and quirks an eyebrow. "I've seen that young watchman before but he did not seem quite so… I dare say he's off to meet some young lady he rather wishes to impress. Well, good luck to him on that." He sips his wine. "He's young enough to enjoy that sort of thing." Says a man who's yet to see thirty-five.

Alair flashes an expression that suggests he is deeply offended by Philomene's doubt, but he quickly replaces that with a smile. "I hope you'll give me the chance someday, my lady," he replies, and follows her gaze toward Gal's emergence from the manse. "On his way, or on his way back?" he asks softly.

Gal seems to have captured the local imagination, somewhat, too. Noting as much, he lifts a hand to those gathered to drink in the snow, giving them a cheerful wave on his approach down the lane, yes, with a decided spring to his step. On another day he might have thought it odd, but he's far, far too contented to think it anything other than a delightful novelty. Like a picnic at the lakeside in the summer. But with more snowflakes melting on the surface of the wine.

"Singing and smiling, I'm going to say on his way back, and the meeting was indeed quite succesful," Anghelescu notes with a small, amused smile. "He is a charming young fellow." Then he raises his voice to call out, "Come tell us all about it, Watchman Gal?" while waving a wine bottle in one hand.

Philomène sips from her glass, pointing out, "Well, that house there belongs to the famed Lady Oriane de Toluard. I'm not sure about her being a young lady, but she's certainly one to impress. Oh… Monsieur Anghelescu, are you inviting the whole damn town to drink my wine, now?" she adds rather irritably, nudging the man in the side with one bony elbow.

Alair lifts his refreshed glass in a small toast to Gal, and drinks. "A wise watchman," he figures. He glances toward the wine, but he himself doesn't speak up to offer any solutions. Or to offer his share up to anyone else.

"Monsieur!" Gal greets Andrei in the only way he's certain not to pronounce anything wrong, but with a voice full of fine spirit. "How good to meet you again under less dire circumstance," he grins. He just can't stop grinning, can he? Oh, well. "A gentleman doesn't tell stories, but I can't help it— I'm in love," he twirls about on saying so, as though he were about to break out into a musical number. But he doesn't, which is a blessing for everybody. He's too love-stricken to make a go at Phil's wine, at least. Another blessing.

"I'll send a runner for my wine if your cellar runs dry," Anghelescu returns without an ounce of bad conscience. "Consider this to be my not very subtle revenge for your directing a foreigner to the Salons on his first visit and not telling him what to expect to find there. Or for that matter, that issue about the Winter's Ball. Or a few other things — in fact, I think I shall make a habit of emptying your supply, my lady."

Gal's confession teases a smile forth on the Carpathian's thin lips, though. "I suppose congratulations are in order then — assuming, indeed, that your feelings are reciprocated?"

"Congratulations… projectile vomiting… all of the above," Philomene mutters under her breath, then forces a bright smile at the young guardsman. "I do recall the feeling, however sickening it might be now. I am pleased for you. Make the most of it."

"You must tell us more!" Alair encourages cheerfully. "We are so curious, and your good mood is catching, I think." Well. Not to Philomene. But no one would expect it to have power over her.

"Yes— well— I think— yes," Gal babbles, hands finding a certain lack of anything to do and so just sort of flailing aimlessly in the air near the height of his head, his eyes rolling this way and that in the prologue to a soliloquy: "We've been sleeping together for a while now, and usually— I don't know, I get tired of sleeping with the same person again and again. But she's all I can think of. She makes me forget what all my other girlfriends ever looked like. I feel at home beside her," he sighs with the finality of that conclusion, snugging his arms about himself all comfy and warm inside— and bows his head toward Philomene. "Thank you, my Lady, I will," he promises.

The Carpathian blinks a few times and then just chuckles to himself. "Let me guess — by d'Angeline standards you are certainly not a little young to have quite so, ah, intimate relationship with a lady, because of course you aren't."

"Whereas in Podgravishna, sex isn't allowed at all until both parties are at least thirty years old, and have a letter of approval and permission from a priest," Philomene intones solemnly.

Alair looks curiously at the foreigner for a moment, then back to Gal. "Congratulations indeed," he offers. "The greatest fortune smiles on you."

"Whaaaat?" Gal marvels at Phil's ex tempore ethnography, which, if it is delivered in irony, is completely lost upon him. "Sweet Angels, I think I would have exploded by now, living there," he offers back his rather, um, illustrative reaction. To the foreigner, "Nah. I mean, when you get the call," he shrugs up a shoulder as though his sex drive were completely out of his personal control, then, as though realizing where that line of reasoning could lead: "As long as everyone is happy with how things are going, of course," because sex drive is not an excuse for sexual misbehavior, OK? His grin returns in full force for Adair. "Aw. Yeah, I think so. It's almost like… when's the other shoe going to drop? The guys are already making fun of me for all the," he flips at his spiffy new cloak, "Stuff she gives me. But she likes me to look nice when I come over. And then the rest of that doesn't even matter."

Anghelescu laughs quietly and fills his own glass from Philomène's bottle. "You forgot the thirty days of doing penance in a hair shirt first, just to make certain it's suitably uncomfortable to lie down together, my lady." He's joking. Probably. And mentally adding yet a curious spelling for Podgrabczyna to his list.

Alair waves a hand. "Don't worry about the rest, friend," he advises Gal. "Only you must introduce me to rich society. I envy you!" Ha-ha, he's joking and not at all consumed with envy about free fine cloaks. Alair dips into the wine glass again. And comes up with a smile.

Philomène holds her glass out for the refill, actually grinning a little as Andrei goes along with her entirely accurate summary of Chowatti sex lives. "I thought hair shirts were the height of fashion where you're from?" she suggests amiably. "Monsieur Alair, you should try them. Exotic fashions. You'll be the envy of both your friends."

Gal mmhs, lifting a shoulder uncertainly, "If you're looking for introductions I'm sure the Lady Vicomtesse knows a LOT more people than I do. I mean, unless you want a tour of the citadel and to talk with the guys?" That much influence, at least, Gal can boast. As to his romance with Oriane, is has largely been a private matter, up 'til now. But the kid is just overflowing. He's about to wonder about the hair shirt, but a bounce on the balls of his feet indicates he is about ready to move again. "Speaking of there, I have to get back and changed before drills. have a good afternoon!"

"Enjoy your evening, Watchman Gal, and for what it's worth — good luck with your romantic adventures." Anghelescu may not be cynic enough to stomp on a young man's joy. Yet.

Alair cuts his eyes over toward Philomene. "With such a comic wit, my lady, I see why you have little interest in external entertainments." He drinks the wine again. At least insults may distract him from the bruise that's surely blossoming across his back. He lifts the almost-empty glass at Gal again.

"Ah, but it's still two more friends than I'll ever have," Philomene allows with a smirk, reaching for the next bottle. Two bottles down already. Not bad. "I want to be pleased for the boy, I really do. But then I wonder what he's done to deserve happiness, compared with anyone else. How can he amble along, happily in love with a rich old woman who takes care of his every need, and then look at us. You can't breathe, I can't walk, and he can't turn somersaults. Thank fuck for wine, life's great leveller."

"If I was actually a particularly religious man I'd suggest that we had each done something to deserve our situation," the Carpathian says and refills his own glass as well. "As I am not, though, I'm going to just say, every lottery has one winner and a hell of a lot of losers."

"Perhaps he gives a very good service," Alair says in defense of the young man he hardly knows. "Seems a lot less stuffy than those Night Court types. I don't blame a lady for picking that."

"Not my type, but I suppose you're probably right," Philomene allows critically, watching Gal until he's out of sight. "But I call bullshit on some kind of holy just rewards," she insists, scathing. "I've seen a lot better people than you or I killed off before we even had the chance to be dickheads. If it's all some kind of reward and punishment situation, then I maintain the system's fucked up."

"Not a priest, not trying to become one," Anghelescu replies with a shrug. "Not a great believer in justice either, I'll admit. But the young fellow seems happy, and if he's making some woman happy as well, good for them. I may have made a life out of being a miser but I do not begrudge others their happiness."

"Wouldn't mind having my own share of his good fortune, though," Alair puts in. "How exactly does a watchman meet a lady like that, I wonder."

"Probably investigating something," Philomene suggests, then exhales, rubbing at the bridge of her nose with her free hand. "Look, son, probably there's somebody out there who's just waiting to see you dance and sing and whatever the fuck else you do. Put yourself out there, sure, there's no harm in it. Plenty of peacocks in this town who'd be delighted to show you off, I'm sure. And ignore cynical old bitches like me. I had a husband, I lost my husband, and now I'm just a bitter old woman who likes to make everyone else miserable so I can feel better about myself. Have some more fucking wine."

"You wish to be a hired man, Monsieur Alair?" Anghelescu's question seems innocent enough. "I must agree with the lady. You are young and able — take them with storm. These d'Angeline nobles seem quite… fond of beautiful young things. But get your payment in something that you can take with you when you leave."

Alair looks at Philomene as he speaks, face neutrally pleasant, and in the end he only puts his glass out and says, "Thank you," for the wine. Or maybe also for the advice. Or the permission to ignore her. "Sorry about your loss." Hard to tell if he's sincere. Then he looks to Andrei and smiles. "Oh, I intend to," he says. "I'm not stupid. I just need the right opportunity, whatever the form it happens to take."

"Well, if you're not stupid you're the only one in this town who isn't," Philomene opines, leaning back and closing her eyes to soak up what little of the winter sun she can, one arm spread along the back of the bench. "I could sit here and give you advice all day long, and if you've any sense you'd ignore it all. So I shan't bother, with the exception of one thing. Never give up the chance to sit down, drink, sleep or make love. The chances don't come round often enough."

"I think I shall just go with sit, drink and sleep," Anghelescu murmurs. "After all, in my country, we only do the latter with the Pope's written permission." A clear jibe to the lady, but by now, does anyone expect them to not sound like an old, married couple?

Alair smiles and shrugs. "As you can see," he says, lifting his glass, "I have excellent instincts when it comes to that. Very fine wine, by the way. I'm sure what you've shared with me today is more than you would've tossed me if I'd done a perfect tumbling pass. So even a failure can be a blessing, right?"

"If you'd done a perfect tumbling pass, you could have jogged on," Philomene admits. "It would have been unnecessary and offensive. Like pouring out good clean water in front of a thirsty soldier."

"I will be honest with you and confess that I might not have noticed you, had you executed a perfect pass," the Carpathian admits. "I am somewhat unaccustomed to the ways of this city, and I have never been one to seek crowds. There are not many acrobats and tumblers where I have spent most of my life, whether the battlefield or lying sick in my home."

A great way to assuage his pride. "So anyway, good fortune takes strange forms. You just have to be smart enough to embrace it before it passes you by." He swallows the last mouthful of wine in the glass. "I think that's enough for me. And frankly, I'm freezing sitting still out here." He flashes a smile. "But you've both been incredibly kind."

"No. Monsieur Anghelescu has been incredibly kind, and I've been a little shit," Philomene corrects him. She might be awful, but at least she's honest. "You remember the winter of '80? That was cold. You could feel your snot freeze."

"Don't let her hear you call her kind," Anghelescu advices. "She'll complain at me all evening. Best of luck, Monsieur Alair — and I hope to see you perform at the Black Pearl soon."

"I can see she objects," Alair agrees, getting up and putting the glass in his place. He pretends that standing doesn't awaken all sorts of new pains. "I hope for that, too, Monsieur. Do bring your friends." Hand lifted in a small wave, he parts from his two surprise drinking companions.

"I'll complain at you all evening anyway," Philomene grouches. "How much is left in that bottle? Do I need to go raiding the good stuff?"

"I fear you might have to," Anghelescu concurs. "Get me drunk, woman."

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