Cricket Foxglove and Wolfsbane

Cricket, Foxglove & Wolfsbane
Summary: Laurel, the Fox of the Westmarks, is finally home — and her two elder siblings, Coriaria and Castor (also known as Cricket and Wolfsbane) are there to greet her! Except that it's late at night. Except that Castor has not laid eyes on little Foxglove since she was an infant. Except that Foxglove likes to climb giant fountains…
Date: 07/06/2013
Related: None
Castor Coriaria Laurel 

Courtyard, Elkmound Keep, Sipdon, Rhaedan
The courtyard of Elkmound Keep - the Shadow Keep - is expansive and beautifully kept. The castle walls rise high on all sides, up into the mist that hangs over the fens like a warm blanket. A flagstone path winds through the yard from the main gate - a great archway with heavily barred doors, portcullis and drawbridge to keep people out - to the double doors that enter the Keep itself. In the centre of the courtyard stands a single willow-tree, set in a circular garden of moist earth, and surrounded by a ring of pale grey stone.

Everything is wrought of pale grey rock, the kind of grey that merges with the mist of the fens as if it were made by the mist itself. At times, the guard-towers atop the walls cannot be seen from below, since they rise up through the fog. The main path is wide enough for horses to easily travel upon it, and it branches into several directions once it reaches the centre-willow. To the left as one enters the yard, lies the gardens. Only a select few blossoms will grow in this fog, and they grow here - beautifully tended.

Upon the other side of the courtyard, the rightward path leads to the stables and kennels - a wide, spacious area with tall stone shelters for many animals. There is a stone well here, and a cleared area for sparring. The path here slides around the Keep to an archery range at the far end of the outer wall. The banners of House Westmark hang down on the inside of the walls, illumined eerily in the mist by torches. The sigil of the House - a gold stag - hangs above the Keep doors.

7th June, 1329

Night has wrapped Elkmound Keep in swaths of fog, with tiny pinpricks of chill moisture that belie the heat of summer. Just after dinner, a delegation from Malgrave entered the Keep - rumoured to be the littlest Westmark daughter and her escort, returned from the Temple. Servants whisper that she hasn't changed at all, and even that she stormed out of the house soon after arriving, barefoot even though the night was going to be cold.

And so one could follow the stirring of rumours through the Keep, out through the courtyard, through the kennels, and finally into the gardens. There, a tiny form in white is perched on the side of a fountain. Her hem is folded carefully out of the way, but her toes are dipped into the cold water. Her neck is craned upwards towards the thin sliver of the moon that makes it through the fog. "I don't know, Lily. I did so think I handled it well…"

The stables have another occupant - Orion, the fierce, shaggy-coated blue roan stallion belonging to Castor. The man himself is out there, raking away at the stable, himself, humming while his trusty fenhound (Cerberus) rests on a pile of straw.

The man is garbed in travelling clothes (his leather armour, hooded cloak etc) which are mud-flecked from a journey just ended. He looks hale and happy at least, and doesn't seem to mind the work he is doing, despite his station as a nobleman's son.

He spots Laurel run around to the gardens and instantly puts down the rake. "Wha — Who, in the name of the Four are you??!!" he follows after her, frowning in curiosity. Of course, the list of possible people this could be is pretty short, but still… he hasn't seen Laurel since she was an infant.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Laurel=stealth Vs Castor=perception
< Laurel: Good Success Castor: Success
< Net Result: Laurel wins - Marginal Victory

And rounding out the trio of siblings on the grounds is Cricket, though she's found herself a solitary spot under the light of the waning crescent and squints in the darkness at the parchment in her hands, a fine piece of charcoal whispering against the paper as she sketches out the positions of the heavenly bodies above, stars punching through the transient cloud cover to wink playfully at her every so often. "Blasted fog," the girl mutters, disappointed that the soft haze of white she's been recording — the galactic fingers, though she cannot know them as such — isn't visible this evening, among other things.

Unlike Castor, she knows her sister… knows her sister has returned, even… but she isn't aware that Laurel is outside, feet dipped into the fountain. Her teeth catch her lower lip for a moment as she takes out her aggravation at the poor viewing conditions on it, chewing at the skin until there's a familiar metallic taste signalling she's bitten too hard again. One of these days she's going to end up with a really nasty cut or infection, if her mother's dire predictions on the matter are at all accurate. "Mmf." She lifts herself from the grass with a small grunt, parchment shoved unceremoniously into the small bag at her belt. No more observations tonight. Simply not worth the trouble of being chilled through by the moisture.

The shrouded figure slips past Castor and disappears like a ghost, leaving his question hanging in the air. But there are yet hints - a flash of white here, a rustle there - that would allow him to follow her through the flowerbeds and hedges to the fountain.

Whatever answers she is seeking, she does not find them in the silent moon. After a moment, the girl slips from her perch and begins to walk the edge of the fountain as if it were a balance beam. Once abreast with the centerpiece, she eyes it for a long moment; in the dappled moonlight, it looms twice her height and slick with moisture, but with an ever-tempting mid-tier crenulations.

She makes the leap, first atop a statue mid-way, then to the centerpiece. Her foot slips, tangled in the wide robes.

A hand yearns towards the crenulations - and catches, just barely by the fingertips. With a scrabble, she manages to make it to her desired perch - absolutely sodden, robes deflated like a wet cat.

Castor's pursuit slows when the girl vanishes around the corner. "Cricket, if that's you I'm going to lace your chamber pot with poison ivy, I swear… by the Four…" His cloak billowing around his feet as he half-walks, half-jogs around the side of the Keep, searching…

He comes to a halt and plants both hands on his hips. "At least in the temple I won't have to go chasing shadows. I'm being punished for something aren't I?…" his voice trails off as he steps back toward the fountain and starts searching.

<FS3> Castor rolls Perception: Good Success.

There's a commotion coming from nearby… and Cricket hates commotion that she hasn't personally caused. It's unnerving, after all. Two inescapable facts loom large in her awareness: (1) She's unarmed, (2) She's alone. There is, however, also the fact that she's a soft, evil creature — all charming smiles and concealed savage intent — and it's this that propels her through the gardens to investigate the source of the splashing noises and the muffled voice.

Wait. Is that Castor? She whistles low and soft, the sound gentle enough to fade into the background of the typical nocturnal symphony of animal cries and the rush of the wind stirring the vegetation. Whether her twin will hear and answer her call is a thing she'll figure out soon enough.

The little ghost sulks on the ledge for a moment, embracing the misery of being soaked to the bone in the cold fully. The mentors at the Temple said that was unhealthy, but the girl always found that she could move on and up better once she just accepted her fate. The sulking also gives her a moment of staring into the darkness of the gardens to notice movement - and the family signal-whistle. Interesting.

Laurel contemplates the next ledge up, but it only takes a moment of testing her hands to recognise that she won't make the next climb. So instead she slowly stands, balanced upon the edge of the mid-crenulations, her toes curled around the marble for stability. Her eyes trace between the two sources of movement, then she closes her eyes.

The return signal - a trilling bird-whistle - seems to float above the sounds of Castor's complaining, lifted up by the same wind that sways Laurel's robe-hem listlessly.

<FS3> Castor rolls Body: Good Success.

Castor quietens down.

Two of them.

Two Westmark signals.

That can only mean one thing…

"Cricket… if there's two of you up there, I'm going to jump off Maiden Point in my smallclothes…" he mutters under his breath. He has already spoken out loud more than once, likely given away his position (approximately at least), and he knows it - so he makes little effort to hide himself now.

He was always better at hiding in plain sight. Sneaking has ever been the province of Cricket. But now… he knows someone is up there, and he knows it is unlikely to be a foe. Flexing his hands, he takes a short run at the side of the building, jumps for a ledge - grabs it - and starts to pull himself up.

He grins.

Strength over speed - his forte.

That's when his cloak catches on the hand of a statue cut into the great stone fountain's side, and Castor almost chokes himself. "Grrrff!" he grunts and reaches up to unclasp the cloak as he continues to speedily climb.

The cloak flutters down to the ground, making a big sign of itself saying: Castor is here.

"Bornas' balls…" he curses, and pulls himself up onto the next ledge.

Oh. Both of her siblings are here. In a moment of big-sister bluster, Cricket's boots crunch across the gravel at an accelerated pace, her sense of indignation at being made to chase the two of them around like a pair of ruffians lending a crisp efficiency to her movements. Ere long she swishes to a stop in front of the fountain (well, that certainly explains the splashing!), hands firmly on her hips, eyes narrowed. Were she able to reach up and swat them soundly upside the head, she would. "Just what are you two doing? You very nearly had me calling for assistance with intruders on our property," she huffs, daring either of them to wager their asses on a smart reply, "Get down here this instant or I'm telling Mother. Really, at your age!"

<FS3> Laurel rolls Body: Success.

Laurel could be a marble statue, leaning up to catch the falling water, for she freezes as soon as she realizes one of those sources of movement has climbed upon the fountain with her. The cloak flutters past her, and she regards it dully for a moment before plucking it up. Then her sister is screeching up at her in a huff of anger - she looks down and simply giggles.

Then she pulls herself up the next level. She is not as adroit or strong as Castor, by far, and she has the now heavy robes and Castor's cloak to contend with. But she does make it. She peeks around the spire of the fountain like a foxy imp. "Are you my brother?"

Well, Laurel, who else looks just like papa and climbs on the scenery?

"You dropped this!"

<FS3> Castor rolls Body: Failure.

<FS3> Castor rolls Reaction: Success.

Castor, by now, has a pretty good idea at to whom this errant individual is, and puts a Cheshire-cat grin on his face as he perches himself atop the fountain looking rather proud of himself.

"I should hope so!" he responds with genuine jocularity as he accepts his cloak back. "At least I don't have to asked what a girl like you is doing in a… perch like this, now do I?"

He scowls boyishly down at Cori.

"What in Silltha's bosom has gotten into you, Polly? Live a little, Sister-dear! I found a bird up here - do you have a basket? We can build a nest!" He smirks back at Laurel.

"I'm Castor," he says even if it isn't necessary. "The sourpuss down there is Pol — erm, Cricket. Come on!" He reaches for a grip to lower himself to the ground, only to slip! Reacting quickly, he pushes himself away from the fountain, hits the ground and drops into a roll to spare his legs the brunt of the landing.

"NOW I remember why I haven't done that in a while…" he muses aloud to himself.

Naturally her twin would wager his ass on a smart reply — she'd never expect any less of him. Not that it serves to settle her any. "You have no business being such a poor example to our sister," Cricket scoffs, "Should she catch a chill and sicken, I'm throwing you to the tender mercies of our parents. They'll have you spitted and roasting in record time." She glances up worriedly to where Laurel stands, the girl's robes soaked and her hair faring no better. "Come down, silly Foxglove. We need to get you inside near the fire. It's not a night for adventures." As if to prove she's not the sort to bite, she holds out her hand and beckons with a smile for her sister to scamper back down the way she came. Castor is spared a magnificent motherly scowl.

<FS3> Laurel rolls Body: Success.

Another giggle is spared as Castor slips upon the same hazard that soaked her, then Laurel, ever essentially biddable once her mischief was through, actually does what Cricket instructs. She clambers down in a few, bird-like hops, graceful in a childlike way. The last hop sends her hurtling towards her big sister, momentum re-directed into a tackle-like hug.

A sodden, dripping, cold hug.

When Laurel pulls away with a smirk, she turns to offer a hand to help Castor up. As if that made sense. She is even smaller than Coriaria yet. Nearly the same height now, but frail and willowy and avoiding sallow by a near-miss of recent sun. "I wouldn't let them burn you to warm me up. I don't like the smell of flesh very much."

<FS3> Castor rolls Reaction: Failure.

Castor sniffs, and gets himself to his feet, then grins at Laurel. "Don't mind the schoolmistress here," he tells the younger girl. "She is just upset I thought of climbing up there after you before she did."

He spares a glance at Coriaria then, still smirking. "Although, I suppose if I'm going to be a Chosen, I should start acting like it… I was just excited finally meet our baby-sister - for the first time… at least in my case."

Next, he whistles shrilly, and a massive, dark-grey fenhound comes bounding around the side of the Keep at his master's call. The dog almost tries to jump upon the young lord, who fails to get out of the way in time. In the next instant, Castor is on his back with a giant mutt on top of him, licking his face with a long. wet. slobbering. tongue.

"Foxy," he tries to say to Laurel (whilst batting away at his hound). "This is — euuugh!" and he gives up on any further attempts at speech.

"Oof!" Cricket protests as her sister barrels against her, catching her up in an embrace to lift the girl slightly off her feet, "Fox, you're freezing!" She clucks her tongue once and unfastens her own cloak to throw around Laurel's bony shoulders, rubbing vigorously at her thin little back in an effort to warm her up. When Castor is mowed down by Cerberus' slobbering affections, she snorts. "Don't mind our brother, he'll figure out eventually how to stop the hound from chewing his face off. It all looks rather more alarming than it really is. I daresay Castor is enjoying the attention… it's more than he ever got from any girl, after all." Oh… snap. Yes, she went there. Threw down the gauntlet with that one, she did.

<FS3> Laurel rolls Husbandry: Success.

The youngest actually laughs, raising her fingers to hide her mouth. She looks between the twins, shaking her head. "You two are just alike. I never would have imagined." Somehow, that seems strangely sad, though perhaps it is just the way that she hugs Cricket's cloak around herself thankfully. Normally she would protest and pretend as if she is quite fine, thank you, but… well, it is very cold outside. "Best that you become a Chosen, brother, for I do not know that I can keep up with two of you."

Laurel steps forward, reaching a hand up as if holding a treat. She clucks her tongue, twice, as their father would do in training the dogs, then murmurs 'here, boy.' "How nice to meet you, pup, but you mustn't get your master's hopes up like that. It simply isn't very nice."

Cerberus bounds off of the youth and trots over to the girl that is effectively dwarfed by his size. Castor, on the other hand, is still lying on his back, pawing at his face - and tongue - to get the slobber off. "Yeeuuugh, Cerb! You've been into the molasses again, haven't you! Ugh…"

Slowly, grudgingly, he picks himself up off the ground and swings his cloak back over his shoulders. "That's my penance, right there. I'd rather drink bog-water…"

Then he realises what his sisters are saying about him.

He draws his lips into a thin line right before opening his mouth to speak.

Then he decides against it, and tries to say something else.

Nope. He closes his eyes, counts to ten, and opens his mouth for another attempt at a come-back.

No dice.

"Uhhhh," he groans. "Why do I feel like Bornas just sat on me and then broke wind? I — " he stops talking then as he tries to remove a dog-hair from his mouth. He glares daggers at Cori, daring her to say something. Anything.

"Mmm," Coriaria muses, "By the Four, I'm being stingy! There was that one girl —" She taps her lips absently, screwing up her features into a look of intense thought, "Er… Fiona? Faye? Something. Oh, she fell out of the ugly-tree and broke every branch on the way down… Cerberus is more comely a specimen than she was… Cas naturally had no troubles with her." Zing! And the hits keep coming! Two rounds in, dear readers… how will this delicious sibling-battle end? It's with an exaggerated sigh that she looks back to Laurel, eyes bright with enough to mischief to make them sparkle a little even in the dim light. "I think we all ought to get warmed up sooner rather than later. Your feet are bare, Fox. You mustn't do that at night." Cricket reaches to brush a wet strand of auburn hair from Laurel's face, tucking it behind one of the girl's already-cold ears.

"Perhaps your master wishes to enter the Temple for sanctuary, Mister Cerb. It does not seem that he will get any quarter in his own home." Laurel says solemnly to the big boghound as she reaches to scratch both of his shaggy ears at once. The mournful tone of her voice is belied by a mischievous sparkle in her eyes as she looks between Coriaria and Castor, a mischief that increases as her brother seems to be at a loss for words.

But then the attention turns back to her, and she crinkles up her nose as Cricket pushes her damp hair out of her face and admonishes her choice of footwear. "I wanted to feel the peat and loam and marble." It was nigh impossible to get her to keep shoes on as a child, and moreso when she was upset. She came home barefoot, and after her father's temper flared at her, there was no way she was going to put shoes on just to go outside.

"But…" She sighs, defeated. "I didn't get to see if there were any almond cookies yet. Or the library. Is there a fireplace in the library?"

Castor finally regains control of his pet, and has the hound sitting obediently - somewhat impishly - beside him, tongue lolling out and panting happily. Glancing from the dog to his two sister, the youth puts a grin on his face.

"Fiona, she was," he tells Cori with a modest measure of indignation. "And she looked fine before she fell out of the branches… poor girl. She wanted to climb the tree!" He shrugs.

"If I weren't joining the temple, and committing myself to a serious profession, I would play this little 'game' of yours, Cricket. Fortunately for you, I am a new man - otherwise I'd tell Foxglove here about you, that boy - Thomas? Thomin? - and the beehive on what might have been your Becoming…"

At the stables, a horse whinnies impatiently, and Castor frowns. "That would be Orion… still wondering why he hasn't had his oats yet. I'll meet you two inside…" And he starts walking away.

"I can always give him some of Cassiopeia's…"

"Fie on your lying tongue, Master Westmark," Cricket snaps crossly, not liking the turnabout (especially since the Thom in question had been introduced to the business end of a sharp knife for his efforts at the Becoming — likely putting him off of romance forever) and drawing herself up to bustle about and take Laurel by the elbow, "And I'll thank you to leave my horse's oats in peace. Don't you dare." Then, to her sister: "Come, Fox. Leave him to see to Orion… we'll go sit by the fire… in the library. And I'll find you some almond cookies." With that, the older girl tugs her sister behind her to return indoors.

"Oh! I do not want to hear about anyone's Becoming!" Laurel exclaims, clapping her hands over her ears with the innocent lack of prurience reserved for young teenagers and Temple-trained. "And a beehive…?" Okay. She's a little curious. But only about how a beehive factors into the story.

But the little one finds herself with little option, as her elbow is taken hostage and she is dragged along. "Oh, but we've only just met, Cricket…" She protests weakly, turning her head to shoot Castor a sympathetic expression at his awakening of their sister's ire.

Castor returns several minutes later, cloak flapping around his feet. As his form emerges from the blasted fog he lifts a hand to his two sisters.

"Horse is fed," he says laconically to them. Then he stops and glances at Cori. "Both of them. There was never this kind of fog when the Keep was near the coast…" he grumbles aloud. "Of course, we had to put up with arrows then… oh, and look!"

He holds up one booted foot with the remains of some pungent greenish goop on it. "A present from that nag you call a horse, Cricket. I was giving her oats, not taking them away." He sticks his boot in the fountain to wash it off. That done, he heads for the doors inside.


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