It Depends on the User

It Depends on the User
Summary: Castor Westmark returns to Elkmound Keep in Sipdon, his family's lands, and is reunited with Princess Niniane, who is recuperating in her 'home away from home'.
Date: 18/October/2013
Related: None
Castor Niniane 

Art Gallery, Elkmound Keep, Sipdon
A grand archway opens into an expansive, vaulted gallery within Elkmound Keep. Magnificent — and somewhat 'dark' — artworks adorn the walls on every side, illumined by torches and lamps bolted in place at regular intervals. The room itself is long, rectangular, and boasts other partition-like walls at diagonal angles all through the middle. The largest of the displays is a great mural upon the southern wall, depicting the Corsair siege that nearly wiped out the Westmark family. Other exhibits portray the deaths of Corsairs and other foes — all by assassins depicted as walking shadows.

Not all the art in the gallery is of death; there are a multitude of paintings depicting ships at sea, as well as other paintings of the Sipdon countryside, especially the vineyards — all of which are primary sources of wealth and prosperity for the Westmarks. There are benches lining the walls, underneath the impressive stained-glass windows, as well as tables and chairs situated throughout the gallery. If nothing else, the Art Gallery of Elkmound Keep is a testament to the history and values of the Westmarks.

18 October, 1329

Evening falls.

Over Sipdon — in particular, Elkmound Keep — this means that the mists of the fens have descended upon the lands like a cool blanket, obscuring the horizon from sight and enshrouding the castle in near-silence. There is no wind this evening, and from within the grand halls of the keep, one can hear the muffled sounds of hooves and carts just outside the main entrance, as the last shipment of wines and other delicacies are brought up from the town.

Lord Castor Westmark, clad in a fashionable tunic and cloak of black and brown, stands in the gallery of the keep — looking at several of the paintings and murals decorating the walls, each illumined by torches and candles. His faithful boghound, Cerberus, sits at his feet, panting.

The painting which has secured the lad's attention (for the time being) depicts a fleet of Corsair ships just offshore — all burning in the night, amid a sea of red. The lad lets out a breath, and scratches his hound's ear.

Long gone and far away from home still, Niniane Rhaedan has been hiding in plain sight since she was released from the south. While the merriment of the conjoined kingdoms prevails, the eldest, sane princess of the north has been hiding away doing exactly what she was doing when a hostage, reading.

Elkmound keep for now is her home away from home, where the young woman spent her teenage years as a foster of the Westmark family. So the comfort she feels in this setting is easily seen by the relaxing of her shoulders, and smile on her lips.

The gallery has drawn Niniane despite the hour. Thankfully only one of her father's guards trails behind the quiet woman as she moves through the keep, sleepless night have been her friend as of late. Castor Westmark was not expected though and it shows as the blonde stiffens and waves her hand to hold the guard at the entrance to the gallery.

"I'll be fine here Sir." She tell her family's knight since Sir Alek must be off on important business elsewhere. "I did not know you were home." Niniane voice rises louder as she speaks to Castor finally.

The young lord turns about from staring at the painting and smiles in Niniane's direction. Giving the knight a slight nod of his head, Castor steps away from the wall and approaches. "Your Highness," he greets her — his tone formal, but belied somewhat by the familiar half-grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"Just this eve," he further explains to the princess as he comes to a halt several feet away. "A few hours ago — not quite in time for dinner." He lifts his eyebrows. "I was going to send word ahead of my return, but…" The grin defeats him. "I wanted to surprise Cricket — I mean, the Baroness… doesn't that make her sound… old? I thought you would have returned to Rhaedan by now — I mean, not that I want you to." He lets out a breath and shrug his shoulders.

"It is good to see you, safe," he finishes.

A smile tugs at the corners of Niniane's lips in return. She shakes her head at his formality and a small chuckle comes from the princess, "Dinner was good, I am sure you found yourself some leftovers though, or at least I hope." If body language could talk Niniane's would be screaming a hint of nervousness from the way she wrings the fabric of her crimson gown.

"It is good to see you Castor. And return…" Her words trail off as she looks towards the ground, "I should yes. Just taking my sweet time as my father would say." A flick of hair away from her face as she looks up towards the picture he was so focused on and takes a few steps towards him, standing beside the man now as she looks at it.

"Tragic in its own way. They may have been our enemies but blood is blood." Niniane's green eyes travel back to Castor and she says candidly, "I must confess I know I am safe and free, it just has not sunk in yet." Her lips still hold a smile though as she continues, "I find it odd my sister is already back south and I hear of celebrations with our southern cousin, so soon after the same woman threatened to send me back to my father in pieces. Am I the only one?" She draws out the question, losing her smile now.

Mentioning of the South causes Castor's own jocularity to falter, and the smile upon his face thins out into a line — taut with the effort of trying to keep it a smile.

In the end, it more resembles pain than anything else — and empathy. He takes two steps nearer the princess and holds out a hand toward her — his body slightly angled away in an unspoken invitation to walk with him.

"Everything in the South is…" he starts to say, then his features relax into a mirthless smirk of sardonicism. "'Odd' is too kind, and the words that do come to mind would ill befit polite conversation. I have… 'leftovers' I suppose," he snorts in muted self-derision. "And some wine — I raided the cellar…" the lad motions toward a bench situated near a wall, under a large mural. Upon the bench rests a covered tray, a bottle of wine and two cups.

"I was expecting Cricket," he explains with a hint of a smirk. "If one of us decides to raid the wine-cellar, we always plan to share. You're welcome to join me, Nin," he offers — dropping any pretence of etiquette in lieu of familiarity.

The air of tension relaxes around the princess for a moment as Niniane's shoulder slump against from their tense position. Castor steps towards her and she nods her head, "I am sorry Castor, I did not mean to burden you with my perpetual woo." She smiles over to him for a moment, trying to make it as real a smile as possible.

The wine does get a genuine grin to emerge on her face as she touches his arm lightly and pushes, "Wine would do me well, as long as I am not interrupting your sibling time. I would hate disturb that." She drops her hand again and folds both of them in front of her again. "I promise to be cheerier company though." It's said as an afterthought, a suggestion of pleading entering her tone.

Castor shrugs boyishly, and motions the princess toward the bench and the wine awaiting them there. "Cricket has her hands full," he explains dryly as he waits for Niniane to take a seat. "But — Guardians willing — now with most of our soldiers back in our lands, perhaps everything will calm down." He picks up the bottle, opens it and proceeds to pour the wine into each glass.

The lad pauses, frowning speculatively and then glances sidelong at Niniane — sympathy in his eyes. "You don't have to apologise to me, Nin," he offers in concert with the wine-cup. The world has gone to Kharnas — damn him to the Pit, and the South who seem to be in bed with him — 'tis just…"

He smiles wryly at the princess. "'Tis just good to be home, to be with family and friends." And he holds up the wine-cup as if in a toast.

Settling herself down on the bench, Niniane brushes at her gown to assure herself it is lying flat and just so. She watches Caster a moment, a pensive expression on her face before it cracks into a grin. "Truly I fully understand that sentiment. Though I have not been around family as often as I ought to be. Well Cricket when she is not too busy…and…" She shakes her head and looks to the wine, lifting it to join in his toast, "To family and friends and being free."

Castor grins.

"Aye, now there's a toast," he remarks with muted, boyish jocularity and then sips some of his wine. "Especially the 'being free' part." He sits down beside Niniane, and nurses the drink in his lap. Pursing his lips for a moment, thoughtfully, he asks:

"How soon do you plan to go home to Rhaedan? You're welcome to stay here as long as you like — I'll even have the servants nail a sign to your quarters: 'Niniane's Room — Enter at Your Own Peril', if it helps." A smirk forms on his face, and blossoms into a wide, cheeky grin.

Then the smirk dies.

"I'll not forget what the South did to you — holding you like that. Forgive me, I should not be reminding you of it." He quickly sips more wine. "I was going to ask: would you like another bodyguard for the journey home?"

Niniane grins herself, a touch childishly or as carefree for a moment as she can. "A sign will not be necessary, I have disrupted your poor family's household far too much already. Besides I think the servants are going to start whispering too loudly soon after my night time wanderings, already."

She takes a sip of her wine as Castor loses his smile. While his disappears though she tries to hide the fact hers grows larger behind the cup, rather unsuccessfully (well of course Castor may be that unobservant). Lowering the glass the princess finally managed a solemn nod of her head and a serious expression, "I would greatly appreciate that Castor, if you do not mind. Sir Alek is wonderful but not the best conversationalist since I believe he may be scared of me."

Castor had been about to beam happily at the princess — but, alas, the mention of a 'scared Alek' has him almost spitting his next sip of wine across the polished stone floor of the art gallery, here in Elkmound Keep. He coughs once, then lifts a hand to his mouth to wipe away a few droplets of excess wine.

Then he tosses Niniane a rueful, feigned-reproachful glance. "If I did not know any better, Nin, I'd say you timed that little comment deliberately! Alek may be many things, but scared is not something I can picture… No, not with him. Cricket can tell you stories, hmm…" he tentatively drinks down more wine and shrugs his shoulders.

"Actually — now that you mention it — I think I'd like to see that expression on Alek's face when he's around you… just once, of course. Then I can remind him of it over drinks in the local tavern, until World's End."

He smirks roguishly at Niniane. "What did you do to make him… nervous?" and he narrows his eyes at her, as if harbouring some measure of apprehension regarding the princess' answer.

A wave of her hand and a shrug of her shoulders is all Niniane gives in answer for a moment as she watches Castor over the rim of her glass, chortling quietly, "Timed it Castor, me?" She bats her eyes to the man and then takes a sip of her wine. "Oh Alek is just so respectful, I have yet to see him step out of place yet and it's, if I am to be frank, I think it was my brother who scared him more. Putting him in charge of my safety or something."

She shakes her head and raises an eyebrow at Castor's look of apprehension, "What afraid I used the poor knight the way I was trying to use you to escape?" She blushes at this despite her confident sounding words.

The lad lowers his cup, now half-empty, and snorts lightly through his nostrils. "Perhaps," he replies cryptically to her, also giving his head a shake of self-derision. "Something like that." He tosses back the wine cup and drains the last of it in a mouthful before placing it upon the bench, on the opposite side from Niniane.

"I would have done it, you know," he remarks simply, after a pause of a few seconds. "With the king's — or your brother's — consent, I'd have tried to break you out of Taniford control. I'd have done something at least. So there — I do not always mind being 'used', you know…" he turns his head to the side, to smirk directly at Niniane.

"It depends on the user."

Cheeks still a hint of red Niniane downs her own glass of wine, "I would have used you." She says frankly and tilts the empty glass towards him, "Of course I would have apologized afterwards since it's you, but I would have if I could have."

The princess' nose wrinkles up at her own words and she tilts her head to the side, "How strong was this wine Cas, I do believe I am talking far too much for my own good." She smiles though and leans towards him, "It is nice to know though you would have put yourself at risk for me. It really is." She shakes her head and rests the glass in her lap still leaning towards him with a smirk on her lips now, "And I am glad it depends on the user, you don't want just anyone using you Castor, gives rumours a chance."

Castor blinks.

Perhaps it is because of the princess' blatant admission to using people — or moreso in relation to her query about the wine? Perhaps both. In any case, he blinks at the girl for a moment or two, mouth-shrugs dubiously, and reaches for the bottle he has placed on the bench beside him.

Lifting the bottle upward, he turns it in his hand a few times and shows it to Niniane. "This is… oh, Bornas' Blue Balls! I must have grabbed my father's favourite by accident — 'tis a good thing he's off on one of our ships. This is a 1289 Westmark Red — one of our best."

His lips part into a wolfish grin.

"Now however did I manage that?" he asks with pure innocence in his voice — pure mischief in his eyes. Then he adds, "Now who's using who?" and he starts chuckling — a wine-assisted humour if ever there was one. He puts the bottle back down. "In truth, I knew you were here — at least three messages reach me about goings-on in the Keep, when I set foot in Sipdon." He smiles.

"'Tis late, Your Highnessness," he declares as he stands up. "Shall I walk you to your quarters?" And he extends a hand.

Niniane looks at the wine with a roll of her eyes, "If you were anyone else, Castor Westmark, I would be sure you planned this all." She offers him her hand as he stands, silently asking for assistance, "It was splendid wine, and you are far too good for my thoughts." She looks up towards him and for once catches the double meaning of the words flying from her mouth. The hint of a blush is all the woman shows though as she patiently waits, wrist bent in a delicate offer. She mutters lowly, "Again I speak far too quickly."

Castor's fingers close around Niniane's and he helps her to her feet. A grin appears on his face, not accomplishing much to hide the slight colour in his cheeks. As if in admission, he shrugs his shoulders helplessly, and steps away from the bench, holding the princess's hand.

A pair of servants standing near the entrance-archway leading into the gallery approach wordlessly a few moments later. They both bow courteously to the pair of young nobles, and proceed to clean up the tray and the wine. As Castor and Niniane pass through the archway and out into a wide, windowed corridor in the Keep's East Wing, the youth chuckles at his companion's words.

"All part of my brilliant plan, Your Highness," he says through grinning lips. "All part of my brilliant plan."

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