Rule 6

Rule 6
Summary: Paule and Katarina make an offer to Coriaria.
Date: 9 June 2013
Related: None
Paule Katarina Coriaria Alek 

Elkmound Keep
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.

9 June 1329

All their children are homes, the walls have been walked, the guards on all their perimeters have checked in, relay messages from all of their holdings have been reviewed and - by all accounts - all their borders and lands are quiet, everyone is safe for the night. Katarina walks the walls one more time with the commander on watch before retiring to our quarters, shrugging out of the heavier surcoat she wears as she eases the door shut with the expedient method of simply leaning back against it and rubbing the fingertips of her right hand against the back of the neck. "All is well and quiet," she says, "the children are holding court in the dining room, I've seen to it that they have access to the cellar, should the need it, and food will keep coming to balance the wine, just in case."

Rising to his feet as he listens to the report, Paule is dressed down to a simple loose fitting shirt and trousers, as he pours a glass of wine and comes over to present it to her. Once she takes it, he moves to take over the massage of her neck and gives a chuckle. "I think we may have gotten through to their thick heads for a moment tonight, aye?" he asks as he takes a drink from his own wine.

"Oh, i doubt it," Katarina says as she takes a calm drink from the wine, rinsing the taste of dust out of her mouth before her shoulders and neck relax under your hands. "It'll take a while. But, Cricket has a point. We've raised them to where they are now, to be the people they are now. It's time to step back and see what they do with what they are," said rather calmly even as the flutter of nerves that she always feels when discussing the future/safety/potential for harm comes into play. A deep breath is taken before she adds: "we trust them, and we have to prove that now."

After setting down the wine glass of his own, both of Paule's hands come to play on your shoulders. But while you cannot see the look on his face, the dubiousness in his voice is obvious. "While I understand that, Kat, I'm just not sure if this is the time to be handing over the operations of the barony to our children." he admits quietly. He had to force himself to stay inside while Katarina let the children handle court with their vassals, and he lets out a breath. "We bled and birthed for this land in the darkest of times. And I know my style of leadership is not suitable for peace." the Shadow Baron did not get his name hosting teaparties and debutante balls, after all. "However, with this current situation, and despite the ages of our children being the same as ours when we.. when I was thrusted into the position of Baron.."

The sourness in his voice is there. Yes, Katarina was sent away from her father, but Paule had to see his father slaughtered, and never got the chance to see his mother to the last because she sent him off with the resistance. His hands tighten gently on your shoulders for a moment in worry and reminisence as he dredges up that powerful memory. "With all signs currently pointing to a resurgence of hostilities.." he lets out a breath. "I am not as confident as you are that they are ready if it all comes apart and war comes to Rhaedan."

"That is why we will be here, to advise them," Katarina says quietly, simply and seemingly calm, ever taking her position as his balance in these matters, as in many things. She sets aside the glass she's holding and reaches up to rest her hands on his, "We have the age, the experience, the scars and the lessons that go with it. Our children need to earn their own scars, learn their own lessons, test themselves - against what they /think/ they can do and what they really can do, when tested to the edge - and we must let them do so. We," and she turns now, moving lightly from beneath his hands so that she can take his hands in hers, feeling the strength of his hands and knowing he can feel the same in hers, "have the experience. It is no small thing to remark upon, my love. Each of our children have training, education, experience, opportunities that we didn't. It's time they decide where they will employ those abilities in defense of family, land and home. We can't order them to stand posts that we pick, arbitrarily, it's time to lay out what needs be done and let them decide where they will stand."

Feeling her hands on his is a calming factor, and his hands turn over to catch hers for a moment before Paule steps away. Taking his wine glass, he walks over to where the window is opened, allowing the cool breeze from the sea to bring fresh air to their chambers and he speaks, quietly at first. "I had a dream the other night, my love. One that woke me in a sweat." he admits as he looks out over the lands. "The dragon of the bogs rose, brought forth by the spilling of our blood." the Baron says, his hands clutching the window's edge tightly.

"Cricket, Fox, Wolf.. they were unprepared for the arrival of the dragon, my love. I could only watch, drawing my last breaths, as the dragon devoured friend and foe alike, the bogs rising up themselves in fury to envelop and drown Sipdon. Our children helpless and unable to control the dragon, were devoured." Paule says as he takes on an expression of genuine fear for a moment. "We had little choice in how we raised our children - in war, always with us or away, we had no choice. The people came first. We did not allow them to be children. And now, three years after the end of the Corsairs, they are wanting to act like children finally - as the perception of a new war looms high on the horizon. Tell me they are prepared, and I will step aside, quiet, without a word."

Katarina removes her boots and the rest of her outer wear, setting aside a number of bladed weapons and, at the last, the hunting bow and quiver before she rakes one hand through her hair to dislodge the last of the pins holding her hair in place before moving forward to take a seat on a nearby chair. She is working the tangles out of her hair as she replies, "Your dream - the dragon of the bogs - is symbolic of the war that threatens to rise and consume us all. War with the Tanifords. War with these crazy followers that have, possibly, kidnapped the princess. war with the corsairs if they can find enough support to rise again. IT is not the dragon that you fear, but the enemy that we cannot destroy on our own. Our children, and they are children, are not mere children any longer. They are not defenseless, they would not stand - shrieking, cowering, frightened - in a corner. They know how to fight, one and all."

Katarina runs one hand through her hair, all the tangles finally sorted out, and leans back, her hands resting in her lap, "Our children are as prepared as we were. and you are as capable of stepping aside, quietly, without a word, as I am to grow wings - leap off of the nearest tower - and sail around the moon. I did not suggest stepping back. I said we need to let our children decide where, in our defense, in our planning, in our lines, they wish to take their place, where they will stand. If Castor would prefer to serve at the Temple of the Guardians and so serve our people that way, then so be it. If Fox wishes to return home, at last," and she sounds hopeful of this, "then we will welcome her with open arms. She has learned much and her knowledge will be, already is, priceless. If Cricket wishes to represent our family in court or command our forces on the field, then we will serve as her battle commanders and advisers. We have to let them stand, Paule. or they will never know how."

"I know what you are saying, Katarina…" Paule says finally, and turns to sit on the window ledge, allowing the smell of the blooming vineyards to wash over him as it drifts into their chambers, filling it with their fragrant scent.

"I did not get a chance to mourn my mother or father. The Corsairs took my father's body and displayed it from the ramparts of Elkmound. My mother.. I.. heard stories of what they did to her before they finally gave her release." he shakes his head. "It was in the month before you came to me, that you finally gave me the chance to hurt and heal that one of my advisors spoke to me. She told me a poem, one I still remember."

"Restrain your anger, And run to find some shelter.
Flames and eruptions, Are there only reactions.
Sisters and brothers, Are facing all the slaughter.
They will not surrender, To them you are the offender.
Draw all of their blood, Until they've had enough.
If you keep fighting, People will keep dying.
There's got to be another way, Without causing pain everyday.
Vengeance and sorrow, Will be yearning tomorrow.
Untold years remain, Until we can conquer their reign.
It seems never ending, As it ends everything.
When will you learn that, There are other ways to combat.
There are only two outcomes here, And each of them is very severe.
You can either rise victorious, And to them you will be glorious.
But just as you can rise, you can fall a failure,
After all that you had to endure.
It's not worth going through, when there are other things you can do."

The poem finished, Paule chuckles a little, his expression ironic, "I know she was suggesting that we surrender peacefully, but instead, it only strengthened the resolve I had to use the new tactics I had taken to task. To take to the shadows, to use trickery and deciet. To leave behind what was percieved to be honor to become a cold-blooded murderer. No longer would I be the knight my father had hoped for when I was a child, but instead I would deal in shadows and death. And now that there is no war to fight, and a tenious peace.. I find myself a relic of a time gone, and now that I can sense the blood in the air again, real or imagined - I find myself excited again, ready to strike. And perhaps.. that is not the best course of action at this time."

"Fox wishes to return home to us, and I welcome her with open arms. If Castor wishes to leave, I will allow it, but the shadows, the dragon.. they call to me again, demanding that I make sure that our children are ready. That Westmark will remain safe. And our daughter speaking of going unmarried. Of not securing the lands for her generation and the next - it worries me."

"Our daughter," Katarina reminds gently, "is nineteen. She barely knows who or what she is, barely knows what she'll be like tomorrow let alone a year from now. I am content to have her take her time and make a match that she will be pleased by than to decide - in haste, at sword point, at threat of war and bloodshed - and hate who ever she is matched with. I would prefer she never marry at all, if such a thing were the only option. We did our duty, Paule, we did it - literally - with a sword against our throats and the sound of war and fighting men and women all around us. Our first night together, we were both bruised and bloody and exhausted - and that was before we actually came together," a touch of humor in her tone of voice. "She will make up her mind when she is ready, and we will parade eligible men that WE approve of past her. She will likely pick someone that we don't expect, we may not like him either at first, but he will be her pick. And we will be happy for her."

"Come join me, Kat." Paule requests gently, patting the windowsill beside him as he moves over to invite you to sit. "And I am well aware of what caused the two of us to come together. And we made it work. And it took you willining bringing our children into the world to finally make me realize that I do love you. Not only as my match but as my life." he says to her as he folds his hands in his lap for a moment. "And neither of us expected much out of the other that first night. But yes, we did what was right for Westmark. And Cricket needs to remember that herself. She will not be the one to buck the tradition and trend. If she refuses to marry, then it will pass to Castor." he says, a shake of his head.

"And I hope you are right, my love. That much I wish for." he says as he chuckles finally. "Laurel is worried that we are going to marry her off to the highest bidder, or for a favorable match. Castor is right about one thing - with no favorable options at the moment in any of the lands, I perfer our children currently unmarried while we lead the lands. And I am in no rush to marry off any of our children, despite what they think. I am just hopeful that such talk will remind them that they have their duties as children of Westmark - born of shadow and light, to their land and people, and not just to themselves."

Katarina rises to her feet and comes to sit beside you on the windowsill, angling so that her back is against the curve of the window and the wind ruffling and tugging at her hair as she listens quietly, reaching out at the end to rest one hand on the shoulder nearest her. "We did what was right," she reminds gently, "for Westmark, for Rhaedan, for our lands, for the kingdom, we did what was right and honorable and we fought all these long years for the same reasons. IF," and she stresses this word, "Cricket refuses to marry and Castor is determined to go to the Temple, then in six or seven years when Laurel is ready she will have her choice of husbands," she counters with a slow shake of her head. "When she is ready. IF she is ready. And only then. As long as we yet live, husband, we are the head of our family and no marriage need take place until or IF we pass into the next life. It's as simple," though NOTHING is simple, "as that. we will not marry Laurel off to the highest bidder, nor Cricket off to the first man who can lead a army and speak coherently without belching at the dinner table," she hesitates over her next words, "and if Castor chooses to never marry, then so be it."

"As long as he remembers his responsibilities and does not sire a crop of bastards with the bar maids he so eagerly speaks of." Paule says as he moves to lean against her, urging her over so he can hold her in his arms, her back to his chest. "Laurel is concerned that we cannot afford to have her. I forget sometimes that you and I are used to the life of the spendthrift and passed it to our children. Perhaps, it is time to open the treasury and show them the books so they understand that we are not lacking in funds or a war chest and it is not just the Hallstrom family that can choose opulance, if they so desire."

"There are moments, my love, when I understand our son as much as I understand the pull of the moon or why the sun continues to shine," Katarina admits, rueful tone of voice as she slides over until she is tucked in your arms, safe - contentedly so. "I feel as though there is some language that I do not know to speak to him. And that the ties between father and son are terribly obscure and fraught with twists, turns, blind canyons, pit falls, elaborate stake lined traps ahead and constantly changing paths to which there is no reliable guide. It is…" and she gives another quiet laugh followed by a sigh, "exhausting. At least with Cricket and Fox, I have all the same parts that they do, I remember being their age. Even removed, yes, by age, I remember." She tilts her head back and studies the moon lit vineyard through the window, "We should open the books, in fact, it would be one interesting way to start. Set them down and have them see what the books like like this quarter, do the real math of it all and understand what it is that we are juggling."

"I think they will all be shocked when they see the true fortunes of our lands. The reparations from the Kingdom for being their staunchest defenders of the war. Our merchant fees. The taxes collected. There is a reason why we are wise spenders while our land only becomes more and more rebuilt and better than it was before? Never again will Westmark be the front lines of a war. We will keep it from that, and the books will prove it." Paule says quietly as he settles his arms around Katarina and holds her close to him and kisses the side of her neck before looking up towards the moon. "There is a storm coming, of that Castor is correct. And we will be here to buffer them from the storm, but we will allow them to taste the rain and feel the winds." he says finally. "And I think, if we are going to allow them to see the books, that perhaps.. we should take them and allow them to purchase what they wish to finally feel like part of the Court. Be it clothing, horses, or for Coriaria to host a party at the Nest.. and yes, I think it is time that our oldest daughter be given our former retreat as her place of solitude, if you agree? She can take her siblings and clean it up and make it hers."

Katarina is silent for a moment, both studying the view afford them and considering Paule's words. "As their mother, I want to keep them here, all of them, where I can see them every day. As their mother I want to know that they are safe, every minute, every candle mark, where I can just walk through a room, see them where I think that they should be, and know that - by sight, by word, by sound - that all is well. I can not bear the thought of losing any of them," she says, her words quiet. "Losing.. I never thought that I could bear such anguish and still draw breath. I never thought that I could feel such utter emptiness to lose even one child, the thought of losing any of our children just tears me up, Paule, it destroys me. I know that they are NOT defenseless children, they are not going to fall out of a tree and die, or get thrown from a saddle and break their necks doing something foolish. But accidents happen. As their mother.. i want them here where we know they are safe and healthy, were we can be at their side within a matter of moments not a matter of hours."

She draws a deep breath before continuing, "And as their mother, their battle commander - should we go to war - I cannot afford the luxury of having all of my children in one place, in one keep, in one tower, in one area of our defenses. If we were wise we would give each a keep and let them learn how to manage it on their own. we would divide our children, to the holdings they wish, and let them test themselves against the duties contained therein. So. Yes. Cricket may have her choice, if she wishes. We give Castor and Laurel their choices as well. If Castor does not wish to manage his own lands or holding then he must appoint someone trustworthy to manage it for him. He will, after all, be busy with his duties at the temple. Until as such time as he surrenders his tie to his lands, title and all.. he is required to be responsible for the things that he is responsible for. The same will go for Laurel, though I would rather she be set with a maester that we trust, first and foremost, and I would rather have her take over the business of running THIS keep first, and for purely selfish reasons, i wish more time with her."

Paule listens to his wife, and offers a thin smile as he presses his hands to her belly. A stomach that brought four children into the world, three of which have made it this far. "We were blessed with a mostly healthy family. We lost once, and I saw how it devastated you. Yes, it is time we offer some form of protection to our children - but remember, we do have Lords and Ladies that we have to tend to as well and not to let our children overstep their boundries, which is why I suggested our secondary home for Coriaria. That way she is still in touch with the Barony." he says as he considers. "Shall we send for Coriaria and see how she feels about this?" he asks finally and rests his chin on his wife's shoulder.

"Did I not fear losing another child, I would have tried once more," she reminds Paule, one hand resting gently over his. "But yes, we should send for our Cricket and see what she thinks on this matter."

Rising up and helping Katarina up, Paule places a fond kiss to his wife's lips. "And if I thought you wanted, I would ask if you wanted to try again now that times are more peaceful and you can be better cared for." he says as he goes to the door to summon a servant to request Coriaria's presence in the Baronial bedchambers.

Katarina gives a quiet laugh as she reaches for her glass of wine again, "Our peers are already grandparents, I think we would be.. oddly viewed," she admits with a slow shake of her head. "See about having some food send as well?" she asks.

Paule chuckles as he adds in her request. "Any more than we already are?" he points out diplomatically as he moves to retake his place at Katarina's side.

That she would wander into the room wearing clothing better suited to slatternly stable-boys than a girl of her station is perhaps not as surprising as the fact that there's a fine mist of blood on the side of her face, and more blood across the right arm of her shirt. Her hair is loose and tangled, the dark strands sporting bits of loam and dead vegetation. There's none of her usual surly humor as she bows to her parents. "You called for me?" Cricket inquires a little stiffly, gaze firmly fixed somewhere past where her parents stand, "I am here, as you see."

As Cricket arrives, looking more like Paule and his wife did after a mission, he moves to his feet as he assists Katarina to his feet. His first glance is to look her over and assess if the blood is hers or someone elses. The second, is a severe expression as he steps towards his daughter. "What happened?" it's all he asks, immediately looking for the girl's sworn protector as well.

Katarina rises to her feet alongside Paule, her eyes sweeping over their daughter, carefully hammering down the instinct to scoop Cricket up, check her for injuries, send for a healer. She manages NOT to do any of those things because Cricket appears calm if somewhat.. stiff necked. "Cold water," she reminds Cricket in a calm voice, "never wash blood out with hot water. It boils the blood into the fabric and stains it deep. Cold water wash and some of that soap that I made you a few moons ago, the lavender scented stuff," she reminds. "You might want to get the blood clots out of your hair before they dry, as well, they get sticky."

Stepping into the room several heartbeats after Coriaria is that sworn protector that Paule is looking for, looking about as delightfully outfitted as his daughter. Though it seems Alek has managed to wipe away what blood might have existed on his face and hands, perhaps why he was those several heartbeats delayed. Wearing more leathers than stable outfit, stating simply in those husky tones of his,"Tracking lesson, my Lord. A rather successful one, the kitchen staff was pleased with the result, Lady Coriaria did a fine job with field dressing. Though she wasn't quite sure about eating the still beating heart of the rabbit until I did so with one myself."

No mention is made of the fact that she's been out alone in the dark, roaming the boundaries like some solitary predator before the fortuitous arrival of her guardian, who always seems to know where to find her. Nor is there any talk of despatching two thieves who would not be reasoned with. Alek's gracious save is accepted with a nod, though there's the barest flicker of flinty amusement in her eyes. "It is as Alek says. I tried to keep the mess to a minimum but I suppose I will do better next time. Your advice about the cleaning is well-noted, Mother." She looks to her partner in crime for a moment before trusting herself to face her parents again. "May I ask what this is about?"

Paule gives a critical look between daughter and protector, and draws in a breath. It seems there are other things on his mind than what night activities his daughter might have taken on. "Change into one of your mother's shirts, we are going for a little walk." he says simply, stepping aside so their daughter can clean up and change, his hand touching Katarina's to hold her in check for the moment.

Katarina observes Cricket and then Alek in silence, taking their statements at face value before simply moving through the room and withdrawing one of her tunics from the chest on her side of the room and sets it on the bed. "There's fresh water in the pitcher," she says simply, giving Cori one more moment to decide if she will remember that the truth has more value than a cleverly constructed lie before she fixes another of those thoughtful looks upon Alek before rejoining Paule.

A small nod of Alek's head goes in return to Coriaria. He would be a poor protector and guardian if he didn't know where to find her and in which opurtune moments he should appear. But then who is to say she was truly alone out there and the tracking was only to supply the kitchen. Simply noting,"It is a skill that come with time and practice, my Lady." Concerning not making such a mess.

His ice blue eyes flicker between the trioo, especially when Paule tells Cricket to clean up and this whole matter of a walk. And hint to yet another of those fine family talks on the horizion. Giving a partial bow and offering,"I shall see our equipment cleaned and tend to my other duties."

"Nay," Katarina counters quietly, "you'll remain, this talk will necessitate your insight and opinion, as you are Cricket's chosen protector."

"And you can tell us how well our daughter did at the hunt. How many she killed, and perhaps present us with the fresh kills, since it has been a while since I have changed the fur in my boots, and I would love some fresh hare with dinner in the morrow." Paule adds, excited about the idea of roasted wild hare.

/Naturally/ they're going to make her clean up first. Naturally. "As you will," Cricket shrugs, moving to obey her parents with an uncharacteristic celerity, though she does pause when the knight mentions beating a hasty retreat. She's had her fill of nasty family debates and the presence of a friend would do much to buoy her spirits. A good thing, then, that her mother seems to be on the same page, even if it's for reasons different than Cricket's own. When her father pipes up about wanting to hear of her hunting adventures, she suppresses a little snort and turns to the water pitcher with a shake of her head. Alek's craftiness will have saved her hide for something like the thousandth time since his appointment as her guardian, and that's /not/ counting the times he's managed to talk her out of some deranged scheme or other. "I'll be just a moment."

A small nod goes to Matarina to acknowledge her counter and thus Alek remains as he is, that step just to the side and behind Coriaria. Well until she moves to clena up and Alek simply stays near the door. Eyes drift towards Paule when he requests a regailing of the trip while Cricket takes to cleaning up,"As the trip was one centering ni on tracking, not hunting, I took most of the hares that were first encountered after turning the tracking duty over to her. In the end, I did have her take the last two before we set back. In total, there were ten hares turned over to the kitchen. And I had the hides sent to the tannery, though I am certain either could be fetched and brought to you shortly, if you desired to inspect them yourself. I would have brought them with if I had known you held such interest, my Lord." There is one of those pretty little charming smiles as he adds,"Though I would recommend waiting til the tanners are done with the hides before using them to line your boots, my Lord. " Easily holding his gaze towards his Baron while the trip results are given. The evdience is in the kitchen and tannery if they really desire to check.

A small nod goes to Matarina to acknowledge her counter and thus Alek remains as he is, that step just to the side and behind Coriaria. Well until she moves to clena up and Alek simply stays near the door. Eyes drift towards Paule when he requests a regailing of the trip while Cricket takes to cleaning up,"As the trip was one centering ni on tracking, not hunting, I took most of the hares that were first encountered after turning the tracking duty over to her. In the end, I did have her take the last two before we set back. In total, there were ten hares turned over to the kitchen. And I had the hides sent to the tannery, though I am certain either could be fetched and brought to you shortly, if you desired to inspect them yourself. I would have brought them with if I had known you held such interest, my Lord." There is one of those pretty little charming smiles as he adds,"Though I would recommend waiting til the tanners are done with the hides before using them to line your boots, my Lord. " Easily holding his gaze towards his Baron while the trip results are given. The evdience is in the kitchen and tannery if they really desire to check.

"Excellent. You will have to tell us how our daughter did with the bow." Paule says as he waits for the Baronet to finish changing her clothing and holds Katarina's hand loosely within his own.

She feels a little foolish when she finally rejoins the others outside the room, but by now it can't quite be helped — she and Alek have a story they're sticking to. Besides, it's not like the story is complete fabrication. Alek was smart enough to provide evidence, after all, showing (as he always does) an excellent sense of forethought and planning. Someone should really give the guy a raise. "And so I return, looking less like a fen-creature and more like myself," Cricket announces, "Shall we take that walk now?"

It is really more a matter of knowing the charge he has been assigned to and knowhing his Baron as well. Alek gives a slight incline of his head to Paule,"We did not take the bows this time, Lady Coriaria is not as inclined to it as her brother, and it is an area we tend to agree upon. She has needed some work with her knives, so it was the method we used on this particular outting. She was spot on with the first hare, but it was only quick thinking to get a second knife off that resulted in the kill, otherwise it would have been lost. There is still work to be done for improvement, but it was still a successful venture." There is a slightly amused smile that comes,"Admitteldy, it could be more successful, but my Lady was over zealous at the start and was more inclined to seek larger prey, admittedly, the reward and boosting is always grander there. But it does take more skill and patience to often fret out the smaller hares. They make for the better lesson. " His gaze turning towards Coriaria as she is now returned, a slight incline of his head when she brings up that walk for which she had been called to have.

"Huh." Paule says as he starts down the hallway. "So my oldest child, in the twilight hours, with very little moon and visibility was able to down no less than /ten/ hares with only a set of throwing knives?" the baron asks with a lift of his brow. "That is very impressive. In fact, I do not even think the Master Assassins of the Barony have pulled off such feats. Perhaps I will have to address them on taking in Coriaria for more training since she seems to be such a natural." he says as he walks down the hallway, hand in arm with his wife as they make their way through the keep towards the locked doors that serve as the Baron's administrative center.

An eyebrow slightly quirks at Paule's of questioning, even so patiently does he simply explain,"As I noted, my Lord, Lady Coriaria only dispatched two of the tracked hares. And all was not done within the twilight hours." Alek gives a slight glance towards Coriaria before looking back to..well Paule's back really at this point,"However, she does have some skill and with practice, should she have interest, I am sure she would make a fine student for the Master Assassin to take up as my skills are certainly not as keen as his in this area." Just giving a slight shake of his head at Coriaria as the walk is taken up. She is going to be the death of him yet. But hopefully the matter is being brought to a conclusion and whatever topic they wished to address with their daughter can be moved to.

"Yes, like Alek says. It was only two. Hardly impressive." A tug is given to the tunic she's hastily thrown on. Man, but that thing suddenly seems warm and uncomfortable… or maybe it's just the heat of having to keep lying. Cricket has never been easy with fibbing to her parents, no matter how necessary the task might be to preserve peace in the family. "I have much to learn, but Alek is a very good tutor and doesn't mind if I test his patience on occasion with idiotic questions and impossible scenarios to consider." Oh, these get-togethers are always /so/ nice. Where's Castor when she needs him? He's always the most convenient target for some parental ire, and as much as she hates to admit it to herself, now would be a great time for him to show up and bear some of the scrutiny that will no doubt be turned on her in a few moments. "I'm all curiosity, though. What are we meeting about?"

"Your mother and I had a discussion earlier. And since you are the heir of Westmark, we thought it prudent to start with you." Paule says as he takes out a well-worn set of keys, unlocking the doors and opens them to lead Coriaria in. As they walk down at the hall, he stops at another door to unlock. Cori knows the door - it leads to the treasury. Where Paule or Katarina usually go to deal with the financial matters of the Barony. He opens the door after unlocking it and gestures. "Please, this way."

Leading the way down into the old wine cellar, there are several chests stacked up and about. Coins of all manner have been sorted and set aside. Works of art and statuary - the history of the Barony before the invasion has been carefully stored within these underground walls and not been on display in years. "We think it is time that you, as Baronet, see the true value of our area of land." he says simply, and gestures to the large table with the leather bound ledger set upon it. "Please, help yourself."

Katarina moves along silently in Paule's wake, not quite studying her eldest with a wary/suspicious/speculative eye.. but it's close to it. She, of course, has been in this room before and has spent MANY many long hours getting columns of 1's and 0's to add up to something other than gibberish. She, in the household, is NOT the mathematician.

She's smart enough to know on sight what the ledger is. /The/ book — cold, hard proof of the family's financial assets, all neatly tabulated for the careful consideration of whoever has been tasked with that week's sums — and she's being given a glimpse. It isn't avarice that lights up within Cricket's eyes, but the simple enthusiasm of one who enjoys numbers and the business of calculating expenditures and profits. A hand reaches down to gently move over the old leather cover, the grain tickling slightly beneath her fingertips. The unsavory business of lying is forgotten entirely. "I'm honored," the girl smiles, if a little absently, her attentions focused on the book, mind jumping forward to the days when she will be the hard-nosed mistress of its contents, administering the properties with a judiciously thrifty sense, "There are many things in here I've wondered about."

"We agree that it is time that we start allowing you some of the more administrative duties of the Barony. Not only is it the ledgers you will find down here, but the markings of what our Barony was before the siege." The extravagance, the oplence. It's all for show and stacked down here, not taken out, the Baron's decision to remain hard-nosed after the war. "However, with the administative, we are also.. opening things for you more, as Baronet and hopefully giving you something that shows our confidence in you and the future of the Barony with you." Paule comments as he steps around the desk that Coriaria has perched herself at. Leaning down to a small drawer, he opens it and withdraws a large ring with keys on it. "There's a small summer Keep on the western shores of Westmark. It is where my parents went for their summers and where I was concieved. Currently, it is called the Seagull's Nest because it is on a cliff that overlooks the waters. It will be your second home. You can take your siblings and guards and whatever support staff you wish to hire to clean it up and make it your home and treat as you see fit - to have guests and parties, or what may have you. You are of course still welcomed here, but it is the chance to allow you to have your own home. We will make similar offers to your siblings, if they so wish."

And after the fine grilling about the little afternoon, early evening outting, Alek is more than happy to remain silent as all the doors are unlocked and wandered through. Eyes flit brieflly about the treasury room that they end up in, taking it in as a good sentry or guard might but otherwise Alek seems rather unaffected by the sights of the room. Simply lingering at the door like the good dutiful and loyal guard dog he's been raised to be.

For all of her shortcomings, Cricket is still made of the same stern, plain-living stuff as her father. The bizarre loot stashed in the treasury will never see the light of day if she has anything to say about it. Wait.. is that statue naked? And touching the… no, /no./ She did /not/ just see that. Her gaze quickly darts back to the ledger, and she opens the volume to begin leafing through the pages, noting with a certain satisfaction the absence of egregious ink blots or numbers that have required a strike-through. May the Four be merciful: she had no idea that it cost so much to run this place! Ugh, caring for the animals alone is a small fortune. She pinches at the bridge of her nose for a moment, the gesture speaking to the focus with which she's prepared to examine the figures more closely… until her father mentions giving her a separate residence. "That offer is more than generous — but if it's all the same to you, my lord, I'd prefer to have a garrison there under my command with which we can harass the damnable Sollingers should they stray too close to our shores. I have never had much inclination towards being social, though it would be nice to have my brother and sister as visitors should they wish it."

"To note.." Katarina interjects from where she's standing, her hands slipped comfortably into the trousers she's wearing, "we aren't asking you to leave, kicking you out of your home, shoving you out of the nest or anything like that. You said, last night, that you wanted to prove yourself in your own way. We are trying to take a step back so that you can have your own space, your own room, your own …" she pauses and shares a glance with Paule, "freedom. And with Alek," she aims a measured look at the knight, "as your chosen protector, he is your chief of security as well."

"There is a garrison there already stationed. Along with a trebuchet detachment. But part of being a noble…" Paule points out. "Is entertaining guests and having the occassional gathering, Coriaria. Just as Katarina is making me relearn that lesson, you must as well, my child. To that end, I know the 100th day Festival is in a month. I hope that in that time you make a plan on how it can be properly celebrated."

With all the drying swamp veggitation and blood that yet clings to and adorns Alek, the almost placid look that got to Katarina in turn looks a little out of place. But then Alek looks a little out of place in the room full of treasures, he might be pretty but he does looka bit scraggly at the moment. Designing to speak a few words in this rather interesting conversation,"If Lady Coriaria decides to keep me as her protector, and takes to running this once summer home. Is it a correct assumption that as her…cheif of security, that garrision and trebuchet detachment, will then fall under me? " His gaze does drift to Paule on the next point,"Will she be afforded to select additional Knights or allowed to point those of her chosing, a limited number of course?"

By Kharnas, she'd rather be made to swim the length of the Rothim than be expected to host a party! Her mouth opens as if to say something — and then she thinks the better of it. No good can come from arguing with her parents, and besides, she probably owes them one for lying to their faces. "I… ergh," she tries, a deflated look stealing over her features, "Yes, yes. I will plan something… though I don't relish the thought of playing hostess to a room full of drunken carousers who are merely biding their time until they can hurtle some insults at one another." Not that she can't hold her own; the Westmark heiress is perfectly capable of issuing foul-mouthed proclamations that would make even a Corsair blush. It simply isn't part of her preferred repertory to be expected to ensure that the party is running smoothly. Isn't that what her mother is there for? "And wait, maybe I want to be my own chief of security. No offense to you, Alek." Yes, let's talk nice things like stabbing people and setting buildings on fire. Anything to get off the party topic.

"The commander of the garrison there may take offense to that, he is a well trained soldier and one that served well during the siege." Paule says simply towards Alek. "Your duty is to the Baronet and the Baronet alone."

A simple nod goes to Cricket,"None, taken, my Lady. It would only make sense for you to have such a level of interest in your own safety, and I have after all been pondering retiring." And yes, somehow Alek even says that with a straight face. To Paule, Alek nods,"Then if left as it is now, my position really does not change, as he would then retain responsiblity in keeping the keep itself and any guests secure. " Though no doubt, Coriaria would as always make his task of keeping her alive and out of trouble difficult

"Cricket," Katarina says quietly from where she's standing, "were we not just regaled with the details of how Alek can be your body double in the event of some sort of security breach? Why would you ask for someone Else to manage your security if Alek has gone through so much to get this far?"

For the moment, it seems that Paule is going to be the quiet one as the conversation has drifted into the area of Katarina's expertise as he goes to look at some of the items kept towards the back of the cellar, his expression solemn in degrees as he walks.

"I — what? No. I wasn't asking for anyone else to manage anything," Cricket sighs, tugging at her braid and nearly gnashing her teeth in frustration at being denied a chance not only to terrorize her hated neighbors, but to run her own matters of security as well. How is she ever supposed to learn the finer points of such things if not left to her own devices for a change? "You're right, Mother. Alek has worked very hard. I suppose I'm being overeager, as usual." Not that she intends to bully the knight into letting her have her way — that would merely be uncouth and a poor repayment of his loyalties — but she /does/ intend to have a very long conversation or three with him once they're out of earshot. And maybe set up her own schemes for keeping pests off of Westmark coastal property. Of course, she'll have to be extra-careful so as not to alert the garrison commander. But isn't that the sort of thing she's been training for?

The mention of the body double episode does actually bring about something of a wince from Alek, easily falling back into silence now. Though eyes take to tracking Paule with something of an icey stare. He had not been particular to that idea of the Baron's in the least, it had bordered upon a betrayal of trust. But Alek had obeyed his Baron's orders all the same, and worn the damn dress. He didn't have to like his orders, just follow them.

"Coriaria." Paule's voice comes out as he walks from the back of the cellar, carrying a portrait under his arm. Of a man and woman, slightly older than Cricket is, the woman carrying a small child in her arms. Paule's 'first' portrait, as it were. A baby picture. "The King gave your mother and I specific orders. We are not to antagonize the Sollingers or force an incident. While Maldred may be an idiot and not give up his family to betrayl, if I learn that you make any move against any of those bastards without my knowledge, I will turn you over to be whipped in the public square at Rhaedan castle so fast your head will fall off your shoulders from the whiplash. Understand?"

"First," Katarina says in the wake of Paule's words, "your father is right. We won't antagonize them. However," Katarina exhales a thoughtful breath before she nods, "Coriaria is right. And we are wrong," she says, looking to Paule for a moment before turning back. "The garrison commander will then be yours to command, he'll brief you daily on any threats or security measures that need to be amended. You are the Baronet and .. he will respect that," it goes unsaid, it doesn't need to be said, that Cricket will need to earn the respect the hard way, the same way she and Paule had. From the ground up. "He will keep us appraised on a weekly basis, as much for his nerves and ours. And in a few weeks … we will conduct a series of war games to determine how well you handle the defense of your own holding."

Cricket stiffens and draws herself up, the ledger snapping shut as she turns her full attention to Paule. "Aye, my lord. I wouldn't countenance disobeying the King. Nor you." Did he /really/ have to go and mention her getting an ass-whooping? Mercifully her mother is there to speak some sense, as she always does. "That is all I ask," the eldest Westmark child nods to Katarina, "I'm not foolhardy, or given to treasonous ideas. I have no intention of poking a sharp stick at the Sollingers while we're under orders not to. But I have no illusions about the case always being thus, and when the situation changes, it would be beneficial for me to have a sense of what it takes to keep them out of our waters and off of our shores."

Keeping to the silence befitting this particular turn in the conversation, the icey look follows Paule a bit longer before the mention of war games comes up and Alek is restored to his usual simple, patient look. That stuff he can deal with, he was a war vetran….like so many of those in Westmark.

"Which is why you taking not only command of that point but learning how to defend that point is the most logical move," Katarina agrees, sounding - and actually being - quite reasonable AND logical about this. "You'll learn how to defend that point, how to manage that line of our defenses. Now, here's the question that we pose to you. Do you wish to learn with Castor or Laurel at your side or no?" she wonders, giving her eldest more options to sort through. "I ask this before we even broach this topic with your siblings, we want to give you the choice to decide how you wish to proceed."

Does Cricket want her siblings there? It's a fair question. Part of her wants to explore this new avenue entirely for herself, while the other part wishes for Castor and Laurel to benefit from the experience as well. Another pinch to the bridge of her nose as she considers her options, her brow furrowing. "I would ask you to send them both, but Fox is a little young yet and I don't know that the chill sea air is good for her constitution. I don't intend to be indoors much… and I would worry about dragging her with me through the cold and mire, especially given her habit of going unshod. This leaves Cas to keep me company. If you can spare him, then I would have him by my side." Soon enough she'll be parted from her twin again, as he goes about his duties to the Temple. They might as well share one last enterprise together.

"Which is fair, considering that we want to spend time with our youngest in case the drums of war are to sound again." Paule says finally, looking towards his daughter. "I believe in you. And your brother. As I always will." he comments as he sets the portrait aside. It's the past, and he cannot return to that.

Katarina crosses the room and claims the portrait, "It's time we bring some of this back out, love," she says quietly, taking the portrait and clearly intending to see that it's displayed once again. "In fact, I'll be arranging for a family portrait in the next few weeks. I expect everyone to show up," she says this without allowing for wiggle room on this declaration. "Everyone will be there, and we will have this painting to go with our family painting, and we will not forget the past, nor your mother," she rests one hand lightly on Paule's back before turning to Cricket. "If your brother is willing, then he has our leave to join you." She aims a glance at Alek, "Would you recommend someone to be his personal guard as well?"

Continued silence does seem the best measure to take for Alek, it is ever a family matter. Coriaria's decision to make and deal with. Some slient prayer most certainly given, strength and continued patience will no doubt be needed. And …wait there was a question for him to actually answer. Thankfully no need to show up for the family portrait. And thus Alek's gaze settles upon Katarina for the first time in awhile. "I have not gotten the chance to know Lord Castor as well as I have Lady Coriaria, but there are a few I could recommend to be considered. However, may I point out as Cricket," yes, he just called her that,"has over time come to chose me as much as Baron Paule, and you are seeking to give both your children some say in this next pahse of their life, that you perhaps seek his opinion onthe matter of those he feels comfortable with. For if he is not comfortable with his personal guard, he will not be able to trust in them and they in turn will not be able to see to their duties efficently."

A guilty look is given her loyal protector. All of this talk of trust and responsibility makes her more miserably uncomfortable over being dishonest with the two people who have given her everything in life — and then some. She pulls again at the borrowed tunic covering her body, feeling overheated. Why is her mouth suddenly dry? "Before I say anything else, I would like to point out that I swore Alek to secrecy, and was very adamant and… rather unpleasant about it. He didn't deserve to be dragged into my scheme, but he was, by mere virtue of the fact that he was doing his duty." Another guilty look, this one half pleading, as if she's asking the knight not to hate her. "I want to always be forthright with you from now on, and leave tale-telling in the past. I'm too old for it, after all." Cricket looks levelly at first her father, then her mother.

"Sir Alek speaks well for someone trained to protect one and only one. Castor should have his choice. However, if it is Bertha the big Busted Barmaid at the Flowering Vines that he tries to squeeze into a leather corset he claims is armor, he forfeits his choice." Paule starts to say and then looks to his daughter. "Tale-telling? Whatever about, Coriaria?" he asks curiously.

"A wise answer, thank you, Sir Alek," Katarina replies, favoring Alek with a nod that is, this time, accompanied by a smile. "Who ever he selects will need to be able to observe the routines of the temple and the same guidelines that he is required to observe as a devotee," she muses, her tone pensive. "That will make the selection a bit more challenging, but I'm sure that someone suitable will step forward," before cricket's guilty looking expression is matched with words. "Hmm, have you now?" she wonders, tone of voice mild, silently thinking that either SHE or Paule just lost a bet.

A slight bow of his head is given in return to Katarina,"It is simply a truth, my Lady." Something of a incline of his head to Paule to acknowledge the edge of a compliment paid. Smehow managing to not crack even a hint of a smile about Bertha and Castor. A small incline of his head goes in Coriaria's direction as the guilty look comes his way, it was her desciion then and now. He was simply doing his duty as bidden. Though trust is certainly a two-way street and Alek might not go to such lengths to impart her schemes and cover for her in future times when matters may truly count.

The mental image of Castor attempting to wrest some old prostitute into a corset is momentarily too much for Cricket to process with total dignity and she struggles to maintain her composure, wanting nothing more than to throw her head back and burst into gales of laughter. This action might, however, be misconstrued as disrespectful and so she wars for control over her sense of mirth, tamping it down and ensuring it /stays/ down before venturing to speak. The words she weighs next are enough to sober her quickly, driving any impulse towards laughter far from her mind as she drops her gaze to the floor. "I was out after dark alone," the girl says slowly, this time too ashamed of herself to even try and glance her friend's way, "I have my ways of escaping notice, as I'm sure you are both aware." Damnable restlesness — it will only bring her trouble. "After an hour of skulking about, I found poachers on our property… quite by accident, really. They did not take kindly to being told to leave. Now they're rotting somewhere for their efforts."

"Excellent," Katarina says after Cricket speaks. "Did you divest them of all weapons, clothing and gear?" she wonders, "always be sure to take everything including any coin. The coin in their purse will tell us where they've been, and the clothing will tell us if they were just regular poachers or something more than that. Check their boots as well," she adds. "A lot of people will change everything but their boots, after all, who gives up a comfortable bit of well worn, broken in, boots. Did you secure their attire and such before you joined us?"

"And you also made sure to secure some of their blood to offer as sacrifice to the vineyards for your good fortune?" Paule reminds, a small almost approving smile pulling at his features before he glances towards Alek. "And your role in this?"

Ever stoic, dutiful Alek notes simply,"Their effects, in full are stoyed, in her room waiting to be reviewed for such details," whether she put them or not may be of question. But they are there none the less. He continues on,"The proper blood sacrifce was delivered to the vineyards, and the bog-crocs were thankful as well for their dinner." Cricket is simply given a look, fighting a war, killing Corsairs was easier than his current duties to Coriaria. Ice blue eyes look to Paule and he simply offers,"My duties are well served, and you have hare for tmorrow and soon new fur to line your boots, my Lord."

"Alek has a steady brain between his ears," Cricket offers in support, "He saw to everything while I was busy worrying about what story to concoct for when I got back late, should I be caught in the act of doing so. Unfortunately — or fortuitously, perhaps — you summoned me just as I managed to return. I'm sorry I lied. I won't do it again." And she means that, just as she means never to put her friend in such an awkward position again. It isn't fair that he should have to lie to save her cowardly hide from a reprimand. "And I would like to apologize to you, as well, Alek. It was unfair of me to press you into secrecy."

"Cricket." Paule sighs and runs a hand through his hair as he looks to his daughter. "You're no longer twelve years old and having to hide the fact that you let some boy look at your naughty bits while you were at play in the springs." he says finally. "You're a grown woman, and the heir of the land. We have to trust you just as you have to trust us. Just as your guard must trust you and you him." he points out. And as far as a reprimand goes, that's it.

Katarina sighs at Paule, "I think she was fine until you said 'naughty bits'," she comments in a quiet aside to Paule before she walks over and hugs Cricket. "You did a good job, you did exactly what you were supposed to do. You protected your land, your family, your people. You put yourself in reasonable danger and Sir Alek was there to guard you just in case. You did exactly as you should have."

… and she /was/ fine, actually, until her unmentionables were brought into the conversation. "I — really, my lord. In front of Alek?" This time, however, Cricket doesn't blush at her father's salty language. She merely considers that this turnabout is only fair, given her previous fibbing. Returning Katarina's embrace, she sucks in a sigh. "Thank you, Mother. And…" she steps back to consider Paule and Alek "Thank you, Father. And you, Alek. You three and Cas and Fox are everything to me. I will always keep my duties to you in mind… no matter how much I should like to get up to mischief in their stead."

When Cricket gives Paule what has to be a LOOK, Katarina mirrors the look and aims the LOOK in Paule's direction at the exact same time. She commiserates with her daughter, head to toe, for a moment, even shaking her head at Paule as well. "Really Paule," she is saying, her words blurring with Cricket's for a moment. "There are some things that we just don't actually need to say to get the point across," is added, in a quieter undertone. She knows the humor in Paule, shares it about 99.99% of the time. But seeing the blush on Cricket's face gives her a flash of insight.

"Now that you have seen where the money of our Barony goes, I want you to understand this." Paule says levelly, finally. "If we had to close our borders tomorrow and isolate ourselves, we have more than enough in our treasury to continue to pay our normal salaries for up to 18 months." the Baron points out. "At half-salary, it can be stretched out." he comments as he looks between the others. "I do everything for a reason. I know it does not make us popular, and perhaps when I am done with my turn, and it is your turn, you can relax the standard." The twin looks would be effective if Paule had any form of regret, but.

Rule 6: Never say you're sorry. It's a sign of weakness.

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