The Smell of Sulphur in the Morning

The Smell of Sulphur in the Morning
Summary: Baroness Coriaria Westmark is experimenting in her laboratory when her brother, Castor, returns from a ride in the Fens. Princess Niniane, a guest of their House, finally has a chance to catch up with both twins — and Cerberus (Castor's immense boghound) brings back a trophy from the swamps…
Date: 19/October/2013
Related: None
Castor Coriaria Niniane 

Courtyard, Elkmound Keep, Sipdon
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.

19th October, 1329


The sun has already lifted its sleepy head over the horizon, and the warm rays of light pierce the fog enshrouding Elkmound Keep (and the surrounding lands) like shiny needles in a pincushion. Carts and wagons transport shipments of foodstuffs up from the wide river to the Keep, and the town of Sipdon itself — and the morning patrols of soldiers make their rounds in silence, ever vigilant.

For all intents and purposes, morning at Elkmound Keep is pleasant and welcome — if a little humid.

But not for everyone.

"BORNAS' BALLS!" a young lordling exclaims as soon as he passes through the heavy gates into the Courtyard. The lordling in question is tall, dark-haired, boyishly handsome — and soaking wet. He rides upon a handsome, blue-roan stallion, and a massive, shaggy-haired boghound trails happily behind him. The hound carries a massive bone of some kind in its mouth. The lordling in question…

… is Castor Westmark.

He immediately crosses the courtyard on horseback, dismounts — with a squelch of sodden boots — and walks past the central fountain, through the willow trees and hands the horse to a stableboy.

"BORNAS' BLUE, BOUNCING BALLS!!" he exclaims again, shaking his head and sending flecks of water all over the place.

A trill of laugher comes from the far corner of the courtyard. Under the shade of the keep Niniane has situated herself with a book open on her lap. The book however is since forgotten as she covers her mouth and the woman's shoulder's shake with her laughter.

Despite her late evenings she seems bright and cheery in the morning, not a blonde hair out of place, "Is that anyway to speak around a lady Lord Castor? Though I think you might be forgiven given your state." Green eyes trail up and down the dark haired youth as she shakes her head, a small tsking noise emitting from the princess.

Placing the book down she rises from the seat, folding her hand across her front, "Do I dare ask what you have been up to?"



Somewhere, a small explosion.

In so many words: just another day at Elkmound Keep. No sooner has Castor entered the loving embrace of his childhood home, however, than said home seems to wish him gone, the ground beneath his feet vibrating as if in warning.

It's just Cricket and another one of her experiments, the expensive shards of lead-glass smashing onto the paving-stones below marking it as a costly one. An acrid smoke wafts from the offended window, followed in short order by a shout or two from the Lady of the Keep herself. Poking her soot-covered face out of the window to survey the damage below, Coriaria tries to make a placating gesture to the visibly consternated guards below. "No need for worries, I assure you. The damage is exceedingly minimal and… there will be no more experiments today."

Castor swivels on the ball of his foot to reply to Niniane, only to 'duck and cover' when the explosion hits his eardrums like pebbles from a slingshot. Half-crouching, half-reaching for his dagger — just in case — the young lord slowly rises to his feet and glances accusingly up at the window from which his sister is peering.

"Now, thank the Blessed Hides of the Four, my day is complete — and it is barely morning! Hullo, Sister! Ah, do you not love the smell of sulphur in the morning?" The lad sighs, turns his attention back to the Princess, Niniane, and offers a helpless shrug of his soaked shoulders.

"'Tis nothing, Your Worship — Cerberus saw something he just had to have, and he was kind enough to 'volunteer' me to retrieve it for him. In the middle of a giant, stinking puddle. A giant. Stinking. 7-foot deep. Puddle. You can see how happy he is — with his prized bone."

He sighs, and rakes a hand through hair that looks like a wet mop. On a 'bad-mop day'. "And how was your morning, Your Highness?"

The thought to duck and cover causes Niniane to ungraciously put one arm in front of her face and the other reaches into the sleeve of her gown, "Bloody Bornas balls indeed." She says a little to loudly as she looks up to Coriaria, "Why exactly are you trying to kill yourself Baroness?" The elder woman says and shakes her head up towards the soot covered girl.

"My morning, he asks? Well better than yours apparently." Niniane sighs, relaxing her posture once again as she slips her hand out of her sleeve, leaving the hidden knife alone for now, "Better than your sister's I think, or worse I can never tell with her."

"Hullo yourself, Brother! You look as if you've been friendly with the arse of a… oh!" Catching sight of her cousin trying to have a moment of respite in the courtyard, she curtails her colourful language and opts for something much more ladylike. "Princess! Apologies, I did not know you were down there, or I would have…moved my ambitions elsewhere. I was awake much of the night preparing the compounds, and as I'd been waiting weeks for the moon to be in the correct phase, I simply had to do the experiment in the early hours. Please, allow me to get cleaned up, and I'll join you shortly." She ducks away from the window, out of sight for a few minutes while she washes her face and hands, trying in vain to scrub the stubborn grime from beneath her fingernails and running a comb through her unruly dark mane lest the servants mistake her for a bog-wraith come to steal their souls.

Ere long, she's composed herself rather admirably, her attire clean and something other than dirty work boots on her feet. It's a socially-appropriate Coriaria that dismounts the steps and approaches Niniane and Castor. "I'm so happy to see you both this fine morning," she says cheerily, as if she hadn't just blown up half her study, "Are you hungry?"

"Keeping up appearances, eh, Polly!" Castor calls up with a grin at his sister. Then he glances between the princess and Cricket as the latter ducks inside, and Cas walks toward the centre of the mist-wreathed courtyard. The towers at each of the corners of the walls disappear up into the fog, completely enveloped by it. The young Westmark lord starts removing his satchel (soaked), cloak (also soaked) and leather jerkin (also soaked), and handing each article of clothing to a nearby servant.

Cerberus, happy as ever, sits gnawing on the strange bone he has found — glancing upward only to grin, tongue lolling out in self-satisfaction, at the two girls. "Traitor," Castor mutters under his breath at the dog.

He offers a slightly sardonic bow to Niniane, and then waves in Cricket's direction. "You know how it is, Nin," he remarks loudly enough for his approaching twin to hear. "You go away for a while, and then discover some things change, while others stay the same. The Baroness merely moved the location of her laboratory, after the last — ah. For the view. She moved it for the view. And the ventilation. More windows than the basement. For the smoke — I mean, air."

He frowns at himself in disbelief. Then he shakes his head. "Why am I talking like a drunken tavern-maid?" he asks aloud, without meaning to.

"The arse of a what?" Niniane asks as the now cleaned Cori approaches, "I really was hoping to hear a good insult for your brother." She winks to the younger woman and clears her throat, "I mean good morning Baroness Coriaria, I see you have been busy. Something to break this fast of mine sounds lovely."

An eyebrow is raised to Castor as she watches him a moment peel of the wet garments. A shake of her head breaks her revelry and the princess looks to his sister again, "Should I be afraid he speaks to himself this often?" She asks with a slight grin touching the corners of her lips, "However yes, I am quite sure you know what you are doing Baroness, so I need not worry for my safety."

She snorts in spite of herself, enjoying Niniane's good humour and genuinely glad to have her cousin and her own twin all under the same roof as she. "Oh, I have a fair deal of those, Highness," Cricket winks as Nin mentions insults, "But that is talk for later, when we are at our needlework. It's no fun if Cas is around to hear everything. Then he'll just have a ready reply, and it would rob us the fun of seeing him scramble to come up with clever back-talk. As to whether you should be afraid of his habit of talking to himself, I'd wager not. It's a Westmark trait, you see. We problem-solve in this manner more often than not." She smiles sunnily at her cousin, chucks her brother on his shoulder, and indicates the warmer environs of the Keep's living spaces, easily accessible by the stairway she'd just taken. "I propose we take ourselves inside, so that my adventure-loving brother can rid himself of bog-smell, and Cerberus…" she trails off, rubbing the fen-hound behind the ears with great affection, "… and Cerberus may join us once he's submitted to a bath. Sorry, old friend, but the floors have been freshly sanded and scrubbed. No great, muddy paw-prints this time."

"Some of the soldiers and townsfolk say bathing makes a man weak," Castor retorts to his twin — only to lower his gaze in mirthful contrition and grin. "'Tis a good thing I know 'tis not so." He motions to both ladies, his cheeks colouring just a little as he glances at Niniane, and he sits down on a curved, stone bench to start pulling off his wet boots.

The youth's fingers flicker ever so slightly, as he puts his boots on the ground, within line of sight of Coriaria. "Found something in the Fens," he signs to her minutely. "Talk later."

"Go on ahead," he tells both Niniane and Cricket, with his voice raised a little. "I will catch up." The servant picks up the discarded clothing and carries them into the Keep through one of the servant-entrances in the side. Castor stands up again, and slowly makes his way to the main doors, dripping a little bog-water on the ground.

"Fresh attire awaits you in the ante-chamber, milord," another servant declares as the doors are opened for the nobles to enter.

"Well I would hope so." Niniane says frankly to Castor's words of bathing and then winks to the boy's sister, "Oh yes you do have a point. I seems to have forgotten my wits today on top of so many other things." She sighs and runs a hand through her flaxen hair, pushing it back from her face as she starts for the doors, completely missing any silent conversation.

Waiting part way through the door for the mistress of this keep Niniane wrings the fabric of her gown in between her hands as she seems to lose some of her previous bravo, the sleepless nights can be seen, etched on her face if someone is really paying attention, "It is always so interesting here, I will be sad to leave," she comments.

Sensing the other woman's unease, Cricket's expression gentles. When Castor leaves to get changed, she places a reassuring hand at the Princess' elbow and guides her indoors, down a corridor at whose terminus a warm library lies, the fire well-stoked and able to banish the lingering chill. "You know you are welcome to stay as long as you wish," she murmurs, pulling out a seat for Nin, "I'm so very glad of your company. Being the Baroness is a lonely business, a thing of ledgers and worries and…" Not wishing to sound ungrateful or morose, she smiles. "Ignore my rambling, dear cousin. It's all a roundabout way of saying that I hope you extend your stay for as long as is possible. If you'll pardon a forward question — are you in need of something to help you sleep? There are a great many preparations at my disposal which would help you rest well."

A yawn passes Niniane's lips as she locks her jaw to try and force it back, failing miserably, "Sleep? What is that good for?" She shakes her head and winks to Cori and nods her head to the servants. Her eyes travel the room for a moment as she considers the younger woman's words, "I would love to stay Cori, and you ought to know that. However…well relations with the south may force me back, things are so…peaceful." Castor's entrance garners the princess' attention as her apple green eyes trace the man's moves. "She is trying that is for sure."

Castor puts his sister down, grinning broadly. "Only if it is a particularly nasty pox, dear sister," he replies with a playful glance sent Niniane's way. Then he catches Coriaria's last comment, and his lips form a smirk. Rueful. Knowing. He takes a small step away from his twin, to allow her to take a seat, and shrugs his shoulders. "We'll find a way — or Cricket will; she's good at that sort of thing. If all else fails, I'll still see you safely home, Nin — and maybe talk with the King, if I can get an audience."

His grin widens.

He looks at Coriaria.

"Feel like another adventure, dear sister? If we must send our good cousin home to the chains of royalty, she should go with a decent escort. Who better than the Shadow — "

"Milord! Milord!" A servant calls from the antechamber behind the three nobles. Castor grimaces. "Aye, Cadmus, what is it?"

"'Tis the faithful Cerberus, milord — rather, that monstrous bone of his — oh! Oh dear. Oh dear!” The middle-aged servant turns beetroot-red and starts wringing his hands. “Forgive my choice of words, my lord and ladies – Your Highness! – I meant something else, I assure —"

Castor throws his head back and laughs merrily, and starts walking toward the door. "Fear not, good Cadmus," he exclaims as he passes. "I am sure both ladies have heard worse. I will be back soon…"

And he disappears outside, still chuckling.

Niniane shakes her head as he watches the male of the twins exit with the servant, "Wait?" She blinks processing a thought and calling after Castor as she lifts her shirt up and starts after the man, "Talk to my father about what?" She asks and shoots a grin over her shoulder to Cori, "I would love your company home cousin, if you can leave for that long. I'll be right back Cricket, I mean Baroness."

Attention back on the brat of a man as it seems to be far too often lately, the blonde says again, "If you are going to talk to the king I insist on joining." Cadmus is given a rueful smirk as she passes him.

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