It's late afternoon, still light, as Julen comes walking, slowly, down the front path. With staff in one hand, basket on her arm, she limps up onto the porch, bypasses the bicycle wheel, and, with no measurable sign of hesitation, knocks on the front door.
This is Julen. She's in her late 50s, it seems, and looks to be someone who's spent that life well and happily, with lines creasing her face, and laugh lines crinkled about her eyes. Her hair is dark, with considerable amounts of salt mixed in, and it's short. Her eyes are grey-green, and her face is handsome, not pretty. She's a little too stubborn and square faced for most people to call her that. She's not thin, but she's also not stout, and when she lifts things, her muscles show in the strain. She's about 5'9", and limps when she gets tired.
She's a woman who commands, if not attention, at least the eye. She's not excessively tall, although she occasionally appears to be so, nor is she excessively riveting, but there's something about her, a strange grace to strong hands, an odd light in her eyes. There's an energy in her step and a purpose to her movements, certainly, and somehow, she just draws the eye even when she's not trying to.
She wears rough linen pants, dyed dark blue, and a softly multicolored fine linen shirt. Sandals are on her feet, and she tends to carry a staff around, mostly for hiking places with.
There is a long, long, silence before the faint sound of shuffling footsteps makes itself heard. With a creak, the front door of the Willows is pulled open a crack. One withered and rather horrible-looking hand emerges around the edge of the door, clinging to the wood warily. One eye and a mess of tangled white hair appear in the gap. "Well?" rasps Miss Alison.
Straggling white hair, full of tangles and rats'-nests, frames a face wrinkled tight by frown lines around the mouth. She is gaunt, with hands like bird claws, draped in a threadbare, torn black dress with grease stains all down the front. Nearly bent double with her stoop and with a dowager's hump on her back, all she needs are warts to supply the last remaining cliche. However, the warts are absent; still, the nasty glitter in her eyes more than makes up for the lack. Around her neck hang strange objects on strings - a withered root like a tiny hand (surely that's a root), a very dirty bag, a cracked quizzing glass, and a gray stone with a hole in it. A gold chain also hangs about her neck, but if there is a pendant on it, it is hidden in her dress.
This is a woman who commands attention, as well as her people. But she stands, letting her age take over for just the moment, head slightly bowed. She offers the basket over silently; there are candles, a surprising amount of chocolate, several pieces of intricately woven stained glass, and a small knife. After a moment, she says, "I am Julen. I doubt you care specifically who I am, but I admit that I am here to beg a request of you."
Julen pages: The knife's actually a talen. Though I don't know that talens work for non-Groo, but hey.
You paged Julen with 'It's got Juju in it; that's all that matters.'.
Miss Alison opens the door a little further, staring hard at Julen, then at the basket filled with seemingly - but probably not - random things. Wordlessly, she stretches out her knotted hand for the handle of the basket.
Julen hands over the basket silently. She does not return Miss Alison's stare.
The old woman paws through the contents of the basket for a few long moments, finally dismissing them with a sniff. Julen might notice that her fingers linger longest on the knife, however. She looks up at the other woman, her eyes narrow. "What d'you want?"
Julen explains, quietly, without excessive expansion, "The Caern needs to be hid. The spirits say you did it, for Glitters. For over a century. What could we give you, or do for you, that you would do it again?"
Miss Alison looks at Julen for a long moment. "Come in," she says, and steps back from the door. Her tone is somewhat challenging.
You turn the stiff brass handle and push the heavy door open with a loud creak, stepping inside The Willows.
Front Hall, The Willows
The faded oriental rug was once worked in brilliant reds and blues, but the elaborate pattern is now hidden under what looks like centuries of dirt and dust. Huge urns stand on either side of the heavy oak front door, and an archway on the left (south) as one comes in the front door opens into the best parlor, and beyond that, the old dining room. On the right from the front door (north), a double doorway is firmly shut. Just ahead, there is a sweeping staircase leading up, the heavy wooden balustrade elaborately carved with wreaths of willow leaves, and the treads of the stairs deep in dusty carpet. Instead of a newel post, the end of the balustrade is adorned with a marble carving of a woman draped over an urn. Beyond the stair, the hall narrows and becomes wooden-floored, no longer carpeted.
Staircase Up Morning Room Back Hall Best Parlor Front Door
There is, again, no hesitation from Julen, who limps inside, waiting at one of the urns for Miss Alison to shut the door. She has, apparently, decided that exessive speech is to be entirely avoided, since she speaks not a word of thanks, just inclines her head.
Folding her arms, Miss Alison again favors Julen with a long and harsh stare. "That depends," she says finally. "What d'you want it hid from? For how long? And how /well/?"
Julen stays where she is, by the urn. She doesn't lean on her staff. Indeed, she seems not to notice it at all, at the moment. "The Hive, and its spirits. Since we hope to deal with the Hive sooner rather than later, nothing like as long as you did before. And that last is a hard question, in a way. I'd like it hid well enough so those wanting to do it harm won't find it."
"Wantin' to do it harm," mutters Miss Alison, musingly. "I could do that. And that damn hive's..." she cuts off her mumbling with a sharp look at Julen, as if she'd caught the other woman eavesdropping. "It won't be cheap," she snaps.
Julen is not, it seems, listening overly intently to what Miss Alison says, since she seems not to be concentrating on what the other woman is saying until after she starts in on her last sentence. Though from the grip on her staff, she might well have been listening in any case. "And what do you ask of us?"
Miss Alison stares past Julen at the urn for a moment, then turns and stares at the other urn. "A piano," she says finally. "A grand piano. Black. Real ivory keys. /In/ /tune/." Her tone is very final, making it clear that this is a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
The Sentinel blinks. A moment later, she says, hand tightening on her staff as if only now noticing it, she asks, "By when would you like delivery?"
"Piano first," says Miss Alison inflexibly. "Then you'll get your caern hid."
There's a long silence. With only the slight tinge of apology in her voice, Julen asks, "If I were to offer, perhaps, my staff. Would you be willing to hide the Caern before the delivery of a piano?"
"No," says Miss Alison.
This, Julen seems willing to persist on, although faintly diffidently. "I imagine you already know it, but it /is/ magical. And it /has/ been mine for my entire life. Is there anything /else/ I could get, in addition to the piano, or is it that payment is necessary, before you expend your efforts?"
Miss Alison narrows her eyes again. "When do you want it done?"
Julen explains, "There are ghosts in our Wards, hiding us. This is useful, but they have the disadvantage of being totally insane. I hope to have them escorted to their final resting place soon. But, once the ghosts are gone, the Caern would be vulnerable. I would beg your aid once the ghosts have left; if that is before the piano arrives, I... would know what you would require."
Miss Alison stares at the front door of the house. "A string of pearls. And a hair from the tail of the unicorn for every day before the piano arrives."
Julen narrows her eyes and studies the urn. "If the piano is not here before you hide the Caern." This is said in a clarifacatory manner, not challengingly.
"Yes," says Miss Alison flatly. "That's the price. And if the piano don't show up before the snow flies..."
Julen finishes, "Deal's off?"
Miss Alison nods, grimly. "And I don't take kindly to those that trifle with me."
There is the barest hint of a smile as Julen says, "Yes. I noticed." She studies the woman full on for the first time, and then curtsies, a full curtsey, not at all mocking. Once she is at her full height again, she says, "My thanks. I accept the terms."
Miss Alison nods again, and jerks her head sideways at the door.