A weathered, splintering sign, once painted white with black lettering,
faces northbound travellers and proclaims, "WELCOME TO THE TOWNSHIP OF."
The name below this has been effaced at some point in the sign's history, but circumstances and age have removed part of this impromptu paint job, revealing the faded word, "Vienna."
There is something about Josh that makes him look older than he actually is. The area around his eyes has a touch of darkness to them, made even more prominent by the sea-green pupils. His white-blond hair is starting to become unkempt, hanging to just below his ears on a smudges, though clean-shaven, face.
His clothes are rumpled, the bottom edges of his blue jeans and black sneakers showing more than the standard amount of road dust. The woven leather belt he wears is unraveled at the end, and a bit of white t-shirt is not tucked into the front of his pants. The white t-shirt is covered by a denim jacket, which is fading at the elbows. He carries a battered backpack over his left shoulder, and a crossbow hangs off of hsi belt on his right side, the left holding the bolt case.)
Josh is coming out of the woods, himself. He seems to be in good spirits, most likely due to the pair of rabbits slung over his shouler.
Slightly built and not tall, this young man is far from an imposing figure. His sleek black hair trails across the nape of his neck and falls across his eyes. Eyebrows like quizzical caret marks, long lashes and dark eyes, a narrow-bridged nose and a thin but expressive mouth all lend a sharpness to the youth's pale face, and great mobility of expression. His hands are long-fingered and slender, the deft instruments of a surgeon or a card sharp.
He generally wears a long black coat with many pockets, and carries a fairly new, olive-green courier bag slung across his shoulders, along with a long, narrow bundle wrapped in black. Today he is wearing a burgandy blouse with ties all down the front, gray trousers, and a white silk scarf hung loosely around his neck. Over this, his black coat hangs open, managing to drape and billow attractively in a way which should be impossible, given the bulk of its many well-stuffed pockets. He is clean and clean-shaven, his hair is combed, and he is accompanied by the faintest scent of sandalwood.
His French accent is inconsistent, but it is never entirely absent nor ever so strong as to obscure what he is saying.)
Gerard is coming up the road, hands plunged into pockets, gray cap pulled down over his brow. He has the steady, utilitarian stride of someone who has been walking for some time, for the purpose of covering distance, not for any frivolous enjoyment. This stride is completely broken when he sees Josh, as the young man's body seizes for a moment, rather as the rabbits' may have done. "Merci Dieu," he says, perhaps not meaning to speak aloud. "Does everyone in zis town trail the corpses of small animals?"
Josh is caught in his tracks as he hears that, and comes to a slow stop. "I'm not sure what you mean," he says, ever the polite one. "This is just lunch, is all." He shrugs a shoulder, to get a better handle on the backpack which threatens to slip.
Gerard blushes faintly and inclines his head. "I beg your pardon, m'sieur. I was merely startled by your prowess. Do you live in zis town?"
"Just outside of it," the young man admits. "But I'm here often enough." He has just enough pride so that the 'prowess' comment so has his attention. As he tilts his head to the side to regard the man, he asks, "Are you lost?"
"Alas, no," Gerard says with a smile that distracts one from examining this response to closely. "Although I do not know where I am going. Do you know, perhaps where I might find a very large man, with a dog, a horse, and a forge? I regret that I do not know his name."
Josh purses his lips. "Actually, I think I might know who you mean. He's around the farm over yonder, most of the time." He indicates a path up the dirt road.
Gerard's peaked eyebrows rise. "Vraiment? So I need not actually go into ze town at all? Bien. Alors...perhaps you are going that way yourself?"
Josh thinks on that, remembers that he has food with him that will raise a stink in a while. "Not right now. But I can guide you there, if you want."
"That would be most kind," the young Frenchman says with a half-bow that makes the bundle on his back clink and shift.
New Moon Farm, Front Circle
You are standing underneath the spreading branches of an oak tree which is probably at least two hundred years old. Around the tree are several half-earthed houses, with stone and glass fronts and roofs of green turf. Beside front doors, roses, morning-glories, wisteria, and grapevines are all planted, and more plants can be seen through the wide front windows of each cottage. Dogs sleep peacefully in the shade or bounce up to inspect any arrivals, and cats stalk gracefully by on their own business. Off in the distance, you can see the edges of planted fields, a duckpond, and fenced grazing land. (there are views here)
Arslag is lounging comfortably in a pile of old sacking and blankets that have been arranged in a concave piece of scrap steel. Lucas has carried the dog and the bed out all together to catch some of the winter sun -- it's actually almost balmy here out of the wind. Lucas himself sits on a stump nearby, carving a piece of wood with what Sunny's experienced eye might recognize as a hoof trimming knife.
Sunshine stops on her way between barn and house. "Hello, Lucas. How is your shoulder," she asks, "and how are you, Arslag?" She crouches down and strokes Arslag's head, fondling the dog's ears.
The dog's tail thumps rhythmically into the bedding and he stretches his neck to get his head under Sunshine's hands all the quicker -- he doesn't try to rise, though.
Sunshine looks up at Lucas as she runs her hand along the dog's body. Her skirts, spread out around her on the thin snow, are probably getting wet, but she doesn't seem to mind at all.
"He's been good. He'll be glad to be running again, though, that's certain," the smith answers. "Shoulder's fine, too, thanks."
Josh is leading someone up the trail, in some vague direction towards the farm. He turns around. "What is in your pack," he asks, and readjusts the two rabbit lunches-to-be over his shoulder.
Lucas sits on a stump, whittling. Arslag relaxes in a dog-bed made out of a curved piece of sheet steel and a lot of old blankets. The dog's ribs are taped.
"You should see the way the farm kids spoil him," Lucas is saying.
Sunshine crouches by Arslag's head, gently stroking the dog's ears. As the others approach, she stands, brushing out her skirts. "I'm glad to hear that your shoulder is well, Lucas," she says quietly. Smiling, she adds, "They're all wonderful with animals."
The young man's eyes widen in surprise at this blunt inquiry. His long-fingered hands tighten around the strap of his bag. "Zis and zat," he says uninformatively. As he walks, is gaze keeps slipping off his guide toward the distant goal of the farm, and it is hard to tell if he looks eager or apprehensive.
Josh leads the man up to the fence, and lets out a whistle to announce their presence.
Lucas looks up and smiles, nodding a greeting at Josh. At the sight of the not-stranger with him, though, the smith rises from his seat and sets his work aside. His brows draw down over his blue eyes, and he brushes off his palms in a way that suggests he's doing more than simply clearing them of wood chips. "You!" he growls. "Ah shouldn't be surprised to see your promise was worth spit, but Ah *am* surprised you had the balls to show your face here again."
Josh hears that. Apparently, the stranger /was/ referring to the Perunka. Well, that's all well and good, and the Kin has enough of a brain to step out of the way. He's not going to be in that path.
Gerard ...recedes, sinking back into his black coat as though this will provide any meaningful distance between himself and those bright blue eyes. "Monsieur," he begins, and then finds himself at a loss for words.
Sunshine arches an eyebrow at Lucas's reaction to the two young men at the gate. "Lucas, what?" she asks quietly, half-expecting that she won't get an answer.
The smith turns to Josh. "What did he steal *this* time?" he queries, the disgust evident in his voice and face. He maintains a deceptively relaxed stance that will allow him to move quickly in nearly any direction, should Gerard bolt. At his feet, Arslag picks up his agitation and begins to whine softly, though more in expectation and excitement than any distress.
Josh's eyebrows lift sharply. "I didn't know he did steal anything," the boy admits. "But, he does have clanky stuff in his backpack."
Sunshine decides that a thief on the premises is more than reason enough to find one of the Farm's Elders. Without a word, she turns and heads for the house, not hurrying, as such, but covering the ground quickly.
Gerard's hands lift of their own accord to wave an urgent denial in the air. "Mais non, m'sieur, it is not like that, I assure you--" Dark eyes flash in alarm at Josh's contribution. "I return with only questions--your expertise--I can pay--" Somewhere in the depths of Gerard's being, there is quite a lot of suavity. None of it is coming to his help at the moment.
Josh leans against the fence. Oh, this should be interesting.
It is Lucas' turn to raise an eyebrow. "Pay? With whose money, exactly?" he drawls, his midwestern vowels sounding particularly clipped just now. His eyes hold Gerard's in a vice grip.
Flustered, Gerard pushes his hair out of his eyes. "No one's--that is to say, my own..." A spark of impatience pushes back against that accusing gaze. "If monsieur thinks I keep my coins labeled, oh, zis from the sings I find and sell from Drowned Manhattan, zis from ze errand I ran for zat pretty widow, oh, and zis coin here I steal from a child on a street-corner, so I be sure not to give you zat one--" He grimaces. "I pay you how you like. I wash your dishes, if zat is what you require."
Josh just watches this, imagining the horseshoe-shaped imprint that could conceivably be on Gerard's head within the next few minutes.
Her staff in one hand, a bag over one shoulder, Julen comes limping down the lane, pausing when she sees this newcomer.
The smith's belligerant posture softens somewhat, as old anger gets mixed with new curiosity about the thief's apparently urgent errand. He takes another stride forward, until he towers directly over Gerard. "Well? What is it that's so be-nighted important?"
Gerard manages not to bolt. He pulls the long, thin bundle off his back, and holds it out to Lucas in hands that are not quite steady. "You ask me about these," he says, still not having regained full use of the past tense. "Now, I ask you."
Julen leans on her staff, some distance away, and watches. She appears more than somewhat surprised at Lucas' attitude.
Lucas' eyes widen at the bundle so thrust at him, and he snorts in surprise. Then recognition dawns and his eyes narrow. After a pause, during which he makes no move to touch or take the bundle, he rumbles, "You'll have to tell me where you got them."
Josh gets up on his toes. What is in there, anyway?
"Lisbon," Gerard says tensely. "Under a dead man's bed."
"Who's bed?" Lucas fires back, with barely a heartbeat between.
"How should I know?" Gerard demands, bewildered. "He was rich, and dead, and he had been very rude to me ze day before."
Julen's expression, slowly, changes. Evidently, she can, perhaps, understand Lucas' reaction /quite/ well, now.
The smith folds his arms across his chest, his massive biceps making the leather of his overcoat creak. "Explain."
Gerard finally cannot support the weight of the bundle any longer and dumps it unceremoniously on the ground. He takes off his cap and stuffs it into a pocket of his coat, eying the smith with defensive exasperation. "Monsieur, what more is there to say? He was rude. He died. I explored his house. Zere were swords - seven, but two were too heavy. I took them. Que voulez-vous? They looked valuable!"
Quietly, but quite audibly, Julen says, "I perhaps think he wonders if you killed this rude gentleman, you see."
Josh tilts his head to the side, way curious now. "What kind of swords?'
Gerard's whole body jerks with surprise at Julen's voice. His head whips around, eyes wide, focusing on the new arrival for the first time. "Moi?" He says incredulously. "I kill him? Mais non--I have never--monsieur, you do not sink I--" Panic jumbles his words.
Lucas expells a short snort of a sigh and gives his head a shake. "No, funnily enough, Ah don't," he says, and there's notably less aggression in his demeanor. "Ah *do* need to know everything *you* know about the guy who owned these, though. Everything besides just 'he's rude'." Lucas half-turns and squats to reassure the dog, still crouched obediently in it's makeshift bed.
Julen's eyes narrow as she watches the young thief.
Josh turns to smile at the dog, ignoring the irony of the Frenchman calling anyone 'rude.'
Relief washes visibly over Gerard and he sags again, but relief suits him, and, as he begins to believe himself free from immediate danger of bodily injury or arrest for murder, some of his native charm reasserts itself. He smiles wryly at Lucas and slips his hands back into his pockets, with a very French shrug. "Alas, m'sieur, that is almost the sum of what I know. I had been in the city only two days. Ze gentleman in question was so kind as to have my performance cleared from a street corner by his servants. Ze next day, I hear he has died of ze heart attack. I think, 'Zis is lucky,' and let myself in. He has a beautiful house, and was said to be one of ze richest men in ze city alzough..." Gerard's lips lift in an almost angelic smile, "From what I see of his bills, zis may not have been strictly true."
Lucas nods, listening in silence, then, "and these were under his *bed*?" He jerks his chin at the bundle in the snow.
Josh listens to the story, and shakes his head, mostly to himself as he walks down the path. He has lunch to cook, and figures he should do that now. He nods to the Adren once before he goes.
Lucas looks at the bundle on the snow, then over his shoulder at the barn, then cocks his head up at the bright sky. Evidently deciding the light is more suitable out here, he drags the bundle over and begins to carefully unwrap it. "What city was this?" he asks.
"Lisbon," Gerard says, inching closer to watch. "Zere were seven there, but I only took five."
"Lisbon?" The smith queries absently as the first of the blades is revealed. "Ah'd have thought you'd've sold the things. Why haul 'em all this way?"
The five swords, jumbled together with neither sheathes nor respect, gleam against the black fabric. Each is a different style, each from a different country or century. They look new, unmarred, some of them simple and elegant, some richly ornamented, one or two even jeweled. All together, they look more like a careless fistful of jewelry than five individual killing tools.
Gerard draws a breath that hisses through his teeth. "I /can't/," he says, and the words have the force of a curse. "Vraiment, I have tried. Zey...do not permit themselves to be sold. Or given. Or left behind in a ditch." His eyes narrow as he looks down at the blades with a mixture of fascination and untold resentment. "Two /years/," he adds with an undercurrent of rage.
Lucas' eyes widen, and he gives a low, appreciative whistle at the sight of the exquisite weapons.
Gerard shifts his attention from the swords to the smith. "They are valuable, zen?" he asks.
Julen's eyes narrow still further, and then she shakes her head, as if to clear it. "In undoubtedly fairly unique ways, if they behave like that. I do not think many would buy them, however."
At Gerard's explanation, Lucas looks up in something approaching concern, then back down at the blades, brow furrowed. "Huh," he says. "Well, Ah can't say it doesn't serve you right," he observes. "Ah mean, for all you know, your dead guy maya been a mage or something." To the young thief's question, he shakes his head. "They're pretty, and at a glance, they look like nice pieces," he says. "But you c'n hardly call 'em 'valuable' if you can't use 'em *or* sell 'em, can you?" He actually grins at that, apparently delighted to see the the rogue hoist on his own petard.
Gerard's mouth tightens. "Tres amusant, monsieur." He nudges the cloth wrapping with his foot. "No one said he was a mage. And why would he spell his swords to stay with a--with someone who found zem? Why not make it so I could not take zem at all? If zey are loyal to him, zey should hate me, not--" He shrugs again.
"Maybe they were under his bed because *he* couldn't get rid of 'em," Lucas points out with some relish. "Maybe he was stuck with'em until he *died*. Has anyone ever tried to steal them from *you*?" he asks.
Gerard's eyes slide away to one side. "It took a leetle encouragement, but yes, someone tried."
There's a soft snort from Lucas at that. "Well." He rolls the bundle back up. "I can take a closer look at them, but you'll have to leave them with me for a few days. Maybe longer, depending on what kind of research I have to do." Lucas stands, brushing off his trousers, and begins to haul open the barn door. Arslag's tail thumps against the bedding -- he at least seems ready to go back into the comparative warmth of the barn.
"No--!" Gerard blurts out. "Monsieur, I regret, but zat is not possible. I--perhaps I come back with them again, tomorrow? Or whenever you like."
At the door, Lucas turns, brows arched. "Why not? Ah can't steal 'em even if I wanted to, you say."
Gerard shakes his head urgently. "Monsieur has misunderstood. If I could leave them--Ze man who stole zem from me lost his foot and nearly died. I, myself, have--c'est impossible, m'sieur. You or I or probably both, we would have regrets. /Painful/ regrets."
Lucas' brows sweep down again. "So they ain't just annoying -- they're murderous? 'Zat what you're sayin'?"
Gerard lifts his hands, helpless. "Zey are...determined. Zey always come back. One way or another. Every time I find someone, I unwrap them, I think, 'Maybe zis time, maybe zis is the right one.' But before long I know, no, zis is not the right one, zis is no good. And if I persist, enfin, it is always bad. I have enough scars now, I do not want to try again."
Lucas pulls the barn door shut again, to keep the heat in while the discussion he thought was over continues. Arslag looks slightly crestfallen. "But you don't have to take 'em to the crapper with you, right?" the smith asks.
"I'm sorry?" Gerard asks, taken off guard by this idiom.
Lucas puts one blocky fist on a hip. "You don't use the necessary with those strapped to your back, do you? If you're stayin' at an inn, can you leave 'em in your room, or do you *always* have't carry 'em with you everywhere?"
Gerard hesitates. "I do not leave ze inn wissout them. And when I sleep, I have zem. Ozerwise..." He shrugs uncomfortably. "Zey are all in my dreams anyway, but ze dreams are...c'est pas amusant. Even if ze swords are safe. It is better zis way."
Lucas shakes his head. "These aren't just your garden variety plus-two swords-of-sharpness," he says, with a note of certainty in his low voice. "Ah can't just stare at 'em for an hour or two and expect to know what's goin' on, and Ah sure as hell ain't gonna do a half-assed scry job on something that might try an' kill me." He crosses his arms. "You want 'em looked at, Ah need 'em to hold still here for a few days. If you gotta stay with 'em, well, then I guess you're roomin' with me." Lucas smiles a smile of grim relish. "Else you can take 'em and get out. 'Fore somebody lets Rowan an' Kelsey know yer here."
Gerard darts an involuntary glance over his shoulder, as though expecting to see Rowan and Kelsey invoked by their names. "You want me...to stay? Wiss you?" he asks incredulously.
Julen offers, mildly, "I could do that. Eventually. After awhile."
Gerard pages the room: He admires my swords and then he invites me to stay the night. Woo!
Lucas paged the room: '"Tha's mighty fahn SWORD yah got thar, boy!'.
Lucas paged the room: 'wait til Gerard finds out what his room and board is gonna cost him! ;)'.
Gerard pages the room: Only in his dreams. :)
Gerard eyes Julen with a touch of fear.
You paged the room: 'Only if he dreams of shoveling horse patootie and toting bales ;).'.
Gerard pages the room: Well, we've already seen that he's not thrilled by most of his dreams. :)
Julen adds, "Once Lucas has things sorted out."
You paged the room: 'horseshit may be an improvement.'.
"No." Lucas seems very firm on that point. "Ah don't want you t'stay, with me or otherwise. Ah've got better things to do than make sure you keep yer mitts off other people's stuff while you're here. But if you want me to look at them blades, looks like that's the way it's gotta be." He regards the young thief cooly. "So what you gonna do?"
Gerard eyes Lucas uncertainly for a long moment, and then his expression breaks into a smile of surpassing sweetness. "Monsieur is so gracious, he makes it difficult to refuse." He kneels down in the snow and gathers the swords up into their bundle. "As this most beautiful countriside has no proper inns, I accept. You may name your price." He stands up, slipping the bundle over his shoulder again, the movement so habitual now as to be completely unthinking. "I may perhaps not agree to it," he adds, as an afterthought. He gestures toward the door, doing his best to ignore Julen's disquieting presence altogether. "Apres vous, m'sieur."
Julen murmurs, "Lucas, I will be back in a day or so. To catch up on news, as well as to fix my equipment," and limps back the way she came.
Lucas ignores the "After you" and turns instead to Julen. "If these things are nasty, Ah may need an extra pair of hands later," he says quietly. "S'alright if Ah send for you if Ah do?"
Julen turns around, quickly. "Of course. I'm always willing to help -- I /assumed/ you would ask, had you need."
Lucas nods and smiles, pleased. As Julen resumes her exit, he gathers up his forgotten carving, then stoops to gather up the dog bed, dog and all. He then waits for his new houseguest to get the door.
Gerard slides forward and opens the door with a small bow. Surprisingly, given his paucity of social graces in some other settings, he makes a good guest, unobtrusive and accomodating. One may guess that he has spent enough time living on the favors of others that he has developed some skill at it. He gives the injured dog a wide berth, however, and the dog's master not much less so.
Julen limps off, bag jingling slightly.