There is an excited chatter of children's voices coming from around the back of one of the barns. Five or six urchins of varying ages - one or two are no strangers to adolescence - are gathered around in a tight cluster giggling and encouraging each other. At the center, the slight, wiry figure of the visiting boy lifts his hands up for silence, and is, surprisingly, heeded. "Attendez," he calls. "I require silence. One mistake, and zat is all. Finis." This dramatic announcement is met with bated breath and rivetted attention.
Julen is heading down the lane, limping slightly, a basket in one hand, the ever-present staff in the other. She slows as she comes on this gaggle, leaning on her staff with a faint smile and watching.
Whatever the astounding feat is, it has apparently been pulled off with success. A chorus of admiring "ooh"s sounds from the kids. One small voice says, "I bet he just had it in his pocket," but is quickly hushed by the others.
Julen's smile grows, but she doesn't intrude; she just watches, assessing this man, and these children.
"Alors, mes enfants. After somesing so dangerous, I must rest. C'est tout! But--what's zis?" The young man crouches down to the height of the smallest child present, disappearing entirely from view. "Mon Dieu," he says, shocked. "So young, and a thief already? Zere is talent here. But how do you hide these wealth in your ear? Voyez! Here is anozzer...and anozzer! Your ears shall make us all rich." The children are giggling and scrambling amongst each other. As they scrabble on the ground, Gerard slides out from between them and drifts away, still watching them, dark eyes dancing. He is in his shirt-sleeves for once, despite the snow, burgandy shirt billowing against him with the breeze. Some ways away, his ubiquitous black coat, white scarf, and bag are slung over a fencepost, in sight, but out of the way.
Julen chuckles faintly, watching the children. It is perhaps the first obvious noise she's made.
Gerard turns his head at the sound, and, still caught in the pleasure of the moment, simply grins at Julen. His face is bright from the cold and the performance, his hair touseled. He lifts his hand and sketches a salute in the air to the older woman, before turning away to collect his belongings.
The woman raises one hand to wave at him, shrugging slightly out of her coat to do so. "Seen Lucas around at all this morning?"
Gerard turns back, one hand on his coat. He gestures vaguely in the air, a sign which could encompass most of the farm. "Early," he says.
Julen raises her head to look further down the approach to the farm. "Mmm. Unlike me, who was quite the late riser. He say if he'd be doing smithy work in the late afternoon, or is he focusing on your scrying?"
Gerard's eyes slide away from Julen's. "No, madame. I regret, he said nossing to me of his plans." He drapes his scarf around his neck and picks up his coat, waving to one of the children straggling away.
Julen says, "Hm," and impells herself into movement again, heading toward the nearest barn. She pauses, though, after a moment, and asks, "Would you happen to have a name, or is it something you decline to give out?"
Having only just donned his cap, the young Frenchman doffs it now in a courtly bow. "Gerard Luc Delacroix, at your service, madame."
Julen gives him just the slightest bow. "Constance Juliana Brown, but call me Julen. Or, if you should happen to find me in wolf form, The Fire in the Dusk. I imagine you're feeling rather overwhelmed, of late? Is there anything I might do to help?" Discreet and circumspect, she's not.
Delicately peaked eyebrows rise. "To help? Madame is kindness herself." His eyes flicker around the countriside. "Regrettably, I think not. Soon, perhaps, I will be able to return to ze city and cease to be a burden to ze...gracious rural life." The irony in his voice is sheathed, out of courtesy, but not entirely concealed.
If Julen were capable of the word, she would be saying "Piffle," quite firmly. As it is, she's shaking her head. "You are not a burden." She pauses. "Let me amend that. Were you to lift things from the Farm, or Lucas, you would be a burden, but as it is, you are someone in need of aid. If you /think/ of yourself as a burden, then there can be no mutual exchange, is it not so?"
Gerard stares at the garou for a moment, his mouth a trifle tight. Then he gives her a crooked grin. "You are kind to couch your warning in such generous terms, madame."
Julen looks, it must be said, quizzical. "Do you do that deliberately? I wonder, were I not to mention lifting, and instead were slightly negative in another way, while also offering you something pleasant, or a discussion of something pleasant, would you latch onto the negative aspect?"
Gerard looks bewildered. "Pardon? I - could you say that once more?"
Julen leans on her staff, once more. "You seem to focus on the negative and reject offers of friendship. You seem to need to stay independent. I do not understand this."
"Friendship?" Gerard sounds, if anything, more bewildered.
Slowly, Julen says, "Are offers of aid something that merely serve to offend you?"
"Offend," Gerard repeats, lost in some bizarre lookinglass world. "No, madame, bien sur. I am very grateful, and I work hard to repay m'sieur le smith--" there is something perhaps not one hundred percent reliable in Gerard's expression as he offers this assurance.
Julen says, "Yes, yes, of course," as if she weren't listening to a word he's saying, after 'I am very grateful.' "But you don't wish to come to know any of us. Merely to repay us. Is that it?"
Again, there is a split-second's hesitation before Gerard's answer comes, hasty to make up for the lag. "Ah, no, no. Of course, madame. I am charmed, enchante'...Forgive me." And if his hesitation casts doubt on his sincerity, still his rueful smile makes up for a lot.
There's a pause, and then Julen asks, frankly, "I don't mean to offend, but should I be speaking with a bit less complexity?"
Gerard flushes bright red. "No, madame, c'est bien. I am speaking English for many years--" He breaks off, realizing the mistake a second too late to correct it. Now, even his ears are scarlet. "Have been speaking," he says.
Julen looks off toward the barn, as if looking for a horse or two. "Yes, of course. In any case. I tend to think that, even if you do not want to be here, if you try to enjoy the people, to be part of the group, life will be better for you. As opposed to wanting to leave, all the time."
Gerard busies himself pulling his coat properly into place, grateful for the interval Julen has given him to recover himself. "Yes, yes of course," he says insincerely.
Julen looks back at him, and regards him for a moment. "But you don't agree with a word of what I just said."
Gerard holds still for a moment, then looks back at Julen with a wry, infectious grin. "Madame, you are too sharp for me. I am defeated. I am sure you are correct but I know nossing about zis world, zese people. I am stupider than the smallest child here, n'est-ce pas? You will say, 'learn,' but vraiment, zis is not my place."
Unspoken in Gerard's statement is the heartfelt conviction that he would not want it to be his place, nor can he imagine why anyone else would.
Julen pushes her staff forward slightly, as she leans on it. "Sir. I am one of the protectors of this place. I do not object whatsoever to random strangers wandering in and asking for help in the least graceful way humanly possible, but I do object to their taking mental energy from the community and giving none back."
Gerard's grin takes on a slightly waxen quality, and his eyes lose something of their merriment. "Well, zen," he says after a heartbeat's silence. "How lucky it is that I will soon be moving on."
Julen regards him evenly. "There is," she says, with only faint irony, "Always the option of choosing to give mental energy. Since you have to be here anyway."
Gerard's dark, handsome eyes slide away from Julen's. His fingers busy themselves with his scarf and coat lapels. "Que voulez-vous? What is it you think I should be giving, madame? I do not sink you have any illusions about me. When you need a thief or a magician, you will call on me, n'est-ce pas?" His tone says that he knows this need will not arise.
A raven perches unobtrusively on a nearby roofline.
Julen continues to lean on her staff. "When I have need of a young man who cares about young people, who wishes to defeat his own problems even if they are overwhelming, who managed to come here even though he desperately did not want to, I will also call on him. Do not have any illusions that a thief and a parlor magician is /all/ you are."
Gerard, having reached out for his bag and lifted it halfway over his shoulder, fumbles and drops it in the snow. His face, lifting toward Julen with his expression unguarded for the first time in the conversation, looks years younger than it usually does, pale and almost frightened. He seems entirely without words to respond. The bag, meanwhile, has come open upon hitting the ground, spilling an assortment of objects into the snow: a small silver fork, a ball of twine, a gray fingerless glove, a small and alcoholic-looking bottle, an aged pocket knife.
Julen's expression does not change, as she watches him. She seems almost remote -- except for her words. She doesn't even seem to notice that his bag has come undone.
Unnoticed, or so it supposes, the raven casts a dark and intent eye at the scattered objects.
At last, Gerard's reflexes take over for him. "You are kind, madame," he says, voice light from lack of air.
An eyebrow raises. "Not really. If I were kind, I would probably just leave you alone. But I am myself, and so I persist. Will you remain merely who you wish to be, or will you accept that there is perhaps more, somewhere?"
"Who am I," Gerard says, lost somewhere in Julen's eyes, "to be able to answer such a question?"
Those grey-green eyes are quiet, firm, intent, and unwavering. "You are yourself. And that is more than enough to answer any question."
A shiver runs through the young man. "Madame, I do not know where I am sleeping zis night. I do not know what city I will be in next week, or what I will eat for my next meal. You ask me what I become?"
The Sentinel nods, just slightly. "I do. I ask you to take control of your own life, I think. I ask you to choose who you wish to be. If you wish to be that, be it as well as you can, but if there is more you could be, and you do not do it simply because it is easier -- That, I would protest."
Gerard's mouth works silently over Julen's words, incomprehension fluttering in his eyes. At last, his mouth tightens, his shoulders shift inside his coat. "Je ne sais pas. Je ne sais rien. I know nothing. If zere is something you want from me, you tell me, I try to do it."
Julen sighs, just slightly. "I wish you to act as if you are someone who is worth something. That is all."
A sound remarkably like someone blowing raspberries drifts down from the roofline.
Gerard flushes, and his head snaps around. "Qui est-ce--?" His eyes scan the roofs defensively before picking out the sizable black shape. He relaxes. "Oh, it is ze bird."
Ze bird is suddenly intently interested in a bit of moss clinging to the roof.
Julen doesn't glance away from Gerard until he does, and then she looks at said bird. "Ah," she murmurs, and looks back to him. "So...?"
Gerard glowers at the bird. "I sought it was someone listening," he says.
The raven appears to be completely uninterested, until the exact moment Gerard looks away, then it *stares* directly at him. If he looks back, it looks away again, rubbing its beak against the edge of the roof.
Julen doesn't look back at the raven. (Pity, really.) She just smiles, faintly. "And do you have an answer for me, now that you are persuaded there is no one listening?"
Gerard looks back at Julen, a trifle sullenly. "I do my best--" he says, and then turns his head again, sharply, staring at the raven. "Zat bird--" he says, but can think of nothing else to say. After all, there it is, minding its own business. Gerard hunches his shoulders and looks away again.
A piece of moss sails in a graceful arc down from, oh, somewhere generally upwards and roofwards, on a beautiful trajectory which should take it right into Gerard's temple.
Julen, now, swivels to look dubiously at the raven. And then she asks him, still looking that direction, "You do your best to... What?"
Gerard puts his hand to his head, stepping back from his feathered assailant. "Mon dieu! It hit me. Zat bird hit me." Yes, he is avoiding the question. Does he know he's avoiding the question? Probably.
The raven is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it ducked behind the line of the roof, or maybe it flew away.
Julen drags her attention back to Gerard. "You're avoiding the question," she says, mildly.
"Mother of God!" the beleaguered Frenchman explodes. "Yes, no. I don't know. Whatever you like." He crouches down and begins angrily stuffing the contents back into his bag. His face is flushed, his eyes bright, and his mouth nothing but the thinnest of lines.
Julen quirks a small smile. "I believe I shall speak with you more later, young man. Tell Lucas I came, if you see him?"
"Bien sur," Gerard says shortly, not looking up. His hands do stop moving, though, in anticipation of Julen's departure.
There is a sound uncannily like girlish laughter drifting down from the barn, although there is still no one -- bird or girl -- to be seen.
Julen, apparently, either ignores that, doesn't hear it, or chooses to let it go, as she starts limping off.
Gerard watches Julen out of sight, then goes back to stuffing items back into his bag, muttering angrily under his breath.
"You shouldn't take her personally, you know," comes a voice. It is female, low and slightly husky, and it is coming from a girl who is sitting on the edge of the barn roof, casually kicking her booted heels against the wall beneath her. "She likes talking all end-of-the-world like that," the girl adds, cocking her head at the youth.
Niska is what one would archaicly refer to as 'a slip of a girl'. She's built small, with delicate, fragile-looking features that make it difficult to guess her age. There is a completely unsubtle wildness about her -- her carriage, the way she interacts with objects in her environment, the glint of her dark eye -- such that even the most mundane human would identify her as a wild animal in human shape, even if they thought they meant it only figuratively. Her black hair looks like it was short and well-trimmed once, but has recently been allowed to grow wild. It hangs into her face in a way that makes compulsive types itch to brush it back for her.
The clothes she's wearing are simple -- a short black skort and sleeveless black crop top -- but very well made and of expensive synthetic fiber, in a professional, urban cut. Her short boots likewise are practical, but look too fine for the mud and stones of Katahdin. It's a collection of very urban clothing on a creature who very clearly belongs up a tree in the middle of deep woods.)
Gerard's head turns again. Really, at this rate, he'll be needing a chiropractor. After a moment he exhales in what might almost be called a snort, and stands up, refastening his bag and slinging it across his shoulders. "Me, I could not even understand what she was saying. Perhaps it is as well, n'est-ce pas?"
"Prolly," the girl agrees. "It's all supposed to make you feel young and dumb, and she's all like Old Wise Woman and some junk." Her tone is not mocking or sarcastic, she seems merely to be making an observation. "So what's with the French? That's not Quebequois. You a real Frog?"
Gerard's eyes brighten. "Modmoiselle is perceptive," he says, with ambiguous appreciation. "Oui, certainement. And you?"
The girl's sharp-featured face splits into a grin. "Newfie," she supplies.
"Noofy...?" Gerard repeats blankly. Then, "Ah! Newfoundland? Vraiment? There, I have not been."
"It's real pretty," the girl says. "At least, it was the last time I was there." A shadow crosses her face at that, but it is quickly gone.
Gerard nods, and comes to stand by the girl's dangling feet. "I have heard zis. What brings you here?"
The girl's eyes slide away. "I saw all the kids leaving, and I wanted to see what was goin' on," she says. "Wanted to see how you handled ol' Fire-In-The-Dusk." She grins again, showing sharp white teeth.
Gerard gives a snort of laughter and shakes the hair back out of his face. "Eh, voila. So. It was you watching, making me feel the back of my neck. Bon. But I meant, not what are you doing here and now, but in zis--" the word 'forsaken,' or one very like it is clearly deleted in his hesitation "--place. You are a traveller, n'est-ce pas?"
"I thought I was," the bird-girl answers glumly, then hesitates for an instant. "I came here because a guy I knew said there was neat stuff here," she states, and there is an odd note of challenge or defiance in her smoky voice. "'A treasure,' he said. *That's* why I'm here."
Gerard's peaked eyebrows rise. "Vraiment?" He says again, and his interest is unmistakable. "What sort of treasure? And why did he tell you?"
The girl's expression becomes sly, her black eyes narrowing. "Stuff," she says evasively. "Shiny stuff, maybe. He told me 'cause he was an old geezer who couldn't go after it himself."
Gerard's dark eyes gleam. "C'est a vous," he says. "I will not interfere. Of course. But..." his hand dips into one of the pockets of his black coat. "If you require an assistant..." Emerging, his hand has a bright gold ball between each finger and the next, fanned out. The fingers close together, open again, and the balls are all cobalt blue. Close together, and the balls disappear, though the coat sleeve and pocket seem too far away to provide concealment. "...you will let me know?"
The girl's black eyes gleam, following the motion of the balls. When they disappear, that intent gaze returns to his face. "Mmmmmaybe," she allows.
Gerard grins. His fingers open one last time to produce a mottled blue-and-gold ball, just one, in the palm of his hand. A flick of the wrist tosses it high into the air, just in the girl's reach. "A bientot," he says. "It has been very wonderful making your acquaintance, madmoiselle."
The girl snatches the ball from the air with a movement too fast to see, instantly secreting *somewhere* upon her underdressed-for-the-weather person and rewarding the young trickster with a grin of pure delight. Then she topples forward -- it seems for an instant as if she has overreached herself and is falling from her perch on the roof, but in a sudden blur of movement, she is no girl at all, but a raven, her wings catching the air and taking her in a long, low glide across the fields to the distant trees. She gives three raucus calls, and is gone.
Gerard catches his breath and stands staring after the shifter open-mouthed. "Mother of God," he murmurs. Then he shoves his hands into his pockets and turns to head back to the smithy, whistling as he goes.