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 The Way, Way Back, OPEN
Elliot
 Posted: Sep 3 2014, 06:45 PM
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Summer was turning into fall. The long, humid days were starting to take on a crisp flavor, like apples, and under their warm veneer, a chill was slithering through the grasses, whispering under its breath that Autumn was on its way.

The great highway, which ran up from Hanalei, through Fexlund, past the Capital and across the Caine mountains to Aknatar, was paved in some places... but mostly it was hard-packed earth, cut out of forests and grasslands. It stretched across farmland and wasteland alike and sometimes quite close to villages. Like it did right here. Right where three young men had pulled their buckboard wagon to the side of the road.

Elliot and his lot had fallen on hard times.

When you were competing with the Sandford Commerce Guild - Tetel'ac's own Amazon.com, and one that wielded political and religious influence - and all of the smaller merchants they were swallowing up, it was harder and harder to cut a living as an independent, kingdom-wide trader. Maybe a change of tactics wouldn't hurt.

He dealt mostly in the black market, typically, bringing everything from banned books to frowned-upon weapons and foreign-supplied narcotics from one side of Tet to the other in the back of his over-burdened buckboard. But today, it was his more innocent goods he and his mates were trying to get off their hands.

The large, bay farmhorse had been detached from the wagon and was grazing in the tall grasses. The wagon, still piled-high with the goods they weren't interested in hawking this openly, was cockeyed on the slope of the roadside, and the three merchants - Elliot, Jackal and Hayde (each young men no older than 20) - were sat upon three overturned crates in the wagon's shade. They were dressed eclectically in a mixture of poor peasant garb and fine, noble materials, and with folded arms and crossed legs, they were staring at a row of six sealed crates they had placed blocking the highway and, of course, any traffic that might try to come down it.

Someone would have to stop, they'd figured. Someone would have to stop, and that someone would have to listen. And hopefully that someone would have to buy.
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Sep 11 2014, 11:29 PM
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She had worked on her new horse. The training had been progressing enough where she decided to take the black beauty for a ride. They were still getting used to each other but it was progressing. The stallion was stubborn, but she appreciated his spirit.

It was a perfect day, warm and crisp all at the same time.

She was dressed for riding. In a rough homespun with a light coat. Her thick hair was wrapped in a tight bun at her neck and her leather riding gloves looked rich against her relatively plain garb.

Since Ralph had been born she always let someone know when she was out riding. Gowan had insisted on going with her but she told him no. She told him which way she was going and how long she would be gone. She had food and drink and anything she might need in her packs. She would be home in time for dinner and all would be well.

As she crested the hill she saw the wagon and the three very familiar men. Smiling she kicked the horse toward the men. She waved as she approached.

"Elliott...what a beautiful day to see you my friend!"

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Elliot
 Posted: Sep 23 2014, 10:34 PM
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"Someone's coming," Jackal murmured under his breath, nodding subtly up the road. A lone rider was there against the sky, and approaching.

"Mm," Elliot said.

"Yay?" Hayde offered.

"Act casual," Elliot said.

They acted casual, folding their arms and crossing their legs. Jackal chewed on a piece of grass and Elliot stared off in a daze over the six crates, as though he had no idea someone was coming. Hayde drew in the dirt with a finger. The person would come. It wasn't a wagon, but maybe they'd stop anyway.

They stopped, alright. Elliot's heart fell as he heard a woman's voice, too familiar with his real name. Fudge.

Elliot met Jackal's annoyed gaze before both of them looked up at the Duchess, and the three of them stood as she drew nearer. The merchant reached for his hat and, pulling it down in front of his chest, he bared his head in her presence.

"Duchess Du Nord!" oh, how quickly that name had gone from striking fear and resentment in the world, to joy. Her husband on the other hand... "What a beautiful day, indeed, M'Lady! I... I did not expect to see you riding so soon. Your... child must be well."

No thanks to him, of course.
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Oct 2 2014, 10:04 PM
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The Duchess quickly climbed down off her horse, tying the beast to a near by tree. The horse huffed impatiently. He had been enjoying their run and did not want to stop. But he satisfied himself by gnawing on the fresh grass under the tree, for the moment.

Beaming from ear to ear she walked quickly to Elliott and embraced him warmly. She quickly followed up with Hyde and Jackal.

"It is so wonderful to see you all, and on such a beautiful day. Sadly I never got to thank you all for saving my life and my child's."

Her face got very serious for a moment, her eyes darkening.

The men could certainly imagine the talking to she had been given to for making such a foolish choice so close to the end of her pregnancy.

"God is generous and kind yes? I think perhaps this is just what I needed today. Perhaps I should take you all with me when I am riding."

The men looked at her but were clearly uncomfortable. But she tired to push past it. She was just like them.

"I have food and drink in my bags. Would you like to have a bit of lunch with me? Or dinner I suppose."
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Elliot
 Posted: Oct 12 2014, 06:16 PM
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The men stood respectfully as the duchess dismounted and made her way towards them. Elliot lowered his hat when it became apparent, to his great shock, really, that Cassandra was going to hug him. She did, and he noted, with closed eyes, that she smelled clean and good, the scent of flowers on her skin and clothes. It was over too soon, and he opened his eyes as she pulled away, left suddenly cold and still floating in a cloud of her subtle perfume.

His eyes tracked to her as she greeted the others, and then he bowed his eyes a moment to his hat before she spoke, and he was forced to look at her again to respond.

Jackal watched the duchess, thinking of the child he had delivered in Elliot's stead when his leader had collapsed under the weight of his ghosts, but turned his eyes to Elliot to see what the man would say or do in response to the duchess' comments and thanks.

Elliot frowned as Cassandra said that God was good, thinking to himself that A'er couldn't be all that good if he would take one babe and mother with one hand, and force that same father to deliver a healthy babe from a healthy mother with the other... but in these days, speaking ill of A'erian religion to a noble was a bad idea...

"Oh, m'lady..." Elliot gave a charming smile, his sales persona returning as he snapped back into his role. He gestured behind him to the crates that blocked the road, the roadside buckboard wagon and grazing bay. A perfectly pauper scene. "I do not think that we have accommodation worthy of a duchess such as yourself. What would your husband think if you were found sitting on crates at the roadside? We appreciate the offer, don't we boys?" they all nodded. "But we couldn't do that to you, m'lady Du Nord..."
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Oct 19 2014, 11:54 AM
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"Nonsense."

She said as she looked to the crates they were referring too.

"My husband has no bearing on my lunch plans at the moment."

She smiled kindly and moved to the crates. Adjusting them herself she soon had a seating area for her lunch companions to sit and enjoy a meal.

She returned to her pack and pulled out a small plaid blanket. She returned quickly to the newly set up "picnic" area and laid out the blanket. Down on her knees in the dust she opened her pack and lay out quite a surprisingly delightful spread of food for the men. There were several types of cheeses and meat. She also had some fresh grapes and enough apples for all of them, the horses included. She stood and took an apple to both horses. She scratched both of them on the nose and turned back to their impromptu party.

She dusted off her skirts as she sat down on one of the crates. Gesturing to the men she offered them seats next to her.

"Now I don't have much to drink, just a bit of wine and water, but I will share with you. Come, sit, tell me of your travels and why I find you out on the road again."

It was a perfectly strange situation. Cassandra didn't think so but from the look on the men's faces she could tell she was making them very uncomfortable.

"Please..sit..I would enjoy your company."
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Elliot
 Posted: Oct 22 2014, 06:11 PM
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The boys, helpless in the face of their duchess' insistence, watched as she turned away and retrieved from her pack a blanket, which she spread out in the sitting-area she had set up on their merchandise, and then knelt in the dirt to begin unpacking meats and cheeses from a pack.

There was just no anticipating this woman. No matter how much Elliot tried, she always went where he didn't think she'd go.

When she came back from feeding the greedy horses, the boys were standing tentatively around her seating arrangement.

They took their place as she offered, Elliot sitting at he right, Jackal at her left, and Hayde across from her.

They adjusted their pants awkwardly and cleared their throats. And no one touched the spread.

After a moment of awkward silence, Elliot cleared his throat again. "I don't... see the duke and yourself together very often," he said. A'er knows why.
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Oct 25 2014, 12:15 AM
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She smiled a bit ruefully at what Elliott had said.

"He is very busy."

It sounds like her standard, cold answer.

"Since our son has come into the world he has had to take on most of the responsibilities of the dukedom."

"Please, eat."

She handed each of the men an apple and insisted they take it.

"The horse there was a present from him. Beautiful isn't he?"

The stallion looked so very different than the other one serenely chewing on the grass.

"So what..why are you out here? Your wagon seems to have all its wheels today. I am happy to see you."

She broke off a piece of the cheese and took a small bite.
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Elliot
 Posted: Oct 25 2014, 03:04 PM
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The boys rocked a bit uncomfortably on their "chairs" as the duchess seemed to expose a few private feelings in her response, speaking curtly about her husband, the duke. Elliot didn't need to be up in anyone's private business, least of all the duke and duchess of this very large and profitable duchy...

Each took hold of the apple they had been delivered and held them like precious cargo, looking at them in their hands. Hayde took a large bite, the fruit snapping beneath his teeth. Some juice dribble uncouthly from his lips.

They looked to the horse when directed, and Elliot examined its fine lines, its broad chest and slender legs, its muscular form petite besides the cumbersome farmhorse it ate beside. A precious animal, indeed. And a fine creature - the head of the de Winter breeding program should have been astride nothing less, of course.

"A very fine creature, indeed," Elliot commented, nodding. "I could never afford something like that. But it is worthy of you, of course."

She was talking a lot. Quickly. As though she was afraid of a moment of silence. As though she had to keep her mind busy.

Elliot laughed. "Yes. Our wagon is altogether now. It's nice to... see you again under better circumstances, heh. We were just setting up some wares in case anyone came by. Sales have been low, actually And the market isn't until next week."
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Nov 3 2014, 12:18 AM
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"Oh."

"Well, what can I buy? How can I help? We always need things at the house. Have you been by lately? Perhaps talk to the kitchen staff or the house staff."

There was an uncomfortable silence that fell over all of them, including Cassandra this time.

"Do you have any fabrics? Something beautiful for dresses or bedding or curtains? Anything? My figure is somewhat altered since the childs birth and I think perhaps something new and beautiful would be suitable don't you? The Queen's coronation is coming and I would love to say I got something from you. Anything I can do to help business?"

As she talked she opened her bag again and pulled out a small leather wrapped bundle.

"Would you come to the house Elliott? All of you come." She said to the lot.

"Let me help you as you have helped me. Food, rest, anything I can do?"

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Elliot
 Posted: Nov 4 2014, 07:29 PM
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Elliot faltered when she finished speaking, his mouth hanging open as he continually flickered between preparing to say something, and withdrawing his statement. Finally he snapped his mouth shut, palming the fruit stiffly in his hand, and lowered his eyes to it. It was a bright and tempting fruit... He was sorely tempted to bite into it.

"My Lady, Duchess. Please. I would not try your mercy and renoun generosity - I have utter faith in them. But you owe us nothing. We - Jackal, really - did what any good man would do." Elliot raised his eyes to hers slowly and gave her a smirk.

"Anyway, you're right about the coronation. We will probably stick around for a bit until then. The king's festivities always bring great crowds of men and women in the mood to buy."

Elliot nodded.

This was awkward...

And then he took a great big bite of his apple, squirting juice as he did so.
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Nov 4 2014, 09:25 PM
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"Oh yes, to be sure. But please..Elliott, Jackal, Hyde..let me do something. You helped my son come into the world safely. That is the greatest gift I have ever been given."

She was clearly sincere about her feelings.

"Without you all I don't know what would have happened. I cannot even imagine the horrid outcome."

Her eyes clouded over with emotion as she thought about the fear and anger of that day. Anger at herself of course.

Not all men would have done what they did.

The child would have been born. Cassandra would have bled to death on the road. The boy dying soon after from the cold.

Her eyes became wet as she felt the guilt again at her foolish choice. Why was she always so headstrong?

"Come back to the house. Let me buy things, let me help you. You are no ordinary men. You are my saviors."
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Elliot
 Posted: Nov 10 2014, 10:20 AM
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She wanted them to go back to her house, toting their goods along, so that she could buy from them as a show of thanks.

Her house... he didn't want to be there. He didn't want to be there longer than he had to be. His head was clear now, not clouded by memories - not to mention he had a discussion with Jackal...

Ed was there. The duke of Fexlund, Edmund du Nord. The man who had brought hell to Villa Cari. The man who was... the only person Elliot wanted to blame for Skaiyu's death.

Did Cassandra even know what her husband had done? Did she know the ruin he had wrought? Either she chose to pretend ignorance, or the bastard had hid his evil deeds from his wife...

It would have served him right if Cassandra had died, and her child with him...

Elliot's eyes floated over her, these thoughts crawling through his mind.

It came out before he could control it, and when it was said, Jackal froze, his eyes on the ground, waiting for what would happen.

"I couldn't let anything happen to you. Not after... my own wife. I lost her a similar way. And the child."
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Cassandra DuNord
 Posted: Nov 11 2014, 06:23 PM
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Cassandra's eyes softened. The heart break shown on her fine features.

"Oh Elliott I am so very sorry. I had no idea."

In truth it happened often. Babies were fragile and so was a pregnant woman. Cassandra knew that feeling of being weak and tired, building a person.

She reached for his hand, wrapping her cool fingers around his calloused palm. She squeezed gently as a sign of respect and caring.

"What a horrible situation for me to have put you in I am sure. I am sorry for my ignorance."

She felt chided and small suddenly. An arrogant horrible woman. Even more reason for her to invite the men to her home and buy their entire supply of everything. She had to do something to make up for her foolishness.

"Please, tell me about her. Maybe in reliving her memory we..you can feel her around you again. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to loose a spouse and a child. Please Elliot. What was her name?"

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Elliot
 Posted: Nov 16 2014, 10:54 PM
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"Skaiyu..." he said, calling her not by her proper, given name, but by the Aknatari tribal name he hd met her by, and the name he had called her all of their short time together. But he didn't want to just remember her. It wasn't enough to just say her name and feel the duchess' pity. Not this duchess. Not when she was so close to the whole damn thing.

A bitter tone crept into his voice."She was a nanny to the duke's child in Kelyea... she was there when your husband seiged the villa..."

[done. also short.]
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