(1874-08-17) A Bard's Tale
A Bard's Tale
Summary: Alia happens upon Susanna. Later, Ludovic joins them.
Date: 2018-08-17
Related: None specifically.
NPCs: None
Alia  Ludovic  Susanna  

Hellmouth - Countryside
A grassy knoll, not far from the road between Hellmouth City and Steven's Pass.

A drifting melody plays seemingly from nowhere out in the countryside. It's one of those sad and beautiful tunes, one that cannot help evoking a mood both from the music itself and from the complementing evening scenery. There is a light wind, pink clouds, emerald hills. Susanna sits on a knoll, staring into the distance almost trance-like as she idly improvises along the strings.

The road had been heavy with traffic, since the Princeps sent out his invitation. Perhaps it was people genuinely interested in the games. Perhaps it was simply those who wished to see a people whom, for may of them, were something only read about in books, or cursed under their breath. But whatever the reason, they were coming. And Alia was among them. Though, for her, it was a return home, of sorts. Still, she came. Herself and the small contingent of guards she had brought out of the keep with her. They pass close enough to hear the music, and lifting a hand, Alia sets out in its direction, the figure a familiar one, once she got close enough, "Susanna?"

Susanna's playing stops abruptly, but when she looks up and recognizes the woman who addressed her she smiles warmly and starts to stand. "Alia, so good ta see ya! I s'pose ya've come ta see the Games, yeah?" She lutches the neck of her lute to her chest, thumbing the frets idly.

As Alia came close enough for easy conversation, she dismounted from her horse, one of the soldiers, clearly imperial, taking its reins and keeping it from wandering, though he made no move to stop Alia from doing the same, "Yes, and no. I do hope to have the opportunity to see the games, but in truth, I am returning home, after a fashion. I am a member of the Imperial Legion, and have command of Keep Candeo. I've only just returned from some business in Four Corners."

"Oh my! I had no idea," Susanna says, eyebrows raised in surprise. "I'll say, yer accent is very good… Wha' sorta business does an Imperial Commander do in Four Corners, then?"

Alia smiled, at the compliment, "Thank you, but, in truth, my accent is simply what it is. I was not born into the Imperial Empire. I was born a d'Meloni and we were once vassals of d'Korbina. Our holdings were at the far edge of Hellmouth County. So far as I know…my family and all who lived in our lands were lost when the Qatunax invaded two years ago, now." Alia moves to settle on the knoll, a hand indicating that Susanna should join her, "I have spent most of my life there, training at the College of Alchemy. I went back to purchase supplies and to see my former master."

Susanna sits next to Alia, her face now full of concern and empathy. "I am so sorry ta hear tha', Alia. 'Bout, 'bout ya family. 'Tis a truly awful thing." 'Alchemy' has her truly amazed again, though. "Yer an alchemist! How incredible. Oh, tha' mus' be why ya draught works so well—ent jus' any normal medicine, is it? I bin able ta sleep mos' nights now, 'cos o' you."

Alia's own expression was calm, as though it were a pain she had set aside long ago, no matter the fact that it was only a few years ago, "Thank you, Susanna. And it was. Two Houses fell that day, d'Meloni and d'Mollari. As well as Lord Augustin d'Korbina. They offered the Qatunax parlay and went to meet with them peacefully and were butchered, or so the reports tell." A nod, at the comment, "Yes. I have trained in alchemy since I was barely twelve, when my parents allowed me to go to the College. And I am still a member in good standing of the Alchemist's Guild. It was as an alchemist that I came to the Empire. But no, it was not ordinary medicine. One of my own formulas, in fact."

Susanna listens to the story of the demise of Alia's family gravely. "The Qatunax seem ta be a truly horrid people," she remarks quietly, shaking her head.

"Yer truly gifted in tha' respect, then! Such a thing seemed li'l more 'n a rumor or legend of a thing where I'm from. Somethin' mentioned in long bardic tales." Susanna strums a couple mysterious minor chords. "Alchemists in th' stories are always either very wise or…or very mad." She smiles apologetically.

"I believe they are worse than any scourge the West has faced in centuries. And they are relentless in their desire to destroy us, Imperial and Western alike." Alia considered, giving the comment serious thought, "Yes, I suppose that I am. Alchemy is a skill that is quite difficult to master. I have been studying for nearly a decade and a half now, and I fully believe there is as much still to learn as what I already know. It is a lifetime's pursuit, like music." She tipped her head towards Susanna's lute, "I imagine that is so. There is so little that is known about alchemists who tend to keep their secrets closely guarded and that often leads to many fantastical tales."

Susanna nods along with that. "I bin' studyin' music since b'fore I can remember, yeah, an' I feel like it's a…a strange sorta thing, findin' a tune and figurin' out wha's pleasin' ta hear. 'Music has rules 'til ya learn how ta break 'em properly,' ma da liked ta say. He…was also very fond o' playin' up th' strange and mad characters in whatever poem he was tellin'. Mus' be a weakness o' bards, I think. 'Tis a very fun things ta make th' world more curious an' wild 'n it is."

"I suppose there is something in all of us that looks at the world around us, and wonder at the things we do not know, or have, or understand. We dream of the things we do not have, often, and think that they must be somehow better than what we do have. That is not always the case, but if we did not have imagination, life would be very dull indeed." Alia shifted, looking back at the men who had dismounted and were now taking their own ease, though they never moved far from where Alia and Susanna were sitting.

Alia smiled, though her expression was thoughtful, "That's actually an interesting idea, if you think about it. Using song to potentially convey messages for those who have the knowledge to decipher the words. It's not a bad tactic, especially in times of strife. So long as the people you need to get the message to understand what you are trying to tell them."

Susanna nods, looking a little proud. "M' da sure thought so. He was a very clever man. There's a reason so many looked up ta him. He was no appointed leader or nuttin', bu' people cared wha' he had ta say."

"I've come to the belief that a title, an appointment, a name only gets you so far. It's your actions that will bring people to follow you, or to believe in you. Respect is something you earn, not anything you should expect, simply because you happen to have been born to a certain thing." She laughed, softly, considering, "Says the noble woman of no House."

Susanna laughs with Alia. "I got no house, either. I lef' th' d'Korbinas. Dunno if an' I wanna get caught up in th' fightin' an' all tha'. Gonna try ta focus on bardistry. As we said, it can be useful ta folks."

"I can imagine that you would do well plying your trade as a bard. In times such as these music and the memory of a time before war had do amazing things for the morale of the people." Alia smoothed her skirts, tucking them down to save them from wrinkling as best she could, "And you might well find work in the courts and field camps as well."

Susanna nods slowly. "I do hope so…an' hope I can tell th' stories arright. Thing is, I don' really have any memories b'fore th' war. Succession War started short after I was born."

That does seem a pickle, "Perhaps you might consider also traveling and gathering stories from those older than yourself, write songs about their memories. A way to preserve what came before and what we hope to have again. That, I think, would have its own power. And give those telling their stories some hope that they and the things that they have seen will not be forgotten."

"Well, I've memorized all ma da's songs. An' he wrote plenty o' the times b'fore. An' his mum tole him o' th' history she knew, an' so on. I got a good sense o' the tales an' the lore. Bu' I won' be able ta tell it like he did, right? With all the nostalgia. Th' right feelin'. I doubt ole timers will be convinced by someone my age, either." Susanna strums an easy little chord progression and hums thoughtfully through Alia's response.

Alia looked across at Susanna, sitting as they were on a knoll, Alia's guards taking their ease not far from the two women, talking as they sat on the ground or stood around in Imperial. "Is that not the great skill of the bard, Susanna? To take words and craft them into a song and then to be able to convince those who are listening of your words? One does not have to experience a thing to sing about it."

Susanna bites her lip through her replying smile. "I s'pose that is. Yet I do na know if I am as convincin' as ma father. Wi' him, it dinna matter how bad th' song was, even, y' loved ta jus' watch his face. I bin tole I'm a good singer, a good lutist. Na sure I have tha'…magic." She shrugs, finishes a final few chords.

The sound of Horses. Thats the first sign that there is going to be company. And not just any horses either. These carry the telltale creak and rustle of armor and the sharp ring of heavy shod hooves against rock with them. Soon after the sound the four armored men and mounts come into sight, the gold crossed bullshead of the Horned Knights showing on shields. All except the shield carried by the man in the lead. That shield carries the distinctive bulls head (or is that a demons head?) and lightning motif of the Stormbull. Two smaller mounts with smaller figures, presumably squires, travel with them.

The group are equipped for combat but evidently don't expect it. Lances rest against the stirrup mount, helms have their visors fixed up to free the face and two of the men seem to be engaged in telling some sort of story. Likewise the barding on the horses is little more than a collection of leather strips rather than the full suits of armor you'd find in war or tourney. The head of the man with the distinctive shield turns over towards the gnoll on which you are set and then he turns his head back to the man besides him. Moments pass and then the knight and one of the squires peels away to approach the gnoll where you sit. With the face of his open helm unobstructed you'll be able to recognise Ludovic before he gets close enough to draw his horse to a halt, hand the lance to his squire and dismount.

Alia returned the smile, a hand reaching out to settle, briefly, on the other woman's shoulder, "You will not know until you try. And perhaps, until you give yourself permission to grow to be as good as he was. I know from my own experience, that there were a number of times in my own life, when I was held back, not by my lack of skill, but by my lack of belief in my own abilities."

At the sound of the approaching horse and the men with them, the imperial soldiers quickly rise to their feet, remounting their horses and moving into a half circle between Susanna and Alia and the approaching pair. having already been to Daemon's Hall with Alia, it's unlikely that they would not recognize the d'Korbina's special troupe of knights. But they do not move to give way until Alia, rising from her seat, steps down onto the level ground. Imperial first, her words, even if they are not intelligible to anyone who doesn't speak the language, calm and at ease, "All is well, please allow the Viscount to approach." With that, the soldiers parted, allowing Alia to step out from between then, "Ludovic, I had not expected to see you."

Alia gives Susanna something to chew on, but in the mean time there's the unmistakable sight of Ludovic and his men coming down the road where travellers have been making their way to Candeo to see the Games—but in the opposite direction. She can't imagine what he would be doing here, but she never really did find out exactly what it was viscounts do with their time. She offers him a dip of a curtsy with her lute held in front of her. She's in a good mood and her smile is pleasant enough, but she lets Alia do the talking.

After spending several long moments eying the imperials with a distinct lack of pleasure in his eyes, Ludovic gets allowed through. He flicks his gaze to the bodyguard and then tells them, in crisp if book-learned imperial. "The Horned Knights are the protectors of these roads. You should learn their livery." Mildly grumpy about the event he's already well on his way to being over it as he accepts the curtsy with an easy going smile and then moves to join the pair. A few moments later the squire dismounts and starts doing things squires do. "Nice spot you've picked here." Ludovic says by way of greeting. "Have space for one more?"

One of the soldiers steps forward, replying to Ludovic as he speaks to the gathered soldiers, his accent crisp, but his voice was mild, "We know your livery, Viscount d'Korbina, as well as the livery of your men, but our charge is the Tribune, and her safety, even in such places as these, which she considers friendly to her." He made no claims that the county was friendly to him, or any of the other imperials. But with that sorted, he returned to his men, and they once again dismounted, having been waved off by Alia.

"Of course there's room for you, Ludovic." There was an easy humour in Alia's expression, as she, mirroring his own actions of a few days before, offered the Viscount her arm.

Susanna herself feels like she should say /something,/ so she says something. "I hope ya feelin' better, Yer Excellency?" And she bites her lip, hoping that's not an overly forward thing to say. She learned the hard way what overly-forward can get you.

Ludovic rolls his eyes at the bodyguards back. Not that he cares if any of them see it. In fact they probably do. It likely looks a bit weird giving the blank stone that makes up the visible part of his right eye these days. The offer of an arm gains a chuckle from him and just like that the imperials are forgotten as he claims Alia's hand with a little smirk. "Some good, some bad, Susanna. Same as always. How've you both been?" The hand he claimed is gently patted and then he goes to lightly hook Alia's arm through his. "You chose an interesting spot for a picnic."

Alia's eyes sparkle with her amusement, choosing, for the moment, to focus on friendly feelings rather than foul, and she leaves her guards to their own business leading Ludovic back towards where she and Susanna had been sitting, "A picnic of sorts, I suppose. We were on our way back to Candeo when I heard Susanna playing, though I did not recognize her until I made it this far." Once they've arrives, she slips her arm free, to allow her freedom to settle onto the grass, leaving room between herself and Susanna for Ludovic.

Susanna nods to Ludovic, smiling at that. Some good some bad. Which is good enough. "I am quite well, thank ya, Yer Excellency," she says with a genuine smile. She returns with the others to the knoll she had originally camped out on, having originally chosen it as a good place in case any of the passing travellers wanted to show appreciation for her music with a couple coins. It passed the time and made her feel useful while doing so, even if she wasn't in desperate need of money. She sits on one side of Alia, looking up at the sky and noticing the sun has just begun to not be quite so blindingly bright anymore as it edges slowly toward the mountains.

Ludovic seats himself between them both and immediately starts to unbuckle the fastenings on his gauntlets. "So this is a sunset picnic with music huh?" He asks with interest. "You know. I dont remember the last time I did something so nice and normal." A curious gaze is turned onto Susanna. "Did Imogen send you away? I thought you would both be in Firen by now." He looks to Alia. "Susanna here might well have saved my" A hitch as he reminds himself to add the ex "Ex-Wifes life during our assault to take Candeo."

"Well, if a picnic can be a picnic with nothing to eat or drink." And then, she allows a shake of her head, "No, I do have rations, but I haven't retrieved them from my horse yet." Alia settled herself, taking her time to straighten her riding skirts. There was something practiced in it, as though she had to remind herself how to do something so, well, common, for a noblewoman, "But a good voice and a well-played instrument make up for all." At the comment from Ludovic, she offers a nod, "I remember. I was at the battle though our two groups were separated until we made it into the main hall of the keep."

Susanna shakes her head to Ludovic. "No, no, we…had a sort of disagreement, I s'pose, an' I decided ta stay here." She makes her eyes look at the ground as she lies, trying not to blush. Well, they *had* had a disagreement. She'd staged it herself. "I'll be tryin' ta improve improve ma bardistry in a place where it seems needed," she continues, and then has to really blush as the two talk of her good voice and saving people. "I dunno if an' I saved her life, Yer Excellence…I was jus' there ta protect her an' the baby. Any handmaid who could fight woulda done it," she insists.

"Easy enough to fix." Ludovic flashes them both a grin and then raises his voice "Brandon! Food!" He's loud. Both naturally and because of years worth of bellowing at mounted men over the sounds of horses. "Wont be up to the usual standards of course. Theres a limit to just what you can stuff in your saddlebags and still find edible twelve hours later." He reaches up to remove his helm and then turns it over to rest it on the grass besides him. The gauntlets go inside.

"Ah right. You were there." Ludovic says to Alia. "I feel like I've missed all the good fights really. Command is a horrible thing. Never do it. Miss the days when battle just meant putting on my heavy armor and facing down the tip of a lance. These days its all days worth of grain, remounts and commanders arguing that they dont get a big enough piece of the action." he makes a soft grump sound that only gets repeated but more seriously at Susanna's words. "Well thats a pity. Thought it was good that she had someone with her who'd tell her when she was being wrong headed. Its something most of us need." His grump turns into a smile. "Nah. Most handmaids woulda cowered in a nearby corner with a fan between them and the scary men."

Alia shook her head, though there was a smile on her lips as Ludovic called for the meal, "Oh, I don't know about standards. I would imagine that you can make the most out of anything, when you have the need and short means." She leaned forward, hands on either side of herself as she watched the squire scurry about his business, "I had not expected to be in the battle myself. I had planned to stay behind to see to the loading and firing of the trebuchet, but when I was ordered onto the field, I went. I managed to eliminate one of the Qatunax, but I do not think that that is saying much, as the truth fighters acquitted themselves much more favourably." To the question of Ludovic's ex-wife she makes no comment.

Susanna is once again flummoxed by the idea of being eager for battle, but instead replies, "Well, bein' honest, Viscount, I do na think she gave much ear ta ma words mosta th' time anyhow…" She never did seem to grasp just how serious it was not to endanger an unborn child. She seemed more like a child herself. Susanna's brow wrinkles. "Why a fan?" What a useless thing.

"I thought ya were very brave, Alia. Er, is it Lady Alia? She, she dinna even have a weapon wi' her, I do na think!"

"Folks call em savages." Ludovic says to Alia. "So people tend to assume they are tribesmen living in the hills with little discipline, armor or technique but they are some of the finest soldiers i've ever faced. Taking one down, one on ones, an accomplishment. You should be proud. Heck I'm proud merely for surviving my encounter with the one I now know is called Tavat." His hand lightly moves to rest on the head of that strange gleaming black axe he's taken to carry. "Guess he thought it was a feat too given that I got this out of it." His gaze turns to Susanna. "Hey your a minstrel right? Hows about I pay you to write something about the peace talk and the betrayal? Would be quite the epic I bet."

"She wasn't pregnant enough to be stopped Susanna." Ludovic tells her. "Not my place to tell a woman she cant do something when she knows she can unless its actually hurting the county. Besides I have to trust my knights, all of them, to judge for themselves when they can and cant fight. And that one goes just as much for the men as the women." He drops the serious face with a smile. "Knights are a stubborn breed in general. Heck I've done things I shouldnt have done too."

He chuckles and then says "Thats right. You're a galenthian. Fans are a cultural thing. No real lady would ever be without one." He nods to Alia. "Bet she's got one in one of those pouches. Just in case."

Alia shook her head, at Susanna's compliment, "I had no physical weapon, but then, I was not hired to be a soldier. I was brought into the legion as an alchemist, an auxillia. When I…assisted in the attempt to burn down the gates…things changed, and I would not disobey an order. I did not acquit myself well, once it finally came to fighting in close quarters." She had, in point of fact, been knocked unconscious, an event Susanna might have witnessed. Her eyes shifted to Ludovic, "And not in close combat as yours was. I set him ablaze where he stood on the keep wall." She did wear a sword now, a gladius, its hilt lightsilver inlaid with rose gold. Something new since the battle. Alia fell silent, as she heard Ludovic's offer to Susanna to write a story of the very talks of which she and Susanna had spoken before, but offered no other command in that regard. As to the fan? "Tucked down deep in the bottom."

"'Th' talk an' th' betrayal'?" Susanna repeats with eyebrows lifted. "Well, I'd appreciate more information 'bout the whole deal as well, of course. Does sound an interestin' story, 'specially if an' it involves an impressive thing like tha'." She nods down at the black axe.

Susanna relents with the talk of Imogen. "I…I s'pose. Did seem 'gainst her interests if an' she wanted ta have th' child, but…" She shakes her head very slightly, lets the matter drop.

Alia's further explanation of events has her in awe. "Set him on fire? Is that another thing ya can do wi' yer alchemy? An' do na feel bad 'bout bein' knocked down at all—I was, too, an' I was armed."

"I'm talking about the peace talks led by Baron d'Mollari." Ludovic tells Susanna. "That ended in them taking at least one noble family captive and using blood magic to set mount tharsis alight. Whilst the volcano was still active they used the debris, smoke and confusion to wipe out our armies. Its the story of how this part of aequor was lost. Its not the only thing that i'd like to see put into song but, well, it feels like the most important. Least as far as maintaining our history is concerned and giving honor to the dead anyway. I keep hearing things about how we just abandoned people and how we didnt fight and stuff. I'd like to tackle that and make them the heroes they are again."

He looks to Alia. "I've been knocked out in combat too. Its not something to be ashamed of. The only things you should be ashamed of in a battle are not giving it your all." He grins. "See. Knew you had a fan. Gonna put on a proper dress and get it out next time you come visit? See if anyone can tell you aren't aequorian anymore?"

A smile is restrained. "Don't see how killing someone with fires any different to killing them with a sword when it comes down to it. Both are just tools right? Its the skill and intent that matters." He doesnt seem to want to talk about Imogen either.

Susanna takes Ludovic's suggestion for a commission very seriously. "I would be honored ta do tha' fer ya, Excellency. I certainly agree, the fallen should be remembered." With Ludovic's last statement, though, Susanna is a little confused by his defensiveness. "Aye…though it does seem to me a harder thing ta set someone on fire. 'Specially if an' they're movin'. An' also the death would be a lot more painful…" She trails off, not wanting to disagree with the viscount too much.

Alia remained silent, as she listened to Ludovic's explanation of the story, though there was something wry in her expression, "Which family was it that was taken hostage? d'Mollari or d'Meloni?" She had not been there and indeed, had not heard of what had occurred until it had already been done and the battle lost. She looks to Susanna, at the other woman's question, "No, I did not use alchemy for that." She looked away, back towards the men she had brought with her. She heard Ludovic's words to be sure, the smile quirking her lips, "I have not forgotten what it is to be Aequorian, simply because I have given my oaths to the Empire. But…I think I might be able to manage a true dress, rather than these." Finally, she does look back, "No, they //are/ both tools, but one is more easily controlled than the other."

Ludovic gives Alia a surprised look when she asks for details before turning his attention back to Susanna. "Now you see why it needs making into a proper story. If Alia doesnt know how can we expect anyone else to?" He looks back at Alia. "I'll talk about it but not tonight if you dont mind. I lost Kayla and my brothers and several of my best friends. It's to hard right now."

He glances to Susanna. "No time for sentiment like that in battle. Yeah I'd rather not have enemies set alight but i'd rather have my allies live than die too." A smile as the squire brings some cured meat, ale and bread. "Thank you Brandon. We'll be here a while yet. Ease my horses tack up please." As the youth goes off he looks to the ladies and purposefully changes to smalltalk. "Have you ever been to a cattle drive?"

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