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Fantasy All's Fair

Sub Genres
LGTBQ Friendly, Magical, Romance

Conifer

Senior Member
She wasn’t quite sure what it was that she was expecting. Had she wanted Avther to protest the proximity? Well- no, that’s why she hadn’t. This still left her feeling complicated. What had she wanted? What part of this didn’t she want? There was no point in lingering on that, though - she was exhausted and grimy and wanted to sleep. There had to a somewhere to clean herself somewhere in this inn, but if she was just going to end up just as grimy by tomorrow, was there a point to finding it? Probably not. And perhaps -- perhaps Avther’s offer to aid with her hair was one that wasn’t meant. Maybe it was made for the sake of earning approval - replacing the nightmare of war with a charming rake. She couldn’t blame him for it, even if that...well. Maybe that’s what left her feeling so tangled up.

She wasn’t going to wear these clothes to bed, though, even if Avther seemed perfectly content to fill their blankets with dirt and dust, but thankfully her dress was layered and she didn’t have to change entirely, instead opting to just take some parts off.
Her discarded clothing left her in a thin shift, really not revealing much more than her dress already had aside from a few inches of her leg. Nothing inappropriate. There was utterly nothing inappropriate about any of this - it was simply two people (two married people!) sharing a bed when they had no other choice.
“Well,” Remin says, climbing in and keeping herself as close to the edge as she can, on her side, facing away from Avther. They would simply sleep like they’d slept in beds together before now - resolutely apart and barely acknowledging the other’s presence, even if it tinted her whole mood with complicated dissatisfaction. She wasn’t supposed to want to share a bed with him. She wasn’t supposed to want to be around him at all, which would make all of this far simpler. “Goodnight, then.” Remin says, closing her eyes. She had a terrible feeling she was going to sleep awfully tonight despite her exhaustion. The joy from dinner was crashing hard, with the tightness of the room only doing wonders to amplify her floundering.
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Well, that was... anticlimactic. Of course that they were just going to sleep. What else could they possibly do? So much had changed between them and yet, so much of it remained the same. There were some unexpected sympathies as well as unexpected urges, probably on both sides of the equation, but Cyreia was still Cyreia. That was the reason Remin showed her her back, wasn't it? The reason she just couldn't, whatever it meant. She understood that. Honestly, had Cyreia been in Remin's position, she wouldn't have found it in herself to treat her husband with a fraction of her kindness. Ironically, though, perhaps that would have been more merciful in the long run. If Remin hadn't treated her like a person instead of an enemy, Cyreia doubted that she would have, well, felt like this about her. Fallen in love with her. She watched Remin's back silently, torn between action and inaction, between saying something and staying quiet, and then she just closed her eyes with a barely audible sigh. Nothing she could say would change anything. Besides, exhaustion wasn't the best state to have difficult conversations in.

The morning came way too quickly. Cyreia would have liked to sleep some more, but her internal clock, used to its usual rhythm, woke her up with sunrise. I wonder if that will ever change. Probably not. At this point, she was too settled in her old ways. Years and years of getting up at the same time couldn't be erased within a few days. Well, at least the rest refreshed her. She could still feel some tension in her muscles, but that could hardly be helped. Sleep wasn't a miraculous cure for everything and yesterday had been quite intense. Intense in many, many ways, most of which she didn't really want to think about. Work. Just focus on the work, on what you have to do here, and everything will be fine. Yes, that sounded like a solid plan. Remin still slept, so Cyreia got out of the bed quietly, careful not to wake her up. If nothing else, she could get them some breakfast.

The breakfast, as it turned out, was a few slices of bread and some vegetables. A pitiful sight, but the innkeeper didn't have anything else, or at least that was what she had told Cyreia. It could have been true - war rarely left people with enough food to throw lavish banquets - but it was just as likely that she didn't feel like wasting her supplies on the soldier of an enemy. Either way, Cyreia didn't feel it necessary to interrogate her about it. While poor, the meal would keep them alive. "Good morning," she smiled at Remin upon her return, hoping that she didn't look too... well, gloomy. Or out of ordinary. Knowing her acting abilities, she probably did, but that likely wasn't too suspicious in their current situation. "I've brought breakfast. I'm afraid there's not anything else, so we'll have to make do with this somehow," she shrugged and handed Remin her plate before sitting down on her side of the bed and taking a bite. It wasn't that terrible, actually. Plain food, too, could be nice from time to time. "I've been... thinking," Cyreia started. "After we're finished with the work, we should probably talk to Cinzia. I should talk to Cinzia, because this is my responsibility. Any ideas how to convince her to accept our aid? I have some, but I thought I'd ask for your opinion as well."
 

Conifer

Senior Member
The sleep wasn’t as bad as she expected, with the work through the day leaving her body and mind tired enough to sleep despite her mess of emotions about the whole affair. They returned in a surge when she woke up in an empty bed, but she pushed them down and away as if that would keep them from bothering her for more than ten minutes. What she wouldn’t give to be home now, tucked away in the safety of the castle, where she could simply avoid Avther, and thus, her problems - even if the idea of barely seeing him also left her feeling terrible. There was no winning anymore. There never was - not in love, and not in war, and not in anything remotely similar to either of the two.
She took the sparse time that Avther was away to dress, having half a mind to simply put on the already stained robes from the day before, but there were still appearances to keep up. She hesitated before pulling out the one pair of pants she’d brought, tugging them on. They were loose and comfortable, fitted at the ankles and the waist but loose elsewhere. It wasn’t really Athean fashion for anyone to wear pants at the moment, at least on their own. Utilitarian robes that were quick to sew and quick to mend had come into fashion in the hurried days of the war.
She’d brought them along for some particularly grueling riding day when she didn’t feel like messing with the effort of skirts anyways, but today seemed as good as any to pull them out. They’d snag on less, even for all their excess fabric, and they were old enough that she didn’t mind them stained. A short tunic was pulled over them, and then she pulled her hair up into a tighter bun, hoping to keep it from the same sort of treatment it had met yesterday.

Avther arrived back with food, and despite its simplicity, she couldn’t complain. Food was food, and she was more hungry than she expected to be. Remin sat back down on the bed with Avther, starting in on a slighly-cold carrot, seeming to have been left over from the night before and just warmed against the fire. “I can set up a meeting for you and Cinzia for this evening,” she offers, hoping that a middleman might make the process a little smoother. “Would you want me there or not?” She trusts that he can handle it alone, and this is as good a place to test his skills as any, but she’s not unwilling to be there as a support if he wants it. “There’s always the hope that they’ll just allow us to send aid. Money, manpower. But...that seems unlikely. They seemed against it before, but it might be worth checking again. Otherwise...appeal to their sense of independence, if you can. We’re not sending money, we’re sending wages for the work they’re putting in. We’re not sending men to help construction, but we’re sending healers and teachers - resources their families can benefit from if they choose it, but nothing that they’re forced to pretend to be grateful for.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
"That would be kind of you," Cyreia nodded, trying her best not to stare at Remin too much. That proved to be quite a challenge, though. She had never seen her wife in pants before and, well, the way they hugged her legs was just so flattering. Then again, Remin would probably look great even stuffed in a potato sack. Why oh why did this have to be so difficult? Just... existing at her side, but not being able to touch her, to hold her close. Thankfully, the topic of their conversation provided a worthwhile distraction.

"As for whether I should speak with Cinzia alone or not, well, I honestly don't know," Cyreia said and took another bite, her expression turning thoughtful. "It is my problem to handle and dragging you into this more than I already have doesn't feel right." So many things that she had done to these people didn't feel right, at least not anymore, even if all of her solutions had looked like the best possible choices to her back then. That was the thing, though. At times, there could be no truly good choices aside from not choosing at all and Cyreia hadn't had that privilege. "On the other hand, you are my queen and this is an important matter. Maybe you should be there, at least to see how it unfolds if nothing else. I'd... welcome it, too," she admitted after a while, feeling somewhat foolish for it. Of course that she would. Had Cyreia ever not welcomed Remin's presence? "In the end, though, it doesn't really matter how I feel about it. Do you want to be there, Remin?" It wasn't going to be pleasant, that much was certain, and she didn't want to push her into attending just for her personal comfort. If Remin preferred to stay away, Cyreia would simply manage on her own. She had always managed on her own before, so why should this be any different?

Remin's advice seemed sound. "There are a lot of good ideas in there. Thank you, Remin. The bit about emphasizing their independence? That's brilliant." It was also something Cyreia wouldn't have come up with, mainly because she didn't see them as independent. True, they were working on restoring the town tirelessly without any outside help, but they were still part of the kingdom. Delusions of independence were just that: delusions. It wouldn't hurt to play them up, though. "I had a few ideas as well. I thought that, since they seemed to appreciate the hands-on approach, I could promise to them that I'd return every year, stay for a week or so and just... help them. Personally pay my debt bit by bit." Cyreia didn't know how to do many things they would require of her, but she was sure that, if given some time to adapt, she would learn. "Maybe that could convince them to accept the aid. If I demonstrated that I'm not planning to just forget about Hadsberry the moment I leave and if I framed it as a wrong to be righted, not something they would have to worship me for. But maybe it's stupid, I don't know. What do you think?" Cyreia was still very new in this, after all, and she trusted Remin's judgment. It hadn't failed her so far.
 
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Conifer

Senior Member
“I’ll attend,” She decides for them both, feeling soft at his admission that he welcomed her by his side despite how confusing it all felt. At some point, a bit of time alone would have been appealing, but she’s not entirely feeling welcoming to the idea of it right now. There’d be time for that enough when they returned home. And it may all go a bit more smoothly with her there - while they didn’t seem all that fussed about speaking plainly with her around, there was a chance that they were still holding themselves back from truly speaking their opinions about Avther while she was in their presence. Cinzia didn’t seem the sort, but perhaps it would be safer.

“That’s...a remarkably good idea,” she admits, sounding surprised - but not surprised that Avther was capable of good ideas. She knew he was. He’d proved it time and time again. It just served to further highlight the differences between how they knew how to handle problems - her, diplomatically, and him, hands-on. Maybe she’d get the hang of that some day, but for now, she was simply glad that Avther could fill in the spaces she lacked. “It would certainly be worth offering. I couldn’t blame them if we weren’t welcome here after this visit, but your willingness to work seemed to gain some favor. Maybe it’ll gain more. And here...any favor we can get will get us far.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
"Thank you," Cyreia smiled. "Perhaps they will reject the idea and I will make a fool out of myself in the process, but hey, I can deal with being considered a fool." That would be a small price to pay, really. It was better to be seen as a well-intentioned fool than as an uncaring force of destruction. She had worn that particular mask in the past and it had served her well, relatively, but there was no place for such approach in Athea. A kingdom wasn't the same as an army. More importantly, Cyreia didn't want it to be the same as the army. People of Athea had already suffered enough even without her misguided ideas about ruling ruining everything. "Well, I suppose that there's no reason to linger here further. There's still work to be done, after all. Let's go, Remin." With those words, she stood up and headed towards the door.

When they arrived at the factory, they didn't cause nearly as much commotion as they had the last time. Some people nodded in their general direction as a way of greeting, some of them bowed (exclusively towards Remin) and the rest of them... well, ignored the royal couple, more or less, and simply went about their business. Cyreia didn't mind. If anything, it felt almost liberating. The grand gestures used to greet royalty still didn't sit well with her and this kind of treatment reminded her of the times she had been... well, ordinary. Just a tiny cog in the giant machinery of Eupriunia. The taste it evoked in her mouth was bittersweet now. In her heart of hearts, she still regarded Eupriunia as her home. How could she not? Those years spent there could never be erased, certainly not by something as abstract as politics. Still, though, she couldn't deny now that her country was responsible for some terrible things. That it had made her responsible for some terrible things, too. "You again?" Dyran asked when he saw her, though it didn't seem antagonistic. Mostly, she could detect surprise in his voice. "Good morning, Dyran. Yes, me again. Is that a problem?" The man looked at her, his expression, once again, unreadable. "No. There's still more than enough for you to do if you're so eager. I just didn't think you'd actually return," he admitted. "What can I say? I don't like leaving things unfinished," Cyreia smiled in response. "Well, you'd better start soon, then."

The work was simultaneously easier and harder than yesterday. With her muscles still sore, everything felt even heavier than before; there were moments when she genuinely thought that her arms were going to give up and fall off. Again, how did the residents of Hadsberry manage to go on and on? It was mindblowing to her, completely and utterly incomprehensible. At the same time, though, Cyreia actually managed to proceed faster. The other workers didn't have to direct her nearly as much, which saved them a lot of time, and, well, her movements seemed much more efficient than yesterday. She had fewer accidents, too, even if her hands inevitably ended up covered in blood anyway. At least it's my blood, Cyreia thought, and not someone else's. That, on its own, was an improvement.

Time flew fast, probably faster than she would have liked, and the shift ended. Cyreia wished it didn't. The work was exhausting, yes, but there was also joy to be found in it if you approached it with the right mindset. There would be no joy in the meeting with Cinzia, which awaited her now. There was at least one positive thing about all of this, though. Cyreia felt so tired from all that work that she didn't really have the capacity to overthink every single detail and conjure up worst case scenarios. Then again, was it a good idea to try and negotiate with Cinzia in such a state? Only time would tell. "Finally done! I can hardly believe it, but it's actually finished," Cyreia told Remin with some amount of pride when she found her in front of the factory. "I guess that it's time to talk to Cinzia. I can't say that I feel prepared for that particular discussion, but I don't think I can change that at this point. Where are we even supposed to meet, anyway?"
 

Conifer

Senior Member
The morning went quickly, for better or worse. When Avther let himself be led off to to help where he’d been working the day before, Remin found herself back in the kitchen with Beatrice, helping to prepare lunch. It was less of a taxing affair than dinner the day before had been - just sandwiches for the men to grab when they were hungry for them, with the rest of the bread they’d made yesterday and whatever fillings they could scrounge together. Beatrice seemed more comfortable with her being in the kitchen today, or perhaps it was just because it was a much simpler meal to throw together, but they worked mostly in silence. Remin made some effort to get to know the woman. She’d been widowed by the war, her husband having left the town to fight even before Avther had swept in and brought destruction. She didn’t linger long on that, preferring to talk about her son, who was one of the workers currently trying to put the factory back together. She wasn’t asked much about herself in return, which Remin was grateful for. The differences in their lives...it would have been an awkward conversation.

When most of the sandwiches were done, and the beginnings of dinner were being pulled together, Remin apologized for ducking out early and went to find where Cinzia might have been to set the meeting for Avther. She found the woman at her home, pouring over paperwork at a small table on her patio. Remin greets her, and wastes very little time. She seems busy enough as it is - she doesn’t need Remin to bore her with idle smalltalk.

“Avther and I-- we were hoping to discuss with you the possibility of aiding the town again. We understand your hesitations, but...the idea of just leaving Hadsberry to fend entirely for itself doesn’t sit right with either of us.”

“...Alright, then. I make no promises about what agreements we can come to, but it won’t hurt to talk about it.” Cinzia relents, running a hand though her dark hair. “Come by here this evening and join me for dinner. We’ll talk then.”

It’s only a short while later when she’s helped with all the dinner preparation at the factory that she has the time to help with - she’d returned to continue helping, finding it useless to simply wait around for Avther to finish his work and for dinner to arrive. She couldn’t partake in the meal with the workers that evening, but she’d certainly help where she could. She left the kitchen smelling like large amounts of roasting chicken, which she wondered how much bathing it would take to remove the smell from her. She’d have liked to clean herself, and maybe change into something more appropriate, but she hadn’t afforded herself the time for it. At any rate, it wouldn’t hurt the town’s perception of her, even if it wasn’t strictly good manners.

“Her home,” Remin answers when Avther approaches, smiling gently at her husband and the pride on his face. It was a nice look on him. She offers out her arm as they begin to walk back towards the town proper “We’re joining her for dinner. If it helps, I’m not sure anyone involved in this meal will be as prepared as they’d like to be to discuss all this - I’m certainly not.” She’d have liked to stay longer. Another few days, at least, truly gaining the trust of the Hadsberry, and doing some good that was more than an easily-forgotten drop in the bucket of everything that needed doing. Then, maybe, this whole thing would come a little easier.
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Her home. It made sense, of course. Where else should they meet? Still, going there didn't feel right. A home was a private sanctuary, a place to take refuge from the hostile outside world and, well, Cyreia brought the hostility with her, whether she wanted to or not. Neutral ground would have been more pleasant for both parties. Then again, Cinzia suggested it, so she must be fine with the prospect. More or less. That choice would be respected, no matter how strange or uncomfortable it felt to her. "It does help a little bit," she smiled and intertwined her fingers with Remin's. "Do you know what also helps? Knowing that I can't possibly ruin this more than I already have. Starting at the bottom means that we can only go up." Or stay there, but Cyreia suppressed the thought. Pessimism would not help her in any conceivable way. Self-flagellation felt tempting - a just punishment for her sins - but that, too, was a trap. Just pure selfishness. Filling her head with black thoughts would not make her a more skilled negotiator or a more charming company.

Cinzia's home was smaller than she had expected it to be, made mostly out of wood, but light and airy. An ordinary house, more or less, except for the steel statouettes that could be seen decorating various strategic places. Mithra's doing, she supposed. They were tiny, but breathtakingly detailed; hours of work must have gone into producing each of them and Cyreia found herself wishing she could create something like that, too. Something just as beautiful.

"Welcome," Cinzia stated simply, her expression saying absolutely nothing. Not even Cyreia's sorry state seemed to be able to break her formality. What a formidable woman. "The dinner is ready. Follow me."

For a while, they ate in silence, all of them seemingly oblivious to the purpose of this visit. Cinzia and Mithra talked to one another in hushed voices from time to time, but other than that, nothing really happened. Cyreia was thankful for that. She felt exhausted and an opportunity to catch her breath was more than welcome. It couldn't last forever, though.

"Thank you for the meal, Cinzia," Cyreia started. "It was delicious, although... that isn't why I came and you know it."

"Yes," Mithra said, "we do know why you came. What we don't know is why you still try. Wasn't our answer clear enough for you?"

"Just let me speak. Please." Cyreia looked at both women, then at Remin, as if seeking some sort of reassurance.

"Very well, then. Speak. Speak and I will listen. That much I can do for you," Cinzia conceded.

But what should she say? How to convey her sentiments in a way that would win their favor? That was the main problem. Not crafting plans, not putting them into action, but actually getting people to agree with them. Cyreia had spent a large part of her life giving orders and expecting others to carry them out without uttering a single word of protest. Obviously, this wouldn't work here. What would, though? I suppose that I'll just have to resort to honesty. She was too tired to try and think of a more complex strategy anyway.

"What I said before still holds true," Cyreia started as she looked Cinzia directly in the eye. Waver not. Those had been the words the fortune teller had said to her a few days before, hadn't they? It seemed like a good advice for just about any situation. She would follow it. "I do not seek forgiveness. I want you to know, though, that I didn't do what I did because it pleased me. I did it because I served my country. Now, however, I serve you, and as I have nothing else to offer, I offer myself." She took a deep breath before continuing. "I... have duties elsewhere. I can't stay for long and I can't fix everything I have destroyed. I can, however, pay my debt to Hadsberry gradually. I promise to come back every year, for as long as my hands still obey me, and work. Work on whatever you might need me to do. I will always find time for you, should you have me." Cyreia let her words hang in the air for a while.

"I would still like you to reconsider your stance on aid, though. I understand your reservations, I really do, but... well, I am not the kingdom and the kingdom is not me. The money isn't even mine. It belongs to Remin and her family and, ultimately, you. The Athean people, I mean." Wasn't that the reason kings and queens were so rich in the first place? So they could distribute finances among their subjects when they needed assistance. "It would be unjust if you were to be deprived of your own resources in a time of need just because I'm sitting on the throne. Would you be open to accepting wages for your people at the very least? They are rebuilding a part of the kingdom, after all, and they should be compensated."
 

Conifer

Senior Member
Cinzia’s quiet for a moment, expression as plain as ever. Remin could stand to take some tips from her, it seemed - it was impossible to know what she was thinking at this moment, faced with the kind and queen only steps away from begging at her feet. Remin found Avther’s hand under the table and took it, providing comfort as much as taking some of it for herself. Mithra was less ineffable - her opinion, and her detest, was written clear across her features. She stayed silent, though, leaned back in her chair and simply watching. Remin felt quite like prey.

“I’ll promise nothing to you now.” Cinzia eventually said, shaking her head. “For what it’s worth, I have no objections to your offers. But I can’t and won’t speak for the town’s opinions. They are the ones you impacted, and who will be impacted again by this. I’ll hold a meeting in the next few days, and tell them what you’re proposing. From there…” She shrugs lightly. “...your attempts are appreciated-” There’s a gentle scoff from Mithra’s space at the table, “-regardless of the outcome. I’ll send word about their decision when it’s reached, but that’s the best answer I can give you tonight.”

“Understandable,” Remin agreed. It may not have been what they were hoping for, but it was better than she expected given the way they had been greeted into town. She genuinely didn’t know how that meeting would go - she liked to think that they had proven themselves in the past two days to genuinely care for the town, but what was two days in the scheme of rebuilding a town? They’d made lunch and dinner and cleared a hallway. That wasn’t notable by any means, or if it was, it was simply notable because of who they were. “We do appreciate you inviting us into your home and into your town, and we look forward to whatever your decision may be.” That seems to prompt something for Mithra, who sits forward a bit, but at a glance from her wife, she sits back, looking even more disgruntled than moments before. “If you come to alternative solutions, we’d welcome them. The king and I truly just want to help right what has been wronged.”

“I will keep that in mind.” The mayor says, plain and inexpressive as always. “If there was anything else you wished to discuss…?”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Why did it seem like everyone aside from her had perfect command over their facial muscles? Cyreia had no idea what Cinzia was thinking, whether she thought her offer to be scandalous and insulting or whether she considered it seriously. Mithra's frown, on the other hand, was way more telling. Strangely enough, Cyreia actually preferred it. The woman... disliked her, to put it mildly, but she could deal with open hostility. Open hostility was safe. At least it didn't tend to manifest itself in poisoned wine and blades hidden in darkness. Feeling grateful for Remin's hand under the table, Cyreia gave it a light squeeze. In that moment, she was especially thankful that her wife had agreed to accompany her there; going alone, she suspected, would have been infinitely worse. Having an ally present made a world of difference.

"Thank you," she spoke, relief apparent in her eyes. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. There was no guarantee that the people of Hadsberry would accept her proposition, but, well, at least she could hope for the best outcome. As a soldier, Cyreia knew the value of hope. Besides, Cinzia probably had to swallow a lot of pride to even agree to hold that meeting. Thanking her was basic courtesy.

"And yes, I do wish to discuss something else, though it's a personal matter this time. I would like to... apologize to you personally, Cinzia. For how I treated you when I met you for the first time." Technically, Cyreia hadn't laid a finger on the other woman, but that hadn't been necessary. You didn't have to use physical violence to break someone if you knew what you were doing. And Cyreia? Oh, she knew very well. She also knew that hurting someone with intimidation wasn't any less painful just because it didn't leave scars. "I don't expect a response from you. I realize that this changes exactly nothing between us, but, well, you have been wronged and it is only right for me to apologize. If I can do anything for you, I'm all ears. Or," she turned slightly to face Mithra, "if you want to slap me around to release some of that pent-up anger, I'd be fine with that, too. I'm not joking. This is a limited opportunity since none of the guards are present, so act fast if you want to take me up on the offer. I won't defend myself." Alright, that wasn't very regal, but Cyreia didn't care. She hadn't received a good punch in a long, long time and she certainly deserved that one. Maybe even wanted it, in a way. Only pain could pay for pain, after all.
 

Conifer

Senior Member
Mithra raises her eyebrows, looking over Avther with something akin to bemused annoyance at his offer. A tight humorless smile stretches her lips as she leans forward, pulling herself to her full (impressive,) size in her chair - and for a moment, Remin’s convinced that she’s about to reach across the table and actually hit him. And then she just...doesn’t. She doesn’t back down, she doesn’t stop looking like she’s moments away from lashing out, but nothing happens. “Nah. As much as I’d love to, I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction of feeling a little more atoned for all the shit you did here. I don’t care if you did it ‘cause you were ordered to, or whatever. You’re the one who came in here and ruined our lives. Not your country, not your king, not whoever was in charge of you. Don’t get me wrong, I hate them too, but-” Cinzia’s hand settles on her wrist. It seems settle her somewhat, and she sits back, no less angry but certainly less combative. “-but yours is the face that threatened her and our town, and you’re the one that’s gotta live with that. You’re not gonna find any peace from that with me.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Cyreia didn't move a single muscle as Mithra rose from her chair, all fury and righteous anger. This one would hurt, that much was certain. Still, despite knowing that, she didn't avert her gaze, didn't flinch. Mithra deserved to land a satisfying punch and that wasn't possible without her cooperation. Turning her face away from her would have spoiled it. She braced herself for the impact, but it never came. The little speech that did come instead, however, hit her with greater force than a punch would have. That was to be expected, though, wasn't it? In the grand scheme of things, she hadn't really done anything to lessen their suffering. Expecting them to kiss her feet for expressing a modicum of regret would have been foolish.

Cyreia smiled sadly. "You are right, of course. I will live with that and with all the other things I've done. I wasn't trying to escape my responsibility." That wasn't how she did things, though these people, of course, couldn't know that. They had seen the worst parts of her exclusively. Why would they give her the benefit of doubt now? "I have an entire lifetime to try and think of ways to right my wrongs, though. That's what I intend to do from now on." Maybe, despite her earlier doubts and unwillingness, this really was a blessing. Not just because of Remin, but due to... well, this chance to start anew. Most people were never granted such a privilege. Had she remained in Eupriunia, she would never have thought about these things in depth. There would have been another war - there was always another war - and more suffering to contribute to.

Cyreia stood up and bowed. "I won't waste your time any longer. Have a pleasant evening and thank you for the kindness you have shown me." They weren't wanted here, or at least she wasn't, and Cyreia didn't wish to bother them for longer than absolutely necessary. Everything important had been said already, so it was time for them to go. When they got outside, her heart felt a little bit lighter.

"Well. I think that... wasn't as horrible as it could have been," she said to Remin with a tired smile. "I didn't get punched, either, so I suppose that that's a success. Do you think that the residents of Hadsberry will accept our offer?"
 

Conifer

Senior Member
“I genuinely don’t know,” She admits, her hand finding the warmth of Avther’s again once they’re outside. It’s barely a conscious act to lace their fingers together and head back towards the inn. She was slightly disappointed to be leaving in the morning - a few days relaxing on the coast felt almost cruel at this point, when they had just seen all the suffering here. But a few days relaxing on the coast also felt entirely welcomed - she wasn’t used to work like this, even if she hadn’t taken on the worst of it, and her body protested it. There was always the high chance that the days would be anything but relaxing, anyways, with their track record for this trip. No point in counting on it one way or the other. “I hope so, certainly. And I think they’ll at least take up your offer to return every once in a while. But we’ll see.”

The inn was warm when they arrived, with a fire burning merrily against the far wall, but no more populated than it had been the evening before. Remin wondered if it was ever populated, or if the amount of money they’d thrown at the owner would be enough to sustain them - surely there was a point to it, since it existed? Maybe when the town was running more properly there was more patrons tending to business in the community - securing weapons shipments, pricing metal, that sort of stuff. Despite her wondering, the look that the innkeeper gave them as they entered put Remin off asking entirely. They were welcome here for their money, and that was it. She couldn’t blame her.

She finally dropped Avther’s hand when they entered their room, gathering her sleeping clothes, determined to find somewhere to wash the two days worth of smoke and sweat and smell from herself. One of the guards had been sent to ask where it might be today, and supposedly there was a place to bathe in the basement, even with potentially not freezing water. She’d take anything at this point, but the idea of some amount of warmth was appealing. It had cost them extra, but she wasn’t going to complain about that either. “I’m going to bathe,” She says, a bit awkwardly, her bundle of clothes in her hands. The idea of asking if he’d help with her hair, still, is...out of the question. She’d manage it. It would be tricky, since she was nearly entirely sure that the ‘place to bathe’ consisted of a spigot and a shallow basin to catch the water, but she’d manage it somehow. “For the benefit of both of us, really. I smell like /I’ve/ been roasted instead of some chickens.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
"Yes," Cyreia squeezed her hand, "we'll see. And if they refuse, well, I'll just try to think of something else. Something they'd deem less invasive." This conversation didn't have to end with them leaving Hadsberry, after all. There were always letters. Maybe it would be better to put some distance between them; not because she was afraid of facing Cinzia, but out of respect for her feelings. While the mayor had been careful to conceal any hint of human emotion from her, Cyreia didn't doubt that she wasn't happy to see her. Hell, perhaps she even feared her. Removing her presence from the equation would give Cinzia some space to breathe. It would also make it easier for her to reject all of her suggestions, but, well, that was the entire point. Yes, she wanted Hadsberry to accept the aid. Wanted it desperately, wanted it more than anything else at this point. They had to do so willingly, though. If Cyreia had to force their hand, there would be no meaning in any of her friendly gestures.

As they walked towards the inn, her head was full of conflicting thoughts. The desire to stay ("I should fix everything personally"), the desire to leave ("I shouldn't bother them further") and utter exhaustion mixed together in a way that made it hard for her to understand her own feelings. Perhaps everything would get a little clearer tomorrow, after a good night of sleep. It seemed likely, though, that everything would remain just as confusing, just as painful, and Cyreia didn't mind, either. If nothing else, this could be a learning experience. In the future, when she inevitably got impatient and rash and wanted to default to simple solutions, she would remember this moment, remember the people of Hadsberry and ask herself whether it was really worth it.

When they entered the inn, Cyreia greeted the innkeeper. She didn't answer, preferring to seclude herself in the kitchen instead. Well, that was to be expected. Not everyone could be swayed with a symbolic amount of work. Who knew how many relatives this woman had lost to the war? Cyreia didn't blame her for not wanting to be too friendly with the invader. Besides, they didn't have to get along. They'd just spend the night here and then they would never have to see each other again.

"Ah. So there is a place to bathe?" Cyreia asked, her voice full of surprised joy. God, she had missed clean water so much. "That's more than I expected, really. I'll bathe as well once you've finished your business there. I don't even want to describe what I must smell like, though I suppose that I don't exactly have to." The various smells of cooking were at least pleasant, if a little overwhelming. The same could hardly be said about sweat and dirt. "Go ahead. And-- oh. If... if you need help with your hair, I'm still up for that," she said hesitantly. "I meant my offer." Did Remin even want her assistance? It had looked like that to her, but Cyreia couldn't really trust her perception when it came to her wife. She was too good at hiding her true feelings.
 

Conifer

Senior Member
"You'd best," she agrees after a beat, her tone teasing, "If you truly wish for me to cook for you when we return home. Just-- come down to the basement in a few minutes?" She instructs, faltering and unsure, having half a mind to turn down his offer now that she stood in the face of it as reality. It wasn't that she didn't want it...it was that she did, for multiple reasons. But others had helped her with her hair without it being anything special before. Granted, they were usually under her family's employ, but still. This was hardly much different - or at least she tried to convince herself of that.

Remin didn't give them either much time to reply, slipping out of the room hurriedly, both eager to be clean and eager to not dwell in the thoughts of his hands working through her hair. The reality may be easier to deal with. It's a hope in vain, but she hopes it all the same.
As expected, there's no proper tub in the small room in the basement - barely more than a closet - that she'd been directed to. A large bucket sits against the wall, under a tap, and a selection of mostly-clean looking clothes beside it. There's a drain on the floor to catch the water, the floor haphazardly sloped towards it, and a small sink-like basin on the wall as well. This whole set up was certainly a cobbled together afterthought, but Remin can't find it in herself to care. Instead, she locks the door behind her and sets her clothes aside, beginning the task of wiping herself clean. The water's shockingly warm - almost perfectly hot - and it erases any hesitations she had about paying whatever unsettling amount they had to pay for access to the washroom.

Remin dresses herself when she smells like the soft soap she'd brought along instead of chicken, and isn't grimey with the shocking amount of dust that had made its way into the kitchen from the construction site - it's just in time, as well. She can hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and can only surmise that it's her husband. She pushes the door open as she fills the bucket with water for her hair.
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
"Can't let that opportunity slip between my fingers, now can I?" Cyreia smiled, feeling both elated and, well, nervous. It's just hair, she told herself. We aren't doing anything inappropriate here. They certainly weren't, but only if things didn't progress any further than that. Cyreia didn't plan for it to, though that meant very little in this context. She also hadn't planned to kiss her back in the inn, or after their walk in the park, or flirt with her in front of the entire city. God, her track record wasn't very good, was it? It's going to be different this time. I promised not to do anything. Not unless Remin herself initiated it. A clear, obvious boundary, right? One that would never be crossed. Except that, judging by her behavior so far, it just might. She still didn't know whether she wanted it to happen or not. It seemed tempting, certainly, but was it also a good idea? Probably not. Definitely not, dammit.

When Remin left, Cyreia used the little time she had to rinse her hands, forearms and face in the small washbasin in their room. Touching her wife's hair with all the filth that had seared itself into her hands during the construction work wouldn't exactly help. It took some effort to get it off and her skin looked red from the furious scrubbing by the time she was done with it, but at least she wouldn't leave traces of dirt in Remin's hair anymore. Alright, time to go, I suppose. I can't very well back out now.

Entering the bathroom with Remin still in there felt weird, almost like invading her privacy even if they had agreed to everything beforehand. She almost expected her to accuse her of spying and throw her but, obviously, nothing like that happened. "Ready?" Cyreia smiled, hoping that her nervousness didn't seep through. "I apologize in advance if I get some soap water in your eyes. I'll try my best, but I can't guarantee it won't happen. I haven't really washed someone else's hair before, so I'm afraid that you'll be my test subject. Come on, sit down," she pointed towards the small stool standing in the middle of the room. "Tilt your head back and close your eyes."

When she obeyed, Cyreia picked up the bucket and poured some of the water on her hair, careful not to get it anywhere else. Once it was sufficiently wet, she rubbed some soap between her palms and started massaging it into her hair. She did so gently and carefully, enjoying the silkiness between her fingers. "Is this alright?" Cyreia asked hesitantly. "I'm not pulling your hair out, am I?"
 

Conifer

Senior Member
This was...perhaps one of the worst ideas they’d ever gone through with. Remin realised that as soon as she’d leaned back and closed her eyes in an attempt to keep some of the water from them, and just...felt entirely at peace, for this moment. The small room was warm with the pipes and the water, she was clean and comfortable and tired, and Avther was quietly working just inches from her. She could hear his quiet breathing mixing with her own. The smell of soap - lavender and rose, one of the few true comforts she’d packed along with her for this trip - permeated the air around them. It was just...comfortable. She wanted to reach out and find his hand, wanted to feel his warmth beside her, wanted to lean up and -- no. Absolutely not. She’d set the rule, and she’d keep it. He was only washing her hair, that was all. But then his hands followed the water he’d poured into her hair, and her mind went soft and void of rules. None of them mattered, truly.

“Mm?” She hums softly, his words not settling entirely into her head for a moment, her thoughts too soap-filled. “Oh, you’re...no, you’re doing more than alright. I’ll leave here with all my hair still on my head.” Remin assures him. “You couldn’t do worse than my nanny when I was young, if it helps. I think she thought my head was a rock that she was trying to scrub clean of moss. My hair was clean, admittedly, but my scalp ached for days.” She wondered what had ever become of her. She’d left when Remin grew old enough to not need someone keeping an eye on her at all times, and that was ages ago now. Was she working for some other child somewhere? Had she children of her own? Or maybe she didn’t deal in children at all anymore, and tended to other things. Thoughts of the war drifted by, but Remin let them pass without catching any of them. She didn’t want to think of what was most likely to have happened to her, in all these years of fighting and loss. No, she married some farmer who had remained untouched by the war and spent her days tending a small garden. That was a comforting enough pretend for Remin.
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Cyreia had no reason to distrust Remin's words, mostly because she genuinely seemed to be enjoying her ministrations. Oh, what a sight it was. With her eyes closed, her hair wet and her expression so relaxed, she looked... well. Let's just say it made her wonder what it would look like if she made her feel good in other ways. Distinctly dangerous ways. No, she shouldn't think about that. Couldn't. They'd never be allowed to have anything even remotely similar to that. Fantasies of this kind could only ever end in frustration. I should be thankful to have this, not want more than I am entitled to. That was the problem with wanting, though. Logical analysis of the situation rarely had the power to turn it off. It certainly didn't work in this case.

"How cruel of her," Cyreia laughed softly. At least Remin couldn't see her now, not with her eyes closed and probably not even if she opened them. The room was full of steam; steam which mercifully obscured her features and along with it, hopefully, also her thoughts. "Though I remember that my mother used to be... well, not really rough with me, but sometimes, she had to get it over with quickly and then it hurt a bit. I assume it's normal with caretakers because they have to do it every day other day or so and-- well. It probably does get tedious." Cyreia was just rambling at this point, yet her hands never stopped working. She continued to massage her head with slow, circular movements. Even soap had probably been applied at this point, but it didn't look like she planned to stop any time soon. And why would she? Remin clearly liked it and god knew that she deserved a moment of peace in this terrible, terrible mess. If Cyreia could be the one to provide it, then all the better. For once, she wanted to be a source of comfort, not a source of grief. No, taking her sweet time seemed like the superior option. It had nothing to do with getting to touch her some more, of course. Absolutely nothing.

"Tell me of your childhood. I like listening to your stories," she said quietly, feeling a bit selfish for her request but still unable to stop herself from voicing it in the first place. "What was it like, growing up in the castle? Did they ever let you outside?"
 

Conifer

Senior Member
Remin certainly would make no protest to drawing out the washing of her hair, more than content to keep existing in this blissful liminal space. His hands felt divine in her hair and there was nothing more she wanted than for him to keep up his careful attention. She would be happy if he /never/ stopped. She could live here, like this. “It was…” Remin pauses, wondering how truthful to be. She doesn’t want to seem ignorant of how good she grew up, which was miles better than most. Miles better than him, even, and that was her true concern. Changing his opinion of her. But wouldn’t this all be easier if he hated her? Wouldn’t it all be easier if they couldn’t bear to be in the same room together for long? Ruling would be difficult, but not...not everything else that seemed to take up her thoughts every time she was around him.

“It was..complicated,” she finally admits, quietly. “I’ve wanted for very little in my life because of it, and I’m grateful for that. But - along with that comes a certain degree of isolation. My friends consisted of people working for my parents, or local nobility that tended to be older or younger than me. And even among those...there’s very few that never wanted anything from me or my family.” Tristan. Perhaps why that’s why it wasn’t weighing as heavily as she almost wished it would - this was nothing she was unused to, even if it was more extreme. “But that castle itself- remind me to show you the secret places to hide when we return.” She smiles softly. “There’s a small room hidden behind one of the bookshelves. It’s theoretically a place to hide if we were invaded or some such, with a tunnel leading out into the gardens to escape, but it was forgotten a long time ago. Until I decided I wanted to read about the great poets - and it simply opened. I hid there all the time. As far as I know, no one else really knows about it. I’d use it to sneak away unattended when I was a teenager. I couldn’t...really go to town, since people would see me, and recognise me, but I’d swim in the river, or sneak into gardens and steal some fruit or something. I left money behind, of course - usually too much, I’m sure. I hardly knew what anything cost for a good while.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
"Oh, I can imagine that it was complicated," Cyreia said, her voice barely louder than whisper. "I mean, I can't imagine it in vivid details for obvious reasons, but I do believe that each path in life has its... unique challenges." Fairytales painted the lives of aristocrats as these shiny, beautiful affairs unstained with worries, but stories told to children were rarely reliable sources of information. From what Cyreia knew to be true about nobles, she wouldn't have chosen to be born as one had god (or some other mystical being) offered her the chance to choose. Her childhood among smallfolk had been good while it had lasted. True, her mother hadn't been rich and they had struggled to get necessities at times, but it had always worked out in the end. At least her life had been wonderfully free of expectations. Unlike Remin, Cyreia hadn't had to worry about not tarnishing the reputation of her family, about following all those nonsensical rules, about being married off against her will eventually. Well. Now that she thought about it, all of these things had actually happened to her in a way, but her childhood, if nothing else, hadn't been marked by the knowledge that it would happen. Remin had never had that luxury.

"That sounds very lonely," Cyreia said when Remin finished speaking. Was it brazen of her to state her opinion so openly? Perhaps, but it certainly looked like that from her perspective. She knew a thing or two about loneliness, too, and could sympathize with her wife. As strange as it was, maybe they weren't so different in some regards. "I'd love to see those secret places, though. And who knows, perhaps there are more of them in the castle. Places nobody has discovered yet. We could look for them and--" And what? Hide there whenever their duties got too much for them to bear? They could never do that, though. The people of Hadsberry couldn't hide from the destruction she had wrought, either. Still, bringing attention to it now didn't feel right. "Well. I'm not sure what we'd do with those places, but it could be a fun pastime. Exploring the castle."

Cyreia would have liked to continue forever, just tending to Remin's hair and listening to her talk, but she couldn't very well prolong it for much longer. At least not this part of the process. Thankfully, she wasn't nearly done with Remin yet. "Now close your eyes again," she ordered, her tone gentle but firm, and poured some of the water on her hair. Once all the traces of soap were gone, Cyreia grabbed a towel and a hairbrush. "Better to brush it while it's still wet," she said. "It always gets so tangled when you put it off. Especially if you go to sleep right away after that." She took a strand of her hair and started brushing it softly, careful not to cause any pain. "You have such beautiful hair. Mine was never as silky."
 
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Conifer

Senior Member
Remin let out a soft sound of disappointment when Avther finally put an end to working the soap into her hair. They couldn’t exist here forever, and they’d already existed here for...long enough, though it was hard for her to tell how long that might have been. Not as long as it felt, likely, but not as long as she’d like. There was some surprise when he started brushing her hair - something she could do much more easily on her own - but she had no desire to stop him. Absolutely none at all. He could do whatever he liked to her right now, and she’d be content to let him.

“Was your hair long once?” She asks, her eyes still closed, despite the water being finished with. It’s comfortable and she’s tired, and it’s nice to imagine somewhere else than the basement of an inn in a town that rightfully dislikes them. She tries to imagine him with hair longer than his now, younger - before he was a soldier, probably. Before he’d faced violence like this. He’s undeniably attractive now, but that’s a nice thought too. “It would suit you, I think.” She decides with a murmur. “But I’m sure how it is now is so much less work.” Not that, at the moment, she was finding anything wrong with her hair being more work. Not if it meant they could spend this time together like this.
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
The question left her startled for a second, her hands faltering ever so slightly. How did Remin know? What else did she know? Of course, the realization that she had implied too much and practically told her for all intents and purposes came soon after that. Talking to Remin, it seemed, made her feel a little too relaxed. She would have to be more careful in the future. "...Yes," Cyreia said, seeing no point in trying to deny it now. It would have sounded incredibly suspicious to a Eupriunian because, well, men just did not wear long hair in her country, but Remin wasn't Eupriunian. This was fine. In fact, trying to think of some ridiculous excuse would have been way more damning than just telling her the truth. The truth was safe, more or less, if only certain parts of it were revealed. Inventing lies from scratch had always been difficult for Cyreia, but twisting the reality so that the resulting impression of it ended up telling a different story? That came as natural as breathing to her.

"I don't think that it suited me, though," she smiled softly. "I had too much of it and it rarely did what I wanted it to do. Admittedly, I never tried too hard to tame it. Most of the time, I just wore it in a ponytail because that didn't require much effort." From time to time, Cyreia reached for the towel and rubbed her head with it gently in an attempt to dry it at least a little bit. It kind of made the whole process of brushing her hair more complicated, but that also meant that she could conceivably spend more time doing it. In her eyes, that counted as a win.

"I chopped it off one day when I got fed up with it. I didn't bother to get a mirror or proper tools for cutting hair, so I ended up looking like a complete idiot. Everything was so uneven and my mother, well, she was furious with me. She told me that nobody would ever want to marry me if I looked like that, to which I replied that I did not want to get married anyway. That was the worst argument we've ever had, I believe. I was an only child and she wanted grandchildren." All of the things they had argued about seemed so silly in hindsight. Well, it didn't matter anymore. None of it mattered.
 

Conifer

Senior Member
“She’s right.” She teases gently, finally opening her eyes to look up at him hovering above her. “I wouldn’t have married you if you’d shown up with an uneven haircut. The rest of it I can live with, but uneven hair? I would have simply turned around and left.” What would have happened if she had tried to not marry him? Remin has some idea that the answer was that she’d be stopped quickly and dragged back down the aisle by the Eupruinian guards that had been in attendance to see the whole thing carried out. A less ideal way to start a marriage than doing it voluntarily - even if it hadn’t really been voluntarily in the least bit. If she had known what she did now - that he was a shockingly decent person, and kind besides, then perhaps she would have dreaded it less. Perhaps their first night would have gone a bit smoother.

“What else of your mother?” She asks softly, well aware that she’s venturing into emotional territory. It feels safe to here, though. “What was it like to grow up in Eupriunia? Different than here, I imagine.”
 

Aerynth

Senior Member
Now that idea made her laugh. "I'm sure the king would have understood and picked someone more presentable for you to marry. We are civilized, after all." Were they, though? Yes, in the strictest sense of that word, but a lot of what they were responsible for didn't sit well with her. It hadn't even in the past, back when she had still lived in Eupriunia, but it had been easier not to think about it then. It was impossible not to do so now; not when she had to confront the consequences of their actions every single day. Hell, even her marriage to Remin wasn't right. It hadn't been right to force her, despite Cyreia's resolve to treat her wife with kindness. They should have left that decision up to Remin.

"Well," Cyreia took a deep breath, "she was kind, most of the time, when I wasn't actively driving her mad. Usually even then, but you know how these things go. Nobody's patience is endless and god knows I tested it a lot. She worked as a seamstress. We lived alone because my father supposedly died before I was born. I never learned much about him because, well, I don't think she enjoyed talking about him much. There were... tidbits, but nothing very specific, and I didn't care enough to interrogate her." She still didn't care. Perhaps it was strange, but Cyreia didn't really miss having a father. That element had never been present in her life, so mourning it didn't feel authentic. It was just the default state for her.

"And, well, I don't think that my childhood was all that different from what peasant children get around here. I grew up in a small village near the borders. It was pretty isolated because we were surrounded by mountains from most directions and so we kept to ourselves. We had to. Anyway, it was a nice place, before it burned down at the very least." Perhaps she should have stopped herself, but Cyreia had never been very good at controlling the flow of a conversation. Once a topic had been breached, she just tended to talk, talk and talk. This tendency was only strengthened by Remin's presence; Remin who, for some reason, always seemed to accept everything about her. Remin who actually seemed to be interested in her and her life. "It was an incident similar to Easthaven. Border settlements are always in a vulnerable position, so I suppose that it was a matter of time." She spoke calmly, in a tone one would speak of weather and other mundanities, but her hands shook slightly. How pathetic. It was such a long time ago. "That's how I joined the army. I had nowhere to go, no money to my name and Eupriunia takes care of its soldiers. It all worked out in the end somehow."
 

Conifer

Senior Member
“I’m sorry.” She says quietly, reaching her hand mostly-blindly to find Avther’s in her hair and give it a soft, reassuring squeeze - she lingers for a moment before she drops it back away, letting him work. “That must have been...Gods, I can’t imagine. That must have been terrible. I’m glad there was somewhere you could go, at the very least.” She was no fan of the Eupriunian military, but that wasn’t the fault of soldiers that had joined out of desperation. On that miniscule level, the people were likely little different than anyone from Athea. She was sure that Eupriunia was no fan of the Athean military either. “Somewhere you were apparently appreciated, if you ended up here.” Sometimes she wondered if Avther didn’t land himself here for his military might, though. There were others more devoted to the country, Remin assumed. Others that would defend what had happened in Hadsberry to the last word. They must have seen that he’d do well ruling, even for all his clumsiness around it. Or perhaps because of? He had lived the life that many in this war-torn country were now left with. He wasn’t some abstract, terrifying noble, despite the stories that had drifted this way. Or maybe they just thought him manipulatable. Good soldiers often were.
 

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