1228.4 The Mistress Always Spanks Twice

In early January a severe storm blows through the Morvan. For 5 days the snow falls steadily and blows wildly with drifts several feet high. A rag-tag group of 10 comes to the south entrance and requests sanctuary from the storm. They've been caught in the storm, and several look to be at death's door.
"I'm looking for Eskil.". The woman speaking from within a seeps cowl pauses, her voice croaks out an explanation, "Oh, she calls herself Tranquillina. Tell her that her Mater is requesting Hermetic courtesy. "

Deykin expected to be serving in the turb a fortnight after Christmas - there simply being much less need for the full cadre of shepherds during the winter - but nevertheless he was extremely grateful not to be in the fields during this epic storm. For the first couple of days he had to endure his share of training exercises outdoors; but once the snow became thigh-deep, most patrols were postponed and the turb members were given tasks under shelter. Deykin and three other grogs were stationed at the guard house at the south entrance, taking turns playing dice in trios while the other scanned the white horizon. Deykin had already won the right to carry out any interesting task that might fall to them, and fetching the young maga in response to the unexpected arrival of visitors certainly qualified.

Leaving his bow and quiver in the guardhouse, Deykin lopes to the mansion and bounces up the stairs three at a time, reaching the top floor out of breath but pleased to be stretching his legs. At the Magic Room (he and his mates called it that because most covenfolk weren't allowed in, and sometimes people walked out of it who weren't there before - and sometimes, the other way round as well ...), he summarizes the visitor's message for Tranquillina to a higher-ranking guard, who bids him stay and goes into the Magic Room. He tries to interest the remaining guard with a riddle, but fails and eventually waits quietly, shifting from one thawing foot to another. Suddenly he hears a woman's voice slice through the silence - "Which one?!" The door to the Magic Room flies open and the teenaged maga is before him, dressed uncharacteristically roughly in a cloak made from a wolf's skin and glaring at him with furious eyes; she seems to loom over him despite their true difference in height.

At her order, Dekyin stammers out a description of the weather-battered traveling party and the statement made by its leader (" - her exact words!", she barks at one point). She has him twice describe the features of the old woman in the cowl; he feels his throat constricting, and wonders whether she is cursing him with sickness like she is said to do by all the other shepherds. As he babbles on, hoping some repeated detail of the encounter will mollify her, she suddenly (so quickly that he flinches) begins instructing him. She orders him and a nearby servant to have the best guest quarters made ready for the visiting maga and a hot bath drawn, to have warm clothes brought to her men in the dining room, and to have the kitchens produce hearty fare for the grogs and their best delicacies for the visitor. The instructions come first in her perfect Latin, then again in their entirety in French; the latter includes an unexpected addendum in the local idiom: "Do not fuck anything up." As he instinctively salutes the civilian and flees to carry out his orders, Dekyin definitely wishes he hadn't been so lucky with the dice....

For the past year, Loys had spent nearly every waking moment, six days a week, inside the magical workshop of the lovely Tranquillina. The first half of that time had comprised his training: he meticulously catalogued all of the equipment (that which he knew how to name, at least, and learned what he could of the rest) and read mysterious numbers off of wax tablets to the maga as she carefully moved working surfaces a thumbspan this way or that. While the final result was certainly orderly and impressive, he didn't really see the difference from how it was when he first was allowed inside. Still, his efforts seemed to satisfy her, and for the next six months he stayed by her side (rapturously, by her side!) as she carried out snippets of whatever incantationery she was working on; she got really tired (she worked even longer hours than he did, in the summer), and his alertness definitely earned her gratitude on one occasion he still couldn't bring himself to bring to mind. But after Christmas, she informed him that she would be spending a good deal of the winter in the library, and his tasks in the lab became fewer, humdrum, and (most of all) less alluring. With more free time on his hands, he had taken to hanging out in one of the parchment preparation rooms, the process of making the precious writing pages fascinating to him.

The percamenarii and their assistants were, as a rule, bent old men with swollen joints and chemically stained fingertips; but there was a girl, perhaps a year or two older than he, who helped clean up the lime and chalk and loose hairs from the treatments. She proved very friendly right away, although her behavior sometimes struck Loys as unfathomable. For instance, she had apologized for the odors in the chamber, but he, comparing it in his mind to working around dozens of exposed human organs for months at a time, had said that from his perspective the scent was delightful; for some reason she had blushed deeply and blinked even more energetically at him while they spoke. Today, as their conversation opened with talk of the severe snowstorm, she claimed to be quite chilly (how, he could not imagine, as the parchment factory was nearly sweltering); after she repeated the claim a few times, it occurred to him to offer his jacket, which she wore with half-lidded eyes and a renewed intrusion into his personal space. Currently she was displaying disproportionate interest in his ability to translate the dullest phrases from French into Latin, but she seemed to be enjoying the pastime and it indeed passed the time.

Suddenly, a peremptory woman's voice springs forth from somewhere behind his scalp: [sup]"Come to the library immediately."[/sup] While the girl is mightily startled, Loys's face lights up, and he flings a hasty goodbye over his shoulder at the girl (gotta remember to ask her name again, he remarks to himself) as he tears out of the workshop. A bit of foot traffic on the only path cleared from the parchment factory to the main house tries his patience, not to mention making him curse himself for leaving his jacket with what's-her-name. But he reaches the mansion without further crisis, flies up the stairs to the regio entrance (the guards seem a bit spooked today, he notices), and coasts to a stop at the door to the library, where Tranquillina is already beginning to ask for his assistance. "You and Choiniere," she nods to the servant standing at attention nearby, "will attend our visitors' every need. If they need it, if they wish it, it will be theirs. Your job is to make sure they have nothing in the wide world to possibly complain about. When Cumhachd" (it must be the strange pronunciation that makes that lovely face grimace so!) "requires something, one of you goes to fetch it, the other stays against the possibility that she has another request before the first returns. There will be watchmen posted on call over the night, but otherwise you both are with her at every moment. And I want to know everything she asks for, after you have granted it. Your job is not to spy on her. But anything you do happen to hear, you will tell that to me too." While Choiniere seems only politely resigned to these duties, Loys embraces them gleefully: bringing Tranquillina information she wants provides him higher joy than nearly anything else could. By the time he is finished expressing his flowery gratitude for the task and hearty acceptance thereof, the maga is already halfway down the hall.

Before the guard from the regio entrance found her, Tranquillina had been contentedly sitting in the covenant library, face to face with their copy of Threading the Hermetic Needle. For the past couple of weeks she had been skimming quickly through the first chapters, but the instruction had advanced considerably in chapter three ("Selective Control") and she had resigned herself to slower progress thereafter. That entire morning she had been glued to her seat, the summa open in front of her on the tabletop, a candle in the far right corner, and her left hand resting on the table as well, its skin displaying a different hue and pattern from one diameter to the next as she practiced her ability to evoke specific images. Although the library was kept warm and perfectly dry, the chill of the week's violent storm had seeped into nearly every corner of the mansion; she had gotten used to the invigorating heat of the furnace in her laboratory over the past six months, and she was considering butting horns with Alexandria over the right to study the tome in her sanctum.

All such musings evaporated instantly upon the guard's arrival. His secondhand version of the woman's words still contained the triggers "Eskil" and "mater", and Tranquillina's blood turned icy. Please, let it be Tria, she pleaded as she rushed from the library and up a flight of stairs. They would've recognized her - she wouldn't have said - please, o holy Virgin, mother of our Lord and Savior, please let it be Tria...! She quickly traversed the regio boundary into the mundane mansion and confronted the shepherd who had spoken directly with the visitor; the more she heard, the tighter her fists clenched. She dispatched the household to receive the guests in the most impeccable possible fashion; there had better not be a single reason for her to criticize me. - us. Mons Electi.

Now, midway through the four flights of stairs down to ground level, she stops and leans against the cold stone wall, taking deep breaths and trying to slow her beating heart. One of the covenant maids, passing by innocently and seeing her closed eyes and furrowed brow, almost speaks to her, but her instincts rightly warn her against intervention and she creeps away softly. A few minutes more, and Tranquillina snaps upright, ready to act but determined to do so with purpose. "Now then," she declares to nobody in particular as she removes a kerchief from her pouch. "Better that I remembered the casting token before making it all the way outside." The stairwell echoes with her voice as she uses the lock of Loys's hair to create the sound of her voice at whatever location he might be occupying. ((CrIm Base 1, +4 Arcane Connection range, +1 intelligible words, for a level 10 spell. Sta -3 + Cr 6 + Im 10 + aura 5 + words/gestures 2 + offline stress die 0 (no botch) = 20, halved is 10.)) She reascends the stairs slowly, the spell having sapped some of her energy. At the back of the library, she unconsciously holds her breath as she slinks past shelves full of vis and fetches a coins from near the back, making a quick entry on a nearby ledger. When she emerges from the storeroom, Loys and Choiniere are ready for their instructions, which she delivers with efficiency. Woefully she entrusts Alexandria with spreading the word to the other magi of the casting token she is about to provide to the last person on earth she wants to see.

As she heads back to the mundane side and down the stairs one last time, her face changes form to a more mature version of herself, thirty years old, with long brownish-red hair elaborately arranged in formal braids. She grasps the lapels of her cloak firmly, and suddenly she is wearing a gossamery formal gown, complete with jewels on the cuffs and hem that would pass a cursory inspection. She touches the front of her gown to her face to invoke its Aura of Ennobled Presence upon her; she even goes so far as to cast Enchantment of Detachment upon herself, to ameliorate her pounding heart. Finally, girded by all the sensible precautions she can imagine (not quite all - but Wizard's Sidestep seems a bit much, for this particular emergency), she takes a final deep breath and heads out to the guard house.

Most of the visitors are huddled gratefully around a fire. The cowled figure stands alone, implacably, on a tiny patch of ground, the snow around her boots having all melted away (and no snow lands on her clothing). Tranquillina straightens her own posture and strides directly to her, handing her the coin. "I hereby grant you, Cumhachd ex Tytalus, the customary Hermetic courtesy. Which, again by custom, may be revoked at any time. Prithee reflect a similar courtesy by not confusing our retainers with misstatements about my lineage." The voice that comes out of Tranquillina's mouth is flat and gratifyingly emotionless.

She holds out her hand, and lets the token fall through her fingers, Tranquillina is sure that she put the token into Cumhachd's palm, but the palm moved ever so subtly to cause the coin to fall through the crone's fingers when it was placed. Cumhachd smiles mysteriously at Tranquillina as the token falls to the ground.
"Child, you are of my lineage, whether you choose to recognize that or not. Tria and Maximianus may have concocted some scheme to steal you away from me, but that's not important, right now. I am only here by some happy accident, the severe weather waylaid us, and I am unable to transport my cohort back home. I myself could leave at any point, but these..." she points to them and chuckles. "These men are important to me, and abandoning them would be foolhardy." Then confirming that she has declined an invitation to the Aegis, "As far as invitations go, I don't require it, but I would ask that my cohort be given tokens so that they can enter your Aegis and get some warmth." She pulls down her cowl and smiles. There are 9 men with her.

Tranquillina ignores the invitation to continue arguing about the proper attribution of her lineage and turns to the men, some of whom look to be in dire straits from exposure to the winter storm. She is about to cast a Physician's Eye over the lot of them as a first step towards seeing to their well-being, when she hears Cumhachd request tokens for them. "Each man requires a token? ... What is their nature?" The Detachment keeps her relatively calm in the face of this news, but she still takes a step back from the visiting cohort. Meanwhile, the coin still lies in the snow: she'll be damned if she's going to stoop to pick it up in Cumhachd's presence, but she's suddenly loath to cast a spell to fetch it, with the possibility there are nine vis-bearing creatures of the Magic Realm so close at hand....

((Thanks for the setup!))

"Eskil, your questions betray your assertion that you are a maga of the Order of Hermes, with all the rights and privileges thereto. One wonders what Maximianus taught you. If you are truly interested, I suggest bringing whatever power you have to bear and find out. For the time being, these men are part of my retinue and as I have requested Hermetic courtesy, it is incumbent upon the covenant to provide. They have some amount of power and are unable to cross the threshold of the Aegis. But have no fear, as I have requested Hermetic courtesy, and my visit was unannounced, I have gifts to give." One of the men steps forward and pulls a cloth sack out of his pack and hands the sack to Cumhachd who then holds it out for Tranquillina. Before, when it was out of range, Tranquillina didn't really notice it, or it was masked by the beings of might, but now that it is out and confronting her, within arm's reach, the overpowering nature of over a queen of vis causes Tranquillina to... ((You can fill in the blank here.))

[size=70]... part of her head is cold, part of it is warm ...[/size]
[size=85]Tranquillina ponders the somewhat odd juxtaposition. Her right ear, and that side of her jaw, are touching something soft and very cold. But her right cheek, and that side of her nose and lips, are touching something wet and warm, with a foul odor that is somehow a bit less foul than it ought to be.... She slowly opens her eyes at the same time as she remembers what it must be. She is lying in the snow, her face at the edge of a pool, of impressive size, of her own vomit. Her stomach is still spasming, but there is nothing left to eject. Her head feels like it is lying on an anvil and being repeatedly struck. No, wait: some of that is a throbbing in her temple, yes; but some of it is ... a noise....[/size]

With a start, Tranquillina regains the ability to process the world around her. She is lying where she collapsed in the snow a moment or two ago. The three grogs are in front of her, facing outward, weapons drawn and ready. One of the grogs is violently ringing an alarm bell, repeatedly (hence the anvil ...), while holding his sword in his other hand and also nudging her with his foot. "Milady? - Milday Tranquillina?!" he keeps saying. It must be hard to do all that at once, she thinks hazily. Beyond the grogs, just outside the Aegis boundary*, stand Cumhachd and the nine mysterious men. Tranquillina coughs, several times, which drives her face a little further into the cold and the warm. This doesn't seem to bother her, strangely. Oh, right: the Detachment spell, she remembers.

Well then. As long as she is already as sick as she could possibly be (and as undignified), she might as well employ her powers. Not that I am agreeing with that witch, she emphasizes to herself. First, she extends her Magic Sensitivity, trying to sense the expected Might of the nine men. ((Per 2 + Magic Sensitivity (creatures) 4 + offline simple die 10 - vis allergy 5 = 11.)) Next, still not trusting her voice to work properly, she sponts a Perdo Corpus spell, to destroy all traces of the vomit in the snow and on her face; if it also happens to destroy any unwanted output in her undergarments before anyone notices it, all the better. ((Base 3, +1 Touch, +2 Group, for level 10. Sta -3 + Pe 14 + Co 29 + aura 3 - vis allergy 5 + Talisman attunement (Corpus) 3 - no words 10 + offline stress die 4 = 35, halved is 18.)) She weakly scoops a handful of the suddenly clean snow into her mouth and tries to swallow. She hears the bell stop ringing. She rolls over so that she is sitting up, or at least close enough. Cumhachd's grin seems to fill the entire landscape. Tranquillina thrusts out her hand and barks a summons; the casting token flies to it from the snow at Cumhachd's feet. She feels like this deserves to be done with a snarl, but she can't summon the emotion to produce one. ((Base 3, +2 Voice, for level 5. Sta -3 + Re 9 + Te 5 + aura 3 - vis allergy 5 + offline stress die 8 = 17, halved is 8.))

She still isn't sure she should try to stand up. From the direction of the mansion, she hears sounds of people approaching, responding to the alarm.

  • ((not really sure this is where it is - took a guess))

"Oh, Eskil, you poor dear. I had forgotten your, um, problem." Cumhachd offers without any hint of sincerity, once Tranquillina is lucid enough to hear her. "Once I realized what the problem was, I had my cohort take it out of reach." Her statement is true, as the only effects Tranquillina feels are after effects of the exposure.
Cumhachd, with a voice worthy of sergeant barks an order to the Mons Electi grogs, "Someone help the poor dear to her feet. The best thing for her now is to move around and vigorous exercise."
((Need to check for botch on that Magic Sensitivity roll. If this isn't stressful to Tranquillina, I don't know what is. :smiley:))

(( I was going to have Stultus wait and come in later, but this is pretty much the perfect entrance cue... ))

The grogs move to obey the Tytalus maga, only to be stopped in their tracks by a loud command snapped from behind them. "Belay that order!" Stultus' boots crunch on the snow as he walks in front of the detachment. "Need I remind you, gentlemen, that the honored guest is NOT in your chain of command? Tranquillina is perfectly capable of regaining her feet on her own, or taking care of herself for that matter. However, for politeness' sake, ONE of you please stand ready to assist her -- If. She. So. Desires."

He turns, pacing forward to the edge of the Aegis, and beams a broad, genuine smile up at Cumhachd, clasping his hands behind his back. "Mater cara. It is, as always, a pleasure to see you." The fact that he's now standing more or less between Tranquillina and the Tytalus is pure coincidence, of course.

Turning to Stultus, "I'm not surprised you're the first to arrive on the scene. I had heard rumors that you and Eskil here had become covenant mates, but I wasn't sure. Nothing could please me more. Please accept my sincere apologies, filius carus, that I did not send word to you. Truthfully, I wondered if you would even be about, you do have a tendency to go out carousing with the mundane folk, so I thought you might be in Autun." Cumhachd takes a deep sigh, and sounds almost wistful, "It is a fitting burden that my two greatest failures confront me now that I am at my lowest point, stranded in this dreadful weather, with my retinue left out in the cold, as it were."
Then, not waiting, or even expecting any response from either Stultus or Tranquillina, she goes on, "There is the matter of my retinue. Do yo not have some place where these men could get warmth?" Several of the men appear to be turning blue due to the cold, and they don't appear to be dressed for the cold, either, as if they've been surprised by the sudden storm.

Alexei has kept a rock near the bell of each of the alarm stations around the Covenant, it takes him three attempts though before he arrives at the correct one with a sudden burst of imploding air and the smell of cinnamon. He is fully armed and wearing his suit of chain.

"Stultus, Tranquilana! What is the alarm!" he turns to the grogs on sight. "Protect Tranquilana!" he commands and stands in front of the group but still inside the Aegis.

((I doubt that Alexei recognizes the other Maga?))

((can always roll OoH Lore, or just wait for those who do know her. ))

(( I'll introduce her if Tranquillina doesn't. Just want to give Gerg a chance to post.))

((I can't make any rolls right now, so don't stand on ceremony go ahead and let Alexei know))

Tranquillina is relieved (to the extent she is currently capable of feeling relief) that Stultus is now providing a more ready target for Cumhachd's aggression. Accepting the assistance of the bell-wielding grog, she climbs unsteadily to her feet.

((I thought there was a fire by the guard house for them ... maybe they abandoned it to line up with Cumhachd once the guards got all swordy-axey at them. Or had to move away from it to get distance from Tranquillina.))

Her eyes narrow at the men with her tormentor, conflicting wishes in her mind. Choosing one of the men she can see from between her guardians, she casts a spell to gather as much information as she can about his health, making it clear to all onlookers by her words and gestures that it is an Intellego spell. ((Going for Revealed Flaws of Mortal Flesh but at Voice range, level 15. Sta -3 + In 6 + Co 29 + aura 3 + Talisman attunement (Corpus) 3 + words/gestures 2 + offline stress die 1/exploder 4 = 48, halved is 24. Penetration total: 24 - 15 + Penetration 2 = 11.))

(( Bamf! Better cinnamon than sulfur :wink: And I doubt you recognize the visitor....))

Tranquillina doesn't outwardly smile, but she is grateful that Alexei too is here to support her, and even (for now) feels a touch of fondness for his frequent inability to pronounce her name correctly. "A justified misunderstanding by our guards, sodalis. This visiting Tytalus maga chose an action that ended up looking, to our loyal turb, like a surprise attack upon my person. Garnerus - Atrio - Monterel," she names the guards in turn, switching to French, "I am not in danger. At this moment."

Well, Tranquillina's spell is ineffective, so she guesses that it fails to penetrate. Also, for clarity, Tranquillina's magic sensitivity fails to detect anything of significance.

Stultus folds his hands in front of him, looking at Cumhachd with an expression of deep concern on his face. "Mater cara...", he starts and then breaks off as Alexei bamfs into existence behind him.

Once Tranquillina asserts that she is not in danger at this moment, Stultus nods, and continues. "Mater cara, I feel your pain. For a maga of your sterling abilities, to be reduced by the vagaries of wind and weather to a state where you must come to -- as you put it -- your two greatest failures, cap in hand, and request shelter and succour... it must grate on you terribly." His voice is full of sympathy and concern.

"But, never fear." He brightens, holding a finger up in the air. "I stand ready to assist you. Your greatest failure shall -- not confront -- but comfort you in your hour of need. You shall have every courtesy that is yours by Hermetic law and custom." And not a half-inch more.

Stultus half-turns, gesturing to Alexei. "Mater cara, it is my honor to introduce to you Alexei von Kroitzau ex Flambeau, Imperator of Mons Electi and Chief Hoplite of the Normandy Tribunal." He completes the turn, standing with his back to Cumhachd for a moment, facing Alexei. "Alexei, may I present my beloved Mater, Cumhachd ex Tytalus. Please afford her every courtesy due a visiting maga of the Order of Hermes." There is a clearly audible smile in his voice, and he gestures expansively -- but for those few moments when Cumhachd cannot see his face, there is no trace of a smile on it. He stares up at Alexei with furrowed brow, eyes boring into the Flambeau's eyes as if to urgently convey some message.

He turns back. "Now, ordinarily I would request -- no, insist -- upon a full honor guard. Nothing is too good for my Mater Cara. However, it would take time to roust the men out, and I can see you're half-frozen, you poor dear. So please, let us not stand on ceremony. Alexei, if you could please escort our honored guest to somewhere where she can get warm? I am very concerned for her health: at her advanced age, the merest chill could prove quite dangerous. As for myself, I will take personal care of her retainers." He waves at the crowd of men with Cumhachd. "Come on, folks. There're comfortable quarters, food, a warm fire and mulled wine waiting for you just up the road."

The cluster of buildings he indicates with a wave are the visitor's quarters that sit outside the Aegis of the Hearth.

((As a bit of a clarification, the Aegis covers the entire top of the hill surrounding the ruined wall of the former oppidium, just about 2 square miles. To my knowledge, no one has ever created an out building suitable for visitors (there has been no need for this). Further, the demands of courtesy allow a magus to have a retinue. Not allowing a magus to have their retinue suggests distrust, are Tranquillina and Stultus really going to so transparently tell Cumhachd that they don't trust her?))

If Roberto is in the area, he will investigate the commotion and see what needs to be done.