Completed And into the Frozen Earth

Character Biography

Clack. Clack. Clack.

Fragment by fragment, In little puffs of dust, stone gave way from before the chisel. Slowly, a yet another block would have its facing, ready for when the weather permitted building again in the Spring. With the first snow having arrived only a couple weeks ago, it’d be months of this yet.

Clack. clack. Clack. clack. Clack. clang.

Like an echo, another similar sound, if faint. Straining to hear, he paused his work and glanced at the direction of the ajar door, watching the dust swirl in the pale slit of light.

clack. clack.

He left his tools in a huff, a cloud of an exhale visible in the cool workshop air. The hinges groaned loudly as he let himself outside, face scrunching in the harsh grey of a winter's afternoon. Shading his stare with one dust-bleached palm, he squinted into the distance. Across the yard, on a patch of grass that hugged the old monastery wall, stood a figure. And they appeared to be—

Digging? What was more, he recognized whomever it was, spade in hand — The squire whom had failed to show at the workshop, the lone one who hadn’t an aversion to the tedium of stonework.

Joona. Judging by the breadth of those swings, they were having trouble making a dent in the ground. And no wonder, considering — The frosted ground crunched underfoot as he went, a lone trail of prints in his wake.

“ So, here you are. Whatever kept you from arriving in the morning like we’d— “ He begun, watching as the squire flinched to attention and made haste to wipe a sleeve across their eyes. With some puzzlement, he came to a halt, stare falling upon a bundle at their feet. A piece of cloth wrapped like around something.

“ Settled. “

The shape within was small and still, pitiful. There weren’t many things it could’ve been, as he’d been well-aware of the three little dogs being trained for rat-catching at the stables, for what was it — couple months now? Despite the wave of recognition that washed over him, chilling and scalding all at once, his expression didn’t flicker.

“ What happened to it? “

The response was but a shrug, genuinely clueless. In a sigh more weary than he’d meant, he resumed his approach, strides long and arm outstretched.

“ Why don’t you take a break — I’ll continue. “ The order was spoken in a tone that didn’t welcome objection. None came as Joona relented, head bowed. Aarno gestured them to stand aside proper, stare indicating a spot on the ground generously behind him. Giving way, the squire’s face twisted as they blinked more tears out of their eyes, ones they quickly wiped away into the side of their soft woolen sleeve.

“ You picked a bad spot— “ He huffed under his breath, trying the ground with the tip of the spade. “ The ground is frozen nigh solid here. Should’ve maybe— “

Even amidst his babbling, he could hear the sniffling that refused to die down. Instead, it’d merely became muffled, like that of a child hidden under covers trying to secretly cry themself to sleep. Hazarding a glance past his shoulder, he saw Joona having sunken into a squat on the new snow, face buried into forearms that rested upon their knees. Their shoulders were tense, hands clutching the elbows tight.

“ Gone to the garden. Under the hedges. “ He finished the thought in a shake of his head, coherence shattering into the wind as he stared at the hard ground beneath his feet. Joona’s garments gave a rustle as they shifted, surfacing for breath that was drawn heavy and sorrowful.

Well— Next time then. For there’ll be a next time.

Teeth bit together, he gave a sharp exhale and drove the spade into the ground.
A stack of papers sat piled high upon Helena's desk. Many a message were delivered by wing. Most were transcribed by those knights who manned the seeing pools. A ripple and a pulse signaled the activation of the seeing stone, and come the reflection, the scratch of pen and the bob and dip of pen feather saw the report recorded.

Reports from the field. Reports she had been pouring over for much of the day, and writing her own notations. Enemy movements. Shifts in the borders between the barons and march lords. Conflict reports. Casualties.

It was important work. She had no doubt of that.

A sigh left her lungs, and she leaned back in the old oaken chair. Rubbed at her temple. Took a look outside her window. Stared at the bright blanket of white. She rest her head upon her hands. Grumbled. Pushed the chair back and left her office, taking the fur-lined cloak that hung from a rack near the door, draped it over her shoulders, and left.

Outside, the crisp air did her good. The soft crunch of snow underfoot, brought a little smile to her face as she strolled. Anything to give her a reprieve. To let her mind unspool from all the doing.

It was the harsh sound of metal come crack against earth that had her eyes look up from her idle day-dreaming. A familiar figure, hard at work.

Her brow knit together when she noticed another nearby. Slumped in that way of sadness.

A small bundle near their feet.

A knot twist itself in Helena's stomach, but she set herself tall, and moved toward them across the frost.

An air of mourning seemed to cling to Joona, who did their best to hold their head up, while Aarno dug against the cold ground.

Joona must have heard her boots crunch against the snow, and turned to see her. A worry in his red puffy eyes.

Helena but gave the boy a nod. Gentle and reassuring. Joona nod in return. Her eyes turned to Aarno, and the strangeness in her gut seemed to ease some. Glad he was near, perhaps, or more that he would lend his time to this young squire in such a way.

Still, amidst the cold, silence felt the most appropriate response. Their breaths huffed and swirling about their mouths, as if reminders of their still living spirits.

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Three feet? Ought to about do, so none of the remaining animals dig it up.

With some vigour, he threw the last spadeful of dirt aside. And into that mound, the spade itself so that it might stand by. , staring at the hole and stroking a lock of hair behind his ear.

Alright, now—

Only as he made to step aside, retreating from the squire’s way in a toss of a hand, did he realize the third in their company. He almost started at the sight of her, exhaustion giving way to surprise for a fast passing second, deadpan. A clearing of a throat and straightening of posture saw it away promptly therein, if just so.

Giving the captain a nod in greeting, some genuine appreciation in it, he settled at her side to observe as the squire knelt down to the grave. The bundle was picked up and held on the lap, wherein fingers diligently smoothed out whichever crumpled edge of the cloth. A sniffle and bob of shoulders, a strained breath as the little shape was squeezed against the chest once more.

The cold was hitting him anew now that he’d stopped, his hands busying to rub together as quietly as was to be managed while Joona lowered their friend into the earth. Not one to speak, the kid rose just to linger in silence, standing with one hand on the handle of the spade. Like to begin was to end all things.

“ Had you a name for it? “ The sworn knight asked, voice sounding hideously loud and rough after so much silence. But a nod was given in response, stare downcast, fingers curling on the handle with indecision.

“ Think of it, when you pick and lay down a stone — to mark the grave. “

The squire let go of the spade then, abandoning the entire task in a single strangled little huff. With mounting confusion, but saying nothing more, he watched the kid storm off without as much as another glance. He had half the mind to call after them, but something kept him, a grip within the chest.

An exhale left him as he willed himself to move, apology in the sidelong glance he gave Helena.

“ Out for a walk, Captain? The air is rather— “ Earth shifted as he picked up the spade with one numb hand.

“ Crisp. “

A frown tugged at her lips as Joona rushed away. Her eyes followed the boy, but she did not move after him, knowing too well the weight of loss.

As many of their order did.

From Squire, to Master. Few were untouched by the death of kith and kin. The loss of blood, or Sworn.

Aarno's look grabbed her. His words, a welcome reprieve from the pit of feelings that had opened in her chest.

"It is that," she agreed easily, and found herself smiling as she walked toward him, hands slipped free from her wool lined mitts, and she placed them against his chest as she took the shovel from him, quick and sure.

The spade scraped against the pile of dirt, and she began to fill the hole in the hardened earth.

"Thought, I'd, stretch some," she worked on at a quick clip.

He gave her another glance as she responded, just in time to see her rapidly approach. What for, became evident in rapid succession as the spade left his grip, palms instinctively shooting up to grasp the mitts against his chest. Therein, they held as she picked up where he’d yet to begin.

There was a flutter in the pit of his stomach as he watched, dumbfounded, forced to stand back so unexpectedly. It wasn’t beyond his belief that the Captain should take on whichever task whenever it befit her, just— Well, why exactly was he this surprised, then.

Shifting a couple steps to give Helena more room to maneuver with the spade, he inspected the mittens idly, enjoying their residual warmth as it bled into his cold fingers. Warily, he sneaked his look back at her with fond consideration, openly appreciative of the gesture.

Matters none, why he should’ve been taken aback. Bears be just grateful, is what.

“ Well — am glad you did. “ He admitted outright, tone scarcely above a low hum. “ Thank you. “ Disinclination to do so reigning, he left what for unclarified. Everything, thus far?

“ Feels I don’t always know what to say, or when. “ Emphasizing, he glanced past his shoulder at where Joona had headed. “ But, suppose I could’ve also just said nothing at all. Either way — “ In a shrug, he stepped closer, what with the shoveling having concluded.

“ It hurts less to not have been deserted entire for my untactful fumble. “ The mittens were offered back with a nod and a lopsided smile, free hand ready to take the spade in turn. His stare dipped down at the filled hole and smoothed mound of dirt thereupon, deadpan as if in careful inspection. Head keeling, he regarded her anew with a smile, some humour in it.

" Fine work, Captain. "

A smile crested her lips as she heard him speak, and her arms made quick work of the snow. Come the next scrape of the spade against the cold snow though, and her smile waned again. Her eyes fixed to the task.

Her feelings as swirled as the steam of her breath.

She found listening to him easier than thinking on it. And that he shared what he did, warmed her. Just as much as the digging.

One last stab, push, scrape, pull, and the work was done with the smoothing of the buriel She let out a breath, and hefted her tool up with a quick scoot of a grab which choked up on the haft, the wet spade head up in the air.

She gave him a nod, comfortable and gracious as he thanked her, but could feel there was more, rising out of rugged landscape of his brows, pulled at the valleys betwixt his lips. She blinked, and let her gaze away, to follow where his ember eye'd stare had pointed toward.

The air felt warmer as he stepped closer toward her. Felt blood flush her cheeks come his confession. Her smile widened, and she saw the gloves in her periphery. Her hand went to snatch them quick, but he'd caught her unawares as he turned to see her again.

Her hands on the gloves, her palm kissed the knuckles of his broad fingers. She stared at him a moment. Smiled for him to see, how he had made her smile. Wicked and playful.

She kept the shovel.

"Flatterer," she said as she pulled the gloves from his hand, and turned back toward where young Joona made away. "What's important is that you were here," she went on, idly tucking her gloves into her sword belt. "No small thing, to be present," she said, and remembered the night he had been there for her, and her lips curled at their corners. "Even for the small things,"


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If merely being present be no small thing, then neither are what be present for. Relative matters.

He gave an undisputing nod at the little bit of praise, hand falling away from demanding the spade back. She could have it, for however long befit her — maybe it’d keep her a moment yet, if nothing else.

“ There is mutual comfort to be found in it, often. “ He said in a lighter tone, if not in jest. “ Be it taking part in a gesture when faced with grief, or— “ A pivot on the heel as he glanced at the grave, then her again.

“ Forfeiting pretense, in tune. “ Smile conspiratorial, he regarded her closely, carefully. It wasn’t without fond admiration, which he wasn’t beyond letting show. Or saying, to that matter.

“ Needs be admitted, though — It is good to see you smile so radiant, despite all. For a great many, the winter alone has power enough to dull the spirit. “

Her smile warmed all the more, and she could feel a small ache about her cheeks as she turned away. "Needs be, does it?" she said, and her cooling fingers idly rubbed where her palm had met his knuckle. "As it need be said, that you are a fine and honest man, Syr Aarno, fumbles and all,"

Her head keeled away, and she felt the fuzz of her cloak tickle at her neck, she huffed a happy breath.

"Ill prepared as you are for this cold," she laughed, and looked back to him. Tilt her head back toward the workshop. "To warmer shelters then?"

Without waiting for his response, she tread lightly through the snow.

Fine and honest. There were worse things to be, one had to suppose.

He shrugged in feigned humility at the compliment, a direct contradiction to the content smirk he hadn’t the fortitude to will away. As she laughed and took lead, he watched her curiously, lingering behind for but a second. Was no denying the truth in it, nor the sensibility of the suggestion.

“ Ill-prepared — or just daringly dressed? “ He responded in an elevated voice, strides long and swift as he marched into her wake. Reaching the Captain’s side, he slowed down to match her pace.

“ Careful at the steps — they’re rather icy. “ His stare fell down at the spade, considering.

“ Weapons remain outside the workshop. " He knocked the haft with the back of his knuckles for effect, accelerating past her as they closed in on the end of the path. " Next to the door, if you will. “

With that, he pushed through the frame and into the gloom. While the indoors yet qualified as warmer shelter, they were quickly becoming less so, the lone fire at the edge of the room having diminished to a mere ember in his absence. Quickly, he moved through the space to rekindle it.

Treacherous as the ground was, Helena's stride was sure.

"Icy," she tested the word upon her tongue, and gave a proud little tilt of her neck. "You should see the Grey Stones this time of year," gave the shovel a deft spin, before the spade head came down and sank sharp into the snow just beside the door. "Now that's icy," she followed after him, almost laughed at how he had ran.

Almost boyish, despite his solemn stature. As he went inside the workshop, she followed after, rubbed her hands together quick, to let friction do what the dying flame could not.

"I hope the horses haven't given you too much trouble, in your times of study," she said, gaze cast toward the empty pens. Some squire, like tending the mounts afield through the snow.

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He was smiling yet at her flourish with the shovel, in the shelter of his turned back as he added logs into the firepit. The thinner bark shavings stacked right on the ember caught flame first, cracking and popping, and he stretched his fingers at the warmth. He straightened belatedly to the sound of her voice in an inquisitive hum, turning and tracing her look.

“ They have not. I think they likened the sound of chisel and hammer to the farrier. “ He explained, approaching the table wherein laid a rectangle of stone. “ So they’ve been largely just curious of us, if a bit more alert. "

Brushing back a length of his hair that’d tangled in the outside breeze, he inspected his earlier work with a narrowed look. The gloom in here—

“ Forgive my ignorance, but— “ He reanimated suddenly, brushing past her to pick out a candle from one of the shelves. There were none lit in the room at this time of day, but it’d get darker soon.

“ Where are these Grey Stones of which you spoke? That one ought to see. Is it a place, somewhere— “ Eyeing her curiously amidst his task, he squat down to light the end of a stick in the firepit.

“ Far away? “

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A gentle nod, as he spoke, and her eyes were caught by the motion of his hands, as the smoothed back the wayward strands of silver. Her eyes, traced the stark and shimmery lines that bunched across his broad back. Wondered what it would be like to-

Forgive my ignorance, but-

Her eyes refocused on him as he strode by. Followed and traced as he reached for candle and asked a question she did not expect. Stared at her, expectant as the little candle wick caught flame.

"Far away?" she parroted, caught unawares. Felt her face warm. She smiled. Looked away as she gathered herself, for just a moment. "No, not too far," it hadn't been so long a pause, had it? She looked back to him. "Bout a fortnight on foot, and some three to four days on horseback, if the weather is good," she crossed her arms about her chest, cocked her head. "Why do you ask?" a playful challenge. Curious, as it was daring.

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With the wick lit, he blew the flame off the stick and stuck it amongst others of its kind, a bundle stood inside a jar stuck into a slot in the wall. Therein, they’d wait future use.

An amused edge came upon his expression as he watched her across the room, holding onto the candle like unawares. She gave a response but it was — lacking, incomprehensive. And a little belated, begging a question in turn. Humming to it like a man lost in thought, he approached anew to a couple steps’ distance, putting the candle on the worktable.

Why ask? Why not ask. Curiousity?

“ The name has a fabled ring, one belongs to stories of old. Piques interest— “ He responded, fixing into her eyes, head tilting to match the air of amicable challenge about her.

“ So I ask. Lest the opportunity pass me by, perhaps forever. “ There was almost a question there, his stare regarding her with new wonder. The second time convening in this room, under such — well, strange circumstances. Lamentable occasions both, surely, but—

“ Four days — a perfectly acceptable time to indulge a bit of curiousity, no? “ He continued, leaning lightly against the table edge to face her proper.

“ And if nothing else, an excuse to get away. Even if for just a bit, duties permitting. “ Marking, he looked about the room, then back to her.

“ Wouldn’t you like that? “

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A quirked brow, her smile smoldered as she heard him string his words together, her arms eased their bind, and her fingers played a little rhythm against the firmness of her muscle and bone.

A fabled ring. She could not help but titter at that. A warm sound, of words enjoyed. Expediant. She thought, and well gambled. She found herself liking it all the more as their eyes remained upon the other's. A thing there that need no words to be communicated.

A thing she could feel.

So come the question, she could hardly say she was surprised. Yet, there she was, wordless. "Four days," she said softly. Head a tilt as she imagined the journey. "Nothing but back country roads, and what game we hunt, and food we forage," she nod. "I would like that," her smile turned to frown. "Yet... I," she shook her head. Looked to Aarno. "Perhaps in the spring?" she asked, hopeful still, that he would understand. "There is just, much that requires my attention now, and," she looked back to the door, to the field of ice, and the path that had lead her here, away from the command hall.

Her eyes trailed to the floor, and he held herself tighter, one hand fallen to her side as she shift her weight. "And I already feel as if I am shirking such responsibilities, choosing warm words and pleasant company rather than what needs doing," So much like some hopeless youth, rather than the Captain of Dawn she had been elected to be.

We. As she described it, he pictured in tune, having fallen blank with attention that rested upon her, watching the shift of little details.

The way she’d taken the question was one he’d not dared hope for, not entirely, but against which he had absolutely nothing at all. It made sense for her kind nature, to offer, so he refused home to any which further assumption, although—

A smile crept its way back at the mention of Spring, his head bobbing softly in understanding and acceptance. It was all too sensible really — any which venture out during winter was generally ill-advised, no matter what. He’d not lose anything by the delay, least of all his already reigning anticipation that they’d yet see thaw.

“ You’ve a considerate, if stalwart heart, Helena. It is— “ Rather attractive. “ Beyond me to suggest that it wouldn’t seek to make a choice that is right. And while I could try and ease the feeling you have about shirking responsibility— “ As I’m not sure that is something you know how to do, frankly. His tone became lighter towards the end, some assurance in it as his smirk widened.

“ I’ve the solid premonition it’d just be in vain. So— “ He shifted a little, fidgeted, instinct to approach her outdone by the sudden feeling he shouldn’t.

“ Let it be Spring. Perhaps then we’ve both pleasant weather and some relief from the myriad of things that need doing. “ His look detached from her for but a second, making a round about the workshop with acknowledgement. Outside, snow crunched, a pace hastened by the cold approaching. Trailing the side of the building, someone gave a low grumble, a curse. About time now, wasn’t it?

“ Stay a moment yet, won’t you? I believe we’re about to have tea. “

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My. He was a tease, wasn't he?

Sharp in his playfulness. Though careful. Considerate. Even as his words trailed along, she could feel the measure in them. How each thought traced across his voice. Warm, and light, and gentle. Yet not without their point. Their barb. She found herself rather enjoying it.

Where had this Aarno been, all this time, part of her wondered. Yet, most of her was simply glad he was here now.

"Let it be spring then," she said with a measure of joy that could not be hidden. A relief, that he would not feel scorned, but more importantly, that he seemed to understand. Seemed comfortable, though he was asked to accommodate.

So caught up in the small moment between them, her eyes watched with delight as he moved about his makeshift shop, a humor there in her heart at seeing such a large and proud man move across such a small and humble space, well used no less.

"Tea?" She said with some surprise. Heard the sounds of an arrival. She thought to protest, the sound of it caught in her throat. Yet, her brow eased, and her lips turned up to pleasant curve. "Would be quiet lovely, Aarno,"

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Quite lovely. Figures, taking the cold weather, hmh? Visibly pleased, he nod just once.

“ Good. “ To the beat with his words, the door swung open in a loud groan. The girl, stern-faced and bundled up in multiple layers of wool, stopped on her tracks at the sight of the two of them.

“ What have you done? “ Jenni started at him in accusation, wary look regarding the captain sidelong.

“ Engaged in bribery. “ He responded, moving over to take the basket the girl had been carrying in the crook of her arm. She yielded it without protest, index loosening the tightly bound scarf beneath her chin.

“ You’ve what? “
“ I’ve asked the Captain to share in some tea with us. Did you happen to see Joona on your way? “ Wicker creaked as he put the basket down on one of the worktables, its contents clicking. Jenni gave but a shrug, one hand lingering on the dooframe where she had already spun around to leave.

“ No, why? “
“ They ran off. “ He explained, pulling out the teapot from where it had been carefully wrapped. The young squire appeared as unfazed as ever.

“ Happens. I’ll look for them after my kitchen shift. Gotta go. “

With that, she closed the door behind herself and was gone again. An amused exhale left him at that, sharp, as he poured tea into two glazed clay cups.

“ That girl is never in any rush. “ He remarked outright, glancing at the Captain. “ Must’ve been spooked by the sight of you — so much intimidating rank in our humble abode of a sudden. “

Putting the pot down, he moved one of the cups towards her along the table, beckoning.

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Helena smiled fondly and took up the cup. The warmth of the brew bled into her fingers, and her palms. Gifted her small comfort. She gave a small nod in thanks to Aarno, and listened intently as she settled there on a crate of supplies, stowed to the side. Let her breath come across the drink, as its silvery steam played about her nose and lips.

"Wouldn't be the first time," she said with a hint of melancholy to her smile. "But who can blame her," she blew another breath across the drink. "Rank holds a measure of power all its own, does it not? Expectation, example, a bit of myth along with it," her eyes stared down into the dark contents of the little cup. A little laugh, with some warmth in it there. "By the boughs, I still remember when I first trained with Syr Dejan, Pursuant of the Wylds," she nod, "He was every bit the man I expected him to be, and yet, when I learned how much of a man he truly was, a person, just as any other, well..." she let the thought sit a moment. Not sure what strange truth she was upon. "It only made me admire him the more," she shook her head, looked up to Aarno, half emberassed.

"I've gone on too long about nothing," she bowed her head to the man, playful in the exageration of the gesture. "My apologies, Syr Aarno," she rose, smile warmer, and sipped from her tea. A pleased little hum came from her throat. "What blend is this?" she asked, curious.

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Gone on too long about nothing. But it wasn’t just any old nothing — far from it. Though he kept his silence, the sentiment was in the look he gave her as their eyes met, a bit of understanding. And amusement, mainly at the apology and infectious smile.

Tearing his attention away, he picked up his cup of tea and brought it up into a careful sip. It wasn’t as scalding as he would’ve preferred, but—

“ A mix of Seretan black teas with elderberry and quince fruit. “ He hummed into the steam with rumination, shifting to lean his hip against the table. “ An old favourite — from long ago in Alliria. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they had it at Astenvale. “ What was it now, nigh two decades old acquaintance?

“ The taste is very similar to what I remember, though I’ll admit my experience of it be tainted by nostalgia. It is like an additional flavour. “ The impression of an afternoon sun reflecting from the painted tiles in a kitchen he no longer had. A lingering scent of fruit and spices. Catching himself drifting, he scraped together a smile, examining the captain’s expression.

“ How do you like it? “
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"Ah," she gave a soft nod. The robust flavor, mellowed by the delicate sweetness of the quince, the floral complexities left it all feeling, fresh. "An invigorating brew," she said with pleasurable hum in her voice.

"Last I had Seretan black, it was in the company of Syrs Ranveer and Theros," she smiled. "Nostalgia there too in the shared brew," her stare was aimed at nothing at all, gaze far off as the gentle furrow of her brow stirred the silt of her memories. "Though they liked their's spiced with cardamom, and fennel," she smirked. "Boiled milk, too," a laugh, bright as it was small. Her eyes flit up to his. "Rather extravagant, really, and sweet,"
There was a warmth in his chest, but one had to figure it wasn’t just for the tea. The cup felt eternally light in his hands, breath deep as he hazarded another look at the Captain. Watched her explain and sip at the tea, appearing to enjoy it.

Why did it mean so much, like the whole world became reduced to those little smirks and chimes of laughter. Focusing on every feature, from her eyes to her smile and back again, he just about registered what she said.

A thoughtful hum left him, buying time as he watched her a moment longer. Just a couple seconds, but long enough to make point of it. Too bold, perhaps.

“ You find yourself opposed to them? “ All too pleased smirk sustaining, he dipped his look at his hands that cradled the cup like out of fear of dropping it.

“ Extravagant and sweet things. “

There eyes met in the passes of their glances. Stuck to each other a long moment. Where heat and breath mixed about with the aroma of the brew.

Some part of her mind bade her look away. As blood crept up her neck and her lips held their tender smile. Yet she felt caught by the warmth of it all. His gaze. Cautious, yet never uninviting.

A new question came, and the warmth of the steam about her nose had her remember her drink. Like robins, made to hop across the snow, her gaze bounced down to the tea set. A humble thing. Well made, and well loved.

"Not in the slightest," she said with her lips still curled and her voice full of a fondness that felt pink as apple blossoms. "Only," she looked up to Aarno, conspiratorial with the hint of mischief. "I find it funny to ponder on," she stood up straight back, and swelled her chest with a breath. Her face fell into a stern, yet calm visage. "Both men can be so... unflinching," her words echoed. Relaxed some and eased back with her eyes across the ripples in her drink. "It paints a funny picture, as if the whole world could fall around them, and there they would be, enjoying their sweet tea,"

That little bit of aversion — too much, then? Could well be, though beyond him was it to regret his linger. How else was one to know how to tread on, let alone if to do so at all.

She kept her humour, so at least she wasn’t offended, surely. The bit of roguishness about her pried a mirroring expression from him, one that flashed by and blended therein to something thoughtful. A fondness was in the response, the little conjured image, inspiring similar spirit.

“ Suppose it is a funny picture. Something about Syr Theros in particular has always frightened me — perhaps it be the exact unflinching nature, then. Makes one afraid of judgement, being gazed upon in that manner by such a respectable figure. “ Teeth flashed in a smile, taking any dramatic edge from the statement, though it wasn’t exactly in jest.

“ But should the world indeed fall away — in actuality rather than how it already does when one gets to stand still like this— “ He confessed, turning on his place to stare at the fire across the room. The brew yet steamed, threatening to be forgotten.

“ With one’s tea, sweet or not. Simpler thoughts. “ Or all the more complicated? He sipped from the cup and shrugged, hazarded a sidelong glance at her.

“ Would it not be all the more sensible to just remain and enjoy it, to the end. Give up every last residual worry. “

How it already does...

She smiled in secret with herself as he looked away. Is that how it was? The world fallen away, and they, but two sitting amidst the tender ruin of it all. Her fingers felt then the more, the drink betwixt them. Palm pressed against the warmth of fired earth. The heat of the drink. The crackle of the fire. How they had sat there in peaceful silence, as the rains had poured outside.

Eyes so used to watching and waiting, caught the glint of ember colored stare. Helena's gaze fixed upon it. Her breath caught in her chest. She smiled at him. A thing, almost satisfied. "Were it only so easy," she gave. "But then, there in lies the power of ritual, does it not?" she glanced down to the cup, and its tawny brew. The last strands of steam, still stirring about its surface. "To help one set aside such time and place, attend to nothing more than what is before them, no matter how simple it is," she took a drink from her tea.

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Attend to naught more — Dinners had used to be such a ritual. And at the same time, anything could be, one would just have to—

“ It does take it’s own willpower, to commit to ritual. Too often those moments, even when set aside, be corrupted with what doesn’t belong. “ He said with feeling, look flitting to her. It was belatedly embellished with a smile, expression softening from what he’d decided needlessly forlorn yet again.

However many times had any which one taken along work, sketches sprawled out to occupy spare. Or just a mere minutes calm sectioned for something unrelated, squandered. Tricks of the mind.

“ There is always more to do and to tear oneself apart for. Few are the times in recent memory that I can truly account as bereft of multiple tasks, even if half of them be just rotating within here. “ He tapped his temple absently, pausing to drain the rest of his tea. The cup was put down in a pointed tap therein, left on the table as he strode across the room to pick a log from a pile next to the fire pit.

“ I imagine it just a matter of practice, though. “ The ember crumpled, coughing fine ash as tinder landed in the midst. In his turning, he landed his stare upon the Captain, an inquisitive twinkle to it.

“ Or so one should hope. “