(514-01-01) Questions in the Woods
Summary: Gaius de Stapleford is making his way to the manor that raised him before winter snows start to fall. As night starts to fade and the warmth of the fire becomes more necessary, he meets a strange and peculiar woman.
Date: IC Date
Related: None
gaius eirian 

North of Chalke Lands, south of the river, before the fires of Sarum can be seen through the trees and over the hills. That is where the Knight finds himself. Clueless that a Faerie queen lurks in this woods. Or at least someone who might fancy herself fey! Winter is coming, snow already touching some of the tree tops. Many families are starting to ready for the cold months ahead. Livestock is being counted and Holds are being secured as everyone prepares for the stark white that makes the darkness seem that much more still and quiet as the snow eats the sound.
Gaius is still quite a way away from the Stapleford Lands, and will likely have to spend a few days in the cold. Of course a lot of Stapleford men wouldn't mind a few extra days in the snow to avoid the claws and meddling of their women, and Gaius is no different in that matter. He takes his time getting back to the Manor, his horse lazily eating what little grass remains in the small field at the center of the woods where he makes camp. A fire crackles to mark his camp, though there is no signs of the Knight hunting for food, lest he poach on another's claim. He has no need to make enemies this close to Chalke lands. He is content with honing his skill… not in the blade, but the flute. A soft lilt of music rising from the camp fire to give him away to any who might approach.

Eirina rolls 1d20 and gets (18) for a total of: (18)

On the contrary, before the fires of Sarum smudge the horizon and Saxons hunker against foreign soil with terrible dreams, an anointed faerie queen /does/ walk the dense stretch of primeval forest separating Salisbury from the distant territory of Dorset. Here wild creatures still stalk the shadowy sylvan undergrowth, beasts imagined large in folklore even greater in the flesh. Dappled frost pools in the darkest reaches where the sun's light cannot penetrate through a thick mixed canopy of ancient oaks and hoary elms spangled in fungi, bristling ferns and older bushes holding firm against the incoming wintertide gusting down from Hibernia and the highland reaches of Pictish country.
Stapleford men have their womenfolk ruling the roost, and no wonder they want to escape those strange tyrants. Then to what form of otherworldly relief has he escaped, only to lose his liberty again to the denizens along the fraught borderland. His tent and his fire may establish a claim of sovereignty, but save the Chalkes, the King, and the Earl, these minute constructs matter little on the threshold of dusk. Crackling flames merrily consume their fodder as some merrily devour fresh meat, and they devour the hours impending before the moon's stately crescent rise above the horizon. There shall be a reckoning then among the song, for simply the plants bow and rustle, and a rabbit goes tearing pell-mell through the clearing.

You check your awareness at 8, you rolled 12.

You check your play at 10, you rolled 18.

During his training and his youth the boy, now man, was far more occupied with learning to read, write, play a song, and swing a blade. He would make a truly awful hunter, more so in these parts. The darting rabbit does not raise suspicion in the man, the crackling of the fire, the constant ripping and gnawing of his mouth, and the high notes from his instrument drowning out most awareness. He figures the wide clearing, with the trees scattered wide and sparse, will provide him with more then enough sight and warning for any encroaching foes or visitors.
He continues to play, badly at that. It must be a fresh song, newly taught, or perhaps he has spent so much time ranging and playing at being a Knight his fingers have forgotten the skills that do not bring death. The note he pulls from the flute is ragged and broken, and if he is trying to summon some mythical beast, he is more likely to bring wrath then favor. He frowns at his slip of the tongue and finger. "The Childe will never get to that tower at this rate…" the man huffs, watching the cold take shape from his breath. He will likely soon have to turn in for the night, or increase the yield of the fire. His horse glances up from his feast, the beast chewing away at strips of grass. Large dark eyes judging its master, finding the man very much wanting as he ruins the feast with his awful playing. "Quiet you. Or you will end up like your brother." he warns, wielding the flute like a blade. The horse, unperturbed by the threat, goes back to eating. Besides, his brother founded Rome, even if it was on his corpse. Gaius ceases his playing for the moment to look out across the field, watching a few light flakes hit green and melt instantly.

Eirina rolls 1d20 and gets (8) for a total of: (8)

Away bounds the horrified little animal, going for its life. The rabbit's ears flatten as it lengthens its bound, scrambling in dead fear for the next protective barrier. Cover will do nothing for an onyx-fletched arrow sings a high, sustained whistle to accompany the instrumental chord plucked to the night's confession. Its A sharp is a steady crescendo until the missile slams through the side of the rabbit and sends it tumbling end over over in a crimson blur to land in the bushes. Legs continue to churn up the open air without any success, the horrific scream transfixing in its mute agony.
The horse no doubt is aware of the source 'ere before the man is, ears pricking to the scent and sound of something near enough to be human to justify a fairly relaxed response. Another series of seconds pass; yet not immediately visible is that creature.

Even Gaius, with his bad playing and untuned ears, can't miss the familiar slice of an arrow through the air and inevitable shriek of death that follows it. The man braces for a second when his own ears pick up the whistling, waiting for an arrow in the back or neck, but he is allowed some relief when it is the animal that suffers the unfortunate fate. As his horse continues its meal, its ears only flicking slightly in warning, the man rises from his seat at the fire. The flute is laid down, next to its leather bag. A blade comes free now, long and sharp, the man appearing far more confident and effective with this instrument then the last. He doesn't call out for the hunter, knowing he can draw the stalker out in a more effective way. He steps towards the downed creature as it struggles for life. The man taps the side of his leg with his blade as he awaits the hunter to step forward. Or put an arrow in him. Two for one, a Saxon might delight.

The rabbit's end comes rather quick, that precise shot piercing it through a vital place to end its suffering in record time. The hunter chasing its quarry advances slowly, bow in hand and another arrow nocked against the inevitable of a dog, a bear, a faerie knight taking umbrage to her presence. Darkened wood and darkened string play unfairly to questing eyes, charcoal garments tinted by sepia and dull greens admirably suited to blending into her environment. But the deadly point of hardened metal points on an arc mostly towards the ground, tracking a path towards another struggling beast to be expected when she nearly emerges from the gloom. Night's own daughter except for her face, too pale by half to simply vanish away.
Eirian's hood is up, but that does nothing to obscure her fey features entirely. She halfs there and says nothing at first, her fingers braced around the unique speckled fletching at the end of the missile. Her trademark, somewhat; the rare poplar of her arrows, equally so.

The Knight stands over the beast as it passes, and he takes a moment to cross his fingers over his chest, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." he whispers. He has never gotten a good answer from the family on how they treat the death of beasts. Surly there are no bones of horses or dogs in that old mausoleum… but do they not serve the Lord through them? Do they not deserve their own place of judgement before the feet of god once they pass on? Perhaps, it is a question he has never had time to broach with the clergy or those who might have the answers. Away from the Manor, and in the wild, a Knight must make due. He looks up from the kill, watching the hunter as she moves from the shadows. He doesn't miss the fey features, indeed they are the first thing he notices when his eyes can adjust to seeing that darkness wrapped around her. His lips crease downwards at this reveal, as if he has waited so long to see one of Eirian's kind that he laments it has come this late in his life. Even if he has only seen twenty one winters. "I believe my song drove it from its burrow. Likely in pain or fear. Am I not entitled to half the kill?" he requests, gauging to see how this forest hunter will react to his rather self-deprecating joke. She will likely note how he holds the blade low with one hand holding tight. If she looses the arrow it seems he hops to swat it upwards and away, using the momentum of his rising blade to charge into her. He is not a Knight unstained by blood it seems.

Do the dead among the beasts matter? Have they any soul or were they placed in Creation for the joy and use of mankind? Questions that a pagan and a Christian might spar over, philosophically explore, or see disturbingly eye to eye upon. The opportunity could arise simply enough did he open his mouth and ask, at least of the appropriate people given to retain that manner of knowledge. Doubtful as to whether the cloaked huntress, a modern Artemis, has the words or means to speak of those truths. Her bowed lips lengthen slightly, attesting to a certain unease and tension played all through the muscles of her shoulders and back. Supporting the long line still caught in her crooked finger, she maintains the arrow at the ground rather than threatening the man outright with it. A knight is a knight, no matter the species. One and twenty winters, crashing down into another turn of the seasons, leave her poised at the very edge.
She shakes her head slightly, the motion almost lost in the smothering darkness provided by the cowled design. One forest seeker to another would retain their privacy. The high, pristine purity of nightfall builds into a weak chorus of insects perturbed only a little, not fully felled by winter's delivery into the world. A distant hoot echoes through them, and the rabbit finally surrenders itself to the inevitable.
Eirian's gaze ticks towards the fire and the instrument, then back to its source. She takes a slow step forward, as a deer might assess danger and be uncertain of its findings. As a tiger stalks its prey.

The Cymrician Stand Off continues as the hunter and the Knight stare each other down. He isn't surprised at her reluctance to share, not with the cold approaching. He tries to get a better look at her, to see if she is starving or otherwise mad for food. Does her handle tremble the way it does when there is food only a step away? Is her body withered and gaunt, only sustained by the smallest portions? Of course the darkness of her attire, meant to blend in with the forest and the night, hides all. Only her fey like features present any indication of who or what she is. If she was just a normal hunter, Gaius would probably let her go on her way with little fuss and little word. But there is a desire there, a desire to know more. He can't shake the way she stepped out of the forest like an elf from the stories. "Then I offer you my fire, for warmth and to cook your kill. I will take no tithing, except your company. Or I will see you on your way, and allow myself to wonder about the mystery you present." he steps away from the rabbit now, his sword rising to return to its sheath with a soft run of steel against leather and wood. Eirian is free to snag her prize and run off, as Gaius turns back to camp. Remus remains by the fire - still eating of course - watches its master with judging eyes.

Let them question who gains the upper hand upon the other. Hunter and knight are locked in their battles in the woods same as the battlefield, where raw prowess often overtakes finesse. Lady and lord, stag and flower maiden, the Queen of Darkness and the King of Summer: whatever role shall they fulfill? Seeing deeper than the cloak is difficult. By no means is she tall as men reckon though hardly small, either, though slim of shoulder to suggest youth over age. The way the cloak falls over her shoulders to her breast could imply a woman, though her lean arms and the tunic sleeves braced by a pair of simple leather archer's gauntlets likewise drive no clear definitions. The fingers are thin, not ragged, sufficiently strong to hold back the string to let fly an arrow. But she is too light stepped and aware to be a casual figure in the woods, not so spry as to dash up a tree like a certain master of the Stapleford household. He's dealing with someone comfortable but not born to the soil and fallen logs like Gideon.
A nod is given in agreement to his terms and she approaches, the arrow pointed dead to rights at the earth. Into the firelight she moves, her boots rising to her knees if only the cloak made that visible. A treachery in the firelight, gilding her skin, reveals the dramatic architecture of facial features in all their symmetry carved out by nature. No man has a face like that. No man is quite so mindful, either, around another man with his back turned. She reaches down to claim the rabbit by the ears, carrying the poor thing over towards the fire. A knife will be needed to skin it, or maybe with a clap of her hands, she can incinerate the skin and leave it pleasantly roasted.

You check your play at 10, you rolled 17.

He can not help it, but he falls back to child like fancy and wonder. He prays she claps her hand and with an incantation the skin burns away and the bone burns to meal, leaving the meat wonderfully and magically ready for the hunter to enjoy. Of course no such fantastical display will come to light, and soon the Knight in his mind turns him back to reality. He catches the image of her features as the fire flickers and dances near her, the rush of wind from their movement feeding it in this direction and that. His sheathed blade is laid out once more by the tent, and he reaches down to gather his instrument. He brings the body of the flute to his lips, though doesn't touch his lips to wood as he slowly blows and starts to build the notes. Distraction ruins this song as well, at least that is what he tells himself. His eyes are focused on the hunter as she prepares her kill, and more then a few notes are turned to high or to low. The song might be a familiar one, if she can catch hint of it in his horrible play. A Fae Call to Winter, said to make the snow lighter and easier to traverse. Perhaps the song fails, as no snow is on the ground. Remus the horse has had more then enough of its master's awful playing and slowly he turns to browse the nearby trees and shrub for fruits and berries.
"Do you have a name? Or shall we just be the Hunter and the Knight?"

Alas not, unless she throws the rabbit into the fire and adds a handful of pine needles. Dancing about the flames is out of the question, insofar as her host might startle to the task. The rabbit is laid out on the ground near a rock and she follows in a puddle of mottled shadow, the speckled green under the charcoal features of her cloak serviceable and warm in the cooling autumn. The knife slid from her boot is equally serviceable, its purpose as a tool made evident when she starts the task of gutting and skinning the animal. A few initial slices bring fresh blood poured directly onto the soil, and her soft humming counterpoints the tune of the flute, for all that Gaius might be more than a little rattled or spellbound by the activities at hand. She focuses as best she can on making the neat incisions matter so the aftermath is quick; nonetheless, most people wouldn't chop a spiral into a rabbit and proceed to peel away the outer layer of skin and fat like some strange fruit from the overripe interior. Her nails dig into the precious fur, stained red in rapid order, and she performs the task without complaint or expectation of assistance. At times her foot goes flat to the ground if only for the leverage to strip the little beast. Then come the organs, one by one, pulled out and set aside in a spill of pink and grey viscera. A toss of the liver over her shoulder sends it flying into the darkness, a sacrifice to the ancients, or more likely, that owl hooting earlier.
"You have a name?" will finally be asked, at some point between moonrise and dawn.

You check your play at 10, you rolled 17.

You check your faerielore at 10, you rolled 8.

Distraction! Distraction he must blame it on! This fae like woman from the shadows, going about skinning and preparing the rabbit as if she has done it from the day she was born. The man is no hunter, his food wrapped in packing and hide to keep it fresh through his travels, bought from a vendor or a hunter who had the skill to catch and prepare. Bread over meat, as it keeps longer, if a bit tougher, in his travels. He tries to play, but distraction ends every note before it truly began. Or perhaps he is playing to the audience, the hunter focused on her prey, hacking and cutting in ways that only a hunter can understand. Eventually the man gives up, setting the flute down for a time when he is in a better mind set. He reaches back into his tent to pull out some of that bread that he prefers, setting it out near the fire to accompany the prized rabbit as it is prepared. He doesn't flinch away from the gore and the fluids that spill so freely from the body of the rabbit, as the man has seen so many sides of death such a display could never set his stomach upside down.
It might be this moment when she notices the black and white of his tunic, and the angel sewn into his shoulder with the asps twirling at his feet. "So I am told. Perhaps it was a lie, though where I come from there is not much lying, compared to the forest. Gaius de Stapleford." he offers his name, and quests for hers in turn, "And you? Let me guess… one of the faerie queen's maidens? I never was good learning your names… so hard on the tongue…" The line comes off less like a bad attempt at courtly flirting that both Christian and Pagan Knights are guilty of, and more questing for the truth.

The long-bladed knife is not meant for artistry beyond the hunter's art, not about to be determined as anything so elegant or lovely as the bodice blade or the artistic addition worn at a belt for ceremonial purposes. It serves its function to slash apart flesh and separate sinew from bones, chopping into the joints that they might be freed up a little better to cook. The scent of the innards hitting the fire or the distant forest might be slightly unpleasant, but not untoward in any respect, nothing that a man in a kitchen or a tavern probably hasn't smelled before. She tilts the stretched out shape this way and that to allow organ juices to fall into the flames and excess blood to run down away onto the soil where the parching effect of heat will do its work. Slow work to spread the rabbit's fur away from its body where not already disengaged, she puts the knife to work at making neat, mincing cuts until the excess fluff is left around the feet and she can set aside the rolled up fur for treatment later. The task of chopping off its head and breaking through the vertebrae might be unusual and something that requires more heft than she has, though that, too, is serviceable. Animal brains make for a good source of emollients and worse for curing leather, after all, and softening the underside of a skin in the meantime.
"Not quite so," she answers him, the entanglement of an answer lofted into the absence of song. Her voice is soft and cultivated, hinting at an accent rolling slightly against the grain of Salisbury. "A name is a title insofar as it matters. Guess, Sir Stapleford, and see if you have the right of it. I will tell you if you do."

The fire jumps and crackles as it is fed the blood of the beast, hissing in satisfaction as if the devil himself delights in the treats that the woman is gifting him. The entire process is a gruesome one, no doubt, but necessary. With Death comes Life, in its many ways. A Stapleford man likely knows that more then most, even if they seem to focus so much on the Death. "You hide yourself in more ways the one. The way you wear that hood and cloak. It makes me wonder, perhaps some Dullahan has crossed the small to pay us Britons a visit. Of course if that is the case, I guess I shall count this night my last. I do hope your introduce your headless mount to my own horse…" he remarks, delving into those Faerie stories of old that he always found so fascinating. Of course a Stapleford man would know the tale of the Dullahan, the maiden of death that rode about with her head held in her own hands. There is a flash of light metal, the light of the fire catching the cross around his neck just right to show it off for a second. Would the Cross protect him from a fey such as a headless rider?
"But we are far away from Ireland… You're not of House Chalke… no we wouldn't be sitting here like this if you were. Not Pict or Saxon, I wouldn't do you that insult. Or perhaps not completely lost to the wild. Laverstock or Burcombe I would say… if I read the river right as I made my travels."

Death spurns the realm of fertility and yet feeds back into it. Rotten logs collapse to the earth and birth the next generation of seedlings into mighty timbers that will, in their turn, collapse into death again. Seasons rotate through the life-giving to the life-stealing, and that cold autumn brings a prospect of longlasting ruin. A Stapleford man is sure to understand better than most that all things have their time. The pagans simply know those hours better than many. Fingers dipped into the severed arteries of the head flick towards him as he speaks, red droplets cast over the smoky flames. A headless monster galloping across the mountainsides is a bit of a misnomer to the cloaked young woman there, for her lips are indeed visible, and with it, her delicate chin. Nothing serves as a wagon or a mount for her, but her own feet barely visible. "The daughter of Annwn," she replies simply to his question, without really answering that. "Your cross avails you naught under the circumstances, for I have no quarrel with the White God so long as he and his hold no quarrel with me or mine."
Her fingertips dance along the edges of the knife and she buries the blade in the soil, point down, and holds out the headless body of the rabbit to him. A gift or to hold or to put on a stick over the fire. The choice be his.

Perhaps the Dullahan has found a way to right her head and wear it once more? Perhaps it requires the blood of a Christian Baby or a Christian Knight? Stranger tales and stranger endings have been told for both Fey and Knight alike. A long black brow arches as she addresses God as the White God, Gaius pondering, wondering if god would mind being described as White. "I don't proclaim to hear the White God, as you call him. So if he has some quarrel with you, or Annwn, I would not know." Of course his words carry another tone, perhaps he would not question it if God had his troubles with Eirian and her People. God is free to Judge as he is the only one who can Judge. The rabbit is extended to him in offering and the man claims it, his fingers soaking red with the final signifier that this creature was once alive. He doesn't play the part of the pagan. He doesn't bravely bite into the raw flesh, looking to Eirian for some kind of approval. A proper stick is found, the rabbit speared through the center so that he can hold the stick without the wood failing and dropping the prize into the crackling fire.
The red soon turns black as blood boils and evaporates along the length of the rabbit, the flesh and muscle being cooked as the stick is slowly rolled back and forth. "So Daughter of Annwn… shall we offer this beast as tribute to Gwyn ap Nudd? Or steal it for our own delight?"

Perhaps the Dullahan never lacked a head, but sovereign spirit or independent thought. Many a man has lost himself to rage, a berserk fury, or acted so sheerly on impulse he might be seen to have no head at all — no brain, no mind. Not all legends are so clearly laid out as hemight like. The flick of blood is her own matter, a play on the story, and the rest of the religious approach given contemplative consideration. "The White God may well have His peace, if that is so desired. I concern myself less with Him than with you, as your guest." A minute reminder of hospitality and host right follows, even as she settles back upon her heels to regard him patiently enough. The nod comes only after the man pierces the rabbit with a stick and she moves off to collect another set, and a handful of vines from near one of the trees. Then short work will be needed to form a triangular structure, using the vines to hold together the crossed sticks. They fall apart after the first, but on the third time, she has the charm of the task down. One side is buried in the coals, and the repeated efforts mean the other will follow. A nod indicates he can lay out the rabbit as he wishes, should biting into bloody, hot meat crisped to near enough perfection — or total ruin — not bee immediately his desire.
"Always tribute given to Gwyn ap Nudd," she replies, "and in good favour to all who favour travelers such as yourself. I steal naught, and take only what is given."

"I must admit, I've never had the pleasure. So if there is some form and rite to such a tribute, I must be educated…" he says as he slowly lays the heated rabbit down onto the structure that the hunter has crafted for their meal. Of course a Christian would expect some kind of ritual or ceremony, nothing is ever simple to them now is it? Saying words most don't know, from stories many don't remember or paid heed. Why not just hold the beast up and declare tribute as the blood dribbles down to mark the body? "But you have stolen." he reminds her, his eyes focused on the body of the rabbit as drifts of smoke rise up from the heated prize. "My name, and refused to given yours, for I will not be satisfied to simply know you are the daughter of someone or some place. That much is obvious. Take first taste, it was your arrow and not my music that gave the beast its final rest. At least… I hope that is the case."

"Give thanks for what you have. His portion." A gesture made towards the fire and beyond might well indicate where she tossed the liver into the woods, small and dark as that filtering vigil was. "Be glad of the food provided to you. It is the way of things that the hunted give themselves up for the hunter, and in turn the hunter will do much to preserve the source." Her words fade softly through the sylvan dusk, rendering unto Gwyn his right even as the fire hungriy devours its bed and warms them in the process. He shant be dancing on a bloody field skyclad tonight; it's too cold. "My name is but a title. I offered you right to claim an answer, or call me as you choose. It is the way of things." That much is obvious enough and simply so.
She reaches for the rabbit and strips off a bit of lean meat from the haunch, testing to see the doneness. A little longer, and that will be right and well. Then it will be torn in two, the chunk offered to him on her palm. Unless he has water, her hands are a bit bloody; she can't help that, though she poises the morsel where it's the least impacted.

Of course the answer is not so easily presented to him, like a prayer scrawled on some papyrus in Latin or wine poured for the blood of Christ. His eyes dart out into the woods, as if expecting some Fey King to make his appearance in response to her previous offering when the liver was tossed into the darkness and shadows to be claimed by Gwyn. He reaches out to claim the chunk she offers, no fear of the blood as his finger slides into the palm of her hand to take meat and blood both for his own. He raises it to his lips, tearing off a bloody but well cooked hunk of meat. The second half of the chunk is tosses into the woods, giving the Fey King his due in tribute. Blood runs down to his face to mark the fresh kill as the Knight enjoys the labors of the hunter. He closes his eyes as the taste of fresh meat is delightful, and something he has not enjoyed in quite some time. With the delight of the kill his mind wonders to guessing the hunter's name, as she originally offered. "I guess your name to be Lowri…" But he frowns, feeling he is no where close.

Eirina rolls 1d20 and gets (3) for a total of: (3)

A fae king for his fey queen, then. "It would not be right for me to repeat the Mass," she says simply. Then a pause follows as she touches her fingertips to her brow, then to the stone, and then to the earth. "Per intercessionem beati Michaelis Archangeli, stantis a dextris altaris Deii, et omnium electorum suorum, lapitum istud dignetur…" She pauses then, tipping her head slightly as the fine lines mapped along her ageless brow follow a search for memory, an aching evolution through a hundred forms of verbs and forgotten words from an empire sunsetted a century ago. "Dignetur Dominus benedicere, et in ororem suavitatis accipiere. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Domine, et descendat super nos misericordia tua." Her fingers wrap around the smoky effusion and then she lifts her palms up, casting the airy burn upwards and onwards in a haze towards the sy. She brings the other cooked piece of meat to her lips and takes a quiet bite of it, chewing in neat, polite motions rather than showing herself to be utterly barbaric in the process. For what manner of barbarian is she, that she can speak the words that invoke Michael the Archangel.
"Again, try."

Gaius rolls 1d20 and gets (12) for a total of: (12)

Eirina rolls 1d20 and gets (10) for a total of: (10)

Now so far Gaius has been rather calm and enjoyed the company of his guest. But when she starts to speak latin as if she was a clergyman walking the rows of pews, incense streaming from the censer that swings back and forth, left and right… well he manages a little bit of surprise. Perhaps its insulting that the Christian Knight was playing the Pagan all this time, using what little knowledge he had of the Fey and Faerie realm to quiz and learn more of this elfin hunter that has approached him. He shouldn't be so surprised that she is as educated as he in matters that are not of her realm. "in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti… Amen." he says at the end of her invocation of Michael. He takes a moment to fold his blood stained hands in his lap and lower his head in silent prayer. It seems he prefers the latin in his mind then that spoken by tongue. Another name rises to the top of his mind, perhaps a gift from Michael. It is close, of a different flavor then the woman, but close. "Eir."

Perhaps it may be a woman who speaks Latin, though an entire caste of Cymri did. Aurelianus himself is a byproduct of that culture, and not so far back in history did he claim himself to be the Pendragon. The small quirk of shaded lips hide behind a morsel of rabbit, and then that too is gone wherein the cloaked woman devours that tidbit. She does not cross herself with the holy sign at brow or chest, but she does acknowledge him in a dip of her head and a spread of her fingertips before her to dance with the fire in all its glory. The prayer is given time to be intoned, or invoked in the mind, without her presence disrupting more than it would with the faint notes of rosewater and the underlying current of the smoke and fresh earth. "Eir of Annwn, then, if you decide this suits better than Lowri." It is all she can do not to wrinkle her nose at it. "I will not be mistaken as that."

"Of course it does not suit, for it is not your name. Even if a name is just a title, the title must fit. Do you call a Knight a Peasant? A Lord a Lady? The Blacksmith is now a Priest? Or perhaps the Gravedigger shall be the Innkeeper…" he remarks, lamenting at the games he must play to get a simple name. There are so many countless names they could be here for hours, and that is just for the names he knows! What of the names he does not know? More hours spent! "I request a hint." He declares. At least he is not demanding, as even if this is his camp, it is not his land. Demands can not go to far in unknown lands. "Or must payment be rendered? A Highwaywoman of Names!" He goes silent then, pondering more of this puzzle in front of him. "Or perhaps this lop sided arrangement is as it should be."

"My title is the Lady of the Wood." And so it is true. Eirian offers nothing more than that to his prompting, nor does she demand more than that from him in its stead. "There you know me, there you may speak and they will know of me. You call me as I am." She folds her fingers lightly and rests against the golden glow of the crackling flames, considering through bright, knowing eyes the depths of all that would unravel before her. "Why come you here when the road is long and straight for the city? Is it to your liking that the woods give you shelter, or do you fear and seek the forest for its relief in the darkness?" Idle thoughts strummed in choral symphonies are still, at the end of the day, curious.

The Lady of the Wood. It is not a name, in the traditional sense, but it holds some substance, some meaning. She declares people will know it. But truly, he only cares that he knows it. For now he is satisfied, his questing finished. "In truth? I take long way for it is long. More time. Time to think, be alone. I value that time." In true Stapleford fashion. Perhaps there is a woman or two at home that plans to meddle and plot, or simply put the boot down when he returns. In truth there isn't, his mother having past, as well as his grandmother. Some cousins obviously remain to do some meddling, but not being of the main line has its benefits and regrets. Of course if he is a man that values his alone time, strange that he tolerates the company of the hunter. "And I believe a part of me hopes to find something. Perhaps a Will-o-Wisp, a light in the dark. Something to keep those old stories in me alive."

The shades of Stapleford women, however, probably defy the law of Saint Peter and lurk about to harrow the menfolk because their harridan tongues frighten the blessed and the saints. It is known. She nods to this query and its inevitable response, accepting the answer to be suitable. Another strip from the rabbit is pulled away, still too hot to bear, so she sets it down rapidly on a rock before having burnt fingers. Hands still in the folds of her cloak to be cooled, rather than suffer. The puff of air escaping her lips is a truth to the discomfort of the temperature change, the only interruption. When he is silent, she is content to play the role. "You would not find them here, Sir Stapleford. They favour the wetlands where the mists may lead a man to his death drowned among the reeds. Further to the west and the flatlands, where rivers become mires. It is not something you mean to seek, the witch lights of the West Country?"

His own breath freezes in the air and soon it will be far to cold to keep the conversation going, but he reaches to add another log, his last log, to the fire. Embers fly high and die faster as the fire starts to devour the fresh fuel but with the darkness creeping in it might not be wise to keep the fire going too long, less they attract those long forgotten beasts that still lurk at the edge of civilization. For a moment he is about to answer, a remark about his younger days and childish thoughts. He never knew that Will-o-Wisps preferred the wetlands, where the rivers become mires. "Perhaps…" he muses, "West you say..? I could likely detour…" he whispers to himself in thought. Of course a detour at this close to winter would find the man buried in the coming snow… with no hearth nor manor in sight.

"The West Country abounds in small lakes and sucking swamps. Some of the rivers are known to become a sea of reeds under the proper circumstances. Men try to withhold the right of water by their dikes, but the West Country proves itself subject to Manawydan rather than any emperor or would-be king." Her voice cleaves a sonnet out of the wisdom offered, and whatever else she may do, that much is directed his way. "Take a care and take with you a boat. Trust no guide who is not born to the fenlands, for they will swallow whole armies without a trace. It has been known since times when the stones danced. A spectacle as you might see on your way to the Tor and the stones, if you are wise. Yet you may well hasten and find nothing that you seek, for the long whispering of winter snow make the place a treacherous land indeed."

"You tempt me to adventure, Lady of the Woods, one to likely end in my bones being found in ice… or likely never being found at all… and all for some pretty little lights…" he says as he sucks in a breath. He reaches for more of the rabbit, tearing off a small slice to pop into his mouth with little ceremony compared to before. He delights in the warmth it provides, as it wards off the cold for a few moments longer. "Have you seen such spirits before? Or have these flooded lands kept you at bay? Are these all just tales… to make men wonder and dream…" he asks as he stares across the fire now. For the first time he has focused his gaze completely on her, trying to finally build the full image of her with what little light the fire gifts him. He finds it appropriate she would be shroud both in night and cloak, as well as the flickering and fickle fire that does not wish to fully illuminate her.

"Thus a man of any wisdom goes by the summer light, though not so late when the poisonous humours rise from the earth and sicken him." The Lady of the Wood has a simple recourse where that questoin is involved. "The wisps are known. They appear like flickers in the dark, a telling of a lantern or a strange star fallen to the earth in their misty shroud. The mires spill that haze, a sickly sort of haze, in a protective veil around them strongest at the dusk and dawn, but throughout the year. It is no safe walk to make without protection, without knowledge. What need have I to wander there when my realm is its antithesis, and the secrets within the forest sufficient to endure a thousand lifetimes? The trees are bold sentries, the mire reeds much softer and colder."

"Then it shall be an adventure for the summer, when the skies aren't clouded with grey and white. Perhaps I will tempt you to come with me in turn, and leave your forest realm." He rises at those words, holding his hands out to the fire to claim some last warmth. "Do you make camp nearby? Or do you wish my hospitality to extend through the night? I have additional furs and coverings and there is another fallen tree nearby that fell with the first snows of winter, its branches still heavy with leaves…" He steps away from the fire, lost in the darkness of the night for a moment as he calls for his steed. The beast lumbers his way back to the camp glad to receive the heavy pat from his Musical Disinclined Master.

"I would not ask you to share your camp or be reliant upon my safety. Such would be a breach of your laws, and further a burden unfairly shouldered for the price of a rabbit." The young woman inclines her head. "Towards the road is a large oak, one that stands apart from the rest. A cache of wood is kept in the shepherd's hovel beside it in case of such travelers. Go there and you will have a merry fire, and return surely before your own is devoured. The other trees here may provide you with the proper wood, but that is seasoned. The only cost is leave what you may on the morrow so that fellow travelers as yourself will not go without, as long as they know of it." Or he can sleep his way in the hovel next to a pile of wood. Eirian is nothing if not liberal with her knowledge.

"And what if the laws of hospitality conflict with that of a Knight? I can not so easily cast you out in the cold, even if you clearly know the land better then all. And you forget that you did not pay in just the rabbit. You taught me of the wisps to the west. Of offering tribute to Gwyn. You even honor me and my god by saying a prayer that I know is not of your own… No the price is far more then a rabbit, as it always is. Stay, enjoy the fire. I will retrieve more wood…" He says as he gives Remus another pat on his neck, whispering to the beast, likely instructing it to keep an eye on the hunter even though the horse is unlikely to do as told. Gaius disappears into the darkness, his direction towards the road and this hovel she has made known to him. When he returns, he returns with a fresh bundle of wood… fully expecting this fey to have disappeared as is their nature.

Indeed, the fae has disappeared. On the other hand, the fae has left something in her wake: a wrapped up pile of sweet rolls and cheese hidden in a coarse cheesecloth knotted neatly at the top.
So might he think she is gone. Perhaps, very probably she is.
But the moon will peek through the branches 'ere she returns, bow o'er her back and a quiver at her side, as simple as one pleases, like walking through a haunted great wood is all the norm.

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