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Just a face in the crowd #James #francesca

turksgirl
 

Who: James 
With: Francesca
Where: King's City, Dining Hall
When: 
Friday, March 7th, 872 RoK

The Green Duke stood back in the doorway between the dining hall and the throne room watching as nobles gathered to pay their respect to his departed half-brother, the King......Philip. His emerald jacket was plain compared to some of the outrageously intricate clothes of the other nobles.James found it a waste of resources and rather gauche. He eyed the Duchess of the North speaking to the Royal Consort, who was dressed almost like a queen in mourning. Interesting. His gaze fixed on the elaborate coffin, and Castile tilted his head trying to understand the strange weight in his chest that he felt....

A moment later he turned away ignoring both to watch over the line that was forming. Looking over each patron with a critical eye as they entered the halls, one face in particular caught his eye. The Western Duchess, Francesca Rossi, his former betrothed from back when he was...less. Her bodyguard wasn't anywhere to be seen but he had the feeling he was around in the shadows somewhere.

Without his armor his heartless body crave sleep and food like a normal one, and he reached for a simple apple from the nearby table that was laden with meats and fruits for the guests. "Duchess" he greeted his former love, for he had once loved her as an innocent boy with a heart that had never been broken. But things changed, they changed. His teeth sank into the delicate skin of the fruit savagely, and he smiled around the bite at her.

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Rachel Balla
 

Francesca - never one to blend in - had been a centerpiece of discussion for two reasons. First, she seemed to be legitimately mourning. Her eyes were red, a little puffy, which was clear given her very pale skin. Even if she had the dignity not to cry in public, the discoloration against her determined, stoic expression made it clear that this loss had profoundly affected her. Many whispered that this was confirmation she had been the King's lover, although Philip would have been the first the Duchess had not publicly claimed.


Second, her dress. Although many nobles had been unable to obtain the traditional black attire typical to funerals, all had opted for their most conservative attire. Francesca, though, always wanted to be the center of attention, and her gown was far too ostentatious for the occasion. The fabric was a plush velvet that begged to be touched, and because the straps that held the gown up wrapped around her throat, the fair flesh of her shoulders and back were exposed. Had she been anything less than a Duchess, Francesca likely would have been turned away at the door.


But she was a Duchess. So, the crowd had parted when she approached Philip's casket, and waited with bated breath while she placed a stark-white hand on its bejeweled edge, closed her eyes, and struggled there until her lady in waiting finally touched her arm, seeming to snap Francesca out of her trance, and the Duchess withdrew, allowing the rest of the mourners to proceed.


Eyes downcast in grief, Francesca did not notice the Green Duke until he addressed her. While, usually, eating fruit did not offend her, he seemed to be going out of his way to make her uncomfortable with it and, overwhelmed as she was, Francesca couldn't help reacting, averting her eyes, shifting her feet, pursing her lips. She hated that smile… because she remembered its genuine, cheerful, charming counterpart. The one that had always made her want to kiss him, when they were barely more than children.


"Castile," she greeted in return, with a note of sarcasm in her voice that all but called him an imposter. Her lady-in-waiting left her side to fix a plate that the notoriously picky Duchess would find acceptable. Francesca pushed aside her feelings, attraction and anger both, and got to business. "Have you yet located those responsible for this tragedy?"


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turksgirl
 

James arched a brow slightly at the Duchess' choice to avoid his title, as well as her question. "The Royal General and Scholar tell me that we already have.....the werewolf..." he replied, but he looked at the Duchess with a troubled furrow to his brow. The Duke's gaze shifted back to the elaborate coffin, "But we know better than that, don't we.....Francesca?"

He pulled her aside for a more intimate conversation, "I do not trust either man, they were rather complacent when the queen passed, and now they are equally so in my brother's murder. I must protect Elliot from any ill advised machinations, when his coronation to rule comes about". He actually reached a gloved hand to touch the Duchess' arm firmly but in a almost gentle manner. "You should be cautious as well, Duchess.......until the root of this has been exposed".

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Rachel Balla
 

James: "The Royal General and Scholar tell me that we already have.....the werewolf..." "But we know better than that, don't we.....Francesca?"


Francesca's mouth, brightened with a dark red paint, grew tight… and then she sighed, showing an obvious struggle not to snap a comment in reply. She had been mourning, not following the investigation. Every instinct wanted to argue, insult the thing that had replaced her once-beloved, but she just sucked her breath back in and forced a terse nod. Sometimes, this monster wore James' face too well, and a part of her wanted to think it was him, after all…


When James pulled her aside, though, the familiar pale face of her Southern guard appeared, stepping from the shadows of the entryway, clad in his black uniform, hand on the fine dagger at his waist. Francesca waved him off with her free hand and a shake of her head, though, and followed the Duke along. The small Southern figure easily disappeared into the crowd.


James: "I do not trust either man, they were rather complacent when the queen passed, and now they are equally so in my brother's murder. I must protect Elliot from any ill advised machinations, when his coronation to rule comes about."


The Queen's death was different, in Francesca's opinion - while the Royal Scholar and General had been prominent figures at the time, the King had been the ultimate authority on the matter, able to further and fund their theories or, just as easily, dismiss them. The mystery of Alexandra's death laid at Philip's feet, but that didn't mean James was wrong. If anyone could have persuaded him to investigate, they could have.


James: "You should be cautious as well, Duchess.......until the root of this has been exposed."


His touch was gentle, almost affectionate, and Francesca's sapphire gaze fell to watch his fingers against the soft fabric of her sleeve. "I am quite safe," Francesca dismissed with a shake of her head, and one of the soft ringlets that fell from the intricate braids on her head fell over her shoulder. She found his concern for her well being confusing, and she met his eyes for a curious moment while her brain caught up to what he had said.


"And what of the eight or ten years until Elliot's coronation? The kingdom will not follow a child," Francesca said, and the glance over her shoulder at the consort was pointed enough that it seemed to loop the young woman into that assertion. But she nodded in agreement although her words were quick and her tone was agitated, "The General and Scholar are incompetent. They can't tell us how a werewolf got to our King, they cannot tell us why this storm persists..."


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turksgirl
 

Francesca: "And what of the eight or ten years until Elliot's coronation? The kingdom will not follow a child," Francesca said, and the glance over her shoulder at the consort was pointed enough that it seemed to loop the young woman into that assertion. But she nodded in agreement although her words were quick and her tone was agitated, "The General and Scholar are incompetent. They can't tell us how a werewolf got to our King, they cannot tell us why this storm persists..."

The Duke shook his head, "No the kingdom will not, but we as the loyal Duchy should rise to the occasion. Unite, and teach Elliot to surpass his father as ruler once he does come of age".  His nephew was young and malleable, and if anyone was going to shape the lad it would be him, the 'doting' uncle. His eyes followed the Western Duchess' to the other room where the consort was speaking the the Duchess of the North.

"Perhaps.... we should spur one last search for the Princess?" he suggested, although Castile knew they had all been failures. But making the offer humanized him, and that was what he needed right now. Agitated body movements and raised voices attracted his attention, and James looked back to the throne room brow furrowing deeply.

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Rachel Balla
 

James: "No the kingdom will not, but we as the loyal Duchy should rise to the occasion. Unite, and teach Elliot to surpass his father as ruler once he does come of age".  "Perhaps.... we should spur one last search for the Princess?"


"Loyal? Loyal to what?" Francesca sneered, and she rolled her eyes in an expression that was frankly nothing short of juvenile. James basically bled green - or so he claimed - but Francesca had her position out of sheer bad luck... and it was uncomfortable to consider that honestly, she might have been more comfortable being there, in another timeline, as James' wife. Let him do the heavy lifting. Her own sneer was undignified, and it was only the decade of ruling that kept her from literally sticking her tongue out to express her disgust with the idea. Land was just dirt and plants. Castles were stone. What the hell was she going to be loyal to, with Philip gone? Maybe she was just mourning…


"The Princess," Francesca repeated with a scoff. The kingdom had been subjected to a standstill for years - little entertainment, less travel, the senseless deaths of Eventyr's best young men as they went to kill dragons they had no business tussling with - but James wanted to go down that route again?


No doubt, if he suggested it, though, countless men would flock to join him - not just from the East, but all over. It would be years and years of chaos, and frankly the truth was that it was most likely James would be killed in his endeavors…


A smile false enough to rival James' own crossed Francesca's face and her tone ventured on the disingenuous. "An inspired idea, Duke Casile." The Duchess gave his substantial arm a playful slap, and she tried not to remember the way this same arm had once wrapped around her and made the maid she once was weak and willing. "Get yourself an entourage and go find the Princess.  If anyone can do it, you can, no? Kill every single dragon in Eventyr until you find her…"


Francesca's lady in waiting finally brought the Duchess a plate, sparse with cheese and fruit, and the girl withdrew quickly when Francesca shot her an angry glare.


"I have no dragons," a lie, "but I'm sure Duchess Von Oehsen will welcome your prancing all over her… duchy," Francesca said, biting down hard enough on a grape that the snap of breaking skin was audible, and she didn't fail to notice the Duke's glance toward the throne room and the figure within.


Then, with a tone too quiet to be joking but too serious to be legitimately in jest, the Duchess went on. "Make sure you check her bedchamber as closely as her mountains - who knows?" Rumors about any powerful woman were plentiful, Francesca knew that well, but Malia's usually included two things: witchcraft and foresight. So Francesca tossed out an outrageous theory. "For all we know, she could be sucking wine from the Princess's still-beating heart every night to catch our most secret dreams…"

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turksgirl
 

James seemed...surprised… or as surprised as his heartless form could be by Francesca’s reaction. His loyalty was to the land of the green realm, even the forest… But he thought that the Duchess of the West would have some loyalty to her land if only in memory to her late father and family.

His mind could fathom that she was reacting out of pain, because she was mourning. Perhaps not for his half-brother, the King, but the memory of what she had lost before…. Yes, his mind could understand the concepts, but emotionally it was as foreign to Castile as the deserts of the South. But Francesca had always been… passionate….

A sharp frown pulled at the Duke’s mouth as the Duchess all but mocked his suggestion for another quest to search for the princess. Slapping his arm almost playfully and suggesting he go forth and slay a dragon. Now it was his turn to scoff, surely she had not forgotten his affinity for animals… even the dangerous kind.

Rossi’s handmaiden and a plate of fruits and cheeses spared him from making a reply. And then…. Francesca spoke about the Duchess of the North… Spoke almost like a vindictive peasant girl, who had been passed up for a local dance.

Francesca: "I have no dragons," a lie, "but I'm sure Duchess Von Oehsen will welcome your prancing all over her… duchy," Francesca said, biting down hard enough on a grape that the snap of breaking skin was audible, and she didn't fail to notice the Duke's glance toward the throne room and the figure within.

Then, with a tone too quiet to be joking but too serious to be legitimately in jest, the Duchess went on. "Make sure you check her bedchamber as closely as her mountains - who knows?" Rumors about any powerful woman were plentiful, Francesca knew that well, but Malia's usually included two things: witchcraft and foresight. So Francesca tossed out an outrageous theory. "For all we know, she could be sucking wine from the Princess's still-beating heart every night to catch our most secret dreams…"

A low growl escaped the towering Duke. “This is not a time for petty differences, Duchess” Castile sneered but with none of the life that Francesca could project into the expression. She had no idea that even if the Duchess of the North practiced sorcery it was far different than being anything close to the witches of Eventyr’s lore…

She behaved as a child in a woman’s body, and James Castile found a part of himself was sore disappointed with that realization. But he also supposed after the trauma she had suffered over the years he could not be surprised by it. Something small inside him sparked with a hope that her venom was more in thought of his safety than in jealousy of Malia.

Picking a beautiful red apple that had come from a village in his realm from the table, he drew a dagger and sliced it carefully into dainty wedges. James laid the pieces in an artful way on Duchess’ plate and tried a different tactic.

“What would you have us do, Francesca?” he asked in a low quiet tone.

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Rachel Balla
 

James: “This is not a time for petty differences, Duchess.”


"My... I'll be as petty as I like, James." Francesca quickly changed course as she seemed to think better of labeling Philip as hers in any way, and she justified, "The King is dead."


Her retort seemed to lack much forethought, even or especially the address to her fellow leader in the kingdom. She devoured a thick slice of white cheese, as if the gesture excused her from the conversation while she chewed… until the Duke deposited a rather chivalrous piece of sliced fruit on her place in its absence.


While this should have been a kind gesture, Francesca reacted as if it were an inconvenience, with a heavy sigh and tension cutting through her shoulders, but she could not ignore the decisively gentlemanly move it was. "Thank you," she groused, and bit into the freshly-sliced apple, claiming it between two pale fingers as she passed the plate to her handmaiden again and reached for James' substantial arm. They had stayed in one location long enough, and they were less likely to be overheard by the other mourners if they moved.


James: “What would you have us do, Francesca?”


"If someone would like to crown me as Queen, perhaps I could weigh in on such a question," Francesca responded, sarcastically but doing her best to appear outwardly diplomatic as they began pacing the perimeter of the large rooms. She hated the looks that the innocent movement earned them… although they did make an impressive pair, and Francesca's parents would have beamed.


Out of the corner of her eye, Francesca saw Seo-jun fall in step behind them. His pale skin glowed warmly in the candlelight although the same shine seemed to absorb into his hair like night itself. There was no way to avoid the feeling they were being listened in on, even if his footsteps were as silent as his lips, and he was a supposedly trusted servant. Francesca stiffened, ever so slightly, and her words might not have sounded as authentic, even in their pettiness, as before. "But until they do, I have no opinion. I want to mourn - and then go home. No more."


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turksgirl
 

James felt some kind of pleasure, or perhaps it was relief, that Francesca accepted the simple gesture of the apple. He liked to think her hand on his arm was more than mere politeness, although he wasn't sure why. He had no wish to go back to the way they were as children, perhaps it was just because life would be easier without the Duchess of the West hating him....

Or maybe a deep seated nostalgia for what might have been? No.... an ally, or even a neutral party, was simply better than an enemy while the kingdom was in this time of crisis. His eyes flicked to her silent bodyguard, and Castile found it ironic how obsessed Francesca had been, and some still could be that he was some kind of creature... a changeling... when she kept company with a creature of a different nature.

Francesca made some sarcastic remark about someone crowning her queen in answer to a question he had posed. "But until they do, I have no opinion. I want to mourn - and then go home. No more."

The Duke stopped to look at the Duchess and then back at the room where others supposedly mourn his half brother, Philip. James nodded his head, and asked in a low tone "I understand.... do you want time alone with him?"

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Rachel Balla
 

James: "I understand.... do you want time alone with him?"


It was such a thoughtful comment that Francesca missed a step and consequently slowed to a stop in the throne room. Although she had never made a show of it, rumors had more than revealed that she had carried on an affair with Philip. And she had done so for important reasons far removed from her own interests… but, in the singular corner of the scheme that belonged to her, Francesca had relished bedding the brother that her former betrothed had once been resentful toward. Once upon a time, she thought it might have spurred him to jealousy.


It hadn't. All the more confirmation that he was no longer the boy who had loved her.


Francesca shook her head. She hated seeing the dead. The shells of people she had known, reduced to little more than cold flesh, no different than the pigs or cattle in the butcher shops. She had not the stomach to approach the open casket, afraid that Philip's wounds would not be concealed well enough and her nightmares would have fresh imagery to plague her. "No, I will visit the crypts, in time..."


Before she could say more, a soldier wearing royal colors approached. He stalked through the door quickly and with authority that had even the nobles parting, making a straight line toward the pair. He stopped a pace away, flanked by two subordinates, to bow. "Duke Castile. Duchess Rossi," he said, curtly but respectfully, making it clear his abrupt manner was for good reason. "The General appeals for your input on a matter of some urgency."  


Francesca gave a short curtsy and released James' arm, turning away to allow the Green Duke room to take his leave… but she did not get more than a step on her way before the soldier spoke up to halt her - awkwardly, as it was above his station to tell a Duchess what to do.


"My lady - General Kardos requests the presence of the leaders of Eventyr," he said. "...All of them."


Francesca recognized the name as the man who had been placed in the Royal General's role while he was sequestered - the man apparently had accolades to his name but because she had never heard it, Francesca assumed he was a no one. She did not want to go, but also could not avoid that, as of now, she comprised a quarter of Eventyr's leadership. God, she hoped they had a new king quickly…


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