==== December 14, 2013
==== Cerise, V'dean; Ekerth, Jiamoth
==== Cerise needs a mentor to practice Northern continent between locations… V'dean is the worst best mentor ever! Disclaimer: Strip poker

Who Cerise, V'dean; Ekerth, Jiamoth
What Cerise needs a mentor to practice Northern continent between locations… V'dean is the worst best mentor ever! Disclaimer: Strip poker
When Last Summer of the Interval
Where Yvette's Tavern, Crossroads over the Benden River

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The Southern winter may not be a thing that particularly begs to be escaped from, but it does mean that certain locations upon the main continent are currently at their best. Were the seasons reversed, this plateau overlooking the Benden River would likely be crusted over with icy snow as frigid winds born on Keroon’s heights tear up the valley towards the Weyr to the east. Now there’s the scent of sun-drying grasses in the air and a soft warmth holding strong into the inky night, barely stirred by breezes that brush over the sighing rush of dark waters below. There’s a broad constellation of reflected lights wobbled upon that unconstant surface. They come from the small swinging lanterns upon gathered wagons and the larger lamps posted along the docks of the river crossing nearest the crossroads between Bitra and Benden and the Weyr. Here, west of the river and south of the road, it’s perhaps the character of the first that holds most sway over the inns and taverns that spill broad rectangles of light out into the evening.

Maybe it will be difficult to remember whose idea it first was, born during that walk through the clearing that rises between beach and bowl where they so often pass a canteen and catch their breaths as part of their formed habit of their morning jogs. Wing duties are often quick to peel them away, particularly given the senior weyrling’s new position, but it’s easy enough to promise that sometime they’ll do something. One of these evenings. And finally, here’s there excuse: a practiced trip between, this useful destination of a junction of commerce within the Northern territory. That it’s Bitran, home of her accent and the sorts of bars a rider with a questionable reputation may be inclined to frequent, is surely no accident.

It’s not the furthest and most ramshackle of buildings that V’dean leads the way into, though they are closer to that end of the scattering of buildings than the more stately columned inns stationed closer to the docks. Long turns of settling have made the broad porch uneven beneath their feet, boards creaking, and the musk of spilled drink and cheap perfume which greets their entrance has a feeling of homey permanence. There’s a small stage built near the biggest hearth, though the set-aside fiddle is currently absent its musician, and the warm rumble of conversation is predominantly male.

Perhaps this is partially explained by the particular sashay of the woman that comes to greet their arrival, loose ringlets falling from the pile of dark hair atop her head and the narrowed sharp of her gaze landing rather pointedly upon Cerise. “Yvette,” the bluerider addresses her by name. It may be hard to say what softens her disposition — it could be the introduction he makes: “This is my friend Cerise, weyrling wingsecond and green Jiamoth’s.” It probably has just as much to do with the pair of Harper-stamped marks he holds up in a loose pinch between index and middle finger. “I think we’ll take a table. Unless you’d rather the bar?” This last question is directed with a lift of brows to the greenrider.

For this homecoming, Cerise is chipper. More than chipper, she’s downright ebullient- at least at first. It doesn’t show through speech but rather the spring in her step, the birdlike quickness with which she studies the area, even the occasional soft, private bursts of laughter that mark her recognizing some detail. Places like these don’t change much and that familiarity leave both of her dimples dug deep into her cheeks. But then, it’s that same familiarity that gradually steals the woman’s grin and leaves her observing with more of a thoughtful cast as the building opens up around them, and Yvette approaches. Idly slapping clutched gloves against her thigh and studying the empty stage with narrowed eyes, she almost startles when V’dean demands her attention with a question. “Wha?” Her eyes snap to the bluerider, raised brows a decent mimic for his. “Oh…oh, yes. A table,” she says, voice gone throaty and completely bare of the tells that mark her origin as Bitran. Their hostess is awarded a return of her grin, more teeth than crescented eyes. “That one, I think.”

And so, preempting the lady’s purpose in life, Cerise steps by the other woman- turned sideways to avoid brushing shoulders or worse- and makes for that perennial favorite, the table in the corner. Gloves are cast down on its surface to stake the claim, while she attends to the business of loosening the buckles of her jacket and resuming her study of the place. “…you know, it’s been centuries since anyone’s taken me to a bawdy house.”

V’dean hangs back, his own dimple marking a more private grin that sparks silent laughter in his eyes. “Thank you, Yvette,” is his quieter aside to the hostess as he slips the marks into her palm. She’s quick to snap them away, a placating slant to her own pretty smile as she leaves kohl rimmed eyes upon the bluerider for a long moment before moving on to attend a more demanding patron. He’s in no particular hurry to follow in Cerise’s wake, enjoying instead the view of her preemptive striding and easy claim of the corner. “I think I will miss it, when time here,” in this time, “has worn that edge off. Centuries.” His smile is sharp amusement as his stride ambles up, the tugs at his own jacket rough and absent. He stuffs his gloves into one of its pockets before slinging it over a chair’s back. “Have you been here before?” The shape of his curiosity draws an arc of his brows as he reaches to drag a seat half-out for her before seeing to his own. It’s a small thing, some deep ingrained reflex of basic chivalry that bears little in common with the way he drops into an open kneed sprawl.

“Will you?” Curiosity matched with curiosity, Cerise tilts her head and skews that study to the side to encompass bluerider. While he’s settled, she lets her hand fold over the back of the chair- after it’s vacated by his- but remains standing for the moment, save for one knee raised and resting against the seat’s edge. It’s an alert, attentive posture, like a meerkat standing tall over its hole to take in the lay of the land, or size up the hawk overhead. Eventually she has to take a seat though and when she finally does, it’s with the same loose, easy sprawl evinced by her companion. Her knee knocks against his, deliberately. “I don’t know. I think…maybe? Probably not. What’re the chances this place was standing four hundred Turns ago? But if it was, I was likely up on that stage at some point. Backing up one’ve my sisters. Why’re you gonna miss it? Makes for easy jokes? Have a taste for older ladies who’ve been off the market for awhile?” With the questions, and the looser posture, comes the grinning theater mask worn for Yvette’s benefit, this time turned on V’dean. The patter doesn’t end there. “You can tell me. You like the older ones, don’t you?”

Sure he will, agrees an absent upward ripple of one shoulder. His smile remains tucked as V’dean scans over her alert pose, disappearing somewhat into the stretch of brows that’s reached in a backwards glance towards the bar. One of the waitresses is starting to make her way over, tray already laden. “It must at least have been rebuilt,” in four hundred turns, he supposes as his scan arcs about the place on the way back to Cerise. Her knock yields an easy sway of his knee, companionable as it comes bumping back lightly. “Yes, that’s it.” The easy jokes. His smile is slung loose. “I appreciate a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to enjoy it. Older and oldtime women alike have seemed more likely to have such attributes.” The frank answer in return of her teasing is given idly, green eyes tipping upward when the tray arrives. One tall bottle of vodka, two shot glasses, and two pale pints of ale. “You haven’t told me much of your sisters.” A flash of smile marks his thanks and he accepts his glass and starts to reach the other over in offer to the greenrider. Only then: “Did you want something other than this? You’ve mentioned whiskey before.”

Frank is not what she’s come to expect of the bluerider. It earns him a look that mingles amusement with speculation, but before Cerise can comment the waitress is there. “No, no, this is fine. I’m only picky when it seems the thing to do.” Picky isn’t the word of the day; she barely judges the cleanliness of the glass taken from V’dean before it’s placed on the table and the bottle is gone for. Though, with her fingers scant centimeters shy of the neck, she pauses to glance at him. “You want to pour?” She’ll leave it to him if he cares for that honor, and spend the time waiting to find out by arranging the ale at a point on the table to her right. “My sisters,” she muse as she fusses with the pint. “Not much to tell. There were a lot of us, and half were gone by the time I was old enough to care. The rest left to settle as we traveled, one by one. Lured off by the promise of home and hearth, aye? What’ve you? Only child or one of many?”

“Yes, this isn’t a place for airs,” V’dean supposes with a chuckle for her selective pickiness. A shake of his head and open flex of his fingers welcomes her to the bottle of liquor. No standing on ceremony, here. “Are you the youngest?” this short story of hers leaves him to muse. He gives less attention to his own pint, leaving it to sit unattended within easy reach. The shot glasses seem the first order of business, for all that he’s leaving Cerise to pour. He’ll get the little things set out before them with a purposeful drop of their thick bases onto the stained wood of the table. “I’m second youngest. I’ve four siblings, three of them sisters.” The sly smile of green eyes weighs on her a moment — sisters that weren’t inclined to do his laundry, at the least. “The promise of home and hearth,” is, however, a phrase that has caught his wry fancy. “It seems an inevitable fixation for your gender.”

“So far as I know,” Cerise says on the matter of her standing among family. “At least, I was the youngest when we left but one never knows, given my father’s tastes and my mother’s tolerance.” Just as matter of factly, she takes the bottle and tilts it to fill each shot glass near to the brim. A stray drop is caught from the mouth and transferred on her finger to her mouth as she sets the bottle aside. Brows lift at his talk of sisters, a spark of humor showing behind the green and the gold of her regard- yes, it’s laundry that came to mind for her too. Taking up the shot glass closest to her, she lifts it and waits for the bluerider to join her in the poised toast. “If that’s my cue to deny the pull of making a home and more babies than I can count…” This time, she contrives to lift one brow alone, coupling the shift with a broad grin. “Now isn’t the time to mention I might be expecting, aye?” Yes, yes, the greenling is evil.

There’s a pinning roll of his lips and drop of his eyes for the matter of fact of her parents. Then again, there’s the generous filling of the small glasses to observe. His smile is pulling into a lopsided twist as he makes careful lift to join her toast. “That would be a trick,” is the easy laze of his reply. “What with you training between and all. To clean skips and clear skies,” V’dean thus proposes they drink to. He’s more than ready for the shot, the burn of it sliding down with little reaction. Sucking on a fingertip where he wasn’t quite able to keep the brimmed liquor from spilling over, he reaches for his ale to chase the vodka down with a leisurely pull. “It doesn’t matter if you deny it,” the bluerider carelessly notes afterward. “You can’t have much more than two decades behind you, for all the hundreds of turns you skipped. I’m not asking,” he’s quick to assure — only skirting about the edge of that risky topic of a woman’s age. “It might not pull yet, but it will. Yet another reason…” But his refrain is well worn by now, so he just offers a wider stretch of smile.

“A trick and a half,” shes says, making no move to cling to the scam; it’s released as cheerfully as it was brought up. “That one was always easier to play on the Holders, without a dragon at my back. Clean skips, clear skies.” Cerise likewise makes quick work of her shot, the glass thumped back to the table after and her eyes blinked clearly to clear them of tells to its burn. “Two decades exactly, you’ve a good eye. Whether it pulls or no is moot, though. I’ve had the lecture. Goldriders might breed but girls on green, less so, and it’s just as well.” She takes up the tankard and tips it through the air towards his, edge clunked against edge before she settles in a slouch to sip and enjoy. “Are we ever going to be able to talk without that coming up? You like my company well enough, I’ve earned rank of my own, play-acting though it is, and I’ve given my wingmates no cause for concern as yet. This keeps up and I’ll come to think you’re looking for reasons to shove it in.” She pauses. “To the conversation.”

Holders. Those easier marks - they tug a brief flicker upon his brow between the drinking. For the lecture she’s had, V’dean has a skeptical slant of eye and a low hum that echoes in his throat as their pints clunk. But he has a smirk that’s perhaps a touch self-mocking for the exasperation of his fixation. And her pause — that prompts an outright snort of laughter. His hand draws over his mouth and down his chin as he makes considering survey of Cerise in aside. It likely adds to the pause before he makes the arguably sour note of his response. “I expect the time is near at hand when we’ll have little thought to give to theories of what composition makes for the best fighting force.” This is far too dour. It calls for more booze. This time, he’ll take up the vodka to spill into their glasses, a seemingly careless one-two slosh that manages not to drip in between. “Tell me about being on stage with your sisters,” he invites instead. “Did you sing? Dance?”

Thank you, thank you; she’ll take any and all laughter, or other shows of similar amusement, as her due. Cerise’s lips twist and purse, though that matching smirk is soon hidden behind the rim of the tankard as she enjoys a healthy swallow of ale. The sigh that follows is contented but not so much so that she doesn’t set the larger vessel aside in order to reach for the smaller one, once V’dean has poured. “Ah ah,” she chides him, “I’m free of Southern for the first time in recent memory, no talk of unhappy things. Time enough for that later, chaperon.” And that would be the cue for the next toast, the duty for which falls to her. She considers what best to say before venturing a chipper, “To hours stolen away.” It’ll do! This second shot goes down far more smoothly than the first, her off-set smile reappearing more quickly after the glass is replaced on the table. “That all depended on the act, aye? Mostly it was dancing, something in the background…playing a little sprite from a maiden’s dream, or fixing a set of wings to my back and becoming the heroine’s firelizard. I wasn’t allowed parts of my own until they’d all moved on and we were left in dire straights. But by then I knew every part inside and out, and was ready to learn others.”

It’s a good point — V’dean accepts her chastisement with a relenting lift of palm. Nothing unhappy, and he’ll prove it with an evened smile. “May there be many,” he bolsters her toast before slinging down his vodka. He lets this one sit longer unaccompanied by ale, the curl of his tongue tasting the roof of his mouth and then chasing an edge across his smile as he pictures little Cerise in her wings. It briefly turns his gaze to the stage, as if he can see her up there, as he slouches back into his chair and brings his beer with him. There he can sip from it more leisurely while scanning a gaze over the greenrider. “You and Dimitri. D’tri,” corrected. But his thoughts are still perhaps with her sisters, his regard tilted. “Their smiles, perhaps, were not so faked. For the holders’ sons.” His expression, in contrast, is maybe more smugly clever than earnest. “Or were those the new parts that you created for yourself?” A loft of eyebrow helps make the question. “Fake smiles and nighttime escapes and pretending at childbearing.” He may as well be attributing scripts of bandits and pirates and rooftop swordfights, for the air of intrigue laid on.

The gaze is likewise accepted as her due, taken and returned with Cerise’s folding of her arms upon the table, the ale recaptured loosely in one hand. She’s pitched forward, leaned towards him and inclined to idle nods as he strings together the beads of her history. That the bluerider is doing so confirms her smile, shores it up, and leaves her eyes twinkling in the more muted half-light surrounding their corner table. “Not bad. You’ve been paying attention, I’m flattered. There were three of us though, not just the two, once the others had all put down their roots. That I’ll share for free.” The rest? The rest, confirmation or denial, is kept close, implied in the secretive tilt of head, tucked chin, shadowed smile. “Were you a holders’ son, before Ekerth? Did you tend fields and orchards, and flash those dimples at trader girls passing on the road outside your cothold?”

“Don’t tell,” of his attention, V’dean will sharpen a toothy smile as laughter brightens the cool of green eyes. His smile is muted by the long sip he takes of his ale, the pint falling to rest within the cupped play of his fingers folded over the half-reclined plane of his stomach as his legs stretch long beneath their table. “Free?” It quirks amusement upon brows and lips. “Do we need a deck of cards? Though I’d be tempted by the game that bargains in clothing instead of words.” His chuckles are still submerged, riding the rich lows of his voice and undispersed by the long sigh of breath he takes as he sets in place that dimple she refers to. “That would have gone well,” his expression is touched with whimsy as he looks down towards the beer in his hands. “Me peering out at the road as the wagons trundled by. Would you have run back?” His grin lifts again to Cerise. But, no, his chin rocks negative as a fold pulls briefly to his brows. “So much work.” It’s a teasing whine. “I never did anything so useful. I was a crafter’s son. No identity by birthright. If not for Ekerth… I would have had to make something of myself. And isn’t that a frightening thought?” His smirk has reshaped, brow ticking with the light mocking he makes of himself.

“Never!” The promise comes with an X sketched roughly over where her heart should be. Cerise follows this by slouching back in her chair, the ale given over in favor of pushing a hand into the pocket of her dangling jacket. A search ensues during which her head tilts again and her gaze aims towards the ceiling, as if rummaging around in her pocket precludes looking at anything of worth. “For those dimples, I might have. I’ve kept your company in spite of every effort on your part to drive me away, after all,” she tells him, “so surely you’d have been worth running back to. Even without Ekerth. There.” Triumphant, she pulls her hand free and opens it over the table, loosing a puff of lint, a quarter-mark stamped by the Smiths, a lone (and much battered) die, and the pack of cards she’d been searching for originally, secured with a frayed satin ribbon. Strip poker, it would seem, is not beyond the bounds of possibility. “A crafter’s boy…which?” Leaned forward again to pluck at the aged knot holding the ribbon around the deck, she slides focus between it and the bluerider. “Tradition has it that your birthright is your father’s craft, or it did in my time.”

All her efforts of withstanding all of his — they are at least worth a beatific smile and flutter of lashes. The expression dissolves into a chuckle as he attends her pocketbound search while taking another slurp of his ale. His slouch lightens a touch, enabling the stretch of an arm to poke a finger at that lone die. “Harper.” For tradition, V’dean just has the uneven slant of a quiet smile. His fingers unfurl, wrapping again about the tall glass to tip out a third round of shots. “Those must be antiques — who’s on the face cards?” Meanwhile he’s pulled a little further from the back of his chair, enough to lift his little glass and twist a considering scan about at the other patrons. “Did you want to see if anyone else will join us?” He may propose it, but he doesn’t sound particularly invested in the idea.

Harper. The naming of that particular craft gives Cerise pause, a moment spent with hands stilled against the cards and hazel eyes fixed on the curve of his mouth. Speculative, that look, and then consciously amused. “So between us, we make almost a whole Harper, do we? I should apologize for all the things I’ve said of the craft. It’s poor luck to insult a man’s father.” She should but she doesn’t. The knot’s come undone and the ribbon is set aside, allowing her to pass the cards between her hands in a well-oiled shuffle. They hardly whisper at all as they’re ruffled together, marking Turns of use. “These? Everything I own’s an antique, these are no exception. They’ve Eth’n and Rhaeyn on them, and the rest of their corp; they came out’ve High Reaches,” she says, pausing in the shuffle to turn half the deck face out to show a rather stylized depiction of Reaches’ Weyrleader. She runs a look around the room but it takes only a few seconds for her to lock on the bluerider again, eyes made crescents, smile gone askew. “If you’d like. I’m as happy to beat the pants off of just you.”

“Mm.” Almost whole. There’s humor in the upward tick of his brows. Her words that follow bring a warp to his features — incredulous, wry… something like that. “Don’t worry about it,” V’dean assures, dry despite this latest shot that he doesn’t wait on her before taking. Drawing himself a little straighter with a long inhale, he sets a forearm along the table and nods out idle interest for the picture displayed. “Along with many of you. Was that where…” But he catches himself up with a little drum of fingertips upon wood and the lift of a pressed smile, anticipating that this may lead towards such unhappy things as she’s declared they’ll avoid. Convenient, then, that she’s offered a better alternative to focus upon. “Deal,” the bluerider decides with one final tap of finger to table. “Your pants against mine.” As if this has the sound of disparate outcomes. “Though they’re not lordling’s pants, I am sorry. You sounded as if you may have made a point of gathering a collection.”

The task of shuffling done, Cerise places the cards before him for the cut and uses that opportunity to reach for the third shot. Perhaps there’s a hint of flush to her cheeks, a tough of heightened sparkle to her eyes, but those are the only tells of alcohol showing thus far. That…and maybe a willingness to say more than her previous scolding had indicated- V’dean might earn a gentler sort of smile for his self-interruption, the type of smile that says thank you without the need for words, but as she reaches for the deck she prompts him, “Was that where…?” And then it’s on to dealing. Neat flicks of the fingers slide cards into two piles, the pack placed to the side when the last skims to its place. With her eyes on the faces of long-dead personages, hands busied arranging the cards to her satisfaction, she feels secure enough to remark, “Collected by necessity at times, and a desire to hit them where it hurts at others. I’m enjoying the novelty of taking pants of my own choosing.” Lashes flicker up, a look stolen over the edge of her hand. “You’re…the second? Maybe the third? Depending on how one counts.”

V’dean is obviously no card sharp. He knows enough to recognize the invitation to cut the deck, but there’s no deftness to the way he sections off the top half, to the point that a few cards get strewn between the two stacks as he moves them apart. He may notice the altered shape of her smile but he doesn’t dwell on it, his own gaze flicking away as he clears some space by moving the bottle and glasses out of the way to leave them with draining beers and room for Cerise to deal. “Where you were when you decided to come forward. With High Reaches riders,” he finishes as assumption rather than question. As the little pile of cards forms in front of him he shifts about, pulling his chair in a little closer with a scrape as he arranges himself into a more upright slouch balanced upon elbows on the table. The check at Cerise’s expression over his cards is brief and out of synch with hers. The ripple of his brow might just be timed with the arrangement of suits within the fan of his hand. “I think it’s the kind of thing you can count however you like,” he responds blithely as he picks out two from his hand to lay face down between them. “You surely had some choice,” before, he… hopes?

“You know, I’m not entirely certain if they were from Reaches or Igen or where. It was plain luck, we came on a camp with folk we knew, who had ties to a handful of riders. Once it became necessary, it all happened so fast. I didn’t see knots or colors or…” The drift into silence that follows this seems a natural thing, a collection of words that go unspoken because she doesn’t feel the need. Cerise pushes one card and then another from the top of the deck to slide towards the bluerider. Then she performs the same service for herself, also for two. Her brow remains serene, untroubled, the purse of her lips more thoughtful than pained. “It’s all choice, aye, even when it isn’t. And I didn’t always have to fuck them, to win the game. But it’s different when it’s not for work…which makes me more a whore than I prefer, I suppose. I’ve two Stewards,” she says, fanning the cards out and laying them down. Her grin is sudden, devastating. “Let’s see yours then, bucko. I’m feeling lucky tonight.”

The speed of that long ago time, the chaos of it, it catches at the bluerider’s imagination and subdues his motion a long moment as the edge of his gaze watches Cerise beyond his fan of cards. He takes a long breath then, lifting his new cards in to join the original three. His tongue has found the pocket of his cheek, his thumb lifting to scritch along the scruff of his jaw as he considers them all together. Or perhaps he’s considering the weyrling’s words. And then his breath is caught again as she makes presentation of her cards, cool green eyes lifting to appreciate the destruction promised by her smile. His own mouth turns up at the edge as a resumed inhale stretches a bit more length into his spine. “Is there a night you don’t feel lucky?” he is suspicious. His cards get set out one at a time. An eight, a four… all clubs until that last diamond hits. She might be justified. “Missed my flush,” is unnecessary narration. At least he still has his beer? “I’m a little unclear,” he must admit with an uneven squint of eyes, “what this had to do with juggling and plays.”

“Juggling and plays are legal, for one. They allow a person, or persons, to travel as needed. Become skilled enough and it secures one invitations to the very best parlors, catches the eyes of those who have whatever you might want or need. Should I go on?” So very patient, the tone she uses there, but there’s a scold in the glance he’s given, a light sort of chiding. Cerise makes it sound so very simple. With a clucking of the tongue, she reaches to gather the cards up again and jerks her dimpled chin towards the bluerider. “It wasn’t my idea but I came to like it well enough and aye, it’s led to more lucky nights than not. I believe that’s your shirt, V’dean? Or perhaps a boot if you’d like to play coy,” she says as she shapes the deck back into its rectangle to repeat the shuffling process. This time, she has some fun with it- she’s no D’tri, but those fingers are agile enough to cut and turn the deck in one hand, making it seem to fold in on itself before she reaches the dealing stage. “You’d have liked the life, I think. I’ve said it before, I know, but it’s worth saying again. A shame the Pass is upon us, we could have built another show, and had the dragons help us take it on the road.”

“You were thieves,” is the blunt conclusion V’dean makes of her patient set-up under the censure of her glance. The light push of his fingertips helps her gather his cards back into the deck. He chuckles, making a show of leaning a considering look at his boot and then stretching up for a languid scratch of fingers along his flank that happens to loosen the tuck of his shirt. “I’m not so sure,” he says musingly of the life she proposes. “It sounds terribly uncertain. And I wonder if dragons are more likely to get you caught than get you away. And as you say, yours was a game your elder siblings grew weary of — a young man’s game.” And here he is, so wise and conservative and — considering his first loss in strip poker. “Are we banking this for later?” he thinks to ask with a quirked brow. “Or are we…” the dodge of eyes he makes towards the interior door serves to snap his attention back to the vodka bottle. “Ah,” is a sudden realization. He straightens a little further, dragging the three pieces of glass nearer to his side of the table, handling them with an odd sort of incredulity. “First lesson. Better not to drink and go between.” And yet he just starts to turn one of the shot glasses upside down. He may be in the running for worst mentor.

Remember that dealing thing? The next step in the process? That’s put on hold, the deck cradled loose in the cup of Cerise’s palm, while she waits for the man to both process things and to make with the naked. She can be patient. Or at least imply patience, hand in hand with a certain expectant attention. “Sometimes we were blackmailers too,” she says without the shame typically associated with such bald confessions. “But I suppose you have a point, at that. It was a young man’s game…in a way.” Not that she’s inclined to explain that way. Instead, there’s an attempt to mask her amusement when the bluerider remembers certain responsibilities- an attempt that ends in failure as she (courtesy of vodka) begins to laugh at the lesson being dished out. “A little late, aye? No drinking and Betweening, then…all right. So we’ll need a room, or at least some blankets to unroll beside the dragons. Maybe after I’m done winning your wardrobe, I’ll win us some of those too.” So cheerful. So confident. So very like her to slump in her chair to gain the length of leg needed to lift a foot and prop a toe against the centered edge of his seat, beneath the table. “Jia says I should stop playing with you. What say, wingrider? Another hand, or follow the lady’s advice?”

His chuckle is a symptom of her infectious laughter, of the shots they’ve already both imbibed. “Yeah. Sure.” Why not! V’dean is a poor, helpless dear — just look at him turn up his hand into a shrug and then drag it haplessly back across his forehead and through the long brush of hair that’s somehow avoided the shears plaguing the Weyr of late. “But I’m not stripping down in the main room.” His vehemence is likely sign of how close he is to actually doing it, that and the fistful of hem he’s hitched clear of his waistband. “Yvette would never let me back through the door.” Though it’s the stage he glances towards, where a scruffily bearded man of middle age and middling attire has appeared but not yet begun to play. Her toe provides a distraction and the bluerider drops a hand to catch at it, his seat writhing a little more safely clear even as his smile curls and levels back upon Cerise. “Stop playing?” His brows lift, eyes dropping briefly to the palmed deck of cards. “Poker?” Was he pretending at maturity? Because his smile totally gets wider.

Ekerth has surely been a lurking presence since they’ve arrived together, the quiet-inclined blue sharing the view of the light-bobbed river from the blackened depths of his shadows. But, now, he surfaces — the switched-on light of his shared curiosity more brilliantly glaring than the true lanterns reflected in the facets of their eyes.

« Yes? » Trust that Jiamoth- whose own presence has been a serene array of colors dancing on water- intends to make the lurking blue //ask. There are rules to these sorts of engagements, after all; rules she likely wrote, herself. But the green doesn’t play entirely hard to get. Bright and pale even in shadow, the quiet whorl of fragmented color in her eyes is easily seen turning towards her companion, to let the male bask. Should he choose to. Should he be in a// basking mood.

Cerise is no better. With the uptick in the bluerider’s smile, she plunges deep into casual and calm mode: the slope of her shoulders as she leans back, the easy pass of fingers against palm to spin the cards between her hands, the sloooow crawl of gaze down from face to shifting shirt. But she’s not above mixed signals either, tilting the toe of her boot to the right, to the left, a playful twitch to confirm the need for retreat. “I suppose we can keep score. Can’t have Yvette upset with you, after all, Faranth forbid.” So the cards whisper out over the table, skimming its surface with each additional flick of her fingers. One, two, three…all the way to ten of them arranged between the pair, while her gaze strays from V’dean to scruffy stranger, and the instrument that’s been unclaimed since their arrival. “More like “don’t play with your food” but you get the idea. Know him?”

Ekerth, as cuddly as gunmetal, isn’t particularly given to moods of basking. The oversaturation of his inquiry narrows. As slow as he is, deliberate, his question doesn’t coalesce until there’s a sufficiently appropriate word to form it around. « Food? » is wondered with a suspicious stretch of leather.

“Right?” The horror, of offending the hostess of a low rent tavern. The bluerider hums, still a touch skeptical, as he slants a flickering grin across the table and clumsily gathers his cards into one hand so he can keep tabs on her mischievous foot. “What manners Jiamoth has. And she chose you?” The pinch of his fingers teases at her toe. As he nudges at his cards with a thumb, the cool green of his gaze casts over towards the man sliding rosin onto his bow. “He plays here regularly.” And is, apparently, enough of an acquaintance that they will exchange deep nods upon making eye contact. “It’s the knot, isn’t it?” V’dean returns to teasing as he flattens his cards back down in order to slide out the three he is exchanging under the press of his index finger. “It’s going to your head. And now you have a whole wing of weyrlings to toy with — how is that?” Eyebrows bounce over the lift of his smirk, a sip stolen from his beer as he waits for his replacement cards.

There is no stealing Jiamoth's light and color. The territory between their minds is equally held; Ekerth's regard leeches the shine and Jiamoth's reinserts it. A burst of laughter drifts to him on the rhythmic slapping current of water against stone. « Do you enjoy flights, Ekerth? » she asks, in lieu of an answer.

Cerise displays a glint of mercy when she tilts her foot and lets toes rest just behind his knee, rather than advancing or threatening progeny-endangering twitches. Her smile shades sweet with the bluerider's teasing. "It must be the knot, I've gone positively mad with power. You ought to give a whirl sometime…just the other day, I had a rider try to drop more hidework on me and I tossed him into bed instead." Dear Pernhouse…I never thought it would happen to me…

But, mismanagement of authority is set aside as she attends to the matter of cards. Three for him, another two for her, and then Cerise is studying the hand she's dealt herself. "Love a good fiddle player. This is a frequent haunt then?"

Ekerth’s regard turns to the relative soft of cheaply tailored wool in quiet absorption of her drifted laughter. Still rather stiff and scratchy. « Don’t see how that matters, doll, unless you’re planning on heading up over this river here. » In the dark, his tongue makes a wet suck over sharp teeth. The stale constance of his glared inquiry has picked up a bit of a buzz. « You didn’t answer. »

“There it is,” V’dean says under the snort of his breath, and he can’t mean the cards because she’s not yet gotten the new ones out. But her solution for hidework, probably predictably, quirks amused approval upon his features. “Now that might be more appealing,” he points out as he gathers up his freshly dealt trio, “if there were more girls on dragons. Maybe Serval…” He’s grinning as he drops his eyes to take stock of his new hand, the safe stowing of her foot behind his knee leaving him to more comfortably use both of his hands to manipulate the fan of five. “What’s frequent,” the bluerider says with a little tip of shoulders while he’s distracted with his arranging. “I’ve been here plenty before. He’s not bad,” a head tip for the musician, “and the ladies… are.” His grin is lopsided, but it’s more for the play he’s about to make then his absent words. “I think your shirt is coming off second. Pair of fives,” down they go, “pair of Stewards.” His brows tick. In the background, as the bow starts to make it’s first pulls over the fiddle’s strings, perhaps the past comment about Cerise’s guitar playing may be softened by the extent ‘not bad’ is an underestimation. Or, perhaps, it just makes it worse… in any case, the style may be at least vaguely familiar to a Bitran native — the heart of the song a dark mossy hollow coated in sawdust, a thing from the forested highlands north and west of the river though perhaps it’s tidied up here and there by more formalized conventions.

« It matters. » No amount of scratchiness will dissuade Jiamoth. She’s as confident as the tides on this topic but in no particular rush to shore up her argument. Having chosen a spot some small measure distant from Ekerth, she takes advantage of the space by sprawling- heedless of dignity here, where there’s no one to observe- on her side. The sensation of young dew soaked into her hide is freely shared, the scent of it in her nostrils provoking a small, chirpy sneeze. « The answer is, if you enjoy flights, » she finally tells him, when she’s tired of that wordless and sensual assault, « you should attend my first and you will then understand, mm? »

“Aye,” Cerise is saying in the same moment as the invitation winging at the blue. Her tone is far less encouraging, a great deal more wry. “It’s the small things that make the big ones tolerable. Not that the lack of girls with wings hurts you overmuch, I’m thinking.” Surely she means the ladies he’s referred to; twinkling eyes do cut away from the table before flicking back to the cards in hand. Those first few notes, so dear to the heart, go unnoticed as two pair are laid down, dashing her hopes for the pair of Weyrwomen she’d managed to snare. They show when she sets the hand down, curly head shaking at the loss- but the depth of her dimples telling a different story entirely. “This keeps up, we’ll both be nude. Shock. Horror,” she remarks in that same dry tone. But there’s no real edge to the words, the result of one part amusement, one part simple distraction- the fiddle player is proving effective in stealing her focus away. Truly stealing it at first, small glances taken between the gathering up of the cards, and then an extended study with eyes hooded and hand absently tapping the deck against the table with the flurry of notes. “…oh.” Just that and only after several moments of steady, somber attention. “I know this one.”

Ekerth was the one to ask, so it’s not exactly reasonable for him to be upset with the answer it yields him. The light of his attention dims and is more sallow for it, though perhaps there’s a prettish sort of sheen that’s not wholly detached from her dew and dancing lights — the dull gleam of rain wetted pavement. « Sure, » is a jaded scuff of a chuckle, no promise for the future but rather a thin thread of acknowledgement as he fades back to dark.

The bluerider’s chuckle is a warmer thing, his shrug hapless for his hale achievements despite certain inequalities of opportunity. “What a stunning turn of events,” V’dean drolly agrees in line with her dry remarks. Her distraction provides him opportunity for slinging out another shot for himself, as if the lines of his posture are insufficiently loose, but it’s when he goes to flap a ready hand onto the table’s surface for the next poker round that he notices the shape of Cerise’s attention. It stills him, forearms tumbled upon the table and fingers an incomplete ring about his glass. He just watches her long moments, his own lashes drifting lower as he puts an ear to the swift runs of strings. And, instead of interrupting outright, he just curves a knowingly wider smile and stretches fingers out to pluck the deck from the absent curl of her hand. “I’ll deal this one,” he offers.

What is this fading? A low hum escapes Jiamoth’s throat, there in the dark. She will have to ponder what to do, on those rare occasions when someone plays hard to get- a heretofore unknown experience, for the adolescent green.

Ponder, and also tattle. Cerise’s rapt attention is divided yet again, though with her eyes closing once the cards have been taken, there’s no telling the when or the how until she speaks: “He drives her to distraction.” Observation, on her part; complaint, on Jiamoth’s. And once relayed, Cerise puts it out of her mind, taking in a deep breath as if music were oxygen and this song capable of filling her lungs. On the exhale, the smile that lays claim to her lips is everything soft, secret and reminiscent. The shine to her eyes when they do finally open again is unfeigned, and unashamed. “You knew he’d be playing tonight, when you suggested this place?” She wants to make it an accusation, to put a teasing spin on the words, but uncertainty has its way with the statement and turns it to question, punctuated with the feathery lift of her eyebrows, the inquisitive tilt of her head. But, lest the bluerider think she’s growing soft, and without once breaking eye-contact, she reaches out with her emptied hand…to take the newly filled glass of vodka for herself.

Fading, lurking, the scratchy gruff of solid shadow. Ekerth is little different in actual form, the low cast of lids muting the slow whirl of his eyes and the drab of his hide hardly different than dust and stone in the night.

“Ekerth?” The blue’s rider has a burble of incredulous laughter, though he offers no more given the way the music claims his companion. Instead it leaves him with a deep tuck of grin held fast by his dimple as he makes more brutish use of the cards — a few splayed zippers of the two halves together upon the table before he cuts himself and starts spinning out the two sets of five. At least it’s not like V’dean doesn’t know to alternate. “I was pretty sure.” There’s warm amusement thick in his voice — so yes, it’s quite a risk he’ll think her soft, may tease Cerise for being so, until the theft of the shot sufficiently throws him off her bright eyed trail. It means his laugh is for her audacity instead. “I enjoy it as well,” he’s sure to point out, lest she think him altruistic, as he puts off looking at his cards in favor of thunking the other glass back over. “G’deon is going to tear me a new one.” This is stated more as fact then jest. Not that it’s stopping him.

“You’d best knock it off,” Cerise warns him. Clarification will have to wait until after she’s tipped back the shot; this one doesn’t burn at all going down, though the roses in her cheeks have graduated to a new and brighter hue. The glass is flipped over and thumped to the table afterwards, that beat followed by a rap of knuckles as the cards settle before her. “Or I’m gonna think you were trying to do something nice for me.” Altruistic? Oh yes, that’s the charge and he’ll need a better excuse to escape sentencing. Then it’s onto the card, while her toe taps time with the fiddler against V’dean’s inner knee and the fog creeping through her brain- how many shots was that, now?- makes settling on one line of conversation difficult. Witness: “Ekerth, aye. He’s on her short list. Nylanth too but I doubt that’s gonna save me from having a strip torn off when we get back.” After several minutes of passing the cards between her hands, tucking this one there and that one here, she finally pulls one from the spread and slides it on over to be replaced. Whatever poker face the greenling can lay claim to has long since fled; there’s a curl of preemptive gloating in the smile tossed across the table.

Incorrigible about sums up the dimpled look V’dean has for that warning. His pinky is out, all delighted mischief, as he lifts his own glass — knocking back is what he’s about. Four. It’s four. “Well I hope you’re busy thinking of how you might repay me,” is his answer to niceness, teeth flashing. He’s not exactly static, though the sway of his knee is more an on-again-off-again pulse of pressure against her tappy toe. “I think that’s a safe bet,” he’ll bolster Cerise’s suspicions regarding the limits of flattery’s saving power when it comes to the elder bronze. Speaking of bets… “No.” Vodka has ignited bright in his eyes, fueling his humor. It’s an absent sweep of fingers that clears her discard away, the motion quickly turning to a pluck of the first from the top of the deck. He doesn’t bother handing it to her, just flipping the thing up roughly under the hover of her hand — the bluerider is far more interested in hooking a fingertip at the top of the hidden fan that’s making her gloat so. “I didn’t give you four.” Four. Does this mean he’s stuck playing his hand? His lean across the table is letting it tip, showing a whole lotta nothing.

“That depends on what you lose next.” On the matter of repayment, that is. Vodka has done nothing to dull Cerise’s love for a good quip, nor her willingness to seize an opportunity to match- the tip of her boot strokes an inch of inseam before (alas) coordination fails. The sole slips from the edge of his chair, her foot collides with the floor and she’s startled into actually sitting straight, a cascade of events that end with a sudden note of laughter. Did any of that make sense? Perhaps only to Cerise but her amusement lingers, all the same. “Hey now,” her protest sputters weakly through her chuckling, a hand freed to bat at his- and then changing course to bat at those tipped cards. She’ll lay her hand down in her own good time and…oh, nope, there they go, a pair of eights spilled and a pair of Weyrleaders as well. It is, perhaps, the most undignified reveal in the history of dragonpoker. But, survivor that she is, the weyrling determines to focus on what truly matters even as she looks to pin V’dean’s wrist to the table while giving him the most meaningful of looks: “Your pants,” she intones, “are mine.”

This isn’t exactly strengthening his competitive spirit. Even if the obviously unintended slip of her foot has him swaying his knees closer together, wincing a bit worriedly for what might have been even while chuckling freely along with the greenrider. “Come on, show us a little peek,” he’s wicked, but at least he manages to hold onto the bottom edge of his cards as he lets them flop outward. “You didn’t get a quartet!” It might make more sense to be triumphant if her two pair didn’t so clearly trump his… off suited small cards and a Weyrwoman. Or, well, V’dean isn’t protesting the pin that has his wrist knocking to wrest upon the table. His continuing laughter completely ruins the attempt at portraying mortification at her proclamation. “Oh, no,” is a long breath — also ruined by the hitch of chuckles. Forcing his eyes wide as he watches her across the table: “What happens if…” He doesn’t bother to shuffle as he slaps another round of cards out from the top of the deck.

“Now, see, you keep talking like that and I’m thinking maybe you fancy yourself clever with the shuffling, aye?” In other words, Cerise just laid out a cheating accusation. Not an easy accusation to make, though not because it pains her to do so. Rather, his chuckling is contagious, her laughter is slow to taper off, and there’s no keeping her voice steady. The accent usually kept on a leash, even if that leash is allowed some slack, now has free rein; Bitra is in the house. “Y’know what we do with cheaters here? We take ‘em out back, teach ‘em a lesson,” she says in a dire tone fail. Her hand stays curved over that pinned wrist, the other creeps towards the cards to straighten them for squinting at in dubious fashion. “Yvette’d thank me. I’d earn m’self a discount, the next time I’m back. What’s this then? What happens if…?”

V’dean has a bit more mass over which to distribute his four shots, but he is at the distinct disadvantage of having his wrist still caught under the press of Cerise’s hand. That, and the whole thing where he is decidedly less adept than her at handling the cards. It could all be part of his devious plan, to appear to fumble so! “A lesson, you say?” He may be crowing a touch. He might hit even higher volume of laughter, if he weren’t fitting his voice to a crude approximation of the greenrider’s slipped accent. Maybe there’s also some retained impulse to not overpower the music too much, for all they’ve managed to distract themselves from listening. “Hopefully you’re a better teacher than me.” Her questions are encouraged with a gleeful nod, his dimple furrowed, his fingers sloppy as he slaps out the ten cards, one for her and one for him and oops! that one flipped face side up while he was getting it across the table. “You think I should keep that?” he asks about the ten of hearts all hanging out in the open before him.

“Ach!” There it is: the very epitome of rural Bitra, gathered in one rich and scornful nonsense syllable. That, good sir, is for mocking her accent. Even if it’s a little hilarious. Out of respect for that overlooked melody in the background, Cerise doesn’t repeat the sound- too discordant, too disruptive, too too. But V’dean making free with the nodding? And being so happy about it? That sees her trying to stifle actual giggles behind a bitten lip and a scant attempt at focusing on the cards. “Hannah claims I am.” A better teacher, that is. “And y’know, we could…whups…that ‘un almost got away entire, eh?” She traps it beneath the pad of a lone finger and slides the ten back to his side of things. Yes, yes, he can keep that. “We could just say I won, you can ask me to dance to celebrate our victory and then we can be off to let me collect my winnings.” Throughout this pitch, and with a very tipsy lack of awareness for the weight it presses on his wrist, she leans towards him over the table. It gives the impression that she’s lowered her voice to a conspirator’s level, though she’s done no such thing at all. “Though we’ve yet to decide whether to pay for a bed or…blankets? We should borrow some blankets, aye.”

Well if she’s going to go and make that sound, he’s certainly not going to stop grinning! “Oh, Hannah does,” he pokes fun at her familiarity while she pokes his card back towards him. As for just saying — “No, no,” he holds up his free hand. “Someone has warned me of the very dire consequences of cheating.” And so he’s going to go about (not) very meticulously turning over his new cards one by one. Except for the ten of hearts — that one’s already turned over, naturally. His previously losing batch is still turned up in his hand, so when Cerise starts to put pressure on his wrist they’re caught against her forearm as he flexes a wrap of fingers about it to help keep his bones from being ground into the table. “Or I could get us a decent room,” he supposes with absent haughtiness. He’s too busy pointing out his amazing hand. “Look! All red!” Okay, not so busy that he doesn’t recognize the leverage he has to pull with as she leans over the table. His voice is lowered, a throaty thing as his lashes drift with lazy smug. “What’s that collect?”

“A room with a real bed?” The latter two syllables which dance from her lips with merry bemusement- what a novel idea, a bed! Cerise’s touch gentles, curls until she’s able to stroke the thin, delicate skin that stretches taut over the hollow beneath his thumb. She traces the path delineated by tendons, there and back, repeated until it seems surely she has him- that scant inch or so of V’dean- fully memorized. Cards? What cards? Her attention is for the magic the man is working with eyelashes and voice alone. Anyone glancing their way would…all right, anyone in this place likely knows well enough to say what’s going on, but they look as if they’re deep in consultation now, when in fact what Cerise is doing is enjoying a closer study of green eyes through that darker veil. It takes a moment for each word to penetrate; when they finally do, a flash of hazel behind black as her own lashes drop mark her trying to keep from laughing outright as inspiration strikes- she’s got this response. Check it out: “All red? Oh no, by the rules I think that means I pay a forfeit. On my knees.” Really, she could try to sound out of sorts about this. Instead, her cards are cast down and ignored in favor of reaching up to tickle her fingers against chin-scruff.

“Unfathomable luxury, I know,” a real bed. The quirk of his humor lingers, and the combination of alcohol’s heat and the trace of her thumb leaves the pulse within that soft hollow heavy and quick. V’dean is surely little help against her laughter, especially as the teasing drum of his fingers against her forearm outright tries to shake it loose. “Is that so?” Wicked anticipation is sparked dark in green eyes and his dimple is furrowed deep above the tickle of her fingers. He leans into it. “What a lucky night this has proved to be.” Even though he, too, barely seem aware of the cards anymore. “Let’s get out of here.” The suggestion is made with an uptick of brows and the bluerider seems ready to put it to action. His arm starts to pull away, the fallen flat of his other palm shifting to sweep at the cards strewn across the table before he reaches to polish off the dregs of his ale. The vodka… that might have to be capped and carried with them.

Cerise proves weak to shaking, or the smaller form of it that he’s inflicting on her arm. It’s the wickedness, see- to have her own echoed and reflected back in emerald hues strikes that (drunken) core of fancy in her heart. So yes, she laughs, and pinches his chin between thumb and curled forefinger in retribution for driving her to it. “You, bluerider, are far, far too easy to steer,” she says when her voice has achieved some small measure of equilibrium again. And teasing scold or no, she’s not dawdling either. Her fingers relax on his arm to allow that escape and allow her to begin gathering the cards, scooping them from wild disarray into something tidy enough to be stuffed, with the original restraining ribbon, back into the loose pocket of her jacket as it’s pulled off the chair. Getting that garment on is a trick too, and why she insists on shrugging into it when they’re just heading for privacy…

Ah. It all becomes clear a moment later when- after leaving V’dean to cap the vodka and carry it with him, if he wants the stuff- she steps towards the raised dais where the fiddler works his magic. Being tipsy makes for an unsteady bow. Unsteady but not graceless, long Turns of practice making it reflex for her body to find the proper lines- an arm outstretched, a toe pointed, head bent low in respect. And upon rising, Cerise’s compliment for the man- only partially masked by a hint of wobble- comes in the form of hands folded over heart. She smiles at him before turning to make her unsteady way back to the other rider. “Right then. To arms. Or…parts lower down.”

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