Who

Cullen, Veresch

What

A messenger takes the longest road of all, and finds an old face at the end of it.

When

It is noon of the nineteenth day of the third month of the first turn of the 12th pass.

Where

Deadman's Trench, Igen Weyr

OOC Date

 

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Deadman's Trench

Often a stopping point for more adventurous trader caravans - and sometimes a hideout for renegades and criminals along the road - Deadman's Trench is a narrow canyon oasis on the cusp of the savannah and desert. Erosion and time have driven a deep scar into the sandstone bluffs here. Thin, gravelly trails and roads just wide enough for wagons are the only points of entry or exit, switching back and forth along the rusty walls before finally giving way to the flat, sandy floor of the canyon. Small trees and bushes flourish along a trickling creek, and many a creature that refuses to face the scorching desert just beyond calls this stony hideaway home. A worthwhile retreat to be sought…should a soul be daring enough to brave the potential dangers of this easily missed locale.


Dry desert flats ripple sluggishly under the noonday heat. The far horizons are smeared with quicksilver mirages and down here in the narrow winding passages of Deadman's Trench, sunlight reflects secondhand through the shadows to make a weird orange underlighting against the underside of Cullen's nose, his chin, the bottom side of his wide-brimmed hat. There's no wagon present, no sign of life beyond him and his runner, lazily sipping from the stream - a monstrously tall stallionbeast spattered white and gray, with such clean lines amongst its legs that even beneath the thick travel dust clung about its coat it has the air of being too well bred for his company. Sitting back in the shade of the high wall in a battered duster, the collar turned up, arms crossed and eyes closed, Cullen may well be taking a miniature siesta from the days heat. With all his hardbitten features, he looks rather at home amongst the stones.

With only the quicksilver of distant mirages to lure her closer to an ever-blue horizon, Veresch has little choice but to acknowledge this the longest run of her short career as a weyr messenger, but there's a hard set to her jaw that indicates stubbornness, probably the reason she's not given up yet. Her run is made more difficult by the needle-sharp shadows cast fitfully and shortly by the midday sun: more than once the shadow was so black that she stepped to avoid a hole and fell into another one by accident. That's the reason that she's going slow and her breathing is harsh as she nears Cullen's hideout against one wall. Some distance away she stops, pauses, gapes, leaning forward to rest her hands on her thighs foR a short rest. Were she a runner, she'd be preciously close to blown, and someone would have pampered care. Being a human, however, gets her precisely one thing: the imperative to move on until she finally makes it to his side, eyes pinched tightly shut. "Trader…" she manages to get out around a dry throat. "Trader Cullen?"

It's more a sound than a movement; the light creak of cloth shifting as Cullen's hand absently shift towards the inner shadows within his duster. Soon there are more, opposite arm shifting, raising, to press the thumb pad of a gnarly-battered hand against the underside of his hat brim and push it upward towards the side facing Veresch. One eye remaining squinshed closed against the glare of sunlight reflecting off the far canyon wall, the other rolls up to consider the girl standing over him with a gaze absurdly animal-/simplistic/. He nods to a stone not far from him - though farther than arm's length - and says as though he hadn't heard her question, "Sit." The hand inside his dust emerges with a small flask; presumably, it contains water. He offers it Veresch, never taking his gaze from her face.

The girl drops onto the proffered seat like a puppet with strings cut, all legs and elbows and wiggly joints. She takes the small skin, sniffs once and then sips, grimacing against the tense desire to guzzle it all down. She's sufficiently desert-trained to sip little by little. "Thank you, sir," she speaks at length." Her hand turns grubby with road-dust as she wipes her mouth; for long minutes she merely sits there, head hanging, before she finally returns her gaze first to him, then the runner. "He's beautiful," she mutters quietly, hesitantly, looking up-and-up at the stallion with a little hint of whimsical longing. Then, "Are you Trader Cullen, sir? If not, I can't stay long, I have to press on to find him."

"Ayuh. Cullen. Do ya," it's not phrased as a question so much as a greeting. The man has a way of speaking that scarely moves his lips - and a hint of teeth that suggests they do not unclench to move at all. He's moved his dead stare finally off the collection of knobby joints that is his company, and moves it to consider his runner like he wants to EAT it, "He's named Roadkill. Was won in a Herder's card game, by a daughter'a mine. Damn fool beast." Roadkill, for /his/ part, has swiveled his satellite ears in Veresch's direction without lifting his head from his lazy drink. His one gigantic dewy runner-eye swivels in her favor as well. Maybe that muscle-twitch quiver in his flank is his runner-way of saying 'hi'. OR maybe there are merely flies to discourage. "You up from Igen proper?" Cullen still isn't looking back at the girl. His blank stare is FIXED — on that far wall. "Been away a time. What news." All full-stops. Even the questions fail to have that necessary upward lilt of interrogation. Maybe he ate them.

Veresch watches, uneasily fascinated by the dead stare from the runner. "From the weyr, yes," she mutters. She slips off the rock all scrawny awkwardness - from the look of her inch-too-short sleeves, she's in the midst of a growth spurt - and digs in one pocket to give him a twist of hide. "Well, Thread started again, you know that." Unless he's been dead and somehow got resurrected, he looks tough enough to take death on and win. "Tuli's gold had a clutch recently, with a viable gold in it, so candidates are streaming in from everywhere. The bazaar is still… as the bazaar normally is. Scandals, deaths, births." She finally locates the twist of hide and passes it on to him with her left, holding out the right as well, likely in greeting. "Veresch," she introduces herself shortly.

"Tuli. Is it so." The heavy chuckle at this news harbors thunderstorms. Clap! Cullen doesn't clasp hands with the girl so much as wrists, heavy fingers enfold Veresch's forearm in an immovable /vice/ clamp. Like a snapping turtle. There's no intention to hurt just - quintessentially /firm/. His lips are pulled back in a grin savage enough it should probably come with a warning sign, "Well met on this road, Messenger Veresch of Igen." He makes a small foreign gesture, off the front of his chin. And he keeps her arm in his grip for the length of time it takes him pluck his ounce of hide(/flesh/) from her other hand.

Man, he's got a grip there. Veresch's arm is thin and wiry; though there's no way her strength measures up to his there's a hint of that as well, the feel of muscles moving uneasily under the long sleeve of her shirt. "Weyrwoman Tuli, yes. Tall, light klah skin, talks about punching a motherfucker out the whole time when she's angry. Looks like she can punch like a snake slithers." That Tuli. There's something from a pause, and she takes her hand back firmly when she relinquishes the hide; her lips pin into a thin stripe. "Who are you?" she finally asks, eyes searching his lined, weathered face. It's not so much a question regarding his name, as the uneasy sense that the being in front of her is … not like anyone she's met before.

"Ohoho, I know her," Cullen rumbles ominously, his gravel baritone somehow more /felt/ in the center of the chest than heard. His viper-grin is still in place while he opens his hide, "Knew her a time long before she was bound to that great creeping golden /monster/. Nearly smacked the teeth from her smart-fucking-mouth more times than I've fingers to count." Of which there are actually nine - where a right pinky should exist, there's only a tangle of scarring. Theres an archaic quality to his brogue, a rough amalgamation of inner-Weyr Nabol, Western Trade speak, a Neratian twang. He drags his hat off his head, where dusty sun-beaten hair is populated with an onset of premature graying, damp and stuck down by sweat, and in a roll of bounders shoulder muscles he rises to his feet. "Ah me? Heh." He extends a hand, and should Veresch allow the connection he'll deal her cheek a pair of light pats on his way to move past her, "I ain't nobody."

Veresch listens, eyes widening slowly, as the man describes one of her personal idols the way someone else would a child. Oh, she's not stupid enough to let it show on her face, but ther's a twitch of mouth that might have been either disapproval or small mirth. She's not an unintelligent girl by any means, and so she watches the slow roil of muscles as he gets up, the smile that never quite succeeds in becoming a real one, the weatherbeaten complexion. She allows the pats to her cheek, even though it makes her want to stamp her foot and declare herself an adult, but there is a gesture in return, a light coiling of fingers around his wrist. It's gently done, delicately, not a firm hold at all, a mere bracelet of fingers. "Will you be coming back to the weyr, sir?" she asks at length.

Cullen's wrist is thick and solid in Veresch's fingers; the long muscles in it don't clench, nor twist tighter, but only by some dark suggestion they had never been /un/clenched. And after a moment of staring intently down at the girl, he yanks his wrist nearer. Not to rip free of her fingers, but more a challenge. To see if she would dare come nearer. Into his expansive personal space where it all smells of runnerflesh, sun-beaten skin, old leather. "You beggin' a ride?"

Veresch doesn't let him pull her closer; the fingers almost immediately let his wrist go. That doesn't mean she doesn't step closer — she steps close enough to have to tilt her head up to look at him, and the smile she gives is somewhere on the cusp of child and adult. "I'd be a fool not to beg a ride back, he looks strong enough to carry five, nevermind two." She's half, see, he's the other one and a half. She seems little offended by the smell of him; indeed, all she does as she stands practically nose-to-chest is tuck her hands into her pants. "I'm about five seconds from having my knees go all wobbly anyway; either I sit on the runner or I sit here for a while longer." Another smile, this one pretty. "Please, sir?"

"Some," Cullen grins that skeletal non-grin down at the girl like hailstones, "might call you a fool to take a ride from strange men about the desert." Without moving his feet to withdraw from their proximity, he folds to the side to sweep up a large, battered satchel that he slings across his chest man-purse style. And then energetically turns and whistles! Roadkill tosses his forelock and comes towards Cullen - a little TOO close, cramming his huge runner-nostrils under Cullen's armpit, earning a disgruntled, 'agh', Cullen shoving that massive horse-face AWAY to get at the stallion's saddle. He goes about mounting up like a man charging a fortress, Roadkill rearing back, Cullen battening down to mane, until the two settle into sorts. At which time all the ferocity in the runner is gone, and he's trotting merrily to allow Veresch to climb up behind him.

Okay, seriously? The runner's almost taller than she is, and Veresch struggles to get onto it. "He's so over-enthusiastic," she finally mutters as she manages to hop, skip and belly-writhe her way into a seat behind him. Fighting the duster smooth, she folds her arms around his waist; when there should have been fear there's only a snicker. "I'm not the one sitting with my unprotected back towards a stranger in the desert," she points out pertly. "I reckon I could have you in the kidneys twice before you manage to do anything I don't want." Still, she remains amiably silent for the ride back, not given to much chattering. She really /is/ tired. "I'll present you to the Weyrwoman," she yawns into his back. "Soon's we get there."

"I'll have a knife in his neck, some day," Cullen assures, patting Roadkill with a familiar /roughness/. The runner doesn't seem to notice - he has a kind of… derpy-happy trot for all his majesty. Pressed as close as she is, Veresch will feel it through his back, when he chuckles low and earthy. "Child, you may test that assumption, any day a'my life. HYAH HYAH!" And then they're off across the desert lands, a rising roostertail of dust unraveling in their wake.

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