"The sailor, of course, was confused. He asked the whaler what he meant by 'docking' the girl."
Jessamine raised her gaze, eyes drifting from Count Moiseev's amused expression, to the back of the dining room.
Corvo's tall form wavered in the corner, pacing quietly along the length of the wall. She watched him intently, following the curve of his spine, the length of his neck, and the smooth expanse of his hand as he raised it. His fingers fisted casually as he neared the large oak doors.
He paused, rapping the door quietly as not to disturb her formal dinner.
"The whaler explained that all good women, like good whales, must be admired from above."
That was twice this evening. Meaning Corvo had ordered his second post rotation to the outside guards. Meaning it was nearing 11:00. Jessamine shifted her back aching from the tall chair and her shoulders stiff from keeping her posture.
Corvo turned to face the room once more and seemed surprised to see her watching him. His brows furrowed in question, as if waiting for a command.
She merely smiled softly at him.
"—Ha! The whaler then continued to explain—"
Corvo's hair was getting longer, she noted distractedly. Despite the lazy tail on the back of his neck, some strands still fell forward to frame his face. She had mentioned it to him a while ago, but he insisted that the matter was trivial. She had chalked it up to men being unnecessarily stubborn about their hair and decided not to tease him about the scruff on his chin either.
There was a clatter of glasses and a shout of laughter, making her snap her attention back to the Count.
She quickly smiled wider, chiding herself for not paying attention to whatever he had said last.
The company along the length of her table was lit with laughter. It was a small sea of faces, swarming her mind with noise and movement. In the midst of it was the Count on her direct right, teeth gleaming with the sharpness of his smile.
On her other side Anton Sokolov scoffed gruffly, drowning his obvious dislike for the joke (or the Count) in his brandy.
"Have you ever been out on the water's, my Lady?"
Jessamine caught Tamir's eyes, and frowned quietly.
Since she had met the man she couldn't quite place the oddness of him. He was very tall, as tall as Commander Dalen perhaps, thick and lean. Muscles robed beneath crisp and spotless white suits. His hair was dark and curly, kept as slick as possibly with tiny ringlets interrupting the air. He had a pronounced face, with dimples in face that made his cheekbones protrude and smile look bigger than it was.
She couldn't deny that Tamir Moiseev was handsome. He certainly wasn't a bad looking man. And he wore his foreignness well. But there was something else about him that somehow… disconcerted her.
Maybe it was his eyes. Deep set and yet pale. They were flashes of the barest green in silver, staring right back at her.
A bit impolite, but he was Tyvian. A noble one.
"You mean sailing?" She answered, making sure to not get too distracted again.
She tried not to mind the twenty other conversations flying about the table. Or any eyes that drifted toward the two of them talking.
"Of course." He nodded; those dimples making his smile twist upwards like a cat.
"No, no—I don't mean those monstrous boats your Navy escorts you on. I mean something more romantic. Something quieter, smaller…eh…" He trailed, looking away and lifting his chin as if to help himself remember a way to describe what he meant.
He smiled suddenly, leaning forward onto his elbow, Tyvian accent curling around the deep vowels of his words. "Something more intimate."
Jessamine kept her smile demure, looking away to push idly at her wine glass.
Anton sneered on her left. "Those measly things are impractical for any sort of sailing."
Tamir simply laughed and barked across the table. "Not all of us want to go gallivanting to Pandyssia!" He glanced at her again to share his mirth at the comment. "I'm sure the Empress can appreciate something of luxury, something to use to watch the waters at moonlight. No?"
The question of agreement was aimed at her and she gave her best curt smile, bowing her head. "It sounds lovely enough."
"Much more than enough, I assure you." He corrected, leaning in over his glass. "And I find it a shame that a woman of your caliber has not yet been."
"An Empress rarely has time for such things." She amended gently.
The corner of Tamir's mouth lifted farther, showing a flash of his canines. The taunting expression somehow made his brows look longer. "And why not?"
"As a Count I'm sure you understand some of the responsibilities one holds with a high position—"
He shook his head, still grinning like she was saying things he predicted she would say. And when next he spoke it was quieter, perhaps quieter than Anton or any others would here.
"I can better understand that longing feeling you must have for something of your own and not others."
Jessamine's lips closed, caught in his gaze as his brows rose.
He let out a breathy sound, raising his glass and gesturing it at those around them.
"Everyone has their hobbies. Their escapes."
Jessamine shook her head, her mouth putting together her responses for her even as her mind stalled her thoughts.
Where was this coming from?
This dinner was a formality, a celebration for the return of her Lord Physician and to show gratitude to the Count who had housed him. She'd had many dinners like this before, with various different delegates and ambassadors.
And yet all night this… count Moiseev of Tamarak had been nothing but forward. He was a growing presence that insisted causalities with her. Keeping her eye level and addressing her like some friend he seemed to think he already knew.
And now he was asking about her desires?
She glanced around the table to find no one looking at her end of the table.
No one but Corvo.
She crossed eyes with her Protector before looking back at Tamir.
"As Empress my hobbies are my people." She insisted back, with her trademark court smile.
"Ohhh." He groaned at her, souring his expression amusedly before chuckling. "Come now Empress Jessamine—"
She frowned at the sound of her name, parting her lips to protest but he simply smiled and continued.
"—you may be the Woman of all the Isles, but you are still a woman."
She wasn't really sure how to reply. And a heavy feeling in her gut twisted her insides as his grin faded into something smoother.
He lingered before turning to bark again at the Lord Physician.
She tried to let out a subtle breath and carry on, listening as Tamir prompted another joke.
Her mind was alight with suspicion, but she tried to crush it.
Now was not the time to let the reckless impolite gestures of some Tyvian Count sway her attention from her own problems. She had a whaling factory to oversee, funds to arrange and corruption to kill, before she turned her eyes on foreign matters.
Besides, he was probably harmless. Boisterous, maybe, but it was the Tyvian way. She tried not to dwell on it.
Her gaze drifted back to Corvo, who was still gazing at her like a man in wait.
She smiled at him again, nodding for reassurance.
He nodded back slowly, reluctantly looking away and continuing his walk about the room.
She watched him, calming herself at the sight, even as Tamir's words stirred in her mind.
You are still a woman.
The dinner ended with the Count's dismissal and the air of the room seemed to grow calmer with his leave.
Perhaps it was the sudden lack of a crowd, or perhaps it was the sudden lack of formality, but Jessamine heaved in relief all the same.
Corvo closed the doors once more after having signed orders to the posted guards to take leave.
Sokolov was the only one still present and he brought his fingers through his beard with a tired sigh to mirror Jessamine's.
"I escape the insanity from damned Tamarak only to bring it here."
Jessamine gave him a pitiful smile, "I have long heard about the humors of the Tvyian people—but with only your countenance to compare it too..."
He gave a shadow of a smile, thick brows lifting and a cough of a laugh escaping him. "The first mistake was that one, Empress. I'm not like my people."
His mood grew a bit sourer as he continued. "The second was inviting the Count, and the third was accepting his attentions."
She let herself glare at him. "I did no such thing. You were the one whom showed up with trail of royals behind you. And I must accept attentions from all my people."
He grumbled. "He's courting you."
"Tamir, Jessamine, he's courting you for your hand to marry." Anton spat. "Why do you think he came?"
She shouldn't have been stunned but she was. Jessamine shook her head. "He's expressed only that he wanted to see Gristol—"
"And he expressed to me that he wanted to see to making you a married woman."
"That's absurd." She commented quickly. Glaring at her Physician and leaning back in her chair. Her face felt hot from slight embarrassment. How had she not gleaned as much? The way he had been flattering with her.
Her expression soured uncomfortably.
"Bah!" Sokolov exclaimed, reaching forward to snatch the brandy decanter. "He's an idiot and a braggart. The sort of man that was reason why I left that damned continent."
Jessamine sighed. In a way she was slightly relieved. At least she had her reason for Tamir's antics. Courtship was one thing, but at least it was not worthy of suspicion. "Well until he announces his intentions properly, his courtship won't be recognized politically."
Sokolov laughed at her. "So diplomatic." He shook his head. "He will, I assure you."
She met his gaze with his amusement. "That's not what I want to talk about with you, Lord Physician ."
Corvo rounded the table, coming to stand closer behind her and Anton's eyes looked up distractedly at the Protector.
"I had hoped… we could talk privately." He suggested, glancing at her before looking pointedly at Corvo. "Alone."
"We are alone." Jessamine declared, her eyes not wavering from him in the slightest.
He grumbled once more before shrugging. "I suppose we are then."
"Here." Shifting, Anton leaned slightly out of his seat, rummaging around before revealing a box that must have been left beneath him.
It was small and wooden, the burnt-in label on the top of it easily recognizable to her.
"Here—the ones you like."
He slid the box to her on the table and her hands caught the corners of it as she smiled warmly.
"Corvo? Is it? Well Corvo you haven't seen something impressive until you've seen the Empress burn down a cigar." Anton called from his seat.
Jessamine flustered, turning on her shoulder to address Corvo even as she opened the box. "No-no not often."
Sokolov laughed. "A whole double corona!"
Corvo's right brow rose high, eyes looking back at her perplexed.
She raised her chin, determined to keep her pose despite her Protector's dubious look. Her cheeks flushed under his scrutiny. "Not at all. In fact, I simply enjoy the smell of it. It's the only thing that makes me smoke."
Anton hummed. "Well then, let's smell a bit of it."
Jessamine passed one of then to the Sokolov, rolling her own between her fingers.
Corvo denied one despite both their insistences, but offered a sharp dagger to cut their caps. Sokolov lit them with a stray table candle and it wasn't long before the heavy smoke settled around the dining room.
Jessamine exhaled quietly, lids low as she watched the smoke twist into the crevices of her hands. It smelt like the burning wood of her fireplace, with hints of nut and pepper. And it was the smells that pulled her mind to ease, rather than the hay like taste on her tongue.
It reminded her of horseback riding with her father, through the forest with the taste of trees in the wind in her lungs, or the heady smell of parchment and ink on his desk.
They were quiet for some time, until Sokolov finally spoke.
"I wasn't even there more than a month."
Jessamine blinked up him, the smoke making his furrowed face look hazy. "Pandyssia?"
He huffed, curling white showing his dejection. "I was in Tyvia for nearly eight."
"What happened Sokolov? I sent you with almost a fleet of ships."
He glared down his long and sharp nose, hands flicking the ash from the end of his cigar onto the lacquered wood of the table. "The damned wind happened."
The room seemed to grow as deeply quiet as his downtrodden mood. She barely felt Corvo move beside her as he continued.
"A storm like I've never seen before in my long, long life. We were nothing but a day away from the continent when it came out in the middle of the morning, right out of the sunlight. Dark clouds pouring right out of the sunlight like something had burned on the waters."
He shook his head. "It blew us around like puppets for two days. I had four ships when we finally docked. Most had gone to the waters, or the wind tore right through them like paper."
Jessamine's eyes grew large. "Four?"
"We landed with more than half our supplies gone and less men. It was a damned nightmare." Sokolov seemed to forget about smoking, eyes glassy as he remembered.
"And we landed in heat. The storm came and went like it didn't exist and we were suddenly sweltering in heat on the coast. We had little food and water that first week before we made contact with some… local garbage! Men who refused to help us. We yelled back and forth everyday trying to trade. They didn't want us there. There were fights, squabbles, until we were all sleeping with pistols at night."
"They were killing your men?"
"If they weren't, the blasted animals were. Dogs the size of deer! O the damned fish!"
"It would have been fascinating if it wasn't so frustrating. There were fish with poison quills, sticking my men on the lakes as they tried to cast lines for dinner for dinner, or they would simply jump up from the waters to claim them on the shore or the docks. A fool would die every hour by them."
Jessamine glanced anxiously at Corvo, who watched Anton with intent confusion.
"When we finally set out, finally went into land to start the expedition, everyone was almost dead; sick from the heat or scared paranoid by the primitives there. Many of them went mad from the sounds of the place. The screaming birds… It was impossible to discover anything with so many things going wrong… We had to leave… we had no food, no water."
"I'm… so sorry Anton."
Jessamine fiddled her thumb over the end of her cigar, the loose paper brushing her nail. Her brow worried quietly and they spent the next moments in silence.
Still… there was one thing she had needed to ask…
"Lord Physician… please… what about…" She swallowed a sick hurt in her stomach. "What about Delilah?"
Sokolov shoved his cigar to an end on the table, an indignant gruff pouring from his mouth. "What about her?"
Her brows furrowed worriedly. "Is she… ?"
Anton turned to meet her gaze, a frustration and disappointment there she didn't comprehend. "No. She's not dead."
"In Pandyssia? But why?"
Sokolov stood from his chair, shaking his head angrily. "I don't know and I don't care. She was always a foolish girl who wouldn't see reason."
"Ask her yourself if she ever comes back, Empress."
His curt declaration was so cold that the room seemed to empty itself of the warmth from their companionable time and the heat of their smoke.
Sokolov dismissed himself not soon after.
"Nothing could be more unacceptable than this!"
The Secretary tensed, his face twisting into an unbearable grimace at the sound of Hiram Burrow's shrill voice escalating in the hall behind him.
It was too early in the morning to deal with this man. By the look of the sky from the drawn curtains, it wasn't even past morning tea.
Maybe if he was lucky, a guard would stop the Spymaster before he had too.
"Cromwell! Is that you!?"
He blanched, unable to prevent his heels digging into the carpet as he turned to watch the livid looking Spymaster barrel towards him.
"A cease and desist! A cease and desist!?" He nearly barked. His fingers curled abusively around a parchment that he wove in the air like an offensive dirty rag.
"Lord Burrows – a pleasure to see you—"
"That damnable mute of a man dropped off a cease and de—"
"You watch your tongue! That is the Lord Protector you're talking—"
"I won't have it!" Hiram snapped, stepping so closely to Cromwell that his vision was engulfed by the man's slowly reddening skin and his glinting eyes. A smell of gunpowder and turpentine filled Cromwell's nostrils, souring his expression further and repelling him away from the angry Spymaster.
"Will you calm—" Cromwell tried, raising his hands to defend his personal space.
"I will not!" Burrows and his anger kept coming, thrusting a finger to Cromwell's chest. "And I will not have this nonsense! A cease and desist of any and all actions taken by my faction! He can order no such thing of me!"
Ah. Corvo must have delivered his missive.
Cromwell sighed, pushing Burrow's accusing finger away from him.
"He didn't. The Empress did. It's her orders." He tittered, almost satisfied with the growing hate in Hiram's eyes.
"This is not something she can order!" The parchment was almost a ball of trash now, crushing under the might of Hiram's frustrated fist. "A Regent she may be, but this is tyrannical! She is not allowed to order me to stop work of my faction! The Royal Spymaster is responsible for the good of the entire reign of the—"
"Her Majesty worries that the work in your division is targeted to deter her political agenda and the bills she puts through parliament! Which you know is treasonous!"
"I told her in Parliament days ago that this is not true!"
"After you also denied revealing whatever projects your men were working on!"
Burrow's slight chest seemed to blow up with the hot air reddening in his face. The words on his mouth ground out. "It's classified! It's all classified! That is the damn point of being the Spymaster!"
"Hence your cease and desist." Cromwell pointed out, eyeing Burrows with a look of slight bemusement. "Her Majesty has no way of knowing what you're up to unless you disclose the information." He straightened, not at all minding the way Burrow's was beginning to deflate. "So you can either send in your records, reports, and all information to your current dealings, or you take a cease and desist until the remainder of the Empress's season agenda is finished."
"She can't…" Burrows trailed, his protest ending in an accepting and disgusted growl of a sound.
Cromwell brushed his collar straight, moving to the side of the Spymaster. "Now if you—"
"I demand an audience with Her Majesty—"
Cromwell shook his head. "The Empress has taken a religious day to renew her personal Everyman Vows. She has ordered no one to disturb her or the northern wing except the Lord Protector. No audiences or servants."
Hiram's face couldn't get any more perturbed or furious. "Everyman Vows—? But it's a Tuesday!"
Cromwell's shoulders raised in a near shrug as he made to leave the man, plainly ignoring the Spymaster's shaken and boiling form.
"An Empress does not have to explain herself, Lord Burrows."
The shirt was a man's.
Or it had to be.
It wasn't fitted properly.
Jessamine pulled on the sleeves of the blouse, the entire fabric shifting on her body and not quite settling the way a woman's blouse should. It was large beneath her breasts and the looseness of it made her uncomfortable.
It was maroon in color, though the dye seemed to have faded considerably. The tone of it didn't really match her brown trousers either, but she tucked it in all the same.
Still loose. But, she supposed that was what the suspenders were for.
She tried to keep her confidence as she lifted the straps hanging at her sides, pulling on their buckles to tighten them. It did a good job of cinching the shirt smaller and the pants fit well enough.
It really wasn't a convenient way for a woman to dress.
But women of lower classes couldn't afford tailors, could they?
Her fingers clenched nervously and she avoided looking at herself in the mirror across the room. She didn't need a reflection to show her how silly she looked. She felt that well enough. But Corvo was waiting in her sitting room and she couldn't delay them any longer.
At the door she paused, lips pressing together and brows worrying.
Wasn't this foolish?
She had been so resolute on her decision, despite Cromwell and Corvo's wariness. But it wasn't until now, dressed in this garb and about to face her Protector that she felt…
Would he laugh at her?
Immediately the question was gone. Of course he wouldn't. It was Corvo, he would never.
And she was the Empress.
No one would dare.
With that solid thought she threw open the door, stepping out with all the confidence she'd had this morning. This was the only way she could see for her own eyes what was going on with her factory. The only way she could rely on her own information and make her own judgment without others manipulating her. Jessamine had to go to site herself.
She raised her chin high, trying to pointedly ignore her Lord Protector as he turned to face her, his eyes assessing her from top to bottom.
"We should leave soon," was all she said, stepping forward.
Corvo didn't move and she was forced to watch him as his amber eyes lingered on her frame. His head tilted quietly and the soft intensity was enough to break back at her nerves.
"What? Is it not convincing?" She touched her blouse cautiously, hating the sudden insecurity building in her. Had she put something on wrong?
He stepped forward a little suddenly, eyes trailing up to her face.
Damned gods, he was always so penetrating with that gaze. Her lips shut tightly, looking up at his tall height and feeling a heat rise to her cheeks. A heat that she recognized as one that came across her face more and more recently.
It was almost as if he was embarrassing her—intimidating her. Perhaps it was his utter silence as he gazed at her, though that had never really bothered her before. Somehow, lately his looks had… scared her? No scared wasn't the word. She wasn't frightened of him… she was-
Jessamine was about to shift instinctively away from her Protector when his hand rose to pinch at his ear lobe pointedly.
Jessamine frowned in confusion, her embarrassment forgotten. That didn't seem right. It wasn't a sentence certainly. Maybe he meant 'sound?' Though that was still odd.
Corvo Attano looked confused for a second himself, before a beautiful and amused smile spread across his lips that he tried to shake away with a 'No, no, no.'
He stepped forward, nearly a handshake away, and Jessamine felt her heart constrain at the sudden proximity despite the looseness of her clothes. The heat in her cheeks was back full force and if it wasn't her trust in Corvo that kept her still, it was her shot nerves.
His hand reached up, almost laughably casually and his rough fingers came up to fiddle with her ear. The sound of his fingers on her skin coupled with his heavy breath on her face was enough for her to jump away, hand reaching to reclaim her ear.
"What are you-!"
Air whooshed out of her in realization and mortification even as Corvo motioned to his own ears again with a casual and timid smile. She kept it hidden, blinking up at him and trying to ignore the thumping in her chest. "My earrings? Too—too noticeable?"
"Of course." She agreed, quickly fingering the small backings of the jewelry. She turned away, playing with the shining diamonds in her palm before setting them on the small coffee table.
What was wrong with her lately? She glanced warily back at Corvo, half worried she might find herself locked in his gaze again.
Perhaps she had taken too much stock in his eyes, as he had no voice. It was unsettling, that was all. Surely.
Corvo had crossed the room and now began returning to her with a hat in his hands. It was similar to the ones she had seen some officer's wear, rounded and flat with a short bill.
Like with her earrings, the Lord Protector simply came forward to place the cap upon her head, pushing her pinned up hair down beneath the fabric. He seemed satisfied to see her face covered by the bill and her elegant hairstyle ruined.
Jessamine thought to protest to him being so nonchalant about his space. But this was Corvo. She trusted him with such things.
And there was something… comforting and warm about the action, even if it did seem to unsettle her nerves.
"I can't say this is very fashionable." She commented.
Corvo was already looking away from her, checking his own person for his supplies. He signed at her indifferently.
'No women wear their hair up where we are going.'
She could do nothing but agree as she had no idea otherwise.
Jessamine pushed and pulled at the cap. Feeling considerably under-dressed and out of her element. Corvo at least somehow looked himself. He wore a button down shirt, dark grey and vested with simple trousers and a long coat. They were dirty, and nowhere near the grandness of his Protector coat, gilded in gold as it was. Yet he still looked… right. Handsome.
Quickly glossing over her thoughts, she tried to focus on the business at hand. "How exactly will we be leaving? With the entire staff thinking I'm retired for my Vows—"
He shook his head, replacing a covered knife in his boot before straightening and crossing the foyer room to the large windows.
She watched patiently as he began unlocking the hatches and somehow wasn't surprised when he pushed it open and then motioned to her to come to him.
Through the window. Of course.
"Corvo- we are, very high above the ground, aren't we?" She asked, already knowing they were near the top of her Tower. She crossed the room to him anyway.
He didn't quite shrug, but the movement was still indifferent. He straddled the window sill and she could see his feet touch the wide ledge outside. It seemed to lead out to another, curling around parapets and moldings. It was no garden path, but it looked wide enough to walk on.
She frowned further. "Isn't there some other way?"
Corvo simply watched her, looking comfortable there, halfway on the ledge. The sun was already nearing its pinnacle. The shine of it seemed to make the clear blue skies more vivid and she could see straight out to the clear water's surface. It would be a nice day.
Distantly, she looked out to the city of Dunwall across the river, a stack of chimneys pouring little plumes of smoke, darting the blue expanse in puffs of grey.
Corvo's eyes shone up at her, glints of white in gold from the glare of the window pane and sunlight.
His and rose up in an offer to take hers.
Jessamine only had one more reluctant glance outside before she slid her fingers into his palm.
A/N: Another raw for you guys - will be replaced by the edited soon, but I figure you'll appreciate the post anwyay. HARGH I've been so busy. But now I'm not, so here we go!