An Afternoon with Uncle Hugo - RPLOG
Hugo is seated on the balcony of the old manor house he has taken up residence in. "Come and join me on this fine afternoon," he says, as a discreet servant leads his guests to the canopy covered outlook. Rain drums lightly on the canopy and tea is on a small table in front of the snowy lion. "You are just in time for some refreshment," he says.
Katrina smiles and rumbles softly, her paw gesturing for Terry to follow. "Come now, Terry. No dawdling. Unless you prefer staying outside in the rain?" she questions with a raise of her brow, a flick of her tail.
Terry follows up quickly after Katrina, nodding up at her with a polite smile. "Yes 'maam, right behind you." He moves at a quickened step towards the covered canopy, and then circles around so that he's at Hugo's side. The small ocelot seems to be trying to quite hard to maintain a dignified pose, back straight, tail draping down and slightly curled at the tip. "Good afternoon, Uncle Hugo." He's wearing the same, clean-cut suit as the first day they met.
"Sit down, Terry," Hugo says, "You too, Katrina." The lion waits as a servant brings out an extra pair of plates and some small sandwiches. "What brings the two of you to my humble abode today?"
"Well, you did promise us another tale, Uncle Hugo. In addition, the Lady has an assignment for you. A small job, to get back in the swing of family-work," she notes with a smile on her lips, a flick of her ears.
Soon enough, a letter is laid down upon the table and pushed over to Hugo, a smile on her lips.
"Besides. I haven't seen my Uncle Hugo in forever!"
Terry nods at Katrina's words. He moves over to sit by the lion, on one of the chairs that have been laid out in the balcony. "I had to ask to come with, Lord Hugo. I did very much enjoy the stories you were telling us the other day."
Hugo scoops the letter up from the table and breaks the seal. "And how is our enigmatic lady?" he asks, scanning through the letter, "Well, I hope?" It is apparent in his tone of voice that he has some bit of history with the shadowy head of household. "I will get to this in my own time," he promises, and turns his attention to Terry. "Did you now?" he asks, an avuncular smiles spreading across his face, "Perhaps you have come to hear another story? Or is this just a business visit from my neice and her protege?"
"The lady is quite fine. Reclusive as ever. You know how protective she is of her identity, and that of the primary members of the Hand," she notes, gesturing at her mask. "Particularly the ones who delegate her orders," she rumbles with a flick of her ears, before looking to Terry, her tail swaying lightly. "Today is an off-day. We won't be handling any training today, and we'll gladly stick around for another story.
Terry looks up at Katrina as Hugo asks his questions, and smiles at him after her answer. "I would love to hear a story, Uncle Hugo. Or.. anything else you'd like to talk about, really." His tailtip flits playfully as he speaks. "I feel I can learn much from you."
"Fine, fine," Hugo chuckles, waving a hand at Terry, "Just inside the door you will find a bottle of brandy, bring it out here and I will tell you about the time I wrestled a Caldera Monk. It is an interesting story." He looks back at Katrina. "You know I do not like the secrecy," he says, "That was all your father's idea."
A nod, and a shake of the head. "And father guided the Hand quite efficiently, as you are aware. Secrecy was a must, and still is, considering those who would see the Family removed," the she-cat notes, before shaking her head. "Secrecy was, and still is, the logical option, both under our previous Lady, who ordered the creation of the Hand, as well as our current Lady, whom requires her services just as much," the feline reasons, before nodding along with Hugo. "I would like to hear this story as well, of course."
Terry nods quickly. "Yes sir!" He slides off the chair and walks off, at a quickened pace but without actually running, his youthful excitement being tempered by the training he's been receiving the last few weeks. He goes to look for the bottle of brandy, along with a trio of snifter glasses to serve them with. He returns with the glasses and bottle on a silvered tray, laying it on the small table before settling back on his chair.
"Very good, Terry," Hugo says, lifting the heavy crystal bottle and pouring three glasses, "I will be forever grateful to the forethought of the being who saved the old family wine cellars from the crown." The well dressed lion looks thoughtful for a second, reminiscing about something. "I wish I had known your grandfather, Kitten," he says, "I greatly admire your father, but I wish I had known what drove Reginald to do what he did." He shakes his great mane and comes back to the present. "I promised you a story of my own though, did I not?" he says, sipping his brandy and reaching for a little sandwich, "Tell me, have either of you been to Thera'Dor?"
"I do not know Reginald's motives, rest his soul. But I do know our previous Lady abode by his last word, and our current Lady abides by her wishes," she notes, before smiling faintly towards Hugo. "Even so... Let us not dwell on things we do not know, and instead, focus on an enjoyable day of stories, drink, and merriment, shall we?"
Terry watches the two as they talk. He doesn't know enough to comment on any of what they are saying, and even if he did he would know to keep his opinion to himself unless asked for it. Instead he takes his snifter of brandy, holding it carefully with his two small hands. He takes a short sip, and tries to control the instinct to cough as the alcohol burns down his throat.
Hugo grins at Terry, pleased to see the young feline trying the strong drink. "Now, you are aware that most of our great Northern neighbor is cold and barren, right?" he asks, "This is not true of the entire country. There are a few secluded valleys up in the fiery mountains that are like Springtime in Firmament for most of the year. The biggest one is the Great Caldera."
Katrina smiles and simply nods along, her tail flicking lazily behind her, gesturing for a servant to bring her a bottle of wine in the mean time. She simply smiles, flicks her ears, and rumbles. "I've heard, yes. Our contacts in Thera'Dor have provided us with sketches as well... Though I haven't had the time to visit the place just yet."
Terry nods along to Hugo's words. The orphan ocelot has not had much of an education, but he knows enough to recognize Hugo is describing Thera'Dor. His eyes twinkle as he looks at his 'uncle', already imagining the fiery mountains sitting amidst the wind-swept, snow-capped tundra hills. His mental image is probably very far from the actual truth, since the boy has neither been there nor seen any sketches, but it awes him none the less. "How big this village Uncle Hugo?"
"Big enough," Hugo says, glad to have an appreciative audience, "Not as grand as Firmament, but there are lots of beautiful fields and they have their own special kinds of buildings. The people of Caldera are saurians, some kind of lizardy things, and they are like a big school of monks. Everybody works and everybody eats. Not a bad arrangement. They also all fight. It is a point of pride for them that they are all trained in their own special martial arts."
Katrina smiles and nods, her tail still twitching as she awaits her glass of Shralestan wine, which she's soon slowly swirling around, taking the occasional sip as she continues listening in to Huku's tale, ears perked curiously.
Terry takes another cautious sip of his brandy, finding it easier than the first. He looks up at Hugo, listening to his story with rapt attention. "Special martial arts?"
Hugo nods. "All of the Thera'Dorans are fighters," he says, "But the Calderas? They are wrestlers. They are always wrestling with each other. It is like a part of the religion they practice. They have big ceremonies and two of them will wrestle each other to honor their god in the mountain. They wear special clothes, boots and little coats that are far too small and there is all kinds of bowing and posing before they start." He stops talking for a moment to drink from his cup, then continues, stroking his snow white mane. "I was walking through the fields one day," he says, "I had some business to take care of out there, and in the fields, there are thin little walk ways that go along the terraces." The lion stops and looks at Terry. "Do you know what terraces are?" he asks.
Katrina smiles and flicks hear ears lightly, silently listening in, and looking towards Terry. "If you know the answer, you get an extra loaf of bread tonight," she offers with a small smile on her lips, a flick of her tail as she watches Hugo and Terry both, her ears flicking. "Is there... Anything particular about this method of wrestling?"
Terry takes one more sip from his very strong alcoholic beverage, actually coughing a little this time, but he puts on a brave face. He perks up at the question, and seems genuinely excited by the reward he's offered if he gets it right. He mulls over the question for a bit. "Isn't a terrace like a fancy garden, Uncle Hugo? Like the ones on the mansions up in the Castle Square?"
"Very good, Terry," Hugo says, "And I think we can do better than a loaf of bread for an intelligent student." He continues his story. "These terraces are much bigger of course, for growing crops in. They fill with water and there is only a little path to walk between them. So I was walking on the edge of a terrace field and who should come along but one of the ceremonial wrestlers! He was all dressed up for a wrestling match and coming the opposite way. We were both a long way from any branches and obviously too big to go around each other so we just stopped and looked at each other for a minute."
Katrina smiles and shakes her head. "That depends on whether he manages to answer your further questions correct, hmm? A single question, a loaf of bread. More than that? He'll also earn himself some more," the she-cat rumbles with a smile on his lips, looking back to Terry, before looking to Hugo.
Terry is visibly happy when he's told he got it right, his tail flicking excitedly from side to side. His contentment is muted somehow as Katrina brings his promise of a big reward back down a fair bit. He nods. "Yes 'maam.." He returns his attention to Hugo, listening to his story. "Is that why you fought, Uncle Hugo? Did he refuse to let you pass?"
"Yes, he did," Hugo says, "I was not about to step off the path and ruin my nice shoes and trousers, and he refused to step aside because he was on his way to an official wrestling ceremony. Neither of us would let the other pass. So I thought of a great idea. He could just try and show me how great his wrestling skills were and try to throw me off the path. Whoever won could claim a prize from the winner."
Katrina smiles and rumbles with a flick of the tail, taking another sip of her drink as she awaits the rest of the story, smiling quite warmly at the obviously excited way Terry is listening to the story. "So... What'd you take from him, Uncle Hugo?"
Terry nodnods, already picturing the whole scene in his mind. He takes another sip of the brandy, a tiny one, the boy having learned that small sips let him enjoy the flavour without too much of the burning that accompanies the strong alcohol. He giggles at Katrina's words.
"His dignity, mostly," Hugo says, taking a sip of his brandy, "He may have been the best wrestler around, but a well placed kick took the fight right out of him. Hurt my foot. Those Calderas are tough. But down he went without so much as laying a hand on me." He grins at the memory and reaches for a sandwich. "He was not very happy when he finally dragged himself out of the mud," he continues, "But what could he do? The Caldera's have their pride, but they have honor too. I like that in a man, friend or enemy. So he offered to buy me dinner and to introduce me to the abbot of the Caldera monastery. Which has been a lucrative relationship."
Katrina smiles and rumbles softly, her tail flicking, even as she takes another sip from her wine. Soon enough, the empty glass rests on the table, and she smirks below her mask, giving a quick glance to Terry. "Honor is a good thing. A valuable quality. You are, of course, aware of the Lady's conflict with her sister, yes? If she truly wanted, she could end her at any time, right now."
"The trick, of course, is to strike in such a way and at such a time that it is readily apparent why -she- is the real Lady, rather than her younger sibling."
Terry puts down his glass and claps excitedly at the end of the story. "And you became friends in the end, too? That's the best story yet Uncle Hugo!" He looks up at Katrina, tilting his head curiously at her statement, his ears perking up curiously.
Hugo frowns at Katrina. "I have often wondered about that," he says, "I-" he stops and shakes his head, tossing his mane about, "Never mind. It is not important." The lion looks back at Terry. "My point is," he says, "There is always more than one way to come at a problem. AND just because someone starts as an enemy does not mean they have to stay one. See? If you play your cards right, you can turn an enemy into an asset and sometimes even into an ally."
"I do not claim to understand her exact reasoning. But I do know that, if she chooses to strike now, it will not help the house any further. Instead, we wait, until we can put someone more... Favourable in the False Lady's position. For now," the she-cat notes, before shaking her head. "It makes some sense, Of course, we continue to disturb her supply-lines, to destabilize her position."
"As for honor... It is a valuable thing. It builds trust, even among foes."
Terry looks between the two, the small ocelot's impressinable mind absorbing all these tidbits like a sponge. He nods at Hugo, internalizing the lessons from his story. He tilts his head at him, ear cocking curiously. "You seem very well travelled Uncle Hugo. What other places have you been to?"
Hugo looks like he has more to say to Katrina, but he holds back in the presence of another guest. "Thera'Dor and Shralesta mostly," Hugo says, "This is the first time I have been back in Sweetwater in almost 15 years. I have not been in this old house since Katrina here was in daipers!" The lion finishes his little glass of brandy and sets it down with a sigh. "Sometimes I wish I had stayed here more. This is my old family home, after all, even if it is no longer in the family name."
"Och, Uncle Hugo. You know it's merely a front, the name we use," the she-cat notes, frowning sharply at the mention of the last time Hugo was here. "It was certainly a lot later than -that-, she notes with a slight scowl hidden behind her mask, tail puffed up momentarily, before she relaxes again.
Terry again avoids stepping in this conversation, knowing his place and knowing that any ire he draws from either of them would come down like a hammer. Instead he focuses on listening to Hugo's reply.
Hugo laughs openly. "Relax, Kitten," he says, "It is only an expression and you are embarrassing Terry. The Snowmane name has served me well enough," he says, "I don't expect I will ever take on another one." He raises the heavy crystal bottle toward Terry. "Another drink, Terry?" he offers.
Katrina smiles, if a little wryly, her ears flicking lightly as she gestures the help for another glass of wine, her eyes simply glancing around the small home for a while, tail swaying lazily.
Terry flattens down his ears a bit as he's brought into the conversation, but smiles at Hugo nonetheless. He nods quickly at the offer of a drink and raises his glass, not wanting to disappoint his 'uncle'. "So.. you took on a different name, Uncle Hugo. Did something bad happen that you had to hide your name?"
Hugo looks askance at Katrina, unsure of what she has actually told Terry. "No, Terry," he says, "My family name is Snowmane, but we were a branch of a larger family that is not around anymore. Well. . . it is complicated. This is my old family home. I was born here. But the estate no longer belongs to my family. It was taken by the crown a long time ago and sold to the Silkenfur family."
"I have specifically not told Terry much of the family's... Mannerisms. That said, this I can explain," the she-cat rumbles, before gesturing at the home. "Silkenfur, on the other hand, holds ties with Snowmane, We are all connected through the Lady," she explains, and rumbles with a smile. "While on an assignment, we carry it out in Her name. While walking the streets, Hugo is a Snowmane, and I am a Silkenfur," she explains, looking to Terry. "You will meet the Family soon enough, if you keep at it. Perhaps you will even be considered a member, later."
Terry looks between the two, nodding at the explanation. "I.. I see." He smiles at Katrina's words, but deflates somewhat at her last sentence. He's not in the family yet, it seems. The ocelot takes a sip from the brandy, coughing as he swigged a bit more than he should have.
Hugo rises from his chair, draping his overly long tail over one arm and picking up his ornate cane. "Has Katrina shown this old house to you yet?" Hugo asks Terry, "I am curious to know what my niece has been teaching you. Walk with me."
Hugo leads the way from the veranda into the house proper. "This is the old study," he says, "Mine now as it was my grandfather's and his father's before." The space is dim, but warmly lit from outside and by a pair of mathemagical lamps on a wide, wooden desk. There are a number of filled bookshelves along with an unlit fire place. In a few places along the walls hang the mounted heads of great beasts and a large portrait hangs above the fireplace, though it is currently covered by heavy drapes.
Terry follows alongside Hugo, walking with a straight back and trying to keep his pose polite, even a bit regal. This actually takes some effort for the ocelot whom a few months back was nothing but a street urchin. He glances around the opulent room, his eyes coming to rest on one of the mounted trophies. "This is my first time seeing the rest of the house Sir. Other than.." He pauses. He was about to say 'Kitchen', but recalls one of Hugo's first lessons. He skips that one. ".. the dining room, and the veranda."
Katrina's tail sways behind her as she follows along with the other two beings, not saying much for the time being. Her ears simply flick, and she listens in on hugs's conversation with Terry, keeping short, mental notes on the both of them... And the changes Hugo has made to the mansion since his return, be they small or large...
Hugo points out a coat of arms that adorns the heavy desk. "Nullum aes alienum oblivioni tradentur, nulla promissio irrita," he reads, "No debt forgotten, no promise unfulfilled. It is the motto of my family." The lion looks fondly over the study, though he does not glance up to where the portrait lies covered. "It is good to be back in my family's home," he says with a hint of nostalgia, "When last I was here, I was only a guest here. It was rather. . . galling, I think is the best word."
Terry looks up at coat of arms as Hugo recites the words, and nods at the translation. Must be some foreign language... He smiles at the lion. "No more, Sir. This is your manor now, your home." His tail flits happily behind him.
Katrina smiles and nods lightly, before shaking her head at the painting. "I can imagine why you covered it up. In fact, I don't really understand why Natasha kept it up, instead of putting it in the safe, or somesuch. Besides, it's not like he'll be guiding the Family anymore, nowadays. That role belongs to the Lady now," she notes.
"Though I admit, we still follow his final words."
Hugo gives Katrina a Look. "I did not like old Reginald watching me while I worked. And I do not like the rule of secrecy that the Lady champions," he says, shaking out his mane and gathering his over long tail in the crook of one arm. The lion takes up his cane and taps toward the study door. "The shadows are no place for a Snowmane," he says, swaggering into the hallway.
"This was my father," the large lion says, pointing out a portrait of a young lion, "He was younger than I am now when we were driven from this home." He nods toward the other portraits that line the hall, all of regal, snow white lions. "Many generations of Snowmanes loyally served the crown," he says, "If under another name." Each portrait in the hallway bears a nameplate, though it seems that the names are scratched out.
Terry nods at Hugo's every word. He looks between him and Katrina, noting again the difference of opinion between Lord Hugo and the 'Lady'. "Lord Hugo. I noticed you said 'served'." He looks at Katrina, then back at him. "And recently, as part of my training, we've done a few things that.. well.. inconvenience the crown, even if indirectly. Am I to take it that there is something bigger behind all this?"
"All in due time, Terry. All in due time. Lets just say that several years ago, the family had a... Falling out with the crown," she notes, before shaking her head. "I cannot tell you the details of Reginald's issues with the crown, because it was before my time, and neither Mother, nor Father has told me much of the details... Can't blame them, considering their duties."
"As for working in the shadows, Hugo... You know just as well as I do that stepping out into the light would mean condemning ourselves to the gallows."
Hugo seems thoughtful as he looks at the paintings on the walls. "That is not necessarily true," he says softly, then shakes his mane and leads the way down the hall to another room. "You will forgive me, Kitten," he says, "But I have removed Natasha's. . . decorations from mother's drawing room." This room is open and airy, with open curtains to let the sunlight stream in. A matched pair of seteees are arranged for conversation around a low table with tea and cakes set out. Off to one side an easel and oil paints are set up with a partially completed painting on it.
Terry follows Hugo attentively, staying to his side whenever possible. He admires the room as he enters, his eyes flitting to the unfinished painting. He pads over, his tail flitting with obvious curiosity. "Uncle Hugo, is this your painting?" He asks, before turning back towards the lion.
"The Lady assures me she has a plan. I am not privy to it, but... Tell me, has there ever been a time she hadn't had a plan that worked out?" She asks, before going silent again, tail swaying lazily behind her all the while.
"As for Natasha's decorations, you'd have to ask her, not me....
Hugo nods to Terry, choosing not to answer Katrina. "The beginning of a painting, at least," he says, "You will see the finished product, I promise. But let us end our tour for now. It looks like tea is ready for us.