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Snippet: Respite from the Hunt
Muted Real
It was no secret that the Dauphin's court took to the Catarine Woods mostly for sport other than hunting. The retinue of lords and ladies traveled in clothing far better suited to the glittered ballrooms of Ecade Sol than to truly track and capture quarry among the faded birch and elm. Tents were set up in a grand clearing, picnic lunches were extravagantly served, and among the many dogs present, only two were used to anything other than being fed by their master's delicate hand. There were a few true hunters brought along, should the Dauphin or any of his kinfolk be roused to prove their valor. But rarely was anyone so roused, and thus the hunters considered it a soft assignment, and took their offered cask of ale to the edge of the clearing.

It was very fashionable, lately, to loudly pronounce that one was 'going hunting', and to sneak off for a tryst in the woods with one's paramour of the season. It was often distinguished from an actual attempt by the braggart's exaggerated talk of their 'quarry', as well as a complete lack of any hunting gear.

Phillipe was woefully ignorant of these practices, having only gained entrance into the inner courts a year ago. He knew how to hunt - no Count of Belgrew would suffer the scandal of having a child who could not bring down his or her own dinner - and there were too many hidden subtleties in Ecadian courtly behavior for him to get a full grasp on when things were a blunt and cruel truth, and when they were a complete obfuscation.

Besides, he never would have imagined that Aubin would be so brazen to invite him to the woods under such a well known premise. Not with the Dauphine so close at hand.

So Phillipe had donned his hunter's leathers, as stiff and untried as they were, and had bothered the huntsman for a bow, which he got accompanied by some amused looks and shrugs. He went before the Dauphin, who was amusing a set of his cousins well into their cups. They all laughed loudly at him, and Phillipe felt his skin turn hot.

"Not only a fortune teller, but a hunter as well? What a beast of a Northman you have for a pet, Aubin!" one of them jeered, carelessly splashing his wine on Phillipe's shoes. "Besides, did he not hear? You are already suited to target your next prey."

Phillipe stood, mortified, but his pride as a Belgrine would not let him retreat as he so wanted to do. Aubin did not let the japes and laughter last long.

"He lays this challenge before me, Germain," he said, never taking his eyes from Phillipe's. "I would nary be satisfied by anything I found in these woods if I did not take it up." He called out for his servants. "Make ready my horse and my weapon, my leathers and my cap. Lord Phillipe and I shall take to the woods."

There was a sudden shift among the lords and ladies, all now seizing on the Dauphin's changing mood, and demanding that they accompany him on what was the passion of the moment. All would ride at his side and they would have venison and grouse and pheasant for dinner, slain by their own hands, and wouldn't that make a perfect pastoral picture! The huntsman groaned to be roused from their pleasant respite, deciding quickly it wasn't worth the argument that deer and grouse and pheasants were wholly out of season.

Aubin refused all joiners, though, claiming that since Phillipe had come alone and challenged him in the silent, Northman way, that only he was fit to ride with the Dauphin into the woods for the sport. Two horses were saddled, and a hunter refused, "For my Belgrine companion is clever enough to carry us through this day." Within the hour, they were seen off amid a swelling of cheers and toasts and other gathering hunting parties of incompetent nobles.

The Catarine Woods were dense to the north, and within moments it seemed that the encampment was worlds away. Aubin pulled his horse up to Phillipe's, and they slowed to a relaxed gait.

"I thought you knew what I meant when I asked you to the hunt," he said, his voice a mix of amusement and apology. "Now we will have to either kill something or make up a fantastical story before we return."

"I'm perfectly capable of the former," Phillipe responded, still somewhat bristled by the embarrassment, no matter how skillfully Aubin had extracted them from the situation. "Unless you prefer the latter? Your court seems to thrive on anything but saying what one means."

"Don't," Aubin asked, his breathe hushed. "Be mad at me tonight. Or tomorrow. But don't be mad now, when I can finally have you as I want you." He reached out to grab Phillipe's hands, and even through the leather, it was warm like late afternoon sunlight. All of Phillipe's resistance was gone in a heartbeat, and he happily leaned in to meet Aubin's lips with his own.