Ashlynn is half asleep at the bar, head leaning against one hand and a bowl half-full of congealed stew pushed to the side. Her other holds a quill upon which ink is long dry, poised over a blank piece of parchment over which she has long deliberated over with no results to show for it.
Vhramis enters the tavern! Though without as much gusto. It's more of his characteristic slinking. Characteristic, at least, since he lived in the wilds for a while. And slinking about naturally causes people to look at you a bit oddly, which is something Vhramis never really did need extra help to achieve, despite his best efforts at cleanliness. And, thus, when he recieves the typical handful of stares, the first thing he does is take a discreet sniff of himself.
Luckily, the tavern is mostly empty, so the truth of Vhramis' hygiene is still safely tucked away with him alone. Ashlynn, oblivious, seems to be on the losing side of her battle with the blank face of the parchment, for her eyes are slowly fluttering shut, head just beginning to slip from her bracing fist.
It was fairly cool today anyway, so he doesn't smell sweaty, thankfully. Vhramis moves softly across the room towards the bar, his footfalls light, more out of habit than anything. Aside from an occational betrayal of a floorboard as it creaks in protest of his weight, he actually is passably quiet.
All of his stealth and attempts at stealth are lost upon Ashlynn, however, as her eyes finally drift shut altogether, and her head slips from her hand. While she does not quite smack her nose into the bar, she does give herself enough of a start that she nearly falls off her barstool; feather, parchment, and nearly inkwell as well flying as she tries to overcompensate and save herself.
Vhramis nearly jumps in surprise at the sudden burst of motion, comical as it is. He gawks at the figure at the bar, before realizing who it is, and moving to help her reorient herself. "I once fell out of a tree that way. Landed on my arm. I was lucky I didn't break the bone," he tells her.
"Wha-?" Ashlynn gasps, still a little wild-eyed from her too-abrupt awakening and the adrenaline spike while she steadies herself against the bar with his help. "Vhramis?" she blinks at him. "You shouldn't fall asleep in trees," she points out breathlessly while she is still recovering her wits.
"I think my point was that you shouldn't fall asleep on barstools, actually," Vhramis answers with a small shrug and faint smile. "But I'll take your advice, all the same, Ash. Do you need me to carry you to a bed, or will you be alright?" The smile twiches a bit, and threatens to grow.
"Oh," Ashlynn says before one more blink finally seems to set her to rights, and she quickly fixes upon a scowl. "Don't you dare laugh at me," she declares as she looks around for her scattered writing implements, looking as if she is just barely biting back unlady-like curses.
"I'd never dare laugh. Not while there are such sharp pens within reach," Vhramis points out, reaching to slide the quill over towards her helpfully with a single finger. He gives the blank parchment a thoughtful look. "It doesn't drag on, at least," he offers.
Ashlynn hmphs, her own mouth finally beginning to twitch with the humor of the situation though she snaps up the pen he thoughtfully slides toward her with all the appearances of ire. Nevertheless, her tone is placid and, perhaps, even a touch melancholic as she rolls up the unused parchment, capping her inkwell resignedly. "Only insofar as words are concerned. I find it difficult to find words for home these days, so the blankness plagues me to my wit's end instead."
"Would they want to hear your thoughts?" he asks of her, inviting himself to a seat on a stool next to her. "Or maybe they'd want to see you. How long has it been?"
"I stayed with them for a time, after... After," Ashlynn ends with a sigh when she is unable to voice her initial thought, shaking her head ruefully as she tucks the items away and then slides her bowl over, considering its contents unenthusiastically. "It has not been so long as I count it, but they are worried, so they nag incessantly."
"It's the duty of any good family to nag incessantly over everything," Vhramis muses, rubbing his thumb at the wood of the counter. "Look at the whole of Wedgecrest Falls when I was hurt one of my numerous times. Even Trayson acted it. You can't expect yours would be any different."
Ashlynn seems to ponder this for a moment before she turns to cast him a small, crooked smile. "True. And here I thought I was having a bad enough time of it with parents and five brothers. You must have been near tearing what few bristles you had growing on the top of your head out if you had the entire keep's population after you."
"Is it any wonder I resort to a razor?" Vhramis asks her, tugging the pen away from her absently and scratching non-sensical doodles on the parchment with the ink left on the tip. "Seems that it's more painful tugging out hair when it's shorter. Though it does get cold in the winter."
Ashlynn snorts, watching him for a beat or two before she reaches over to place her hand over his. "'A', 'B'," she pronounces as she guides his fingers, helping him draw out the letters in their more elegant, calligraphic forms. "May I suggest an elegant wig instead, then? Or perhaps a piece of rug would do just as well for insulation."
Vhramis bites his lip in concentration as she helps him write the letters. Lessons long since halted, and half remembered. "I have the crow to perch on my head now. A finer hat has never been seen," he reminds her.
"Ah, and where is this fine, feathered fashion statement lurking currently?" Ashlynn asks as she absently fishes out her inkwell again with her other hand, even as she pronounces, "C" and then releases his hand so that she may uncap the bottle.
"Waiting for me to step outside so he can take his favored perch, I'm sure. 'C'," he repeats, working the curve of the letter carefully. Or trying to anyway. It turns out looking faintly oyster-ish. "Much easier to shoot," he mutters.
"And just how long have you worked at shooting?" Ashlynn reminds amusedly, taking his hand again and dipping the pen's tip into the inkwell, giving it a practiced tap against the side to shake off excess drops. "D...E...you begin to remind me of the neighbor's children when I was trying to exchange writing lessons for extra baskets of apples from their groves."
"I can offer feathers and knight's thumbs. No apples though. You don't deserve them," Vhramis states sourly, looking over his efforts with a disapproving eye. "They're mocking me," he complains towards the mishapen forms.
"I don't deserve them!" Ashlynn utters with a mixture of outrage and laughter. "And here I had thought I would offer my services, free of charge out of friendship, but I think now that you could not afford such things, apples or no!" Doggedly, she continues moving his hand, not allowing him to stop. "A," she begins again, "B, C...A, B, C," she repeats, trying to get him familiar with at least a few to encourage his progress through the rest.
"I hardly need to afford it," Vhramis answers, working at his writing intently. "They eventually give me what I wish just to get me to leave and take that raven away." He looks up from the parchment to bump her side lightly with his elbow. "This is turning out to be an impressive letter home."
Ashlynn twitches reflexively at the elbow-dig, blinking at the 'letter' before she gives a single, soft laugh. "That it is," she agrees with a small smile, moving his hand down now to the bottom, to help him sign his name with only slightly-trembly, elegant letters, and even a little flourish underneath. Below, she continues in more simple letters, 'With aid from Lord Vhramis Skinner. Love, Ashlynn'.
"Lord of what?" Vhramis asks with a slight smirk. "Of wolves? Or of poisonous herbs? I'd say both rule me more than the other way around." His voice trails off as his own question gives him pause, the deeper meaning to it being realized after it was stated.
Ashlynn seems to sense his disquiet though she does not look up, for her voice is quiet and solemn as she considers the parchment with their combined writing. "Of whatever you want, I suppose. Just as I have been dubbed a Lady, but of the roads, I suppose. Why should I hold one corner of Fastheld over any other, when I have roamed it in its entirety?"
"It's interior and it's exterior," Vhramis answers in a muttered agreement, looking down briefly to where her hand rests on his. He blinks and shifts on the seat in a restlessness one part discomfort, three parts confusion. He's often confused, lately. "Sometimes I think I like it better out there," he adds in a hushed voice, the mere mention of it seeming almost treasonous. And in some ways, maybe it is.
Pulled from her musings by his abrupt movement, Ashlynn swallows as she seems to catch the turn of his thoughts and releases his hand now that the impromptu lesson is over. "I had said the same to others before," she admits in equally hushed tones, habit closing the inkwell and waving the parchment to help it dry before rolling it up neatly, just like any other missive that is to be sent. "At the time, if it had not been with the intent to bring the prince back...I could just as easily have traveled beyond to find Crown's Refuge, and not thought upon the return."
"Crown's Refuge, and...beyond?" Vhramis suggests haltingly, the thoughts seeming to almost surprise him as they form into words. He looks to her face again, licking his lips. "How much is there? Past the mountains? I've been to Ebonhold...are there more citadels like it? Maybe...great cities, even? Why wouldn't there be?" His eyes shift to the side to consider a man crossing the room, even as he adds, "..a man could choose who he is out there."
Ashlynn looks slowly up at him, her gaze clouded with confusion. "Beyond? And...what would you choose, Vhramis? What is it you could be out there that you cannot be here?"
He doesn't seem to have thought of an answer for that, though he's willing to try. "I could...bring back things never seen, maybe. To show people here. There must be strange fruits, or music, or people. Maybe hides from exotic animals. Though they'd be common to them, those out there." He pauses then, catching a needed breath. "I could walk in one direction, and just never stop."
"You could," Ashlynn whispers, though she seems a little less enthused by the idea than he is. Still, her gaze wanders toward the door as she murmurs, "There would be no walls. No walls that can maim and kill."
"...you could come with me," Vhramis offers her, though he seems to regret it after he says it. The almost childlike excitement and wonder that began to edge into his demeanor as he spoke of the unknown vanishes, to be replaced by something solemn, and almost sad. "No. That's stupid. I'd walk us to the unknown and find death."
Ashlynn turns, perhaps a little too quickly, at his offer. Her gaze hesitant, expression folded into uncertain lines, she finally works out enough words to say, "There is death here as well. And I would say there is quite a lot unknown now, within Fastheld."
"It's..." Vhramis breathes, beginning to seem a bit distant. "You can smell the rot. The uncertainty. With wildlings, you knew where you stood. You were either food, or something approaching an ally. Though I'd not say friend. And with Ebonhold..." He shakes his head slightly. "I'm just as wary here as there."
Ashlynn winces at the comparison, her eyes closing while lines of pain draw themselves around her mouth. "It scares me, all the things that have befallen Fastheld, in less than a hand's worth of years. Sometimes, I imagine I can hear the gears grinding, as in a mill, working against each other while the seeds are slowly but inevitably crushed to powder. It is tempting, to think that one can leave it all behind so simply."
Vhramis's green eyes focus back on Ashlynn, both solemn and sad. "...we can't walk away though, can we? Despite all we are, a free man and woman, we're chained here like everyone else. Bound for better or worse. It seems none can leave the wall entirely. It always finds a way to draw you back into it."
Ashlynn's lips tighten in an unconscious grimace, implicitly agreeing with his too-apt metaphor before she somehow manages to drag a smile from somewhere. It is weak and faltering, yet nevertheless there as she looks up at him. "Well. As the moons wax and wane, perhaps this shadow too may eventually pass. Would you..." She hesitates here, looking terribly uncertain, but taking a deeper breath and pressing onwards nevertheless, "Would you...consider asking me again, at a later time?"
The nod is tiny, but it's there. As well as a faint, hopeful glimmer in the man's eyes. "There's risk in the asking...but more so in silence. I've learned this, Ash," he answers her.