Trained to Listen


amato_icon.gif benji_icon.gif nora_icon.gif

Scene Title Trained to Listen
Synopsis Amato seeks conversation but gets nothing more than polite (and a little impolite) small talk from two of the castle's residents.
Date January 1, 2011

Pollepel Island

The late morning of the first day of 2011 is much like the rest of the morning on Pollepel — cold and subdued. The dining room is mostly empty after breakfast has been served. Nora sits in her usual corner, back against the wall and playing the guitar that she's trying to master. It's become "hers" in a way, though it's communal property — if anyone else ever uses it, it's always left in the same spot for her to pick up and practice the next time she comes to her corner.

The melody she is plucking out is a meandering one, nothing familiar or recognizable. The minor key and somewhat haunting tune seem to fit her mood. Her unseeing eyes are downcast below a furrowed brow: it might be taken for concentration on her art, or it might be something is bothering her. At any rate, the few other people in the room seem to be keeping their distance and leaving the sometimes cranky teenager to her own devices today.

Locating Nora inside the castle, let alone anywhere on the island isn't that difficult. It just means asking people where they last saw her. But with Nora stationed in the corner with the guitar, it makes the feat that much easier.

With his morning chores in the barn already taken care of and the duty of watching the sheep as they wander about the small pasture given to one of the older children, Amato has slipped back inside the castle to eat breakfast and take care of a different kind of sheep.

He steps into the dining room from the direction of the kitchens, holding a cookie sheet that has been re-purposed as a tea tray in his hands. A teakettle, two cups, and a small collection of muffins are arranged on the metal rectangle, and he balances it carefully as he makes slowly his way toward Nor, oblivious or ambivalent to the berth the others have given the girl.

Of course, the pungent if slight smell of animals, grain, and hay are sure to announce him even before the soft clatter of the dishes as he sets the tray on the table in front of her does.

"Good morning," he says quietly, not really wanting to interrupt her music.

The smell that accompanies Amato's approach has Nora lifting her head even before the greeting is spoken, and her hands still on the guitar. Dark eyes lift, their focus beyond his form, but polite in the effort to send her blind gaze his way rather than to keep it downward.

She tips her head, listening for the sound of the tray and the sound of him settling in across from her, a tension to her form until he is situated. "Hello. It's the shepherd, isn't it?" she says politely, hands moving to the strap of the guitar to tug it off her neck, and guitar is set in front of her on the table between the two of them. "How’re Holly and Ivy?"

"They're well," Amato says in his unmistakable voice with the unmistakable tonality of an accompanying smile. "Holofernes has decided they are his personal property, even if their mother thinks otherwise." But he didn't approach her to discuss the strange politics of a small herd of sheep. He picks up the teakettle and pours the hot drink into one of the cups, his brow furrowing slightly.

"Would you like a cup?" he asks - a relatively simple question, considering the others he has brought along with him. "It is tea. There are also muffins - blueberry, I think."

Nora's thin fingers tuck into the frayed and slightly grubby cuffs of the too-long sweater she wears; her feet move off of the bench to the floor, as if to push herself up from her seated position, though she doesn't rise just yet.

“They smell like blueberry," the teenager murmurs, nose sniffing a little at the air. "And sure, thank you."

She doesn't reach for the cup at all, her hands moving to her lap as she waits apparently for the cup to be set in front of her. "Is that unusual? For the rams to want to look after the babies?" she asks. "I don't really know anything about livestock."

"He is just young," Amato says as he reaches forward to set the cup in front of Nora, unsure if she would like any of the packets of sugar he brought with him. Honey and butter - at least for things like tea and muffins - are luxuries that they must do without.

He sets a muffin next to Nora's cup before he goes about pouring his own portion of tea. "I wish I could tell you more, but truthfully, I am learning a great deal as I go. I have not been a shepherd for very long."

Someone who looks like he was in the same fight Nora was in appears in the not so far away distance — a scrape on one severe cheekbone, minor cuts on his hands back and front, his forearms, which are visible where he's rolled the sleeves of his sweater up to his elbows. Oversized and deep green, the hem drags low past his hips to hand-me-down jeans worn at the knees, frayed hems at his heels catching beneath damp sneakers. It goes like this — Benjamin Foster walks past, catches sight of the dining room interior or maybe is just halted by the playing of a guitar, and reels himself back a couple of steps to look.

He pauses in indecision before peeling off his prior trajectory and headed in their direction, a nervous sort of hover to his steps that turns his 'beeline' into a more literal description, butterfly stalling and starting that is signified in the scuffing of his soles.

Amato's slow progress down his intended conversational path is halted by the approach of the young man. He too raises an eyebrow, but it's only when he glances from Benji back to Nora that he announces their insecure, proximal guest of sorts.

"I've no issue with you joining us," he says cordially, gesturing from the bench to the tray of muffins. "Though I don't have another cup, your welcome to a muffin." Not knowing the man's name, he can't do much else to inform Nora who it is, but he can get him close enough to make introductions easier, and hopefully get back on track with his questions.

Then again, from the look of Benji, he may very well be useful in the answering of them. "Don't tell me Jensen found something dangerous for you to do," he ponders aloud as he lifts the cup to his lips.

Fwoom. That's the comic book sound effect of rushing blood in the general face area, which always seems to just happen to Benji whenever people call him out, look him in the eye, address him impolitely, address him politely, more or less acknowledge that he is a walking living breathing person as opposed to part of the scenery. That, and being caught out on not introducing himself like a normal person. "Oh, thank you. Only if Nora doesn't mind," Benji dismisses, and his softly airy voice is unmistakably familiar to the blind girl.

"My name's Benji." As if that wasn't the case, but this is for Amato's benefit. He approaches to navigate the bench on Nora's side of the table, coming to straddle it a polite distance away. And takes a muffin. Hell. Live dangerously.

A little of the tension lessens in Nora's posture, and she smiles up at that familiar voice. "Of course I don't mind," she says, more warmth than politeness tingeing her words. "Benji, this is Amato. He helps take care of the animals," she murmurs politely, bringing the cup to her lips for another sip before her hand reaches out for the muffin she knows is somewhere on the table — after a few tentative taps her fingers come down on it, the other hand carefully moving to set the tea cup down closer to where Benji sits than directly in front of herself. Perhaps to share. Fingers pinch a bit of the muffin off and bring the tiny bite to her lips, careful not to get crumbs anywhere.

Amato isn't at all surprised that, when Benji introduces himself, it is without the common western offering of a handshake. In company such as this, with so many forced to be careful of their skin-to-skin contact, such would-be-innocent gestures of politeness are easily waived in favor of privacy and safety.

He nods at the introductions, and smiles to Nora when she fills in his own name. "I was just telling Nora that I have not always done such work," he says, enveloping Benji into the conversation, counting himself lucky that he has foregone his usual alias in favor of his real name - too many Benjamins on one island might have proven confusing.

His eyes narrow at Benji's similar wounds once he's settled, and Amato can't help but look between the two. "The pair of you have been to the infirmary, yes? Infection, when one is this far removed from civilization, is nothing to be trifled with."

There is no glance to share with Nora, but that doesn't stop Benji's clear blues from flicking a look to her profile before looking down at the baked good in his hands, tearning off a piece to bite and swallow as he shrugs. Somehow, he manages to make the gesture less dismissive or uncaring, more apologetic. "We weren't on the island, but I know my way around wounds," he says, and then offers a half smile. "Small ones, anyway. What sort of animals do you care for, sir?"

Absently adjusts the sit of Nora's teacup, more fidget than necessary, as he nudges the conversation back along the path he'd interrupted. "And what is it that you did before?"

Nora's brows knit a little — she isn't sure how bad Benji's wounds were or are, so the fact Amato mentions them draws a worried frown to her face. "Nothing serious," she says, fingertips going to her own cheekbone to touch it as if to reassure herself it's not that bad — and can't look too bad, even if she can't see it.

"What did you do before tending sheep?" she asks politely, and answers Benji's question at the same time, before she pulls off another small bite of muffin to bring to her lips.

Amato smiles gently at Benji's reassurance, the skin around his eyes wrinkling enough to betray the hardships that have shaped his age. "We have two mares and five sheep," Amato explains in answer to the question. "And before, I was a shepherd of a different sort. Never ordained, but someone once told me that being sanctioned by an organized authority isn't necessary in order to do the work one was destined to do."

Though she can't see it, Amato's pale blue eyes settle on the teenage girl, his blond brows furrowing somewhat. "I'd like to think I'm still capable of managing a flock of less-wooly congregants. Nothing formal," he assures with a shake of his head as he reaches for a muffin of his own. "Simply an ear trained to listen and not judge."

"That's an admirable occupation," Benji says, with that glassy tone that could be incredibly sincere or incredibly false. Good intuition and some optimism would lean towards the former, in actual fact, the lines around the smile that follows slightly too involuntary to be especially faked. "Especially if you are not interested in only leading sheep." If there's any blasphemy or sneer in that phrase, it's muffled in a velvety tone and an unassumingly light tone of voice.

Muffin is finished in a bite. "These're good too," he says around the last swallow.

"I'm not religious." Nora's response is a little cooler than Benji's, something of a warning to back off in the flatness of the tone, the sort of voice that might be offered to unwanted solicitors or missionaries knocking on the door. Cheeks color just a little with perhaps a touch of chagrin, and she finishes her muffin with a larger last bite than the other bird-like bits she'd eaten previously.

The mug is reached for, brought back to behind the table's edge by hands that curl around it as if to soak in its warmth. "Thank you for the tea and muffin, though," she adds, more warmly.

"You're welcome," Amato says to Nora before offering Benji a quiet smile in response to his reaction. "Religion is simply a set of perspectives - lenses to see the world through. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own needs." And by that logic, whether they claim it or not, everyone has a religion of sorts.

It's an odd thing to hear coming from Amato Salucci. If only they knew.

He stands then, bringing his own cup with him. "Enjoy the rest," he says, nodding to the tray. "Only, if you don't mind, I'm sure the kitchen would like the accouterments back when you are finished." With that, he steps away, the slight thump of the boots he's taken to wearing with his new trade sounding his track from the rows of tables and benches back toward the hall.

Benji waves to Amato's departure — a waggle of his fingers towards the sort-of-priest's back though there is no one to appreciate it. "Nice to meet you," he imparts, watching the other man wander away before shuffling nearer to Nora. His hand creeps to find her's, a thumb scuffing over one of her hopelessly chipped nails without comment or. Surprise. "I'm not religious either," is meant to be conspirational whisper, facetiously delivered and with a certain slyness to it.

His expression sobers a second later. "Can we talk?"

The fingers of the hand he finds leaves instantly curl around his, squeezing slightly before feeling for the cuts and scraps his hands bare, reading them like braille to see just how badly he was hurt.

At the whisper, Nora's lips quirk into a smile that matches his sly tone and she nods to his request.

Handing him the mug so that she has one hand free for the journey out of the dining hall to a more private place, and to make sure it gets washed and put back in the kitchen with its brethren, she stands. "Lead the way."

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