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Fowl Play

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 Finding a huge, furious goose at the foot of his bed had very much *not* been part of Peyrol's plan for the morning. Chasing it around his room, clothed only in his nightshirt, had also not been a part of his plan for the morning. By the time the issue had been safely resolved, courtesy of the quick use of a pillowcase, years of military training, and no small amount of luck, he was more than an hour later for his usual morning drills, his troops looking at him as if he had crawled out of the grave as he walked into the training yard. (And, given the number of scratches and nips on his person, he could scarcely blame them.) 


The day began to proceed as normal until, while giving the order for his men to fire at a target, he found his vision once again clouded by feathers and an orange beak. This time, he had the help of his men, and the four foot tall monstrosity was tackled safely to the ground, its beak wildly flailing as it did so. 


"...Sir?" One of the men asked hesitantly, as Peyrol straightened his gloves out. 


"It is nothing," he said tersely. "Especially when compared to the state of your aim. We will stay in this yard until you can hit a target at least within ten feet of you." 


That newfound resolve, however, only lasted until less than half an hour later, when the Beast freed itself of the bindings, beginning to charge him with fury in its eyes. 


Peyrol grabbed it by the neck as the thing struggled. "I have no idea what your personal quarrel is with me, bird, however it is hardly worth the trouble. It would be better for you to go home, in peace.” And, hopefully, resign itself to its inevitable place on someone’s dinner table. 


 The Beast was, unfortunately, not as satisfied with his logic as he was, letting out an ungodly squawking sound that caused every man in the yard, not least Peyrol himself, to cover his ears, releasing his grasp on the thing just in time for it to begin a new barrage against his arm. Several men lowered their bayonets at it, and Peyrol earnestly considered letting them before remembering the reason he had called for extended practices that day. They would just as likely hit him over the confounded creature. It wasn't worth the risk. 


"Sir?" The same man volunteered again as Peyrol desperately tried to hold it back, hitting his gloved hand against the top of the creature's head as it attempting to tackle him in what looked to be a particularly bizarre reenactment of Leda and the Swan. "Sir?"


"What is it?" He attempted to keep some amount of restraint in his voice, which was increasingly hard as the thing now had hold of his sleeve, which was to say that he sounded ready to murder either the goose or, barring that, whoever would be most convenient. 


"That is no normal goose, Sir." 


"If you believe it to be a creature of Satan, then I might..." He successfully tugged himself away for a moment before it was back in full force. "Agree with you." 


"There is a superstition, Sir, in my home village. Every man and woman is given one person with whom their soul is a perfect match, however sometimes it might take decades for them to cross paths. The goose acts in cases where it has taken a considerable length of time, acting as a messenger of sorts." 


 As thrilling as he was sure it was, he had more important things to worry about than romantic peasant fantasies intended to give them something to hope for in lieu of a lifetime spent in squalor. He’d heard of such tales from his youth, even among the aristocracy, who generally considered their lovers to hold that treasured position rather than their spouses, but he had taken little notice of it. A leftover superstition from another time, surely. His training and upbringing had had little to say of it, save the usual warnings against libertinage. 


"I hope they say something about ridding me of the--" he tried to keep himself from using vulgarity. That kind of behavior might be suited to the men when they were alone in the barracks, but not for a man of his station, "Animal?" 


"Yes, sir. You have to kiss your intended. With its purpose done, the goose disappears." 


He could have rolled his eyes. First of all, the sheer improbability of such romantic drivel in light of his *real* priorities, namely the safety and protection of the realm. Other noblemen could amuse themselves at Versailles, conducting their mating rituals as they pleased, but he had a duty to attend to and, unlike some, he was willing to attend to it. Secondly, even if there was some merit behind the ridiculous notion, the idea that he would have to show some sort of affection to a person who he barely knew in order to rid himself of something that he considered to be no less than an utter demon from Hell was nothing short of utterly ludicrous and perverse. 




The creature had continued its assault, seemingly boundless in both its wrath and its energy. Against his better judgement, Peyrol found himself asking through gritted teeth, as the creature shifted its focus to his leather gloves, the sharp beak pinching his fingers, "Why now?" 


"Well sir, such things usually happen when you are near enough to where your soulmate might be, or at least will be near them soon. So, it won't be long." He paused, his face a picture of fear before adding, "If you were to perhaps let him lead you there on its own..." 


Upon receiving the glare from Peyrol that he knew was rumored among the newer recruits to eviscerate first years and small animals alike, he quieted. After the Hell this day had been, Peyrol thought as he examined the now ruined glove, which had been among one of his favorites, he would not have let the damned thing take him to a well if he was dying of thirst. 


 When he tried to take his dinner later in the privacy of his quarters, the thing stole food out of his hands, its beak indiscriminately targeting everything in the vicinity such that he had a non-negligible bite on his fingers to show for it. Most of his remaining energy was devoted to eating with one hand while holding off the creature with another, resisting the urge to call for some of his men to attempt to hold it off. His only consolation was that the thing did, at the very least, allow him to have an uneasy sleep, perching watchfully at the foot of his bed. 


The next day followed much the same, waking up to four feet of unbridled fury in his bed, attempting to wrestle the goose into submission, succeeding for a few minutes before the thing broke free to rain destruction upon Lazare's life, which he found to be in nothing short of total disarray after only a few days. The men must have been gossiping about it, he knew. Who would take orders from a man who couldn't even stand up to a goose? 


 He had one small victory in his name throughout the entire ordeal, consuming a nice, large foie gras while looking it straight in the eye, the bird’s beady eyes seeming to twitch as it looked from the dish to Peyrol’s fork. After that, he was allowed the luxury of being able to eat in relative peace. 


 Eventually, realizing that the cause was lost, to some extent, Peyrol and the men wrangled it, fixing it in a matching blue coat and cravat so that it would at least match him. If this was his life for the foreseeable future, then it was important that it seemed as normal and under control as it could be. At the seeming acceptance of his fate, the creature relaxed shortly afterwards, raining havoc on him in the mornings and, but otherwise leaving him alone during drills, strutting by his side in its new outfit. 




When he received the orders to go to the Beauce and deal with a mediocre job, dealing with a small case of some overdue taxes, he was almost grateful, even though he doubted it would be worth the effort. Surely, now the thing would leave him be. Even the thing's seemingly boundless energy couldn't cover miles upon miles. He would, at last, be free. 


Instead, the goose kept up with him every step of the way and, worse still, seemed to be almost excited to go, tugging at his sleeve. The man's words over soulmates and destiny hung heavily in his ears before he brushed them away. This situation had reached the point where even HE was starting to be affected by sentimental fairy tales. 


 They were living in an age of Reason, magical geese had no place in it. 


The creature's behavior only grew more erratic as they neared their first location, a small village that barely appeared as a mark on the map, yet had three major offenders. He took his position to oversee the business as best as he could, given that he had a newly reinvigorated goose squawking in his ear, attempting to take his arm off. 


Couldn't the cursed thing have done this sometime else, when he didn't have to uphold the appearance of the Crown? 


One of his men, the one who had initially come up with the ludicrous notion, attempted to read out the arrest warrant, sparing several concerned glances at him, "In the name of the King, and of the Comte Lazare de Peyrol, who-who is here in his stead" and who, in the estimation of the Comte himself, was not looking the part as he was in the process of hitting a seemingly invincible goose with the flat of his sword while roundly scolding it, "In the year of our Lord 1788, for the crimes of tax evasion and fraud, Monsieurs Maneron, Kerjeann, and Mazurier are sentenced to the galleys and-and confiscation of their lands-effective-effective immediately." He truly hoped, for the man's sake, that that wasn't laughter he was desperately attempting to hide behind a particularly bad cough. 


"Surely the King has more important matters?" One of the three men, he didn't care who, asked. "Such as a goose?" 


"Silence!" Lazare snapped as the goose dug its beak (and the long rows of teeth that accompanied it) into his arm. "Let this be an example to you all. Officers, take them away.” 


He might have looked more impressive if, when he gestured to his men, he didn't have a large bird dangling from his arm at the time. 


"Father! Father!" At the sound of the voice, the goose released his arm, instead attacking the sleeve of his coat again. It was stronger this time than it had been previously, dragging him several feet until he came nose to nose with a scruffy peasant boy several years his junior. As it released him, it looked expectantly between the two of them, its attention going first to one, then the other. 




Absolutely not. 


This was a practical joke created by Providence, aimed squarely at him. 


"Ronan, stay out of this!" One of the accused men, evidently possessed of more of a self-preservation instinct than the one who had taunted him, shouted. 


Ronan. He hated how well the name sounded. So, this dirty peasant was the cause of so much trouble. As an experiment, he turned to leave, and, as he did so, the goose took hold of his sleeve again, moving him back to his previous position. 


"A change in plans," he gestured to the soldiers who were currently rounding up the accused for the galleys with his one remaining arm. "Release them.” He had little time to discern which was which, especially given the promise of beaked revenge if he chose incorrectly. "See to it that the cost from their taxes is paid in full by my own purse." 


"You," he looked Ronan in the eye, who straightened under his gaze (no one, he thought, had ever dared to look him in the eye, much less with such defiance), "Come with me." 


Ronan looked startled, shaken, but then he gave a firm nod as he walked by his side, the two of them walking along the dirt road that ran down the center of the village, the half-clouded moon casting it in a silvery hue. The clouds aside, it was a fine night, Lazare thought. The worst of the summer’s heat had faded, leaving only a comfortable warmth that was animated by a slight, cool breeze. 


This kind of business was best dealt with quickly, quietly, and discreetly, he thought, as the goose followed along between the two of them with an unusual degree of docility, like a perfectly tamed wolf that, at the first sight of meat, still wouldn't hesitate to take its handler's arm off (as the numerous bite marks that now littered Lazare's body could attest to). Finally seeing an opportunity, he ducked behind an old building, dragging Ronan with him. 


"You know what this is," Lazare nodded towards the goose. 


"Of course I do, everyone knows," Ronan responded, and Lazare bristled. "So, I guess you're my soulmate." 


"It believes so, at the very least," Peyrol replied, keeping his voice as neutral and cool as he could. Regardless of anything else, he had no obligation to give him any undue familiarity. They had been put together by some unholy trick of fate, little more. In terms of dignity, rank, and education, they were still worlds apart. 


"I have to say, you're not exactly what I expected." 


"Nor are you." He wasn't going to volunteer that he had no care for this entire business until less than a fortnight before, when the damned thing had intruded upon his life, especially not after the peasant boy had made it perfectly clear that he viewed it as something that even a fool would know. For all he knew, everyone experienced this, and he had simply been the odd man out. 


 He tilted the peasant boy's face up using the ruined remains of yet another pair of leather gloves, capturing his chin between his thumb and index finger, feeling him swallow against the tip of his grasp as he did so. Then, he leaned over, lightly brushing his lips against Ronans', chapped and wind blown from the summer sun. It had been intended as a chaste, simple gesture, intended only to get the entire unfortunate business over with. At the touch of his mouth, however, Ronan moaned lightly, the resulting vibrations along his mouth causing Lazare to freeze. 


This was not supposed to happen. This was not supposed to be pleasurable. It was a matter of sharp necessity, nothing more. Still, he found himself focusing on that mouth after he pulled away, his lips tingling in remembrance of the kiss. Then, within a second, his mouth was on Ronan's again, his tongue running lightly along the line of his lips in an attempt to provoke more, needing to hear that sound again, barely able to control the groan that he tore out of his throat when Ronan gripped his hair even as he justified it as anger at the sudden intrusion rather than any interest. As one kiss melted into the next and the next and their first kiss turned into a second, third, fourth, and fifth, he'd entirely forgotten about the goose and the extenuating circumstances, driven instead by instinct until he had Ronan pinned against the wall, his hands clasped around his, and he was reminded of the pain in his hand and arm in particular. 


He pulled away, the goose nowhere to be found. He allowed himself a moment of relief before turning back and realizing that he was currently pinning a peasant to a wall, a man who had meant nothing to him an hour ago, that his lips were presently swollen from the number of kisses that he'd given him (causing Peyrol to worry for the state of his own and whether it would be entirely too obvious to the men), that he was breathing heavily as he grinned at him, that every sign pointed to them nearly committing sodomy together, and that, worst of all, he had fallen for the goose's evil scheme. 


He pulled away, causing Ronan to shift beneath him, towards him. "What's the matter?" 


Peyrol shuffled through his pocket, pressing a single, golden Louis d'or coin into the palm of his hand. "Thank you," he released him from his grip and attempted not to notice the look of confusion and growing anger on his face, "For your service to me. That will be all."


He walked away, his boots heavier on the ground than they had been before. 


 Ronan ran towards him, "Hey! What are you doing, you bastard? Peyrol!" He grabbed his arm; Peyrol hesitated a moment between fury at the audacity and the the remembrance of how easy it had been to kiss him, sufficing himself with snatching his arm away from his grip. 


"Your family is free, I am free. This has been mutually profitable for both of us." He fixed Mazurier with his stare, "It meant nothing." When he said it, could hear how firm the words sounded as they rolled past his teeth, he could almost believe them for himself. 


"That's not how this works," Ronan growled, "And you know it." 


 "But it is how it will work, Mazurier. Now go, celebrate with your family. You had fortune on your side today." 


He was resolute as he walked away and rejoined his men, who politely ignored the obvious, unburdened even as he felt his heart heavy in his chest. No time for that. The thing hadn't bothered him in years, there was no reason for it to now, over something as small as a few kisses he'd given under duress. 


It meant nothing. He meant nothing. He didn't love him, and even if he could, there was no place for that sort of business, much less with another man, much less with an illiterate, dirty peasant with no manners or tact. He had felt some...mild, unfortunate attraction, but it wasn't worth any *thought*. Such things were only evidence that he still had work to do in terms of clearing himself of his own vices. 


Still, that night, as his head hit the pillow, he remembered the way Ronan looked at him, without fear, without hesitation, remembered the feel of Ronan's lips against his, the little moan he'd loosed that caused everything to fall apart, and then the way he'd glared at him as he left. He hated that he actually cared if Ronan hated him for his conduct now. It was of no matter. 


It became of significantly greater importance that morning, when he woke up to a screaming goose only an inch or two away from his face, causing him to jolt away on sheer instinct. (He was truly grateful for having a room of his own, because, despite the humiliations of the last month, he couldn't live with having his men seeing him running around the room, desperately trying to complete his toilette while being scolded by an angry goose. He had spent a lifetime building his reputation and, whatever machinations some higher power had, he refused to give it up so easily.) 


 Damn them both. 


 Later, he stood at the door of the hovel that Maneron (who he had initially gone to, mistakenly believing that it was his son) had pointed out as containing one Baptiste Mazurier, along with his son and daughter. Looking out to the fields, he tried to see if one of them or the other was there, only for the door to open, a young woman standing there, arms crossed over her chest. 


 "Mademoiselle Mazurier?" 


 She nodded. "Now, you've done it. He hasn't stopped talking about you all day." 


 He shuffled in place, hoping that it wasn't obvious. "My apologies." 


 She gave what appeared to be a long suffering sigh. "He's out in the field; I'll go get him." As she left, wading through the wheat, he heard her shout, "RONAN! RONAN!” 


 In the distance, he could see Ronan running up to her (Lazare did not notice the way his white shirt, dampened with sweat, clung onto his body), then saw her grabbing him and then leaning over to point to him, Lazare's ears barely catching, "He's back!" 


 Ronan looked at him, and Lazare did his best to appear disinterested. He was doing Ronan a service here, just as much as Ronan was doing him one. The two of them made their way over to him, Ronan scowling as picked up a yellow jacket that hung onto a post, slinging it over his shoulder (It spoke volumes as to Lazare’s state of mind the previous day that he had taken no notice of it).  


"So, you're back." 


 Peyrol lifted his arm, along with approximately 30 pounds of feathers, determination, and sheer rage, "I believe we might have to re-evaluate our arrangement.”