(2018-05-11) Salt of the Earth
Beatrice briefly happens to (at?) Bastiano in the family stables.
Bastiano didn't sign up for any of this.
Misc Info:

The scent of hay and horse overwhelms the sweet jasmine that grows outside the doors of this very functional building. Essentially one long room divided by heavy wooden panels into useful areas or stalls for horses, many beautiful animals are housed within. In an open area at one end, there is room for a carriage; at the far end, farrier's tools hang on the walls. In between are the velvety noses and soft eyes of the equine residents.

It isn't hard to imagine preferring the soft social touch of the Conte's valet to the severity sometimes associated with that man. Some things can be sugar coated. Oh, Bastiano yelled at the stable hands, alright. That's why one of them is smiling and laughing, and promising to do a better job with whatever arbitrary nitpicking complaint Baldo might have had about the care of his favorite mount. Which is to say… a horse, of course.

Clapping his palms together, Bastiano steps away from the quiet conversation with a motion not unlike brushing away dust from his hands. A smile still lingers on his face, not quite reaching his sultry, heavy-lidded eyes.

The Dowager Contesa really has no business being in the stables, but here she arrives anyway. Her hair is pulled up, scooped back from her neck into a twist, and she is dressed not in exaggerated finery. It's a riding habit, grave and green with understated yellow accents appropriate to her age and station. Yet she does not appear to be particularly interested in the horses, and the stable scents of hay and manure that assault her nose as she steps across into the stable bring a crease to her brow.

The more familiar of the stablehands look aside to see if Livia is accompanying her and, not finding the lady-in-waiting along to ''steer'' the dowager, begin to nonchalantly drift away from anywhere they suspect might be about to become ground zero.

Alas, Bastiano's presence at the site of impact appears unavoidable. The lithe young attendant goes to his death bravely. Only boasting a few inches on the dowager, he produces a light flourish of his hand. Pressing it flatly across his stomach, he bends downward in reverence and halves his height. The bow comes with no expectation of being acknowledged …as it so happens, it may very well have been offered in the hopes that he wouldn't be. Humility is so easy to overlook.

Beatrice tilts her head, letting her bright gaze linger on the lines of the young man in his obeisance. "You there, young man," she says. "You don't look familiar." This is not spoken in a tone of accusation but of mild, curious surprise, as though she has suddenly spied a butterfly in amidst the worker bees and has no idea how this might have happened.

Beatrice and Livia spent the last few years in quiet retirement at the country estate. Baldessare's staff is not wholly unknown to her, but far less familiar than the servants whose hiring and training she oversaw when this was all Her Demesne.

"Nor would I expect to. Bastiano, Dowager Contesa," the man looks up at Beatrice from behind his dark eyelashes, erecting himself mid-speech. "I am the Conte's valet, from Irsina. At the moment," Bastiano hesitates, doing his best to conceal any amusement he might have in admitting this fact, "-delivering a gentle reprimand on his behalf, which it might please you to know has been well-received."

"Has it?" Beatrice looks a bit vague about this, or maybe just vague in general, as her glance sweeps the rest of the stable. "Hmmm," she says. Then she says, "What was up his bum now, anyway? Never mind, I don't really care." She turns to walk a few paces deeper into the stable, her shoes fast approaching ruin since although she was wearing a riding habit, she is also wearing house slippers. "Do you work with the horses or only the horse's asses, Bastiano?"

Bastiano graciously declines the opportunity to speak ill of his master, instead answering the question with an accommodating dip of his chin, "Both, as needed." It's too probably quick and too smart of a response. Judging by the tiny flinch that knots his brow for the briefest of moments, he knows it.

"It's good to have people on staff who know how to handle an ass," Beatrice says. She comes to rest, finally, before the carriage with the family livery, and she gives it a long look as though she suspects of it something shifty. Then she reaches into her pouch and pulls out what appears to be— a bag. Holding the bag in her hands, she cracks it open and then begins to pour a long line of salt across the floor of the stables in front of the front carriage wheel.

Bastiano parts his lips as if to speak but thinks better of it and closes them. As the dowager goes about her… eccentricities, he searches his peripheral for any other stable attendants. A faint sigh escapes him at their absence. "I am truly grateful to be of service to a household boasting so few."

The salt hisses in a long stream over the floor, and then Beatrice crouches to inspect its line. She traces a fingertip down the side of it, and then sniffs her fingertip. She makes a face, and smears it down over the green skirts as she rises again. "What a lovely sentiment," she tells him. She considers her bag, and then asks him brightly, "Would you like some salt?"

"I don't know how I could possibly refuse," Bastiano indulges Beatrice after a pause. If there is any irony in his meaning, it certainly does not make to his tone. Eyes widening a tick, he moves to open his hand… and… eventually after some self-coaxing, he extends it palm turned upward in the dowager's direction. Is this… what you want?

In lieu of pouring it into his palm, Beatrice simply hands Bastiano the remains of the bag of salt. There's not very much left, and the bag dangles lightly by its drawstrings as she rests it atop his palm. She gives him a sunny smile, wide and warm, almost beatific. Then she turns to drift amiably back through the stable. "I'm going to smell like a horse for hours," she says in some regret, "but at least that's done."

Too out of his element and too good of a sport, Bastiano remains dumbly arm-outstretched for a time. He keeps the bag aloft, neither drawing it closer to his person nor closing his lean fingers around it. The smile, because he is fundamentally sweet somewhere deep within and he does like to please, elicits a twinkle at the back of his distant gaze. "If I might be so bold: better a horse than an ass."

Beatrice glances back at Bastiano, and her eyes crinkle at the corners. "Oh, I don't know," she says. "There's something to be said for both." Then she drifts on out the door, dusting her hands together as she goes like a woman who is satisfied with a job well done.

Whatever the hell it was.

Bastiano slowly turns on the ball of his foot a minute or two after it becomes evident that the coast is clear. His tidy little boot hardly makes a sound as he steps gingerly over towards a stall. The bag of salt soon finds itself being shoved gently but forcibly to the chest of the young man taking shelter from Beatrice there. With a clearing of his throat, Bastiano even goes as far as to wipe what tiny granules of which salt might be stuck to his hand on the groom's shirt. First the palm and then the back, fingers splayed. This is done with a tiny sigh of disappointment before the valet takes his leave of the entire space.

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