|A Long Day|
|Summary:||Hardwicke gets two more visitors before he's allowed to sleep.|
|Date:||December 30, 2011|
|Related Logs:||Directly following Ties That Bind and Confidences. Everything Ironborn invasion- or Belle/Hardwicke-related.|
|Hardwicke's Chambers - Four Eagles Castle|
|December 29, 288|
And then his second visitor has come and gone, and Hardwicke is left rather exhausted in his chambers. He's finished off the tea left him by Aubra and laid back down on the bed, which is the best he can really do for himself at the moment, anyways. He doesn't sleep, though: he watches the ceiling instead.
There is simply no peace to be had today, for Hardwicke hasn't been left to count the cracks in the ceiling more than a few minutes before there's a soft — but perfunctory — knock. And the door opens again.
This time, it admits Belle Beckett, a tray in her hands and a basket over her arm. She's apparently found a moment to clean up somewhere, though not so far as a real bath might take her or a fresh set of clothes. Still, she's washed her face and tried to do something with her hair, pulled back on the sides but tumbling free, no longer in the spinster's knot that ill-becomes her. It could be considered a touching effort — that is, if it's been done for him and not general vanity.
She uses her hip to bump the door open, and the opposite hip to shut it behind her, before coming to his bedside. Some effort it made to be quiet, on the off chance he's actually sleeping — but when she sees he's not, her surprise is as lacking as her amusement and affection are great.
He carries no trace of surprise, either, but even the small, weak smile is tense. "Belle," he says, as if reminding himself of her. He looks back up at the ceiling. "Mistress Leetdan already attempted to pour a whole pot of tea down my throat."
Belle's smile falters ever so slightly at his greeting, then redoubles its blithe brightness. "Well. I thought we might try some soup and bread. Man cannot live on tea alone." She pauses, then sets the tray aside, sitting carefully on the edge of the bed. "Are you in pain?" she inquires gently. "I've brought something for that, if you need it."
"No," he says, although there is tension enough in his body to suggest rather strongly that he's lying. Hardwicke pauses a moment, then amends, "I don't want anything for the pain."
"Hardwicke," Belle begins, then seems at a loss. She tucks a leg up beneath her, settling closer to him. "Pointless pain is… pointless. Suffer to rehabilitate your body, build your strength, protect what you love… but don't just like there in pain because you can."
"I need my head," Hardwicke grumbles to the ceiling. "What's left of it, anyways. I am not going to sit back and sleep through this war."
Belle draws breath to argue, but holds her tongue, blowing the breath back out instead. "I have a lozenge of willow bark in honey," she says, finally. "It will take some of the edge off without addling your wits or making you sleepy. Will you at least take that?"
Hardwicke looks up at her, narrowing his gaze as he considers the offer. Finally, with an air of grudging obligation, he says, "Fine."
She gives him a look of flat displeasure, then rummages in her basket until she finds a small candy dollop wrapped in waxed parchment. She unwraps it and places it in his hand. "Here."
He looks at it a moment, almost wary of it — she hasn't tried it in front of him this time, after all. But then Hardwicke pops it into his mouth and lets it sit on his tongue without further comment.
That seems to be precisely what she reads into his hesitation. She stands abruptly. "If you're not hungry, there are plenty of mouths to feed in the hall," she says, reclaiming her basket and reaching for the tray. Meanwhile, the candy doesn't kill him. Immediately, anyhow. It's a little bitter, but the apothecary that fashioned it has taken pains to lessen that effect, so the flavor is primarily of honey and caramelized sugar.
"Belle—" Hardwicke reaches for her, grabbing for her skirts, maybe — whatever is within easy reach as she stands. For a moment, there is honest and open pain in his expression that has nothing to do with the throbbing wound on his arm. He watches her a long moment, and then simply says, "Please."
Her expression reflects his pain. There's hesitation and the desire to flee — finally overwhelmed by tenderness for that honesty. She crumbles, turning her face away and shutting her eyes a moment before simply dropping the basket in defeat. She sits again, lashes still hiding her gaze, and takes his hand in both of hers. "I'm sorry," she whispers, sincerely but at some cost.
For a while, he just tilts his head to rest upon his pillow, watching the press of her hands on his. Then, voice still quiet and a bit raspy, Hardwicke asks, "Why?"
"That you're in pain," Belle answers. It seems honest enough. "And I can't help."
Hardwicke snorts a quiet breath. "Wounds hurt, Belle," he tells her. "It's how life goes."
She rolls her eyes at him. "Really?" she asks. "You're really going to pretend that what hurts you most, right now, is your arm?" She flicks one of her hands impatiently. "Fine. Pretend whatever you like. I'll be here to spoon the soup in when you decide you're hungry."
"What," Hardwicke says, frustrating cresting quickly. "Did you come in here to yell at me about — I don't even know what. About nothing? Not being injured correctly?"
"I'm not yelling," says Belle, very softly. "I suppose what I can't figure out is whether you're so… pent up that you don't even know where your feelings come from, or you think I'm stupid, or — or you don't trust me, still. Which… which is ludicrous, considering." She smiles and rolls her eyes, this time at herself, laughing. "Actually, no. That's not ludicrous. The other part was."
He balks there, too many branches built on words, too many things to address. "Belle," Hardwicke says, weary-voiced. "I don't think you're stupid. And I don't—" He shakes his head and looks away.
She waits. Patiently. But finally prompts, "You don't what, Hardwicke?"
"I trust you," Hardwicke finally says, though he still doesn't look at her. With a dry, humorless laugh, he says, "Gods, I sure hope I do."
For an exceedingly rare once, Belle doesn't look amused. "Huzzah," she murmurs. Lucky her.
"Belle." The frustration is peaking now, all riled and coiled into a problem impossible for him to untangle. Hardwicke drops his head back to the pillow with a thick breath.
"What, Hardwicke?" she sounds tired, and curves a wry, weary smile. "What do you want from me? You asked me once and I did my honest best to answer. I am tired of playing greenseer with you, trying to read your thoughts, trying to give you what you need because — for some reason — you've no idea how to ask for it. So — what. Tell me. Stay, go, dance, sing, paint stars on the ceiling — I'll do my best. You only have to say."
He opens his mouth, but he doesn't manage to say anything. Hardwicke's expression is lined with some deep-set conflict, clouded by exhaustion and pain and, somewhere, some sense of defiance. Finally, he pulls himself carefully up to sit, his jaw set in a stubborn angle as he refuses to be beneath her when he finally meets her eye. Bold and brave and entirely stupid, he chooses, "Marry me."
Belle opens her mouth, but doesn't manage to say anything. At least… not at first. After her mouth has been open long enough for her to notice it, she snaps it shut again. Her eyes, blue and huge, blink twice. "Yes?"
Hardwicke scowls, though for once his anxiety and self-consciousness are so much clearer. "Yes as in yes, or yes as in—" Something else, presumably.
She stares at him, then laughs helplessly. "Yes," she repeats. "Yes as in — as in, I Will Be Your Wife. As in, I Love You." She's still laughing when tears spill over her lashes. "Yes, as in — yes!"
"Oh." Hardwicke's smile is almost shy, entirely rare in the quality of his warmth; for a moment, it takes years, near decades, off his age. For a moment, at least. His good arm reaches to twist eagerly into her hair and pull her in for a bright, heady kiss.
Belle is careful of his arm, but her response is just as passionate, ebullient. She straddles his lap — not overtly sexual, it seems, but simply to be closer to him. To touch as much of him as possible. Her fingers thread into his hair. "You're mad," she whispers against his lips, laughing for sheer delight.
"You make me mad," Hardwicke says with raw, laughing openness. He tries to pull her closer, but ends up sucking in breath despite his attempts to stifle his reaction as his fresh wound is jostled.
Belle sucks in a breath as well, wincing in sympathy. She kisses his brow, the bridge of his nose, his lips again — all with unutterable tenderness. "I…" she shakes her head a little, reeling even as she smooths back his hair, gazing into his eyes. "Why?" Of course. She would ask that. She's gone all of three minutes without asking a question.
"Why?" Hardwicke echoes, uncomprehending. More slowly and carefully — for his own sake — he brushes back a lock of golden hair from her face. "Why what?"
She tilts her head. "Why are you marrying me?"
Snorting thickly and perhaps too pleased with a rare moment of cleverness, Hardwicke says, "Because you agreed to it."
Hardwicke made a funny! Belle, predictably, approves, grinning even as she rolls her eyes, dimples deep. "Touche," she says. But she does look back to him, apparently for an answer.
Hardwicke takes a slow breath as she makes her expectations quite clear in hearing a /real/ answer. It is slow coming, a bit clumsy and self-conscious, and his gaze flits away for an awkward moment before finding her again. Then: "You — make me feel alive."
She simply gazes at him a moment, smiling softly, enchanted by that honesty. She leans her forehead against his, nuzzling. "Do you love me, Hardwicke Blayne?"
"I—" Hardwicke breaths in a shivering, unsteady breath as she nuzzles in close. His hesitation is marked, but he sounds no less sincere when he finally says, "…yes."
"Yes," Belle echoes, just a breath, and kisses him. She strokes the backs of her fingers over his cheeks, drinking deep, slow, sweet draughts of his mouth. "I love you," she whispers into the kiss, smiling, body trembling with sweetness and laughter. "I love you."
Hardwicke returns the kisses, luxuriating in her, though he he pulls back on a break of breath to say, "I don't know — that is — I don't know /when/, but—" He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
"No," she agrees, kissing him with a radiant smile. Again and again. Twining around him, breathing him in. "It doesn't matter." She kisses his temple, his cheek and jaw and throat before finally returning to his lips. "Some things just are."
"Belle—" An unwelcome force of reality, Hardwicke attempts to gently instill just enough distance to speak with her. "It might be — difficult. People aren't going to take to the idea of a Nayland here, and with everything that's happening—"
Belle's eyes widen a moment. "A former Nayland retainer unwelcome at Four Eagles?" She places her fingers delicately against her lips. "Say it's not so!"
His smile at her humor is faint and a little forced, and it fades quickly. "Lady Terrick—" Hardwicke glances away for the briefest moment. "Well. She had many choice words to say, but in short: she instructed me to get rid of you, and I refused."
She sobers and her lashes lower, a faint frown drawing a line between her brows. "I… saw her. Leaving your room."
Hardwicke looks particularly displeased that she caught it. "She — does not like things under her roof beyond her control," he says, choosing the words carefully. "But I don't think she will fight further on it."
Belle hesitates, tucking a lock of hair back behind her ear. "Will she allow us to live here? When we marry?"
"She is not going to remove me from her husband's service," Hardwicke says with a firm sort of surety, though his reason for confidence is not immediately apparent.
Her eyebrows do go up, but she doesn't ask. About that, anyhow. "Tell me it's not what it looked like?" she ventures. "A lady so famously obsessed with propriety and appearances in your bedchamber, unchaperoned?" She takes a breath. "Or tell me it was. Whatever the truth is."
"The most untoward thing that happened was a — heated disagreement," Hardwicke can safely say with every confidence. He hesitates longer before saying, "We have known each other since we were children. That's all." He snorts. "You can't think I was doing anything in this state."
"No," Belle says, wryly. "I didn't think you were — " There's still worry writ on her brow, her eyes troubled. "But there was something between you, once." She takes that as given, and forges ahead. "Is there still?"
"No." Hardwicke looks flushed and frustrated to even have her make what conclusion she has, but knows enough to not argue. "Belle, it was — I looked beyond my station. I was young. I was stupid."
Belle makes certain she has his eyes when she asks, quietly and without melodrama, "And if there were more… you'd tell me."
Hardwicke exhales a slow breath where he sits on his bed, Belle carefully settled into his lap. "Belle—" He touches a hand to her hair. "Just — trust me," he requests gently. What an ideal time to be interrupted so he doesn't have to talk about it.
Despite the quiet, relative as it is, beyond the chambers set aside for Ser Hardwicke's use, there is the repetitive rap of something upon the stone floor, a noise that grows more clear and focused as it seems to near. Tap, after tap, it underscores the last of the words exchanged between the couple before it stops altogether. A heartbeat later, there is a polite rap upon the doorframe.
She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. Her smile is slightly wry, more of a smirk really, but it dimples her cheeks. "That… isn't an unreasonable request, considering." She turns her head to kiss his palm. "It's in the past." And there it will stay. She leans in to kiss him, then startles upright at the knock, craning to look at the door. "I… guess I'll get that."
Hardwicke startles a bit as well, which is distinctly less comfortable when it pulls on fresh wounds. He hisses an unsteady breath, and then exhales very controlled. "Please," he says, his voice a bit faint.
Though Belle might not know the Young Lord of the Roost for the sight of him, few would mistake the elemental combination of a hand wearing the seal of the Roost and a young man leaning upon a cane for anyone but Jacsen Terrick. "Miss," he greets as the door creaks open and reveals Belle, rather than the Ser he was seeking. "I've come to see Ser Hardwicke, is this not his chamber…?" His brow climbs as he looks past the woman, into what he might see of the room.
Belle does, in fact, recognize the young lord — though how or from where… she doesn't offer particulars, just then. She could, after all, just be doing the obvious math: seal + cane = Jacsen Terrick. She dips into a low curtsy, head bowed. "My lord. Ser Hardwicke is resting within." She holds her lowered posture and lowered gaze a few beats longer, then rises and steps gracefully aside. Though she is a disheveled, her dress dirty and torn in places — doubtless from the earlier chaos — she is unquestionably a creature comfortable at court.
Hardwicke is already working to stand and approach the door, but it's slower going for him, considering the amount of blood he's lost today. "My lord," he greets Jacsen from across the longer distance. "I'm sorry. I find myself a bit — slower since this morning." He hesitates a moment as his gaze slides back to Belle, as if unsure what to do with her. Then he firms his chin and says, "This is Mistress Belle Beckett." He hesitates before adding, "My betrothed."
Jacsen's gaze is incisive as he considers the woman greeting Ser Hardwicke's door, waiting as she offers her obeisance before he dips his chin in a polite gesture and steps within. "Oh, Ser, there you-" he holds up a hand as he sees that the only recently minted Captain of the Guard seeks to rise, frowning, "Seven, Ser, keep your place… you've endured enough for the nonce. I wanted to…" The introduction has Jacsen turning, though, that he might look upon Belle again, a small smile favoring his lips at that. "Your betrothed? An odd time for saying the words, but I suppose my congratulations are due all the same…"
"We have odd timing, both," Belle agrees, eyes merry and dimples deep despite her deadpan delivery. "It's a rare gift, so clearly we're meant to be." She glances at Hardwicke and grins, then dips another brief curtsy. "Thank you, my lord."
Grudgingly, reluctantly, Hardwicke sits again. "Aye, well," he says, not sounding terribly romantic about it now that Jacsen's here. He lets Belle's words speak for them both, having nothing any more eloquent to add to her humor. "You wanted me, my lord?"
There is a certain sense of lingering to Jacsen's gaze, favoring Belle for a moment longer before he answers Hardwicke's words. "I came to see how you fared, Ser, and what condition you might be in as the hours pass. This is far from over… and may well have already spread elsewhere. We must prepare." His expression is a touch apologetic when he looks back at Belle, saying, "Forgive the grim words, Mistress, but with the Captain of my father's Guard I can be no less blunt."
"I am fit, my lord," Hardwicke says, stubborn despite whatever contrary appearance he might have. "I'm well-aware. If this were just a return to raiding, they would be gone already. We have to break what hold they've put on the castle before they get reinforcements." He glances at Belle with the faintest of smirks. "She has a stronger constitution than you might think, my lord."
Belle shakes her head, hands folded before her — and remains standing, appearing entirely comfortable to do so, should the young lord require or desire the spare room's other chair. "I have seen little of the pitch of battle, my lord, but I am familiar enough with war — especially its aftermath. Your candor doesn't distress me." She does offer, however, "If you wish to speak without my distraction, however, I might remove myself to see if there's some refreshment I can fetch? Otherwise, I am content to remain."
"No, it is fine that you remain… it is not as if this matter is some great secret, after all. The fight is obvious to us all," Jacsen affirms, shifting a touch on his cane, as if to ease the pressure of standing upon his ruinous leg. "We've sent ravens to warn Seaguard, Riverrun, and Stonebridge of the potential for raids, and we've sent word further to my wife's house of Banefort. With luck, the fleet at Lannisport will be dispatched swiftly to break the backs of these reavers." He lets out a breath, and asks of Hardwicke, "I need you, Ser, and sooner than either of us would like. Ser Revyn is missing, and it is quite possible my lord uncle is dead. You'll be needed in helping direct the defense of the Tower, if you can. Let Mistress Beckett here see to you for a time, and once you've a bit of rest, attend my Lord Father and I."
"Ser Revyn may yet live?" Belle blinks, turning to Hardwicke and kneeling by his knee, looking up at him. "Love, I'm so sorry. Everyone said — I should have known better than to aggrieve you with what may be rumor alone." Though she remains kneeling by Hardwicke, she turns to look at Jacsen earnestly. "I will pray for your uncle, my lord. If there is any other service…" she trails off helplessly. Sometimes, being a woman sucks.
Hardwicke exhales slow and unpleasant as his jaw clenches. He looks away from Jacsen and Belle both. "I saw him fall, my lord," he says quietly. "I saw the blow he took. I have little thought that he might still be alive." His gaze flitters across to Belle, then back to the Terrick heir. "I will do everything in my power, my lord," he says quietly, "of course. Gods willing, our ravens make it through their archers."
The line of Jacsen's jaw sets firm as he hears that last. "I…" He draws a steadying breath, the pained expression of the young man and nephew subsumed by the more stoic features of the Young Lord. "Yes. Perhaps it is so, Ser." He lets out a breath and shifts on his cane, and turns towards the door. "When you have rested some, Ser. Come and find us."
"My lord," says Belle, standing as Jacsen turns to go. She glances at Hardwicke, then takes a breath and says, "I don't know how many scouts you have at your disposal, that may ride in case the ravens are brought down. But…" Her fingers curl into fists at her sides and then relax, a nervous gesture. "I may be able to escape this keep by ways other than doors, where the Ironborn will not see. I'm fleet and can keep well hidden — I could pass within feet of them, and they'd never know. Forgive me for imposing the consideration on you in your grief, my lord. But should you need a courier — " There. That said, she simply nods. "I will serve, my lord."
Hardwicke's expression is not without sympathy as Jacsen's expression begins to war, and he averts his gaze in as great a gesture a respect as he has to offer. "I will, my—" He stops quite abruptly as Belle makes her offer, and his protest, predictably enough, comes immediately: "You will /not/ serve," he says, gaze snapping immediately back to Jacsen. "My lord, you can't send a woman out amongst these men."
Belle sets her chin. "I am not yet your wife," she tells tells Hardwicke. "You have no dominion over me. And if it came to that, no one would send me out among them — but behind them. Around them. I could scale the walls of this keep like a spider, if I needed to. I wouldn't be walking out the front gate."
He raises a hand at that. "Please, both of you…" Jacsen insists, albeit gently for the sake of them both and the subject they discuss. "There are no decisions to be made now, no stratagems that would even call for such things…" He draws a breath. "And even if it were so, there would be much to discuss. Your willingness to assist is greatly appreciated, Mistress, and I well understand your reluctance, Ser. Rest comfortable that, at least for now, it is a moot point."
Hardwicke gets a stubborn set to his chin that suggest further argument is forthcoming, but Jacsen cuts him short. Still looking displeased with where he's left, he nonetheless jerks his chin in something of a nod. "Aye, my lord," he says with only the bare hint of a grumble.
At least Belle doesn't look as though she's disappointed with that answer — so it's not as though she's wildly eager to put herself in danger. She's on record, and apparently content with that. She bows her head and curtsies once more. "My lord. Mother comfort you in your loss, and Stranger guide you in these strange days."
"Thank you both," Jacsen says, his shoulders straightening as he draws a steadying, audible breath. "For now, you can best serve by seeing to your betrothed, Mistress Beckett. And I think Ser Hardwicke will scarce have reason to debate you on that point." He even manages the faintest of smiles, though there is not much humor in it. "We will speak soon, I think. Keep safe, both of you."
Hardwicke scowls just a touch, although doesn't snark aloud. Terrick Heir and all that. He tips his chin in another nod that is not quite a bow, but he's been instructed to stay seated, after all.
Belle sidelongs a look at Hardwicke, apparently ready to get a dig in, herself — but she bites the inside of her cheek, and bows her head to Jacsen. "My lord."
After Jacsen leaves, Hardwicke continues his silence. His expression is creased and thoughtful and generally ill-at-ease. He scrubs his good hand through his hair and sighs a frustrated breath.
Belle kneels gracefully once more, taking Hardwicke's hands and kissing them both. "Don't be cross," she cajoles gently, gazing up at him.
"I am not being cross," Hardwicke attempts to argue, before he realizes the self-fulfilling prophecy of that particular debate. He lets out another slow breath, attempting to ease himself.
Belle nudges herself in between Hardwicke's knees, leaning up to kiss him. "Let's marry tonight."
Hardwicke bends to meet the brush of her lips, quickly growing tired and slumped after the roller coaster of the day. "Tonight?" he says with a weak laugh. "I don't know if I can manage that, my lady."
She smooths back his hair and kisses his forehead. "I would have thought you'd be more eager to get me before the septon, so you can begin bossing me around properly." But her expression is sweet and teasing when she pulls back, rising and offering him help to his feet. "Let's get you to bed, my lord."
"I just want you safe," Hardwicke argues, his voice a weary grouch as he stands slowly. "There's no need for you to go riding out into a mess of Ironborn raiders."
"And I want you safe," Belle replies gently, helping him to the bed. "Believe me, I'm in no hurry to put myself in that kind of peril — but if the ravens can't get through, there has to be another way. I'm sure Lord Jacsen has men he can send under normal circumstances, when we're not all trapped by an army at the gate…" she shrugs. "I made myself known. I'll serve if I'm needed, but only then. I promise you, I seek no glory."
"If ravens can't get through, we'll send one of our own men," Hardwicke says firmly as he settles slowly onto the bed.
Smiling, Belle kisses him again as he settles to bed, and again as she draws the covers up over him. "Thank you, Hardwicke," she murmurs.
Still looking somewhat disgruntled, Hardwicke nevertheless catches her hand between his large, callused fingers. "For what?"
"Caring," she whispers, nuzzling a kiss to his ear. "Wanting to protect me. I'll argue and fuss about it, from time to time, but I'll tell you a secret…" She smiles into his eyes, bending to kiss him once more. "It makes me feel cherished. And I rather like that."
"Mmrph," is all Hardwicke has to say to that. He pulls her in for a slow, tired kiss, and that is reply enough.