|A New Chapter|
|Summary:||Anathema and Bruce talk it out.|
|Date:||23 September 2012|
|Town Square, Stonebridge|
|The surrounding terrain has several small gullies and streams that feed into the waterfront area just adjacent to the town square, the sails of the boats visible over the tops of the buildings. The square is floored in the same heavy stone that the east docks and castle are constructed of while the buildings are a mix of the stone, wood, and mortar. There are quite a few fish vendors with their fragrant catches for sale among groups of tables which tend to be busy most of the time.|
|September 23, 289|
The men of Stonebridge have finally dispersed back to their homes; mostly. One Quarter of the men remain under arms, while the two Quarters of Hag's Mire men are still standing on guard for the beleagured township. What do the rest do, now that they've been let go from their standard? They rebuild. Having already shifted most of the rubble out of the way whilst waiting for a second Charlton attack, they're busy sorting things out in that respect. For Ser Bruce, however, his concern remains completely martial. The Master at Arms may not fear another attack but he is certainly prepared for one. He is inspecting the White Quarter of Hag's Mire, fifteen of whose men were taken out of battle by wounds or death. Mostly wounds, luckily, given the skill of Nayland healers and the fact that there hadn't been a rout.
From the Stone Walk, two horsed riders walk lazily along the cobbles with the rhythmic clopping of hooves. It is almost obvious by their horses alone that one is a noblewoman while the other is a maidservant. Lady Anathema Nayland rides on a coal-colored geldling that is more courser than palfrey, which is the horse of most noblewomen; her maid rides on a dappled mare who is quite shorter than the Lady's horse. They are taking stock of the state of this township, and Anathema wears a rather steady frown. "Do you think it will recover, Milady?" Says the young maid, which casts Ana's gaze in her direction. Her frown remains steady. "It will have to," is all she replies. Now her gaze focuses on Ser Bruce, guiding her horse in his direction.
Bruce nods at the Quarter Serjeant - a tough, middle aged smith from Hag's Mire. The latter salutes Bruce, who returns it with a flash of his sword in front of his face. Bruce pivots on his foot and walks back out so he can address the militia. "White Quarter - attention!" There is the snap of near fourty boots sliding together. "Advance - pike!" In unison, the well drilled, battle hardened men shoot their pikes up to be held in their right hands, against their shoulders but not quite resting. Ser Bruce's normally sleepy, now attentive blue eyes had already spotted Anathema and her maid. "White Quarter - to the Lady Steward - salute!" The men, already in a saluted position remain still. Bruce and the Serjeant, though, lift their blades in front of their faces.
As the women continue their advance toward the Master of Arms and his pikemen, Lady Anathema has honed her attention in on the former. It is probably a good thing that Bruce keeps his men so well-trained, or perhaps some would already be whispering about Tyroan's woods-witch wife. "Ah, Ser Bruce," she says as she comes within several feet of the man, slowing her dark-colored steed to an obediant halt. She recognizes some of these men, in fact some have given into their own desperations to come pleading for a woods-witch's draught when others have failed — though they would never admit it. With a gentle curving of her lips, she keeps her focus on Bruce. "The war is done, but still you do not let the men let down their guard?"
Bruce lowers his sword, and now, bows his head at Lady Anathema. Before he answers her, he nods at the Serjeant who in turn dismisses the men back to their duties. That done, Stonebridge's Master at Arms is free to discuss with the Lady Steward. As he's sliding his sword back into its scabbard, he replies, "The men of the Mire will be departing shortly. m'lady. Likely in the next day or two. But as your nephew Ser Rygar is fond of saying - Drill costs nothing, but preparation is priceless. I find this an able maxim for most situations, m'lady."
Anathema bows her head toward the Mire men, offering them gentle smiles. "Your families will be good to have you home," she says to them before her dark eyes settle back on Bruce. With a nod of her head, she sweeps out of her saddle with a flutter of dark emerald skirts. She is followed suit by the maid girl, a woman easily half the age of the noblewoman herself. She steps toward the knight, pulling off her supple riding gloves. "And it sounds as though it was that preparation that assured we did not lose our footing here at Stonebridge, Ser Bruce," she says, admiration in her contralto tones.
"That certainly played a part in it. As did the timely intervention of the men of House Erenford and finally, luck. The Gods happened to be on our side that day." Bruce answers smoothly, shrugging mailed shoulders. "But our men are easily the best non-professional soldiers in the Riverlands. That's why I insist on them being called militia, m'lady - they are not mere levies." He smiles in pride. It doesn't appear to be haughty self pride, but rather pride in the accomplishments of soldiers he's been put in charge of.
DUMP: Brynner composes awkward, adolescent sonnets to the database.
"A militia," Ana repeats with a slow-growing smile — smooth and graceful gesture of full lips that lightly touch the dark pits of her eyes. "Then I will call it so, Ser. I would not dare make these men feel lesser for their superior work." She turns a bit, glancing along the earthworked streets and fire-scarred walls. She frowns a bit. "How long, do you think, will it take us to restore the streets and repair the fire damage? There is already work that the merchants will be returning soon, as will the families we escorted out of these walls… I would want to see them return to something that they can still call home."
"This, m'lady, I don't know. I'm not an experienced builder. Serjeant Burroughs of the Yellow Quarter is, however, a master carpenter. Likely best to talk to the experts on that. I try to stick to my narrow experience and expertise." Says Bruce, clasping his hands behind his back. He observes the men working on burned wrecks for a moment before returning his attention.
Ana sighs, bowing her head a bit in understanding. "There is always a mess to clean up, isn't there?" She inquires, perhaps more or less to herself. She casts a glance toward the man now, her lips drawn into a thin line. "I have a question for you, Ser Bruce, one that I hope you will find it your heart to answer honestly. My Husband and I have always been a bit outside my goodbrother's family. The Gods would say this whole thing could have been avoided… had my nephews not made a mess of these things… how badly have my nephews behaved?"
Bruce doesn't immediately answer the question. He instead glances over his shoulder to the left and to the right. He is evasive. "Would the Lady say that it is a common born knight's place to answer such a question?"
The Flint-blooded woman is silent for a long moment, her ear turned to her right as if listening to the flutter of a whisper from an unseen shade. When her gaze settles once more on the knight, she offers him a smooth smile. "The Lady would say that if she asks the common born knight, she is giving him the opportunity to speak his peace to willing ears. I could ask my goodbrother's sons, but I would be thrown into tales of righteousness and duty. I would rather hear the truth than try to decipher it from flowery words and excuses."
"They are excellent warriors, the three of them. I knew Ser Ryker for years when I served Lord Hoster in Riverrun, and he is why I came here in the first place. But unfortunately, they are not adept at political maneuverings." Unburdened by any further feeling of modesty, Bruce is going to spill all of his thoughts into words it appears. "Ser Riordan in particular misstepped many, many times. He would listen to good advice and then disregard it when it came time to act. His brother, Ser Rutger, was only given the signet ring of House Nayland too late. He too tried his hands at politicking and I would say with much greater success - it was him who brought House Erenford onto our side. But the rumours that've swirled about him for years persist and cripple any effort to act as a negotiator. He is disliked by many. Unjustly or not, many in the Cape see him and the House in general as oathbreakers, liars and distasteful. So, that is where the House is at right now. As for Lord Rafferdy, well, he is no diplomat."
The Nayland woods-witch entwines her hands together, fingers crossing over fingers as she listens to the Master of Arms speak on Rickart's sons. A steady frown pulls at the corner of her lips, and by the end, all she can do is sigh. "Quite a bit of clean-up," she murmurs a bit. She straightens up her spine, standing taller despite being a few inches Bruce's lesser. "Yes, I've heard some whispers about Lord Rafferdy as of late… how he is thrown into the wild winds over a Haigh woman, and willing to do anything including marring his family's reputation to win her." She shakes her head, drawing her fingers across her brow.
"I don't speak of that, for it is none of my business. As far as I'm aware, he's doing nothing untoward. He's fought here and served as a scout and in my mind, performed admirably. It is important, m'lady, that we understand the situation which House Nayland finds itself in at the moment." Bruce jerks his thumb to the river and the lands across it. It appears that Anathema has opened the floodgates to the knight's thoughts, ones that are not easily closed. "Our only friend is House Erenford, through generous and well thought out accords offered by Ser Rutger. Everyone else is either indiferrent, unfriendly or outright hostile. We may have won the small battle at Stonebridge's foot but there will be more to come if we are as blase this time as we were last. It is of utmost importance that we be seen to be good neighbours now that House Frey has called its bannermen back to their own territory. For instance - the huge harvest that was bought up from House Groves and originally intended for the Terricks served well as a backup in the siege. It was meant to feed the Roost for many months, until their own harvest. But it was never delivered, a slight they rightly must feel. We are their neighbours and it is critical that we now deliver some of that grain to them, as well as seed grain. Keep enough for Stonebridge to get back on its feet and give the rest to the Terricks as good will for the broken marriage accords."
That catches Anathema's ear, and she turns her gaze back toward the Knight with a tilt of her head. "Now, Ser Bruce… you know as well as I that we bought up the Groves harvest for a substancial amount of coin because the Terricks needed it. There was no negotiation for the price, neither. Lord Groves said what he wanted for it, and we gave it." She glances toward Bruce. "We will no longer feud with the Terricks in such a manner, nor will we break accords we make." She breathes out a sigh. "Nor will we wait until Stonebridge is back on it's feet before we make amends with the Terricks. They are in an accord with the House that just tried to take this township by the point of a sword."
"Yes, an accord they entered into because we failed to deliver the grain as promised. They needed some kind of relief. We could have been seen as true, steadfast neighbours, m'lady, but are viewed with a narrow disdain because we politicked. I was assured that we were going to put the good of the Cape first, but for one reason or another we did not. We must be seen as doing so now, m'lady." Bruce is sticking to his original point.
"We are in agreement, Ser Bruce." Anathema sighs, reaching up to rub at her shoulder and the stretch of muscle that connects it to her neck. She casts a glance toward the Master of Arms once more, her hand still perched against her shoulder. She shakes her head a bit, tilting her gaze up to beyond one of the sorrowful, empty houses. "It is time to write a new history for the Naylands, and we will need strong and solid men and women both to ensure that these things do not repeat."
Bruce has nothing else to say on the matter, apparently, at least not at this moment. He relaxes in posture and lets his arms fall to his sides, nodding. The knight offers a simple, "Aye, m'lady."
The Nayland bows her head gently to the man. "Mara and I will be continuing to journey about the town. I assume it should be safe enough without an armed escort," she half-asks, half-states.
"It will be, m'lady. Should you need anything, feel free to find me." Bruce bows his head back and waits for Anathema to depart.
Anathema departs, she does!