|A Pinch of Wolfsbane|
|Summary:||Maldred returns to the Twins. Jaimera has various demands, but so does he.|
|Related Logs:||Jaimera's last (and first) recorded appearance: Cadets and Courtesy|
|11th November, 289|
It has been a long time - contrary to carefully circulated impressions - some three months, in fact, and more, since Ser Maldred Rivers set eyes on the Twins that whelped and nurtured him. Arriving at the southerly portcullis on his fine bred, but bone weary warhorse, the bastard receives cheery catcalls from armsmen on duty who know him well enough - "Back so soon, are yer, ser?" "Here ter stay?" One wag sagely intones an old proverb: "Ev'n t'weariest rivers, 'e comes someday safe ter sea." Maldred, who has taken the greetings stonily enough until this point, calls back up - "But I have come away from the sea for now, Gurdren. Now open the gods-cursed gate."
For all the cheek, this latter request is jumped to with alacrity. Soon relieved of weary Graymalkin by a groom he more or less remembers, Rivers walks at ease, threading through courtyards and then corridors, his features almost softening, or maybe just…whetting. At last he is before a certain portal, inside a certain turret, knocking with a lump of iron cast in the form of a hanged man.
There is but one key to this heavy iron lock, and it resides by day in the keeping of the dour maidservant who sleeps somewhere within. She slides open the spy-hole, squanders a second or two in glowering at Ser Maldred, and then lifts down the bar and turns the key and stands by to let him pass.
The chamber above is that which serves Lady Jaimera Trant as a solar, or, more frequently, a lunar. Much of its circumference is spanned by high arching windows, all but one still draped with heavy, dusty black velvet. Rays of afternoon light trickle through the grubby panes of the one bared window, illuminating the dust stirred up in the air by its uncurtaining, and arrive eventually at the figure of a small woman, pale-skinned and dark-robed, rifling through the drawers of a writing-table hewn on a vast scale from some ancient oak. Four chests stand open and gaping between the immense trestle tables which house the accoutrements attached to her current enthusiasms. Parchments are weighted down with peculiarly-shaped rocks, brass bowls give off acrid fragrances — or are those to be attributed to the drying herbs hanging from every rafter? And nothing is where it was when last Ser Maldred entered here.
The lady has been closeted alone all day, that much may be discerned from the fall of tangled black and white hair about her shoulders and the informal nature of the dark midnight blue silk robe in which she is enveloped. A touch of white linen is visible at her throat. A hint of strain in her eyes. And a heaping portion of grumpiness about her tightly-pressed lips.
She shoves shut the current drawer and wrenches open the one below it, while her Frey-ferretish eyes glitter blackly across at her nephew. "You took your time," is her irritated greeting. "Come in and let me see how far you've run to seed."
The maidservant gets one of Maldred's select little if-we-were-on-the-outside-it'd-be-the-rope-for-you smiles, and an ironical nod, as the gallant knight strides past her and turns his attention to the domain within. His eyes are usually mobile enough, but now their motion is positively mercurial, and they also so look brighter than usual, even warmer. His aunt's set-up has never quite lost the power to allay his sarcastic spirit and genuinely amuse him. "What beauteous hangings, my lady. Your draperies always have that tasteful knack of bringing to mind your sigil…"
His posture as well as his words hint at Maldred's curious position here, favoured but formal, and held to long-decided, almost legalistic rules and privileges by a potent mixture of mutual consent and primal fear. He even swipes, with impatience, some filthy hair out of his eyes. "I blew about here and there, lady aunt, but wasn't much tempted to take root, any more than you were, in the event. Father sowed us both on barren land." The genealogical impossibility that Lady Jaimera is his aunt and Lord Walder is his father is another firmly maintained tradition. The oldest.
"You've no bloody idea," the erstwhile Lady of Gallowsgrey murmurs sourly, swiveling in her chair away from the travelworn knight and towards her open drawer.
She commences to empty it; and to the clutter already covering the writing table she adds three keys on a ring beginning to rust, a bundle the size of her fist wrapped in a length of linen beginning to yellow, three or four differently-sized sheets of parchment folded into roughly equal shapes and tied with a freying red ribbon, a thick white beeswax candle with copious dribbles of dried wax running down its sides, a dark metal coin which is closely scrutinised before it leaves her grasp, another parchment which tears as she inspects it and is scrunched up and *thrown* onto the pile, a small copper box which doesn't shut properly because of a bend in its lid, a string of blue glass beads which would probably be quite pretty with the dust removed, two more parchments she doesn't bother to examine, and the skeletal head of a small dog.
The last thing out of the drawer is a brown leather pouch. Its tightly-tied drawstrings yield to her clever little fingers; she sniffs the inside and recoils. "Garderobe," she snaps, dropping it into the hands of her maid, who, holding it at arm's length, retreats. "And don't come back to plague me with your incompetence," she shouts after the woman. A characteristic mood, today.
"Give me that pomander," she tells her nephew, indicating a familiar golden object resting on one of the nearer tables; it often hangs amongst her skirts. "And sit down," she nods to the carpets at her feet, "I already have an ache in the neck, I don't need to be staring up at you. Did they feed you well, in the territory of our" sniff "new vassals? You don't look it."
"Called back with all speed," the knight of Frey muses, loping towards the table his aunt had motioned, "plucked from a hornet's nest of armed and upstart drones, leaving your own niece alone and unprotected there…to pass you your pomander? Never let it be said, my lady aunt, that I was ever slow to obey." And he swings sidelong up to mount himself on the table board, throwing the pomander with fleet circumspection, that it might alight gently in Jaimera, Lady Trant's lap. "Have you any other, ah, feats to ask of me?"
Lady Jaimera brings the pomander to the vicinity of her nose with a snap of her wrist, and breathes deeply, exorcising the remembered fragrance of the brown leather pouch, which, it is to be hoped, has already embarked upon its long journey to the compost heap.
"I have enough nieces and nephews," she remarks, eyeing Ser Maldred, "that the loss of one to those vulgar saplings would make scant difference either way. My lord father's present penchant for settling observers in his vassal houses has provided me a much more immediate problem. I am, he commands, to set out for Broadmoor within the week, to keep watch on the Haigh broodmare and her ever-burgeoning nest of vipers."
The next drawer declines to open, its wood warped by age and damp. Lady Jaimera gestures to it and to her nephew and waits for the problem to go away.
The pasty-complexioned bastard pinkens for a moment; Lady Trant has uttered no compliment, precisely, nor is Maldred given to weaving them from sheer fancy, but his aunt's meaning is fairly clear - her trueborn nieces are expendable, and her bastard nephew required. Gratifying as this might be, he feels enough faint guilt at leaving his last 'charge' in the lurch to gainsay it. "Ser Jarod's younger girl, the one I left at Highfield, is one of your more able kinswomen, as you'd acknowledge, aunt, were you in a less captious mood or dire surrounding," he snaps back, his voice harmonising with her prior acidic asides as turtle-coo to turtle-coo. But her subsequent words break the pattern and leave him silent, apparently genuinely startled, for a moment.
"How unexpected. One would think the old man had learnt to let lying cats feign sleep," he improvises. "Your last…progress appeared to have proved as surely that your place was here, as it did that I am made for a little…manoeuvre. Still, if you are to go a-jaunting, then I should be pleased, aunt, once more to adorn your train…"
There is a small knife in his hand. It seems to have grown there. He stretches out a long arm, flexes a tough wrist, and the drawer, now opened, will, indeed, never close again.
When one sets Ser Maldred of the Crossing to eliminate a difficulty, one must be prepared for service above and beyond the call; that the drawer is now the most open in Westeros matters not to his aunt, when her need for it to be open is immediate and the problem of closing it may be deferred to the far, far future.
She sniffs again — a sniff of satisfaction, rare amongst her repertoire — and leans over to begin her inventory of its contents. Her hair falls forward about her face (it's a wonder she can see anything) and her robe, carelessly belted, slips silkily open over her fine old white linen nightdress. From the depths of hair and drawer comes a plaint:
"I asked for three knights to escort me. At first Father said two, but then I'm sorry to say the old goat tricked me. If I'm to have you and one other of my choice, the third must be the madman from Harrenhal. Apparently someone around here is trying to get rid of him. I've half a mind to *get rid of him* on the road and save us the bother of nursing him along."
The lean knight on the ashen table-top seems to relax his taut frame, and sway a few inches in the direction of that unleashed, straggling hair, those billowing, ink-spattered outer layers. Maldred does not, to get it straight, look amorous. He does not even look hungry. His anticipation is keen, but it is of the type of a professional fighter waiting for a field command known to entail violence, peril and promotion. For all that, his voice is calm and modulated as he objects, "The knight of Sevenstreams is already in the field, lady aunt, nor, as far as I know, has he returned to it with my…dispatch. I have but mixed tales to sing of him. He found me ably enough outside Stonebridge, and though he precipitated quite unnecessary bloodshed, he did it in style. But then I heard he got himself half-killed by a witch, then *fell in love* with her, and I've had no word from him since. So if you mean really to acquire him, you may have some other sorceress to contend with!"
Laying one booted and spurred foot to the ground, Maldred enquires with airy irreverence, "Are you looking for another knightly guardian in that drawer? Remember to unshrink him before we leave, my lady."
The lady straightens in her chair, slides shut the lid of a shallow rectangular wooden box she has discovered, and slides it onto the edge of the writing-table with a greater care than she has hitherto granted any of her bits and pieces. It is a plain enough box on the outside, but what she knows of its interior…
She corrects her nephew with a tongue marginally blunted by the sucess of her search. "If you've had no word from him it has been because he arrived here several days past, to a welcome neither sincerely felt nor warmly expressed, or so one of my rats told me." Her rats — her informants. Ser Maldred was once one of their number himself, or still is, depending upon the charity in which he is held by whomever you ask.
Then she shifts the box into her lap — it sits above the pomander, which has subsided into the narrow valley between her thighs — and opens it again. Two pouches rest within, both close cousins of the one lately sent down the garderobe. "As a matter of fact I was looking for this." She tugs at the strings of the first pouch, then offers it upon the palm of her hand for Ser Maldred's inspection of the whitish powder within.
"Try a pinch if you wish," she offers, though one look at her eyes would suggest the unwisdom of taking her up on her generosity.
From anyone else Maldred's smooth, rapid, mirthful reply would hide his surprise and annoyance more effectually. "Ah. Your niece loses her second pillar to you then; she was so looking forward to yarning ghost stories with Ser Symeon all night! I suppose *someone* must have got an order to him that overrode mine," that is, practically any word from practically any Frey…
The bastard doesn't expend energy in concealing his wariness at Lady Trant's apparent new delicacy, and, having drawn pretty close, he retreats an inch or two back onto the table, though gallantly adding, "Other dainties in your possession, my lady, would refresh me more bounteously, I hazard…"
There is little daintiness in the short laugh with which she answers his caution. Caution she, in large measure, has been the one to teach him, over the years of their inexplicable alliance. Still, she discerns his meaning; she leaves the question slumbering ominously between them for now, addressing it only with a sidelong eyeing of him as she encloses the pouch once more within its box.
"Have you met with any of our Haigh relations in your ramblings — have you any news of them which might be newer than mine?" she inquires instead.
And yet Maldred smiles as if her bark is a soft sound; they speak true when they say all the Freys save Alesander have queer taste in music. When the ominous substance is once more stashed away, he slides from his table and in a step leans over and close to the Lady Trant; until his progress is arrested by that odious talk of Haighs.
"Haighs and haystacks," he grumbles, "what care we now of either? I shot at least one lacquey with a pitchfork on his tunic at Stonebridge; I think he was quick a-dying. When their men aren't fawning on Charltons, their daughters seem to play at whoring all over the Cape. Oh, and they've stolen the vassalage of Fenster, a House rich only in idiot heirs. *What of them*, my lady…"
And there is no talk of auntdom now, let alone sisterhood, as Maldred at Jaimera's side scores along her waving, silvering hair with the rougher patina of dirty gold left on his travelled jaw…
Her messy monochromatic mane seems to flee his caress, borne by the lady's progress upwards onto her feet, then further upwards onto her tip-toes. Her fingertips tuck themselves into Maldred's sword-belt, that she might keep her balance as she leans into his throat, unheeding of all that his day on the road has done to enhance his manly musk.
Her mouth a fraction of an inch below his ear, she whispers, "I must get on with my packing." And then she draws in a long, slow, savouring breath, and permits her lips to touch his skin.
Those lips and the teeth they reveal make an exquisite progress south to a certain vein, half-concealed by the collar of his shirt, which has long enjoyed her most determined attentions. Her nephew, her brother, her knight-errant and errant knight — call him by whatever name, his lifeblood is hers to tease at, or hers to spill.
Too soon, she lets go and turns from him, toward her writing-table and the drawers as yet unfathomed. "Come back tonight, by the other door," she directs simply.
"Aye," the boy - he sounds a boy, for a moment, though nearer thirty than twenty, the depth of his voice a reeling, unsettled slur, "aye, my lady, I will. After all," he closes, with a recovery into his usual sharpness, "your old cat's-eyes 'd never find your pomander without me. Give Grizel a kick in the shin from me," Grizel being the luckless and disobliging skivvy who appeared earlier. Without further words, Ser Maldred Rivers of the Crossing retires to seek dispiritingly familiar quarters…those of the Lady Myrilla of Lys, sometime a lord's woman, now a knight's dam.