|An Element of Truth|
|Summary:||Tommas and Kittridge discuss whether it is better to tell the truth or spare someone the ache with a lie.|
|Related Logs:||Punch Drunk Love Minus The Drunk and Runaway Cats|
|By the River — Stonebridge|
|A willow tree growing near the river.|
|May 5, 289 A.L.|
Finding out which way Kittridge rode won't be difficult, nor are there that many lordlings on fine horses galloping at high speed through the area, even these days. With a little help from witnesses, and a good guess or two, the vanishing Groves can be found by the river, his horse tethered nearby, munching happily, Kit himself sitting beneath a particularly picturesque willow tree, glaring seriously at the water as it goes past.
In the unlikely case those elements fail to aide him, Tommas knows his Lord well enough to have a fair idea of the places he seeks for quiet. He has been in his service for a great many years, now. The ugly beast he calls a horse is ground tied; there is little worry anyone will steal Buttercup and he treds through the grass to join his lord under the willow tree. "My mother used to say willows were for lovers," he comments, his large frame angling out a patch of light next to Kittridge in shadow. "Something about the way they grew together and would twine."
Kittridge looks over at the shadow and recognizes it well enough to remain where he is and not bother turning to identify the big knight as he approaches. "My mother said they reminded her of Nic and me," he says, with a snort. He picks at the grass, twining and tearing blades between his fingers, and finally looks up at Tommas. "Sit down, you're blocking the sun."
"Growing like weeds and needing to be cut back now and then?" Tommas opines of the elder Lady Groves' opinion of her twins with a raise of his brows. That does sound like them. "Aye. I do that," the big man agrees, casually lowering himself to ground to sit beside Kittridge.
"Something like that," says Kittridge. He leans back against the tree and picks at the grass some more, and then says, "Tommas, I need you to keep a secret. From everyone. You'll do that, right?"
"'Course I will, Lord Kitt. When've I not kept your words?" Tommas replies easily, scratching a finger across his blunt nose as he looks to his lord with a grin.
"Never," agrees Kittridge, "But you'll want to tell people this one," he says, "You'll want to tell Rosie. And maybe you should, I don't know," he sighs heavily, and rubs at his face, "But I'll need you not to, if I say so."
His sworn sword squints at him a little for that, uncertainty filtering into his features. "I will swear it, my Lord. So long as your swear to tell the wee lass when it is right," Tommas offers slowly, trusting his Lord's judgement in all things involving his sister. "Don't tell me that ye got yourself in a secret marriage as well, m'Lord? There seems a right rash of those going around."
Kittridge laughs, and shakes his head. "No, Gods, no, Tommas, Seven." He rubs at his face and then says, "I almost wish it was that… except that I don't. But no, it's—" He hesitates, even with that promise, and then spits it out: "Nic is here. In Stonebridge."
"No, you don't," Tommas interjects dryly. Rosanna would have a goddamn fit. One secret wedding is enough. He watches his Lord expectantly, waiting out the stumbling and hesitation with easy good nature. Good nature that darkens unexpectedly at the reveal of Kittridge's secret. "Aye?" The big man wonders idly — like a big animal sighting his prey. "And what do you want done of it, Kitt?"
"I don't know," Kittridge replies to Tommas, "That's the problem, isn't it? He's here. He was on the Isles, too," he says, "And at Seagard? I saw him, when Brynner's horse went down, but I thought I was imagining it, and he never showed up again. He came with the Blackwood, and… I ran into him, at the common house, down by the water. Says he wants to come say hello to everyone before he leaves again."
"That…" Brow dark with irritation, Tommas pauses over exactly what to call Nicodemus that doesn't implicate the Lord of Lady Groves in an unflattering manner. "…craven spirit of a thrice fucked whoreson." That'll do. Nice work, Tommas. "My Lord…if I might say, it'd like be best that he doesn't come see the little Lady if he isn't going to shackle his goddamn boots to the floor and stay. Pardon my language. I hope you gave him a fair greeting for his visit, all this damn time." (re just in case)
Kittridge snorts at Tommas, and rubs at his cheek, leaning his head on it to listen to the knight's opinion. "That's what I told him," he says, "Better not to see them at all if he's just going to go away again. He asked if I'd deliver letters and I said maybe. But if Rosie finds out he was here and I didn't tell her… she'll be even more angry, won't she? If anyone finds out, they would be, I think. That they could've seen him and I didn't let them."
"True enough, the little lady has a temper on her like — a damn hornet." A hand rubbing at the back of his neck, Tommas's gaze drifts away from his Lord to the river that runs by at their feet. "She may not forgive you for that." But. "If she knew, that is. What she don't won't hurt her sweet heart, though. The lass sobbed for weeks. Do ya want me to take these letters from him, my Lord? Say I was passing by and some bloke handed 'em to me from — whatever seven blasted place he came in from?" Solemn blue eyes look back from the river to Kitt, not a hint of humor in them as he offers a rare lie to his liege.
"Worse than a hornet, these days," says Kit dryly. He's quiet for a few minutes, thinking, and shrugs. "Maybe that'd be best," he says, "I don't know." He rubs at his face some more and says, "But what if… what if seeing them made him decide to stay?" he asks, "Would it be worth chancing it? He said the first time, if he'd had to say goodbye he couldn't've left."
"Tell Day to quit feeding her so much honey, it doesn't do much for her sting." The joke falls a little flat, kindly meant as it is. "My Lord…Kitt. If I might speak frankly?" Tommas requests seriously, never so formal with his long time lord and friend as he is now.
Kittridge lets the joke pass, and then nods at the serious request. "Please," he invites.
"Your brother," there is no lord to dignify him as such in Tommas's opinion, "Abandoned his kin, his home, his consequences and any semblance of what makes up a man's honor. A man such as that…a goodbye won't make a damn lick of difference in his dealings, my Lord. It didn't then and it won't now. It sounds pretty to think it might. But, truth is if he wanted to face what he'd done and what he was doing, then he bloody well would have said his goodbyes to start." The stark displeasure in his expression softens after a moment and the knight offers a crooked smile. "My apologies, M'Lord. If I over-spoke."
Kittridge frowns, but it is his thinking frown, not his 'shut up, Tommas' frown. "That's… I guess that's all true," he says, though he doesn't sound entirely sure, "But then… why come back at all?" he asks, "Why come back all this way, or let me know he's here, if he didn't care?"
"Regrets'll temper even the most craven of men. I just don't put much stock in people changing like that," Tommas replies simply, leaning his arm against a bent knee. "It don't mean he don't care, but it does mean that he still cares less than he does for himself. I'll promise you that."
"But if he regrets it," frowns Kittridge, "Then maybe he'd change his mind. And even if he doesn't," he says, "Shouldn't they get to shout at him and punch him, too? Shouldn't I let them pick?"
"I can't rightly say." Tommas strums his fingers against his knee, watching his Lord from beneath a furrowed brow. "Just know that I would do whatever I must to keep your family from seeing that heartbreak again. I am your man, Lord Kitt. Whatever you decide."
Kittridge leans his forehead on his knee and scrubs at the back of his head, sending his hair into wild disarray. "I don't know how to decide," he grumbles. "I wish he'd just written to father, or gone to see Day or Rosanna or something. Or just stayed away. Or just come back. Or something. Why do I have to fucking choose?"
"I can't say I know that neither." That big hand is lifted from his knee, laid to clasp Kittridge's shoulder in a companionable squeeze. Tommas adds, "Like as not…were it not that you ran into him that day, you might have never known. But you have, m'Lord."
"But I have," Kittridge echoes, nodding, "And I guess I'll just have to decide somehow." He makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, half-groan, half-growl. "I'm going to punch him again for making me choose," he mutters, and then sits up to lean back against the tree, and changes the subject. "So what do you make of this Rutger Nayland wanting to court Rosanna, Tom? I know you'll keep a close eye on him for me."
Tommas gives Kitt one more clap on the back, hard enough to make an impression but not enough to knock the Lord over, and removes his hand. "I think that it's my turn, there." Punching Nicodemus. On the subject of Rutger Nayland, the knight screws up his face a bit and gives the shadow along his jaw a scratch. "Only that she thinks him quite fine, speaking to the honey and the hornets, my Lord. She was in quite a state over the men of Stonebridge proceeding that duel. I can't say I like a man for the little lady with such rumors lurking around him," he offers dryly. "My eye'll be so close he'll barely think to breath, my Lord, but he won't lay a finger on her."
"Good," says Kit to the last, with a nod, and then another. "She does seem to like him, more than I'm pleased with just now. I don't know what to make of him, and I don't like the rumors either. I guess I'm hoping if they court either she'll change her mind about him or we will." He scratches at the back of his head again, and admits, "I'd just as soon not see her marrying anybody, or at least not for another five years or something, but I know that's not really an option."
"Five years is a long time for a women of that age. Gods, wee Rosie a woman at that," Tommas utters with a disbelieving shake of his head. "My own sister got wed last year, fair bit older than the little lady as she is. Did it up with that nice Fischer lad, Olyver. Good lad." He smiles somewhat fondly at the thought of her goodbrother. "Less courtships, simpler things. Aye thought, that'll give you some time to see things to rights. Better a long courtship than a bad Lord, I think."
"I remember you saying," Kit nods of Tommas's sister, "Always seemed like a nice family, the Fischers. Glad that's working out for her." He sighs, and says, "She's only sixteen. It wouldn't be strange if she didn't wed for a couple years. People only start to think it's odd after twenty, and even then, twenty one, twenty two… not SO unusual."
Tommas chuckles at that. "M'Lord, I am afraid you are feeling a brother's protective stirrings…that ain't nothing that can keep the lasses from marriage. Better to see them done right while you still have time than delay and be desperate, now you have some time to be choosy." That may not always be the case.
"Can too," Kittridge says a bit sullenly, and then rolls his eyes, and waves a hand, "I know, I know. She'll have to marry and well and there's nothing I can do about it. But I'm still not convinced this Nayland match is good enough. Even if he's not a murderer, they're a poor house unless they keep Stonebridge, and that's far from a sure thing. And their castle's not that nice. And he's got two sons already, so Rosanna's wouldn't inherit, and that's if Isolde's child by Ryker isn't a son who'd bypass them all anyway. I just… I don't know. I guess it's just a… crush. Or something. That she's got. And we'll have to ride it out."
"Well, my Lord, you have time to ride that out. She may find herself with a better offer or maybe that Mallister boy'll come out in mourning far enough to be an option." The big man shrugs and then grins crookedly, idly recalling, "And if the Lady's humors are anything like yours were at that age — what was her name? Down in the village? That pretty little brunette bit you mooned over for a right age?"
"Ha!" Kittridge barks a laugh, "Sindra. Sindra Sawyer. Rosanna had best not get up to anything even close to what she and I did before she wised up and broke my poor little teenaged heart," he says, smirking at the memory. "But aye. The courtship's bought us time, to see what happens before having to choose. That's what I was figuring on when I agreed. That and she'd be acting as she is anyway so might as well put a name to it," he adds dryly, "I could barely get her to stop throwing herself in his path even when I said it seemed desperate."
"From what I recall of old Sawbones, she broke more hearts than yours alone, my lad. Skinniest little thing when we were younger, but gods did she grow up well. I think she had another one on the way…last I saw her." All the goings on of a village. The mention of Rosanna's behavior causes a low laughter to bellow up from the giant's chest. "Tell 'er she'll be boring to him if she keeps that up," Tommas suggests with an unrepentant smile. "There's nothing than a lass hates more than to not be exceptional to her beau."
"Another? Mother keep her," says Kittridge, a little wonderingly, and then laughs, "Yeah, I'll try that next time. I really hope she just decides she doesn't like him. Or he doesn't like her. She can be obnoxious," he says, as if Tommas hasn't noticed, "She's been such a brat lately. I think we might've spoiled her too much," he shakes his head, though without real concern (which is a shame, since it's clearly true).
"Aye." Tommas raises his brows in amusement at Kittridge's wisdom on the subject of Rosanna's behavoir. "I hadn't noticed," he notes dryly. Liar. "Only worse with her name day coming up, she practically ordered poor Merel off the roof after that cat o'hers. I wouldn't have thought something so spoiled could more so fast."
Kittridge snorts at Tommas's dry reply, "Well, his mistress moves quick enough, Barristan must've learned it from her." He shakes his head, "I don't know, Tommas. I thought we'd taught her better than this. She practically threw a tantrum at me the other day, in the middle of the tower hall, in front of Lady Roslyn."
"That she can. Not quick enough that my Merel couldn't catch 'em though," Tommas notes with a touch of pride, a grin crinkling the corners of his eyes at the memory. A lift of brows accompanies that note about Rosanna's temper. "Well, the little lady is used to getting what she likes. Quick as she is, the wee thing hasn't had much cause to need to be so mindful. I expect it'll be on you to be her escort to …whatever you nobility do with your time." He sounds a bit bemused at all of that.
"Just try to remember Merel's a person, Tom," Kittridge reminds, teasing dryly, "Not a wild animal. Much as she acts like one sometimes." As for his sister, he shakes his head, "I try. And you know what we do with our time, you doof. Don't play the know-nothing bumpkin with me. But I try to keep her in line, but… I don't know. She's still a child just playing at being a lady, and sometimes she gets it right and I forget, but then she stomps her foot as soon as she doesn't get her way and it's like she's eight all over again. Except what she wants is to go marry Lord Rutger for the castle that's not even his. I don't know, Tom. Why does everything have to be so difficult?"
"You certain of that, my Lord? That wee bit has some teeth in her." Tommas grins at his lordship, bright and fond of his founderling. "She's doing alright. Although I don't think the little lady will ever forgive her for not being one of my pets." He drums his fingers against his knee, humming a fragment of a familiar tune as he listens. His shoulders rise and fall in a shrug at the dismissal of himself as a country bumpkin. "I know what you do with your time, Kitt. Less so some of the airs about this town. I don't think she wants to marry him though, not quite and not yet. I think she wants to want to, because it's the first castle that's been so offered — never you mind, she'd throw it away for a trip to King's Landing." Squinting a little at Kittridge, he ceases his drumming on his knees. "Because it's life, m'Lord. My mother did say, Nothing ever happens but because it can. No good complaining, just need to do what you can."
Kittridge chuckles about Merel, and then shrugs, "I think the folks here do much what we do. Read and ride and talk and things. And get married in secret and steal each other's land and have duels and gods know what else. I don't know, Tom. If it weren't good for business I might say we should go home straight off. But." He shrugs, and sighs again at the advice from Mistress Belte, and nods. "I guess that's so."
"See. A far more complicated lot. My ma'd have my damn ears if I got married without her right and present," Tommas retorts warmly, "And never you mind that duel nonsense. A man ought to be able to sort it out right and proper." Like a brawl. There is a reason he was meant for an unconventional knighthood and no other. "Aye, Kitt. You just say the word thought and we can." Leave. "Of course it's so, you wouldn't want to be the one to say otherwise to my mother now would you?" He gives his lordship a light clap on the shoulder. "Come on then, time to be heading back and you're looking like you need a beer."
"Yeah, I guess you're right they. It does seem to be a regular viper's nest around here. We'll have to keep our ears open, too," Kit advises, "If things blow up we'll want to be leaving, quickly. Preferably before they blow up." He chuckles, and shakes his head, "No, ser, I will never be correcting your mother on anything," he laughs, "I've seen her wield a ladle." He takes a deep breath at the clap on the shoulder, and nods. "Aye, so it is and so I do." He hauls himself to his feet, and thumps the knight on the back in turn. "Thanks, Tommas."
"Aye. Be needing to let Day keep apace of that, she's got ears where we might not." The giant of knight hauls himself to his feet with a slow nod, easing back into a smile as he does. "Good plan, my Lord." Hers is a deadly ladle, met with little resistance among beast and man. Tommas's smile cants all that much wider at the solid press of Kitt's hand on his shoulder, answering with a simple, "Of course, my Lord Kitt."