Page 481: At the Sign of the Potted Hare
At the Sign of the Potted Hare
Summary: The Frey embassy to Broadmoor pauses at an inn. Hare is denigrated, curlew spurned and goose savaged.
Date: 16/11/2012
Related Logs: A Pinch of Wolfsbane
Jaimera Maldred Symeon 
An inn of mixed repute, not far from Broadmoor
Exterior, hallway, private dining-room
16th November, 2012

Almost precisely three-quarters of the way betwixt the twin fortresses of the Crossing and the splendid crenellations of Broadmoor Keep, a wayside inn is suffering an influx of surly armed men — and one very particular lady.

The staff has had an hour or more to prepare, courtesy of the guardsmen and maids who rode ahead of the main party, the former to inspect the clientele and throw out anyone suspected of looking at them in a funny way, the latter to clean and prepare their mistress's chamber. Yet tempers are still, as it were, freyed, from the innkeeper hustled into a clean apron by his fretful wife all the way down to the skinniest and most abused kitchen-slavey weeping as she turns a hastily-stuffed goose upon its spit.

They are, here, as accustomed as anyone can be to visits from the sneering scions of House Frey; but there is a difference between the casually violent striplings and jumped-up chits of girls who mostly comprise the younger generations of the house, and one of its elder ladies. Lady Jaimera Trant, called Frey, has passed this way before; and suspicions still smoulder in certain quarters regarding a possible connection between the rat she claimed to have seen run across the common-room before her very eyes — and a tax increase which followed some weeks later.

"And after all," the innkeeper whines as his apron-strings are fastened too tightly about his corpulent middle by impatient wifely hands, "she didn't even pay her shot."

"She paid most of it," his wife puts in, arguing purely for the sake of argument, though on the occasion in question she had been most aggrieved that her best efforts with a potted hare were thought unworthy of compensation, "and that's just the way of it with the nobility. Like the bloody weather, ain't they. Y' just have to put up with it."

Nothing is really entirely ready by the time the boy set to keep watch reports the approach of a large party of horses. But at least Lady Jaimera's own sheets are on her bed, Lady Jaimera's own herbs have been burned in her fireplace to scent her air, and Lady Jaimera's own attendants are lined up in the yard ready to greet her as, with a grimace of vile distaste, she dismounts from her grey gelding into the waiting arms of a bastard nephew who has leapt down from his steed a breath beforehand.

Gloved hands brushing, aggravatedly, futilely, at the dust which has dared to adhere to her blackish divided skirts, she turns her back upon her own train. "Ser Symeon, see the proper arrangements made for the men," she orders, her voice high in pitch and volume alike. "Ser Maldred, attend me. Bring my case."

This case is an object of thick, well-cured leather, with a complicated lock. In it the lady keeps… assorted documents. It is Ser Maldred's special charge when they travel together, though it is doubtful whether even he knows what it contains.

Naturally the innkeeper, resplendent in his apron, is standing by also, ready to let loose a torrent of servile welcomes and good wishes; however, a sharp gesture from the lady's little hand (she is a small woman, in every dimension) cuts him off in mid-pander. "Yes, yes, my good man, let us take all of that for granted," she declares crisply. "I shall dine before my bath. You have set aside a room? Very well, show me to it, and bring whatever you have in the way of wine," her expression is not optimistic, "for me and my knights. Hurry up!"

This final injunction is barked at one of her maids, who is slow to join the party as it marches up the stairs.

While certainly swift to dismount and vigilant of his very particular load, Rivers keeps half an eye while he can to the horse he has just relinquished, the white Greymalkin, the only warhorse with whom he has much rapport, and one that returns the compliment. It may even be a kindness, after a fashion, that prevents the bastard knight from making use of a squire, and before he lets the free house's unpromising gables claim him Maldred gives the retainer who got Greymalkin's restively taut bridle a hard, sly look. Not concern, not contempt, of neutral appraisal.

Then he shrugs and carries on staying minutely within his lady aunt's beck, pausing only to amuse himself by ever-so-accidentally treading on one of the younger and more eager retainers’ sandaled right foot with a boot half mailed, half nailed, on his way through.

Half knight, half valet - the quasi-Whent is arrayed in the river and steel blues of his father's house, if one can call a broken down tower house and a few skins of land a knightly demesne. Symeon dismounts and directs a curt look to the stable boy who takes the reins of his slim white courser. "See that he's fed and watered." A green copper penny flipped to the boy-and a glance to Walder's Bastard. The hardline of his mouth tilts into a sardonic smirk as Maldred's mailed feet crunch upon the boy's toes. Symeon spares the boy a stare that would curdle milk and dry udders.

"Wear it with pride boy, you're not a man until you're scarred." At the dowager Lady Trant's words, Symeon bows and turns to the serjeants and men-at-arms in her long tale.

The Lady's men, for their part, spare hungry and more than a few begrudging looks to the inn; the air is heavy with the scents of roasting goose and potted hare.

"Quit lollygagging. Set the watch. An archer on the balcony beneath Lady Jaimera's room-a man on either door to the common room-any one of you who nods off before he's relieved will look like the Dragon Prince after –His Grace- did for him."

One man, rather a squire looks to the half-bat. "But Ser you haven't."

The knight of Seven scratches rounds upon the man and glares at him with icy eyes. "I'll find a warhammer half again as massive as the bloody Us … His Grace's."

The former Lady of Gallowsgrey sniffs loudly upon being introduced to the chamber set aside for her evening meal; and whilst standing before the fire to chase the cool of the early summer evening from her tired bones, she reaches up to run a still-gloved fingertip across the mantel.

Another sniff. But she confines her remarks to ordering the innkeeper to leave her, and ordering her maid to bring her, first, the bowl of perfumed water already waiting for her to wash her hands, and second, once she is sitting down at the head of the table, her comfortable fur-lined indoor slippers. Ser Maldred, presently still the grubbiest of her cavaliers, she permits to dispose himself as he wishes, within the parameters long ago established between them.

The maid, a drab creature of forty or more, worn down by long service at the Twins, kneels upon the rushes and commences the unlacing of her lady's solid, steel-toed boots. Lady Jaimera receives her attentions without further acknowledgment of her presence; but "I hope they've laid on something better than that godsforsaken potted hare," she comments eventually, casting a suspicious glance toward the door through which, at some juncture, her dinner shall be borne.

For his part, the leathern-clad cavalier of the Crossing exercises himself clearing a side table - a cheap earthernware vessel will serve the soil much better now it's in its constituent particles - and whacking down upon it a dark haversack getting darker as blood seeps through. The unveiling reveals a once elegant and affectionate brace of curlew, together in death as in life as they swing from a common shaft. The none-too fresh-and-fayre maid is his next object of attention (the last time she got that was the last time she was fresh or fayre, as it happens) - "Grizel, isn't it? Go and get these on a solider spit. They surely hung long enough saddleside, and 'll savour subtler than lesser prey of the field. And bring ser lovesick up here on your way back, quick quick."

Insofar as Maldred is entertained by any of his fellow knights at the Twins, it is Symeon, but despite, or rather because of that, the Whent offshoot has come in for a lot of remorseless mockery on the road so far about his rumoured love affair with an insatiable witch. After all, Maldred's something of an expert on that sort of thing.

"Grizel's the other one," his aunt mentions. A beat later, "As I recall."

The machinations whereby Symeon Sevenstreams was incorporated into Lady Jaimera's train for her journey to Broadmoor would be lengthy and tedious to recount; it is enough, perhaps, to say that this arrangement does not overjoy her, and that she has found already during the course of today's leisurely ride eleven or twelve ways in which to infuse Ser Symeon and Ser Maldred alike with similar sentiments. But neither her deliberate slights nor her unconscious ones extend to setting him to share a crust with the common guards — she has on the one hand a passion for measuring substances at their worth and seeing each put in its proper place, and on the other hand, the quite sensible view that the best way to make a fellow's life uncomfortable is up close.

So when Ser Symeon makes his belated entrance, on the trail of maids local and imported who between them are carrying an enormous platter of roast goose, she nods and points him to a chair opposite Ser Maldred's, at her left hand as her nephew is at her right.

The innkeeper nips in last and offers to carve the goose. "Have I not knives enough about me?" Lady Jaimera drawls, and waves him out again.

The Knight of Sevens enters into the dowager Lady Trant's room and despite the long ride he looks immaculate. Symeon's assiduous attention to cleanness is only so effective. His doublet, trousers, and tunic have the fresh look of garments drawn lately from saddle pouches-but his boots are lately stained with mud from the walk across the field before the inn's faade. "My Lady of Trant, Ser." Symeon bows to the former, and nods to Ser Maldred-he unclips his cloak handing off the heavy thing of green wool and mangy wolfs fur and attached sword cloak pin to one of Lady Trant's maids.

He stands before them in wool and fur though his mind is girded in ephemeral mail.

Champion-or no. Hedge Knights do not court disowned ladies- not in realm wherein Ser Maldred and Lady Jaimera dwell -nor in any realm. Symeon sits, only after his better offers his a chair.

"The watch is set, my Lady of Trant, none of their number will be remiss in the execution of their duties." Symeon's face flushes as he sits straight as a bent spear in the chair. "I wager they fear no one in the Seven Kingdoms half as much as Seven Scratches - none save Ser Maldred."

The bastard, though his pared down shape, shining chill eyes, and yellowly lupine teeth don't taken together leave the viewer with an unfamished impression, gives the hecatomb of goose a very dirty look. "T'll be damned greasy, that, lady aunt. Much less acute, er, tang than curlew. And as for Grizel," he adds with a genial, soft falsity, "call me sentimental, but I like to think of 'em all as Grizel. Ah, the gallant swain," Rivers rounds off upon Ser Symeon's entry.

"Dressed for the part as usual, but you need not lie your way into it too, before us. Our scullions fear none but our lord father, and our only present task is to ensure yon haygatherers feel precisely the same way." By 'us', as confusingly as ever he refers to himself and his 'lady aunt', beside whom he now moves to occupy a small hard stool, upon which he perches with angular calculation as if he were some clawed and hooded aerial predator or other.

The lady gives her eager new servitor a long look at the conclusion of his report. "Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," she comments — if not displeased, then displeased by her lack of a reason for displeasure. And to the he-hawk who flies at her command: "Shut up and carve, nephew. I have a hunger which won't wait for your poxy little curlews to be charred to a crisp."

That's pretty much an endearment, and certainly no cause for Maldred's displeasure, so it must just be the pent up bored aggression of a journey untroubled that unsheathes his wicked, single-edged dirk — let's be sensible, for the sword it would have to be an eagle not a goose he was dissecting — and induces it to sink swiftly, lengthily and repetitively into the heap of deep-pink, golden-encrusted cadaver. By the end he has achieved his apparent purpose of getting the bird to look more dramatic than appetising, with interest.

Symeon's icy gaze cuts from Trant then to the bastard son of bastard Wal … ahem, Lord Walder Frey of the Crossing. His thoughts betray some small measure of doubt about Maldred's parentage - his face, thank the seven faces of the maiden, does not. Symeon draws his table dagger and cuts into a haunch of meat, after Jaimera serves her nephew, then her father's sworn sword. "How shall we do that my Lord Rivers - prick them, bleed them, gut them?" Clearly, the bellicose half-Whent prefers the latter. Why the sudden warlike humor? Mayhaps to still the ghosts—mayhaps to return to Four Eagle's covered in blood and with glory and golden prizes. A hedge knight heavy with blood, glory, and gold is more palatable than a hedge knight smelling brush and dun.

The lady presiding over this informal supper apportions the wreckage of the goose evenly between three plates, reserving of course the creature's plumpest and juiciest parts for herself. It was wrenched untimely from its spit, this goose, and the fluids which run down Ser Maldred's repossessed dirk and onto her hand have in them a hint of the blood her knightly companions would spill in far greater measure. She absently licks away a rivulet, and continues to pile high her plate, listening.

The maids do as maids do, setting out dishes of subsidiary delicacies, pouring the innkeep's best wine into cups brought in Lady Jaimera's baggage. They step softly round the table, eyes downcast. Seeing and hearing nothing, or at any rate trying their best…

The knight of Frey blood begins to warm to his theme, showing incidentally a great facility for speaking swift and sharp even with a mouth full of flesh (in the question of grease or no goose he has, it seems, surrendered the primacy of his own catch). "Don't be a damn fool, Sevenscratches. We don' stab our own liegemen willy-nilly. 'Less they're 'Ashwoods'," he corrects himself ruminatively. "Oh, talking of which, there's been certain talk…would'n be so very surprised if a certain familiar, and not unfetchin' face from my last," he swallows and speaks with more precision, "diplomatic venture, showed up at Broadmoor Keep…"

Sevenscratches bites into the meat rivulets of grease run down his dirk and an errant globule sprays his doublet. Fork and knife touch the edge of his stoneware plate. He stares at the offending drop-for three uneasy moments and looks a bit maiden's tits!-queasy. He looks up from the globule and takes a deep breath then dabs it a way with a piece of cloth drawn from his trousers. Symeon slides the meat away for the nonce and sates his hunger on oat bread, fried onions, and a vegetable stew. When Ser Rivers addresses him, he regards Maldred with chilly eyes. "As you say, Ser." He acquiesces although his cold blue irises constrict a bit. What madness impels this desire for blood and glory? When Maldred speaks of his last venture, Symeon turns first to the dowager Lady Trant, then to Maldred. He becomes deadly still, waiting on the balls of his feet with baited breath-like a knight at the end of the lists waiting for his foe to bit into destrier courser with gilded spurs.

Ser Maldred's engreased lips part; but whatever murky insinuations he has been putting in order beneath his ill-kept, possibly-sandy hair are cut off by the reverberating *crack* of his own dirk being plunged point - first into the table equidistant between himself and Ser Symeon.

Lady Jaimera Frey-Trant utters a single word in a tone which sends the maids curtseying backwards through the door in a flurry of homespun skirts: "Out."

Then it is just the three of them and the dismembered goose.

"You young men," she declares quietly, "shall behave yourselves with the punctiliousness of maidens beneath a septa's eye for the duration of our sojourn at Broadmoor. I shall not have you embarrassing our house, embarrassing *me*, by pursuing personal romances or personal quarrels…" Her black eyes glitter from one knight to the other. "Unless I direct you to do so."

Her small quick fingers close upon the hilt of the dirk and pull it (on the second try) loose from the table. Then she takes the besmeared, glistening blade carefully, delicately between the fingertips of her other hand, and offers it to its owner, her heavy golden hanged-man signet ring uppermost before his eyes.

"A toast!" Her lips twitch with good humour brittle and fleeting. "To House Frey of the Crossing." And, once a swallow of wine has passed through their narrow interstice… "So end our foes."