|Awkward Turtle Soup|
|Summary:||The Groves sit down for a nice family dinner.|
|Date:||May 29, 2012|
|Related Logs:||Too many.|
|Grand Hall — Braeburn House|
|Not so grand as some.|
|May 29, 289|
It is something that has not happened in a long, long time: a Groves family dinner. One that includes the entire family. The Hall is not as full as it often is at Braeburn House, as Lord and Lady Groves have opted for a slightly more private affair to begin the slow process of rebuilding their family with the return of their exiled son. They are into the main course, and things are…awkward.
Rosanna has been very, very quiet. More than unusually quiet. She is ramrod straight with continued tension as she eats, and she has refused to engage her recently-returned brother in any conversation. She is doing her best not to even look at him, really.
Lady Groves clears her throat delicately, taking a sip of wine to wash down the delicately cooked fowl on her plate. "So, Nico, I understand you brought a squire home with you." Her refined voice is dulcet and politely engaging. There will be dinner conversation, damn it. Oh, yes. There will be.
Lord Campbell Groves at the head of the table, having a glass of wine. He's drinking sparingly rather than over-indulging, and is far from the usual talkative, easy self he generally is at these meals with his children. He hasn't tried to make much conversation with Nicodemus yet, though he welcomed his prodigal son into his home and to the table. It's still hard to tell whether he's happy to have him back or crushingly disappointed by the running away and long absence which followed. Perhaps he wants it to remain a mystery. Perhaps prodded by his wife, he adds something the table chatter. "And where'd you find the boy, son? Your travels sound like they took you many places, before you managed to find your way back." EVENTUALLY.
Kittridge has also been more quiet than is usual, though unlike his sister he is less tense and more just… uncomfortable. He eats his dinner with no particular enthusiasm, responding to direct questions and occasionally even beginning actual conversation though the moment he is reminded of his twin's presence he generally becomes too interested in his meal to say anything more. He cuts his meat now, and listens, glancing from his parents to his brother and then back at his plate.
Perhaps a bit stiff in his usual place, Stafford's knife tears through fowl meat with an intensity that bespeaks a quiet, slow thought process. Where their parents turn the conversation towards the absent squire and the returned son, he seems to almost frown. He finally speaks up, though it is only to ask, "Shouldn't we speak of the surplus? It is a more pressing matter."
The exiled brother is doing his best to just not piss anybody off. Uh. More. Than he has already managed to do by being gone for six years. Nicodemus has foregone his plain, black clothes for ones that used to belong to him six years ago: dark brown trousers and a forest green shirt. He hasn't spoken much throughout the meal, unless questions are directed at him directly, and he pauses in the act of cutting a bit of meat from the larger slice on his plate as his mother speaks. "Um," he clears his throat a little, "Yes. I have. Locke Septswood." His gaze flicks to his father. "We met in the Stepstones, my lord," he adds. "In. Um. A pirate's den, actually." Ahem. He pops the bite of meat into his mouth and chews before anyone can ask him anything else. He nods a little towards Stafford. Surplus. Excellent topic.
"That issue is nearly settled, Stafford, and gods knows it's taken long enough," Lord Groves counters his elder son. "I want to hear more about Nico's pirate den."
"Quite right, my love," says Lady Groves, smiling approvingly at her husband. "I've always thought it rather vulgar to discuss business at the family dinner table. So," she takes another sip from her chalice, batting her eyes at her prodigal son. "Pirates. My."
Something about Rosanna's manner tenses even further at this turn of conversation. She continues to refuse to look over at him, but there is no denying her attentiveness.
"Of course," Stafford agrees simply, his gaze dropping to his bird for a moment to spear a piece before lifting to Nicodemus. There is a bit of disapproval where he asks, "You are squiring a pirate?"
"The matter of the surplus is fine, Stafford," Kittridge says, as if he's said it a hundred times and anticipates having to say it a hundred more, "I am sick to death of talking about it. Until we have the Terricks' answer, what more is there to say?" He eats a bite of greens with a chomp that would be more decisive were it not greens being eaten. At the mention of pirates, he still says nothing.
"I'm… not sure that pirates are any better dinner conversation than business," Nicodemus points out as he glances around at his family. Perhaps it's the way Rosanna has shifted just a little from 'tense' to 'tense-but-possibly-intrigued' that encourages the prodigal son to press on anyhow. "The place was called The Dying Seal and it was run by a pirate captain known as Moran Mog Doran. He was Westerosi, but fashioned himself like an exotic from Essos. Not in any way a pleasant sort." Looking over at Stafford he shakes his head. "No, I'm squiring a boy from the saltpans that pirates had held captive."
"Captive?" gasps Lady Groves. She glances at her husband to share her horror. "How unspeakably dreadful. And you liberated him, Nico, dear?"
"You'll want to avoid mentioning your adventures among the pirates at Riverrun, son," Lord Groves says dry. "Not terribly respectable folk. Disgusting hygiene habits. And, the raiding and thieving and pillaging, of course. Would make a poor impression on the Lord Paramount." It's hard to tell if he's kind of joking or just finds the whole situation so absurd he can't help himself from the quip. In case it needed saying he adds, "The boy has a place here if you'll vouch for him, so long as you both remember…No dead seals or what have you." He also waits attentively to hear the tale of this liberating.
"How do you know he was not one of them?" Stafford questions, doubtfully, but at least he is paying attentive care to Nicodemus's story, or seems to be. He even looks at his brother.
Lady Groves rolls her eyes in a fashion that leaves no doubt Rosanna is her daughter. "Dead seals. Campbell. Honestly." Though there's a muted note of mirth in her voice.
"It seems to me," Rosanna says to her father, not her stupid exiled brother, "that such a boy is not an appropriate squire for a noble. Brynner is a commoner, but his family has served the Groves for many generations."
"More exalted company for your Leon," Kittridge snorts to Stafford, "House Roote looks better every day, I expect, for all their arms are a nightmare painted on a shield." As Rosanna also comments on their respective squires, he drinks his wine and shuts up, since at least she's talking, whatever she's saying.
"No, my lord, I think you're right about that," Nicodemus says to his father, very solemn except of the smallest curl in the very corner of his mouth. "I won't say a word about pirates to the Lord Paramount. I won't say anything at all, save the oath of fealty and 'I am very sorry'. But thank you. I will vouch for Locke, he's a good lad." Turning to look at his mother he adds, a touch sheepishly, "I suppose I did, more or less. And no dead seals. You've my word." Wetting his lips, Nicodemus continues on with the tale. "Moran Mog Doran was fond of fighting pits. Making men battle so others might gamble on the outcome. He wanted to hire me on for a job, to serve as a champion in his attempt to best another pirate who was damaging too many vessels allied to Doran. That was why I was in The Seal in the first place. At any rate, to prove just how frightful and ruthless he was, Moran brought a new contender into the pit. A boy, chained, who he was going to force to fight three men twice his size and age. That was how I first met Locke." Rosanna's protest for his squire's pedigree isn't addressed just yet.
"All legacies have to start somewhere, Rosanna," says Lady Groves, glancing from daughter to pirate smiting son. "And I can think of few things that would inspire more enduring loyalty than being rescued from captivity." Her attention is then rapt upon Nicodemus' tale. She lifts a hand to cover her mouth, eyes wide. "The poor boy! Such savagery!"
Lord Campbell smiles so very wide at Rosanna, his little princess. For all that what she said was horribly rude, he only gives her a mild, "Now, now, sweetheart. We won't just turn the lad out. Whether he'll be fit for the knighthood…well, we'll just see. Don't worry about it over dinner." He might have some doubts himself. He catches his wife rolling her eyes, and winks at her. He was probably going for that reaction. Though as he listens to the tale his momentary humor fades. "Gods almighty. Barbarism."
"Hopefully they never see past the garishness of their banners to notice the slight to their son," Stafford comments, all dryly and a bit stiffly to Kittridge as he cuts at his fowl. Cut, cut. It is probably dead now. He looks back to Nicodemus as he tells his story, though.
"If Nicodemus is really to return and swear fealty to Lord Tully, what will people think if he returns to the nobility with some stray squire he found in a fighting pit?" Rosanna insists to her father, a hint of frustration creeping in at the reaction of both of her parents.
"What society thinks of your brother's squire, Rosanna, will depend entirely on how said squire comports himself," says Lady Groves sensibly. "I'm sure Nico has the boy's education well in hand."
"It needn't be announced that's where I found him," Nicodemus points out. "Neither of us bandy it about." Never mind the tattoo on the front of Locke's neck or anything. "The lad's seen worse than most of us can imagine. I know he hasn't the pedigree some would wish for him," a glance over at Stafford, "but he's served me loyally and with honor in a land that sees very little of loyalty or honor. I would not turn him out, now." He nods to his lady mother with a small, appreciative smile.
"Luckily they're probably near-blind after years of looking at it," Kittridge replies to Stafford in a similar tone. He sets down his knife to pick up his cup again, and then gestures for one of the servants to refill it before he drinks, pausing only to snort once and then again as Nicodemus comments on loyalty and honor and turning people out.
Stafford nods to Kittridge, a shared nod of agreement and some humor and other things that probably don't translate in such a short gesture. He finally unbends enough to agree to Nicodemus, "No, of course not. No one would suggest such a thing." Even if Rosanna pretty much just did.
"I suppose it wouldn't be the first time you put your feelings ahead of our family's honor," Rosanna says cuttingly across the table to Nicodemus. Hey, at least she's talking to him! She turns her eyes back on her father, all big, brown, and pleading.
"I always wonder what's going on in the middle of those horses," Lord Groves quips, about the Roote heraldry. "Still, they're an honorable House with which we've forged honorable ties. Perhaps we can discuss your foundling, and what his place'll be, later, Nic. As I said, he won't be turned out. Rosanna!" His tone is almost scolding at her outburst. But not quite. With THOSE EYES LOOKING AT HIM. He would have to be made of stone. "Later, sweetheart." Completely not-scolding there. "Why don't you tell us about something more pleasant? I'm told the tourney at the Twins was quite enjoyable? Kit made a very impressive showing at the joust, and I'm sure you had fun at the dance."
Lady Groves smiles mildly at Kittridge as he snorts. "Hay fever, dear?" Then, breathing in and counting several beats in silence, she turns her attention to Rosanna. "However you feel about your brother's feelings, Rosanna, has nothing whatsoever to do with how taking in this boy reflects on our family's honor. And please stop staring at your father so, it makes you look like a dairy cow." Sip.
Nicodemus looks from Kittridge to Stafford to Rosanna before lowering his gaze to his plate, effectively silenced by the cut. So, he cuts, too. His meat, that is. But as the topic changes he slips in, as well, "I'd very much like to hear about this Lord Rutger Nayland that seems to be so enamored with Rosanna."
"He did very well in the melee, they say," Stafford says all properly about Lord Rutger Nayland. That is all he says on him, for the moment.
Lady Groves frowns delicately in thought. "Rutger Nayland… Sweet Mother, I sometimes think poor Rhiannon had them all in litters. Which one is Rutger, dear?" she asks her husband.
"Rosanna is right," Kittridge speaks up as his mother comments on his snorting, "Our squires do reflect on us as a house, as we all discussed when I proposed taking Brynner on. I'm not saying we should turn this boy out but I've no idea why we're just accepting that he," he gestures to Nicodemus rather than naming him, "Has any knowledge or care about what's best for anyone but himself. And Rutger is the one everyone thinks strangled his wife. He might inherit the Mire if he's lucky."
"He's Lord Rickart's heir," Rosanna says clearly, "and he won the melee. Carrying my favor, that he asked for in a very gentlemanly fashion." She glances at Kittridge, at first pleased with his agreement on Locke, then immediately put out at his own commentary on Rutger.
"Pardon?" Nicodemus asks, putting aside the business with Locke to hone in on that other bit. "He what?"
"Might be the heir, depending on how the birthing of his passed brother's wife goes," Lord Groves replies to Lady Groves. "He was wed before but…" He almost smiles at Kit. Nice job doing that so he didn't have to, son. But he clears his throat, somewhat pointedly. "As for Nico, I think they're more pressing matters than who he brought home. What have you been doing with yourself these past six years, son? Was it all dead seals and fighting pits?"
"Bad talk, that. Very poor reflection of the man," Stafford comments of Kittridge's words. Presumably that everyone thinks he strangled his wife, not that he will inherit the Mire. "Even if it is not true, it's terribly telling that people would believe it of him."
"I should say so," Lady Groves agrees with her eldest. "Does he have any children from his first marriage?"
"I like him," Rosanna says earnestly to her father, utilizing once more those big brown (dairy cow) eyes. She frowns distinctly at her mother's frustratingly pertinent question.
"He was formerly married, possibly a murderer, maybe an heir, and with children?" Nicodemus asks. "Rosanna, that's setting the bar fairly alarmingly low." Apparently, he didn't hear his father's question about his own screwy life.
"Two sons," Kittridge informs his mother, "Both healthy lads, from what I've heard." He frowns, but doesn't say anything else for the moment, lifting his wine to drink some more.
"I know you do, little apple bit, but you deserve only the best, and we just want to make sure this Lord Rutger is the best," Lord Campbell says, weakening under her gaze. "We've consented to the courtship and Lord Rutger has a chance to prove himself worthy of your hand. And for us to prove to ourselves he's not…all of those things Nic was so good to summarize. Now. Nicodemus. About all those years in fighting pits?" Because this has somehow become the less volatile topic.
"I don't think there's any question if he's the best — we might, I suppose, ask ourselves if we could do any worse," muses Lady Groves. "Really, Kittridge, I thought you and Septa Day were keeping a better eye on your sister."
"They are doing well enough. There is no scandal attached to her from what I have heard, for all that he's courting our Rosanna," Stafford allows, a bit stiffly awkward.
"You are not allowed to say things about my judgment," Rosanna says imperiously to Nicodemus, glaring at him. She glances with a grateful smile to Stafford and makes sure to tell her mother, "I've been behaving perfectly, mother. Honest. No one has anything to gossip about with me. Some of the other ladies don't know how to behave, but I do."
"And there's the matter of how Lord Rickart treated our Lady Sylvainne." Lord Campbell frowns. "The Naylands do not have a good record with respecting the brides from this House. I welcome their want to make amends, it seems a good time for it, but we should remember we're not the ones with anything to prove." As for Rosanna, "Of course she's been behaving perfectly! We would hardly expect anything else of her." He so completely believes that, too.
"I am if you're going to try and throw out my squire," Nicodemus retorts to his imperious little sister. "You really want to live in a swamp? Whatever happened to becoming a queen and finding a husband as worthy as Prince Rhaegar?" With a small breath out he adds, to his father, "Yes, my lord. It was pits and dens and pirate ships. I was a sell sword on the stepstones. I did nothing worthy of your name. It's why I didn't use it, there."
"I'm sure that's true, darling," says Lady Groves to her daughter. "Your behavior was never in question. Only… it seems to be that you should be encouraged to spend time with someone… suitable. Rather than be allowed to develop affections for a man who is absolutely and unequivocally not. We only want you to be happy."
"Don't look at me," Kittridge says, a little bit sharply to his mother, "Father told me to agree to the courtship to give them a chance, so that's what I did. Day and I are doing everything we can, here. A little help wouldn't go amiss," he says, giving both his parents an eyebrowful look before turning to glare at his brother. To his father he adds, "I told Rosanna we might consider making a trip to Lannisport," he says, "Since she's done so well in Stonebridge, it seems to deserve further travel."
Stafford unbends to share a smile with his sister, a quick one that is erased again as soon as Nicodemus speaks. "Lannisport sounds swell," he adds, to the general conversation. "You should go there."
"If he were absolutely and unequivocally unsuitable, then we would be dishonorably misleading the Naylands by allowing him to court me," Rosanna declares. Then, once more glaring at Nicodemus, she says, "It's none of your business." She's quickly distracted by talk of distant cities, however, and her gaze immediately snaps, full and pleading, to her father. "Oh, please, can we? I would love to see Lannisport."
"Of course you can go to Lannisport, apple bit," Lord Campbell says with a broad smile. "I think it'd do well for you to see more of the world." Before setting your heart on the swamp man, he does not add. His smile lessens as he turns back to Nicodemus, however. "And was that kind of life a better way to serve your honor than coming back home, and aiding us as we all stung from the defeat of the Royalists, and helping us rebuild and stay strong in those first hard years?"
"No one will be throwing out your squire, Nico," says Lady Groves. "Especially not your sister. If insists on marrying a deranged second son with two sons of his own, she'll be fortunate to choose her own kitchen staff." She looks to her husband, raising her eyebrows. "Rosanna has a point, my love. Isn't allowing Rutger Nayland to believe he can marry our daughter… less than honest?"
"No, my lord, it wasn't," Nicodemus answers his father, bowing his head.
At their father's question, their brother's answer, Stafford stills and watches the two.
"I was extremely clear with Lord Rutger about what we were and were not agreeing to," Kittridge informs his mother and re-informs his sister, "That this was a courtship designed to allow us to know him and his family better, and that there was no promise at all that it might ever progress to anything more. No one can say we are leading them along falsely." As for his brother and his father, his jaw sets, and he takes another gulp of wine before looking back to his plate. Oh look, there's still food on it.
"A tie with the Naylands would do us well if Lord Rutger does become the young lord," Lord Campbell says. "And we're satisfied he'll treat our Rosanna kindly. I find no reason not to continue exploring it just…keep your heads. Everyone." To Nicodemus, he simply nods. "No, son. It wasn't." A pause, a sip of wine, and he says low, "Would that you had come home sooner. Your absence has been a wound on our hearts. Especially your sister and brothers, who had to bear the weight of yet another loss. But…it is good to have you at our table again."
Lady Groves presses her lips into a thin line that indicates Lord Campbell will be hearing about this later. She is not even close to finished airing her thoughts on the subject. But she gracefully takes a bite from her plate and dabs her lips, going with the subject change. "We've all missed you, Nico."
"I'm sorry, father," Nicodemus offers quietly, rather than putting forth any attempt to excuse his absence. He listens to the others argue and discuss around him, but beyond those three words, Kitt's twin keeps his trap shut.
Stafford nods, perhaps, there. He also cuts at his bird, in nice, precise pieces. "They do have a castle, even if it is in a swamp," he says.
Rosanna listens intently to this dialogue between her parents, her gaze flicking between the two of them as she follows closely. She offers a smile to her father for the side he comes down on for the moment, perhaps offering him extra attentions in preparation for any later arguments her mother might make in private. Then she looks back to the rest of her family, lips thinning as the subject turns to MISSING NICO, and says nothing at all. She didn't miss you. Jerk.
Ada finds fault with Kittridge's drinking.
Stafford checks his wa—no, but he does eat. He doesn't say anything. He already semi-nodded, what more do you want?
"I'm sorry for the choice you made as well, Nic," Lord Campbell says. SO DISAPPOINTED. "But, you're home now. It's a time for making amends, and not just with the Naylands." He pours himself more wine and joins the drinking.
Well you know what? Rosanna's just going to drink, too. Stupid brother.
A discreet army of servants arrives to clear the main course and serve the awkward turtle soup.