|'Gods Help Us (As Lord Frey Won't)'|
|Summary:||Sers Maldred and Bruce share a gloomy perspective on Nayland chances.|
|Related Logs:||Untrusted and Untrusting|
|Good place for a drill|
|29th August, 289|
For the last few weeks, the Stonebridge militia has been on half alert, and then this last week full alert. Groups of mean looking pikemen are everywhere, marching about in formation, drilling, preparing the town and doing other kinds of task. Not all of them are from Stonebridge - two Quarters, or around one hundred pike from Hag's Mire have arrived. Obvious too are the pikemen's more senior partners, the Guardsmen of House Nayland of Stonebridge and some of their counterparts of Hag's Mire, kitted out in mail shirts, steel helmets, sword, shield and crossbow. The group of men, top to bottom, is grizzled and largely filled with veterans. Ser Bruce Longbough is outside the town right now, a crossbow slung over his shoulder and resting on his shield as he's doing a walkthrough on the outskirts of Stonebridge.
And riding on a white destrier, uncaparisoned, from the direction of the town, comes now a figure quite alien from these thoroughly drilled levies and guardsmen surging on in its defence. The mailed knight's blue surcoat, slashed with scarlet and crossed by argent tower blazons, lays out its mixed message, that here comes a Frey of the Twins…but born, you might say, on the wrong side of the river. Though fully armed presumably in preparation for a journey across the rough and increasingly disputatious country about, the knight, being still fairly close to the settlement's security, has lifted neither helm nor coif, and so reveals an uneasily strawy mop of hair, an even, watery glance, and a sardonic expression. Those fishy eyes range about in search of the column's captain, more in curiosity, perhaps, than deliberacy, and when they light on the crossbow-toting commander, sure enough, they gleam.
"I like to see an anointed knight who does not disdain to kill from afar," Ser Maldred Rivers ventures as a greeting, trotting over. As with much of what he says, it could be a quiet insult as easily as, even as well as a morsel of praise.
The sound of hoofbeats, especially from such a fine horse as a destrier, draw Ser Bruce's sleepy blue eyes long before Maldred is close enough to talk. He grins at the man's quip, dipping his head in greeting. "We all know that real war is a numbers game, Ser." He feels justified assuming that Maldred is indeed a Ser. "And as such if I can loose five bolts before the other poor lad gets to my line, well, they might be slower, or more blind or even.. dead. Probably not the latter though! That's for Lord Rafferdy's shooting." He squints. "And who might you be, other than a Frey, and a Frey with his own heraldry?" For his part, Ser Bruce has no surcoat on at the moment, but even when he does it's usually just painted in his liege's colours.
A wary look shadows the youngish knight's expression for a moment, as if he suspects he is being gulled or mocked. Not himself a devotee of the herald's art, he is nonetheless outfitted in a manner charged with all too easy significance - either this Nayland sworn knight is too close to promotion from the soil to know the merest niceties, or he is poking fun. "Ser Maldred Rivers," the bastard states a little stiffly, stiffness that unoils soon enough back to his own brand of acidic commentary.
"You'll not be wanting to waste those quarrels, then," he puns, "for your hollyhock foes bring, they say, quite five as many men as yours in their's. Were your hawk-eyed harpy to shoot all five bolts of all these fine bowmen, why, then you would prevail. And the world would be," Maldred scoffs cheerfully enough, "a more certain place. Perhaps your employers should be mending quarrels, not loosing them; the Herons are, I believe, still wavering? …well…"
The pseudo-Frey cuts off his own train of thought. "You are the Nayland Guard Captain, perhaps, ser? I haven't had the pleasure…" He instils that last word with syrupy ambiguity.
"Oh? Over a thousand? I'd not heard that many, but it's good that Lord Frey's men bring their vassals updated information." Bruce's own expression darkens a bit, though he still keeps the face of a happy man up for Maldred to see. "Aye. Well, I was the Captain of Guard, until they went and took my silver braided cord and replaced it with a gold one. I'm now the Master at Arms, apparently, though I imagine it's from desperation rather than any real ability on my part." He chuckles, something with very little mirth. "I seem to remember you arriving with Ser Stevron, many months back. Do my eyes deceive me?"
He adds for greeting, "Ser Bruce Longbough, in any case."
Maldred's voice is light and wry, "I would not bet on that, ser. And my lord father sends neither you, nor your foes, succour of any kind, knowledge, or arms. I would hardly dare to defy him so far, now, would I? I can only proffer you a soup of smallfolk guesses." The mailed shoulders rise in a shrug that is practically salute, it is so crisp. At the Nayland sword's down-to-earth summation of his new eminence, though, this cynical bastard appears to warm to a chuckle.
Such warmth as there was is now succeeded by surprise. "Do you? You have a good memory and eye; neither of us can have been, or at least looked, very noticeable back then. Where was I arriving, I wonder, here, of all places? After Alderbrook? I was on the left, that strange day, chaotic, glossed by the passing of months to the rich sweetness of glory."
Maldred's mouth curls the more he comes out with such rhetoric, so that he seems to enjoy both creating and undermining such fine expressions. "Well, now I shall try to remember your name. Even if few, perhaps, do remember the Naylands in their fall." It sounds like a sneer, but touched with what might, just, be regret.
"Ah, of course. He simply lets an army of his vassals men pass through his lands, stay there for weeks stockpiling supplies, on the way to attack another vassal. Truly, he offers no succor." The sarcasm rolls off Bruce's tongue easily, but just as easily he shrugs it off. "I was in the centre reserve, letting this go. Our militia performed well enough that we didn't need to intercede. At Seagard, the Ironmen broke through and we rushed in. First and foremost infantry soldiers, afterall." He nods at Maldred's sentiment. "Aye, well, you've my thanks anyways. I don't expect to survive the coming weeks, but if my men do, well, at least I'll be happy. I've two sons who will carry me on. Now, then, does Lord Walder intend to order both of his vassals to cease their hostility before we go down the road, point to point?" He motions to his crossbow.
Maldred's static, pointed smile departs his face for a flash, the small mouth in those pinched, rodentine Frey features beneath the yellow hair composing into a short, thin line. Behind it, one might guess that the bastard's agile tongue, quiet for once, is being bitten. You might even say the knight looks just a fraction ashamed, and his light eyes, too, grow darker. When he speaks, the words no doubt emerge from a wellspring of dissatisfaction.
"This plight is one of your masters' making, Ser Bruce. Not in the matter of my fellow bastard, the Tordane claimant's demise…but the fact that you stand without allies or liege. You are not to blame for that state, and perhaps it may yet be remedied; but I doubt it, and as we both admit, you and these men shall pay the price for lordly incompetence."
That shrug comes again, now more querulous than formal; "It is not as if the Harpies are at the very end of their choices. Their Lady stands unwed. My lord father is fond of weddings. True, she is kin to Stevron's branch, but there are many more…disparate candidates amid all our House's array of youths. A Frey husband would buy her domain a shield and her person safety. But the Lady Valda is chilly to any notion of treating, and though I have met neither of the elder Nayland brothers, I expect they are chillier still, blind to aught but their own prospects…"
The knight of the Crossing eyes the Loughbough knight's crossbow motion, "Myself, I admire the arrow or bolt's song alongside the blade’s," he volunteers neutrally, "and view with indifference the lanceplay of fops. These sons of yours," he adds more slowly, "where are they bestowed? In your place, I should…send one as a courier to the Twins. And the other, like enough, to the Roost. You will get no help, but some peace of mind."
Bruce appears to agree with at least part of Maldred's appraisal, for he nods and wears now a grave expression. "Aye, that it was. But at the same time, it is a liege lord's duty to his vassals to stop their fights. In that, Lord Walder has failed his own lordly duty. I am not one inclined as my lieges to statements of grandeur, Ser Maldred, nor to undiplomatic talk. Indeed I like to see myself as a light, affable man. But I state what I do right now in certainty - the failure here, while at a lower level, is ultimately borne by the highest man who aught to have control over the situation, Lord Walder. Had he interceded directly and told House Nayland to give its possession to House Charlton and Tordane, well, that would have been something. But instead he sneaks behind, unwilling to take overt sides."
Bruce shakes his head. "Yet to all, it is obvious - while you may have came to Alderbrook, precious few of your House's many men did. Not until the Iron Isles did we see much in the way of soldiers, whether Frey, Charlton, Erenford or Haigh. No, for House Frey it was all House Nayland who did the fighting. I say this to you not as a personal slight; as you said, you yourself shed the enemy's blood on the mainland. But it is plain to me that despite the fact that this House has laid down life and limb, and brought in a fief from House Frey's rivals and their vassals, that forever the Naylands will be held in contempt."
Finally, the Master at Arms chuckles. "Marriages are not my realm, but the Lady Valda should not be in charge of anything of the sort. As I said, not my realm." On to his sons, "Aye, I wish they were old enough to do so. But I've already sent them away, to the lands of my youth and my first service - the Blackwood Vale. My wife's Lady mother wished her to be sent to Riverrun, where her and her father could watch over, but in the end I deemed it more vise to be in a place where there were no scheming heads.”
"My lord father's counsels are privy to few," Ser Maldred half-snarls, shortly and in bitterness - bitterness which implies clearly enough that they probably aren't privy to him, either. "Few, too, perhaps, in your eyes, were our horse and armsmen at Alderbrook. Few, …but enough. Just as these fine levies are many…but insufficient. Only your lords can win your field now, by seeking allies and speaking sweetly to those who pass by…even to myself. Would that any of them had an ounce of your sense, ser."
Laughing with incongruous merriment as he understands his misunderstanding about the Loughbough 'couriers', he nods at the Master at Arms's precaution. "A sound plan. For my part, I hope your wisdom is repaid with a reunion…unlikely as it may seem."
As if overcome by sudden weariness of the whole subject the rider from the Twins wheels his horse and speeds off, allowing that bleak note to dangle in the chainmail-sweated air.
Bruce seemed poise to say something, but as it is he simply watches the white destrier dart off, lips pressed tightly into a line. "Gods help us."