Page 192: Gutterborn Favors
Gutterborn Favors
Summary: Starling and Tam make some interesting agreements.
Date: 25 January 2012
Related Logs: Siege of Seagard
Starling Tam 
Seagard: Waterfront
Seagard's waterfront was once the gateway to a bustling port, both for the Mallister naval fleet and merchant ships that docked here from all corners of the River coast, West, and even lands farther south. The Ironborn's initial attack on the city laid it low, however, and the wreckage of that initial assault still litters the sea. The Mallister fleet was demolished in that first wave, and the blackened remains of its once-proud war galleys float off the docks. The merchant stalls, customs stations and seedy dockside taverns that once thrived here are largely burnt as well, the Ironborn having looted and gutted them before they were driven from this part of the city. The dock - one of Seagard's three major ones - is still intact, however, and there's enough raw space in the stone buildings that couldn't be burned to house supplies.
January 25 289 A.L.

The waterfront is crowded with soldiers, burning whatever scraps of wood the Ironborn have left to them. Men huddle around fires, the booze long gone, eating whatever rations they have left - the mood is grim, as their situation settles in. At any time, the Ironborn - only a few hundred yards away - might launch a counter-attack. Sentries patrol the edges, and serjeants wander amidst the campfires, keeping order as best they can.

And among the organized chaos of the Nayland levy, Tam Cooper makes his rounds. He stops alongside one man, a bandage wrapped over the stump of his left ear and empty remains of his left eyesocket. He leans down, clapping the man on the shoulder and making some ribald remark before moving on. For once, the hedge knight appears sober - he is doing his job, as best he knows how, keeping visible and sharing what little food he has himself. As he drifts away from the wounded soldier, Tam's genial expression fades away, replaced with a flinty determination - his gray eyes stark and grim.

Well, at least when things are grim, the eyes of men are less wont to wander. That's a small blessing in disguise for the women left in this district of the ransacked city - at least those who don't rely upon their looks and boudoir skills to earn a coin or two. Keeping a short distance from the periphery of the 'forces' huddled around the docks, her longcoat flapping a little in the salty breeze, Starling wanders with rather less purpose, hands shoved deep in her pockets, hat brim low, hair tucked up boyishly beneath. To those who've noticed her, either today or afore, she's remembered only as a stablehand, sometime page, who seems to have a knack for appearing where she's needed, be that helping shoulder a limping squire back and forth from the braver healers who venture this far inside the gates, or fetching fresh pails of water for the horses taking shelter in what remains of the buildings, or carrying abrupt messages between those without the luxury of retainers. She does what she can, simply because she can.

That meandering path does, in the end, bring her in the vague direction of the Naylands; perhaps considering this the most likely of places to find a familiar face.. or at least the brief, scant warmth a feeble campfire can provide.

Spotting Starling on the edge of the crowd, Tam draws to a halt as abruptly as a horse rearing up. His mouth forms a perfect 'O' of shock, before hardening into a firm line; he advances on the woman with as much purpose as he might otherwise move toward a foe. "Oi! Little bird!" The man's tone, despite his bleak expression, is far from grim - indeed, he seems pleased despite himself.

Approaching the woman, he grins suddenly, his features lightening up. "I don't know whether to kick your scrawny arse for still being in the city, my girl, or give you a fucken hug. Seven above, but don't you know this place is about to burn like a fucken bonfire?" Laughing, he offers out an arm to the woman and points toward one of the campfires. "I got some jerky left. You eaten yet?" it's as though the strange events of the other night are being forcibly set aside by the hardened knight.

There's a fractional freeze mid-stride as the girl hears that familiar tone; almost a wince but not quite. Tilting her jaw up enough to set her sights upon the approaching knight, she sets her narrow shoulders back and regards him levelly for a long moment. Then, there's the faintest suggestion of a smile. If he can set.. certain things aside, then so can she. He's not going to outdo her on courtesy, of all things. Tam Cooper? Really? No.

"Coop." she greets him, pleasantly enough, before glancing beyond his bulky form toward the nearest campfire, her expression turning musing. "..I wouldn't say no." Truth be told, Starling likely hasn't eaten in a day or so. Too busy doing other things. Flicking her dark eyes back toward him, she relents to one of those trademark grins, the sort that instantly has her appear utterly innocent and without flaw. Handy trait. "You can't kick my arse for me being here. I'm not part of your lot. 'Sides.. who else is going to get the horses out safely, if a fire catches?" She doesn't -take- his arm.. but she at least steps forward within the gesture, allowing it to guide her steps idly in his chosen direction.

Tam makes his way to the campfire in a few long-legged steps, seemingly only a little disappointed when he has to lower his arm. At the sight of the fearsomely profane knight and his companion, the few soldiers sitting around the small flame very wisely make themselves scarce - he might be friendly, after all, but he's still a Ser. With a faintly ironic gesture, Tam offers a clumsy bow toward Starling and gestures to the ground. In his finest put-on of a grand accent, the knight says "Please be welcome in m'home, Mistress Starling." He winks at the young woman.

Fishing in his belt-pouch, the man produces a sizable hunk of jerky, offering it out without reservation. "You may need to chew it a bit," he allows reluctantly, taking a seat himself without preamble. "But you got all your teeth, so it ain't so bad, little bird. And if I can't beat your arse, I'll settle for sharing a fire for a spell. I been hearin' you been doin' good work with the lads. Cheers 'em up, having a pretty young girl as ain't after their coin."

The sound of laughter, quiet as it is, ripples pleasantly across the brisk air, preceding a clumsy attempt at a curtsey from the young woman. But that seems to be the extent of her assumptions on how to proceed with any sort of etiquette. Without ceremony, she drops to a cross-legged seat in the dirt. "..thanks." Her gaze trails, for a moment, after the men who hurry away, surprise arching her brows a little. Is Tam really so highly thought of? How bizarre.

Distractedly accepting the jerky, Starling then looks down at it, as if bewildered at finding it in her hand, then waves it gently back toward the hedge knight. "I don't need this much. Save some for yourself." Her other hand rises, tucking a stray tendril back from her cheek, where it has stubbornly escaped the confines of her faded, wide-brimmed hat. "Saw Einion last night." she continues, in a conversational manner. "..I think he'd be glad to see you, Coop, if he hasn't already. He seemed.." Pausing, the girl evidently struggles with how to phrase the melancholy she witnessed in the tanner. " forlorn the right word? I dunno. Down. He was glad to hear you were okay."

"Poor lad. He ain't learned the trick of leading soldiers, as much as he's good at it." Tam clears his throat, looking into the fire for a moment, his hand absently playing up and down the hilt of his huge bastard sword. He smiles after a beat, looking over at the young woman as she offers back the jerky and shaking his head. "Nah, if I get hungry enough, I appeal to Lord Rygar Nayland. I just.. I don't like doing it, is all, but I ain't gonna starve. You eat. You look done in, poppet."

His meaty hand half-rises as she brushes the hair back from her cheek, as though to mimic the gesture, but he stops himself in time and instead smiles again. "I been looking for him all night. Einion. Best lad in the damn levy, myself included."

Well, it's always nice to be nice. At Tam's refusal to accept the jerky back, the girl merely shrugs and brings it to her lips, teeth wrenching a decent-sized bite from the dried meat and setting to chewing it solemnly as she stares into the fire; unwittingly mirroring the knight's own posture. She doesn't notice that twitch of his hand, either. Probably just as well. "Thanks." she mumbles again, this time around a mouthful of much-needed food. It might taste like salted dirt, but Starling appears to have belatedly realised she's famished.

A short while passes in relatively companionable silence. But eventually, the brunette speaks up again, still keeping her eyes on the crackling kindling, ignorant of the dance of flames upon mahogany hues. " seems to me, Coop, for reasons we don't need to go into.." she begins, swallowing a morsel, "..that mayhaps you might be willing to do me a small kindness. It's probably somethin' you'd have done anyway.. but now you'll have all the benefits of doing it because I'm flat out asking you to. Makes you all the more heroic, eh?" Rubbing at her nose lightly with the back of one hand, Starling glances sidelong toward the grizzled veteran. "..Einion's hurt worse than he'll admit. If you can, if you're able.. would you do your best to look out for him, in the next march? Don't let him know you're doin' it. He'd only be offended, just like you would be. Just.." She trails off, averting her gaze again as she runs out of ways to explain herself. "Will you do that for me?"

The grizzled hedge knight starts to laugh, a low rumbling sound that bounces out of his gut. He turns to study Starling for a few moments, genuine amusement stamped across his bearded features. And then, growing more solemn, the man nods twice, flashing a surprisingly-white smile toward the young woman. "You know, I like you, little bird. You got grit and you got fire, and you got a good heart." Reaching aside, the man moves to take ahold of Starling's hand - if it's allowed, his own bear-like paw is surprisingly gentle in its grasp.

"I'm bad at giving oaths, 'cos I always keep 'em. Be it the very last thing I do. But 'cos you asked - I give you my word as a man, and a soldier - and, yeh, fuckit, a knight - that I'll put my life before his, best I can." His other hand grips his sword, and the man's features are as serious as he can make them. For a bare moment, the man seems like a true knight - solemn and proud. "But I got a thing to ask -you-, in turn, like. A favor for a favor."

Charmingly agreeable, Starling nods. "I got all that in spades. What I don't have is balls and a title. S'why I have to ask you for this sort of thing." Startled, she glances down as his larger hand covers hers, then, looking up at his features, allows him to take it as he speaks. The other, of course, is holding tight to that jerky, and she chews another corner off as she watches him with her big brown eyes. She looks about twelve, when her face is set that way. Not helped, either, by the riding coat that swamps her skinny frame, or the wayward wisps of hair still set upon escaping from where they're stuffed under her hat.

At the mention of a favor in kind, she offers no spoken response, having just succeeded in tearing off another piece of food and now being rather involved in chewing. But she gestures him to continue with a flick of the dried meat and a subtle inclination of her head, willing to hear him out, at least.

The big man clears his throat roughly, patting Starling's hand a few times before he speaks. "You know, this's the first time I been to war as a knight. I ain't really sure how it's done. But I like you - you're a pretty girl, and you ain't an idiot, and a man could do worse than dyin' thinkin' about a girl like you." That crooked, rugged smile again, followed by a wary glance at Starling, as though the knight is afraid he's being mocked merely by being allowed to speak.

"All the pretty knights, they got.. favors. Things their Lady gives them, before they go into a fight. Supposed to bring them luck. Make them, uh. Blessed. I know it's Einion you got a heart for, and neh me.. but I'd hate to die without a piece'a cloth in my glove like all those other bastards have." He trails off bashfully, eyeing Starling again. "You think, uh.. I'd give it back, you know, if you wanted. Like, maybe I could have a, uh, favor from you?"

Well. There's a thing. At least three implications in this little speech would be enough to give a girl pause. In Starling's case, it takes only one for her to choke on a tiny piece of the jerky she was enjoying a moment ago. Bringing her fist abruptly to her lips, she coughs a few times, blinking back the sting that aggravates her eyes, then simply stares at the gruff knight who.. actually seems to be sincere in what he's saying. Of all the moments to choose to be serious!

Feeling his eyes shift toward her before they actually do, the girl drops her gaze to her booted feet, swallowing and trying her best to ignore the heated flush of color across her cheekbones. It's impossible to say what he said that got that reaction, but it lingers a good while upon otherwise thoughtful and, admittedly, surprised features. In the end, though.. she has to answer.

"..alright." Withdrawing her other hand gently from within Tam's grasp, daring a sidelong glance toward him, Starling sets what's left of her jerky in a pocket of her coat. Then pauses. What has she got to give? Chewing gently on her lower lip, she regards the man helplessly for a moment, waiting for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, it does. Tilting her weight to one side, she reaches inside her longcoat, grasping the lower hem of her jerkin and -tugging-. It's hardly an expensive or beautiful garment; it has only a subtle edging of entwined bronze and copper thread. But this is what she pulls free. A piece of it anyway. Gritting her teeth as she jerks it from the stitching, she then hands the braided scrap toward the expectant knight, looking entirely out of her depth. " I supposed to say anythin'?"

Tam looks equally befuddled - or, perhaps, even more so. He stares at Starling for a moment, his mouth open in another 'O' of surprise, before shrugging toward her helplessly. Another laugh escapes him, this one self-deprecating in the extreme as he gestures toward himself. "Shit, poppet, /I/ don't know. I expected you to slap me, but I figured I'd ask." His face is comically lost, and he looks around as though expecting someone to provide an answer for him.

After a minute, the man shrugs and holds out his hand toward the braided scrap - painfully sincere in this moment of awkward chivalry. "I don't think you got to say anything, Starling. It's just for me, like. I, uh.. thank you." Before he loses his nerve, the knight leans over to press a kiss - his lips are surprisingly warm, and strong - against the woman's temple, perfectly chaste.

Flushing beet red, he withdraws swiftly, eyeing Starling in clear expectation of some fierce retaliation. "Sorry. I just.. Well, shiet, I -had- to kiss you." He laughs again, lowly and a bit wistfully. "Y'smell like sweet hay. I like that."

Releasing the little piece of bound cloth into Tam's grasp, the girl continues to eye him somewhat uncertainly. Starling is about as far from a Lady as a woman can be.. how's she to know whether the hedge knight is making fun at her expense? Honestly, she'd be better equipped to deal with an unwelcome caress of her backside than.. this. They're equal in their bewilderment, at least.

Parting her lips as if to offer some attempt at further discussion, the brunette freezes as her companion, without warning, leans inward. Could she be any further out of her comfort zone? If he tries to take anything she's not willing to give.. Her hands tighten reflexively into small fists. Oh. Well, at least his mouth didn't seek to capture hers. Small mercies. But still.

Eyeing him askance as he draws back from her, Starling takes a moment to gather her composure enough to offer any response at all. Fortunately, it's verbal rather than physical. "..there's still time for me to slap you, Coop." She doesn't, and seems not to plan it, given her currently motionless form. All she has is the quiet warning in her tone. "You're welcome, for the favor. But don't go pushing your luck on account of the old 'ohh, but I might die tomorrow' malarkey, got me?" Mustering back her usual mien, the girl looks away from him at last, sniffing in a vaguely aloof manner as she gazes at the fire. "You've got armor, you've got a sword and now you've a gutterborn favor. You're golden."

Folding his hand tightly around the scrap of cloth, Tam lifts it up to his nose and takes a lengthy inhalation, letting a wicked look of mischief cross his features before tucking it away in a leather gauntlet. "Closest I'm gettin' to your arse -tonight-, then!" he announces with a wink, as though trying to break the tension. He laughs and pats Starling's hand reassuringly, nodding to her.

For a moment, his features are fierce and piratical - a shadow of the joy he shows on the battlefield, but still intensely *alive*. "Ye're right, by the by, poppet. I ain't meant to die in a fight like this'un. I survived the Battle of the Bells, after all. Meant to be hung, I am. And now I got your favor. I'm gonna make you buy it back, after, you ever want it." His tone is only half-jesting, as the battlejoy fades from his features.

"I got -three- swords, by the by, sweetling. Well, two swords and a spear." He winks again, taking refuge in the ribald as he retreats away from the awkward solemnity of a few moments before. But the man keeps his hands largely to himself, withdrawing his massive paw after a final pat. A strangely chivalric man, for all his hard manners.

Gratefully seizing upon the lifeline of crude conversation, in lieu of the alternative, Starling wrinkles her nose and casts the knight a look of incredulous disapproval as he speaks of his weapons. "..I've seen the swords. I don't want to know about your.." Her chocolate-colored eyes flit downward, unable to help themselves, by way of emphasis. "..spear, thank you very much." Sighing, the girl shakes her head, casting her gaze out over the wreckage of charred hulls still occasionally breaking the surface out in the waters, gulls perching hopefully upon them until a lapping wave crests once more.

Eventually, though, that smile always wins through, and she exhales a soft chuckle to accompany it. "I swear, Coop… it's almost a comfort to know that, no matter what, if the world ever turns upside-down enough to consider you a gentleman, it'll swiftly be set right side up again." Offering him a more sweet and subtle smile, she adds, "I wish I knew a prettier way to say you're a pig. But I don't. So you're a pig." Grasping the brim of her hat with one hand, she draws the other to her nape and roughly pushes her dark hair further up within the crown of it as she repeats, cheerfully, "..a pig is a pig is a pig. No two ways about it. And kindly remove all thoughts of my arse before you rush on in noble and heroic defense of the lands."

"I ain't gonna show you my spear, so stop askin'! I ain't the sort of man to give it away just for a favor. And I been rolling in shit all my life, poppet, but you know I smell like roses at the end of it." Tam reaches over to nudge Starling in the ribs, grinning and laughing as he nods to her. "Oink, fucken oink, my girl. Fuck, ye're pretty when y'smile." And he means it - that much is evident on his face. Happily enough, the man reaches into his pouch again and produces a pipe and a twist of tobacco.

He lights it with a long ember from the fire, puffing away at the pipe before considering carefully. "Y'know, I never did fight for the lands or nothing noble like that, Starling. So if it's all the same, I'll fight for your arse instead. S'prettier."