Page 271: Harpy Feathers and Tiger Stripes
Harpy Feathers and Tiger Stripes
Summary: Valda welcomes two Naylands back to Stonebridge, and Riordan attempts to establish his place on this new battlefield. Rygar disapproves.
Date: 15/04/2012
Related Logs: A New Battlefield, and Befitting Station
Rygar Riordan Valda 
Tordane Tower
Home of the Cranes and the Harpies.
Sun Apr 15, 289

Word of Pyke's surrender had come by way of the same messengers who announced that within days, the armies would be returning. While the orderly ranks of Stonebridge townsmen who had marched off to the war are being welcomed in the Town Square, two of the Nayland name have come directly to Tordane Tower: Sers Riordan and Rygar, who had bid a retainer "Inform the Lady Valda that we seek audience."

Ser Riordan, for his part, is dressed rather smartly in his doublet that sports the Naylands of Stonebridge's quartered harpy-and-crane. Likewise, he wears a chain of gold draped over his shoulders that bears the same sigils. The leathers of belt and scabbard have been freshly polished, as had the leather of his sword's pommel, and all subsequent metals have been polished till they gleam. Even his boots have been freshly scrubbed and polished. Given the shiny newness of his dress, and his freshly shaven boyish face that makes him look years younger then he is, Riordan may appear a squire fresh from a bath rather then a knight fresh from battle. The stiffness in his movements, the only betraying markers of his recent wounds at Pyke, may be the only indicators to give this illusion away.

Valda arrives to greet the pair personally in a gown of rich emerald green with golden vines climbing along the flared sleeves and generous hem. Her pair of guards are ever-present, the young maid sent off on some errand or other. Amber glitters in her raven tresses, set in golden pins interspersed throughout her upswept hair.

Eyes so light they are nearly clear assess the men, lingering briefly on the elder man's fresh scars, even as her polite smile is combined with a curtsey. "Welcome home, my lords. Please, follow me to my sitting room. Food and drink will arrive shortly."

Rygar, straight backed and sever as ever, bends at the waist in a sharp bow to the last Tordane, without dropping eye contact. "Lady Valda," he voices in even greeting. Rising from the bow after a moment, the stern knight nods slowly once to the invitation to the sitting room, stepping to one side of Stonbridge's Castellan en route. "Such would be most welcome, Lady."

"Indeed, my lady is most gracious," Riordan says, giving a bow as stiff and careful as his moments. His smile, however, has none of that stiffness - it is the same large, lopsided, boyish smile as ever, the kind that is infectous and disarming, all at the same time.

Undoubtedly, it disarms lesser women. However, Valda Tordane is a force to be reckoned with — or a frigid hag, depending on whom one asks — and her own expression is never more than polite for the men. As she leads the way, she comments, "I have heard of your great success pushing back the ironborn. From what I understand, the losses were minimal as well. How fares your House in that regard?" The question is asked of either, or both.

"Our knights and levies were placed in the forefront of storming two fortresses," Rygar relates without ornament. "Lord Rickart styles himself the Conqueror of Grey Garden. The peasantry of Stonebridge did their feudal duty well and of their number, eight have perished. A further three have taken wounds, and the remainder are returned whole and hale. The levies of the Mire took more losses, but nothing beyond expectations, my Lady. Of gentleman of quality, we lost none." He leaves Riordan free to add whatever color to his report the younger man should choose.

"Ser Rygar tells it true, as ever, Lady Valda," Riordan confirms, not that there was doubt of that. "Both the men of Stonebridge and the men of the Mire outperformed many an expectation, and King Robert himself made comment of the ferocity displayed, particularly by those who, though lacking in armor, lacked for nothing in sheer bravery and resolve." Adding color, that Riordan can do.

"Of course he did," Valda remarks dryly to the comment about Lord Rickart. As she enters her suite and moves to settle in a plush, high-backed chair, the Castellan allows the rest of the news to sink in. An inviting turn of her hand for the others motions toward seats surrounding a small round table before her.

"And what of the unofficial report, my lords? I assure you, no words will leave this room that should not. Tell me who showed bravery, who cowardice, and who spent all his time using his little sword to spar with camp followers rather than honing his skills with actual steel."

Rygar sniffs sharply at Valda's initial dry comment. As is proper, the nobleman keeps his feet until the lady is seated before chosing a chair of his own. His stoneface endures throughout the words that follow. "Robert Baratheon has forsworn himself. The Mallisters have violated a duel, the bastard Gedeon Rivers has managed not to die, and the treacherous Greyjoys yet live." A slow breath is drawn through flared nostrils as the stern knight concludes, "Altogether, the campaign were a rather ineffective piece of revenge."

Taking his seat as carefully as the rest of his previous movements up until now, Riordan inclines his head simply at Rygar's comments, though adds nothing further himself in that regard. Instead, he inquires, "And what of Stonebridge, Lady Valda? What has transpired in the last few months? What of my Lady Goodsister? I know she has begun her lying-in. I trust all remains well?" As these questions are important part of Riordan's new life, he addresses them seriously, and though his boyish expression remains open and inviting, there is a new intensity in his eyes as he speaks.

Valda's own lips tighten at the summary, to which she offers only a sharp sniff. There is a knock upon the door a moment before a pair of liveried servants enter to serve the group. Tender rib eye roasts doused in rosemary and mushroom sauce steam their tantalizing scents into the air. Slices of duck are on another platter, with roasted red potatoes, onions, and carrots on a third. A simple meal, comparitively, but this is no feast. Spiced, mulled wine is poured for all before Valda flicks with her pinky to send the hired help scurrying out.

"My daughter is well, considering her condition," the stark Tordane replies. "It is kind of you to ask, Ser Riordan." That light gaze settles on him unblinkingly for a long moment. Finally, she glances sidelong toward Rygar and gently quirks a questioning eyebrow at him.

Rygar draws a steady breath through the nose and is silent an instant at Valda's look as he sends a sidelong glance of his own toward his cousin, before looking back to Valda and giving a nod so small it might have been imagined. His next words are direct. "How perished Ser Ryker, my Lady?" Nothing quite like talk of death to do with such succulant fare, as the lean Nayland takes up a knife and cuts a first mouthful from the aromatic offerings.

Valda's gaze, which might unsettle others, seems to be like water on a duck's feathers to the young Nayland knight. Or harpy feathers. Not surprising, when you consider he is the grandson to the Hag of the Mire. There is simply no room for soft skin in that family. Resurrecting his smile just for the Tordane widow, Riordan offers, "Glad I am to hear it, my lady." He looks up, as the meal arrives, the smells seeming to please his senses as his smile grows. And, either unaware or simply unpeturbed by the silent communication going around, picks up his own knife and samples the delicacies - at least to a returning soldier - before him. He remains silent, as he eats, showing obvious interest in the answer to his cousin's question.

A ghost of a smile touches Valda's mouth and passes through her eyes before slipping away. Then comes the dour query. SHe cuts her meat into small pieces, her reply grave, but easily brought to her lips. "If you trust the maesters alone, it was illness." After chewing on a succulent morsel, she swallows and continues. "If you ask my opinion, I say poison, although I was unable to narrow down precisely from whence it came."

"Has the Lady been able to deduce what manner of poison were employed?" Rygar prompts, not slowed in the slightest from beginning his own dining once the question is asked. Talk of poison within the Tower and dread of poison within the Tower are wholly seperate in the knight's manner. The shock that might have accompanied worst of such infamy is similarly absent.

There is a flash of anger in Riordan's eyes at the mention of poison, though no surprise. He, too, does not slow in the eating. Instead, he remains silent, listening for the answer to this question that is another he wishes the answer to.

Valda's gaze lifts to meet those of her guests in turn. "There are precious few which lack both odor and taste." She swirls the hot wine in her cup, inhaling it before taking a sip. "Rarer still are those with said properties that also work slowly. Again narrowing down his specific symptoms, namely the deep ache in his stomach rather than an inability to breathe or sopme other mark, and I believe I know what was used. More interesting to me is how it was managed. Note that he grew ill, but not his lady wife. If that was the intention, the killer possessed intimate knowledge of their food and drink preferences… or preferences for one of them. And, of course, had motive."

Rygar's chill blue eyes tick more narrow as Valda speaks on. He considers in silence as the state of the deed is lain out, before voicing simply, "I see." Idly swirling wine about in his cup for a moment, he draws a taste of the liquid. He does not inquire further about specifics.

"Have there been any servants who served in the Tower, who were present at the time of the poisoning, who are no longer here? One who would possess such knowledge? If not, then it is likely that whoever did the deed, is here still." Riordan's questions are for Valda, though the comment is for both his companions. "If they are still here, they can be questioned." There is a new level of menace in the way Riordan phrases that last word. Glancing sidelong at his cousin Rygar, Riordan takes another careful bite of his food while he awaits the answers. Of the wine, however, his sips are few and sparing.

It seems Riordan has finally had an effect on the matron. Her own light blue eyes lift to stare at the young man at length. As her incredulity grows, she steals a glance toward Rygar before resettling her gaze upon the earnest Nayland. "What a novel idea, Ser Riordan. I have done nothing about the matter at all, of course, and would never have thought to unvestigate into the murder of my goodson and father of my future grandchild. Thank you for your keen insights." Despite the obvious sarcasm, her tone is genuine enough to give a fool pause.

Rygar exhales tersely at Riordan's inquiry, setting his cup down firmly. Turning a chilly eye upon his knightly cousin, the stern Nayland notes, "You may be assured, Ser, that all necessary inquiries have been made." Rising again to his feet, and offering a sharp bow to the seated Valda, "Lady," and a shorter gesture of decorum to Riordan, "Ser. Pardon me. There are steps I must see taken."

Riordan spares barely a glance for his departing cousin, as he speaks to Lady Valda. His tone remains as genial before, his eyes remain on his food, yet the words themselves are to the point. "I was asking so I could be caught up to speed, Lady Valda. If you wish to act the child, and set yourself against me for what you think was an insult, by all means. I had expected more of a woman of your purported grace and experience, however, and had dearly hoped to find us allies." Finally, he looks up at her, his eyes intent. The look in them might be anger, or might be something else entirely. "I know how your relationship was with my brother. I wish for none of that. I have no personal desires upon what you view as yours. My goals are that of my family. To further Nayland interests, and ensure the continuity of all that you, my Ser Cousin, and my Lord Father have worked for. Can we come to agreement on this?" The more he speaks, the quieter his words grow, until the last is said just above a whisper. And yet, his words carry, all the same.

Valda inclines her head toward the departing Rygar. As the young tiger shows his stripes, she sips more wine calmly. Only once he has finished does she grin like a cat with a mouth full of feathers and cream. "I -thought- there was more to you, Ser Riordan. You do an excellent job of hiding it from your cousin, but do not think you have him entirely fooled. Else, he would never have agreed to my request earlier." Setting the cup down, she chuckles mirthlessly. "Come now, young ser. Since when does one minor, passing affront end an alliance between people of intelligence? It pleases me that you are not your brother's reflection, though. Your cousin and I both can aid you far more that way."

Riordan regards Valda intently in silence for a moment longer, before his expression changes. The smile returns, once more taking years away from him and bringing back the boyish young lordling. "Your words underestimate my Ser Cousin, my Lady Valda. If there is a true heir to my Lady Grandmother in wit and skill, it is Ser Rygar." He smiles further still, adding, "Though I suspect you know that, as well." He inclining his head graciously to her once more, he takes a final bite of food before setting aside his knife and addressing Valda fully. "I am pleased, however. I know I can not do the task my father sets me alone. I have never been required to manage a holding before, nor dealt in politics so heavily. You have been here longer then any Nayland, and know Stonebridge best. My cousin… well, he is Rygar." As if the name alone explains it all. Which it should. "I will rely on both of you to accomplish what must be done, and know that you may rely on me in return." He pauses once more, lifting his goblet and taking a sip, before inquiring, "I had a thought to name Ser Rygar to the position of Sheriff of Stonebridge. By all reports he has been doing this job in months past in all but name, and I feel that making it official might further our combined interests. May I know your thoughts on this, my lady?"

Talk of Rygar's cleverness is met with a quit, miniscule smirk, confirming her knowledge of the man's cunning. She enjoys her meal, taking delicate bites of her small portion as the Nayland heir brainstorms. His questions earns an approving nod. "The Warden of Stonebridge has a better ring to it, I think. But yes, it is well-deserved and, dare I say, expected."

"True, it does. Though for now, it might be best to refrain from too grandiose a title. At least until current matters are settled, especially the solving of my brother's murder, as well as the matter of - if you will forgive my bluntness - your late husband's Bastard." That last in particular needs resolving. Taking another slow sip, Riordan continues. "The title of Sheriff will give him further power in the execution of his duties, while not making him seem too important. My cousin is not one to overcare about meaningless honors, and I would rather there were only one main target should another assassin strike. Let them set their sights on the 'Lord Regent' of Stonebridge, and ignore the true dangers at their peril, all the while keeping my family safe." Another sip. "Particularly my Lady Goodsister, and my late brother's unborn child."

"They will go after my grandchild first, particularly if it is a boy," Valda counters with a brief frown. "And, of course, as you wish only to further your House's interests, the most logical next step would also cause some complications of inheritance." She waves a dismissive hand. "Nothing that can not easily be outlined in the contract, of course. But it seems children these days are more willful regarding their own desires and less respectful of their families' wishes." Her lips thin and she inhales through flared nostrils for a moment. Then the smile returns, polite as before. "Yes, Sheriff will suit him well, my lord."

Nodding at Valda's words, Riordan replies, "Indeed. Which is why I trust you and my cousin will focus your efforts on keeping your daughter and grandchild safe. I will reiterate these words to Ser Bruce, as well. If there is to be an attempt, let it be on me, so that we might draw out any traitors among us." Swirling the wine in his cup in idle thought, the young Nayland lord speaks further. "Whatever needs to be done to secure the union between our Houses irrevocably shall be taken, you've my word on that, my lady. For my own part, should I be required to take that next step, or merely to facilitate it, I will do so. And, through my renewed acquaintance with your daughter once her seclusion is ended, I trust she will do the same. Her and I have shared interests, and I found her easy to talk to. I am certain that whatever difficulties arise in the future, all will be overcome. One way, or another." That boyish smile arises again, although the eyes above it are more intense. The eyes of someone whose eyes are set on a goal, and will pursue it, no matter the cost.

"My dear boy, if only you were about when Lord Frey was seeking a match for the young maiden Lady Valda. I might have had a true match, rather than a fool with no head for running a keep and no sense of propriety." Which is as close as she comes to mentioning her late husband's choice to raise his proof of infidelity in the tower for all of Stonebridge to see. The Castellan laughs shortly, her own eyes beginning to alight, although not with amusement. "Indeed, once the mystery has been solved and a proper mourning period has passed, we may reiterate our Houses' mutual interests with another permanent tie."

"You do me great honor, Lady," Riordan says with an easy smile, and seeming truly genuine in his words. He lingers no longer on her compliment, however, except to continue wearing that warm smile of his as he speaks further on other matters. "Nothing would please my Lord Father more, my Lady Valda. And thusly, nothing would please me more." He inclines his head to her, and takes a last sip of the wine before setting down his cup, leaving it still half full. "Well then. In the coming days, I will endeavour to consult you as I am able, and seek your counsel as I do my cousin's. As I told Ser Rygar, I shall never fault you for giving me true and honest advice, and will do my utmost to heed your wise words. In return, I merely request your patience and understanding as I take on this new role that my Lord Father has seen fit to assign me." He smiles futher still, with a hint of wryness, as he adds, "And, if possible, I would ask you to be as direct with me as I am with you. We are allies, and as close to family as may be under the circumstances. With enemies at our preverbial gates, we can ill afford future misunderstandings."

Valda dips her head in return, those eyes never leaving the young man's face. "Quite. And as family, we also realize that unintentional slights will occur and be forgotten without the foundation being affected. You have my aid and my advice, for what they are worth, Ser Riordan. I've no doubt you will make your House proud."

"Agreed," Riordan says simply, in response to Valda's first comment, inclining his head in silent acceptance of the rest. "I thank you for the kind hospitality, my lady Valda. I hope it not too much an indisposition, but I find I need a proper bath and a rest after the recent travel behind me." Not to mention the battles. "Might I impose on you to have a servant show me to my quarters?"

"It is never an imposition, my lord." Valda rises and glides toward the door, opening it to reveal her guards without, along with a pert, short maid. "Show Ser Riordan to his rooms." After a pause, she adds, "And see to his needs." Looking back to the man, she offers a small curtsey. "Sleep well."