|Hatching Little Birds|
|Summary:||Saffron asks Sterling's advice on getting eyes and ears.|
|The Banefort Tent|
|29 June, 289|
There is very little need for the Baneforts to remain in Seagard what with the tournament coming to a close and the tensions of Stonebridge mounting. Saffron had already packed up her belongings with the expectation that she will join her betrothed in the castle for the remainder of their stay. There is still family to meet, still arrangements to be made, and Edith Banefort has made it clear that her niece can handle much of it on her own — that the Banefort requires her return, and that they will see her in a few months once the wedding was to be finalized. On the morning that the tents are intended to be torn down, a decision has come upon the woman of the Hooded Men. She has requested that Sterling to come to see her — in private.
Sterling has probably been up since dawn, like the servants in charge of taking down the tents. Just like them, however, he's been cooling his heels until the nobles see fit to stir themselves from bed. 'Assist my daughter and niece however you can in keeping the Banefort's good name,' Lady Banefort said. And so the common knight waits. His gear is packed, his horse saddled, and then the summons comes, and he moves over to the Banefort girl's tent, coming around from behind and waiting just around the corner from the pavilion's entrance, listening in silence for a minute or two before he appears before the doorway, speaking quietly to the guards out front, "The Lady Saffron asked to see me." When he's bid enter, he does, bowing his head sharply and then standing still in the midst of the pavilion, his left hand rising of its own accord so he can study its clean, neat nails.
There is a heavy thud as Saffron closes the lid on her trunk, brushing her hands together as she turns to face the little shadow her aunt so trustingly employs. Her lips are tight, as they often are around Ser Sterling Sharpe — as if a careless smile could give all her secrets away. She offers him a nod of her red-haired head, casually dropping into a seat on the flat of the trunk. "Ser Sterling… I wanted to have a word… I…" There is a hesitant moment, her lips thinning aa bit more. "I wanted your advice…"
Sterling's fingers curl up tight against his palms at the thump of the closing trunk, but his face never changes. His eyes flicker down to the trunk as she sits atop it, then back up to her face, a faint smile sinking into his features for just a moment, "And Lady Banefort just left, too." And then the smile is gone, as if it were never there. "What can I do for you, Lady Saffron? Want me to follow your betrothed to make sure he's true?"
It is hard to resist the sudden scowl that twists her lips, and Saffron narrows a glare at the shadow man. "I know Kamron is true. I do not need you to prove that to me," she says, though she manages not to allow the anger to flood her voice. No, she has much to talk to the man about — no point killing the topic with her own temper. She twitches her skirts closer around her, minimizing the space she inhabits on the trunk. "I will never return as a daughter of the Westerlands. I'm to become a Mallister in a few short months, and the Riverlands will forever be my home. I've always respect my aunt's flock of little birds, and you are one of her most trusted…"
Sterling shrugs helplessly under the glare, letting it wash off him like water from a duck's back. Once more, that little smile unfolds itself across his lips, "You flatter me, Lady Saffron." That's not a request to stop. Neither does it sound particularly flattered, however. "You're looking to set up your own network. In Seagard and beyond." That's not a question, a statement, because the only other reason to flatter him would be to try to steal him from Lady Banefort. "So you want some thoughts on who to pick? How to approach them?"
Saffron actually looks a touch thankful that she does not have to say it aloud, that he is keen enough to pick up on the flow of the conversation. She folds her hands in her lap, and she nods. "Yes," she says in a softer tone. "And where to begin. Already I have the Roostlings whispering their secrets to me, but there is little I can do with what a child finds important."
Sterling lifts one eyebrow slightly, "So teach them." Maybe he's not quite as blunt with Bernard's daughter as he is with Erik's, but he's also not standing on ceremony. Just on a carpet. "First thing though. You've got to teach them to keep their traps shut. If they talk about the training they're getting, the jig's up." Once more, his hand is brought up to study his nails, finding some imaginary imperfection to scrape away, "But you'll always get more shit from your birds than you will gold. Tellin' the two apart's the hardest part."
Up goes a narrow copper brow at the knight. "And how does Lady Banefort decipher your own shit, Sterling?" She asks, her tone equally blunt with perhaps the finest razor edge of caution. The question is not permitted to linger long before she flares out her nostrils, giving her skirt a brush of her fingertips as if there may be a wrinkle there to smooth out. "How did you come into my aunt's service? What did she do to keep your trap shut?"
Sterling shakes his head slightly, "I'm different." 'And better' is what his tone says, even if he doesn't. "I'm a second-generation bird. Had the caution bred into me." A particularly snarky grin touches his lips for a moment, "Also means I'm housebroken. Don't put out nearly so much shit as most birds." And once more, his features smooth over, leaving no trace of the expression. "When you're workin' with kids though… kids love secrets. Find what they like, use that. They want to be knights, tell 'em knights keep secrets. They want to be ladies, tell 'em ladies keep secrets. They want to be whores, tell 'em whores keep secrets." All true, to some degree.
Saffron smirks at the notion of Sterling being different — though she manages to avoid comment, even as his own expression turns snarky. "Lady Banefort was lucky then, to have you so wonderfully housebroken." She does fold her arms now, glancing off toward the slightly ajar tent flap; her brow vexes with thought. There is much silence from her, perhaps even more so than he would be comfortable with — it is rare for Saffron to be so quiet. When she looks back to him, she does so with a half-tilt of her chin. "And of course, pay them… right?"
Sterling shrugs his shoulders, "Pay them somehow. The whole key's finding out what they want. They want money, give 'em money. They want to be a knight, promise to get them set up as a page if you can, or training with a sworn sword." He points across to the Banefort woman, his quiet voice suddenly sharp, "But whatever you do, follow through. The first time you don't pay up with what you say you will, your birdy flies free. You might think he's still yours, but he won't be. He'll have a price someone else can pay." If the Banefort is being unnaturally quiet, the Banefort-sworn is being unnaturally talkative. Then again, she did ask for his advice.
So rare is it that Sterling allows such emotion to fill his voice that the sharpness draws Saffron straight in her seat, and his words are taken to heart. She would have asked him more, she would have wondered if there ever was a time that Sterling was not given what he was promised — but, she knew he would never tell her the truth. Instead, the young Banefort woman inclines her head. "I will not make promises with my birds that I cannot keep, Sterling," she reassures him. Once more, her lips begin to thin. "I would like you to help me, Sterling. Report back to my aunt if it pleases you and her, but I would have you help me begin my own flock."
Sterling shrugs slightly, "Start small. Just The Roost. I won't be able to help much there." Once again, that smirk touches his lips before fading again, "Lord Jacsen ain't going to like seeing me around." Oh no, he's not going to explain that. "If you want information on men, enlist the whores and loose women. Then try some of the soldiers." There's a pause, then he adds, "If you want information on women, talk to other women. Servants. They hear all kinds of shit, because no one pays attention to them." He scratches lightly at the back of his left hand, studying the spot and then scratching again. Apparently satisfied, he continues, "When you're ready to spread out to other towns, if I'm still here, I can help."
There is a slight arch of an eyebrow at not being much help around the Roost, and worst yet what Lord Jacsen has to say about it. A small suspicion settles into her features, as if she might know what sort of trouble Sterling has gotten himself into. "What good will you serve my aunt if you can't be seen around the Roost?" She inquires idly before a smirk quirks at the edges of her lips. It does not last long however as she has a more important question: "And if one of my birds fail me?"
Sterling shakes his head slightly, one shoulder rising and falling in the smallest of shrugs, "I'll find a way. I usually do." And apparently that's all he's going to say on that subject. Moving ahead to the other, he shrugs one shoulder, "You don't usually give birds specific tasks. They just bring any new song they hear to you. And you reward them. If you want something specific, you don't want a bird. You want a sneak. Or a spy. Those are harder to find and harder to keep."
Her eyes betray her as they glow with faint curiosity, but she does her best to smother it out with a nod of her head. "Then I suppose I should be happy with my little birds, Ser Sterling." She then begins to stand from her makeshift seat, giving him a gentle nod of her head. "You should see to Stonebridge then, shouldn't you?" She offers him a relaxed smile. "I'm sure my aunt will be looking forward to hearing that song."
Sterling tilts his head slightly to one side, "Did I say Stonebridge, Lady Saffron?" One finger rises up to tap the side of his nose, and he nods approvingly. "Sorry to take Timmen for so long though. Needed him for another task." And then he's bowing his head and ducking out. No congratulations from him. The Mallister knight is probably just going to die anyhow.