|Hawks and Hoods|
|Summary:||Lyanna finds Maldred in the Tanglewood mews; they seize this chance for a frank exchange…|
|Related Logs:||Delicate Words|
|Mews, Tanglewood Manor|
|Divided by a central, covered walkway, this building sees much passage between the main courtyard and the paddocks beyond; the cheerful clatter of hooves across stone a near-constant sound here. The northern half of the structure serves as the mews; home to the Lord's hunting hawks. The south houses the Keep's kennels, with a variety of hounds always amiably wagging tails and nosing through in hope of a tidbit.|
|28th October, 289|
The denizens of this part of the Manor are oft-times hooded; hooded, too, this morn, is their visitor, a stranger by his gait and what his cowl leaves to be discerned of his face. He is no austringer, not at least by profession, with none of a servant's deferent caution; though indeed he examines the birds with a glinting, hard look not unlike several of their own, which speaks of plenty of experience with flighting. He falls at last to watching an unhooded laner, a light hawk, little larger than a sparrow-hawk indeed, but valued for its elegance and speed, and use in training squires, or noblewomen. So absorbed in the bird's movements, regular, graceful, frustrated, does he appear, that he may not respond when another joins his company…
Entering the area from the direction of the courtyard is a figure less hooded, although wearing a blue cloak against the possible chill of the morning over her plain but elegant dress in the blue and grey of House Frey. Lyanna sees the hooded stranger and moves to his side, casting a quick glance towards the face under that hood. Little as she might have glimpsed, there is a smile of recognition on her face as her gaze turns back to the hawks, studying the birds with curiosity before raising her voice. "Hmmm, I wonder if I get the opportunity to hunt anytime soon? These are fine birds. Hope you are doing well, cousin?" The latter being uttered without removing her gaze from the hawks.
The laner makes use of its throat, though it cannot escape the environs of its perch, reacting to the new human voice with a quick, chilly shriek. The first onlooker shrugs, and smiles, and takes a step back closer to his blue-garbed kinswoman. "She'd like to hunt too, my lady," he assesses the bird's state with a quiet chuckle. "Ask to borrow her when you're next closeted with the Steward, you'd be well suited…and she might teach you something, about…your quarry…"
Maldred Rivers lets down that hood easily enough in his cousin's presence, and stares amusedly for a short space beyond her shoulder, "Septas don't take to bird-shit much, do they? Even the fewmets of noble hawks. Good. I hadn't planned on it, but I'd be pleased to speak to you alone, lady cousin, and I think these hawks are the only subjects of…his lordship…who can be trusted to listen with total discretion…"
"So you know a bit about hawking as well? I am impressed, cousin." Lyanna replies to Maldred's assessment of the laner, arching a brow. "The steward? She is quite intelligent, it would seem. And ambitious too. I fear the quarry you speak of might be hers as well…" The Frey lady pauses, shuddering slightly. "I had a little conversation with her the other day. It felt like treading on a field of needles, carefully picking the way as to avoid getting stinged." Then as the talk turns towards her being unguarded, Lyanna shakes her head, chuckling lightly. "My septa is waiting outside, as she claims the stench makes her sick. The stench of bird excrements. So… how have you fared so far? The Ashwoods were not very pleased with your behaviour at our arrival."
"Eagles and hawks may be our formal rivals," the bastard jibes heraldically, "but I've always found them far less dullard in their tempers than hounds, even some horses…and practically all men. There are few finer ways to keep the hand fleet and the eye keen than the flighting of a bird of prey. Aye, m'lady," he adds, dropping into the smallfolk accent he is capable of assuming when he feels like it, though it always sounds a mite too ironical, "I could have been a grand falconer, right enough, had I been high born enough for it…"
Maldred separates his light eyes from the laner with obvious regret, to look his cousin full in the face instead, his smile ambivalent. "Ah, the Ashwoods, your kind hosts…not mine, it would seem. Did I insult them most, do you think, when I asked for provender; traditional guest right hardly unreasonable when entering the house of an enemy's close kin…? Or when I condoled the delightful steward on the death of her good-brother, an old battle-companion of mine? Maybe that was it," he teases, "after all, they do say she poisoned the elder one. Or perhaps his lordship didn't appreciate it when I advised him threatening to rip out the tongue of an envoy's cousin was hardly the act of a professedly loyal vassal. For that is all they are," Maldred insists now.
"Don't let them bamboozle you, these self-named Ashwoods, into forgetting they were born beneath you, Lady Lyanna. They must bow to Frey, not behave as if they have taken a couple hostage! And their reception of me, as you saw, was that of ones determined to take and to give offense."
Listening at first with light amusement to Maldred's words about eagles and falcons, Lyanna's demeanour sombers a little as the bastard talks about his conduct at their arrival. "Maybe it was not merely you asking for food and drink, cousin. It is your manner. They can see how you feel, without you even uttering a word. Perhaps you need to disguise your contempt a little as to not give them an excuse to send you away." Lyanna falls silent for a short moment as she ponders on her cousin's words. "I know of my station. I am merely observing at the moment, trying to get to know the various members of the House. I trust I'll have more success if I appear friendly, although -" she casts Maldred a quick determined glance - "I will not tolerate them not showing the due respect to our House. They are our vassals after all."
For his part Maldred turns his back on Lyanna now; though more likely due to abstraction than willed insult, as he strides further down the rack of perches, lingering this time before a tercel, fiercer than the laner and accordingly held back with a delicate, well crafted leather hood. "Aleister treats his birds well, anyone can see that," the bastard reflects over his shoulder. "All of those pretty falconesses…the Steward, the Castellan, his sister herself would scarcely surprise me…stay away from mews like those, my cousin. For a man who despises the baseborn, I suspect he possesses a few already…though unlike our…House," he carefully, sensitively doesn't say 'father', "he would not have the spirit to acknowledge any…"
"Yes, he treats birds well, in their cages, and cages, too, his guests…but, much as I would sigh in relief," he adds with an insincere wink, "he cannot send me away. Only you can, unless he wishes to tear up his new…fealty. I know him of old, you know, not just from…battles." Note the plural.
"I came to Highfield guarding our lady aunt. He was no more charming. Aleister's gallantry and his loutishness are of a piece, and do not relate to word or deed of mine. He does not know the meaning of grace towards those he imagines are beneath him."
"There. That is the explanation. He must know how you feel about him. And fearing you might influence my reports to Lord Walder he will try to keep you as far from me as he can… Possibly." Lyanna's enthusiasm fades into a state of insecurity. She raises her gaze to Maldred's as if she could draw some experience and strength from her cousin. It might have done the trick, for after a short moment she straightens and lifts her head. "Be it as it may, he will not deny me the respect I deserve. At least he has not so far."
Standing upright, but shifting her weight slightly from one leg to the other Lyanna studies the tercel, Maldred has been looking at. "There is another matter troubling me, cousin. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to find out more about the matter: I find this story about Young Lord Aerick's death quite disturbing. I would really like to… investigate this, cousin. Same goes for the supposed mental state of his mother Lady Cherise… Westerling." Lyanna bites her lip with a troubled look. "Pray tell me that this, of all, is not Lord Walder's doing. Convenient as it is to dissolve Lord Aleister's previous marriage - to make way for a new one."
Maldred returns Lyanna's solemn gaze, his own dubious smile fading into a more granitic cast of his tough, weaselly features. There is courage of a kind there (if a courage that probably supports the theory that Maldred was fathered by the belligerent Walder Rivers), to be sure. As his kinswoman fixes her look on the hawk while her hesitant, but meaningful words emerge, the bastard studies her in turn, as if she has finally, decisively overtaken the birds in his interest. Then he whistles, long and low, and the tercel cries back. Maldred is grinning now, and his eyes show an almost intellectual pleasure.
"Cousin! You are thinking darkly indeed…very good. No, the babe's end is not the work of Lord Walder Frey," he opines formally, "but you're not wrong to scent a family resemblance…they say, around the barracks and the town," for Maldred has been putting his ignoble lodging to some use, "that the Steward installed herself in Aleister's camp having come from Highfield…where the child was later found dead. It is the Steward - our lord's eldest daughter's blossom, remember…who would wed this newly eligible and oh-so-lordly knight bachelor…"
Some of the tension leaves Lyanna as she digests Maldred's explanation, although she does not look relieved at all. Her deep blue eyes are dark with worry as they focus on her cousin. "Thank the Seven, Maldred. I was starting to question the depth of my loyalty to him if he would be capable of planning such an atrocity. Alas, this gives my mission a much more dangerous meaning… Given that Lord Walder would succeed in arranging a new marriage with a Frey. This Frey lady would be in danger of suffering the same fate as Lady Cherise in the end…? Unless the steward - or whoever caused this 'accident' - was found out and proven guilty of the deed in time."
"'Tis but one conceit among many, coz," Maldred answers in an airy tone, even a grotesque parody of innocence, and shrugging once again those lean shoulders. "Some answer, that the defunct infant…" (Maldred's clinical tone makes it clear he shares none of Lyanna's horror or pity), "…dropped off at a fine moment for the Naylands, as the little lord caused the winding up of the whole scrap. But if the Naylands have such a skilful assassin in their employ, …I can't say I've met him. Though I suppose it's rare to meet assassins. Or be able to recount doing so." All of these suppositions are delivered as deadpan cracks, by-the-by, and it's obvious Maldred's real suspicions still lie with the Steward, but he continues to posit other pieces of evidence, for what it might be worth.
"Then there are those who trace some grand conspiracy 'gainst Seashells. Look, they say, the brat! The wife maddened! The widow drowned! Even a bastard Westerling, a maid of Lady Cherise's or something, was lately flogged and sent off in silence…" Again, a dismissive smile concludes that line of thought.
"But I'd still say…who gains? And who would think to start with the…babe? I lack your fine scruples, coz, and admit even such infanticide would never make me doubt my loyalty to my lord father." High emotion brings out that proud claim. "But I'd also swear to his blamelessness here. He has too many children to notice whether some other man's sapling should flower or wilt. No, to strike at a child…is the act of a jealous rival. And you saw the Steward shielding her leman lord from your uncouth cousin's outrages," he jokes. "You saw she's jealous as any favoured hen."
Although flinching at Maldred's casual tone as he speaks of the 'defunct infant' Lyanna listens carefully to every possible explanation her cousin offers, her gaze returning to the tercel first before looking at the laner once more. After Maldred has finished the Frey lady turns to face him with a little sad smile. "I might have scruples and would indeed put my loyalty into question, but I must admit, your words make sense. I thank the Seven that I will not be forced to decide between my loyalty and my conscience. As for the steward… It would be advised not to investigate the matter on my part too openly, would it? Rather wait and watch the developments while I concentrate on my actual office as an ambassador."
"Watch like these hawks do," Maldred agrees, and there is some melancholy in his tone, too, surprisingly – probably on the birds' behalf. "And wait…with considerably more patience. You might also want to consider which kinswoman you propose to offer to our oh-so-uxorious host." Perhaps it doesn't befit a descendant of Lord Frey to mock someone else's marital conduct, but then none of the Ladies Frey have gone mad yet. Officially.
The bastard looks sidelong to a third bird, a hooded merlin, aloof and composed. "The Steward has risen as high as any tercel, and no doubt flustered several laners…but there is one product of the Ashwood mews I recall yet. Lady Aeliana - Charlton, as was, …I recall her from…well, from the Twins. I wonder how she feels about our Stewardly cousin. So I'd wait, yes, among other things for the sister's coming…and her friendship, perchance…?"
That's probably a joke, but it seems to have concluded the bastard's advice, and he leads their way out of the anti-Septic falconry…
"Aeliana, you say? I remember her. She seemed pleasant enough back then." Lyanna replies as she follows Maldred out to the courtyard - and meets her septa's disapproving gaze. Mariah starts clearing her throat. Tis a clearing that takes its time, relishing in the moment, growing in a crescendo to an impressive volume - until it would even breach the impaired hearing of a deaf. Lyanna rolls her eyes and waits patiently for a moment until the sound turns into a fit of coughing - inevitable if one clears the throat with such emphasis.
"No need to concern yourself, Mariah. I met cousin Maldred perchance and had to discuss some matters with him." the Frey lady remarks with amused concern. "Just a moment." And she turns her attention back to her protector, inclining her head in genuine gratitude. "Your information and counsel has been most valuable, cousin. As I must leave you now, promise me that you will not start any fights or insult any of the Ashwoods. My safety relies on you." And with these words and a final nod as if to emphasize her plea Lyanna turns and leaves with her septa to enter the Entrance Hall of Tanglewood Manor.
But too swiftly perhaps, for the bastard has promised nothing!