Page 584: High Petty Lords
High Petty Lords
Summary: There is a hint of rebellion in the air as a maester and a guard choose to vent their frustration at the Crane and Crossing Inn, with a craftswoman of the Mire as a witness.
Date: 27/02/2013
Related Logs: references You're Fired
Hareth Taleryth Maud 
Stone Walk, Stonebridge
Set at a slight incline, the stone pathway leads up a slight rise northeast out of the town square towards the single tower of House Tordane. Grass grows thick and plush along the side though it is well maintained. Private shops and stables are located up closer to the manor with the family's private stables attached directly to the exterior wall of the small castle.
February 27th, 290

Disturbing rumors have emerged from Tordane Tower lately, rumors that the Naylands are to leave Stonebridge soon. At least there was some shouting heard in the Map Room, when the Steward and his wife had received a Tully emissary. It comes as no surprise that the usual confidence has left some of the residents of Stonebridge, as can be gathered from some bewilderment on their faces or the sad and subdued tone of their conversation. This morning is not different. Lingering idly on the way that leads up to the Tordane Tower stands Hareth of the Mire, a guardsman off duty, humming a sad little tune to himself while he lets his sombre gaze wander over the town that has been his home for the last years.

The soldier's static melancholy is about to encounter its complete opposite, as a sound like a rustling and rising wind hurls itself through the Stone Walk's air - the avian flapping of a robed man in a hurry. There's a little clinking, too, even though young Maester Taleryth's chain is short, only just fitting about his neck. The boy's brownish eyes - for in this contingency, his solemnity ruffled, he looks scarce more than a boy - are wide and staring, his hair disordered, as he launches from his wrist…a raven. Neither the first, nor last of the breed he has flighted in these chaotic days. When he has finished gazing hopelessly after its black speck, he looks back, vague, to the earth and one of its creatures, a lowly guardsman. Uncharacteristically, the Maester greets him with a good deal of friendliness and relief.

"Harold, isn't it? Look…you're not on duty, are you…I don't suppose you'd care to join me for a quick tankard at the Crane and Crossing…?"

His attention distracted for a short moment from his contemplations by the sound of a raven's flapping wings, Hareth turns and looks up with thoughtful eyes to watch it fly away. Expecting the young Maester to disappear again into the Tower, he is taken aback as he finds himself addressed suddenly. "Not on duty, aye…" Those blue eyes assess Taleryth for a moment until he nods. "Why not, maester. But… the Crane and Crossing? I'm not sure they like common guards like me showing up there. It's a rather fancy inn, isn't it?"

The maester makes an impatient gesture with one sweeping, draped arm. "C'mon, my good man, you know as well as I do this whole fief has just been tipped into pandemonium, I really don't think anyone will care if you step into a better class of establishment than usual. Besides, at this rate, it might be your last chance! Tell them you're guarding me, if anyone should ask…but they won't. Come, along, follow me!" His confidence returning, Taleryth addresses Hareth as if he were some erring little noble charge, leading the way with a frantic sweep to the Crane Et Cetera.

Crane's Crossing Inn, Stonebridge
While Crane's Crossing is technically an Inn, it caters to the traveling nobility almost exclusively. The floors around the hearth are finely crafted stonework, as are the slate blocks that the firepit is constructed of. The rest of the floor is done in stained oak that matches the few long tables and the chairs. The rest of the main room is furnished with plush couches and seating to entice visitors to delay their leave. A full service kitchen provides food of all kinds as well as high quality ales and wines. Also available are several women to provide hospitality to the lonely or those in need, the quality of them to be beaten by but a few in the Riverlands. A hallway near the kitchen leads off to the rear of the building and several up-scale rooms.

Seated diplomatically at a table far from the fire is a woman of humble station, who stands out amongst the fine and prosperous patrons of the Crane's Crossing by her muddied skirts — and the verdant green silk kerchief in which her dark hair has been bound up. Maud Astley, visiting from the Mire to deliver a parcel of cloth to a customer who preferred to meet her here rather than at home, and was too proud to share a drink with her when their transaction was complete. She is lingering alone, refreshing herself with a mug of ale and rather a delicious meat pasty, before commencing her trek home.

Accepting Taleryth's proposal after pondering a short moment, Hareth had followed him all the way to the fancy Crane and Crossing Inn, the doubt perhaps still showing in those blue eyes of his. Yet, on the doorstep of said inn he straightens his posture as if those words of the maester had finally managed to sink in. A Nayland, and proud of it. Even if he were nothing but a guard. Running one hand through his blonde hair, trying to bring some order into it, he turns to the maester, whose hair seems to be even more ruffled. "Where will we sit?" he mutters cluelessly, as he lets his gaze wander over the room, lingering on that lady, whose face does indeed seem familiar to him.

As an afterthought the guardsman adds: "By the way, my name is Hareth, maester. Not Harold."

"Oh, anywhere," the maester snaps in a very inefficient whisper, still betraying plenty of unease and impatience. "Somewhere we can talk," he clarifies, and though, these demands taken literally, they might indeed talk anywhere, the maester clearly means to modify his first specification with his second, as he goes on, "Why not over there, away from those lubboxes around the bar and the fire? Only some tradeswoman to overhear us…" and then Taleryth, too, experiences a slight sensation of recognition, "…and if I recall correctly, she's the sensible kind. Wouldn't mind if she joined us, actually. Why don't you get three ales, Harold?" A slightly annoyed frown overtakes him at the correction, "Alright, alright, next time I'll be sure to call you Viserys Targaryen…"

The sight of a maester and a guardsman bearing down upon her table doesn't seem to bother Maud — her usual rule of remaining politely aloof from strange men in taverns doesn't apply, for she knows these two, the warrior slightly better than the scholar, and they're not liable to start any trouble… are they? At any rate, they've invoked the universal signifier of friendship: they've bought a round.

She greets them with a quiet word and a nod of her head, as dignified in her way as any lady. "Good day to you, Master Hareth. And Maester… Forgive me, I think we have spoken once before, but I have forgotten your name."

Hareth seems to be content with Taleryth's choice of table, even though the maester seems inclined to get his name wrong. And he heads off towards the bar, his steps confident and swift, true to his role as guard to the maester. "Three ales, luv." Hareth orders, smiling at the young serving whench with a wink. "We'll be sitting over there." he adds pointing towards the table, before he follows Taleryth over to Maud. "Good day, Mistress… Astley? Mind if we join you at your table?"

"Please, sit," she answers, with a small gesture from a large hand. The beds of her nails are a darker green than her kerchief: a sign of her trade which she almost always evinces.

"Likewise," confesses the young scholar with the nervous brusqueness that characterises his manner at present, in answer to Maud's plea of ignorance of his name. "Ah yes, that was it, Astley. It seems you can remember other folk's names quite as well as your own, soldier. Mayhaps you should run off to Oldtown and get yourself a Heraldry link."

Taleryth's joshing of the even younger guard is quite insincere and casual, and he goes on to Maud in a doleful tone as he takes his seat, "For us country Maesters, sworn to a fief, often for a life's span of service, our name is of much less importance than our lord's. And for these last two days…I have not known my lord's name. Nor has Hareth, here, nor any of us. I'd counsel you to fly and fly fast back to the Mire, Mistress Astley…only I suspect matters to be just as bad there." He takes a slug at the ale, for which, since last meeting Maud, he's after all acquired a slight taste.

After murmuring "Thank you" to the wench who has just delivered three fresh tankards and removed the one left sadly empty — a courtesy one cannot of course expect a thirsty maester to offer — Maud glances pensively round the room (her eyes move, her head doesn't) and ventures, "I have done good business in Stonebridge whilst Lord Tyroan and his good lady ruled. I came today to honour a commitment made some weeks past, but whether I shall trade here in the future — it all depends."

"You mean… a link of that chain o'yours?" Hareth replies to Taleryth, after looking baffled for a short moment. "Never ever, maester. I would have to be able to read for that, wouldn't I?" A hearty chuckle follows. "Let us not confuse things… You're the maester, and I am happy to be just a simple guardsman." It is when he hears Taleryth's words about the uncertain future of Stonebridge that Hareth's mien sombers. He takes a sip from his ale in silence, obviously at a loss of what to say and listens to Maud's remark about her business. Although a question pops up in his mind. "How are things at home, Mistress Astley? Is everything well at the Mire? The old carpenter's my grandfather. Is he alright?" Hareth could add another question perhaps, regarding some drunkard that lives at the carpenter's, his own father, but he rather chooses not to.

Having disposed of the dyer-woman's tankard - Taleryth looks a touch more green-fingered than usual, as the handle has left a tell-tale smudge - the maester gasps in satisfaction as he heaves up his own. But when he speaks again, the quenching has purged no asperity from his voice.

"This isn't about trade, Mistress. It is not your profession that looms over us, but this lad here's and mine - war, and law. No ravens have answered my late, successive enquiries to Riverrun. But if word of mouth runs true, the whole of House Nayland may have been attainted by Lord Tully…for no stated reason. They say Lord Rickart's a prisoner, and for all anyone knows, his sons, too…no one knows who's to have the Mire, and as for here, there's some foolish chatter of joint rule - a council of three, or four, or seven, perhaps, for piety! The law makes no provision for such things, and nothing would induce the Freys to take pleasure in them, either. I tell you both, this will put boys like Hareth back on battlefields ere long. Aye, and grandfathers, too."

The conversation has rapidly assumed a character Maud considers dangerous; she certainly won't be led into commiting herself to any further opinions in front of men she, to be fair, hardly knows. She turns very deliberately to Hareth and says: "Your grandfather," there is a slight emphasis upon the first syllable, "was hale and well when last my friend Mistress Parr saw him, two days past. She went to consult him about mending a small box in which she keeps some of her sewing tools. One of our cats knocked it off the table while pursuing a bee which had strayed in from the garden. He does fine work, your grandfather, and I am sure he will be able to fix it." She meets the guardman's eyes as she praises his ancestor, then nods to signal the end of her little speech, and sips again from her tankard. "Thank you for the ale, maester," she adds.

Hareth's gaze clouds as he hears the maester's assessment of the current situation, painful in its precision, but true nonetheless. "I will do what is necessary. Fight if I must. But leave… That's what makes it hard for me. Leave Stonebridge?" he mutters, more to himself than to anyone else. But the guardsman's demeanour lightens up a bit at Maud's reply. "I am glad to hear that. He's old but he's a tough one." He looks slightly relieved indeed and raises his tankard. "To my old Grampa."

Taleryth obviously feels Mistress Astley's unsaid rebuke, and his expression is wry, "Nonsense, mistress - it's possible I owed it you already." He glances down at his green-smeared right fingers, "even maybe twice over…" He joins the toast to the old carpenter with his two-thirds full tankard raised, and his smile crooked and sardonic, looking out of place on such regular, smooth features.

"Leave Stonebridge," he repeats, half-mouthed, after those words have escaped Hareth. "It's strange and moving to see you so cut to the quick at that idea, lad. I've dreamed of little else since I arrived. Oh, there have been moments - it's pleasant to be of use, and a figure of some petty importance. And Tyroan is - was - an honest Steward and a true master. But still, it changes little. My coming here was a ghastly fiasco. And my vow was to the lord of this fief, and no new-fangled council. If Lord Tully means to press ahead with his impractical, bloody plan, I shall seek recall to Oldtown, and I'm almost sure I'll soon obtain it. I have my letter requesting release fresh composed."

After he has taken another sip from his ale, Hareth lets out a sigh. "I had great hopes when I came here. And I've defended this place during the siege. To leave now feels… like some sort of defeat. That all has been for nothing…" His left hand clenches to a fist, while the other is still busy holding onto that tankard. He exhales and runs his hand through his blonde hair once again. "This last steward was a capable one. After all he's done for this place… to be dismissed like that." It seems some of the frustration is slowly moving up to the surface to be voiced - not in as flowery words as the maester would use, of course.

The maester has been drinking faster than the soldier…even as he talks faster…and dark though the Mire ale is, it has made his eyes bright. He shrugs now, "Well, myself, I can hardly help having adifferent view of things. I wasn't suppose to be a Maester this early, you know, Hareth. They sent me up here as they might dispatch you to battle, without adequate equipment or instruction. And why? A fresh Maester, they said, for a fresh lord. The new Lord Tordane. But by the time I got here, Ser Rygar had killed my ordained employer. Then I served Riordan the Regent, Lady Valda, Tyroan the Steward. They came, and they have gone…and yet, as for me, I've hardly settled in. It's time to forget this nightmare and return to the studies I should never have left."

"Yes, you are very young for a maester. I always thought it was because you were unusually clever?" Hareth replies with a faint smirk, although his demeanour darkens a bit at Taleryth's mention of battle. "No matter what we do, it all comes down to… decisions of the high petty lords. They come and go. Better not think about it too much, if I can't change anything. Anyway." And as if following his own advice he takes a huge gulp from his ale. "Just follow orders." He shrugs, as if he were content with that. "Stonebridge will lose a great maester." the guard adds after a pause. "Fresh maesters have fresh ideas. I wonder if some old chain-clanking fellow will have any useful advice to offer here, at this very place. No offence…" The words come out of Hareth's mouth without much thinking it seems, his usual reserve diminishing due to being drowned in Mire Ale.

"Ha bloody ha," Taleryth quips back, suddenly seeming much closer to the guardsman's age…and birthplace, his plummy Reach accent for a moment sounding just like the lilt of Fairmarket. "And 'high petty lords'…? That's a good one! I shall tell my pupils in law and warcraft, upon my return, to beware the highly petty, wheresoe'er they may find them!" He finishes his second beverage, "None taken, Har…eth." He seems to have contemplated getting it wrong on purpose and rejected the idea. "Let me know if you change your mind about that link! I could use your…conversation on the road. But if you stay, well, I hope you enjoyed yourself at the Crane, at least…"

Grinning broadly, Hareth nods. "I'll have to… well not stay here, but stay in service to the Naylands. I've been all my life." he explains with a hint of regret in his deep baritone voice. "I'm not the clever kind, true. But clever enough to notice when someone's making fun of me, maester." He doesn't seem offended though and grins broadly at Taleryth as his name - for once - is pronounced correctly. And after finishing off his tankard, he adds: "The Crane. Funny, as long as I've lived here I've never dared to enter. And now that we're here, I'm wondering what in the Seven Hells had me kept off this place. It's nice here. And we haven't been thrown out this far. So let us leave, before they make us…?"

"I've taught a humble subject to sneak in where he doesn't belong and enjoy himself," Taleryth remarks in wonderment as they take their leave. "Perhaps my work here really is done, after all…"