Page 290: Keep Your Enemies Closer
Keep Your Enemies Closer
Summary: Jarod meets Anais in Stonebridge to discuss the potential for peace with the Naylands.
Date: 05/05/2012
Related Logs: None
Anais Jarod 
Town Square — Stonebridge
The surrounding terrain has several small gullies and streams that feed into the waterfront area just adjacent to the town square, the sails of the boats visible over the tops of the buildings. The square is floored in the same heavy stone that the east docks and castle are constructed of while the buildings are a mix of the stone, wood, and mortar. There are quite a few fish vendors with their fragrant catches for sale among groups of tables which tend to be busy most of the time.
May 5, 289

For months, the Terricks more or less left Stonebridge to Nayland hands. Now, with the death of Gedeon Tordane, it seems they are less willing to keep their noses out of that particular business. Once again, Anais is in Stonebridge, attended by the usual cadre of guards and a handmaid to vouch for her honor and safety. One might wonder if there's a reason she's spending so much time away from her husband…but those sorts of questions are rude. At the moment, she's standing just outside a leather shop, discussing something with the proprietor, all soft words and friendly smiles.

From the general direction of Tordane Tower comes Ser Jarod. He looks more cleaned-up than when Anais last saw him. Recently shaved and bathed and dressed in the black doublet with gold-thread along the collar and cuffs he favors when he wants to look somewhat presentable in front of nobles. He wears his sword as well, of course. Though his path is taking him more or less toward Crane's Crossing he seems in no great hurry to get there. Expression vaguely furrowed, as it is when he's doing some Serious Rivers Thinking. His path is taking his past the leather shop, though he doesn't seem to have spotted Anais.

"I suppose the leather is going to be more dear soon, as the sources of hides grow scarcer," Anais is musing to the leatherworker when Jarod walks by, pausing with an arch of her brow. "Jarod?" she calls after him, putting the merchant off with a small smile and a touch to his arm before following after the Rivers knight. Her handmaid takes her place, picking up the conversation as though she and Anais share minds. For as long as they've been together, they just might.

Jarod stops and pivots toward the familiar voice saying his name. Anais' presence is certainly a surprise, but it makes his face break into a broad grin. "My lady goodsister!" He jogs toward her and tries to catch her in a rough embrace.

Anais laughs when he turns, returning the embrace without shying away from the contact. "It's good to see you. And looking…well," she adds, tugging at the collar of his doublet and smoothing a hand over a wrinkle. "With your head still attached, no less." Her smile falters for just a moment, following that through to some conclusion, before she has it in place once more. "How are you? And Rowan?" A pause. "I suppose she doesn't go by Rowan anymore, does she?"

"Rickart Nayland's not separated it from my shoulders just yet," Jarod says, as to his head, chuckling. "Still plenty of time for him to change his mind, though, so I'm enjoying it while it stays. Aye. I am well, I think. Or at least getting there. As is my Rowenna Rose. She made her apologies to her lord father and the Mire, and he was quite gracious to her. To us both, really." He can't help but sound a touch wry about that.

"Ay, well. I think he has his reasons for that, but I don't think this is the place to discuss it," Anais murmurs with an apologetic smile, taking a step back. "Stonebridge seems a safer place for a goodson with questionable welcome than the Mire, though. Is Rowenna here, then? I've love to get a chance to speak with her. See how she is, what she wants to do with…everything. Get out of my own skin for a little bit," she adds, wry.

"We can head back to the Crane if you'd like to talk more privately," Jarod says. "Rowenna and I have a room there." He smirks. "We're being kept in a fashion suitable for a Nayland. I'll not complain. I think she's at the Tower right now. Just came from there myself. I was talking with Lord Riordan a bit. Wanted to see Ser Rygar, too, but he was resting when I asked after him, and I didn't want to disturb him. She should be back in the evening, though."

"They're certainly maintaining a presence here," Anais sighs softly, stepping forward to link arms with Jarod. "Well. If you're going to play Nayland, then you can play Nayland hospitality," she declares, smile crooked. "Come, let's go have a seat and something to drink while we talk. Your treat."

Jarod leads Anais back to Crane's Crossing, but only lingers in the common room long enough to order a lunch of chicken and greens, to be taken up in his room. He skips the wine, opting for a pitcher of water instead. Playing a Nayland or not, he seems reluctant to spend too much. Once they've the food, he leads her back to a room upstairs. It's hardly the best the Crane has to offer, but it's clean and comfortable. "Sit down. I've still some mead to drink, if you want something stronger than water," he says, settling the tray that holds their meal down on a small table.

"I might," Anais smiles faintly, settling into a chair and smoothing a hand over her skirts. "It should be time to play nice with the Naylands again soon enough, and it's always easier to smile and laugh after a drink." She falls silent for a moment then, watching Jarod and trying to choose her words. "How are you feeling about things now? Working out where you want to go next with your lives?"

Jarod laughs, uncapping a half-finished bottle of mead and pouring a clay cup for both Anais and himself. That done, he plops down comfortable at the table and gets to eating and drinking. "Better than I did a few weeks ago, which is just fine for now. We're thinking on it. We still have to go to Seagard. I've an offer of work from Ser Kamron, as a sort of private hedge knight. To help him with his bandit-hunting plan on Roost land. I'm unsure Lord Patrek will agree to it, given how Lord Jerold and I parted, but honestly it just feels good to know I've still friends among those men. We'll see how that plays. We've other options to consider."

"Friends is something you're very good at, Jarod," Anais points out with a small smile, taking a few bites. She's careful to eat slowly, each bite small and measured. "Before you choose one, though, I thought I might…" She pauses, lips pursing. "I spoke with Lord Jerold about the origins of the feud with the Naylands," she says instead, then looks up to him. "Had you ever heard where it came from? I thought I remembered asking you before I was to marry Jaremy, but so much has happened since then."

Jarod shrugs. "I'm a fun bloke to have a pint with and a good one to have around in a fight, Anais. I'm figuring out who my friends beyond that are now. I've more than I figured I did, quite honestly." Her question makes him frown slight, and he shakes his head. "No. When I was younger it just seemed like the way things were. That we'd been fighting forever, like the Blackwoods and the Brackens. Over trade and border rights and petty insults. Like so many Houses. Of late I've come to realize it's deeper than that, though. At least for Lord Rickart and Lord Jerold. Never got the chance to ask my lord father about it. What'd he say?"

Anais takes a sip of the mead, eyes closing for just a moment as she savors it, before looking back to Jarod. "He said Lord Rickart tried to take his child," she explains quietly. "I don't know more than that. I don't know what he meant by it. I'd pressed as hard as I could, and pressing any harder might have ended…poorly. But I thought that you should know how your father sees things, at least. In the interest of not making this whole feud worse."

"I don't want to make it worse, Anais. I want to try and end it," Jarod says. And he says it like it's more than just some distant hope, but a thing he's actively toying with in his brain. "Or at least get to a point where we have better concerns than picking at each other. Oh. As I said, I spoke to Lord Riordan this afternoon. About…a number of things. But he mentioned that the offer of food he made was delayed, not rescinded." When she speaks on the reasons behind the Terrick-Nayland feud, he frowns. "Take his child…? That doesn't make any sense. How would the Harpy Lord have even gone about such a thing?"

"If I knew the answer to that…" Anais trails off, then shakes her head. "I half thought he meant Jaremy after his rebellion, but he said that was the /origin/ of the feud. Just…I understand that Lord Rickart may be friendly with you. For your Father's sake, and for the sake of peace, I want you to know how he's seeing things. If he thought Rickart was somehow stealing you, I don't imagine it would end well for anyone." She lifts her cup to her lips, then pauses, tipping her head to one side. "Unless it had something to do with a woman. Lady Evangeline, or your mother, perhaps."

"My mother?" Jarod is surprised by the suggestion. He shakes his head. "Don't see how it could be. She was just a common woman. A steward's daughter, raised in the Roost. And, if we're being very strict about definitions, Lord Jerold's mistress. Though I don't think he'd call her such. They grew up together and he once told me if things'd been different, with either her blood or his…" He trails off, shrugging, and drinking of his mead. "…anyhow, don't see how she could be wrapped up in it. Or Lady Evangeline. She was the daughter of a Terrick banner and betrothed to Lord Jerold when she was just fourteen. Neither would've had much association or interest from the Mire that I can see."

"Neither would I, generally. But Lords Rutger and Riordan have been quite friendly while I've been visiting here," Anais points out, dry. She lets that sit for a moment, then flicks her fingers dismissively. "I suspect it will be a warm and sunny day on the Wall before we get the full truth of it from either of them. I just thought that given the situation, it might be best if you knew. What you do with that knowledge…is up to you."

"Lord Riordan has offered me a place as a knight of Stonebridge," Jarod says, without any preamble. "And I'm giving a good deal of thought to accepting. Should Rowenna agree, and should there be a place for her here as well. I think we could work something out on those scores, though."

Anais catches her lower lip between her teeth, falling silent to take a few bites, sip her drink, and let Jarod's words sink in. "That's…very generous of him," she finally says. "And it would be nice for you. And for Rowan- Rowenna. Between the Roost and the Mire, close to the people. You have experience at the point of serving a guard. How would it interact with Ser Rygar's position as Sheriff?"

"Not sure. I'm uncertain precisely what I'd be doing, though Lord Riordan gave his word he'd not give me orders that would set my sword against the Terricks direct," Jarod replies. "Aye. Would be nice, in many ways. I spent much time as a boy in Stonebridge. Still hold the place dear, different as it is now. And I think Lord Jerold would take it a little better than me bending knee to the Mire, if not much. And I thought…Anais. Ser Rygar defeated Ser Gedeon in a judicial duel. By law, the Naylands claim to Stonebridge has been upheld. Things will have to change. I know it won't be so simple as that but…you see that, right? Things will have to change."

"Gedeon was a damned fool," Anais shakes her head, abandoning her food to lean back in her chair. "It must be something in the Tordane blood." Quiet, she tugs at the hem of her sleeve, brushing the embroidery there with her thumb. "Honestly, Jarod, I have no emotional attachment to Stonebridge. What I /am/ attached to is the availability of trade, the income from the bridge, and not being strangled by taxes if not by blocking trade. And those, I fear, are the things that are going to change."

"Perhaps they can." Jarod jabs at his food, frowning. Very thoughtful, but also reluctant to speak. "Anais…do you honestly see any way for the Terricks to retain their claim to Stonebridge? Because I don't. None that would not bleed us and beggar us worse than we are now. Gedeon was Lord Geoffrey Tordane's son, and he could've made the town his, and if we'd begged and borrowed to support him, we could've perhaps been better-done by it. But Lady Danae…" He regards his goodsister long. "Anais, what do you think our chances are of getting anything but fucked out of whatever in seven hells she's doing if we take that path?"

"Oh, I wouldn't stand behind Danae Westerling without Lord Tywin's own army at my back, thank you very much," Anais shakes her head, raising a hand to ward off the thought. "That is what is known as an indefensible position. I don't know how much say I'd have in the matter, but I'd certainly do my damnedest to prevent it." She doesn't meet his eye as she speaks, instead taking in the details of the room, quiet. He's seen her like this before, when a man was dead in the Roost and Amelia Millen was at large. "Of course," she continues, quiet, "Their claim rests solely on Isolde and her child."

Jarod nods to that. "The Naylands position here is not as firm as they'd like it to be, I don't think. By law, the duel should've settled things. But the Lord Paramount dislikes the Freys, and the Naylands by extension. Lord Tully's love for Lord Mallister, and the Terricks by extension, is I figure the only reason Ser Gedeon's claim went to King Robert at all." He takes a drink of his mead. "The Terricks have little to offer anyone right now but their honor and their good name. Which is a thing the Naylands presently lack in spades." Her own manner makes him frown, but he watches her to see how she'll react to where he seems to be going.

Anais arches a brow to Jarod. "Are you suggesting a marriage alliance, Jarod?" she asks, dry. "I doubt the Naylands will be interested. So far as they see things, they already hold every advantage. Why bother with one? Besides, Rutger has children from his first marriage already. The best possible scenario would be for Isolde to lose her child, but even then, the Naylands would likely wed her to Lord Riordan, thus continuing their tenuous claim here."

"I'm suggesting we back the rightness of the Nayland claim," Jarod says. "If we can get a marriage and a dowry out of that, so much the better. If you're counting on a child's death…" And his jaw gets very tight. "…as our only hope, we've none at all. And as you say, they'd just wed Isolde to Lord Riordan, and we've gained nothing. But if we can give something to the Naylands now, we can at least have a chance at negotiating better trade agreements, better tariffs, and stop them from buying up all the food in the Cape just to starve us or gouge us. What they need, to keep this from getting ugly and embarrassing and expensive for them, is Riverrun's favor. And Seagard can sway that, and we can sway Seagard."

"And whose dowry do you think we're going to get, Jarod?" Anais' voice is soft, and this time she doesn't look away from him, holding his gaze.

"They've an unwed daughter, Lady Roslyn," Jarod replies to that, tilting his head at her and looking a little puzzled. "And enough cousins to fill the throne room of Four Eagles itself. If you're on about Rowenna, I suspect her dowry's long gone and spent on other matters. The pair of us sure as seven hells aren't getting any of it. But as I said, Anais, I'm not proposing we ask for a marriage pact to start. Unless you can swing it somehow. But we can extend a gesture of support to try and mend things some, and perhaps gain some better will and concessions to keep us fed and unmolested out of it. Because I don't see any point in doing anything else, so far as Stonebridge stands. We've lost it, if we ever had a chance of regaining it to begin with."

"You realize you're essentially suggesting your father bend the knee to the Naylands, over the loss of lands that are rightfully his, yes?" Anais sits still, watching him. "And furthermore, inviting one of them into the Roost, where eliminating Jacsen would make a half-Nayland heir to Terrick lands."

"You're the one who brought up marriage, not I," Jarod says. "I don't think lord father would go much for that, anyhow. But for the rest, no, Anais, I don't think I am suggesting that. I'm suggesting we all accept the reality that Stonebridge is gone from our hands, and that grasping at it has weakened us to a point where continuing that may now be our true ruin. The Naylands are going to be our neighbors however this ends, to my mind, so I'm suggesting we might as well try and make that ending amicable."

"I think the Ironborn had a bit more to do with weakening us than trying to regain Stonebridge," Anais draws, arching a brow back at Jarod. "We lost it to begin with because the Naylands were prepared and we weren't. The question is if making peace will give us what we need in the long run, or simply allow the Naylands a chance to further prepare for whatever their next step may be."

"That's the question, aye. But what are our other options as concerns Stonebridge?" Jarod asks, drinking more of his mead. "The way I see it, we've an opportunity now to give the Naylands something they need, and in return we can ask for concessions on the tariffs and trade rules that've been hampering the Roost since the Naylands took this town. If we can breathe some from those, our coin won't be stretched so bad, and we can perhaps just get to the task of rebuilding and not worry about our neighbors fucking us over at every turn. I know it's not what we'd like most to do here Anais but…honestly. What better options do you see?"

"None that anyone with Terrick blood is going to approve of," Anais sighs, turning her attention back to the food. "I dislike trying to be nice /now/," she says after a few bites. "Not because I have a problem with being nice. I rather thought it was a good place to start to begin with. But more because it's going to be hard to appear genuine, rather than like we're trying to salvage the best of a bad situation. And appearances matter."

"We are trying to salvage the best of a bad situation," Jarod says. "But the only other option is supporting Lady Danae and…Anais, between admitting the harpies have the law on their side and supporting whatever in seven hells that Westerlands girl thinks she's doing? I'll take the harpies. Any day and thrice on the seventh of the week."

"I don't disagree." Anais looks up, pressing her lips together. "The Westerlings are…Well. They've been a small sort of house for some time. Probably like our very own Naylands. Only less…charismatic." Her nose wrinkles slightly as she looks back down to her food. "I'd just like to come from a stronger place than begging for allowances in exchange for not pressing a non-existent claim. We have nothing with which to bargain now, is what I'm trying to say."

"We've our honor, and our influence - or at least those of our lieges - with the Lord Paramount. You come from a place where Tywin Lannister's word is life and death, but Hoster Tully…" Jarod winces some. "…you said yourself, this whole mess never would've happened in Lord Lannister's realm. If this were the Westerlands, I'd say we had nothing to offer, and the Naylands would just get the lands they've won. But it's not and…the Naylands are presently very much counting on Lord Tully's favor, which they do not have. The Terricks can bring them something of that. It's not much, but it's the best we've got to bargain with, and we'll never been in a better position to leverage it than this moment."

"I wasn't under the impression the Naylands cared much for Lord Tully's favor," Anais says slowly, reaching for her cup once more. "Is it something you've heard from them, then?"

"He decides who gets the land, ultimately, whether they like it or not," Jarod says. "And there's a representative of his in town now. He came to install Ser Gedeon as lord but obvious…well. Duel was lost. Issue should be settled. And yet you've not heard a peep from the Lord Paramount's man in Tordane Tower about this whole mess being over, have you?"

Anais is quiet for a long moment as she mulls over what Jarod's saying. And when she speaks again, her voice is soft, half-muffled by her cup. "Lord Jerold might very well send me back to my father if I did what I think you're suggesting."

Jarod shakes his head. "I'm not suggesting you do anything, Anais. I just…got this into my head, and you're about the best person to talk it over with, before taking any action on it. You're the first I've breathed any of this to, in case you're thinking this is some idea of Lord Riordan's or that old harpy Rickart. I hope you know, whatever I've done, I'm no Nayland mouthpiece. I figure, if we move on this, it should be put to Lord Jerold before sniffing around the Naylands. Only bad'd come of that if it came to naught with the Lord of the Roost. But I do think, if put right, he'll agree this is the best course. And not just the easiest one for us. That was a judicial duel, done in the eyes of the law and the eyes of the gods. And the Seven went against Ser Gedeon." He frowns, looking down at his mead. "Those are things Lord Jerold respects. More than anything…maybe we can end this now. Whatever in seven hells it is between our houses. Maybe this can be the end of it."

"Maybe." Anais draws a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. "Maybe. Well. I'm here to take another reading of things, see if there's anything else I can find out, try to establish something resembling decent relations. Maybe I can find out what the Naylands would think of the idea before I go and bring it back to Lord Jerold. Perhaps with Lord Tully's representative as well."

"Be very careful when dealing with the Naylands. They're still no friends of ours. I met Lord Kittridge Groves over a pint the other night and he all but said the Naylands are making inroads to buy their harvest. He also said he'd come to the Roost and talk to Lord Jerold about our own bid for it, but matching what they've been promised may not be possible. It's bullshit like that we might be able to stop with a gesture of goodwill. I just…I want it done." Jarod drains the rest of his mead. "And when you see Rowenna, don't tell her we talked like this. Not before I've a chance to go over the idea with her. I'm not sure I can even be a party to it if she doesn't want me to be. She was Ser Gedeon's squire for a time and…" He shrugs. "…he did her a good turn when I'd thrown her over, and she still holds him in good regard for that. She has some attachment to Lady Danae because of that. It's not particularly rational but…" Another shrug. "…when sentiment's involved, what in seven hells is?"

"Oh, I very much suspected that was going on," Anais grimaces in regards to the Groveses. "The part that bothers me is that they're willing to sell to the Naylands at all, when they bend the knee to Lord Jerold. It's a stunning lack of respect for one's liege. If one of Lord Tywin's vassals tried-" She stops, setting her cup aside. "Well. Even here, you know the Rains of Castamere, don't you?" Quiet, she stands, twitching her skirts back into place. "I'll not mention it to Rowenna. There are other things I'd rather speak with her about anyhow."

"They don't bend the knee to Lord Jerold. They're sworn to the Mallisters," Jarod corrects. "We're allies in many respects, but they followed the Royalists during the Rebellion, and Seagard punished them harsh for not following orders when they called their banners for Lord Tully and Robert Baratheon. Seized some of their land after Good King Robert won, those sorts of concessions. And the Terricks are the Mallisters' favored vassal, and I'll confess we profited some from their fall. I don't think the want to hurt us, precisely, but they still feel insulted by the treatment they've received over the years. And if they can find more gold elsewhere, they'll need some better reason than charity not to take it. I think Ser Kamron is willing to try and smooth things a bit between them and Seagard, so we'll see how that plays." He tilts his head. "Other things? Like what?"

Anais lifts her hands, fluttering them. "You people are just a mess," she grumbles, then shakes her head to the latter question. "Girl things. Friend things. Rowan was a friend. I'd like Rowenna to be a friend, but I imagine it's a bit different when she's…Well, not a boy. I honestly don't know, but I'd like to." She smiles faintly, shrugging. "I don't have a lot of true friends here, Jarod. I'd like to keep the ones I have."

"She'll love to see you. It's been hard for her these last years. Few have known who she truly is, and all those men, so far as I can reckon. I don't think she has a proper woman friend." Jarod reaches across the table, ever impulsive about physical displays, to try and clasp Anais' hand. "I know she'd like to as well. It'd make her happy I think and…I do want to make her happy. I'm not always good at it but…we love each other, and we're trying to be better and braver now that we can be honest. I hope she's happy."

"I don't have many proper women friends," Anais laughs softly, giving his hand a squeeze. "Although Saffron's here now. I think she and Rowenna might get along all right, too. Her father's the master at arms at the Banefort, and taught her a thing or two about blades when he was teaching me about bows and spears." She winks, smile crooked. "We're not very good at sitting back and letting others take care of us at the Banefort, I guess."

Jarod makes a soft "Huh" sound that isn't quite approval, but whatever makes him frown isn't something he pursues. He ends up with a neutral, "Rowenna will be very glad to see you. Anyhow. Do you have a place to stay? Tordane Tower would grant you a room, I'm sure, and better opportunity to feel out the Naylands."

"I was rather hoping they'd issue the invitation, yes," Anais admits, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Otherwise, it will be a tent outside of town. I'll not waste coin on a room in an inn when people are hungry."

"You can share this room if you truly have nowhere else to go," Jarod says, though the invitation isn't issued with a lot of enthusiasm. The bed is unmade, and well-used, and they're newlyweds, after all. "If you really, really need to. I'm sure Lord Riordan would take it as an insult if you weren't a guest at the tower."

Anais laughs, smile flashing briefly across her features. "Jarod, I am a married woman. I am not going to stay in the room with you and your new wife. It will just make me jealous, I'm sure," she teases. "I'm also not going to /beg/ rooms from the Naylands. But I think Lord Riordan knows how that game is played. Don't worry over where I sleep. I'll be all right."

Jarod grins broad, lacking the shame to blush. "I'm sure you will. You're nothing if not able, my dear goodsister." Though his grin fades some as he asks, "How is Lord Jerold? I understood what I was doing when I took Rowenna back to squire with me but…that was before the war, and before Lady Evangeline died. I knew I'd hurt him, but I never imagined I'd just be part of a thousand things to grieve him thrown at him all at once."

"Honestly, Jarod, I don't know the man well enough to say," Anais shakes her head. "Lord Jerold…is like no one I've ever known. Sometimes I think-" But whatever she thinks, she keeps it to herself, shaking her head instead. "For what it's worth, though, he seems as he's always been since I've known him."

"What is it you think?" Jarod asks. Pouring himself another cup of mead as he puts that question to her.

"Sometimes I think I won't ever be able to fill the place left by Isolde Tordane," Anais says quietly. "And then I think that's terribly unfair, because who is she anyhow? And I tell myself that sometimes different people need different things. And I move forward, because that's what I have to do." Absently, she straightens her silverware, shifting things on the table. "Eventually, they'll appreciate me."

"You're doing your duty by the Terricks, and doing it well. Of course Lord Jerold appreciates you." Jarod seems to have no doubt of it. "He treated Lady Isolde like a daughter, and she betrayed him. There's little one can say the Naylands did wrong in their taking of Stonebridge. They saw an opportunity and exploited it. There's much Valda nee Frey did that was under-handed. She wanted to put Stonebridge on its knees to the Twins and defied her husband's last wishes to do it. But if Iz had been stronger…" He shakes his head. "…she was the Lady of Stonebridge. She was the last Tordane. And she gave what she claimed she wanted and loved away without a fight. Because she was too agreeable to go against her mother. I don't think my lord father resents you aren't Lady Isolde. I think he was deeply hurt by one he counted as a daughter since she was a girl, and has put on a layer more armor because of it. You've more steel in you than her, though. You've already proven that."

"It isn't just that, though," Anais grimaces. "It's just that- I don't /understand/ so much here. Your family, they're…They're not like mine. It's hard to adjust sometimes, is all." Sighing, she reaches up to rub a hand at her brow. "Anyhow. I should go out in public, in order to receive invitations to stay at the tower," she says, smile crooked. "So that you and Rowenna can enjoy yourselves properly."

Jarod's quiet a beat, and he regards Anais long. He seems to start speaking several times but, in the end, he just stands and offers her a parting hug. "You've a good heart, my goodsister. And I appreciate the affection you have for my not-quite-a-proper lady. Whatever else we think of each other, I do love you."

"Thank you, Jarod," Anais smiles warmly, tightening the hug at the last words. "Thank you. And whatever else happens, I'm glad you two are happy." She draws back, smile wry. "Granted, I might sort of wish that you were true born Terrick and she hadn't pissed everyone off doing what she's done and that we could just let the two of you have Stonebridge and share, but those are…dreams, to say the least."

"If was a trueborn Terrick I'd never be able to make a woman like her mine," Jarod says. "I was talking with Lord Riordan today, and on the whole I figure I'm more suited to being a lucky bastard. And the pair of us ruling Stonebridge would be a disaster. Good luck with the Naylands."

"No pressure," Anais laughs low, shaking her head. "Enjoy your wife, Jarod. It does me good to know there are people who are happy." And with those words, she slips from the room, rejoining her own people and heading for the village at large.