|Summary:||Maldred is treated with less warmth from his kinswoman than appreciated.|
|A point of land between Terrick's Roost and Stonebridge, one can travel to either of the two from here, by travelling west or east, while north takes them to Highfield and south to Seagard.|
|Wed Sep 05, 289|
Of course it wasn't a small party. There were Charlton's involved, nothing is small if there's Charlton's involved, particularly when the focus point of the group was Aunt to the Lord and wife to the Master of Arms. Including the slight woman, whose gown was spun of black and gold, their numbers were nine. The lady who rode in the center; a squire, a man at arms named Roddy; who rode with a longbow across his back, an aging maid who's name was Vesta and five guards - the latter upon the instance of her husband in particular. She kept two hedge knights as well, on occasion but they were currently in use elsewhere.
That she also found it tedious, was ignored. They were going to war, and argue though she might, even Seri had to admit that it made sense. And so…she suffered it without too much complaint. Currently quietly discussing the errant ways of commoners who spoke above their station and still nursing a grudge from the foul mouthed old master carpenter. Of course, she'd taken away part of his business too, so there was some measure of satisifaction to be found in it.
Perhaps distaste for too much company was an endemic tendency for children of the Twins - burdened at all times with so much of it, so that their privacy was precious and dear. At any rate, the rider who now approaches Lady Serica's little train from the direction of the town is both blazoned with a variant on the Frey ensign, …and alone. He has, it seems, the freedom and the desire to go about unattended. Many might say this is because Ser Maldred Rivers is a comparatively inconsequential bastard sprig of his powerful House. Himself, he'd probably rather put it like this: the son of the Lord of the Crossing needs no panoply, no herald, no introduction.
At first the rider and the white horse's gait have some of the aimlessness of leisure about them - despite the contrasting effect of the knight's mail. But on spotting the nature of the calvacade, the banners about it, the knight spurs his steed with a more focussed air and veers straight towards the lady cocooned in its midst. As he nears, he raises his visor. With his helm hiding his fairish hair, his face is unremarkably Frey, and in a way only his bastard arms and relative youth would make him possible to identify…even to the eyes of a sister, of sorts.
But not a true son and therein lay the difference and a world of it. Whatever she had been, within the shadow of the Twins, there is little and less left to be found in the woman who rides now. No sidesaddle for her either, where the heavy fall of her riding gown ensures there's no exposure of flesh and no longer maiden to fear the saddle, the woman rides astride and straight backed; with a steady hand upon the roan colored palfrey's reins.
Flanks close somewhat, upon sighting of the single rider; despite his colors, for it wouldn't be the first time another had attempted deceite in times of war, so that the women are left to the center, while Roddy swings that bow from his back. It's not just the lone knight that's being looked at now, but the tree lines beyond and the distance, as if he could have been sent as a distraction to ambush.
"Who rides?" And it is not the lady who speaks either, though she peers as well, when the visor goes up; but the gruff call of the armed, to her right flank.
The bastard knight's features, exposed to the weather and the sustained observation of the lady's guardians, are easy enough to read. His mouth smiles, and even begins the ghost of a laugh, his light, freshwater eyes gleam with a fighter's appreciation of the men's discipline, all before he speaks in reply after a moment or two, his words perhaps chosen with care, or tact dredged up to where it would not naturally spring, namely, Maldred's tongue…
"A cool welcome, my lady Serica, to kin from afar," he suggests evenly. "Perhaps you might reassure your hounds and brachets here that I am neither a fox, nor fool enough to bait a wolf pack…?"
"At ease," the lady clips; and while the flanks loosen, they do not dissemble. Rather there is a watchful demeanor to them, the casual sort of air that suggests it takes naught but a blink to see them in action; for in truth they answer to those far worse than she. And like as not, would discount even her orders if they felt it ran in question to those given first by her husband.
"Ah, Ser Rivers," but no inclination of her head; no courtsey given, for he'd offered none. Instead, so stilled, the woman's hand rests with the reins on the saddle's pommel; while she shifts into position of better comfort upon the saddle, speaking casually to the man at arms who stayed nearest, "You may be at ease, Roddy, for I do not think we have need for your feathers today."
"Milady," he replied, and unlike the bastard, offered a low bow of his head; settling the longbow across his thighs instead of returning it to his shoulder. "Do you dally, Ser Harold will worry; recall," he warned gently, "That we sent the page ahead."
"To warn of our coming, yes yes, Master Roddy, I know. I have not forgotten the rules that grant my travel," she assured and there was kindness to her eyes, a gentleness to her tone. It faded somewhat, as those hazel eyes settled once more upon Maldred's features. "You are a long way from the shadow of the Twins, Ser Rivers. To what shall we account this honor?" Though whether or not it was an honor, remained, in fact to be seen.
Once the varlets of Charlton have stopped eyeing him *precisely* as if trying to recall the right sort of snare for dealing with polecats, the bastard is courtesy itself in his bowing, though a strict paragon of manners might suspect more than a dash of irony in the flourishing bow, that sets Maldred's azure gaberdine cloak at loose to dance on what passes for the summer's breeze. His subsequent words are even more overtly amused in tone.
"The shadow? My lady, happy indeed must be your state of amity with the honoured Ser Harold, that you speak so serely of your childhood's home, and mine. They say marital love is strong enough to wash away even the memory of youth innocence. But what would I know of either?"
Maldred's smile is reined in like a fisherman's cord, so that he looks almost serious as he shrugs resignedly and replies to the actual purport of Serica's question. "As for me…why, I do as you did till late, my lady, and ride at our lord father's behest. I'm sure you know more than I of this new-fangled foreign pastime, cyvasse? I'm told one of the pieces, the heavy horseman, may leap over others. Such am I, I like to think, hopping my way through this warlet with which your new family are now diverting themselves."
There was a considerable armed encampment not too far away; hundreds of levies, men-at-arms and knights, perched like a pack of wolves right at the edge of Highfield lands and eying Stonebridge like it were the bloodiest piece of juicy red meat. A little off the road, thouh, on a rise to beg the breeze's help in sweeping any the bugs of the night, the stench of too many men come together, and for natural defence.
Pikes formed a defensive barrier against a charging host of enemies, though the likelyhood of such attack was small considering the way the Naylands hid in their town's shadow. But not completely out of possibilities; war was ever deception, so Ser Harold, the commander of the Charlton forces here, took his precautions. There were pickets and outriders, too, scouts sending signs upon approach with bird-like chirpings in cypher on their own knew. The group might or might not have been close enough to spy the lazy fapping of banenrs and knightly pennants.
They'd certainly hear the sound of hoofbeats pounding upon the earth, the suresign cue of riders approaching.
Beneath her the heavy roan's hoove paws impatiently at the ground, eager to move beyond the simple excerise routines that the stablehands put it through on a daily basis and for all of it, her rider sits easy on the saddle. There is no inclination of her head, in response to that bow. Head held high, as if she'd simply been given her due.
"Honoured and more," Seri speaks with pride of Harold, a smile on her lips, while the slight delivered was ignored with an easy grace of one who'd had a lifetime of practice. "Though…do humor me, Rivers, for I struggle to recall, twas the guardsman at the gate your father? Or the porter, for I feel…there seems to be a faint resemblance." Her laughter came then, a soft thing, floating on the breeze, "Oh dear," her lips curled up; just a little sharper than her eyes, "I fear you're confusing the heavy horsemen for rabble; mucking through, hopin for a place; felled easily beneath the crossbowmen's gaze."
And however at ease, the guards may have appeared, they sat straighter in the saddle at the sound of hooves; Roddy's keen eye searching out the distance, marking color and pace and upon his lips there came a smile, even if the lady's tongue made him nervous.
That Bastard Walder was his father is a charge Maldred regularly faces, and at times of private self-doubt half-believes himself; certainly he is willing to take such aspersions with a chill half-smile, for peace and convenience's sake. But that he is not of Frey-blood at all is an insult impossible to take so lightly. Little does Maldred know it, but as he sits straight in the saddle bristling, for a change silenced and silent, chewing his lip in a state bordering upon the irrational, he provides, in point of fact, an effective refutation, for never do his sly, pinched features, quite typical of the Twins in any case, resemble Lord Walder, whether father or grand-father, more closely than now, as the bastard reels in a virtually physical daze of petulance and slighted pride. It becomes necessary, to keep up even a shadow of politeness, for Ser Maldred to turn away to one side - quite as much as if from a blow - into the direction that happens to face the oncoming riders.
And so, averting his furious glance from his…sweet 'sister', he at last makes reply in an undertone that is not intentional. Perhaps he does not even know if he speaks aloud. "Consider me schooled in the rules of cyvasse, sister of the mistletoe. Here come more players to our table, and perhaps they, or life itself, will deliver you yourself a lesson some day."
The riders appeared, three in number and led by a tall knight on a large and well bred courser. Armed and armoured, with the sun striking brilliant sparks off the top of a polished rounded greathelm. The sort devoid of the usual frivilities that noble sers often dabbled with, the castle forged steel stripped down to its barest essentials. Pure practicality. The pennant of his loftly held war-lance flowed with the personal heraldry of Ser Harold Charlton; a black raven on gold, surrounded by the three Hollyholt Mistletoes. His surcoat bore the same. The other two riders, common knights by the looks of things, were Hollyholt by colours rather men of the recently formed Highfield branch. It should be of little surprise. The vast majority of Lord Aleister's recent flexing of strength were merely on loan from his uncle Keegan.
The knightly trio slowed down their pace once they came in sight of the group, and it was a mere lazy walk the last bit of distance eaten up, to save anyone from choking on road dust kicked up. Immediately the Squire who had ridden by Serica's side, crossed camps, and fitted onto his master's side instead.
"Greetings!" Came a familiar gruff voice, rough around the edges but not entierly unpleasent for all that. His helmet was pssed onto his squire, along with heavy steel gauntlets and his warlance. "My Lady Wife," and his smile genuine as he dipped a sem-awkward bow for his place up high, and constricted by armor. "Ah. Ser Maldred. Well met." This time he remembered the name! A dip of his head, barest millimeter, as appropriate from a highborn to a baseborn knight. Had Maldred not owned a Ser, there would be nothing at all most likely. The courtesy was not done with derision, however. Simply a lack of respect beyond what was demanded.
"It twas in fact, Ser Rivers, my lord husband that taught me the joys of the game cyvasse," Serica replies in a most amiable tone, as if there'd been no slights given at all and his comment had been meant by way of genuine conversation for the game and not the chill thing it was. "Of course, do you ask him, I am sure that he shall politely say that I learn well when the truth," and there came a glint to her eyes, one that suggested just perhaps…she'd not missed his slight at all, "That I beat him. But truly," she continued, giving a little shake of her head, "Does it matter? For I -am- my Father's daughter, and they all take knee in the end."
So said, the lady's attention left the bastard to look upon the trio who'd rode upon them, with no apparent flicker of concern for the little squire who skuttled quickly from the chill fringes of her skirt. "My Lord Husband!" Serica greeted him warmly, with a low bow of her head from there atop the palfrey; for a curtsy from such height was impossible. "I see you have been found and well. I pray you forgive the intrusion, but I missed you," simply given; before she angled the roan away from the rest, the men falling at ease now and drifting into a wider spread; giving the party room to talk and manuver without hoovering. A polite distance, attentions on the horizons while the woman wheeled the roan around to stand next to Furious. A unified front.
"Ser Rivers here," she gestured airly towards the knight, "Was just saying…ah, how did he phrase it, that he hoped perhaps life would..forgive me, I have such trouble remembering things." Begged of her husband, before those multihued eyes once more settled on the errant relation,"Was I to be taught a lesson, Rivers? Or delivered one? The Stranger I find, is often hidden within the words themselves."
"I'm afraid I am as ignorant of theology as, evidently, of cyvasse, my lady," Maldred answers in a low voice, but one that has regained composure, rather as if the elder knight's example of proper conduct is powerfully catching. And Ser Harold's acknowledgement finds prompt reaction, too, not the overdone and pointed flourish with which Maldred had greeted the lady but a prompter, heartier nod.
"Aye, well met indeed, ser. This is a meeting by happenstance; I had not seen my lady here since you were both wed. I was just remarking that the concord of marriage seemed to have quite…transformed her."
Next to the Charlton nobleman and his brother's hedge-knightly lacqueys, Maldred presents an interesting specimen of social nuance, hovering in his appearance quite accurately somewhere between the rank of the lordling and his retainers. The Frey bastard's warhorse, for instance, looks as finely procured as the redoubtable Furious, if built for a slightly different tactical approach and an utterly different rider, a little lighter and flightier, pawing the turf and chewing its bit rather as Maldred had gnawed his lip moments before. The bastard knight's cloak and surcoat, too, are of costly, bright stuff, all the more paradoxical for the fact that they proclaim his ambiguous position. But his mail hauberk is no better than the Charlton hedge knights', and, as Maldred has to do entirely without a squire, rather less well maintained.
Ser Harold's gaze was calm and steady as it passed between his young wife and her baseborn 'kin', if a bastard's bastard could ever be truly accounted such. He'd a shrewdness to him that said he wasn't entierly oblivious to moods, for all that he acted as if he were. The small smile his wife's greeting had painted across his weather worn features remained in place, a tiny splash of warm colour in an otherwise easily falen to austere counterance. As the girl slipped up by his side, he extended his gravely palm to request her hand. It would likely look like a child's in comparason, but he'd pay that no matter, either, and merely stretch out her slender limb so he could place the butterfly caress of knightly affection from lips to the delicate hills of her knuckles.
"A lesson?" he murmured to his wife, passing a politely inquiering look in Maldred's direction to hear the explanation in depth.
"Ah, indeed," of her transformation. "She glows, does she not? I had always hoped to be married to a formiable woman, able to hold her own in my Household, to assist me in improving my lands and people. Hah. Mine, I say. Technically I merely hold them in my brother's name, but," he shrugged with self ironic chargrin. "One gets attached. Regardless, despite some initial troubles," which was putting it mild. Maldred -had- been at the wedding, after all. "She's gradually revealing herself to be everything I had hoped for."
Digit by digit, soft gloves were plucked away, so that when Harold reached, it was bare flesh that rose up to meet him; though her hand unfurled in the wake of his knightly kiss and the stroke of those fingers kissed the curve of his weathered whisker laden cheek in what even at a glance could be read as genuine affection. Soft is the change that comes with his praise, a faint demuring of her head, a hint of color to her cheeks. The tuck of that bottom lip for a blushing moment between her teeth while she watches him.
"My Lord Husband is a kind man, is he not," she demured, when she'd the color under control. "With a wealth of patience beneath his control. If I am accomplished, then it is because I had him to guide me and a truer home found beneath his protective wing than any I may have claimed before," the lady smiled. "There is not a day to pass now," As opposed to -then-, "In which I am not grateful," she paused, "For everything but his absence. I shall be truly pleased the day he may quit his tent and return to me."
In truth Maldred's countenance is now dominated by a feeling he does not often allow himself to show so clearly - simple surprise. Perhaps than simple, rather twofold; surprise that this marriage, which hearsay and all the apparent omens had pronounced moribund, seems to have acquired so lively a reprieve; surprise, even more so, that the 'sister' who, again unexpectedly, has by now ventured to announce herself by word and act unequivocally his enemy, has chosen to bare her emotions and affections while he still stands as witness. Then his face clears, and he looks like a man who, having experienced a little resistance from a stiff key, now turns it with the pragmatic satisfaction of a problem solved. This spectacle is not shown despite his presence, but because of it.
"A bride worthy of the House of Charlton," he avers. "That is the lesson I, at any rate, have garnered from this…reunion. I must now cut it short untimely, ser, my lady. As much for the…duties…of yours I fear I delay," bastards are cursed and twisted creatures, of course, born of wantonness and abandoned over to lust, and there's little doubt what sort of duty Maldred is implying, "as for any errand of my own. Lady Serica, Ser Harold, good day."
His leavetaking nod is neutral and swift, and he whirls the fleet Graymalkin, not expecting, it seems, any reply in turn.
Ser Harold had offered the same courtesy as before. The bare minimal that a bastard deserved, but not any less, either. The man was sworn to his in-laws, and there was no reason to make an enemy unless he had to. That pretty much summed up her husband's dealings with other nobility, in truth. Unless they showed discourtesy. Unless they say, implied something about his wife, in which case he would cut them down without batting an eye. That had been the case even before their recent warming of relations.
"A bit less arrogant than the last time I saw him," came a dry remark. He turned his face against her palm, gave the digits a light kiss on the tip of each, feeling the smooth sharpness of her nails with it. HIs eyes searched out hers. "Might be a while to suffer my absence still, my Lady. Wars are unpredictable things. Easy to start one, difficult to see how it ends. But, come. Let's retire to my tent for some food, and you can refresh yourself a little before you see to the men's various ailments."