Page 150: Lost in the Market
Lost in the Market
Summary: Belle, Tam, and Hardwicke run into each other at the market in Stonebridge.
Date: December 12, 2011
Related Logs: Tam getting an offer in A Lady Requests, plus the whole line of Belle/Hardwicke logs.
Belle Einion Tam Hardwicke 
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.
December 12, 288

It's a lovely, clear afternoon in the Stonebridge square, which also serves as the marketplace at this hour, wares hawked from merchant booths, the backs of wagons, and beneath colorful awnings. Belle has been shopping, it would seem by her brimming basket, but has taken time out to sit with a dark-haired little boy of about four years or so. His clothing is of good make, but he's grubby in the way boys get when they've been up to mischief, and there are clean-ish rivulets marking his cheeks, as though he'd recently been crying. His tears are banished now, however, as he listens to an animated tale told by the golden-haired handmaid, cramming black cherries into his mouth.

"So Sam ran to his mother and cried, 'Mother! Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sarimbo Hari Kari Bushkie Perry Pem Do Hai Kai Pom Pom Nikki No Meeno Dom Barako has fallen into the well. What shall we do?'" says Belle to the boy, and he giggles delightedly at the absurdly long name rattled off in a breath.

Tam is wandering through the marketplace idly, rubbing at his wrist as he goes. Beads of water are running down his face into his beard, and the back of his shirt is damp, as though he has either just emerged from a bath or from a swim. The grizzled hedge knight pauses as he spots the blonde handmaid and her young escort, a brief smile creasing his leathery features. He draws closer, listening to the tale, under the guise of examining a bushel of blackberries. Amusement is evident in his gray eyes, but he makes no move to interrupt, shifting around to look over a few peaches - and coincidentally drawing closer to the pair.

Hardwicke is rather more overt in his observation of Belle when his marketplace wanderings bring her to his attention as well. It's what also brings his attention to the fact that he's not the only one observing here: his first reaction upon noticing one of Tam's glances at Belle is a frown, before his expression smooths with recognition. "Cooper," he says, mildly surprised. "What in seven hells are you doing here?" His voice is, as usual, gruff and worn, but in a way that is actually companionably rough.

Belle pops a cherry into her mouth, shoulders shaking with mirth, finding the little boy's laughter a contagious thing. "'What?' cried the mother, 'Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sarimbo Hari Kari Bushkie Perry Pem Do Hai Kai Pom Pom Nikki No Meeno Dom Barako has fallen into the well? Run and tell father!'" She's having a great deal of difficulty keeping a straight face as her audience of one giggles. "So together they ran to the father and cried, 'Quick!'" She takes a deeeeeep, dramatic breath and rattles off, "'Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sarimbo Hari Kari Bushkie Perry Pem Do Hai Kai Pom Pom Nikki No Meeno Dom Barako — '" she gasps for air, "' — has fallen into the well. What shall we do?'"

She pauses and peers at the little boy, then asks, "Hold a mome — are you swallowing the stones?"

The little boy shakes his head.

"Are you holding them all in your mouth?"

The little boy nods. "Spidding'sh woo'ed."

Belle smirks. "Yes, well so is choking to death in the middle of a good story. Here…" she takes out a handkerchief and holds it while the boy obediently empties his mouth of cherry pits.

Tam 's head jerks up as Hardwicke speaks, a hand snatching toward his sword-hilt. The grizzled hedge knight arrests its movement as he recognizes the speaker, his features splitting in a broad grin. "Ser Hardwicke! I didn't think to meet -you- here." The man's coarse accent is clearly common, but he approaches Hardwicke as one might an equal, extending out an arm. "I was riding to the Roost, if you'll believe it - to see you. Got.. held up." His grin stretches a bit and he waggles his brow, as though to imply that the delay has been rather pleasant. Though he and Hardwicke appear to be of the same social strata, the hedge knight's manner is much more cheerful. He cannot help laughing as he continues to observe Belle and the young man.

"To see me?" Hardwicke replies, clasping Tam's arm even as his brows quirk dubiously. "Need something, do you?" he figures dryly. His gaze flicks back over to Belle and the boy, a bland smirk crossing his expression as he watches her.

"There we are," approves Belle, tucking one of the boy's dark curls back from his forehead. Just then, a red-headed and liberally freckled woman with generous — tracts of land comes running over. "Pip!" she cries out, her voice half a sob, indicating a very relieved guardian.

"MAMA!" cries the little boy, and launches himself into his mother's bosom, bursting into tears.

Young Pip is held tight, his mother's eyes wet as well. "Ay, Mistress, I cannot thank you enough for looking after my boy! I only turned away for a moment and I couldn't find him anywhere — !"

Belle stands, smiling gently. "There, sweeting, what'd I tell you? Sit tight and she'd find us…" she gives the little boy's back a gentle pat, shaking her head at the mother. "Not a bit of trouble. He was darling."

"I did. Things might've changed, though. I heard the Terricks and Naylands were taking on knights, Ser Hardwicke. Something about everyone getting ready to kill each other over this town." Tam's grip on Hardwicke's arm is firm, and he releases the man after a respectable pause, features sobering somewhat. "I know I ain't your ideal knight - nah so shiny as some others - but you know I can kill and I thought you could use me. Anyhow, I, uh.. might be staying here in Stonebridge anyway. So you're likely out of danger on that front."

He is distracted by the arrival of the generous-landed woman, his gaze lingering on those tracts of land with an expression approaching awe. The conclusion of the missing-child saga has him beaming, watching the whole affair with a sort of avuncular interest.

"For the Naylands?" Hardwicke doesn't spit, but it looks like he'd like to. "If you want a master without honor, go ahead." Glancing back at Belle — the /Nayland retainer/ — his mouth skews into a more complicated frown. "Mistress Beckett," he finally calls over the short distance to greet her.

Belle fusses a bit more over Pip until his tears have dried again, his bond with his mother certain and reaffirmed. She pulls a cherry from behind his ear with a deft sleight-of-hand — and another. And another. "Goodness, sweeting, you must have swallowed a stone after all!" In return for his laughter, he's given a generous portion of cherries to take with him, and at last the handmaid watches the mother-son pair go on their way. She appears wistful for a moment, then turns to gather her basket, looking up and blinking at the sound of her name.

"Ser Hardwicke!" her smile is warm and welcoming as she approaches the pair of knights, skirts dusting back and forth with the gentle sway of her hips. "I thought you'd be gone to the Roost, by now." She glances at Tam, including him in her smile.

"Mayhap we can sit down, have an ale. Let you tell me the rest of the story, then." Tam shrugs a bit toward Hardwicke, as though to say he's neutral at the moment. He grins toward Belle as she greets the pair, stepping forward and looking over at Hardwicke curiously. He clears his throat before introducing himself. "Ser Tam Cooper, Mistress." His grey eyes examine the woman shrewdly, though his affable smile seems genuine enough.

Work is really never done, and it's getting to the time when shop has to close and it's time for levy work. Again. Now pulling a cart, local tanner and leatherworker extraordinaire is pulling a handcart with obviously freshly skinned pelts from what is undoubtedly the lord's next meal. Einion has to dodge some of the children playing, but it's fine if they pay him no mind— though the milling of others as they casually shop can be a little more problematic. He slows his limped pace as he rounds a corner, both to be certain there's no one on the other side, and for the fact that there are at least a couple people he recognizes..

"Not much of a story," Hardwicke warns him with a quiet snort before he looks to Belle's approach. "Not quite yet, mistress," he says in a quiet rumble. He glances at Tam, frowning, then his gaze skips away under the other knight's curiosity. He clears his throat. "I fought with Ser Tam during the rebellion," he informs Belle with courtesy more rote than felt.

Belle offers her hand to Tam, dipping a courteous bob of a curtsy. "Ser Tam. Belle Beckett. How lovely to meet you." She nods at Hardwicke's semi-introduction, turning her smile back on the hedge-knight. "Any friend of Ser Hardwicke's is most certainly a friend of mine, Ser. Well met."

"I'll hope he calls me friend, anyhow, Mistress Beckett. Well met to you as well." Tam grins crookedly aside at Hardwicke as he takes the woman's hand, clumsily bowing over it. Meanwhile, he spots Einion approaching up the road. Releasing Belle, he raises a hand in greeting to the leathercrafter. "Master Einion! You manage to get in safely the other day?" His amiable manner continues as he looks back to answer Hardwicke. "I'd hear it anyhow, if you don't mind, Ser Hardwicke. Helps me to decide."

Einion begins his pace again, maneuvering the cart filled with the freshly dead and not-yet-defurred hides deftly, now that the aroma has declared his presence. He shifts his grip on the cart only to slow again, and with an incline of his head, gives the knight a reasonably genuine smile, "Ser Cooper, sir.. aye, I have.. and not heard a word about my departure. I s'pose I have you to thank… so thank you, ser." Belle.. looking beautiful (as he remembered), gets a nod of his head, "M'lady.." and of course Hardwicke.. "Ser.."

"Master Wycliffe!" Belle smiles warmly, blushing as she's named (however politely) above her station. "It's so charming to see you again — but just Belle will do. Or Mistress Beckett, if you like. I'm certainly no lady." She gestures to Einion, telling Hardwicke, "Ser Hardwicke, this is Master Einion Wycliffe, the tanner I was telling you about when we met."

Hardwicke watches Tam take Belle's hand with the slightest hint of displeasure in the downward curve of his mouth. "That seems daft," he comments to Belle's greeting. "/I'm/ barely friends with some of my friends." He glances at Einion, taking in the man with a swift glance and the slightest tip of his head when addressed. Looking back to Belle when she explains, he says, "Ah."

"Don't you worry about that, lad. I cleared it up with the Lady," assures Tam to Einion. The good-natured hedge knight seems to be in his element here, mingling largely with smallfolk, and fishes out a pipe. He tamps in a bowl of tobacco, lighting it from a long taper, and draws a slow puff in. He catches Hardwicke's look of displeasure, a faint redness rising in the back of his neck, but keeps his grin plastered across his features. It is, after all, his trademark expression. "You got a point, Ser. I'd hope that you lot would heartily disapprove of some of -my- old friends."

Einion's no 'master', not yet, but he inclines his head in acknowledgment at the correction. "Mistress Beckett, then.. aye." The cart is stopped completely, now that the other knight is thusly identified. "Ser.." though he can't bring himself to get quite as familiar.. and not given a family name, well.. title works. He turns to Tam, however, and smiles, "Thank you, ser.. and I want to tell you that I've got the perfect hides set aside.. and have the right rivets. When I'm done, ser, would you like it marked with your.." House. No.. that won't do. Crest? Probably not. "..marked with anything that you may fancy?"

"Alas, your poor, neglected friends," sighs Belle to Hardwicke, dimples on her cheeks and merriment in her eyes. "I shall have to be extra-friendly to make up the difference." She offers a small basket of fruit about. "Cherries, gentlemen?"

"I'm surprised you have any left, the way you were shoveling them into the boy's mouth," Hardwicke says, tone dry. He does reach for one of the poor, forlorn cherries, though, to pop into his mouth. "Well, I wouldn't introduce them to anyone else, I'm sure," he tells Tam.

Tam grins mischievously back at Hardwicke, though he doesn't elaborate on the subject of disreputable friends. Very likely, the other Knight has at least some idea of the sort of men Tam's referring to. He accepts the offer of cherries enthusiastically, grabbing a few from Belle's basket and popping one into his mouth. "Kind of you!" he tells her. Turning toward Einion, he tacks on, "I'll come by your booth! As for an emblem.. Can you do a river, with a sword and a bascinet helmet above and below? Bah, we'll discuss it when I come by."

Belle laughs and shakes her head at Hardwicke. "You are such a curmudgeon," she tsks. Tam's thanks earns another warm and lovely smile. "You're quite welcome, Ser Tam. Take your fill — I mean to purchase more. They're always so delicious, I never have enough." And to the departing tanner, she blows a kiss. "I haven't forgotten that I'm to come see your shop, sweeting. Soon, I promise." To Tam, she suggests, "Perhaps we can go together!"

"No, thank you, mistress.." On the off-chance he is included, but there is serious doubt that he is— which really is fine. Einion gets a new grip on his cart, ready to lift the front and continue on his way to his stall. "Aye, ser.. can do. And look forward to it, but not tonight, if you please. I'll be on the field for his lordship." Now, he lifts his front and turns it such that he can get it to easy start again. "Ser.. well met, and thank you again.." Einion raises his voice a little, adding, "By your leave, Ser.. mistress.." Hardwicke and Belle.. and he begins anew, heading back towards his booth to set his cargo out.

"I am not a — curmudgeon," Hardwicke says with a scowl that is not helping him make his point. He glances at Einion and jerks another nod of farewell before he's off.

"Mm. And you never scowl, either," Belle deadpans, delicately pulling a cherry from the stem with her teeth.

Tam rolls his eyes at Hardwicke's scowl, seeming amused by the other knight's attitude - at such odds with his own. He spits out a cherry pit, bouncing it a good distance on the cobbles, and winks at Belle. "Fine man, that Einion," he notes as the leathercrafter heads off. "He's a serjeant in your levies, you know," he tacks on toward Belle, gesturing suggestively after the man. He takes another lengthy puff on his pipe before continuing. "Course, I'd be happy to escort you over to his stand. Whenever you got time."

Hardwicke grumbles a low, wordless sound of general discontent and pulls his gaze away from Belle and her cherry eating. He spits out his own cherry pit with less flair than Tam.

Belle's eyebrows tick up a bit. "I did not know that," she admits of Einion's martial moonlighting. "Very charming boy. I accidentally caught him in a game of Blind Man's Bluff, some time back." She smiles. "Polite, well-formed, good trade, treats his family well — makes me with I had sisters." She purses her lips and spits her pit in an impressive arc, giving a nod of satisfaction at the distance achieved.

"Are you married yourself, then, Mistress?" Tam's question is genteel, asked with curiosity rather than any sort of suggestiveness. He plucks another cherry off its stem with his teeth, rolling the pit around in his cheek as he puffs his pipe - doubtless an odd-tasting combination, but the hedge knight doesn't seem to mind. Hardwicke's grumbling brings another smile to his lips, and he turns to address Belle. "Ser Hardwicke may be the sourest knight in the Seven Kingdoms, but don't mistake him, Mistress - he's also the fairest I ever met. All the grumbling's so that folks don't discover he's got himself a soft center."

"Widowed," Belle answers without undue drama. "In the war. I've not remarried since." She dismisses the matter with an easy shrug, moving on to more pleasant things — like poking grumbly Ser Bear. "I wouldn't say he's the fairest I've ever met," she says, looking Hardwicke over, dimples once more on her cheeks. "But I do find him passing fair."

"You know," Hardwicke points out with a grumble, "I'm still standing right here." He glances at Belle and then looks away with another scowl before grabbing another cherry and popping it into his mouth with a disgruntled air.

"Nah like me, that's certain - I'm as ugly as a bear, twice as mean, and half as smart." Tam's gray eyes sparkle with subdued mischief; he laughs outright at Hardwicke's continued grumbling, nodding a few times to the man. "And if you weren't, would not be worth talking of you, Ser. Still, I ain't lying - I ain't forgot what you did for me at the Trident."

Belle laughs at Tam's self-assessment. "Oh, hush." She tosses a cherry at him. She pops another in her mouth, chewing and glancing speculatively between the two knights. "Now that sounds like a tale worth hearing. You'll have to grace me with it, Ser Tam, on our shopping trip."

"It was war," Hardwicke says dismissively before spitting out the pit of his cherry. "Lots of things happen during war." Ever dissatisfied, he frowns slightly at the suggestion of them conversing of him /out/ of his hearing.

"Do I sing the tale while he's here to dismiss it, or while he's away to neh hear it? It's a tough decision, Mistress Beckett. How's this - we'll say that I did something foolish, nearly got myself killed, and Ser Hardwicke saw it. He thought to comment to a few folk that I was a brave man - not a fool, as I certainly was - and I ended up getting recognition." Tam's vague summary of the tale hopefully spares Ser Hardwicke the embarrassing recitation of details, while still providing some idea to Belle. He seems pleased with his compromise, popping the cherry that Belle threw at him into his mouth with a grin.

"Has he always been such a bear?" Belle asks Tam, quite interested. "I've managed to make him laugh three times I think — and two out of three, he was drunk."

"And look what it got you: saddled with knighthood." Hardwicke snorts with the /slightest/ hint of a smirk to his expression, only to furrow again at Belle's comments, displeased.

Tam grins at Hardwicke's response, nodding readily. "Aye.. I still don't know whether to thank you or punch you for that." Tam's tone is rather wry, but he laughs at Belle's question, brightening back up. "Oh, no. When I knew him before, Mistress, he was far worse. I can only assume it's your company that gets him laughing at all."

Belle laughs and blushes, shaking her head. "That's charming of you to say, Ser Tam." She glances at Hardwicke's scowl, chokes on a giggle, and goes to place a hand at the nape of the surly knight's neck, leaning up onto tiptoes. "Don't scowl so," she rebukes him in a sweet murmur, then kisses him full on the mouth. It's not the kind of kiss that would prompt anyone to suggest they get a room, but it's far more than a peck.

Just as he starts to get a smartass remark started, Hardwicke is interrupted by the press of Belle's kiss. He freezes a moment, out here in public, then presses in to return the kiss briefly before ducking his head away. He can't quite bring himself to scowl after that, but his face is just the slightest bit red as he clears his throat.

Tam blinks, momentarily outright stunned. His jaw hangs slack as he stares at the pair. Coming to himself, the man clicks his mouth shut and looks away discreetly. Like Hardwicke, he is red - but in his case, it seems, it is with the effort of trying not to laugh. For certainly, if he does, the surlier knight will take it as an insult.

The handmaid can't help but looks just the tiniest bit smug as she — for the briefest of moments, anyhow — manages to tame the savage beast. She glances at gaping Tam, winks, and announces, "Well! Cherries. I should replenish my supply and get a few other things for my mistress, before the stalls close for the eve. Ser Tam," she dips another curtsy. "Please feel free to call on me at the tower when you're at liberty — perhaps tomorrow? We'll visit Master Wycliffe." She leans in to whisper something to Hardwicke, pecks his cheek, then is off on her way.

For several moments, Hardwicke just watches her go. Then he looks at Tam, scowls, and says, "Shut your mouth, Cooper," before turning off, himself. Likely in the direction of the nearest tavern.

Tam begins to laugh riotously as the other knight makes his way off, shaking his head in amusement. "You lucky bastard," he murmurs under his breath, genuine admiration in his voice. "Fuckin' the servants of your enemy, that's the way to live." His crudity, at least, he keeps to himself, but the amusement can easily be heard by the departing knight - risking an angry return. He puffs on his pipe, watching the pair leave with a thoughtful expression, once his laughter subsides.