|Mirth But Not Pity|
|Summary:||Maldred isn't more obviously delighted than usual to encounter his sister Lady Firth. But he learns a lot about her.|
|Related Logs:||Who Would Weep For Thee?|
|Worn road, wilderness|
|Beside a convenient boulder|
|30th August, 289|
The mist from the slow creeping fog is thick this time of the morning. It slowly creeps along the road and the paths as if the night is loathing to give up its grasp on the slumbering earth. Already muffled noises can be heard as horses moving at a walk make their way down the worn road. They are nothing more than shadows in the mist. Something out of an old fireside tale, the riders are silent and comfortable in their silence.
A foetid and uncertain column of smoke mingles with the morn fog, coming from somewhere behind a bare, stony outcrop. Closer approach will reap sound as well as sight, the unfocussed plodding of a tied up horse, and the dark profanities of a weary and frustrated man. Here Ser Maldred Rivers, by now no stranger to the road but still bored and slapdash in his efforts to endure it, is unsuccessfully struggling to get an adequate fire going. Sickly yellow flame not unlike his own hair gutters from damp wood, only to die.
It is with intense relief more than trepidation that he registers the sounds of approaching hooves, and whirls around with sword drawn and smile manic, to challenge: "Who goes there?" If he is hoping for a sanguinary distraction from the mundane matter of breakfast, perhaps a bandit or two, he is doomed to disappointment. For he has in fact met these riders before, one near this very spot…
"Mally?" A familiar female voice calls out. "Do not shot or stab me if you are?" The horses are brought to a halt. The woman sits there tall in her saddle as she waits and hopes that the voice is who she thinks it belongs to. Her horse stands there quietly unlike the horse of her one and only guard who tosses his head and chomps at the bit. There is muttered curse from him and the sound of fumbling as readies a crossbow.
The sound of the blade shrieking back into its sheath carries palpable disappointment, followed by the thud of stout mailed boots as Maldred grudgingly emerges into full view, his expression pinched with annoyance. "For Seven's sake, woman, if you must foreshorten my name, Rivers is adequate. Guthred," he growls to the guard who looks almost as cussed and irritated as he does, "so glad to see you're not dead yet; I give you another week, myself. Leaving Stonebridge so soon, sister?"
The bastard sneers cheerfully in his inimicable way. "The hollyhocks gave a fortnight, they say, for the defenceless to flee, and that time will not elapse yet! And I'm shocked," he jokes, "to see your guard taking the chance to desert his native town…"
"You are aware there is a wedding to attend Mally in Seagard." Firth tells him and she is not concerned with him liking or not liking the shortening of his name. There is little bit of amusement lacing her words. "Brother for pity sake what would I be running from. This is a damned if you do and damned if you do not situation and father is going to be making himself look like the laughing stock when whoever wins this contest of arms turns on him. Both are ripe for that." She adds.
"Screw you." The guard says. "I was told to stay with her. If you want to deal with her I will gladly turn around. She is a piece of work that one. You would think a cripple woman would be easy to look after." The guard sounds annoyed.
"Would any woman ride through a war to get to a wedding," Maldred wonders aloud, "or only highborn ladies? Extraordinary…and others of our blood appear to be seeking marriages of their own after, or during the dust of conflict. Have you run across your…grand-niece, Lady Aralima, yet?" He consents to a bark of sour mirth, and does not dissent from Firth's scathing analysis of the political outlook - they are more united than they seem.
"Oh, I'd keep going, if you believe in payment," the bastard knight adds to Guthred, "and keep quiet, if you believe in safety. Anyway, sister, since I am not myself inclined to ride off and entertain the eagles, I shall lack the pleasure and aid of your counsel for some days, it seems. What do you think of the coming storm, or of aught else? Any new friends? Perhaps I shall soon catch you hurrying to attend your own second marriage? Do tell all. My conversation lately has been tediously military."
Maldred's long, thin, grim smile is quite enough reminder of his joke's purpose - that he's rather talk war than wedding bells any day.
"Brother you are the only one I have spoken to who is part of your family, I have heard from Bry through her letters. I am hardly to be married off again. I am more likely to swept underneath the carpet. He has many children who are smarter than me and are better suited for the marriage bed than me." There is no bitterness in Firth's voice when she says it. "Also why should I seek out that discomfort again, when he has many daughters and sons to use for his political maneuverings, I am quite aware of my standing in our family, thank you! Your guard is proof of that, but he amuses me so I am keeping him on."
"Gunthred, please it is not my fault you are so out of shape. Walking will do you some good to get rid of the barley beer you consume."
The guard snorts. "Bloody!" he exclaims as he starts to grind his teeth in impatience as he knows he is being ignored now.
"As for the political climate, we will have to see who wins, though I would be careful if you back the Naylands at this moment for it could be political suicide if they lose. The Charlton's need to be careful if they win for they could be getting spanking as there power is already too great and they do enjoy playing only lip service and taxes to our Lord Father. But, we need to appear to be neutral. I would love nothing better than to have Alister's head on a plate. But that is not the case. It will not happen." She adds. "Therefore I am content to watch and study."
"Our lord father's indifference has its advantages. You could alway marry for love," Maldred quips, and either cannot or just does not resist another burst of abrasive laughter only seconds later. Soon he calms down, into a more thoughtful, speculative mood.
"Never mind these Charlton churls for a moment, sis," he begins pensively, leaning back against the rock. "Tell me more of yourself. You will forgive a lapse of brotherly memory…but I do not recall how you acquired your…injury. Was it, perchance, the work of this Lord Grell…?"
While Maldred sounds curious rather than vengeful or pitiful, it is something of an advance for him to soften to this level of sibling reminiscence at all. "It puzzles me; I know Crakehall-birthed bones are hard to bend or shatter, for I remember Hosteen's blows…As for Bryliesa, she is barely more than a name to me, and an Erenford name at that. So much for our family; what of other amusements? Have you somehow befriended those haughty Mallisters, that you gallop off to watch them breed?"
"It was the work for Lord Fallon. He and I did not meet eye to eye and he ran his charger into my racing horse and left me for dead, he is a poor loser. We will break when your prized racing mount falls on you. I am sturdy, I lived. My beautiful horse died." She explains like a person who is just offering facts there is no drama or emotion in her words. She is more upset about her horse than she is her leg.
"Brother it would do you well to pay attention to what the others are doing and who they are breeding to. It allows us to counter them, to pull them in. Bry went to talk to the Charlton's on behalf of the Erenford. I have not heard from her in a bit. I need to make sure she is okay, they are as bad as the Naylands when it comes to hospitality rights. I am waiting for one of them to do that to a Frey or Mallister for they are not the sharpest tools in the sheds."
As if on cue, as Firth concludes her matter-of-fact account of her troubles Maldred's white destrier Greymalkin, still tethered behind the rocks, whinnies in a more piteous mode than his master is willing to let slip. Maldred just nods, if with a noticeably dour motion. "I see. Well, I'm fond of my own mount, and I think he tires of this pause, my lady; I had better attend him." It is not a very courteous or sympathetic reaction in general, but for Maldred it is practically sugary, especially the polite, formal honorific.
In a few bare moments the knight has joined the lady and the guard, fully mounted, his guttering fire finally smeltered out and abandoned; but the destrier is turned back towards Stonebridge. "We of my…standing in life must be forgiven for less than total interest, my lady, in a game which we are not bidden to join," he says simply of the wedding. "But I hope to you it is a source of pleasure…and profit. Speed well, if you can with Guthred's usual riding pace…and pass on whatever sweet greeting from me to Lady Bryliesa, or any other kin of ours, you think best…"
"You my dear brother are wonderful, I do not welcome pity. I do not need it." She tells him as she notices his demeanor. "I am more sad for my dear sweet Mirth." Mirth is the horse. "I do not dance any more but it will give me a chance to watch. Already there is an allegiance that has been formed between the Terricks and Groves. Be careful brother in the game you will be swept into, as I am rather fond of you." She tells him. "Oh he has to match mine or I will pony him and this he knows." From the smile on her lips the old guard is growing on her. "I will pass on the greeting." With that said she moves to head off.