Page 170: No Promises
No Promises
Summary: Hardwicke and Belle feel the weight of the siege.
Date: January 3, 2011
Related Logs: The Ironborn siege, and perhaps Past, Present, and Future
Hardwicke Belle 
Throne Room — Four Eagles Tower
Great pillars rise above the occupants of the room, the ceiling arching across the structural supports in a lovely feat of construction. The north and south walls have expansive windows that filter in sunshine during the day while ornately designed torches provide light at night. The room is large enough to host a great feast for quite a number of people but the tables are typically kept elsewhere. The Lord's Throne is at the west end of the room on a dais with a high, circular window that brings in the setting sun with the late afternoons.
January 3, 289

It's rather late in the afternoon when Hardwicke is finally convinced into eating. It's a small, spare meal, the stores rationed as they are for the potential of a long siege, but he's bolting it down without much thought as he sits at one of the tables. His expression is abstracted in thought, and his arm is healed enough to be out of his sling and look usable.

Belle enters the throne room in her hand-me-down set of clothes, the faded blue homespun gown less blue than her eyes. She rolls her left shoulder and massages it absently as she glances about the sparsely populated tables, having obtained a bit of sausage and brown bread for herself. The sight of Hardwicke, however distracted, makes her smile, and she strolls over that way, hopping onto the bench seat beside him. She presses her lips to the side of his face in a kiss, and remains there to nuzzle, speaking into his beard. "Good afternoon, Captain!"

He reaches to pat lightly at her knee, still distracted. "Belle," Hardwicke mumbles. He swallows another bite of bread without much tasting it.

"You look as though your arm's much improved," Belle ventures, wryly, eyebrows lifting at the vague greeting. Never one to be ignored, she pats his knee right back — and slides her hand slowly up his inner thigh. "Should I leave you alone with your bread and water?" she asks. "I can probably find you a hair shirt, if you want to get really monastic."

"Belle," Hardwicke says in a tone of complaint, proving the improvement of his arm by using it to stall the slide of her hand. It succeeds in getting his attention, though, as he turns his gaze to study her. "I am just thinking," he says, scowling.

Content that she now has his attention, Belle offers a winsome smile. "And what were you thinking about, my love?"

"The siege. Ironborn. The rocks flying over our walls. The fire blazing north of us." Hardwicke shakes his head and looks back away from her with a quiet weight adjusting itself on his shoulders. "What else?"

For a fleeting instant, Belle looks troubled. She draws a breath to speak, then shakes her head. "Nothing," she says, softly. She crams a piece of bread into her mouth, gently reclaims her stayed hand, and chews, looking off at the rest of the hall.

He seems to understand some small part of her reaction, because he looks over to study her in her quiet. Hardwicke exhales a slow breath. "It's what I have to think about, Belle."

Belle reaches for a cup, pouring herself a bit of water to help her swallow. "I didn't say there was anything wrong with that," she responds. "Of course you have to think about those things. You're the Captain of the Guard."

"Belle, I can't just—" Hardwicke stops himself to reach for his own drink, gulping it down with a hint of frustration.

She laughs, rolling her eyes and shaking her head again. "Hardwicke," she says softly, nudging his knee with hers. "I haven't offered you one word of criticism or censure. What are you getting upset over?" She lifts an eyebrow, adding, "Unless you want to take my attempt to idly grope you as some kind of complaint that I'm not getting enough sex. But I think that's reaching."

"You are doing that thing where you — look that way," Hardwicke says in grumbling complaint.

Belle glances sidelong at him. "That thing where I look away," she repeats. Just to make sure they're talking about that thing and not another thing.

"Look /that/ way," Hardwicke insists. "Unhappy in that quiet way that I can still see."

"Not everything you do is going to overwhelm me with joy," Belle points out, reasonably. She bites off a bit of sausage. Chews. Swallows. "Though if you've decided not to marry me, you might tell me. Instead of just letting me wonder."

Hardwicke squints at her, entirely (unfairly) uncomprehending of where this particular thread has appeared from. "Why would you think that?"

She actually looks a little pained for having to explain it. "Oh. Maybe because we were supposed to be married yesterday…" She turns to sit away from the table, leaning back on her elbows, tipping her head back to view the guard captain. "And if that's changed, you haven't discussed it with me. So I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to think."

"Belle—" Hardwicke looks less aggravated and perhaps a touch more guilty now, though there is still an underlying frustration. "There's so much right now. I knew I said yes, it's just—" His gaze darts away from her. "Lady Lucienne started asking me to marry her almost as soon as she could walk. I don't think she'd forgive me if she weren't here to see it."

Belle smiles faintly — a touch wistful, a touch sad. "You might have said something," is her only censure, and it's terribly gentle. "Instead of making me ask." She holds up a hand to stay his words. "I know," she says, simply. "You have a lot on your mind." Her nose wrinkles a touch, her expression rueful. "Asking you to elope in the middle of a siege probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had. Though… you have to be especially sure not to die, now."

"Sorry," Hardwicke mumbles. "I've been—" But he stops trying to explain it all with a shake of his head a blown breath. "Trust me," he says. "I'm always doing my best, Belle."

"I do trust you," Belle says, softly. "And gods know you've had other things to think about. Important things. And… if half those things weren't likely to kill you, I wouldn't be in such a rush." She shrugs. "I suppose it's more ghoulish than romantic, isn't it? Wanting desperately to marry you in case…" she gestures vaguely.

"Does it make such a difference?" Hardwicke wonders quietly, his gaze steady and sincere on her. "If I fell?"

Belle shakes her head wonderingly, swallowing against a sudden lump in her throat. "I hope you're not asking if you falling makes a difference," she breathes a choked laugh. "Because I do hate striking a wounded man." She smiles faintly, painfully. "I suppose marriage — doesn't. Not really. I know better than most women that it doesn't make the man you love any less gone."

"No," Hardwicke says in a soft voice. "No, I'm not asking that." He sets a callused hand on her cheek and leans in to press a kiss to her forehead. "As soon as I can, Belle. I promise." He sighs against her skin. "I have to return to the men."

"No promises," Belle says with a soft smile, lifting her head to kiss his lips — briefly, gently. "Just… ask me again when you're ready." Her smile turns to an impish smirk. "And do it on one knee, this time."

"I will do my duty as my lady requires," Hardwicke says in a wry voice. He stands, his hand sliding gently against her hair, and then he moves off back towards the courtyard. Meal ended, back to work.