|Not What They Appear|
|Summary:||Einion, Starling and Tam.. and a huge misunderstanding.|
|Date:||5 February 2012|
|Related Logs:||Promise for a Promise|
|Nayland Camp - Seagard|
|The Nayland encampment at Seagard. Tents. Grass. Fires. You know the drill.|
|February 5th, 289 A.L.|
The rain has passed, finally. As it so often does, the sun seems to shine harder after the storm than it ever did before, drying out the puddles and leaving crusts of mud in its wake. The Naylands are up and about, levies beginning their morning drills, led by tough serjeants - some of whom sport shortswords, some dirks. Meanwhile, in a drawn-out circle of mud, Tam Cooper is working his rehab the only way he knows how - grabbing someone and throwing them around.
The gruff knight doesn't have his full strength back, but to watch him fight unarmed is to watch poetry in motion. His opponent, a much-younger man, clearly doesn't expect much of a fight, but.. Tam jinks in through the other man's guard, catching a glancing blow to the ear, ducks low, and grabs both of the man's legs. Yanking backward at the same time as he pushes forward, he sends the man sprawling with a -crunch-. His oak-strong hands grasp the other man's leg as he straightens, and his boot comes down hard on his diaphragm. Twist..twist.. "I yield, ser! Yield!"
Starling has been half searching for and half avoiding the grizzled veteran, these past few days, unable to make up her mind. Usually her approach is far more simple and forthright. But, under the circumstances.. Arms folded, the stablehand leans with a shoulder propped to a broad post set in the ground - often used to house straw-stuffed sacks for target practice but today simply left alone. The men have a live and kicking hedge knight to vent on, don't they.
Unable to hide a slight grin as Tam's opponent abruptly bites the dust, the girl doesn't seek to interrupt, or to intervene in sympathy for the younger lad. You should never underestimate an old warrior. They're old for a reason. Draped in the soft and pliant leather of her aged longcoat, Starling casts an occasional glance skyward. The clouds are heavy with the promise of rain soon to come; you can smell it in the air. The one downside of lingering so close to the coast - the storms are really something. But what does she care for a little rain. Ignoring the sudden gust of wind that sweeps and tosses her tresses about her face, the young woman returns her attention to the spar. He'll notice her when he's done. No sense in demanding attention when he's enjoying himself.
"Y'little sprat, y'need to learn how to sprawl atop an opponent when he rushes in like that. Go away, come back in ten years. What was your name? No, don't tell me - fightin' like this, I'd only be rememberin' it for yer funeral anyhow." Tam leaves his opponent in the mud, not bothering to pick him up - he lets the other men do that, mocking their comrade for being felled by an old man with a bad temper. Only when he turns away does he press a hand to his chest, letting signs of pain crease his bearded features. It's then that he spots Starling - ah, the perfect excuse for a rest.
He trudges over to the woman, composing his expression carefully into his usual warm grin - only a hint less hearty than it had been a few weeks before. Whatever lingering effects the injury has given him, he does not seem inclined to indulge in weakness. Even if it kills him. "Little bird! I been missin' you." There is a shadow of accusation in his tone. "Where you been hiding?"
Unfurling her arms as Tam approaches, the girl opens her fist, revealing a tiny little pouch that dangled from betwixt a thumb and forefinger. It's sweetly aromatic.. sort of pepperminty.. and the slow smile tugging at her lips implies it to be something of at least middling value. "Found this." The blithe manner in which she says it clearly says that by 'found', she means 'stole'. "It's this stuff.. you add a pinch of it to make tea and it.. I guess stops your breathin' feelin' so tight? Seen the healers use it." Pennyroyal. Clever girl. It's often used for just that manner of thing.
Her expression softening, she flits a glance over the knight as he draws closer, lowering her voice to a quieter timbre. "..you're still hurtin', Coop." It's a statement rather than an enquiry. Pushing to a more upright stance absently, still offering the little sachet of dried herbal leaf, the girl meets his gaze levelly. "Can't have that. I owe you, after all." Of course she doesn't care about him. She's just indebted. That's it. "And I haven't been hidin'.. you just didn't look hard enough."
Tam reaches out, closing his fist swiftly around the little sachet and casting a glance around. "Found? Are y'mad, girl? Tryin' t'get yerself hurt? What if a Maester had…" He trails off, features a bit gray beneath his ruddy tan, then smiles a bit. "Sorry. Y'done somethin' nice for me, and here I go, bein' a ruddy barstud again. Sweetling.. whatever debt y'think y'owe me, it ain't so. Please.. don't risk yerself on my behalf. If some Maester tried t'chastise ye, I'd have to kill 'im, an' -then- where would we be?" But he accepts the pennyroyal with a smile, sliding it into his own belt-pouch. "..But thank ye. I'll use it, and I wager it'll more'n help."
He studies Starling thoughtfully, head tilting over to one side. "Y'want we should go somewhere an' talk? I need a rest from these lads, ye'd be doin' me a real favor.." He casts a glance around, then points to a log resting behind one of the tents. "Let's grab a sit, eh?"
"Yes, Coop." replies the girl, wryly. "'Cause it ain't like I've ever done any such thing before." With a roll of her eyes, she accepts his thanks with grudging grace, which manifests in a grunt rather than a 'you're welcome'. Shoving her hands deep into her pockets, though, Starling nods once in response to the suggestion of a quiet seat, dark eyes following the gesture toward that handily-placed log. "A'right. There's.. somethin' I've to tell you. Don't know that it'll matter much but.. figure you ought to hear it from me, all the same, rather than gossips about the camp." No doubt there's been some whispering already. She and Einion were hardly out of sight, the other day, when she ended up held in his embrace, in what was evidently an intense discussion. More than one pair of eyes took notice. Just depends how much they care.
Anyway. The brunette's easy, rangy gait carries her with that usual sort of lope toward the indicated spot, slowed just a touch in consideration of Tam's injuries, no matter how well he hides his discomfort.
Trudging alongside the woman, Tam listens with some trepidation evident on his features. No good conversation ever started with It's better you hear it from me. He settles down with a soft groan atop the log, resting both hands on his knee and looking at Starling mutely for a time. Finally, a smile breaks out on his features and he pats the wood next to him. "Lemme guess what it is, then. Y'been knighted? Neh? Alright.. Y'killed a man and need me to hide ye. Not that, huh?"
Tam spreads his arms a bit, shrugging toward Starling and exhaling slowly. "Well, then, must be serious. I need a smoke." And he produces his pipe, absently tamping in the tobacco as he watches the young woman, waiting. Just barely visible behind his nonchalance is a coiled tension, a bracing as though for body-shots yet to rain down on him. Abruptly, he tacks on, "I ain't gonna strike ye, y'know. Whatever it is. So out with it."
Likewise settling down to a seat, managing to leave a little space between she and Tam, Starling leans her elbows on her knees, regarding the man with a faint smile through errant locks that tumble forward about her features. But she's not going to be baited into returned jests. Not today. "I expect you know that they've decided not to send Einion home." she begins, choosing a neutral footing. "..even though he's practically dead on his feet. Stubborn bastard.." Trailing off, briefly, into some decidedly unsavory mutterings, she averts her gaze, looking to her hands as she clasps them loosely. "Well.. maybe it's on account of that. But.. he's asked to court me. And I said yes."
Not leaving much time for that to settle in, she continues doggedly onward. "I'm to leave for Stonebridge. To head back and stay with his family, until.. until it's over. There's no way they'd let me on the boats, or I'd be damned if I let you both go without me." Venturing a glance back to the hedge knight, Starling bites gently on her lower lip, watching his expression. "I know you'd watch his back anyway, Coop. But.. if you could bring him home in one piece? I'd be very grateful. Steal you somethin' even nicer, even. Have you need of some kidskin gloves, mebbe..?" No doubt she's noticed some, somewhere.
Grunt. A blow struck, and the man's facial expression is that of someone trying to hide how bad the strike hurts. He stares into the mud at his boots for a length of time, lips pressing together thinly, a hand as gnarled as oak-root rising up to brush through his hair. "I figured it was somethin' like this," he murmurs after a few beats. "Livin' with his family, huh. Well, least y'got somethin' warm to go to..I'd take ye aboard the ship, girl, if y'wanted to go. Was gonna offer. Hide y'as my new squire. But that's a fool's errand." He clears his throat, hawking and spitting a bit of phlegm into the dirt, his pipe held unlit in his hands.
"As for what y'owe me.. Don't fucken insult me again, Starling. Don't. Don't try t'bribe me, don't try t'fucken sweeten me, just say it. Ye'd rather I died than the boy." The words are flat, no intonation, as hard and merciless as his features as he stares down at his boots. "Yeh. Alright. I'll watch him. Is that all y'wanted, then, girl, on account of I got this damned sword t'sharpen and all." A pause, and he casts a glance at Starling, a bit of regret breaking through his flinty demeanor at his own harsh words. "..Did y'expect me to cheer?"
It's rather an awkward angle, seeing as she's seated beside him. But a lifetime of trading blows like insults and insults like blows.. Starling reacts without thinking. *CRACK* Her fist is flung solidly across the man's jaw in the wake of his accusation. Just brought up and snapped toward him before she can stop herself. And she tries to hide the immediate apology that threatens her eyes.. by getting angry, instead. "I'd rather nobody fucken died, you foolish bastard! You really think I don't care?" Of course, he doesn't know what she gave up, for him and Einion, both. she could easily have left Tam to whatever afterthought of care the Naylands offered him. She didn't.
He can regret his harsh words all he wants.. they're said, now, and Starling is already rising to her feet, still glaring at him incredulously. "..I cut you a lot of slack, Coop, because I keep tryin' to convince myself that you're tryin' to be a better man. That the mistakes of the past weren't yours to make. And you know who tells me all that, who sings your praises? Whose admiration for you is so great that I daren't breathe a word of what I really know about you? Einion. Of all the men in the world, he chooses to look up to you." The rage isn't just to cover her concern anymore. She's shaking with barely restrained fury, fists clenching and loosing in steady rhythm. "I can't get away from you, Tam Cooper. Take some comfort in that, if it helps." She's really missing the point, isn't she?
Tam's head snatches backward with the force of the blow, and he spits blood into the dirt before surging to -his- feet, snarling at the young woman in answer. "Don't ye fucken hit me! I ain't done!" His hands reach for Starling, grabbing her biceps and yanking her toward him fiercely - this is not a prelude to an embrace, it seems, but rather self-defense; he twists his hips away as well, to prevent the young woman from landing any nasty blows to the nether regions. Smart man, that; but then, he's been in his share of brawls.
Face inches from Starling, he snarls at her - livid anger and a nasty bruise hiding genuine feeling behind the words. "Id've taken every strike from that boy, if I could'a. Every single one. An' -not- 'cos ye asked me to, damnit!" There is genuine hurt in his voice as he stares at the woman, breathing heavily now. His tone softens as he continues, but he doesn't release her. "I am tryin'. Every day. An' I'm sorry for whatever it is I done to ye, Starling, I really am, 'cos I think I could'a made ye real happy." He pauses, drawing in a breath before continuing. "Only just don't ask me like y'got to pay me. I ain't a sellsword neh more, an' even if I was.. Id'a done it for ye. For free."
The tall girl frowns when her arms are grasped and pinned to her sides. And yes, her knee does twitch upward, but he already anticipated that, so she sets her booted foot back down on the heel. But she doesn't flinch as he snarls in her face, mutinously holding his gaze with a slight downward cant of her jaw. "Don't give me that. The whole 'I'm a good man deep down' spiel. You're just tryin' to buy your way out of guilt, you're not a hero!" Even as the words leave her lips, her dark eyes widen a fraction, searching his. His apology seems.. almost genuine. Enough that it throws her, certainly. "..I don't believe you." The words are only a whisper, and not exactly convincing. "If you hadn't been of a mind to take me to your bed, you wouldn't give what you done a second thought. You can't just look for redemption as and when it suits you, Tam. You have to mean it. Otherwise you may as well not bother." A few moments pass in silence, before she ventures another question, her expression remaining decidedly sullen. "..you'd really smuggle me onto that ship?" Uh oh. The cogs are turning, already. Starling's features are always easy to read, when thoughts turn to forming a plan.
Tam keeps ahold of the woman. He isn't letting this wildcat go anytime soon, not if he can help it, but her words hurt - that much shows clearly. "Y'got no idea how far I've gone to redeem myself, poppet. I joined a losin' rebellion t'try an' make up for it all. I got almost every man under me killed, us tryin' for redemption. I been huntin' for that longer than we known each other. But ye're right.. I ain't a hero. I never said I was, did I? I'm a man." He inhales slowly, still studying Starling carefully, waiting for the headbutt or the flail or whatever dangerous move she's going to try next. "I'm still of a mind t'kiss ye, damn me for a fool. And I been half-hopin' ye'd open my throat one of these nights since the last time y'tried. But I ain't sorry 'cos I want ye, I'm sorry 'cos whoever I killed mebbe didn't deserve it very much." He pauses, head tilting slightly as he watches the cogs turning. And reluctantly, a grin starts to form. "Ye'd have to dress as a man. And sleep near me. Neh with me - though I'd not object! — but near enough that nehbody else would come after ye lookin' for warmth."
Is it the way she remains perfectly still, seeming to yield, that's ringing warning bells in Tam's mind? Because Starling is utterly motionless, still securely held by the knight's grasp upon her slender arms, watching his features in some proximity as he intones those growled words. "There's still time.." she threatens, in response to his waiting for her to cut his throat while he sleeps. And she seems to mean it, even as a slight, humorless smile tugs at the corner of her lips. But her dark eyes flit, almost too swift for notice, between those of the knight, to his grim mouth and back. "They didn' deserve it." she confirms, more gently. "..and I didn' deserve it. So why exactly you think I'd let you kiss me, I don't really know." The pause now is more noticeable, as she contemplates his suggestion. "..I'd still have to go to Stonebridge, first. Mebbe I could sneak back in with any extra hands they scrounge up in the meantime. Save you the trouble." Save having to sleep beside him, more like. "..but if I do this… Einion can't know. Get me?"
"I never really did think that. S'why I never kissed ye." The sadness in Tam's voice is heart-wrenching. He releases Starling with a small shrug, spreading his arms a bit as though to invite the blows that he is sure she's tempted to rain down on him. Stillness, in Starling, is as dangerous as writhing rage in others. "But I tell ye what. Y'want to risk rape an' bein' slaved off to a crew o' sailors, y'do it yer way. Y'want to be safe? Y'come aboard wi' me. And I'd keep yer secret, sure." Eyeing Starling for a moment, the man says bleakly, "But ye're better off goin' to Stonebridge and stayin' there, little bird. I'll keep yer man alive, but the campaign for the Isles ain't gonna be neh fucken picnic. It'll be Seagard, but worse. Bigger. Their women'll fight us, an' their babes too."
Every day the levy practices.. every day now, the Serjeant of the Green Quarter is now expected to be on his feet and moving.. and he is. Serjeant Einion Wycliffe, former and it's his fervent hope will be again tanner, the tell-tale limp now a little more pronounced, walks back towards the encampment using his pike as a makeshift walking stick, lured by the promise of something to eat. He doesn't quite make it, however, as he pauses in his step, allowing some of the men behind him to pass, shoulders bumping.. and blinks.. and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. He's still at distance, and he can't quite make out the circumstances, but the figures he'd know anywhere.
Starling considers it, she really does. It's quite a while before she speaks again, and her gentle tone is laced with regret. "..no. No, I nearly watched you both die last time. And I don't need you distracted worryin' about me. I need you watchin' Einion's back.. and your own." She doesn't lash out at him, when he releases that vise-like hold upon her. She sways a little before regaining her balance, then takes a half-step forward, close enough perhaps that he has less to fear, as thrown punches go. "Tam.."
Hard-hearted as she tries to be with the hedge knight, that open grief that flashes across his features thaws her. Just a little. "..I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you care for me and I'm sorry that I have to hate you. I'm sorry you got hurt. I'm sorry you can't find somethin' in life to bring you peace, if not happiness."
Pressing her lips in a firm line, the stablehand glances down, fidgeting with the ripped hem of her bodice, where she tore away the makeshift favor, before all of this. "..I nearly lost both of you, last time. Don't talk to me like I don't know that this time.. might be that neither of you come back. I know it very well." Looking back up, her features upturned to study Tam's, the girl's expression has softened to a genuine one of tangible fear and dread. Of course she doesn't see Einion. She's not looking that way, and she and the hedge knight have found a relatively secluded spot beyond one of the lesser-used tents. If she knew he was watching.. but she doesn't. Raising a hand, she brings it to rest lightly on Tam's stubble-rough cheek as a rumble of thunder ripples through the laden rainclouds overhead.
And Tam, too, doesn't see the poor Serjeant. He's distracted instead by the touch on his cheek; the man's eyes drift shut for a moment as he tilts his head into the caress, like a beaten dog responding to the first pet of a kind new owner. He turns a bit, pressing a kiss into Starling's callused palm before speaking. His voice is hushed, rich with a compressed desire. "I'm Tam Cooper, right? Ser Tam Cooper. Poppet, I don't much deserve happiness." What he leaves unsaid lingers heavily in the air: But I want it.
He clears his throat, eyeing Starling as he opens his eyes, hand coming up to catch her wrist lightly - no strength exhibited, but an attempt to hold her hand in place a moment longer. "Einion'll come back, darlin'. Ye got my word on that." He smiles slightly, crookedly, and brushes his hand down her arm as he releases her wrist. "All y'ever got to do is ask, y'know. But since y'offered me a pretty.."
Hesitantly, with plenty of time for the woman to rip herself out of his way, Tam leans forward in an attempt to brush a kiss against the corner of her mouth, as chaste in intent as he has been angry. "..I got a present for ye," he murmurs softly.
What? Einion takes a step forward again, but.. to what end? He stops, his eyes glued to the tableau. How can he interrupt? How.. and his mind churns, pulling up every possible scenario that he could possibly find for such a position, but.. to what conclusion? He's a simple man, truth be told.. not fit for thoughts but for the work he knows. His strengths lie in loyalty, dedication to the task— but don't ask him to think. So.. it's there he's frozen— and his face is the same open book that it always has been. Ser Tam.. Starling.. his Starling? And still, the men pass him, standing as he is, one or two calling out for him from their place by the fire, voices pitched loud enough to carry and to break into the tanner's attention on .. other things.
"Oi! Ein! C'mon.. sit down 'fore you fall down!" and another echoes, "I've got a tear in the leather— d'got your sinew?" The request for aid, then, turns Einion around slowly and deliberately, "If'n I don't," he begins, "I'll check with the cooks.. it'll smell bad for days, but it'll hold.." Dead animals..
Withdrawing her hand gently, when Tam releases her wrist, the girl offers a wan smile and a fractional nod, not entirely convinced by his assurances but trying to appear otherwise. He went back for Einion last time, and hauled him to the healer. Maybe he will somehow manage to keep the tanner safe. She can but hope. Looking downward with a sigh, letting her fingertips rest for a moment upon his chest, she adds in an undertone. "..he better. Like I told him.. I don't know a damn thing about leatherworkin'."
As Tam speaks again, it prompts her to raise her head, watching him calmly while his touch drifts down across the sleeve of her longcoat. Given that he's sworn, repeatedly, to return the man she loves to her, even at detriment to his own safety.. the girl holds herself steady and grants him that fleeting brush of lips without flinching. Or punching him again. "What is it with men and gifts, this week..?" she remarks, easing the tension with an offhand smile when the knight pulls away again. She's entirely unaware how all this must look to an outsider's eyes, without the knowledge of what's said between them.
At the leathercrafter's voice, Tam's head comes up. He locks his eyes on Einion briefly, and a flicker of concern crosses his features; after all, the man must think this entirely what it is not. What to do? He opens his mouth.. and shuts it again, looking back down at Starling. "…It'll keep," he mutters. A bit more loudly, he adds "I'm sorry, luv. But ye'll just have to do without my gift for the now. Slap me. Slap me and shout."
His gaze lifts to Einion again, the man's back to them. "..Shout loud. Somethin' about my bein' a mean cuss." He doesn't explain, though he does narrow his eyes at Starling meaningfully. "It's a real shame," he adds vaguely. Whatever the knight means, his features are flinty once again, sealed-off.
Einion walks towards the fire, the pots hanging in the coals, and the sound of the men's voices rise— signifying the definite return of the levies from their drilling. His shoulders are slumped, the pike used as his stick, snippets of conversations caught in words here and there.. a good deal about leather, about water.. boats.. and, of course, women. Ale, and women. And food. Armies march on their stomachs, and while the food isn't as 'good', refined, as the nobility and knights' tables, it serves as a stomach-filler. Oats and meat, and broth.. and ale. Watered down for the commoners, mind..
"Mistress!" Einion raises his voice, "D'you have the carcass left?" He's now deliberately not looking back, not over his shoulder.. nothing. He doesn't want to see, doesn't want to approach, doesn't want answers. It's.. Ser Tam..
Blinking, following the direction of Tam's gaze with a confused frown, Starling then widens her eyes in horrified realisation as she sees the tanner turning away from them. Oh Gods, what must he think?? She almost starts straight after Einion. But the knight's voice draws her dark eyes back up toward him. Understanding dawns slowly, before she simply inclines her head in a subtle nod, her own expression hardening. "..you are a mean cuss.." she points out, sotto voce, before doing as he bids.
She doesn't pull her punches, Starling. Taking a step back from her companion, she brings up a hand and throws her full weight into striking a sound slap across Tam's cheek. She doesn't even look particularly sorry or hesitant. Getting to thump Coop twice in one day? Good times. "..and I won't tell you again!" Turning on a booted heel with a flounce, the girl ignores the amused glances cast in the direction of the sudden scene and stalks off across the camp, in plain enough view to the only pair of eyes she's concerned about. She doesn't run straight to Einion - she's not that foolish. Let him come to her.. or take a swing at the hedge knight with fingerprints rapidly rising across his cheek.
Some of the other men look up at the sound don't seem amused at all, their eyes narrowing. After all, that was the Serjeant's woman who just stormed off - and Tam Cooper, who has a bit of a 'reputation', standing there. Tam rolls his jaw, reaching up to touch the fingertip-marks rising on his cheek, and eyes the few hostile stares he's getting. Under his breath, the man mutters, "..Should'a stuck to whores." He squares his shoulders, returning the stares defiantly, teeth bared in a challenging snarl.
But the man is a knight, after all - even if he isn't much of one - and most of the men drop their gaze rather than risk the whipping they'd recieve for beating Tam to a bloody pulp. Most, but not all - a hedge knight lacks the protection of noble-born, after all, and this particular one seems to revel in being treated as a commoner. Without waiting further, Tam turns and stalks in the opposite direction - and a few men rise to their feet and follow, subtle as bears in the underbrush.
What must he think? Einion has learned from an early age not to— he knows his sums, he knows his letters, though either of them at a 'higher level' would be a strain. He knows enough to get him by in life, in his place. Which is exactly.. where he likes it. Life.. a nice girl, a family.. and making ready for the next generation to till the soil of his parents' house, or to pass the trade down.. or both.. or perhaps neither. Maybe the next generation will find a calling serving the noble house directly? Regardless, there are simply.. things in life. One of them is knights are far more desirable to women of all levels than those with "no ambition". Can he blame her? No.. not in the least.
The shout, the slap— not only does it get the attention of the footsoldiers, but, well.. it has its intended effect of gaining Einion's attention. He looks back, to see the pair leave their clutch after the quiet.. fond moment to end in angry words? He hears the growls of those at the fire, and he puts his hand up— to see the look on the Ser's face. He.. stares.. not exactly sure what to feel, what to think, again.. and as Tam begins to stalk off, some of his comrades rise to follow?
"No.. don't.." Einion turns to follow the path Starling's taken with his eyes, and he wants to follow, he so wants to follow, but then what? "Don't!" rises from the tanner again. Two special people in his world.. "Don't." In this case, he honestly believes that Tam'd beat the tar out of the footmen, even if he's newly recovered from that axe to the chest. He just looks.. ready.
In this case, the fire, the food, the repairs of leather.. the sitting and resting is thrown from his mind, and he begins a limped progress towards Starling, wanting and not wanting to hear what had transpired, and if there was anything that could be done to salvage any part of 'it', whatever it may be.