|Oak and Stone|
|Summary:||The final verse of the ballad of Liliana and Stragen.|
|Related Logs:||Pretty much every Lili/Strag log, plus From Frogs to Swords: Stragen gets himself hired,Guardians and Enemies of Virtue: Stragen gets himself a new gig, and Questing: Ser Jarod brings Lili the news.|
|Kitchens — Four Eagles Tower|
|The kitchen is usually alive with activity but for the latest hours of the night. Stone counters with wooden tops line the interior except nearest the large brick ovens. Open fire pits in the center have iron bars across them for grilling as well, the hot surfaces on the other side of the room from the tables in the center used for final food preperation. Huge cabinets have been carved out of the walls to store the dishes and utensils for serving the meals to the House Lords and Ladies. The few exits lead towards the Servant's Quarters as well as the Throne Room and Entrance Hall.|
|31 Aug, 288 AL|
It's early evening, and the kitchen is a roiling sea of ordered chaos, as the dinner hour as come, and those residing within the tower are gathering for the evening meal, if that suits them, and if not, having trays set and carried up to their rooms. It's only along the corners that there's a moment of peace, and only because those corners are set aside for those servants of the House to take their meals. And they will not be eating until much later. For the now, there is one table, in the corner, closer to the cellar than to the doors leading out into the hall, Liliana and Vena, one of her handmaids, are sitting with their heads bent together, seemingly in the midst of counting and measuring our a selection of herbs and powders from the good-sized bag on the table.
Strolling into the kitchens like he owns the place is Stragen, thumbs hooked in his sword belt. He gets a few confused looks from the kitchen staff, and he offers them polite greetings and friendly smiles. Quick to dodge out of the way of pots being carried and trays departing, the blonde barbarian seems intent on just observing for the moment, his true purpose here unknown. Finally, he's able to seize a pasty fresh out of the oven, tossing it from hand to hand as it's still quite hot. He gets a scolding from one of the maids, but he pays her no heed, instead fleeing to the rear of the kitchens near the other exits out. That's when he spots Liliana, and it's like his pleasant mood gets torn out with his spine. Shoulders slump, his head sags down on his shoulders like his neck is suddenly weak. Then he remembers he has a hot pasty in his hands and utters a few, "Ouch! Hot, hot!" Resuming tossing it back and forth, and shaking out singed fingers.
"Vena, do be a dear and find Master Stone a plate for his pastry." Liliana's voice breaks through Stragen's cries of pain, Vena, dark of hair, contrasting well with Elise's titian curls, makes it easy enough to tell one handmaiden from the other. "Yes, my lady." The girl rises, scooting as though one of much experience, heading for one of the common cabinets, used by the staff and at those times when decoration is not required. The plate is carried back, politely offered, "To save your hands, master." Liliana remains where she's sitting, still in the midst of adding just the right amount to a weighted scale.
"Aye, much thanks, Miss Vena," Stragen says as the pasty gets plopped onto the plate, and he accepts said dish with a relieved smile. "Sorry, still getting used to this 'cutlery' and 'crockery' thing. You'd be surprised what we'd use for plates when we had no coppers and no one to hire us." He lowers his voice to stage-whisper, just loud enough to be heard over the bustle of the kitchens. "Once I used the top of a man's skull as a soup bowl." Trying not to laugh before the punchline, he adds, through chuckles. "He wasn't using it, you see!"
Poor Vena, not nearly so staunch and stout as Elise, looks a bit green, at the story she hears from the Terrick man. "That's awful!" She shoots him a glare. To receive such a thanks, after she did as she was bidden. The girl fairly runs back to Liliana's table, scooting back into the seat, pointedly not looking at anyone but her Lady, "Thank you, Vena. I'm certain he appreciates it."
Stragen shrugs helplessly. "Most folks are appreciative of my stories, even when they're… what did you say? Awful? I don't think I've had that particular word used to describe me, before. I'll add that to the list." Poking at the pasty on his plate, waiting for it to be cool enough to consume, no doubt, Stragen inclines his head towards Liliana. There's a hint of a hopeful upturn at the corner of his mouth. "My lady. Your servant does not appreciate my yarns. And I don't blame her. She's wise not to gush over a man like me, no matter what he says."
If Vena were a younger girl, and not so well trained to proper etiquette, quite likely her fingers would be stuck in her ears, while she shouted 'la la la la la la la' at the top of her voice. But, thankfully for both Stragen, and the reputation of her mistress, she simply does her best not to look in the man's direction, helping to add the herb to the mortar, once Lili finishes measuring, "Not everyone appreciates being lied to, Master Stone. Had Ser Jarod set you a new assignment yet?" The conversational question, Liliana moving on from one herb to the next, this a powder, light in weight, powdery and ashy in colour.
There's a pause before Stragen answers, eyes blinking once as he processes Liliana's backhanded comment. Giving a grunt at the stab, he replies, simply, "Aye. I'm on grounds patrol until he has something more interesting for me." There are more words catching in his throat, but he's not quick to say them. Not just yet.
"He did mention that he had many opportunities of which you might avail yourself. I wish you all of the best, and hope that you will remain happy in your employment at the hall. Master Denmus has been settling in well, though as the time approaches for the wedding, I find myself having less and less need to go to such places that I need someone guarding my safety." A delicate, tiny spoon is dipped into the glass jar the powder is held in, after setting out a few of the weights into the opposite pan of the scale.
"Denmus? He's an old man. He could barely fend off a cold never mind an attacker," Stragen harumphs, going to cross his arms, but he remembers he has a tasty morsel on a plate in his hand and starts suddenly to prevent it from spilling. "Isn't he a grandfather now? Aye, I see Ser Jarod's reasoning. Man probably doesn't even care about looking at women any more. Safe. Pleasant. Sounds like he'll be exactly what you were looking for, my lady."
Liliana's smile is bright, as conversation turns to her new sworn and his family, "Yes, his first. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I met his family. He and his wife are terribly pleased. A son is a great boon to them." The smile slips away, however, a moment later, "What I was looking for? Precisely when did I state that that was what I wanted in a sworn? I think you perhaps have me confused with someone else, Master Stone."
A snort from the blonde barbarian. "Not bloody likely, my lady," Stragen says, his words laced with sarcasm. "You wanted a friend and an equal. We tried that. It got you in trouble. You wanted it again. I couldn't bring myself to jeopardize your virtues and your reputation, and the reputations of this House. So, maybe, now you'll find a friend… someone you can talk to. Like a limp old man." He finally takes a bite of his pasty, a grin shining through his chewing. He either feels particularly smug about the choice for Liliana's new sworn, or he's taking pride in his barbs.
Liliana's hands pause, finishing with the measuring, but not moving on to the next, instead indicating for Vena to begin to start putting her supplies away, her expression cool and calm as she looks over at the man eating his pastry. "What I wanted was a friend that I could speak my mind to, share my thoughts and hopes and fears. It is clear to me now, that you wished only for the coin that this House put in your pockets, and that the time spent with me was nothing more than a chance to look down on me and laugh at my stupidity, as you are even now. I suppose a man in your position takes his entertainments where he can. How amusing it must have been to you, how often you must have laughed yourself all the way back through the castle when you left me. Though at least now you have the decency not to mask your derision with false words. How gallant you must seem now, to Ser Jarod and the other House retainers, who, I am certain you have spread the story to as another example of your prowess, having made such sacrifices to save the honour of this House. I salute your skill and perseverance, Master Stone. I have been put in my place, by a common sell-sword. Huzzah for your victory." Liliana rises, bearing as noble as it can be, "Vena, bring my supplies to my room, please." The lady herself starts off towards the rear stairs, picking up her Elise on the way, she who had been tucked away in a corner reading through the book she brought down from the library.
"Oh, no you don't," Stragen declares, moving to interpose himself between the stairwell and the ladies. "You've no clue, do you? You have no idea what power you held over me, Lady Camden. How I would do nearly anything for you. And that is precisely why I had to sever my ties with you." He nods sharply, his eyes hard. "If it must come down to this, then yes, feel offense. Think I'm a monster. It's how I've carefully crafted my lies and my exaggerated deeds over the years, so no one truly knows Stragen Stone, Fjall, the Morder of King's Landing, all of these names. It's all I have to fall back on, when I am reminded by the Seven time and time again that I will have no true happiness in this world other than what I can buy with your precious Lord-given coin." Stepping aside, he gives a mechanical bow and a flourish towards the stairs. "Do not let me keep my lady any further."
Liliana tilts her head, looking over the man, as he comes to block the way to the stairs, "Is that the power that I held over you, Master Stone? If that is so, then yes. I knew. Because it was no more than the power you held over me. I would have held you safe and protected you from all the world, and championed you against all your enemies. You were mine…if only for a little while." Liliana's voice changes not a whit, even at that admission, "I do not think you are a monster. I think you are a man, who has spent so much of his life creating lies about himself that he has convinced himself that he is nothing and can be nothing in this world but the lies that he has told the world and himself. You could have a good life, a good wife, children, anything you might wish. But whomever you were, all those years ago, has been lost to the myth of the man who now calls himself Stragen Stone." As she begins to make her to the stairs, she answers, softly, "I am not your lady. Not any longer."
"Aye, you're not my lady," Stragen says after her. "Only lady I have is one that I can pay for. At least with her, I know where I stand. And I've no reputations to sully. Have a good evening."