|Riders and Ravens|
|Summary:||Maester Taleryth meets the Couriers…|
|Crane & Crossing|
|Temporarily a barracks mess-room|
|16th September, 289|
Mid-day finds the defenders of Stonebridge gathered in large groups at various points of the city. Those that are given shift to eat are doing so, the kitchens of the Inn open now at all hours to see to the care and feeding of the soldiers and militia. Several other rally points within the city walls are slated for the same service, cold food and drink carried to and from. The sector of the city set aside to treat the wounded is just as chaotic with the constant influx and egress of wounded who are patched up to the point where they can return to their duties. The dead are carried off to be identified, if they can be, and returned to their kinsman or burned, as custom and individual preference would have dictated. The danger of keeping bodies in a city under siege is well known, and there is precious little delay to give kin time to claim. The Erenford courier, for her part, has been running messages between Lords Brennart and Nevan and the defenders of this city or turning her hands to other useful tasks. Kalira is no healer, not by far, but she is strong, and a strong back, strong stomach, capable hands and keen observation are skills that the healers put to use when the need had called for extra hands. She and the Terrick courier, Nathaniel, are sharing a mid-day meal at a table to the side of the main room, which - to be fair - is crowded with the crush of soldiers, militia, defenders of the city and what few civilians have remained.
Nathaniel and Kalira are sitting beside each other toward the back of the room, at one of the long, crowded tables where soldiers are taking their mess. They have a single bowl between them, and each is holding a hunk of bread to sop in the weak broth. Kalira shifts so that she can look to him while they talk, and offers her thanks to him. "You're welcome," Nathaniel answers with a warm smile. He dips his bread into their shared bowl again, and explains, "The lady knows that I'll be gone for a few days. I told her that I'd ride with you if there's danger. Whatever comes, we'll face it togather."
Kalira arches one straight edged eyebrow subtly upward at Nathaniel, pausing with the bit of broth soaked bread half way to her mouth, "Going to ride with me to Heronhurst?" she wonders before the piece fo bread completes its journey. She dusts the crumbs off of her hands, "To be fair, I'd appreciate the company. Two couriers are better than one, and the extra set of eyes keeping a weather eye on the terrain - especially while moving through the combat elements near the city - would be a better idea than anything I'd normally hatch myself. Plus, there is the notion that any surly feeling Charlton's who don't feel the need to abide by cordial accords regarding the treatment of couriers," and there's a pause as she reaches for the cup of bitter and cold tea to take a healthy drink of it before continuing, "may be less inclined to do so if there's two couriers instead of just one."
The entrance of a slight, fairly tall, youngish fellow, dressed in a long pale grey robe, causes more quietening down, and suspicious, curious glances from soldiers, than might be expected by his fragile and unimposing air. Taleryth, the Maester at Tordane Tower, is not so very often seen mingling in the village at large, though when he does so, the relatively salubrious surroundings of the Crane & Crossing are his natural resort. Perhaps some urgent errand among the wounded has brought him out, and word might gather of such and such a knight's hurts being severer than expected. Then again, as the Maester and Master and Ravens, who should have fresher news than Taleryth of obscure developments, movements among Herons or Freys? This too sharpens the sense of anticipation he leaves in his cautious wake.
But anyone who catches a clear look at the young Maester's hazel eyes will be disabused of such grand expectations. He is as baffled and nervous as anybody else, and it's therefore not surprising that after he slips over to the bar and makes an enquiry, he is pointed in the direction of the two couriers, and wafts over to join them. He does not address a greeting other than a silent nod, but hovers waiting to be invited to sit, his inquisitive glance at the female rider from Heronhurst becoming, almost, a frown as he surveys the less explicable Terrick man.
Nathaniel nods to Kalira when she lists many benefits of accepting his company, and he concludes, "We're agreed, then." His voice is lower in volume than that of the general cacophony of the inn-turned-messhall. As always, he is alert to his surroundings, and when the soldiers in the room become realtively quiet and turn their eyes to scrutinize the stranger, he, too, follows their gaze. When he sees more details of the approaching maester, he inclines his head and greats, with a cautious courtesy, "Good day."
Lifting her eyes from the food assembled between herself and her fellow courier, Kalira's pale green eyes sweeping over the spreading quiet of the room and track back to the source that seems to be the point of origin. Fine cloak, calm demeanor, a fine air of expectation surrounding the man, and she gives another brief glimpse around and back, reading the barely perceptible frown. "Greetings, Master," she offers with a polite nod aimed at the man as the bench along the other side of the table suddenly finds itself vacant as the soldiers there find somewhere else to sit - in rather short order. Curious. "Would you care to take a seat, the fare today isn't all that robust but it's filling," she adds, by way of offer with regard to the food.
Though Nathaniel has been first to acknowledge his arrival, it is the woman from Heronhurst that the maester looks to first with care and decision, still standing until he is motioned to do otherwise, albeit with a slightly woebegone stance, and then sinking down with evident relief as the place clears and he begins to speak. "Mistress. I know not your name, but I would gladly seek it. I am Taleryth, the maester in service at the tower here." Indeed, under his fine cleanly robe jingles a fairly short chain of service, eight links long.
"House Nayland owes both the house you serve in turn, and, I suspect, you yourself as courier, many thanks indeed. Two hundred and fifty fresh hearts have done much to bolster the tired spirits of Stonebridge they relieve, I believe."
This sincere if formalised little speech is delivered in a rich, precise voice, redolent of study and comfort far away to the south. But now the Maester turns with more gravity in his voice an emphatic inch into the male courier's way.
"As for you, Master Courier, the good man behind the board of this free house tells me you ride for the Terricks. I confess I am at a loss as to, to what…exactly we owe the…honour of your visit. We received a raven that warned us your new grain supply depended upon staying…well clear of Stonebridge's defenders and cause. Do you not risk getting swept up into precisely…the wrong mess? But since you are here, I would help you if I can, in any regard; and also…betimes riders are more thorough than ravens, though less swift. Might we talk of what tales you have both garnered upon the road?"
Nathaniel smiles faintly when the soldiers clear a wide berth for the maester, and he waves his hand to the now empty bench across from them. "Please sit," he invites. "You spoke to the barkeep, and then came to our table. Perhaps you've need of our aid?" He gestures to Kalira and then to himself. "She's Mistress Valen. I'm Master Corbitt," he offers the introduction.
"I thank you for your concern, maester, although I've been her frequently since the … dispute began. Indeed, I was here when the Nayalnds and Chartlons faced each other three weeks ago. Ser Bruce, your master at arms, assured us that we would be welcome here. As for my current business, I came with business for Mistress Valen's house."
Kalira shakes her head slowly in return to Maester Taleryth's words, "I am merely a courier, Maester, sent in advance of the arrival of the men that my Lord could muster on such short notice once a decision was made," she explains with simple, and very blunt, honesty. "For my part, all I could do - all that I was able to do - was to be here in the hope that should things have gone ill, or confusion have mangled communications somehow, and be sure to alert the forces protecting this city to the truth that the arrival of House Erenford was to bolster these defenses. Not to aid the assaulting horde of the Charlton's at the gate." She glances then to Nathaniel and speaks to the defense of his house, "What is known of the accord between the houses Charlton and Terrick appear to hinder the Terrick as much as help, though from the staving desperate need of the Terrick people in advance of the offer of the Charlton - and, it does beg the question as to why their nearest neighbors Nayland's were loath to assist in their hour of such dire need - it does appear that the accord is all that keeps the people of The Roost fed at this point in time. But then," and she gives a small shrug of her shoulders, "I am but a simple courier, not educated in the ways and whys that things are done, or not done, between the houses." She smiles as she speaks, the soft touch of amusement in her eyes giving truth to the sense that she's just as observant as a courier should be, even as her words are carefully couched in such a manner as to phrase her words as supposition and idle commentary than criticism.
"You carried out your task with dispatch and skill, Mistress Valen," the maester replies, and though his voice remains grave his eyes and mouth both smile clearly as he bows his head shortly, "and we of the Citadel can offer no greater compliment. As for yourself, Master Corbitt: if Ser Bruce sanctions your presence, so do I." Respect and even a measure of affection is obvious in the young scholar's voice as he mentions the newly appointed master-at-arms.
"As for the matter of the grain…it is hardly my place to dispute whatever decisions House Nayland decides upon, but, academically speaking, as it were," Taleryth now adds in a lower, rather confidential tone, "after so much…unfortunateness between the Houses Master Corbitt and I serve…I would not have adjudged it wholly wise to raise the stakes with a mooted marriage contract. Had the decision been mine, as I say." His smile is broad now, showing lots of pearly teeth, as if he seeks to laugh *that* matter off.
"But if you also concern yourself with Heronhurst matters on occasion," he now asks with a newly investigative inflection in his voice, "perhaps you, as well as Mistress Valen, might be able to help me speculate on a puzzle…that had us all very worried. A raven from a hold without a name informed that the Erenford banners were riding north…and relieved as we are all that they were not, that still leaves us with…what we might call the Riddle of the Twins, perhaps…?" he jokes hesitantly.
Nathaniel frowns thoughtfully. "An unmarked raven? Do you have observations of which point of the compass it flew?" he questions. "Trained ravens are expensive, and sending one with false information would be a sizable gamble. Pair its direction of flight and what motives someone would have for sending it here, and you might solve that riddle."
Kalira reaches for the length of leather cording on the table where she'd dropped it earlier and runs both hands through her hair before gathering her shoulder length hair into a neat queue at the nape of her neck and wraps the length of leather around it several times before tying it off, listening to the Maester as he speaks. "Your words honor me, Maester," she says after he and then Nathaniel have had their opportunities to speak. "The marriages between the houses, Maester, make about as much sense as trying to determine where raindrops will fall. Neither man, nor the gods, may ever really know the reasons behind any alliance - all the reasons, that is, not just the ones that everyone speaks of."
She leans forward for a moment to reach for the cup of tea that she's sharing with her fellow courier, nodding to Nathaniel, "Unmarked ravens seem to me to be the thing of rumor, or perhaps it's that rumors fly like unmarked raven, is the way the phrase usually goes." The cup of tea is balanced upon the palm of one hand in demonstration, "Like this cup of tea, many things are not what they seem, and not entirely what they seem. If I were to tip my hand one way," and she does - with care - allowing the contents of the cup to lean to the side, taking the weight and balance of the cup with it until it's tilting visibly, "it is easy to presume that the contents will spill in this direction." She balances her palm once more, waits for the tea to settle, then angles her hand slightly the other way, "And if I were to tip my hand to the other way, the tea might spill to this side instead. But," and once again she balances her palm flat, "if I were to keep my hand level, and the tea were to not spill… but were, instead, to have the contents measured both this way and that, it could be said that the tea was measured in the directions that were most suitable. Some tea remains in the cup, some tea goes to the left, some to the right, but not enough to spill in a messy fashion, but also not enough to say that the one holding the cup was not dutiful to the request that the tea be shared accordingly."
She lifts her attention from the cup and tilts her head subtly in a nod at Taleryth, "Rumors are the thing of shadow and sound, Maester, the proof is in the doing," and with those words she lifts the cup the rest of the way and takes a longer drink from the cold contents.
Maester Taleryth's smile vanishes, his brow crinkles to intense frown again…but it is thawed in a moment as he laughs openly. "Are you certain you are in the right line of service, Mistress Valen? Master Corbitt here answered me like a courier. You like…well…a maester," he concludes in his mirth. "My brothers and I cannot of course be subject to, ah, distraction in Oldtown…well, not officially…but I heard an archmaester half in jest and deep in age, once muse on whether a parallel female Citadel should not be raised…I fear you might have found the old fellow’s choice of site, White Harbor, inclement, however…"
From the warmth that rolls into Taleryth's voice during this little anecdote, it is very apparent that he likes reminiscing about old times in Oldtown…
"As for your…your less…metaphysical…point, and query, Master Corbitt…I suppose there's no harm in letting you know the bird came from the same place as the story it carried, the north. Perhaps Lord Frey meant to be amusing." But this theory is obviously, itself, an attempt at entertainment rather than a serious maesterly bet.
"Do either of you linger here much longer? Already I find I enjoy your swift minds and perspectives, but I fear I had best advise you to be gone as quick as you may…" the maester murmurs now.
Nathaniel glances to Kalira and offers her a warm smile before he inclines his head to the maester and replies, "We have an errand, to attend, but I would be surprised if we do not see this place again soon. Wars require messages and parcels that a raven cannot bear. We deliver medicines where they are needed, and at times we find ourselves as the first diplomats between warring houses."
Kalira smiles suddenly, a genuine grin, "My father is huntsmaster for Heronhurst, Maester Taleryth," she answers, "and I would dishonor family tradition if I were less observant of my surroundings when it comes to people and their ways and whys than I am when I'm hunting real game. "Again, your words honor me, Maester, but I am exactly as I appear. Courier for house Erenford, loyal retainer to the Heronhurst house and all it's family line, as my father and his before and his before and so on have been for generations." Her expression sobers, smile fading, "Lord Frey does little that would be intended to discerned as 'amusing'," she says, again her words simple, blunt, and without any of the necessary layers one is required to employ when dealing with the fragile ears of nobles, "like all rumors, a grain of truth can be found somewhere in the mess of words and gossip. What matters is that the Pikemen of Heronhurst are here, and are here to assist." She finishes the last of the cold tea before nodding, "One that will take a few days to see to completion, in fact, and the day does not get any younger," she adds with one last look at the remains of the meal, calculating the odds of another hot meal between here and Heronhurst, given the state of supplies and the likelihood that the game around Stonebridge is probably scarce. "Nothing for it but to hunt once we get past the lay of Stonebridge," she decides aloud, somewhat cryptic but decisive at the same time. "Raven's are most useful for short messages and urgent news, but the bulkier things require couriers and Master Corbitt and I are two of the best," and she says it so calmly that it isn't bragging, just confident fact.
"You may be the first diplomats, but I fear you may just have met one of the last," Taleryth admits in a bleaker mood, half-rising as he does so. Obviously he came here for clarification and news, not refreshment…he still hasn't ordered, let alone touched, a bite or a drop. At times like this he looks cadaverous for all his healthy southern complexion, as if he has oft been neglecting to feed the body as well as the mind. "My, ah, role shall only truly come into its own…should the Tower fall." His thin mouth and wild eyes show his complicated state of mind about the chance of Charlton victory. He is committed to his Nayland masters now…but the duty of transferring a holding from lord to lord is among a maester's most important, and he can't help envisaging it with as much excitement as horror.
Fully at his feet now, he bows less stiffly than before, so that his little chain swings at ease. "Your quality is evident. I hope neither of you will hesitate to turn to me if I can serve you; for now, I must return to…stricter overseers, back at the Tower. Farewell!"
The soldiers still mostly have enough respect and morale to get out of his way as he passes out, though there are some disappointed glance that he has neither brought important news, nor left bandages…