|The Cock of the Walk|
|Summary:||Alek does not sulk but Anneke does swoon over bees|
|Related Logs:||Victor's Spoils|
|Stables and Kennels|
|The Tower's Main Stables are nestled into the corner of the courtyard near the portcullis to facilitate quick, easy exits when required. The rear of the structure is backed right against the interior wall of the castle with the heavy wooden roofing gently sloped down towards the slate out front, the floor of the stables kept to dirt. Thick wooden beams are plunged into the ground and serve as a base for the walls between each stall. Hay serves as most of the flooring in the area with a large stack of it off to the side. Each stall has a thick layer on the ground to serve as bedding, with most of the space dedicated to horses though a few have pens of dogs and hounds. An enclosed structure at the end serves as dry storage for riding equipment and saddles.|
|29th of Tenthmonth, 288 AL|
Anneke of Oldstones is used to seeing to things herself. It's the old adage that begins 'If you want something done right…' run amok in the life of someone who believes that very few people other than themselves can do a thing right. It keeps her rather busy, but that's fine as well — the woman affectionately known as Valentin's Harpy seldom sleeps, only adding to her dreaded omnipresence. Now, she's in the stables of Four Eagles Tower, tending to her horse, a gigantic, retired warhorse called Daemon. He stands like a gray-muzzled statue as she goes over him with brush and comb, heedless of her gown, a few bits of straw already having found their way into the long, dark riot of her hair.
A familiar courser is only a few stalls down, though the black horse is well-tended to already and mild in his stall, likely easily overlooked. His owner is rather not, where he comes striding into the stables on long legs, a length of a red cape slung over his shoulder and trimmed in grey rabbit fur. Alek's blond hair is mussed, the look more like fingers than wind, and humor still warms his lips and gaze though it is suspended when that sweep of grey-green eyes catches on Anneke. "Did home get boring without me there, so you just had to follow?" he questions by way of greeting.
Without missing a beat or looking up, the steward answers, "Without the stench of stale wine and sweat, the hall just wasn't the same, alas." She puts the curry comb aside and turns, lips twitching a faint smirk. "It made you easy enough to track." She drifts over to the stall door, leaning in the frame and folding her arms. "How has the Roost been treating you, Alek?"
"I object. My wine is never stale and I always wash the sweat off," Alek answers with a half-grin, his arm only lifting slightly as if to prove his statement before it drops to his side again. "I have not put myself too much at their hospitality to find out, Anneke. What has brought you here?" With a few strides he brings himself in distance for comfortable talking, his own fingers curving over the ledge of the stall door on either side of Anneke's arms.
"Save for when you've passed out drunk and slept eighteen hours. I've had to burn your linens more than once." Fact or fiction, Anneke indulges shamelessly in hyperbole when it amuses her. Save when she's talking about money, or the progress of her lord's House — which are often the same thing. She tips her head back to look at him, rather than drawing away. "The road is done," she reports, by way of explaining her presence. "The trade it's made possible, already, is — " she shakes her head slightly with a wry smile. "I do so hate to swoon, but I think I might have, once or twice. We're getting bees."
A brow curves upwards, drawing Alek's expression in to something of amusement though he comments little on Anneke's story. Instead he leans slightly back, using the brace of his arms and lean muscles to hold himself as he murmurs, "Bees? I could think of more exciting things to swoon over, Steward."
"Pfft. You know nothing," Anneke dismisses without rancor. It's nearly her favorite turn of phrase. "Bees are the most wonderful thing the gods ever fashioned. Just think of it!" She smiles and rather lights up, quite excited about her flying, stinging insects. "Honey. We'll have honey — and candles? Beeswax candles that burn clean and smell sweet, instead of the ones of tallow and rendered fat, all black smoke and smelling of grease. Never mind the agricultural boon, the things we'll be able to plant that simply would have perished before." She places a hand over her heart and affects a little lightheaded spell. "And it's just the beginning of what we can obtain at a reasonable cost, now."
"For now. Do not get too wet in your underthings yet, Anneke, until the swords fall where they will," Alek answers in his own turn of phrase, shaking his head in his own gesture before he moves to lean forward. Despite earlier words, he does smell softly of sweat and leather, grass and sex. "We will eventually need to show favor to the Terricks or the Naylands, and whatever Anton chooses will impact us."
"I can tell you right now how that will fall," she says softly, dark lashes lowering a fraction as he leans in. She places a hand on his chest — and gives him a little shove backward so she can open the stall door and slip through. "It will be House Terrick. Lord Anton has designs on Lady Lucienne, and now that the simple-minded first-born's gone and buggered himself out of the succession, things should be less… politically volatile." She shrugs one shoulder, baring it briefly with the gesture. "What's to come between the Mire and the Roost… who can say? My job is to make hay while the sun shines, and ensure we're prepared to survive the coming winter."
Smile slight doesn't perclude a chuckle from arresting on Alek's lips, stepping away from the door with a gracious gesture. "Winter is coming, hm?" he teases warmly.
The steward snorts and bumps him with her shoulder, smirking at the tease. "Winter is always coming," she tells him, brushing off her gown. "My line may be far removed from the North, but the frost never quite leaves your blood." She looks towards the stable doors, a square of bright gray light on an overcast day. "The air has changed. Most people have forgotten what it smells like." She glances back at him. "You're staying at the Rockcliff, I assume?"
"You can read my mind and tell the future. What a remarkable woman Anton has in you. I'll make sure to tell him when next I see him," Alek murmurs in response, something of an affirmative hidden in those words. But where she bumps him, he catches at her, arms sliding around in a bearhug of the woman. "Why, do you plan to visit me there, my lady Steward?"
Arms pinned at her sides, Anneke arches a dark, dramatic eyebrow and looks wryly up the tall knight. "No. I just happen to be staying there, as well. The household's still booked with wedding guests, it seems, and I greatly prefer a feather bed to a cot in the kitchen. Are you broken, that you so fear a little jostling?" she asks, examining his face. "I meant to ask you who you've run afoul of, now. I don't often see my boys with black eyes after a melee."
"So broken, if only you knew. My heart, after all—," Alek starts, though he does not keep the joke going as he releases Anneke again. His fingers raise to ghost over the bruise on his eye, the other one faded away at least to leave just the one. "Gedeon's fist." This said dry, flat.
"Pah — Geddeon?" Anneke both looks and sounds wholly incredulous. "Oh, come on. A stiff breeze would blow him over, Gedeon couldn't blacken my eye." She puts her hands on her hips and frowns. "What for?"
"He did not exactly announce his intentions. Rather took me by surprise," is murmured defensively as Alek shrugs his shoulder.
"Oh, don't sulk," tsks Anneke, briskly. She takes his arm. "Come on. If you're finished your business here, you can walk me back to the inn. It has to be a more comfortable place to talk and I could use some wine after traveling. So he sucker-punched you?" She raises her eyebrows again. "Is there a reason I wasn't invited to the funeral?"
Alek shakes his head, humor warming his words as he answers, "That he can claim the title of friend, though he likely does not find me as warm as he has in the past." He pauses, gaze narrowing on Anneke though he seems happy enough to turn to lead her away. "I was not sulking."
"You were entirely sulking," Anneke counters. "It might have even been a tiny bit endearing. So why did he hit you, again? Was it over a girl?"
"You are entirely too curious, are you not? Perhaps you should ask Gedeon himself. I am sure you will agree that he is in the right and I am in the wrong, of course," Alek drawls in dry sarcasm, already comfortably in the position of 'victim' with his words. He glances over his shoulder as they exit the stable, as if just the conversation will draw Gedeon forth to defend himself.
Which only causes Anneke to laugh, a bright, silvery contrast to the whiskey contralto with which she speaks. "Sweet Gods, you are sulking!" She smirks ruefully. "Of course, now that I've called it endearing I shall have to wonder if it's sincere or another wile to draw me into your web. But nevermind — I am curious and, being also a woman of reason, must have both sides before I judge what's true. So let's hear it."
"I have no webs, my dear. I am simply as you see me." But, a long-suffering sigh slips purposefully from his lips, Alek drawing Anneke out of the courtyard before he begins his explanation. He starts dry enough as he states, "Gedeon took exception to how I conducted myself during the grand melee. It seems he invited his squire onto the field even after his squire competed and won the joust, somehow. I merely taught the skinny lad he was not quite ready to be a knight."
The lady steward rolls her eyes at the sighing. "Now that's a little thick. And me without my tall boots." She listens to the summary, glancing sidelong at Alek. "Well, the whole point of a melee is to beat the other men until they quit the field. It sounds, perhaps, like he was just as much angry at himself for putting the lad in that situation — failing to protect him." She shrugs. "Our Gedeon's never had anything of his own before, I think, Alek, or anything to care for greater than a horse. He's probably quite attached to the boy. I don't think he was right to take it out on you, but… have a little sympathy. It's not as though he hurt anything but your pride."
"He would not even listen to me, Anneke. I have had more squires than him, and he thinks he knows best for his own," Alek mutters, though he seems to listen and absorb her advice well enough. "He is only going to damage a good knight if he does it this way, letting him hide behind his skirts and allowing lessons to go unlearned."
Anneke puts a hand on his forearm, giving it a squeeze. "Give him time to settle down. Then try talking to him again. Maybe over drinks — lighten the mood. Or at least fuck up your aim a bit, so you don't hurt one another too badly if it comes down to blows again." She flashes a wry smile. "You boys — you and Gedeon and Anton — you have history and a common purpose. That's important. Don't let Gedeon's first man-crush throw it all in a spin. He's barely put aside his squire's tabbard, himself. Patience, Alek. The most difficult of virtues — but I have faith you can do it."
"We are not even at Oldstones for you to begin with the lectures. What will happen will happen, Anneke," Alek says, annoyance just beginning to touch his expression where he pulls away from her touch and turns to walk further down the road.
"I was trying to help. If I were lecturing you, I would used the word 'idiot' more." Anneke's tone, almost warm a moment before, is brittle with the frost she claims as a heritage. "Was I not taking your side enough, you great, vain peacock? Or are we just close enough to the inn that the smell of ready whores has recalled to your mind there are women at hand who you can treat any way you like, for a price?"
"Or perhaps it reminded me that some women have warmth between their legs instead of winter," Alek answers with his own sharp sarcasm, his brows lifting upwards where a smirk touches crookedly at his lips and darkens grey-green eyes. "It is the only difference, after all. The way you both focus on currency at all times."
"Is that your idea of an insult? That my cunt is of no use to you? There are women in the world who know how to take their worth by measures other than your over-used tool, Serrah, and I thank the Gods that I am one." Anneke tosses her hair back, green eyes pale and flinty, lichen and stone. "My focus serves our Lord and our House well, Alek. I take nothing but pride in it, for it is wealth that will raise our walls, arm our men, and feed our sworn. Unless you plan to also do all that with your cock, which I'd very much like to see."
"You would be amazed by the things I could do with my cock, love," Alek answers back, voice dropping to a murmur as he turns to walk backwards down the road. His shoulder shrugs upwards, a careless movement. "You only speak so little of it because you would rather a golden cock, isn't it? I will try to find you one, I promise. Perhaps then you could take a moment to release some of that tension and stop being such a shrew."
"And who is it who tells you you're so amazing, Alek?" asks Anneke, sweetly. "The women you pay to say so, or the cotholder's daughters who know no better?" She smirks. "I am neither, so I believe I'll reserve my amazement for something I haven't seen before."
"Everyone, Anneke. Everyone who has a chance," is said with a laugh wrapping velvet soft along the syllables of Alek's response, though his gaze flicks dismissively over Anneke before he turns again and moves off to leave the lady walking on her own, his long legs eating up road.
"Ah. I'll mind the queue," says Anneke, toneless and bone dry. She watches him go ahead a moment, sighing and folding her arms, pausing in her own progress so it feels a bit less like trailing behind him. Something — perhaps the mental image of said queue, a line of people stretching around the inn for their turn to praise Alek's cock — makes her cough on an unexpected bubble of laughter. She covers her mouth with her hand, wipes away her grin, and shakes her head. "Stranger take him," she mutters, smirking, before heading off in another direction.