|Strategies of Courtesy|
|Summary:||Hardwicke and Belle end up in the same line at the leatherworker's shop. She finds his inclination to be grumpy adorable.|
|Date:||1 December 2011|
|Leatherworker — Terrick's Roost|
|The local tanner's shop is a well-lit enclosure that might seem welcoming to some with its scents and plush comforts for some of the finer wares available. Leather dusters and riding coats are available as well as thick leather armor and even some kinds of furniture coverings. It would seem almost anything conceivable in leather could be requested. Saddles are advertised on the wall, also, but appear to only be made by request. Much of the work area is hidden behind a thinner wall and doorway that goes into the rear behind a short counter.|
|1 December 288|
The shop is busy enough this afternoon that Hardwicke is forced to — gasp! — wait. Standing in a corner of the shop with his arms crossed loosely over his chest, he dressed in the markings of House Terrick and armed as befits his station. His brow furrows with the slightest hint of impatience as he watches the tanner discuss items with a customer.
And it looks as though Ser Hardwicke isn't the only one who'll be made to wait, today. The bells above the door jingle, and with that jingling comes Belle. Neither of these events cause the shop's proprietor to so much as pause or bat an eyelash in the midst of his enthusiastic oration about dyes and embossing. The new arrival, being on the small side, encounters the Terrick knight's back much as one might a wall. She frowns at it, then cranes to the side. "Oh, blight and bleed me, it's a queue," she sighs. "Is he talking about embossing?" she asks the man-wall in front of her. "If he's gotten to embossing there are about nine or ten other steps about which he's equally enthusiastic. We might as well get supper and come back."
First he looks back. Then he looks down. Expression creased in a frown a bit more distinct than his habitual one, Hardwicke snorts a quiet, dry note. "As soon as we leave, he'll be done with this one, and then we'll come back to find him with another, even longer lecture."
Belle, for her part, looks up. That's quite all right. She's well accustomed to it. The brief glower seems to tickle her amusement, causing the shadows of dimples to bracket her lips, and his dire realism makes her grin in full. "Alas, Ser Glass-Half-Empty! Or we could come back to find him just closing up shop, having jawed away the day so entirely that he hasn't made nearly the sales he needs, and thus in a mood to provide us with marvelous discounts!" She shifts her large basket from one arm to the other, studying him. "Someone get in a lucky punch?" she asks, finding the bruise on his cheek of particular interest.
Hardwicke scowls in a manner that suggests he is quite used to tickling amusement with his grouchiness and does not share in it. "Well, nobody's stopping you from trying," he points out gruffly. His gaze sweeps over her, briefly assessing in an objective fashion. He does not look to find her particularly threatening, but likely that is unsurprising. The scowl deepens at the question. "People should not seek out drunken idiots to rile them up for a fight where other people will have to handle them." His gaze narrows on her. "Particularly women."
The diminutive blonde creature makes with the big, blue eyes, batting her lashes as though she's more innocent than the Maid Herself. "Of course they shouldn't," she agrees, making absolutely no effort to disguise the fact that she's being sweetly patronizing. "Perish the thought." She glances at the still-occupied tanner, then back up at Ser Grouch. "Would you like something for the bruise, while we're waiting?"
Hardwicke looks very unfooled by her innocence. "The Maester has seen to me," he tells her stiffly. "Do you really carry around things like that for no reason?"
"Your Maester's 'seeing' might be going with age, the color that cheek is turning," says Belle. "Do you treat everyone who attempts to engage you in pleasant conversation like they were born specifically to vex you?"
Hardwicke frowns a bit more distinctly to be so directly called out, brow furrowed with a hint of acknowledgment of the censure. "No," he says, although he offers no evidence to support this claim. "There are worse things than a bruise."
Belle breathes a soft, rueful sigh. "Well I know it. Given the frequency with which I encounter such things — yes, I do keep a thing or two in my basket, most of the time. And find it to be quite reasonable, thank you." The corner of her mouth lifts and she gives him a sidelong glance. "Shall we begin again?"
Hardwicke looks down at her a moment, once again assessing. Then, in a particularly dry tone, he says, "Good afternoon." Well, it's better than before. Maybe?
She has to bite both her lips, close her eyes, and breathe in order to not laugh at that. It takes her a moment (she might emit the tiniest of squeaks), but she does manage. Finally, with genteel decorum, she responds, "Good afternoon, Ser." She even curtsies — quite gracefully — a dip of her knees, head inclined. Then, gently prompting him to the next way-station in the desolate land of small talk, she adds, "I don't believe we've had the pleasure of meeting, before."
Hardwicke's tip of his head is rather stiff in comparison to her graceful curtsy. "Hardwicke Blayne," he introduces gruffly. She is totally winning the decorum-off.
Eyes merry, but still doing a rather good impression of politely bland manners, Belle extends her hand. "Belle Beckett. A pleasure to meet you, Ser Hardwicke." She with a precision that's crisp and cultured, the attention to detail and diction pleasing to the ear. "What brings you to the tanner, this fine day?"
He takes her hand carefully in his own, his clasp a touch less firm than the usual briskness he displays with other men. "Discussing a saddle," Hardwicke says, then, "Uh — a pleasure. Mistress Beckett."
"That was well done," Belle murmurs with admiration for his manners that, astonishingly, appears to be entirely in earnest. "A riding saddle or a war saddle?" she asks, conversationally.
For the briefest moment, Hardwicke peers at her and that earnestness a touch suspiciously. Then, perhaps actually believing her sincerity, he continues: "Riding," he says. "My war saddle is still in admirable condition." After a beat, a touch awkwardly, he asks, "What are you here for?" Manners are hard.
"Journals," Belle replies, her smile encouraging and approving. "This shoppe particularly makes very fine, leather-bound journals — and I'm afraid my lady will have no other kind." By the indulgent note in her voice, however, it would seem she serves fondly. "It's been quite some time since I've gone riding for pleasure. And I never have ridden by the sea."
"Plenty of sea to ride along here," Hardwicke says, and the topic earns the first hint of softening in his expression, however small. "Who is your lady?"
"The Dowager Lady Rebekkah of Hag's Mire," says the golden-haired handmaid — without, it should be noted, hesitation or shame. Rather, there's a wry and gentle humor as she watches for his reaction. "Does that mean we can't go riding together?"
"Ah." If Hardwicke is not immediately hostile at the news — well, she's only a handmaid, after all, and his conflict is with the men. He smirks in a manner that certainly recognizes their disparate allegiances, though. "Why would you want to ride with me, anyways?"
Belle curves an impish smile. "Maybe I like you," she whispers, as though it were something she certainly wouldn't want anyone else to hear. They might, after all, think her mad. She widens her eyes theatrically. "Or perhaps I'm a spy, and I mean to seduce you for all the valuable information you doubtless have."
"You haven't known me long enough to like me," Hardwicke points out reasonably. "And I'd be a poor target for a spy."
"That," Belle counterpoints, "is why I said maybe. Unresolved questions always make me curious. I'd like to know the answer." She raises her eyebrows, "Why would you want to ride with me?"
"I didn't say I did." Hardwicke frowns as he senses himself becoming trapped in the web of feminine humor. "But if the lady requests it," he continues a touch pointedly, "it would be rude to decline."
Belle tsks, eyes widening again — this time in sympathy. "It would, wouldn't it?" What. A conundrum. She clearly doesn't envy him a bit.
Hardwicke narrows his gaze on her and her particularly untrustworthy brand of innocence. "It would," he says.
Her smile in reply to that is sweet and ever-so-slightly teasing. "We've already established, I think, that you're comfortable being rude, when necessary." So there's his out. "And yet when you trouble yourself to be mannerly, you're very charming."
"Charming," Hardwicke echoes, a bit baffled. "If you say so."
"Close enough," Belle lifts her slender shoulders, shrugging slightly, merry dimples returning to her cheeks. "So which will it be, Ser Hardwicke Blayne?"
"You haven't asked," Hardwicke points out, squaring his chin. "Unless you're expecting me to ask for your own idea."
Belle laughs, delighted. "You difficult and contrary creature!" She looks a little impressed, if slightly exasperated. "Very well, then. Tomorrow after breakfast, Ser Hardwicke, would you be so terribly kind as to meet me at the Rockcliff, from there to accompany me on a ride along the ocean?"
Hardwicke shifts his weight just slightly, looking discomforted. "Well," he says. "I can't imagine why you want to. But if you're that determined, I will accompany you."
She flashes her most charming, winning smile. "I will see you on the morrow then, Ser." She glances up at the counter, the — pitching her voice in just such a way that is carries infallibly without seeming shouted, says, "You know, Ser Hardwicke, I know the tanner in Stonebridge is also rather skilled in saddlery — and his prices are extremely reasonable. Einion Wycliffe is the name, I believe. It's really not too far to travel for excellent work at the price."
This? Gets the proprietor's attention. "Wycliffe? Why, he's just a pup!" He looks shocked and appalled, clucking his tongue and coming out from behind the counter to approach Hardwicke. "The lad's barely past his journeyman years, still lives with his mother. I have been crafting the finest saddlery in the Riverlands longer than Einion Wycliffe's been alive!" He chuckles. "Einion Wycliffe, indeed. Let's discuss what I can do for you, fine Ser… right this way."
Belle smirks, winks at Hardwicke, and blows him a kiss as she turns to take her leave.
Hardwicke frowns as he watches her go, even as the poor proprietor makes his case. Finally he turns to begin discussing the finer points of his saddle, which he is ever particular of. Until tomorrow.