|The Amphibian Diaspora|
|Summary:||Be careful what you ask for…|
|Related Logs:||Frogs and Tales|
|Campgrounds of the Tournament Field, Stonebridge|
|The center of the festive event is clearly the tilting lanes: long rails draped with pennons and fresh cut boughs of greenery. A viewing platform has been erected on either flank of the lists to provide comfortable seats for the nobility who gather to view the martial contests, while the common peasantry fill in the periphery. Spreading out from the central field, dozens of pavilions have been pitched beneath the light trees to the west of Stonebridge. Ranging from the small field tents of free lances to the sprawling high peaked canopies of the greater houses, with silk banners fluttering proudly from their center stakes, a riot of heraldic splendour siezes the eye. Beyond this noble inner ring are the campsites of the common folk who have journeyed to see the spectacle of tournament. Some have tents, but many others simply gather around one of the dozens of campfires which dot the woods at night. The largesse of the hosting family raises common spirits through ample supplies of beer.|
|24th day of Seventhmonth, 288 AL|
The morning after the first joust finds the campgrounds slow to wake, many of the occupants recovering from revels or wounds — or both. The help is up and about, though — those smallfolk and minor nobility whose work is never done. There's breakfast to make and armor to mend and horses to reshoe. And in the bright morning, through the dew-drenched grass, come a pair of strapping lads bearing a very, VERY large chest. The thing might serve as a cabinet in a humble sort of home. And it has holes drilled in it. Lots and lots of small holes. It's just an odd bloody thing. Bringing up the rear is a earnest, freckle-faced little boy with big ears, carrying what appears to be a hunting knife — sheathed — in his hands. Very. Very. Carefully.
The newcomer to Stonebridge, the man called Fjall, or more properly, Master Stragen Stone, has been seen in the company of Lady Isolde Tordane within the past day. And, seemingly, he's been extended hospitality by that House, as he's been seen coming and going from where their banners fly. Freshened up and dressed in reasonably clean clothes and a mended jerkin, the man whose heritage likely has mixed Iron Isles raiders and Vale barbarian blood sits idly on one of the several dead stumps that litter the roadside. It appears he's got a cloth of cheese and fresh morning sweet rolls that he's enjoying for breakfast. Ah, to hang out with nobles.
"Oi!" calls one of the lads, huffing and puffing and clearly tiring of his burden. He nods to his counterpart and they set the huge chest down near Stragen with a thud. "Are you the tale-teller? The one what Miss Anneke borrowed the knife from?" The little red-haired lad pokes his head out from behind one of the larger boys, all big eyes and bigger ears. He tightens his (still careful) grip on the knife and gulps audibly.
Stragen pauses mid-bite, regarding the collected young men. Gray eyes quickly take in the situation, and then the large, blonde man begins chewing again. "Aye," he says, mouth half full of roll. Despite associating with Houses he's still rather unrefined. "What of it, eh?" He regards the crate again. "You've got holes in your chest, lads. If you were carrying grain or coin they've probably all spilled out by now." His eyes fall briefly to the knife in the boy's hands. "You hold that any harder, lad, and you'll cut through the leather. Wouldn't want Miss Oldstones mad at me." Likely referring to Anneke.
Not far away, standing near his tents on a higher part of the hill, is Ser Jaremy Terrick. His eyes a lidded and tired, and in his hand is a mug of hot tea with the slightest bit of hard wine in it. The nausea has passed, and he's cleaned up for the day, only he's not quite prepared to deal with his hang-over. Pressing his tongue to the inside of his mouth, pushing at something between his teeth, his eyes fall onto the gigantic barbarian and this chest. "That…is a big son of a bitch." He says quietly to himself, raising the mug for a sip. It's hair of the dog time for him.
The little boy tries to shrink back, but one of the others gives him a shove forward. He holds the knife and its sheath out to Stragen, quaking. "It… th-this is yours, mister," he says in a tiny voice. "I — Miss Anneke told me t'give it back to you. She s-said…" he gulps again, eyes widening all the more, voice dropping to a whisper, "She said I h-had to be very careful with it. That it's magic and if I cut myself, I'd get taken by one of the Old Spirits to live beyond the Wall in the North." Please, please take the scary knife from him?
Jarod is hanging about near Jaremy, also armed with a cup of wine (his contains far less tea). He looks more or less chipper (his drinking the previous night was all of the social sort), though he occasionally scratches with vague annoyance at his chin. He's neglected shaving over the past several days, and is experimenting with scruff that might become a beard. He doesn't seem to care for it, but he's giving it some more time before making any commitments to it one way or another. Eyes follow to the gigantic barbarian at Jaremy's comment, and he whistles low. "One of the Ironborn, you figure? I was surprised to see those sort down for the tourney. It'll be some fun to see what they can make of themselves on the field, though." Stragen is squinted at more. There's vague recognition sort of playing around the edges of his expression, but it's very vague. He takes another drink. That probably won't jog whatever memory he's playing with, but it seems like a good idea in general.
Probably scaring the boy further, Stragen throws his head back and laughs. "Ha! She said that? Well, then, you best be very careful, aye?" Holding out a calloused hand, he takes the knife from the brave (okay, not really) boy. "You do your lady service, lads."
The boy looks immensely grateful to be relieved of his burden. One might think he just cast some evil bauble into the volcanic fires from which it was forged, or something. He runs off, deserting the two big lads — who look at each other and shrug. "Chest's for you, too," says the spokesboy, off-hand. "With the lady's compliments or somethin' like that." He jerks his chin at his compatriot, and they slouch off to loaf until they're located and obligated into service again.
Not as jovial as his bastard brother, Jaremy still bears a quiet demeanor from the events of the joust. He frowns, taking a step closer to Stragen, speaking sidelong to his brother. "I didn't see him with the Ironborn at the tourney, and they appear to be travelling in a pack. It's hard to tell, though, because most of those from Pyke dress the same." He takes another sip as he walks. "Are you, Jarod, like me? Are you wondering if he's going to be in the grand melee? Perhaps we should ask the man…"
Stragen eyes the boys as they leave, shaking his head and tsking lightly. The knife is carefully unbound and drawn from its sheath, and the man carefully gives the blade a once-over. "Hmm, didn't foul it on a bone. Good," he murmurs to himself. Sheathing it, he tucks it behind his back, tucked into his belt or perhaps the back of his jerkin. Popping a piece of soft cheese into his mouth, the man thoughtfully chews as he regards the box with holes. Shrugging, he leans over and tugs the crate towards him.
"Man like that, I'd not stake silver on him missing it," Jarod replies to Jaremy, still thoughtfully squinty about Stragen. "Aye. Perhaps we should." He strolls alongside Jaremy toward the large barbarian, his naturally rather fast strides slowing to match his more subdued brother. Jarod has the general air of one who'd run everywhere at top speed, if given the opportunity. The knife gets a curious look. But, as he approaches, he lets Jaremy address the man first rather than just busting in.
The chest is quite heavy — it refuses to be made a trifle by responding to a mere tug. There is a muted thud from inside it, though, as something strikes the lid. Which is… odd. Because things don't typically fall up. But then it happens again. Thud. Thud thud thud. Thud thud.
Stopping off to Stragen's side, just outside of sword distance, Jaremy allows his left wrist to hang over his sword's hilt as he bends an ear to the thumping inside of the chest. He glances to Jarod, downing the last of his tea quickly just in case. "It does certainly appear that something wants out of that chest." Jaremy says to Stragen, eyes passing from the chest to the larger man, a look of curiosity on his face. "Box of wolves, perhaps?"
"What in the Seven Hells…" Stragen wraps up the rest of his breakfast and tucks it inside his jerkin. This requires getting up and investigating. The tall man pushes up from the stump and circles 'round to get a good look at the crate's latch. The sound of the thudding causes his eyes to narrow. His boot gets placed underneath the latch, and he appears as if he's about to kick it open. But he pauses at Jaremy's approach and words. "Aye. Could be anything. The Crannog talk about 'small folk' that steal infants and replace them with cursed dolls that grow up to be terrible children that break their parents' hearts. It could be small folk." And that's when he gives the latch a good lifting kick.
"Or bears, maybe," Jarod speculates. Only most joking. "Doubled up and over like acrobats in those traveling mummer's shows. Box of bears would make an excellent secret weapon." At the mention of cursed dolls that grow up to break hearts, he aims an elbow at Jaremy's arm and chuckles. "Maybe it's Lady Valda in there. Cursed demon sounds about right where she's concerned." A little grimace at the kick, but he doesn't object. If anything, he looks right curious to see what'll emerge.
And OPEN pops the chest and OUT come the contents! Frogs. Scores of frogs of all sizes, most of them rather large, leap from the prison in ribbity panic. They leap this way and that, springing in wild, flailing arcs though the air. Some of them keep hopping, some of them — content to be in the open air — just sit in the grass, throats fluttering as they croak. One invades a nearby tent, causing some unfortunate lady to scream within. Once the amphibian diaspora has slowed a bit, there's still a few dozen left in the immediate area. Croaking away. Ribbit.
Stragen blinks. "Frogs. FROGS!" Looking quite comical, the large man begins scrambling around, gathering as many frogs as he possibly can to deliver them back to the box. Of course, this is likely going to illicit more of them to scatter and flee, but he manages to at the very least break even. Giving a worried glance at the two noblemen beside, he declares, "Help me, you fools! If we don't have at least two score frogs, the ritual will fail, and we'll all be doomed. Doomed, I'm telling you, doomed!"
Upon seeing the frogs, Jaremy tilts his head back in a loud fit of laughter. Frogs are everywhere. No longer fearing something more destructive, Jaremy plants a hand on his brothers shoulder and squeezes, leaning in. "You were close." He says with an impish grin, leaning back to his normal position. He blinks. He gives Jarod the 'did he just call us fools?' look. In response, Ser Jaremy folds his arms. "…and which ritual is this? Prayer and ritual have lost their confidence in me for the short while, barbarian."
"Fucking seven hells!" Jarod exclaims, taking a step back to avoid the hopping freed frogs, and laughing as he does so. The boyish smirk he exchanges with Jaremy looks decidedly odd paired with his semi-beard. The look really doesn't suit him. But, wanting to be randomly helpful, he does lean down to snatch one of the frogs who's chosen just to kind of sit and hang around after being freed. "You a witch, then, goodman?" It's plainly a joke, he does not sound concerned about Stragen's witchcraft. "Never seen a witch so big."
Pausing with one squirmy frog in each hand, Stragen rights himself and regards both men with a slight grin. "It's the ritual to put my magic knife back to sleep, you see. Someone from Oldstones borrowed my knife, knowing full-well that stabbing rats with it would anger the spirit within. So, I said, I'd need frogs." He holds out one frog towards each man, palm flat, so the buggers can leap off at them if they so chose. "Frog blood's potent stuff. And frogs are not bad eating, in a pinch."
From out one of the smaller red-and-white tents of the Oldstones camp comes Anneke, just putting up her hair, dressed in simple gown of deep red silk that flutters in a passing gust of breeze like a banner, cleaving to her form for a moment. A frog hops past her and she raises an eyebrow, stooping to collect the big thing in both hands. She carries it over to Stragen, wind tugging her hair from its pinnings already, bare feet and the hem of her dress drenched in dew. "Really. I went through all the trouble to collect these creatures and you just let them run about? They don't some when you call, you know. Not that I expect you've bothered to name them." She holds up the huge frog in her hands so she can look it in the eye. "You look like a 'Nigel'."
Laughing, Jaremy relents as Jarod does, finding a few near him. He's got the technique still fresh in mind from his youth. Frogs jump forward, so to catch one you use one hand like a wall and scoop with the other. Within moments a fat, croaking frog is in one hand, and another is trapped beneath his emptied mug of tea. "Well, we wouldn't want the knife's spirits angered, now would we, Jarod?" Jaremy muses, bringing the frog into his field of vision as Anneke enters it from the side. "Oh so this is your gift to the man?" Jaremy looks to Anneke, nodding politely. "A box of frogs is a rare thing indeed. How did you manage to collect so many?"
"Sounds like a proper quest!" Jarod exclaims, tossing the frog he managed to grab back in the box. "As good knights we should do this man a boon and help retrieve them, I think, dear brother. Figure you're still spry enough to catch more than me? Or are you going to let me run circles around your hung-over ass in front of this fair damsel?" This is an opportunity to revert to being a giant kid, which he's not about to pass up. With a wink at Anneke, he makes a grab for a nearby frog. This one is somewhat more on the ball than the sleepy one he'd first nabbed, and it eludes him with a ribbit and hop.
Anneke laughs at the wink, then turns Nigel so he can watch Jarod pursue the other frogs. "He called me a fair damsel," she whispers to the big croaker. "Do we like him? I think we like him." She nods, placing Nigel in the chest. "Oh, I'm a girl of Hag's Mire originally, Ser Jaremy. I've been catching frogs since I could walk. It's something of a cottage industry. And they're good eating, really. Taste like chicken."
Stragen spares a glance for Anneke, as he stashes another pair of frogs into the chest. "You see, my lady was kind enough to take my story to heart. Thank you. I'll forever be grateful for your gift of frogs. The old gods will no doubt be quite pleased." Chasing after another elusive croaker, he occasionally regards both men. If not noticed, he gives them a critical eye - not the look of a cheerfully mad witch-barbarian, but one who is sizing up a potential threat. But, upon coming back into their field of vision, the smile returns. "My lords. Apologies for my short words. But, as you now understand, these frogs are important."
Jaremy manages to smile. Barely. It's a politeness he affords one formerly from Hag's Mire, with such a recent topic so raw. It's more shock than anything at the sudden mention of the Nayland ancestral home. "We have some frogs of our own near Four Eagles Tower. Jarod and I, as children, were rather good at catching them." Jaremy replies to Anneke as he deposits the two he's caught into the trunk. Turning, he squints his eyes as too much sun gets in it, turning past Anneke once more to stalk after frogs. "All is well, barbarian, though I would have your name to know who I am assisting. I am not well versed in ritual, and will be taking your word on it." He scoops another up, catching it by the leg. The croaking everywhere starts to draw a crowd, especially children.
"I am no lord, good sir, but I'll grant your frog-boon anyhow," Jarod calls as he continues his merry chase of the creatures. He's a slightly larger (and less graceful) man than Jaremy, which isn't particularly helpful in the game of frog-hunting. Nor is the barreling approach he takes to it, which just seems to give the frogs warning so they can scatter. A child is kind enough to snatch one that's rapidly fleeing him, and hand it to the knight. With a quick half-bow to the boy, he retrieves it and takes it back box-wards.
"Stay, Nigel," Anneke tells the big frog in the chest. Not that he looks like he's planning on going anywhere. Then, to Stragen, "See how well they listen once you've named them?" She nips up another frog as it tries to get by her. "Rosalie," she dubs it, then gives chase to another. This one is quick and random, prompting her to hike up her skirts and crawl under a work table alongside a nearby tent — also, between the legs of the craftsman standing behind it. "So sorry! Beg pardon! Bernard, come back here!" The frog, heedless of its name, continues its flight. Perhaps its deaf.
"Lords to me. I'm just a common, unsworn sword, you see," explains the 'barbarian'. Despite a gravely voice and a northern accent, he's rather well spoken for a savage. "I have many names, sir. You will likely know me best as Master Stragen Stone, formerly in the employ of House Tordane the last time I was in these parts." He's ceased catching frogs, instead regarding both noblemen with an increasingly serious expression. For those in the know, Stone has a wealth of reputations surrounding him, some good, some bad, all fantastic. The last service he performed for the family Tordane was the return of Geoffrey and Geonis after the Battle of the Trident. Reputation of a barbarian, certainly, from multiple ends of Westeros. But clearly, this man's no savage.
Jaremy opens his mouth to continue speaking with Anneke, but turns to find that she's hiked up her skirts, crawling on her knees beneath a table with her backside directed towards them. Ser Jaremy does a quick double-talk, looking to his brother with a sharp raise of his eyebrows. Did he just see that too? He blinks, clearing his throat as he turns back to Stragen after stealing a second glance. "Stragen Stone it is, then…I know this name, though it was quite some time ago. When Jarod and I traveled to Stonebridge for the passing of Lord Geoffrey and Ser Geonis…" He nods deeply to the man. "It is good to see you back in Stonebridge, Stragen."
"Names, eh?" Jarod eyes the frog he got from the boy. "What do you think, brother? This one looks like a 'Rickart' to me. Sort of shriveled and ugly." The frog is deposited less-than-gently in the box. His eyes linger on Anneke as she scrambles for frogs. He spends some time enjoying the view of that. Though Stragen's introduction actually serves to distract him from it. "Stone?" A quick grin. "My kin in the Vale." He adds, in explanation, "Ser Jarod Rivers is how I'm called." 'Kin' in bastardry, then, as he's plainly no blood to the large, blonde barbarian. "Aye, Master Stone, I recall the name now that I hear it. You were sworn to Lord Geoffrey during the rebellion." This has brought something resembling sobriety to him.
"I was a hired sword, sworn to him by contract. Which his death, sadly, terminated, and was fulfilled by the Lady Valda's payment," Stragen states, recalling that grim day with a facial expression betraying that he's gone far, far off in that memory. "Those were sad times, aye." He shrugs lightly, folding his arms across his chest. "I see the Terricks and the Tordanes have prospered in these five years. Might I say that my lord and the good ser look well. As does the Lady Isolde." Glancing over his shoulder at the completely undignified stewardess, he flashes a grin. "I like these Oldstones. They know how to have fun."
Anneke returns with Bernard in hand, a rosy-cheeked little girl trotting behind her, a smaller frog in her chubby hands — clutched so tight its eyes are bulging. The damsel of Oldstones notes the poor creature's distress as she puts Bernard in the chest, kneeling and smiling at the little girl. "You must be gentle," she instructs kindly, repositioning the girl's hands. "Firm, but gentle. Enough to hold on, but only that. You should treat all creatures so, and the Gods will always smile on you." The little girl nods solemnly, then carefully puts the frog in the chest. "There's a good girl," Anneke approves, sending the child back off to her kin. She stands and brushes off her gown. "So. I think that might be enough?" she estimates, eyeing the contents of the chest.
Jaremy nods to Stragen, busying himself with delivering one last frog so that he doesn't have to directly provide an expression at the mention of Isolde. He no longer wears the favor around his wrist, and if rumor was any indicator, it was her that he rode for in the tourney. "Yes, we've grown strong and Lady Isolde has grown beautiful. Our two houses have done well." He replies with a base expression, brushing his hands off as he steps back to retrieve his mug of tea. "Are intending to stay long, Stragen?" He asks, stepping back to address Anneke with a small smirk. "Cute child, she seemed to be giving that frog the death grip. Forgive me for my curiosity, but how long has Oldstones been repopulated? Your banner is quite new to me."
"I like the look of them, myself," Jarod says of the Oldstones with a wink to his brother and Stragen. "Even if they have cost me. The good woman's confidence in her Knight of Oldstones made me put the cost of a round of drinks on him at the tourney, and I am the poorer and soberer this morning for it." Not that he seems particularly cross. "So, Jaremy. Quest completed, looks like. I call this good knightly work for so early in the day. And can I ask your name, my dear woman, for this boon we've done you?" Of the sad times, he speaks not, though there's still more seriousness behind his green eyes than there was a moment ago.
"I'm here as long as it strikes my fancy, my lord. I'm bound to no one other than my own will and the will of the Seven. Maybe I'll find work. Who knows such things?" Looking down at the crate, there's a bit of a grumbling sigh from Stragen. "Now I'll need to figure out what I do with two score frogs. Maybe I can find a Crannogman who will want them." Glancing sidelong at Anneke, he quickly corrects, "I mean, of course, that I'll need to find a Crannogman who will help me in the old rites. I've not sacrificed this many frogs before. Aye, that's it."
"Only since the Rebellion," Anneke replies to Jaremy. "The land was granted Ser Cyric Valentin for his service to the Mallisters, and on Ser Cyric's death, went to Ser Anton, his heir. My father served Ser Cyric, and I his son." She cuts a mirthful look at Jarod. "You're poorer! I had to go double or nothing on that Charlton fellow." She sighs. "Ser Anton is a skilled warrior, but fortune is fickle." She extends a hand to Jarod. "And it's Anneke. Anneke Steward. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ser Jarod." Stragen gets a mirthful look and a sage nod. Of course.
"Well, Lord Mallister has a keen eye for strong subjects indeed. Ser Cyric's son looked dominant out there, if not for that damned patch of earth. I'm sure he will take the next tourney, Anneke Steward. I am Ser Jaremy Terrick, and this is my brother, Ser Jarod Rivers. We are men of Terrick's Roost." Jaremy replies, deciding not to direct more of the introduction to his brother, stepping out of the way. His eyes blink heavily, still wishing away the hang-over. "As for Crannogmen…" Jaremy's brows lower, searching his memory banks. "…I do believe there were a few selling in the market that might be able to help you at least find the right person for the sacri…" He looks to the trunk, biting his lip. "…fices." Wow, there's a new concept for Jaremy. Frog sacrifices.
"He fought well enough for Lord Mallister, from what I recall of it, though we weren't precisely in the same circles then. They say he spent time with the Braavosi. Is this so?" Jarod asks of the Knight of Oldstones. "They say the swords across the Narrow Sea fight with weapons thin as needles and are light enough to walk on water while they do it, though I've trouble picturing it." A look down at the box again, curious. "Do the Old Gods truly answer prayers for frog's blood, Master Stone? I'd thought they all lived in trees."
Stragen flashes a quick grin at Jaremy. "Aye, my lord. You're getting the hang of it," he says, amused. "You'll be a yarn-spinner and entertaining liar like me in no time." A quick nod to Jarod. "Well, Ser Jarod, I suppose you've never heard of a tree frog, then? Aye, they exist. And those are the most precious frogs. If we had but one, we wouldn't need to have a crate full of these buggers, then." And he toes the chest with his boot. Glancing again to Anneke, he responds, "I really wasn't expecting a box of frogs, Steward. You've one-upped the one-upper. You realize that means I'll have to figure a way to get back at you, aye?"
"I've never seen Ser Anton walk on water, personally," Anneke non-answers, looking amused. "But I'm certain he could do it. All he would need is someone to tell him he cannot." She tilts her head and to regard Stragen, curious for his answer. "No one expects the amphibian diaspora," she states, laughing as the big man promises revenge. She claps her hands together, palm rubbing palm. "Let the games begin!"
"Remind me to be there to see the next round of this." Jaremy says to Jarod, moving back to his original spot on the hill, overwatching the conversation. He tilts his head skyward, rolling his neck to free up the sore muscles from the joust as he quietly slips free from the conversation. Content to stand and watch for a moment, he glances to his empty mug…thoughtful.
"I wouldn't let you miss it, brother," Jarod replies to Jaremy with a grin, before turning back to Anneke and Stragen. "Well, I confess I'd not mind seeing a thing like that done, myself, but I don't expect there to be any water on the field at the melee. Is the Knight of Oldstones fighting in it, Mistress Steward?" A pause and he asks, "And are you, Master Stone? You look a man who'd make the field more challenging, and I dislike fighting bored."
Stragen lifts his chin slightly. "While I'm sure I could teach a few of these young knights a thing or two, sers, I only fight for money. I'm not a very competetive man," he explains. Then, a pause. "Maybe. I haven't wholly decided yet. And I'm not much for fancy horseplay or jousting or the like. I kill men for a living, sers, and there's nothing artful about it."
"He does so plan, yes," Anneke reports. "And in most of the events between. He'll certainly want to acquit himself in the lists." She quickly picks up a frog that's jumped free and replaces it in the chest, shutting the lid.
"Master Stragen." Jaremy suddenly speaks up, making his presence known again, despite the fact that he's stepped a slight bit away to be left with his thoughts. "If you are in between services at the moment, waiting to sell your sword once more, you would find yourself in the middle of a bidding war should you do well in the grand melee. It's something to keep in mind."
"I'm not for the joust, either, but the melee should prove bloody good fun," Jarod says to Stragen with a bright, boyish grin. "It's a chance to cross swords with some of the best in the Seven Kingdoms without anyone meaning to do anyone else a mortal death, which isn't something I'm going to pass up. And my brother's got the right of it. Tournament's a fine place for a sell sword to show off what he's got to sell. My lord father's looking to add to his household sworn at the moment, come to it. If your frogs guide you well, perhaps the Terricks could offer you some silver in the future."
Stragen furrows his brow. It's clear he wants to protest further, but rather, in good tradition for him, he chooses to lie. "Aye, well, that might be a good course of action to follow, then. I'll take it under advisement, sers. Thank you."