|The Next Step|
|Summary:||Anais approaches Justin with the Terrick / Nayland plan.|
|Crane's Crossing Inn — Stonebridge|
|While Crane's Crossing is technically an Inn, it caters to the traveling nobility almost exclusively. The floors around the hearth are finely crafted stonework, as are the slate blocks that the firepit is constructed of. The rest of the floor is done in stained oak that matches the few long tables and the chairs. The rest of the main room is furnished with plush couches and seating to entice visitors to delay their leave. A full service kitchen provides food of all kinds as well as high quality ales and wines. Also available are several women to provide hospitality to the lonely or those in need, the quality of them to be beaten by but a few in the Riverlands. A hallway near the kitchen leads off to the rear of the building and several up-scale rooms.|
|May 9, 289|
By the time Justin is clean and changed, Anais will have a meal at the table. It's not the finest meal, but it's cost efficient, and it's a full meal. Bread, chicken, and even some spinach all make for a well-balanced meal. Something they haven't had for a while at the Roost. The wine is inexpensive, but it isn't watered. Anais is nursing a glass as she waits, watching people move through the common room with a small smile.
It does take him a little while for bath water to be drawn even if he foregoes asking it to be heated, then to wash up, shave and change into far more presentable attire. A grey doublet with indigo-purple and golden hued embroidary and polished brass knotwork clasps resembling eagles heads - four of them of course. No real gold and no silver upon his person. Justin offers a smile when he comes to the table so laid out, "I must confess … though I cringe a bit every time I open my dwindling coin purse, I look forward to the meals here." He quietly takes a seat, looking carefully over the rest of the room he hasn't already studied before his gaze returns to Anais, "Your letter baffled me somewhat. I've never met Lord Riordan. Whyever would I have consulted a Nayland over Terrick concerns, Goodsister?" Justin keeps his voice quite low for her ears alone as he reaches over to pour himself some of the wine.
"You wouldn't have, of course," Anais waves a hand, a small, apologetic smile at one corner of her lips. "I've been speaking with him, though, because I find anything I learn is useful. But I got your letter, and all I could see in my mind was a Terrick group accidentally attacking a Nayland group or the other way around, each thinking the others were bandits. In the interest of skipping that, I thought I'd let you know. He's planning on coming to the Roost the day after tomorrow in order to have some negotiations with Lord Jerold, and to escort the supplies he promised before this Jarod and Rowan thing happened, as well."
-Both- of Justin's dark brows rise at that news, before he can keep himself from showing his surprise. But he covers it well, picking up his glass of wine to take a sip of it and giving no response right off while he mulls it over. After a pause, he drawls, "Information can be exceedingly valuable. I think you wise to do so, so long as you can sift through that might be deception for truth." By the way Justin looks at her though he doubts Anais is stupid or careless. One certainly hopes not. Setting his goblet down, he gestures to the food laid out and offers to serve Anais's plate before his own, since there's no table server hovering to do it for her, "That is certainly news to me. However, his wagons I hope will be laden with actual goods. And if adequately well armed, isn't going to be likely bait to lure your average bandits. We could certainly use those supplies. If only his timing were a few days later … we could run our bait first and see if it can catch any flies, then come back and ride with him for the real thing."
Justin adds, "-If- he would have us."
"He seems fairly cooperative at the moment," Anais muses, passing her plate with a grateful smile. "How much of that is for show and how long it will last, I don't know, but I'm inclined to take advantage of it while we can. I'm afraid I'm no strategist, to speak to the best way to draw out the bandits, but I do think it would be in our best interest to work with the Naylands on the matter. Either they're sincere and can help us, or they aren't and we can catch them at it." Absently, she tucks a stray curl behind her ear, watching as Justin carves.
"I don't know. I certainly don't trust them, but all I have to judge by is what Father has said of their House and whatever actions I have been able to learn of from afar. The only ones of them I have met are the Lady Rowenna, and her brother, Rafferdy. Both of which …. are rather odd people I'm not inclined to trust. But especially not Rafferdy and I don't know why." Smiles too much, something. Justin frowns, serving Anais's plate with a reasonable portion for a Lady and making indication of various things to see what she wants before he's finished. "If they are in any way behind the bandits, I doubt we'd catch them easily. They'd be smart about it. Someone in their family perhaps offering coin to trouble makers without the rest of their family even being aware of it. If I were a devious man, that's how I would do it. And use dissafected folk who weren't associated with my House."
A pause while Justin then selects things for his own plate, "In a possibly related note, I have found suspicious activity at a small hamlet east of the Roost. I have Master Kain keeping an eye on it."
"Excellent," Anais nods to the mention of a suspicious village. "I'm hoping to meet with Lord Rutger soon to see if he knows these knights who approached me about a position at the Roost. I may just be paranoid, but it seems too convenient for them to show up now. In Stonebridge. Where we might hire them on to travel with whatever supplies are moving between here and the Roost. If he's hired them, then perhaps I'll be able to tell." She pauses, catching her lower lip between her teeth, then shakes her head and turns to her plate. "Are you ready?"
Justin completes his own plate, hungry from his long ride. He starts to eat as he listens, nonetheless not wolfing down the meal but savouring because well, she knows what they mostly have to eat at home. His pale eyes flick up suddenly at what she asks last. Justin takes a sip of the wine to clear his mouth before he gives reply, "Ready? To go and try a trap to lure them out? Aye. More than that and I'll have to find out, won't I?" He thins his lips, "I don't have a war horse or brigadine but that can't be helped." There is a pause to think back, "Would these folk you mention be two knights, a man named … Farrell or suchlike, and his friend or cousin or something, a rough, odd looking fellow with dead things tied around his neck named …" Damn, can he remember that one's name, "Lutgar … Lorcan, something like that? Seeing as Father just took Ser Kell's alliegence, I doubt he'll be hasty to take on more until he's had time to take the measure of them and deem them worthy." Justin's tone suggests if Anais means the two men he named, he has his doubts.
"Those are exactly the fellows," Anais agrees with a dip of her chin, faint smile curving. "I gather you don't disagree with the idea of looking into them a bit more closely. You've met them?" She eats neatly, though she wastes no time at it, and leaves very little behind in the process.
Anais's Goodbrother, if he is good, continues his meal as well so there's a brief pause ere Justin nods, "Aye, met them last time I was here in Stonebridge. Farrell first, and initially I made a similar offer unto him, that he come out to the Roost and we might try him. Then the other fella showed up and … him I'm especially wary of. Either he's something of an idiot, or he plays games of the like I do not care for. Troublemaker, maybe." Justin jabs a bit of sliced meat with the knife for emphasis, or simply to spear it, "He's liable to provoke fights, if I'm any judge of a man."
"Mmmm. That I don't mind so much. I suppose it comes of growing up at the Banefort. What I do mind, though, is the idea of being infiltrated by bandits." Anais pauses to take a sip of her wine, thoughtful. "Anyhow, whether we hire them or not, I think it might be wise to find out a little more about them. When were you planning to depart for your trap, if not with Lord Riordan and his shipment?"
Justin finishes his own plate, having had a fair appetite. He cleans it to a shine using a bit of bread crust and then rather than take a second helping he wipes his mouth with the napkin and picks up his glass of wine to refill it, "I hired on a man myself. Supposedly from Riverrun, but with blood of the Summer Isles - dark a brown as a hazelnut shell. But he claims to be a good hunter and tracker and if nothing else he can hunt up meat and travel around with me to keep an eye on things, and Kain and I can keep an eye on him as well. But men armed as knights, and a pair of them, would be something else entirely. For the moment I'd much rather trust Lord Kittridge and any men he deems to bring with him when he comes to aid us hunting bandits this coming week. Even if there's some unpleasantness between our Houses."
A sip of his wine and a slow breath to think. "If you could help us arrange the wagon to slip past the tax collectors at the bridge, and we had it filled it with armed men instead of cargo, I'd say we could go within a day or two, three at most? If we can hammer out the last details of the plan by then and have enough gathered to do it. But by then, Lord Riordan will be upon the road as well."
Anais tilts her head, considering. "I think I could get them past the tax collectors, if I explained to Lord Riordan what was going on. But that begs the question of whether or not you want him to know. If you don't, then it might be wiser to have your men leave town one by one, wait by the road alone or in pairs, and rejoin the wagon as you pass by. No need to sneak anything past the bridge, and no one in Stonebridge would know they were connected to the wagon." She sips her wine, then turns back to her meal. "Or, alternatively, we could join forces with him, and send the wagon of men ahead as the wagon of food."
Jerold's third youngest son fingers his wine goblet as he thinks about the options. Justin looks off at nothing in particular before he glances over the room, checking that no one is too near that might be trying to easedrop. Then he shifts his jaw before he speaks, "If they could be trusted… maybe. But you are right, we don't know. I think I would like to put it to the others and see what they think. They are more experienced men than I, and know the Naylands better. My personal inclination is to be cautious and keep ourselves apart, but also see if we can keep a close eye on their going."
Justin adds low, "It may up our odds of tempting the bandits to show themselves if there are separate shipments for them to choose from."
"In that case," Anais muses slowly, "You might want to suggest leaving /after/ I leave with the Naylands. That way, if something happens and that group is attacked, you can catch up with us and salvage the situation. And if the bandits see the first go by and decide it's too well-armed, they may be more inclined to attack your shipment instead." Her smile quirks, and she reclaims her glass. "Just a thought, though. You should certainly speak with the knights and men with you about the issue. They'll know better than I."
A slow nod as he listens to Anais. Justin sips of his second cup of wine, not drinking heavily. "That may be a good idea. Bandits might also think the first, well armed wagon group would never bother to split their forces to try and fall back to help us either, if we were attacked behind them. If they even took notice." Justin muses, then sets his glass down, "I will put it to them and see what they think of it."
"I trust you'll all make the best decision," Anais says with an easy smile, sipping at her wine. "The Naylands are planning a name day celebration for Lady Rosanna Groves tomorrow, whom I understand Lord Rutger is courting. It sounds as though you've been spending some time with Lord Kittridge. Do you…get the impression that he's being truthful and honest with you? Or do you think the Groves are toying with us as well?"
Justin frowns, "I don't much like the idea of you going with the Naylands. You'd make a valuable hostage, Anais. Though if they'd wanted you for one they've already had opportunity enough to grab you, haven't they? Too many ways they could make something like that look like others were to blame rather than themselves. You be careful." She certainly wouldn't be any safer riding with them so that's right out. Justin knocks back the last of his wine and sets the empty goblet aside, keeping his voice low and his eyes sharp, "He'd like to toy with us, but so far I think he's been honest with us. Holds some grudges against our family for things we apparently did to his House. I don't really know the details. Ambitious or a little greedy to see his house gain and not really minding to see ours suffer. But, that said, he gave his word to come and help hunt for bandits. Ser Kamron vouches for him and … I have some respect for Ser Kamron thus far."
"I'll have Nina and three of my own guards with me, of course," Anais assures. "And I ride well enough to run if something goes wrong. But you're right," she agrees. "If they wanted to take me hostage or do some damage to me or my reputation, they've had ample opportunity to make a play for it. I will be careful, though." She falls silent to hear his opinion on Ser Kittridge, cradling her glass between her fingers. "Sometimes I feel as though I'm missing something important," she sighs. "But I suspect that like simply calls to like."
That last makes Justin cock his head, studying Anais, "What or who do you mean, like calls to like?" He looks thoughtful, "I'm not a political sort of man. I'm probably missing all kinds of things. But I have got to learn."
Anais catches her lower lip between her teeth, worrying over her words. "The Naylands," she says after a moment, speaking slowly, "Aren't really the sorts to inspire loyalty or trust. What they /can/ inspire, is confidence. Confidence that they will do whatever it takes to come out on top. Is it pretty? No. But smaller houses are drawn to it. They don't have the luxury of believing in honor and doing what is right. They have to do what they must to survive and thrive. And for that, you don't want families who do the right thing to ally yourselves with. They'll just sacrifice you in the name of doing the right thing. You want someone who'll take what they want, and thus might look the other way when you do the same. Or at least will be able to reward you with something more than a pat on the back."
That isn't the sort of truth he probably wants to hear. Justin's face tightens faintly as she speaks, the corners of his mouth to hook downwards. It makes him look older than his years, that bit of skin between his brows to furrow. Like his uncle Revyn's brow used to do. "I suppose. I'd like to think that you can do the right thing most of the time and still not trample over everyone else. But I recognize survival is necessary for a House or else all the honor in the world isn't going to do them much good when everyone's long since forgotten them." Justin's light baritone gets a little softer, "I am not an especially relgious man but I think the Gods intend for us to do whatever we must to survive, ultimately. Still, if ever I get to swear a Knight's oath, I mean to uphold it." He scrapes a hand through his dark hair, "Makes me pretty glad I'm not my father's heir though. Lot of weight to bear and hard choices to make." Anais has given him something to chew on though and keep in mind.
Anais smiles crookedly at that conclusion. "That is the truth," she agrees quietly. "I imagine you'll need to rest," she says as he runs his hand through his hair, making his excuses for him. "You've done a good deal of traveling and planning in the last few days, and the days to come will have their own challenges. If you need me for anything, just send someone to the tower," she adds. "The Naylands have been kind enough to offer hospitality. Or canny enough. Either way, it's a rather nice room," she laughs softly.
Justin huffs a breath softly, "On the other hand, ambitious houses you can't trust will turn on you in a heart beat if the wind changes." He shakes his head a little, then moves to stand. "Aye, I'll think better when I''m rested. I'll see about meeting with the others and get word back to you if I'm able." Justin then grins, "Maybe I should see if that Naming Day thing is open to attend. I wouldn't mind getting to watch folk and put faces and flavours to names. Only, I have nothing to gift Lady Rossana." He'll have to think about that. With a slight bow of his head to his Goodsister, Justin adds, "Thank you again for speaking with me, Lady Anais. I bid you a good night." He turns to go back up to his room.