|Untrusting and Untrusted|
|Summary:||Ser Maldred obtains his 'niece' Lady Valda's attention, but not, for now, her ear. For she is about to have more pressing concerns.|
|Related Logs:||Cadets and Courtesy|
|Dining Hall, Tordane Tower|
|6th August, 289|
The dining hall in Tordane Tower has been set with a fine meal for the residents to enjoy their fare at their leisure. Honeyed duck, rib eye roast smothered in mushroom sauce, and spicy roasted chicken are all available. A myriad of vegetables are also at the nobles' disposal. Of course, there is wine aplenty.
Sitting in one of the many plush, high-backed chairs is Lady Tordane, the last of her name, whatever that Westerling harlot may try to claim. Dressed in her House colors, unlike all others, who belong to House Nayland, the Castellan seems to be wrapping up an intense conversation with a young man. With his report given, he receives sharp instruction from the statuesque matron before she turns her head away from him in silent dismissal.
Finding herself now alone on her end of the table, she lightly sips her wine, her brow furrowed and contemplative.
A meditation not destined to last long. Perhaps the first element breaching into the Castellan's consciousness will be a familiar but unpleasantly sharp reek of horse, hair, sweat, fewmet and all. If she traces this excrescence to its origin, she will be treated to the sight of another young man, in much more disarray than the immaculate state of her just-departed informant.
Disarmed of his mail but evidently not yet cleansed, the newcomer is in the noon heyday rather than the dawn flush of youth - but it's still a cloudy, dismal kind of noon. His hair is yellow, ish, but decidedly not gold; his complexion more justly reckoned as pasty than pallid; his eyes light but still carrying considerable promise for malignity, painstakingly lowered and meek as they may be just now.
Furthermore, the features are arranged…just so…pinched, riverine, petulant, untrusting and untrusted…the surcoat is unnecessary to inform Lady Valda she looks upon a kinsman of the Twins.
It may be of some help, conversely, in reminding her which one. The reversed colours - argent towers on a field azure - and the bend sinister, gules, stamps out a man who, sure as if he served upon the Wall, will never inherit land - though bastards have been known to hold fiefs by the sword ere now. The illegitimate Frey's age, perhaps a dozen years south of Valda's, might also help her remember the important thing about him - he's that one whose father no one ever worked out.
"Lady Valda Tordane," he begins, his voice, at least, vigorous if harsh, like that of his maybe-sire, Walder Rivers. "Ser Maldred of the Twins, at the Lady Castellan's service."
Valda lifts her eyes, then her chin as she is addressed. Light grey orbs study the man evenly as she lets the silence drag on. After taking another sip of wine, she sets the cup down. "At my service in what capacity, Ser Maldred… Frey?" Apparently, she neither expected his presence, nor recognizes his person. Nor has she yet invited him to join her.
"My lady is kind," the stranger knight replies quickly with a long, blade thin smile, before running his right hand, which had been swinging idly at his side, over the device at his surcoat. His dagger girded at that same right-hand side suggests the likelihood that he is a left-handed fighter.
"Rivers," he fills in the subsequent gap, still smiling in that manner that tries and fails to attain warmth, the cadence of his voice rough as before, its tone equally ingratiating. "Your…lord grand-father's son, by the damosel Myrilla of Lys." Perhaps the Castellan does not remember any controversy over the precise parentage, and Maldred obviously prefers to name the relatively higher birth in company of quality.
"So you might say," he goes on, his intonation now attempting a light jest, "an uncle's capacity, my lady Tordane. I offer you natural affection. Affection as natural as my birth." It's good to name yourself a bastard quite solidly on entering a new hall, he's learning. That way, no one else can without looking foolish.
"A bastard uncle's capacity," Valda states bluntly. "Forgive me if I do not award you the familial title, ser." There is a dryness to her tone, even as she notes the unusual placement of the dagger.
Still without invitation to sit, she queries mildly, "And what, precisely, does such affection entail? Warm emotions are useless to be without action. Bring you word from the Twins, officially or otherwise?" Still clearly gauging whether or not he is of any use, the woman pops a small round red potato, roasted and seasoned, into her mouth.
Despite the unaffected voice and cool demeanor, there is a small light in her eyes. What it means is anybody's guess.
Braced for that subtle reminder, Maldred does not flinch or quail or bridle as he did the night before, at Highfield Hall. Besides, it's easier to take scorn slower and longer from one's kin than strangers - however estranged such kin may be. For now he nods, and approaches the dais closer. He does not sit, but ungirdles a diminutive eating knife - indeed, left hand - and dissevers a branchlet with three grapes upon it, in colour a light, sickly green like a compromise 'twixt his hair and his eyes. He sheathes the bladelet and does not yet swallow his prize. Now he is ready to explain.
"I ride as protector to one in particular of my sisters, Lady Jaimera, she who was given to the lord of Gallowsgrey decades hence, and contrived to leave his household draped in the dark weeds of her liberty. She, not I, bears Lord Walder's mandate, and I believe it is her intention to see whatever is done…done officially, with the Crossing's sanction. In other words, as things are, she will see things out."
The bastard's voice has adopted a somewhat drab tenor, but now brightens and sharpens. "You know the Trant words, my lady, perhaps? 'So End Our Foes.' Now I have mingled with these hollyhocks…and they have feelingly convinced me they *are* our foes , and no mistake. Ours, as well as yours. I would be…" Maldred hesitates as if selecting a phrase like a hunting arrow…
"…open to working upon Lady Jaimera's position - and hence, that of our lord father - by any means." His eyes, for all their murky bog-and-mist starting point, gleam now too. "If offered certain persuasions, of course."
"I spoke with Lord Grandfather not a fortnight past and warned him of the Charltons' impending treachery. He laughed it off and spoke of his high regard for that House. Needless to say, he refused to be convinced and you know well his stubborn nature. As such, he has refused Stonebridge aid in the current conflict." Valda's tone is clipped, the matter too raw to keep entirely beneath a cool facade.
Motioning for him to sit, she continues her meal as well as her speech, turning her gaze from the relative to her plate. "Does Lady Jaimera bear a specific mandate from Lord Frey at the moment or does she speak for him in general for the time being?" The Castellan's tone makes clear her immense doubt of the latter option. "And what sway does her natural brother have with her or their father that his own trueborn son, who was with me when we petitioned him, does not?"
"I do not speak of sway," the bastard emphasises, an acidity and acerbity of his own manifesting itself in his lithe tongue, "but of means, Lady Tordane…any means. There is scope, surely, for something there…"
Valda quirks an eyebrow, more at his tone than his words. She lifts her winecup, looking at him over the rim. "Any means, ser? Do not say it if you do not mean it. I have little patience for those who pledge more than they are willing to commit when the time comes." Those light eyes darken to a stormy grey as a previously unseen intensity gathers.
Maldred leaves that opaque thought, for now, to dangle, as he returns to the subject of the widow. "My lady aunt, Jaimera," he says solemnly, if confusingly, as he had mentioned her moments before as a sister, "is above all things a …legalist, my lady. She is here to give our lord father's desires legal clothing, whatever those desires may be. Light a torch, cause an event, change the desires…that is the way…"
Now Maldred at last starts to become more specific, emboldened perhaps by the Castellan's challenge. He first eats the grapes, one by one and with evident relish, then hisses closer, for Valda's ear alone, excluding any servitor.
"Our father is a proud man, as you too know and perhaps have cause to complain, my lady. His pride does not dwell in outward appearance and fine shows, but in facts and figures, property…and progeny. Should insult, or harm, come to his own, and the blame appear to adhere to the Hollyholt or the Highfield…I think that stubbornness may alter like quicksilver, to quicksilver's volatility."
"Your words would have merit, ser, except that when I used a similar argument regarding protecting his own, he noted his progeny exists within both those Houses as well. So you see, he refuses to take a side, as he would have to help one line in order to harm another, all of his own blood," Valda explains calmly.
She makes no mention of the sudden change in familial affiliation regarding the other woman. After all, she calls her younger uncles and aunts 'cousin' as a general rule. "There is much in the law to support my stance in this conflict. Yet you make it seem as though Lady Jaimera prefers to find legal cause for whatever purposes Lord Frey has. I would speak with her directly, ser."
After a moment, a servant hurries over, short of breath from running. He whispers in Valda's ear, causing her eyes to widen and the woman to practically jump out of her chair. "Another time, Ser Maldred. I have an urgent matter to attend to. We may speak on the morrow… or mayhaps the day after that. I will see you are provided quarters here in the meantime."