|Summary:||Stragen has a talk with his old friend Irys|
|Rockcliff Inn - Terrick's Roost|
|The Rockcliff Inn is one of the better inns within the town and it shows with the well-lit interior and the relative cleanliness to the other locations in Terrick's Roost. The tables are polished with oils and the floor regularly swept. A set of booths towards a darker rear of the Inn's bottom floor, just beneath the staircase, are where whores generally socialize and eye prospects from when not waiting tables. Signs over the undersized bar area advertise prices for ales and wines as well as several different choices of food to be served at the small eating area by the bar or in the main open area in its comfortable seating. A door behind the bar leads to the kitchen and cellar while another near the staircase leads to a private room that would appear to be off-limits to the 'wait staff' except for food and drink service.|
|30 August 288|
Things are inexcusably dead in the Rockcliff Inn. It's not quite the middle of the day yet, and most of the 'working girls' are sleeping off the previous night's activities in the corner. Only a couple are up and about to help tend to those who have showed up for a late breakfast or early lunch.
One such is the tiny blonde girl who comes bustling out of the cellar with a bottle of wine in one hand and some beets in the other. "Tell cook when she gets up that I've brought up what she was looking for last night," she says to the barkeep with a brilliant smile. That Westerman speech is as apparent as her Westerman colouring. And she sashays into the kitchen, tossing a wink at a patron who pinches her bum.
It's been weeks since Stragen has last been in the Rockcliff, either due to the fact that he was asked not to return by his new employers, or that he was forbidden from entering. Neither seem true, now, as he enters and heads straight for the bar. Before the bartender can even open his mouth to protest, a few coppers get dropped onto the bar, which dance and spin. "Ale, and that'll hopefully help with the damages… either from before, or the damages yet to happen." A bribe, plain and simple. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the bartender complies.
After a moment or so, the little whore returns. Spotting Stragen, however, her lips spread into a slow easy smile. She slips around the bar and under the man's arm, her hands sliding around waist and bicep both. "Hey," she murmurs, blue eyes twinkling.
"Come to see me?"
Slow to react to her imposition in his personal space, Stragen glances down at the young blonde as she entangles herself. When his ale is delivered, Stragen takes it up wordlessly with his free hand, takes a slow pull, sets it down, and sighs. "Actually, now that you mention it, definitely, positively, maybe." Normally such a typical whimsical statement from him would be accompanied by a grin or a hug, but the large man's words just sound flat. "I suppose so. I'm just… lost, Irys. Not feeling myself."
Irys takes one look at her friend's face and her own features harden. Not towards Stragen, no. But a firmness comes over them and she looks over her shoulder at the barkeep. "I'll be back before I'm needed," she says crisply. Her eyes turn back to Stragen. "Come on. You're taking me a walk." She has that tone that usually means she'll brook no refusal, an innate quality inherited from her lordling father.
"A walk? I just ordered ale, woman!" Stragen remarks, lifting up his flagon for emphasis. But when it's clear that she's not going to take no for an answer, he mumbles some sort of assent, drains most of the flagon, declares to the barkeep, "I'll be back for that!" And then pushes away from the bar, with Irys on his arm. He walks nowhere in particular; rather, he lets her lead the way.
|Nothern Fork - Wilderness|
|The road stretches north to south, long and worn. The further north one goes the more trees and large copses begin to spring up. It heads northward towards Tall Oaks and south to the roads between Stonebridge and Terrick's Roost.|
It must have been quite a sight, this child-sized whore marching a man through town who was well over a foot taller and could likely splat her on the ground with his thumb. But march him she did. Straight out of town and up north a little ways. Finally, she heads into a copse of trees and motions for Stragen to sit.
"Now," she says quietly, hands on her round hips. "What manner of sorcery has turned the Stragen I knew into a moping whelp that sighs like a besotted lady in her tower?"
Which is, of course, her way of saying: 'You are my friend and I am worried about you.'
Stragen parks himself on the grass, sitting with his arms resting on his knees, sitting with a resigned sigh. "A lady in her tower," he repeats, groaning as if the words themselves were painful. "I don't know what to do, Irys. She's desperate for an equal, a friend. I tried giving her that and the good Lord Ser Jerold came down on her like a hundred stone of bricks. Splat!" He claps his hands together, flats of his palms smacking sharply. "I did my duty and concerned myself with protecting her person and her virtues. And now she's bloody insufferable." He shakes his head. "She wants what I can't give her."
Now it's Irys' turn to groan.
"Your charge again?" she asks. She sits down beside Stragen. "Honey… You need to stop this. It's turning you into something you're not." She shakes her head, her eyes a little sad. "You and me.. We always knew our place. I'm a bastard and a whore. You're, well.. You're a sellsword, lowborn and with a past that would make most lordlings sick with fear." She sighs, reaches out to take the man's hand. "Don't fall in love with a highborn," she whispers. "It will ruin you in the end."
Stragen glares up at her, tugging his hand free. "I'm not in love," he snaps. "Love is for storybooks. It doesn't exist. And I'm really not the type to get besotten, don't you think? From the time we've known each other, do you honestly think I could give two rat's asses enough about a single person?" Even when Stragen is unhappy, he often finds a way to spin his language in a fashion which disarms those around him. Now, he's just being dry and to the point; a clue that he's not himself.
Irys purses her lips for a moment, an eyebrow arching. "You give two rat's asses about me," she challenges. "I may not be the type you'd fall for, and thank goodness for you, but we're friends. You'd be unhappy if something happened to me." She chuckles drily. "You've changed, Stragen," she says quietly. "Yes. Love is a myth. But you've a romantic run in you, like me. I just don't want to see you hurt how I was, chasing something you know won't work."
"But that's the thing, Irys - I'm not chasing her!" Stragen can convince most folk of the most ridiculous lies, and sometimes, he convinces himself. "She's a noble, and far too young for me. I mean, I've seen her naked, practically, but big deal. I've seen you naked, and I'm not falling over myself to sweep you off your feet."
Irys just looks at the man. "I'm a whore, Stragen," she says bluntly. "I fuck men for money. That is a much swifter death for notions of 'love' than the social divide between low and highborn." She snorts softly. "Lie to whomever you like. Lie to me; it matters not. I know the truth. A whore -has- to know the truth of a man or she ends up dead in an alley. But don't lie to yourself because you're afraid."
She glowers faintly. "You've never hid from anything since I've known you. And now this noblewoman with her silks and fine manners has turned you into …" She stops herself and looks away sharply. After a moment, when the ire has drained from her face, it is replaced by a practiced sense of calm and disconnect. "Fine. Lie all you want. Stab your heart a thousand times with shadows of dishonouring your Lady. It's not my life."
Stragen grunts, scowling fiercely. "This was a waste of time," he grumbles, picking himself up off the grass. "I've already made a decision. I'm going to Ser Jarod and I'm going to convince him to release me. I'll… make something up so that he's honor-bound to comply. It shouldn't be too hard. Trouble is, he may want to hang me." And with that, the large man turns to walk away.
Irys jumps up to her feet. "Stragen.." she says softly.
Stragen pauses, glancing back over his shoulder. "What?" Is his short, and frustrated, response.
The girl steps lightly forward. "Wait. I'm.. sorry. I was cross with you." She lowers her eyes. "You're the only friend I have, and I was rude. Please don't storm off."
Stragen's shoulders sag a little, and he turns, stepping back up to Irys. Resting hands lightly on her shoulders, he says, "You're right, you know. You're always right. You know me better than me, sometimes. Sometimes, I just get caught in my own yarns and I can't figure out how to get untangled." A beat, and he tucks calloused fingers underneath her chin to tilt her head up, so she looks at him. "If I have to leave town, I want you to come with me. We'll set up somewhere else. You and me. Like old times."
Those blue eyes look upwards and she nods, slowly. "I have heard that Stonebridge or Oldstones might be nice?" she says quietly. "Just.. don't be a fool about it," she says quietly. "Don't.. make him angry. I don't want to see you hang." She takes the man's hand in hers, the one that holds her chin. "We can think of something together maybe. A good reason that won't get you killed."
"Don't you worry yourself. I've talked myself out of tighter situations before," Stragen rumbles, tilting his head slightly to regard the smaller woman. "She can't comprehend why I'd want to be with a whore," he comments, seemingly out of nowhere. "You're the only friend I have, too. I can think of no one else I'd rather share my secrets with."
That confession makes Irys laughs softly. "Most proper women don't understand it," she says quietly. "They think us wanton sluts with nary a two thoughts to rub together besides 'sex' and 'coin'." Her eyes twinkle. "But you and me, we know better, don't we?" She reaches up to tug Stragen down to her level, and she plants a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth, between his lips and his cheek.
"Talk yourself well, Stragen," she says, her smokey contralto little more than a murmur. "I'll be very angry with you if you get yourself dead."
Stragen chuckles lightly, catching the side of her face with the flat of his palm, fingertips threading in the hair at where the back of her head meets her neck. "How angry?" He asks, using his other hand to brush her hair back from her temple. He can be amazingly gentle when he puts his mind to it. Or, he's just naturally gentle, and the swordsman is the lie.
"Oh, furious," the woman murmurs, her eyes never leaving his. "I'd sail all the way to the free cities, find myself a witchwoman to conjure you back to life. And then I'd beat you to a bloody pulp for dying on me." Those full lips of hers are spread in a lazy, welcoming grin even yet.
"A witchwoman," Stragen repeats, nodding slowly, an eyebrow raising to match his smirk. "Sounds wonderfully sinful. To think that you would waste a witchwoman's curses on just bringing me back from the dead when you could already have me charmed and bound to be your slave."
"I would have you free, Stragen," Irys answers with a slight yawn of feigned boredom. "Slaves are so tiresome after a while." Nevertheless, her eyes twinkle. "As for charming you," she purrs suddenly, her finger trailing over Stragen's lips. "I thought I had done that already in King's Landing." Her smile sparkles wickedly. "Should I remind you?"
"Depends on how much it's going to cost me," he responds, and with a swift motion Stragen scoops her up into his arms. "Always negotiate price first," he explains, mirth finally breaking through his gloom. "My lady's preference, either that patch of grass there, or by those bushes there," he chuckles.