|Where There Is Hope|
|Summary:||The Lady of Tall Oaks and 'her' Knight, Ser Aeric, return to the Oaks and talk of past and future.|
|Related Logs:||None specifically, TO, its razing and Lili's betrothal prospects logs generally.|
|Where Tall Oaks and its township once stood, nothing remains but smoldering piles of ash. A testament to the devastation that befall those that served House Camden.|
|9 Feb, 289AL|
It's been weeks, endless weeks, it seems, since there was any real news of Tall Oaks. And while Liliana has been recovering as well as she might, her injuries taken in the defense of the Roost all but healed now, still do her thoughts travel always to the Oaks, and what has become of her family. Though the report, of a kind, has come, from her Aunt, it is not the same as the sight itself. There are those who would say to know, not just to believe, is the better thing. But, perhaps not, as Liliana, with the small retinue that comes with her, begin to come upon what once was Tall Oaks. Liliana's bearing is rigid, taut with tension, with pain that's visible in her eyes, if not yet in the rest of her. There aren't even any words.
With as much time as he has been in the saddle of late, Aeric's thighs chafe less and he sits easier in it. Not that it makes the journey any easier. It had been his idea. His plan. His.. hope? But to make such things happen one must first see what is left. As they near the remains of Tall Oaks, he brings his horse alongside of hers. He's armored, armed, ready for battle with whatever squatter, rogue, or remnant Ironborn they may yet find. Such a foe is easy to fight. Emotion? That is harder. His gaze narrows slightly at the viewing of the scorched and broken township.
"It will take…" Liliana begins, her voice as rigid as her posture, but her voice drops away again, as she looks over at the knight coming up beside her. Only for a moment, before she looks away again, back to the scorched earth, literally, that the Ironborn have left behind. The pace continues, slow and steady, Tanis, despite her obvious discomfort at the smell of fire and death that still lingers, as surefooted as ever, and needing little of her lady's guidance, as the mare picks her way along such a road as remains. Which is all to the good, as Liliana seems to have little control of the mare. Or the tears, streaming in silence down her cheeks. The devastation is bad enough, but once the bodies, if such remain, or their remains begin, well…
"Time." Aeric offers quietly, finishing her sentence. There is a faint encouraging smile which he offers her before he dismounts. There's a nod given to a few of the entourage who had brought spades and picks for their mournful purpose. Once on his feet, he moves beside her and offers a hand to assist her from her mount. "Time, they say, heals all wounds.. I say not all. Hope. Hope is the balm for the scars which remain."
Liliana takes the hand offered, sliding down from the mare's back, leaving her to her own devices, which seems to suit her quite well, as she stands still and ready. The hand settled in Aeric's remains, the other lifting to wipe the drift of tears from her cheeks, though they return unbidden soon after, "Will you walk with me? There is not much here for hope, but I would see what remains of my home."
Aeric offers her a nod, assisting her as though she were but a feather pillow in burden but a rose with care. As he turns to walk with her, he keeps her hand held in his left. "Liliana.. there is always hope." He says it as a thing which must be…for without it his world might shatter. "What you see…" His free hand gestures in a broad sweep. "This.. desolation.. is as much in your heart and soul as it is the land. It has been my world for a long seven years. But you.. you were a strength to me. A.. point of light in the darkness." He takes a deep breath. "I will not say that my grief was greater than yours. Or even the same. I loved my wife. Love her still. Have strength. The dawn will come again."
Liliana takes her time. And that seems, just the right thing to do. To see, and feel and remember the lives lost, and the remains, such as they are, being interred into the earth. Earth, which, once it's dug down deep enough, is as fertile as ever it was. "I have tried to be a help to you, my lord, and no burden. I had hoped, in different times, that things might have been…different between us than they are now. But you have given my House great honour, and I thank you for that." Eyes drift away, to what charred remains mark where the walls of the keep once stood, and the hall beyond, "There has always been a Camden, under the Tall Oaks…so the family history tells me. Must always be, to watch over the woods. But I cannot do for all."
"Nor should you try." Aeric cautions her as he keeps pace beside her, ever with her hand in his. "I will be honest with you, Liliana. When first Dafydd approached me with the suggestion of our match.. I was reticent. I do believe that peace should reign for the sake of thecommon man but I also do not indulge myself in the notion that war must be avoided at all costs. I mourn for the loss of your family. They were good and honorable souls. But as did my Lord Cousin, rest him, I could not approve for I know war to be a bloody business and politics the knife which bleeds it. If we are to revive Tall Oaks.. there will ever be the risk for conflict for the sharks circle at any sign of weakness. You must be strong."
Liliana pauses, just on the place where once the gate would have swung open to admit her to the home that cradled her in her childhood. "Neither should one's eyes turn always to war and blood and death. That road leads to this madness. It is the path the Ironborn have taken. Perhaps, in such times as these, peace is not the only way, but the survival of the realm will depend on taking the middle ground, I think." A smile, soft, sad, "My Uncle had made mention of it. And I think it was spoken of to Lord Jerold, but I think it went no further than that. At least, no good word was set to me from you or from Seagard, and I did not think it would be. Your Lord Cousin, the gods watch and keep him, had little love for my House. Though, I suppose, as the Lady of the Oaks in my own right, I will no longer need a broker to procure a marriage for myself, if ever one should be offered to me." Liliana begins again, moving onward towards the heart of the keep, having not the heart, it seems, yet, to venture to the remains of the gods wood. "I have thought on ways to rebuild, in the weeks since the news came. Ways to trade and let the land, should the noble Houses still respect these holdings, without the writ of the Lord Tully." Truly, with no men to defend her lands, she can't rightly keep looters or pillagers out.
"No.. he did not." Aeric agrees somberly. "Though I held my opinion for the sake of diplomacy and the political game. I see here an opportunity but one with trial and risk as ever they should be. But also, I see a symbol which must not be lost. Tall Oaks may ever be known for its loss and that be claimed by cowardice or peace or whatever ill spoken word comes by loose tongues but it also stood for a level head and honor and it is those which I would resurrect and hold high. It also speaks to your strength and that I do love. I could not marry a woman who would wither under such circumstance as these. Suffer you have but your roots are strong and the Oak of your spirit remains tall." He smiles. "I, too, have thought. There is a woodcarver in the Roost who is displaced. I thought of you and the Oak when I spoke to her."
Liliana comes, once again, to a stop, as she finally reaches the great crater, the remains of the funeral pyre erected in the heart of the main courtyard, all black ash and white. The remains of wood and tree and bone almost indistinguishable, so great was the fire. "I had thought…to bury them as I found them. But how…" A break, a pause to press the fingers of her free hand to the bridge of her nose, "How can I tell my family from our smallfolk? They are one at the same now." A grisly scene indeed, and in time, the dam will break, but for the now, Liliana seems to be holding herself together with all the force of will given to her. "'We Do Not Sow.' Those are their words." The words of House Greyjoy who, at the heart of it, are responsible for all. "Perhaps the Oaks has need of new words as well. Because my patience with the Ironborn has gone. But the Oaks? We do not break." Another look, over to the knight, "Are you offering yourself and your House to be stewards of this land then? I think perhaps the newly risen Lord Patrek likely has concerns closer to his own home which he would have you turn your attention to."
"That future, I cannot foretell, Liliana." Aeric offers quietly. "With Jason's death.. so much of my plan has changed. Patrek will need me. This much I know. For who can one trust if not your uncle whose cousin was your father and whom lived as brothers? Yet to my own future must I look.. and to yours. I cannot say what has drawn me to you. Fate, perhaps? I do know this. You occupy my thoughts more than the sea and that is no small thing." He gives her hand a little squeeze as he surveys the pyre. "Perhaps.. it is best that we cannot. I think that in rebirth these lands will never be Tall Oaks as they were but something else. In lieu of the tree, perhaps the acorn? Seed of possibility. It is a thought. Then, /we/ shall sow and reap hope in abundance. I can offer my blade and no mean edge have I. Few in these lands can best me and that for Ser Hardwicke who is seasoned in as many wars as I and as allies. I would not raise my hand against him without grievous cause." He takes a deep breath and turns to face her. "Without my cousin's command to keep me at the Roost…" He shrugs. "And Patrek returned to Seagard… I hope this endeavor is not doomed before it begins. For the first time.. I am driven to see a thing done and I would do it at your side." He laughs. "I have even bettered myself in the saddle for all that I curse horses."
"And yet you are needed beyond Seagard, though that place must needs occupy much of your thought. With the Golden Fleet destroyed and much of our coast ravaged, it would not do for even the Lord of Seagard himself to call his Captain home, when the kingdoms and their King have need of him." Liliana's voice is not light, but steady. Born of no warrior House she might be, but still she understands the necessities of war. And the delicacy of other things, as Aeric's admission brings a blush of colour to her cheeks. "And you mine, though I confess it is these fading trees that occupy my thoughts and not the sea. You were and are ever my light of hope, in these long days of war." Lili's eyes study the knight's profile as he looks towards the pyre of Tall Oaks that was, "Your sword and your skill as a knight I will gladly take, but it is not what I wish for." Once Aeric turns back to face her, she continues, "I am Lady of a nearly dead House, it is true, Aeric Mallister. But lands I have still, which remain fertile, though I have none to harvest them, and myself, in heart and body, to give you what you dreamed of, all those years past," when yet his wife lived and their children were only waiting to be born, "And hope for the future, if you will accept them as a dowry worthy of you." And then, that smile, a hint of her old humour, "And I will not even make you ride the saddle more than is strictly necessary."
Aeric removes his riding gloves, tucking them into his belt, then places a hand to her cheek. "Liliana, the brightness of your eyes I will take as dowry for in our union I will be as much a steward of these lands as you. I regret that I am no master of lance or land for that is not my training. I will do my best to study and honor the duty beholden to me should we join together as the Lord Tully would allow. For he is our Liege on both accounts." He leans forward then to place a chaste kiss upon her lips. "As to your heart and body.. I make no demand of you for such things must be offered and not taken if they are to flower."
Liliana's eyes close, at the touch of Aeric's hand, head tilting into it, for a long moment, before she looks back to the knight, "I have no regrets in my choice. I would not have wished for you to be anything other than as you are. And what you do not know, I will teach you, if you will allow. And what I do not know, you will teach me." The kiss is neither forced nor evaded. But only gently accepted and returned, with what small knowledge innocence allows. And if dear Elise looks as though she might turn as red as her hair, at least she does not assault the knight when his back is turned, but does her best to pretend she did not see the 'indiscretion'. "If the time should come, know that they would not be taken, but willingly offered." A glance, finally back away, "Aeric…will you help me to bury those I have loved?" For the remains are there, and still to be faced, "And perhaps, when we return, we will send our petition to our Liege Lord."
Aeric is not so inexperienced. But if it is a liberty, he is tender about it. Her request draws a smile from him. "Liliana, that is why I came. I would not have you do this alone. I would not have anyone do this alone. I know the burden of grief." Besides, Elise likely knows better. Rumor has it, Aeric can kill a man with his thumb.
The smile is returned, as Liliana returns to the task at hand, drawing Aeric forward, closer to where those who have come to do what needs be done have gathered. She pauses, offering a few soft words of prayer, before she holds out a hand for one of the shovels. And to the knight she has only two words to offer, though no two words were ever spoken so truthfully, and so full of emotion, "Thank you."