Page 193: Who Stays and Who Goes
Who Stays and Who Goes
Summary: Hardwicke, Tam, and Starling discuss who's staying and who's going from Seagard.
Date: January 26, 2012
Related Logs: The whole siege of Seagard thing.
Hardwicke Tam Starling 
Low District — Seagard
The lower class residential district of Seagard, just inside the city walls, with all the worst smells of the fishmonger's trade and the tanneries mingling together. The roads are paved with cobblestones, but the avenues which wind between buildings are of packed dirt, reek in the heat and turn to muddy morass in the rain. With little of worth, and only enduring occupation for a scant few hours, this quarter of the port city is largely intact.
January 26, 289

It's morning, and groups from the Army of the Cape is still working to secure the Harlaw-controlled market. Hardwicke has an exhausted look about him, sitting in the low district on a convenient barrel: his beard is grown a bit scruffier than usual without the time and inclination to keep it neatly trimmed. He has parchment laid out on a second barrel that he scribbles on in cramped, precise script.

Tam has had a rough night. A brutal close-in battle, a wound to the leg, no liquor, and he's running out of tobacco. Still, he survives - and he's up and around, limping a bit, as he makes his rounds of the common troops. The man shows no pain on his expression, taking the time to stop at each small aggregate of soldiers and trade jokes or even share out some of his limited rations. A walnut pipe dangles from his mouth.

Approaching Hardwicke, he can be overheard to remark to one of the Terrick soldiers, "You know, with a leg like this, I bet you lads are gonna outrun me toward the whores, eh? Fucker. I can -see- it. Ain't gonna be none left for me, is there?" His mock-grousing arouses a laugh from the other man, and a respectful "Ser," as he passes on. He draws up alongside the other knight at his barrel, looking down at him with a crooked grin. "Ser Hardwicke Blayne. A married man, I hear - I ain't seen y'to pass on my condolences."

Hardwicke doesn't immediately look up, though a dry sort of smirk touches the very corner of his mouth. "Maybe you forgot what she looks like, Cooper, or you'd be trying to trip me up next skirmish." His eyes flick upwards, studying Tam from beneath the low arch of heavy brows.

"Pah. Y'know me, Blayne, I dunno how to talk to women. Just give 'em money and make 'em go away - safer that way. You were always the one wi' a silver tongue." There is open irony in Tam's words - the carousing mercenary-cum-knight is hardly shy at the best of times, and the other man well-given to sourness.

"More seriously, though, congratulations. She's even got you -smilin'- a bit." His tone drops its humor, sincerity glinting through as the grizzled hedge knight lowers himself to the ground with a rattle of maile. "Shit. Well, we're holdin' the houses we took, for now. Ye should'a seen that Myre Ironborn die. I don't remember the last time I fought a braver man."

"Aye, that's me," Hardwicke agrees blandly. "Silver tongue." He straightens up from his lean to write, looking the other knight over more closely. "Aye, so I've heard tell," he says more seriously on the subject of fallen Ironborn. "It's a dirty business, here in the streets."

"Least there's no fucken bells." Tam pulls a face, keeping his left leg straight out as he sits, absently rubbing at his thigh. On closer inspection, he doesn't look to have slept at all - smoke smudges at his features, and his eyes are bloodshot with fatigue. "Last night was nothin', Ser Hardwicke." Unconsciously, he reverts to the faint notes of respect he had exhibited during the -last- war, back when he was merely a mercenary.

"The Ironborn hit us in the Flint camp, I hear, and it didna go well there. They're gonna keep tryin' to roll us up, cut us off, and kill us piecemeal." His assessment is dry and somber, but he keeps quiet, his gaze flitting toward the nearest soldiers to make certain they're out of earshot. "And the Freys got no heart in this fight, mate. It gets too ugly, they'll pull their fine fucken cavalry out and leave the levies and the Terricks to bleed until the North gets here."

"Once they're here, they're stuck with the rest of us," Hardwicke disagrees. "It's one thing for them to drag their feet and show up after the fighting's over. They can't excuse leaving with their liege lord's army on the other side of the city." He carefully folds the parchment he's been working on and tucks it away.

Moving quite freely amid the small groups and gatherings dotted about the streets, though she does have the sense to keep her head down and her hat pulled low over her eyes, Starling strides at a fairly brisk pace along ground which is rapidly churning up under the passage of booted feet and hooves. A wiry-furred dog trots at her heel, its back reaching almost to her hip, and the girl occasionally glances down toward the rangy hound with the flicker of a fond smile. Nice to have company, even if it's a mutt.. maybe that's how Hardwicke feels right about now. Hearing a familiar gruff tone as she makes her way on whatever business a stablehand come page might have in the aftermath of such bloody ventures, she dares to cast her dark eyes up and toward the two men a short distance away.

"I can think of a few reasons. Wouldneh -look- good, but it don't mean Walder Frey wouldn't order it. And it wouldneh even be *wrong*, really, if shiet got too ugly. Preserving the most valuable bit'a his force, he'd say." Tam shrugs, seeming to force back his reservations with the gesture, swallowing them deeper down into his gut. Gaze still flitting amongst the nearby soldiers, he spots Starling easily enough, waving toward her from his prone position.

"Little bird! Come and keep a coupl'a sour bastards company." The man's mood seems to lighten, just spotting the young woman, and he reaches up to nudge Hardwicke. "See, I just canna talk to 'em. Freeze up." Calling toward Starling again, he adds "If'n y'need an excuse, I ain't gonna be able to stand up on my own. Leg stiffens up, I sit for long."

"No, he's committed now," Hardwicke continues with a firmness that bespeaks a certain personal conviction. He glances at Starling when Tam starts calling to her, studying the woman with an arched brow, though he offers no words of encouragement himself, strangers that they are.

"And why, Coop, is that to be any problem of mine?" Rather an informal response from a girl evidently of common birth but it seems good-natured enough.. and she evidently has the fortune, good or ill, of already being acquainted with Tam. Hardwicke, however, is regarded with wary eyes as the dark-haired stablehand alters her course unhurriedly to approach them both, hands shoved deep in the pockets of her overlarge riding coat. "..Ser." Chancing it, she inclines a nod toward the stranger. Her dog, contrastingly - assuming it is hers and not just some stray - trots gaily up toward the seated hedge knight, without trace of hesitation and apparently quite keen to proceed in licking the grizzled veteran's cheeks. "Dog! Off!" Starling's tone sharpens, perhaps betraying at least a passing concern over that mentioned injury.

Laughing, Tam wraps his arms around Dog's neck and gently maneuvers the animal backward. "Shiet, Dog, y'been eating rats again? Fatter every time I see you. Starling, this here is Ser Hardwicke Blayne - old friend, from the last war." He raises an eyebrow toward Hardwicke, jerking his chin in Starling's direction. "This here is Starling of .. Harrenhal, ainnit, girl? She been camp-followin' - no, not that kind! A proper sort of girl. Got a real talent for horses."

With a crooked grin toward Starling, the man adds "And it /ain't/ your problem, neh really, but I did give you the last'a my beef jerky last night, and you got such a soft, sweet, nature.. I just know you'll help me." He spreads his palms innocently, looking between the two - Hardwicke of an age with him, and Starling much younger. "After all, at *my* age, we got to depend on the help'a young women."

"Mistress," Hardwicke greets her after introductions with a gruff sort of semi-politeness. He scowls a bit at Tam's carrying on. "You can't stand up after you sit down, you'd best go home, Cooper."

"No, definitely not that kind." agrees the girl, quietly, her brown eyes still upon the steel-grey mutt as it backs off of Tam, grudging but obedient. Another brief smile is flashed sidelong toward Hardwicke, when the proper introductions are offered, but she's already stooping to ruffle at the dog's rough coat with one hand. "Soft? Sweet? Did you take an axe to your big bald dome, as well as your leg, Coop? I only offer to help those who need it. And if you're well enough to complain, you likely got no reason complainin'." The harsh words are maybe softened a touch by the half-amused, half-withering look she gives Coop, straightening back to a stand and, folding her arms, nodding her silent agreement with his friend. Someone else who puts Tam in his place. Splendid. Less effort, more enjoyment for Starling.

"I /am/ home, you sour bastard. As much home as I got. An' stop tryin' to ruin it - she was just 'bout to put her arms around me, which's as close as this smelly old man gets to a bit'a attention. Not all of us are silver-haired handsome old devils like you, Blayne." His tone is good-natured to the other man's dourness, though his banter lacks some of its typical vigor - after all, the man hasn't slept in who-knows-how-long.

As Starling and Hardwicke seem to form an alliance against him, the hedge knight lifts his hands as though in self-defense. "Seven above! Alright, alright, I get it. Nehbody helps the poor injured hedge knight when he's still smellin' like blood." He draws his good leg up beneath himself and clumsily stands - though when the man puts his weight on his left leg, it buckles, sending him staggering straight at Starling.

"I'm not ruining anything," Hardwicke grumbles. He actually rolls his eyes as Tam staggers into Starling.

A smirk tugs at the corner of Starling's lips. "I most certainly was not." she assures them both, regarding the likelihood of her wrapping Tam in an embrace. Does she look like the sort to coddle and cosset? As such, it's really more self-defense and reflex that has her reach out with both hands to steady the staggering man by his upper arm.. and she still pivots her slight form away from him, offering only a tenuous balance point as she braces her booted heels in the dirt. He's heavy.

Unsurprisingly, Tam does -not- fall as the woman makes certain her weight doesn't get caught beneath him. He recovers, an expression of baffled innocence and overexaggerated pain on his features - before he just gives up, shooting Starling a wink, and straightens with only a faint hitch to his left leg.

"Sometimes a man's got to take things into his own control," he adds shamelessly, reaching down to ruffle Dog's hair with one overgrown paw of his own. "Anyhow, little bird, I think it's -really- gettin' time for you to get on out of here. Ironborn're gettin' organized."

"I'm not leavin' til Einion does." For all her delicate build and innocent appearance, the girl replies stubbornly, and with a hint of steely ire at the mere suggestion. "Stayed this long, haven't I? Besides.. I can help. I have been helping. Not in any enormous way, like, but.." Reaching up, she tucks a stray wisp of mahogany hair back into the confines of her faded, wide-brimmed hat, flitting a dubious glance aside toward Hardwicke. They can't -order- her to go, really. Can they? She's plainly not sure. "Wouldn't feel right, taking off on my own horse, leaving you all at my back. You'll be victorious, and then you'll need the extra hands. And if, Seven help us, you should fall.. well, doesn't much matter where I go."

Hardwicke snorts in a manner distinctly unimpressed by Tam's deception. "Nobody believes anything you say or do anymore, Cooper," he says dryly. His brows twitch just slightly upwards at Starling's insistence. "Seagard is no place for a woman right now," he says.

"I'm hurt. Really I am. My word's truer than steel." Tam grins at Hardwicke, as though to invite the man to share in his jest, but his manner sobers as he listens to Starling. A flush rises up in his neck at her words, though what triggers such a reaction is hard to say. Regardless, he gives a grudging nod. "Ye're right, y'have been helping, little bird. Lads've been noticin', too. They all appreciate it. So do I." His gesture takes in the nearby soldiers with a mute sweep of his hand. A crooked smile creases the man's features as he continues. "Stay, then, poppet.. but just be keepin' your horse saddled, aye?" The concern is genuine, though his flush remains. He absently rubs at his left gauntlet before continuing. "Things're gonna get real interestin', next week or so."

"It's no place for any decent person right now, Ser. Given the choice, though.." Starling smiles wanly, shoving her hands back in her pockets now that Tam seems to have remembered how to walk, or at least stand, on his own. "..I'll stay and help those who choose to fight for the lands and everyone in them. Hardly my first skirmish - bit of blood and gristle isn't going to have me bowkin' into the water." When the other speaks up again, she offers him a look of mild surprise, either for the warmth creeping over his skin or his words of encouragement. "..I'll keep him saddled. Fair's fair."

Hardwicke eyes Tam with something of a narrowed gaze as he flushes and straightens up standing from his perch on his barrel. "Given the choice, you should be somewhere else," he says flatly to Starling as he adjusts the line of his swordbelt and cracks his neck with a slow cant of his head.

"Then maybe I don't really consider myself to have a choice at all. Ser." counters the willowy girl, her smile only growing wider when she's faced with not one but two miserable old gits. Drawing a deep, satisfied breath that raises and drops her small shoulders, she takes a calm step back, seeming prepared to pivot on a bootheel and walk off. "..but I'm keepin' you folks from more important things. Nice meeting you, Ser Blayne. Coop.. try not to fall down too terribly much."

"I would neh waste yer breath, m'friend. When she has her mind made up on a matter, she's stubborner than that mule in the stories." Tam grins tiredly, running a hand over his bald head as he regards Starling. "We'll just have to make sure we win." Clear consideration comes over the hedge knight's features as he watches Starling walk away. Once she's out of earshot - hopefully - he remarks to Hardwicke. "Amazin' woman, really, Ser Hardwicke. Man could do worse." There is a wistfulness to his voice as he turns to look at the other knight. "But I reckon best I can hope for is a thank-you, if I manage to keep the leatherworker she's so fond of alive. More's the pity."

"Well, she can hardly be in much doubt of your feelings," Hardwicke says in a low, dry tone. "You're clear enough with them."

"Gotta throw the dice sometimes. Seven Above know I got all sorts of luck - good and bad. One can never tell, yeah?" Tam's grin has a taut edge to it, and he shrugs a bit loosely toward the other knight. "Y'know, I been meanin' to find ye, but all these fights keep gettin' in the way. Best thing for the Riverlands, this war, I reckon. Y'notice how well yer man Jarod seems to be gettin' on with some of the Naylands now? Mebbe be a way to set the feuds aside."

"He's always gotten on with Longbough," Hardwicke says with a hitch of one shoulder. "I don't see Rivers getting on with people making any difference. The end of the day, he's still the Lord's bastard."

Shrugging a bit, Tam rubs at his left thigh as he considers. "Well, we'll see, if we survive the week. I know, y'reckon I'm still a sellsword at heart, Blayne. I can smell it off ye." Smiling amiably at the other man, as though to take the sting off his words, he says "And oh, ye're right, I reckon. But all I'm after these days is a place to settle int'. After the war, mebbe train militia a bit, sit back, get fat. Have a squire." His smile's a bit wistful. "Can't blame a man for wantin' quiet after all this's done."

"I don't see what that has to do with the Naylands and the Terricks arguing or not," Hardwicke says, looking him over. "But there's no reason why you couldn't."

"I'm broke as shiet, is why. Moment I became a knight, sort of hard to get work as a sellsword, aye? Got to find a family as can have me. Closest I seen are the Naylands - but the last thing I want, Hardwicke, is ill-will a'twixt you an' me. That's all I'm gettin' at." Tam shrugs awkwardly, clearing his throat as he watches the other man. "I know I still owe ye, yer puttin' in a word for me after the Trident."

"You don't owe me anything," Hardwicke replies with ill-concealed exasperation. "Particularly if it didn't do anything but land you broke." His gaze slides away on a low exhale. "I'd say the Terricks would take you, but the invasion's left the Roost — diminished." Glancing back, he says, "Even if you swore to the Naylands, it'd hardly mean I'd hate you, Cooper."

"Good. 'Cos ye and I seen too many of these stupid fucken fights, mate. Naylands and Terricks and all the rest - too many. I'm sorry for yer Family's misfortunate, though, truly I am." And the knight seems sincere in that. "I seen Ser Jarod fight a few times now, and he's young, aye - but willin'. Brave. Mebbe a bastard, but if he's got influence with his brother, it meh neh be the worst thing for the comin' years." Grinning crookedly, Tam cuts a hand through the air. "But I got to be movin', Ser Blayne. There's a lad in the Nayland militia I got to check in on."

"Well, he'd gone to Stonebridge as an ambassador of sorts, so I guess we'll see once this is all over." Hardwicke offers his forearm for a clasp. "Aye, off with you. Good luck with your lady, Cooper."

Grasping the other man's arm tightly, Tam nods twice. "I'll need every bit'a it. Congratulations again on yer wife - I look forward t'seein' yer babes come and grow. So keep yer fucken head on yer shoulders this week." And with that, the hedge knight turns to depart, limping visibly despite an otherwise strong gait.