|Page 374: Who Would Weep for Thee?|
|Summary:||Newly arrived Ser Maldred Rivers finds a stray sister, and bullies a well-meaning local.|
|Worn Road, Terrick's Roost|
|This is a dirt road that leads away from Terrick's Roost towards Stonebridge, it passes over several low wooden bridges.|
|30th July, 289|
Tired of kicking his spurs waiting for his lady aunt, to whom he serves as escort, to announce herself ready and willing to leave the Crane Inn, Ser Maldred Rivers has felt quite justified in leaving her there, in safety and in comfort, while he indulges in an exploratory ride west of the village of Stonebridge. His grey destrier is as high-spirited and tired of idleness as his master, and the thrill of the exercise has accordingly carried steed and knight alike further than they have realised, or indeed care, towards Terrick's Roost. The sun is high and confident and the sky, building up for noon, which further boosts their appetite for healthy…investigation.
The knight has left his mail hauberk at the Inn, but is still broadly recognisable in terms of rank by the ensign on his surcoat and cloak - a field azure showing twin towers and bridge argent, sliced by a bend sinister, gules. His bare head shows a young man, his light hair unkempt and befouled, showing a smiling but cold exterior to the world at large.
The sound of another set of hoof beats can be heard as a dappled grey horse appears in the horizon. The rider is dressed in grey and it is Firth. The sunlight and the wind seem to drive both her and the horse to move faster. She has good seat and her horse is of good breeding. She and the horse move towards them at a canter. She is perched into a two point position.
Sunlight and fresh air rush past her and she is exhilarated and her eyes are bright. She urges her gelding forward.
A woman riding alone? And a highborn lady at that, with fine taste in horseflesh…these are the first practical observations that mould Ser Maldred's equally pragmatic reaction, as he slows his frantic stallion to a complete halt, and surveys scene, and lady, alike. Connected to the Terrick family, judging by the direction she comes from, perhaps? Although something about the taste of her attire…
Pushing back that confusing thought a moment, Maldred addresses this bold journeywoman in a carrying, firm voice. "It speaks well of your courage, my lady, or of your confidence in peace in this land, that you venture out alone."
There is a hint of menace in his tone and certainly in his aspect, which could easily be misconstrued. Don't get him wrong, he's no bandit and has never carried off a lady by force…but that doesn't mean he wouldn't like to toy with the idea of looking and sounding like one. To understand how these things are done. He is here to protect a woman, after all; perhaps he should think about what he is protecting her from - other men not so unlike himself.
But at this point the disconcerting thought at the back of his mind becomes overpowering, and his expression slacks in dismay, as it naturally would, if you realised the lone damsel you were trying to impress and perhaps frighten on a deserted road was…your highborn, slightly elder sister (or possibly aunt).
Yes the Lady in grey as she is known as brings her horse to halt once she is closer to him. Her horse's transition from the canter to the trot to the walk is smooth as glass, her commands silent as they are given by both leg and seat. Moss green eyes peer at the other rider and there is a look of amusement in those eyes of her. She sits there and studies him for a moment. "Good Morrow." Her tone is warm and rich and full of energy. She sits there deeply in the saddle and she gives her horse his head. There is indeed a bold look in those eyes of hers. "Lovely day for a ride, I am hoping we do not have rain this afternoon. " She keeps her eyes on him.
Taken aback…might 'intimidated' even at some level be the right word? …by his glacial, proper reception from this girl who is unmistakably no other than Firth Frey - or Firth Grell, is she supposed to be called now, from what he half-remembers? - Maldred sees no choice other than to play along. A pretty case, indeed, to have ridden miles from the Twins, close upon Terrick territory, only to find the first noble he encounters is…a Frey, …and still to be unable and unwilling to converse with them openly. But Maldred enjoys irony, when he is sure he understands it. If he stays equally detached, he will either be slightly embarrassed, or perhaps genuinely conceal his specific identity and learn something useful.
"A fine ride for a fine horse," he observes now, bringing his own stallion - larger, reared for muscular charges and atteints, and less dappled - into step with her grey palfrey. "What news from the Roost, my lady?"
"News from the Roost." Firth pauses for a moment. "One of the Mallister women came to Stonebridge and bought a new gown and is discarding her colors of mourning. But, I do not think that is the news you are looking for my dear." Her smile grows warmer. There are no guard with and no handmaidens following her. She is as he sees her on her own.
"I would be more concerned with the Naylands and the Charltons and Erenford. The Roost itself is in a poor state of affairs. Then again it takes time for the land and the people to heal from war." She tilts her head to the side. "You are looking decent brother, more filled out since I last saw you." She tells him. "Are you enjoying your day and your ride?"
Well, he should have known better than to bank on eluding the astuteness of one of old Lord Walder's get, and Maldred's increasingly morose cast of features shows that he knows this. He does not stop smiling, but the very sharpness of his grin perfectly displays its ruefulness.
At Firth's talk of matters in the Mire, the bastard Frey puts his head slightly to one side, with a cautious, ambiguous expression. It is not his responsibility to know for sure yet, but he suspects that the complications to which she alludes are part of the reason that has led him here in the first place.
Noting that despite her successful confounding of him twice in a row Firth is behaving most politely - he likes to be known as her brother rather than nephew, and therefore the Lord of the Crossing's get, not Bastard Walder's - Maldred comes up with a polite, if confused query in turn. "And you, sweet sister, are grown up a shining lady bright, indeed. How does your husband…" And why in the Seven Hells are you riding alone and apart from his household…?
Oh Firth's laughter dances around them and there is a hint of bitterness in it. "Lord Blockhead as our lovely sister Brie calls him has a new wife. I asked that the marriage be annulled. It was granted. I value my life more than my pride and that of father. I do not care how long it took father to build that alliance; he can kiss my lily white ass. Forgive me for umbrage towards my former charge." She takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out as if she is trying cast her resentment aside.
"I am here seeking a place, but what of you brother?" She asks him as she quickly tires to change the topic from herself to him. Her hand strokes her horse's glossy coat. Her mount speaks of good breeding.
The clop of hooves at a leisurely pace signal that Nathaniel is riding along the road on his dark chocolate mare, a light horse, well suited for swiftness rather than strength, a possible predecessor of the thoroughbreds that would run in later races. Her tail is swishing, and the young man is looking constantly around him. He is wearing his customary attire dark green tunic, black pants, and a plain riding boots. A dark gray traveling cloak hangs over the pummel of his saddle. He slows when he sees the pair ahead, and he studies them keenly for any sign of trouble while his hand reaches cautiously to a bow and quiver on the side of his saddle.
Oddly enough Maldred's next glance as he takes in all this swift new information is downward, half sullen, half admiring, to the fluting, pale mane of Firth's palfrey. "In our family, my lady," he muses, slipping back to relative formality, "it seems we breed our stables with more care and affection than our cradles. As my birth, and your marriage, would both adduce, it seems. Well, my own task is simple and clear. Our…sister, Lady Jaimera," - here there is great hesitation, as Maldred respects and fears Jaimera, always calls her 'lady aunt' to her face, and needs to summon a reserve of will to name her otherwise, even out of pride, "is in Stonebridge, on our lord father's business. I am here to ensure no…inconvenience befalls her. And that…is that. Pleasant as it always is," he adds with light mockery, "to see the world, and catch up with long lost relations…"
"Well our brother Wayland is in town as is little Brie and another sister." Firth says to him. "We all born pawns to be played with in an ever-changing and never ending game of chess. I have no delusions of that brother, but I know my mind. I am rather fond of it and the freedom that it allows me to have from the game of chess. In other words I might be the physical legal property of another but not the intellectual property. Keep that in mind. Love thyself and know thyself brother." She says in a gentle manner before she changes topics. "So, the Lady is in town; well I will need to visit her. We should have a family dinner. I will see if I can plan it. I think a picnic would be better as the walls have ears this town. They are all holding their breath trying to see what the next move will be. We are mostly seen as either a nuisance or possible threat. Consider Frey Vassals are at each other throats."
From the corner of her eye she sees the brown horse and the man on his back. She gathers up her reins and shifts her seat oh so subtly. "We have company brother."
Nathaniel has continued his cautious approach, and is within earshot When Firth comments on his presence. He removes his hand from the bow and quiver, and straightens before again leaning forward in a as deep of a bow as is possible from horseback. He advises, "Indeed, lady, but not such company as some have seen on this road." He glances between her and the man, and suggests," If you rode together, stay together. If you did not, then find a reason to ride together. I am safe only because I am not worth robbing."
"Wayland, Frey by name and Tordane by nature," Maldred comments of Firth's full brother. "A combination that has served him well, in truth. The true knights of Tordane are dead, and had he stayed at home the Seven know he might have turned out like Hosteen." The burly Hosteen Frey, Wayland and Firth's other brother, is Maldred's least favourite of the brood of the Twins, a man who repeatedly took out hammish fists upon him and after the Trident knighted him with scarcely less violence.
"I like not the savour of these intrigues…" Maldred is about to go on, but anything more specific is derailed by the incursion of the third, lowborn rider. The Frey bastard knight sits rigid and firm in his saddle now, swerving Graymalkin to interpose his form between the stranger and his sister. "Many a robber has claimed as much, sirrah, ere he summons his desperate friends, lurking among the hill folk," he accuses. "Were I to slay thee now, who would weep for it?"
"I do not like them as well, but they are here none the less." Firth tells Maldred with a bow of her head. "Hosteen is like father." That she is all she says about that brother.
Her gaze goes to the man on the horse. "I would rather not have bloodshed, thank you. You will get no ransom for me. You might as well have the gown and the horse. Leave me to walk back to Stonebridge. My brother is correct though, who would weep for you? I mean no offense I am just curious to your answer. Where do you hail from and where do your allegiances lie?"
Nathaniel shakes his head. "Few if any, I fear, ser," he answers the man's challenge. "But I speak truth and only with good intent. If by some chance you have missed the news, Lord Ser Justin Terrick recently sent two bandits to the Wall after they robbed and took hostage some ladies and their maids." He gestures to indicate the road both behind and ahead. "I travel this road often. I know it well, and the places where such villains might lurk. I would not wish to find anyone wounded or dying along its side on my next journey. There is enough of trouble in the world without it haunting my road." Then he inclines his head to the lady, and studies her features closely. A gentle, kind smile comes to his face, and he answers, "I am Nathaniel Corbitt, retainer of Terrick House, which lies ahead." He waves to indicate the road to the west. I have little, ser and lady, but I would take nothing from you except kindness and that only if freely given. As for allegiances, I am a commoner, and know little of the dealings of the nobles houses except that the Terricks and Mallisters have been kind to me so far. However, I have met Frey and Charlton of whom I could say the same for my own part."
The knight's nod is curt, but represents a great burden of suspicion now, relatively, allayed. "That is of some use to know, good man; I am myself but recently arrived, and had not heard it. Let me merely assure you that no bandit who dares to trouble any kinswoman of Ser Maldred Rivers need trouble likewise the thoughts of the Night's Watch." He snorts his brisk, veteran contempt at the young Terrick's clemency. But such ridicule is tempered by a gentler afterthought, "Carry word to the old lord and the young alike at the Roost, that the Crossing ignores the Cape no longer, and that, for our part, we seek nought but plain speaking, plain dealing, and…honest trust. On a Frey's word." A bastard Frey's, and the tilting crook of the knight’s mouth hints he is fully aware Mallister bannermen would take such word as a jest, anyway.
"He speaks the truth brother I do recall the good Master now. He was speaking to the Sheriff at the Roost about a dress with blood on it. He stated that the dress in question had been discarded after a dog had brought his mistress a dead squirrel and had placed it in her lap. The woman in question apparently is blind. He and the Sheriff spoke at great length." Firth says to them both and she lets her reins out to the buckle again. Her horse stretches his neck and she strokes his neck. "I had come through the Roost on my way to Stonebridge, I had to stop and rest and I overheard their conversation."
"Tell them that we would like to have dinner with them sometime." An idea occurs to her brought on by her brothers jest. "Let your lords know that it can be either in the Roost or here since I do know they travel this way."
Nathaniel once again inclines his head, and replies eagerly, "I am honored to carry such salutations from you to the tower." He nods to the lady. "You recall splendidly, lady. I, too, remember you. YOu asked question that the Lord Sherrif would have done well to ask. If the dress was torn badly, it would give evidence of the suspected violence. Whole, it would give evidence of my report. You are wise." Back to the knight, he concludes, "Since there is no harm, and I would not intrude on kin in their travels, I will continue to the town, by your leave and wishing you a good day and safe journey."
"What a fine memory for rigmarole you possess, sweet sister," Maldred scoffs, "and you, Master…Corbin, was't?…have a most plausible tongue. I shall rest content knowing such an orator is at hand to prettify my plain soldier's greeting. May the bandits you wind past be idle but not yet bored." This is probably, in its profoundly wry and bitter manner, an expression of friendliness. Now the Frey guardian turns his horse. "Come, sis. Back to the Crane for both of us, I think, to make this enchanting reunion ever the more…binding."
There is a snort of laughter from Firth at a few of her brother's comments. She takes a moment compose herself before she speaks. "Good Master, may the sun be at your back and the road you travel smooth and boring." She tells Nathaniel.
Her gaze goes to her brother. "So are you offering to escort me?" This is said. With silent command she turns turn her horse in the direction of Stonebridge. At first they walk then they trot and before one knows it they are cantering in that direction.
"Be safe and be well!" Nathaniel wishes. He inclines his head once more and then lightly taps his mare's reins lightly to urge her into speed along the road toward The Roost.