A cool breeze, rich with the wet, loamy scent of the riverbanks; a clear sky, stars set in it like diamonds against black velvet; campfires spread out on all three sides of Riverrun between the rivers, cheerful counterpoint to the stars above—the night is caught in a moment of vast serenity. In the camp of those come from King’s Landing, the comforting smells of woodsmoke and roasting meat drift upon the breeze as well—and bursts of laughter from distant pavilions and campfires, rising and falling, accompanied by strains of merry music from fiddles and harps.
At one particular campfire before a plain pavilion with the banner of a silver serpent on sable flying above it, a dark-haired man sits alone on a fallen log, leaning forward with forearms on his thighs gazing into the flames, aleskin dangling from a hand. The firelight plays upon his face, shifting and sliding, writing secrets upon the hard planes of his face.
Leather case in hand, another dark-haired figure moves towards the pavilion; a woman, skirts lifted a bit above the muck, sturdy boots stepping easily in the mud. “You look fit to be some statue, Dagur.” Katla shakes her head, the ink-dark hair almost impossible to see against the night light. “Exiled from your pavilion for ladies’ gossip, or have you chosen this solitude?”
Defeating Jaesin Lannister in a joust, practice or not, has brought Janden Melcolm some new and positive attention in spite of any concern over the state of the Kingsguard after his head was scrambled. It does not, however, bring the Royal Huntsman any sort of upgrade from his modest tent. The number of ‘Good jobs’ and ‘Well dones’ and pats on the back have slowed since he retired to his tent to rest up, but there’s a nice little buzz he’s got going from the drinks others have offered him.
While Malwyn is off doing something with other squires, Janden exits his tent to wander the lines of them mixed in with pavilions outside the keep. Slow steps, plus a few sips from a wineskin, and the Melcolm knight’s direction ends up with him approaching the site of Dagur and his fire.
As Lords Paramount of the neighboring Westerlands, the Lannisters were offered rooms behind the walls of Riverrun. Graciously did the heir accept, and all of his house now dwell therein—as is expected.
All save one. Himself.
He has set up no pavilion here, only a single tent. It is well-used and flies no banner. Only because of Jonn Lannister seated outside is it known who makes his residence there. He is crouched before the firepit, flint and tinder in hand, attempting—successfully—to light spark to wood and set a fire of his own. Hanging over one arm of his chair is a full, sweating skin of unknown liquid. Those near enough to smell would say that it is neither ale nor wine.
It must be a very familiar voice, for the ironman doesn’t look away from the flames, doesn’t even stir. A moment, two, and then he finally straightens, closing his eyes as he looks away from the fire, “Katla. Reyna’s asleep and I wasn’t tired yet.” He opens his eyes and focuses on her instantly even in the shifting darkness; that little trick seems to have worked: “And what are you doing sneaking around at this hour?”
“Ser Janden,” he adds only a moment later, raising his voice as he calls to the dark figure at the edge of the firelight.
Another figure stirs, sleepless this night. Pennei Massey lingers just outside her husband’s tent, eyes fixed on a banked fire outside, without truly seeing it. A sleeping kitten is curled in a tiny black and white ball on her lap. The shy, scarred young woman peers anxiously toward the sound of nearby conversation, but does not yet speak up.
“Why, scouting for a party of reavers, of course.” She rolls her eyes, voice heavy with sarcasm. “That would be the way I’m treated, so why ought I not play at it?” Katla lifts the case in hand. “I was playing fiddle with a handful, songs of home. Eventually I will go back to my lord husband’s pavilion, when I find myself bored on all counts.”
Janden doesn’t need to change direction much, already close to Dagur and his fire when he’s recognized and called to. “Ah, ser Dagur, and..Lady Katla,” he acknowledges them with a raising of his wineskin before sipping from it, scratching near that facial scar as he has a seat nearby. “Not in a mood to sleep, either?” he asks them, taking a look around to pick out other fires nearby.
“Well, you’ve found one. Stay a while and play for me. Something from h—the islands.”
It’s an uncharacteristic slip from the ironman; he takes a long pull from the aleskin before nodding to the Melcolm knight as he continues to Katla: “The man of the hour.” Perhaps a smile flickers across his face; perhaps it’s the fickle firelight that makes it seem so, “Still on your feet, ser? I would have thought you drowned in a sea of wine by now.”
A soft wry laugh and Katla sits, opening the case and pulling out a fine-made fiddle. Long weaver’s fingers caress the neck and body for a few moments, then she pulls the horsehair bow from the case. “Ser Janden.” She ducks her head in a nod, something tugging at her lips. “Well-tilted,” she simply says, before tucking the instrument beneath her chin, beginning to play a song of sea and wind, but not quite begging a dance.
It is only a small dirt path that separates the iron serpent’s camp from the black lion’s. Wiping his hands off on his knees, leaving a black stain on the fabric, the master of the latter rises to his feet, his eyes watching the other fire as he moves over to his chair and plucks the skin up by the strap. He takes a long pull from it with only the slightest grimace.
Janden flashes Dagur a crooked smile. “It took me a bit longer than you, but now I can say I’ve unhorsed Ser Jaesin Lannister, practice or no.” Nine passes is a considerable achievement for any tilt, let alone one against the Kingsguard. “And I’ve had my share of it, but I don’t need to be passed out through the wedding and tourney, do I?” There’s a sip that follows from his ‘skin and the redhead gives Katla a grin. “Thank you, my lady. I had the Gods’ luck on my side today. A shame it wasn’t in the tourney. And not on my feet now, as you can see.”
Two figures outlined in the darkness of the night appear to be walking by the pavilion until Katla begins to play the tune on her fiddle. The two people break up after a several moments, one moving away as the other moves closer to the group at the fire. Perhaps the first thing to come into view by the fire is the kraken on the young man’s chest until the slim figure of Urron Greyjoy comes into view. His azure gaze flicks about to those gathered as he approaches, lifting a hand to push a slight curl out of an eye as he seems to settle his attention on Katla for the most part.
Her fiddling is not the best, but more than competent, and Katla merely closes her eyes for a long moment as an acknowledgement to the Melcolm knight’s words as she concentrates on her instrument. It is a bit awkward, around the growing swell of her pregnancy, but she manages nonetheless to pull music, a sailor’s tune, from the strings. Focused on the music, she is oblivious - for a time, at least - to her brother’s presence.
It takes the Iron Serpent a while to reply, for he is listening to Katla’s song, head cocked, eyes lidded. His fingers tap lightly on the aleskin in rhythm, and this time there is mistaking the smile that comes unbidden. Finally, he stirs, “Not on your feet, perhaps. But here still. While the lion—”
He glances aside, across the dirt path at Jonn Lannister drinking not very far away at all, “—sleeps tonight. You think you beat Jaesin Lannister because of luck?”
He keeps his voice low, running under the melody—and as he turns back from looking at that other tent, his gaze chances upon Urron; he nods to the youth.
Is it modesty from the black sheep of Old Anchor? Just a bit of honesty? Janden grows quiet long enough to listen to Katla’s performance. It might even be something he remembers from back home if these things are common from one keep near the ocean to the next. A glance follows as others draw nearer to the fire, but it’s the Iron Serpent he addresses. He’s not sober, but he sounds more like himself as he answers, “No. Not just luck, though I probably should have fallen at least twice. I hit him skillfully and finally outdid him on one pass. I just did not expect it. You? You’ve had the right to. As for me..well, I hope his head will clear sooner than later, but I did earn the moment. It will make for a good story, at least.”
Walking through the camp is Ser Eon Hunter. The Hunter pavilion has been established and prepared for being in the same location for a prolonged time. Seeing the assembled nobility, the Hunter knight walks forward, followed by one of his guardsmen, who appears to be somewhat displeased at being chosen to escort Eon. “My ladies, my lords, I hope you are all well enough this evening.”
One long stride and Jonn Lannister fords the great dirt stream between the two camps. At the same time, his giant of a sellsword emerges from somewhere behind the tent and perches within the lone chair near to the new fire.
“You should have allowed him to defeat you swiftly,” he says as he steps into the fire’s cone of light. “Now he will take it as an affront, and be doubly determined to emerge the victor.” He remains just at the edge of the light, taking a long drink from his skin.
Urron returns the Iron Serpent’s nod with one of his own as he comes to a stop several feet from where his sister plays the fiddle, a hint of a smirk tugging at his lips as he remains silent for the time being. His attention shifts once more, greeting Ser Eon with a nod before watching John Lannister as the man approaches the fire.
After a few moments, Katla lets the final notes carry and then sets the fiddle and bow down. “There is always the wedding joust,” the iron born woman answers Janden. “Who knows how well you will fare, and what attention you can - will - attract. I have no doubt there will be maids aplenty to offer you their favours.” Her lips twitch, twist, and she shakes her head again. “It will be worth watching, if only to see egos warring against one another.”
“Expect it. I have the right to it and you don’t.”
The Iron Serpent echoes Janden’s words contemplatively, then takes another pull from the aleskin, just as the Lannister heir joins them. “He might emerge the victor tomorrow, or the day after,” he says mildly to Jonn when he has finished drinking, “but today, Ser Janden won.”
He corks the aleskin, glancing at the Melcolm knight, “Do you know how I won my knighthood, ser?” An unexpected question, for the Iron Serpent has never been known to speak of his past.
Janden lifts his wineskin in greeting to Eon, reclining more comfortably in his seat upon another log. “Ser,” he comes closer to slurring after his lengthier explanation to the Iron Serpent, the ‘lion sleeps’ jape missed by him. Jonn’s suggestion is met with a look of confusion. “That may be, but no matter if it’s practice or a tourney, I don’t lose on purpose. Ser Jaesin may knock me off the next seven times we ride, but I’ll still make sure he does because his lance was better than mine.”
The Melcolm knight smiles somewhat ruefully to Katla. “We will see. There’s one favor I wouldn’t mind displaying, but I don’t know if it’s to be just yet.” There’s just as good a chance he’ll ride as he has in the past number of tourneys: without one. Back to Dagur goes his attention, a brief clarification following. “Yes. I don’t say that to discount what I think of my abilities, but I’ve seen you enough to know where your skills are better. But..no, I don’t think I’ve ever asked how you earned your spurs, ser.”
Katla nods at Janden, shifting slightly and resting a hand on her belly. “I admit I enjoyed the melee more myself, but well - such is my lot.” A faint smile, barely visible in the firelight, dances across her face. “There have been enough pent up angers and needs for vengeance - true or perceived - that this time I think I shall want to watch people knock each other off of horses with giant sticks.”
“So he did,” the Lannister heir says. “Congratulations, then,” he raises his skin in salute of the Melcolm knight. “I do enjoy hearing tales of my dear brother’s humbling.”
“This ought be a fine tale,” he drawls slowly, his eyes rolling as the Iron Serpent asks the question of Ser Janden.
A tall knight strolls out of the castle, dressed in a dark green doublet and black pants, one barely sees him in the night. Seeing the assembled nobles, Jostyn makes his way to the fire. “Sers, Ladies, what brings you out this evening?” He inquiries
“I had felled Utheryn Uller at the Battle of the Blind.” The Iron Serpent glances at Jonn; it doesn’t seem to be in response to his sarcasm, but something else entirely that makes him share a brief, inscrutable look with the man. Then, he turns back to the flames, “Aidan Dayne and Conayn the Callow came to defend him. I fought them both across his body.” It’s a plain telling, no details to it, nor any attempt to gild the tale. “I was wounded already, was no older than—”
He nods in Urron’s direction, “—him, and without my man’s strength. Two foes like that… if I had thought for a moment that they were better than I was, they would gutted me from throat to cock.”
“There are no men better than me, ser. Only men who have pushed themselves harder than me.”
He tosses the aleskin to Janden, “Just as there are no men better than you. No men better than Lannister here.” This time, there is an ironic shading to the way he names Jonn, “Think otherwise and you will ensure your defeat before you have taken the field.”
“I’d just as soon forget about my showing in that,” Janden says to Katla. “I might not have been in the best condition.” After Bors, that is. He mimics Jonn’s lifting of the ‘skin, chuckling. “Like as we speak, Ser Jaesin is asking the Gods how I stayed in the saddle, unless he’s getting his rest right now.” As the Iron Serpent tells it, Janden nods once to Urron in acknowledgement, doing the same to Jostyn with a brief, “Warmth and conversation.”
Janden rubs an ear and eye, squinting through the light of the fire toward Dagur, further listening as he stops drinking for the moment. “I see your point, ser.” The toss clanks off one of his hands but his reflexes are still sharp enough to recover and catch it before it reaches the ground. “What I mean is..hmm..there’s a difference between knowing someone is more skilled than I am and believing I’m good enough to defeat him. I know what I’m capable of. I earned my own spurs during the conquest in defense of the Young Dragon, alongside Ser Osbert and others. I just fought for my life and the rest of ours.”
A pause, then Janden admits, “Still, perhaps I rode against Ser Jaesin expecting to lose the first time, content to break lances with him. The second time..yes, I rode differently.”
Katla glances to Janden, pursing her lips. “If I had asked if I could kill a man, I would be dead. I could not afford to ask if - it was only how, and with what blade.” A glance to Dagur for a few moments, and then she looks down at her hands, rubbing them together slightly. “You cannot doubt yourself. You are stronger for your ride against Ser Jaesin - and the next time you ride in the lists, you should fare better yet for the lessons you learned. Our sufferings make us strong - and he shall ride better, too.”
Urron shifts awkwardly in his position near his sister, returning Janden’s nod before he leaves the fire in the direction he came.
A slow smile takes shape upon the Lannister’s lips as his green eyes come in contact with the Iron Serpent’s black. It is the sort of smile that a man gives when he recalls a nearly forgotten memory. The sort of memory is oft described by the timbre of the smile—and Jonn’s lips are pulled taut against his teeth.
Or perhaps it is only Katla’s mention of the melee that gives his smile that shade of viciousness.
“I have never seen the value of two men riding at each with lances,” he admits, following a swing from his skin and a grimace at the bitterness of the liquid housed there. “But they are right: you should always expect victory. In all things. Else you are fated to fail.”
“Good. Ride in the tourney as you did against him, and perhaps you will best me as well.”
The Iron Serpent rises, tall and lean, and if the half-smile he gives Janden is brief, it’s true as well, “Or perhaps I will push myself harder on the day. Get some rest. Katla, I haven’t forgotten. After the wedding tomorrow, perhaps.”
And with that cryptic comment and a nod to Jonn, he draws back a few paces to his pavilion: “The fire is yours.”
And lifting the flap, he steps within, letting it fall to behind him.
“It may be for show,” Janden says to Jonn, “But it still fits into other things in ways. And..it brings me dragons I would not otherwise have.” He grins at this, sampling from the ‘skin Dagur had tossed him before a thoughtful nod follows, the liquid swished around in his mouth before the swallow.
Katla draws a longer look of consideration from the Valeknight. “You tell it true, yes. I know I can beat Jaesin Lannister, even if I don’t again, because I have. If I am the better man in a thing, I’ll win. This time, he could not unhorse me in nine tries. It’ll be remembered, if not reminded of.” Tucked away, something to recall whenever self-doubt creeps in again. He’ll savor the moment and the attention it brings, then move on.
When Dagur moves to his feet, so too does the Melcolm knight. “Yes. We’ll see what the tourney brings. Rest..I think is a good idea. It’s been a long day and we have an important one to look forward to on the morrow.” Of those he could choose, he offers the aleskin to Katla as he adds, “Sleep well, all of you, when you do.” It’s back to his own tent after that, to settle down for a good, long, comfortable slumber.
The lone remaining iron born nods as Dagur disappears within his pavilion, and fidgets with the fiddle, stroking the inlaid neck. “Good eve, Dagur - Ser Janden.” She looks to the others that still stay near the flames, quirking a brow. “Do the rest of you plan to ride as well, or will you sit and watch the jousting?”