The common room of Three Hills Inn is the largest and most famous in King’s Landing, and it is easy to see why; it holds a rustic charm that endears it to both local patrons and weary travellers alike. A series of five large bay windows reinforced with wrought-iron lattice and etched with leaves, fruits and stylised birds look out upon the street. The walls are of simple off-white plaster and dark beams of oak; adorning them are antlers, shelves of books, and various mementos of King’s Landing’s lively past. Massive, beautifully-crafted wooden tables and chairs are arranged in the centre of the large common area, and a series of more secluded booths line the walls. The floor is rich golden-brown oak worn smooth by long years of use, and covered by lovely woven rugs. Many lamps and lanterns lend brightness to the inn, as does a crackling fire in a huge stone hearth.
Before the heavy door is a sturdy wooden counter, upon which is a bowl of dirty water offered as a courtesy to patrons who might want to wash their hands before departing. A pair of tall doors in the centre of the inn leads, presumably, to its bustling kitchen. A narrow, high-stepped staircase winds upwards to the guest rooms above.
Outside, the deep blue night sky is clear and cloudless, and the stars glitter. An icy wind blows from the northwest.
The evening in King’s Landing is much as it always is, the finer sections of town lit by candles and torches - and here in the Three Hills Inn, the lamps shine brightly on the courtiers and smallfolk and merchants within. There are another handful of inhabitants as well - dressed in leather and canvas and wool, hair black as midnight and voices carrying the lilt of a place far West, a cluster of ironmen sit at one of the massive tables in the common room. Tankards of beer and half-finished plates scatter the table, as one finishes a jest, and the remainder roar in laughter. Perhaps the oddest member of the company is a woman dressed in black and gold wool, gown barely touched by spills and drink, lightly punching one of the ironmen on the shoulder. It is, of course, the Lady Katla Serry.
Without making it too obvious, a number of other people within the room are keeping half of their attention on the table of Ironborn along with Katla herself. The main door opens to let in another man along with a gust of bone-chilling wind, a cloak over a well-worn set of clothes consisting of a dark green doublet, brown trousers and black boots. Black gloves are pulled off and tucked into the belt at his side, an anchor holding the cloak loosened so Janden can remove the garment. The laughter from the table over that way draws a glance from the redhead, his beard recently trimmed shorter.
A tankard is pushed towards Katla and she takes it with both hands, eyeing the man who slid it her way. “You’ll no get it that way,” she answers him, lips twitching in a half-smile. “Na, in truth - if I’d my druthers I’d be back in the islands, but that’s no option, now.”
The bearded man snorts and raises an eyebrow, a fat finger pointing at the Serry woman. “And you’ve gone so soft not to thump the greenlander and go back, just to sit meek and peaceable?” Her response is tart, sliding the ale tankard back with enough force to make it splash the man. “You beard the Greyjoy in his den, then - even in the Islands, women do as they are told, and fight when we must. I’ve my own way in the Serry house, the lord cannot be bothered to do a thing. And that suits me fine enough.”
Ironborn. Janden knows Katla to an extent now, Dagur more than her, but both of them are enigmas in their own ways. The Valeknight can’t make out much of the conversation at the table, too far away and with other words closer to him drowning much of it out, but he begins to make his way in that direction. “Lady Serry,” he offers once close enough, eyes taking in the rest of them as he adds a slight dip of his head. “Good eve.”
Katla snags a tankard from nearer to her elbow, eyes narrowing slightly. She turns, looks to Janden, proffers a slight smile, and that ironborn lilt in her voice is stronger now. “Ser Janden, well met. I can’t speak for this bloody lot, though - it seems my right to be ironborn is called in question. I’ve gone weak, it seems. What would you say - am I one of your delicate court flowers? Speak true,” she adds with a dry smile, motioning him to a vacant chair to one side. “You’ll either have them or me on your side, however you answer. Half pleased, and half wroth.”
“A question I can’t win at?” Janden asks, setting his cloak aside before claiming the spot no other in the place seemed willing to do. That none of the rest might know Katla is neither here nor there. “It’s not for me to speak on the Ironborn ways, but I’ll say one thing. You’re one of the few women at court I know of who’s unafraid to use the blade you carry if need be.”
Something half-amused and half-perturbed crosses Katla’s face, a smile and a vaguely irritated wrinkle in her forehead. “Ah, but you’ve answered it enough for me, Ser Janden - you fear the ironborn more than you fear me, which means I’m going soft. One woman should be feared as much as a half-dozen men,” she adds with a sharp exhalation, sipping from the tankard. “Though that should manage enough,” she adds, looking at the ironborn, who look at her evenly, then back to Janden.
“Has she used it on you, then? Or that husband of hers? Or does she just wave it about?”
Janden sniffs an amused enough sniff, shaking his head. “You’ve got me. I’d rather deal with one person’s ire than a whole group’s worth,” a hand gesturing toward the other Ironborn as he looks from one face to the next. “Not that I’m guaranteed that by the time the night is done.” To the other men at the table he shakes his head. “On me, no. I didn’t get this scar from her.” The one at his eye, which is indicated. “And I’ve no idea what she does with her husband behind doors or in bed, but I’ve not seen him cut up in any obvious way.”
Katla eyes Janden, feigning an exaggerated pout. “You’re not helping me, Ser Janden. At this rate, I should take your sister as a lady and then make her tell me how best to tweak your nose.” She sips from the tankard in her hands, and then motions for a serving wench. A few coins are handed to the girl, a few words murmured in the maid’s ear, and not long after a cup of wine is presented to Janden. “So, what brings you to this corner of the city this evening?” Katla asks, curious.
“Like as not you can coax that out of her whether you take her as a lady or not,” Janden answers, sounding enough at ease around the rest, even if there’s a hint of wariness about him. The Ironborn haven’t given him too much of an indication what they think about all this just yet. When the wine is delivered he holds the cup out toward the others as if to toast, wondering, “Is it decided how long you’re all to be guests in King’s Landing?” before adding to Katla, “I’d been out in the Kingswood for a time today, thought I’d get a bite and a drink before returning the rest of the way.”
“Long enough,” a younger man says, a youth perhaps no more than eighteen, with a scar that pulls up one side of his lips into a perpetual pained half-smile. “The Lord-Captain in the keep, he’ll tell us when we’re free. Count on us for a few months, at least - though I hope we’re gone before your winter comes.” Another man points at Janden with a hand missing half his ring finger. “And y’ve got to tell us - where have all the bloody whores gone? Ironmen don’t pay for women - but th’ last time we was in King’s Landing, there was a hundred of ‘em if there was one. Now, it’s like fatted calves on Farwynd - not a one to find wi’out flipping over rocks.”
Janden has a sip of the wine, a word of thanks given to Katla for having it brought over while he studies each of the Ironborn further in turn, especially when each speaks to him. Before they get too far with it, he adds, “Lady Serry here has already given you part of my name but I’m a Melcolm of Old Anchor, in the Vale, also currently His Grace’s Royal Huntsman. The winter..I couldn’t tell you how near or far we are to it. Feels like it’s been a long autumn so far, nearly as long as the past summer. Our last winter was a short one.” The one asking about the whores causes Janden to cast a brief glance Katla’s way, a seemingly unspoken question conveyed before he says, “His Grace had them sent outside the walls of the city. Ask around enough and you might be able to sniff out a place or two you can find them.”
The ironborn lean back in their seats, almost as one, tankards lifting to their mouths. “Oh, we’ve sniffed out more’n a couple - just wonderin’ where they’d all run off to, since none showed up t’ become salt-wives,” the one missing part of a finger adds. “And oh, at least you’re like to know your way around a ship, a Melcolm. What kind of ship d’ you sail, then, when bein’ Huntsman bores you?”
Katla sips from her tankard, frowning slightly, but she lets Janden field the question nonetheless.
There’s a question Katla seems to know the answer to well enough for her to react the way she does, a thing Janden picks up on and mostly matches. It ends up receiving all of his attention, talk of whores left behind for them to discuss amongst themselves. “One with four legs, a mane and tail,” the red-headed knight answers between lifting the cup to his lips for a drink, adding, “And this kind, I ride.”
“What kind of sailing-man sticks to a horse? Are all your green lands water-houses forgetting the ways of the water?” A third chimes in, his eyes narrowing, and Katla looks to him, eyes flashing, but she bites back a word, looking to Janden, her shoulders falling slightly, and she tilts her head - again, one she’ll let him field, though something in her eyes seems less than happy, now.
“The kind that has no ship of his own,” Janden replies, though there’s an edge to his tone that wasn’t there before. “At least one brother of mine captains a ship. That used to be a dream of mine, but it ended years ago.” An honest enough statement as it stands, though the knight’s brows furrow. Not the subject he’d looked forward to coming up, no doubt. A look follows to the Ironborn woman and he merely shrugs. She knows.
The men look amongst each other, and Katla chews the inside of her lip for one moment, two. She sips from the tankard again, and looks to them. “If you’d talk of men with ships, talk to Ammon Massey and talk to him of Sullehmaan Saan. Or talk to Dagur Saltcliffe - now a knight. Or, hell, you could even talk to my own damn husband who is an officer in the Sea Watch, now.” She throws her hair back, taking another pull from the pewter mug. “Leave the damn knight alone, he and his horses - he’s dealt with enough to find himself now in your fat half-handed claws.”
“Aye,” another answers her, looking Janden square in the face. “He’s a weak green-lands youth, not man enough to play with the ironmen. Too bad that the Vale’s so far away to sail, else they’d not waste a man on the horses.”
Janden reaches the point where his cup is a bit less than half full as Katla injects herself back into the conversation, seemingly to take up for him. Only, the way it begins to go, it sounds less like that and more making excuses or trying to get their minds off of his. “Enough, Lady Serry, please,” he says, a hand out as if to cut her off. “I can speak for myself just fine, and if they want the truth they can have it.”
That’s when Janden returns the look of the one calling him weak and not man enough, eyes narrowed. “I used to swim in the ocean as a boy the same as any of you did, but one day I was nearly drowned. You may embrace that, but I am not Ironborn. That much was never in question. I would have been a ship captain otherwise, but I ended up more comfortable on a horse than on a deck. As for playing with you? I cut my teeth on the Conquest of Dorne as a squire, nearly died at one point, and came out stronger for it. You can ask the men who have fallen to my blade if I was too weak for them or not.” Indeed, his words are like cold steel.
Cold steel, cold steel - and there’s a bright eye and a smile that follows in the youth with the twisted smile. “Would you dance with us, then? You greenland men like to dance with your ladies, and no doubt the Lord Reaper’s daughter has learned to dance as well - but our dance is more fun. Do you think you’re ready to dance with us, to show your footwork - and your finger-work as well?”
“I know of your dance,” Janden remarks to the one with the scar-influenced grin, enough of a glance sent Katla’s way to account for who’s at least told him before. “We do like to dance, and I know that dance well enough.” His mood remains guarded, sharp enough as he gestures toward the hand of the man missing part of a finger. “Did that come from your dance, then? My hands are fairly important to the things I do. What’s the worth of risking them for you? For what, your respect?” The question is asked plainly enough as he downs the rest of the cup.
“Might be respect,” another responds, black eyes looking at Janden over the froth of a fresh-filled tankard. “Might be to show yourself a man among men - might be to prove that the green-landers don’t suddenly lose their balls when they turn of age. Could be to prove there’s nothin’ you can’t do… Might be just to prove you’re good enough you won’t lose fingers.” There’s a belch that provides fine counterpoint to the challenge, and Katla - well, she can only roll her eyes, it seems.
“I’ll show you the dance,” she offers, eyes flashing to the men around her, a smile more suitable to a grumkin or a snark creeping across her face. “I’d dance with them but they’ll not have it, and it would give you - and, I wager, most of the courtiers - something to hold over their heads.” A man moves as if to throw a punch, half-hearted at best, towards the Serry woman. “Na, so - if you’ll call me green, the least I can do is give him a chance against you louts.”
By now snippets of the conversation and challenge have begun to reach the ears of others, more eyes than before on the table with the Ironmen and one from the Vale. Janden appears not to care about that, focused more on the effort to explain why he should do this thing. “The things you say I need to prove, I say I’ve already proven them whether you accept it or not. I haven’t heard a good reason yet why I should care.” In this, he may not sound like the typical knight, caught up in petty things like a potentially crippling game.
Eyes shift back toward Katla when she comes up with the idea, a cloudy expression setting in before there’s a twitch at the punch until it registers that it’s not a truly serious one. Ironborn! “You’re all determined to push someone here to play your dance, aren’t you? To prove a game of your own is one you’re best at?” he questions them.
“Then you’re a weak man, in our eyes. A content man who aspires to nothing - poor thing for us you’re not your father’s heir, else we’d take Old Anchor in a breath since you’d be so busy prattling about how you’ve proven everything to anyone who matters, we’d have your wife and daughters and half the keep before you’d finished.” One of the men frowns at Katla, jerking his chin towards her. “And can you decide which side you’re playing, Katla? Drown me for a fool, you’ll say you’ve given up sailing and weaving and just want to praise their Seven.”
Oh, only Janden’s not even betrothed right now! “You’d underestimate more than me if you base it on who plays your dance or not.” All the same, he works to tread more carefully as they make clear what they’d like to do under different circumstances. “So it’s about honor, then?” is what he asks of them, a brow raised as Katla ends up included in his questioning look.
“It’s about fun,” the youth says, and Katla looks to Janden, thoughtful. “Na, so - if you were to meet one of them in the joust, Janden, and beat them - what would that mean, to you?”
“Fun?” Janden repeats, squinting at the younger one as he attempts to reconcile that against the talk of him being something less than a man. The answer he gives Katla is with a shrug. “It’d mean a ransom for me against someone out of his element. The meaning would be greater if one of them unhorsed me.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Katla returns, sighing. “And for ironborn, well - we do not need ransoms. We take what we want. The finger-dance is fun, and skill, and proof of prowess besides. It is all that the joust is, to you knights - and you lord it all over those who lose, Farin strutting cock o’ the walk and thinking himself like a prince when he jousts, even when he falls flat on his arse. When you can take what you want, a ransom means nothing - but the finger dance, if you are not skilled - you can lose more than just a pony and a piece of plate. You have it easy here, Melcolm,” she says finally, rising from her seat.
“Your parents pay for horses and plate, your kinsmen give it. I would have thought you, of all the creatures in King’s Landing, would understand the meaning of earning your keep and playing for skill, for reputation. But you - no, you prove yourself to be as green as the rest of them, when it comes to it.” She reaches into her purse, drops a pair of coins that glint bright silver in the lamplight. “It seems coin and pride win over strength and skill, in the end.” And with that, in her black and gold, bloody rubies in her hair catching the light, and she makes for the door.
In the wake of the words Katla has for him, Janden finds he has none for her in response. The surprise that’s soon replaced by something more frustrated and thoughtful says enough for him. It may just be that the woman has made a point the men at the table could not, in a way they could not. “Fuck.” The coins she leaves are looked at - no, glared at - before he gets to his feet and grabs his cloak. “You’ll see me again,” he tells the Ironborn before departing without waiting for their response. Like he can hear it, though.