A westerly wind blows chill upon the fields where farmers work the harvest. Formations of birds fill the sky as they make their southern migration; a dog chases a boy around an oak laden with red and yellow leaves; the boy chases back, throwing a stick for the dog to catch and return. Over and over, a mindless game.
But one well worth the time it takes to play, if you can spare it.
A lone rider rests at the side of the road, his horse gently pawing at the grass at the side of the Rosby Road. The man is dressed in well worn riding leathers, black fading from hard use, and sits with his back against a marker measuring the distance to King’s Landing. Two miles from here.
The man gets a wide berth from passing travelers, well armed as he is. A longsword sits across his drawn up knees; a scarred, three-fingered hand passes a whestone along the edge.
Ammon Massey waits as the sun continues on its slowly westering track.
A contented smile on his face, Jan Marbrand leads his horse jauntily down the road, keeping a brisk pace. Wearing worn riding leathers himself, which look as if they’ve not been changed in days, his smile grows wider as the familiarity of the surrounding farmlands come into view. At his side rides his cousin, Ser Cleyton Waxley, and the two engage in light conversation during their travel; some paces behind, flanked on each side, ride two rather gruff-looking retainers, who share a more boisterous exchange between themselves.
At the sight of a lone figure, perched ominously on the side of the road and clearly armed, Jan silently nudges Cleyton with one arm, and raises the other to get the attention of the men behind him. His pace becomes more deliberate, one arm lightly touching his sword, but it’s not until he spies a three-fingered hand that he brings the group to a halt, some paces away. “Ammon,” he calls loudly, sharing a glance with his cousin. “Strange spot to be idling your evening.”
Ser Cleyton Waxley’s riding leathers are covered in about the same amount of road dust as his cousin’s. A concerned look crosses his face as the group starts to slow and his own hand moves to his sword hilt. He remains silent, letting his cousin do the talking. His concerned expression is amplified when it becomes obvious who this lone figure is. He gives the two retainers a look as the situation becomes more tense. And there he waits at the ready as events take their course.
Massey watches the riders come; the road is open and so he’s been watching them a long way—but his attention returns to the care of his blade as Jan address him. He tests the edge with a thumb, nods, stands with the long, sharp steel in his strong right fist. The Blackhand studies the quartet.
“I was waiting for you. This seemed as likely a place as any.” And the sword slides home, into the scabbard at his hip.
“What news from Duskendale?” he asks, pulling his horse back onto the road and toward the two cousins.
Jan shifts in his saddle uncomfortably, but relaxes his body posture slightly and removes his hand from the sword as Ammon sheathes his own. “You needn’t have done that Ammon. I’d planned to find you, regardless,” Jan says softly. He arches an eyebrow at Massey’s question, but nods once, curtly, as if to indicate the question was not unexpected.
Another shared glance with his cousin, and Jan shrugs his shoulders before announcing plainly, “No sense dancing around it, I suppose. I’ve an offer, Ammon. It involves lots of…numbers, and Lord Darklyn sent me onwards to consider it further.” His steed unleashes a snort and stamps its feet softly; Jan lightly pats the beast while examining Ammon for his reaction.
Cleyton noticably relaxes as Ammon sheaths his sword, his own hand moves away for his sword hilt. But he looks around the area for any other possible men who may be waiting, just as a precaution. He continues to remain silent, this is a matter for his cousin not him. But still, he keeps his horse close just in case.
A nod for Ser Cleyton, an offered greeting of, “Waxley,” and Ammon pulls himself ahorse. “An offer?” he asks as he turns back to Jan with a furrowed brow.
Ammon’s lips part as if he is about to speak, his eyes widen. He lets out a held breath, and seems surprised that he was holding it. “Oh,” he says, studying his onetime friend. “What numbers?”
Jan pauses again, before looking back and motioning towards one of the retainers. He points at one of their horses, which has a handful of wineskins hooked on either side of its saddle. “The sweet Arbor red,” he instructs, and the retainer grins, unhooks a skin, and tosses it to Marbrand, who catches it in midair. He turns to wordlessly hand it to Ammon before responding.
“Dowries. Jointures. Tariffs. Dragons,” Jan explains, his discomfort with the subject matter showing in the slight tinge of exasperation in his voice. “Alot of it was over my head, frankly. I have alot to think about. But…I’d be lying if I said the results of the meeting didn’t please me,” he admits.
Ammon accepts the skin, squirts a stream of the dark red liquid into his mouth, and hands the rest to Marbrand. “Interesting, that. Lord Darklyn told me there would be no dowry. I expected it was a test—I expect much of that evening was a test.”
The Blackhand nudges his horse southward along the road, back towards distant King’s Landing. “It seems I should congratulate you, Jan. If you love her, you should accept the offer—provided you can live comfortably.”
“Did Darklyn send word to me?”
Jan takes back the skin gives a nod of the head to Cleyton and the retainers, indicating for them to ride just a few paces ahead. He downs several gulps of the skin and prods his horse forward. “He seems an…interesting man,” is all Jan says about Lord Darklyn.
“I do, Ammon. And I’m inclined to, though I need to talk to Elrone, of course, and I would like to hear from Ashemark. I suspect our means will be fine - I received a share of the prize from the Riverrun tourney. I think that’s the only reason my proposal was entertained at all.”
He waits for several seconds before locking eyes with Ammon. “He did; he said your proposal was denied.” He passes the skin back to Massey, thinking he may need another taste. “...I’m sorry, Ammon. And I’m sorry for how I acted towards you these past months. I was childish, I know. I have hard feelings, and they make me do things I’m not proud of.” His lips part in what can only be described as a small, but warm - even friendly! - smile. “I have a feeling you can understand that, at least. But still, it is no excuse.”
“Take care around that man,” Ammon replies. “He’s a liar.” He takes the offered skin, sips again, and lowers it from his lips.
And when he does so, there is a soft smile on his lips—out of place, perhaps, but there it is. “No apologies, Jan. The matter between us is settled—-was- settled, at Pennytree, and I don’t relish another of those. Gods, I’m scarred enough; I’ll be lucky to find a woman who won’t recoil in horror at the very sight of me!” Ammon sips from the skin again, hands it back. “Well, perhaps not. The hand hasn’t hurt me any, and women don’t shy from a scar or two from what I’ve seen.”
Jan chooses to ignore Ammon’s first statement, but reveals a slightly relieved look at the second. “I’m very glad to hear that, Ammon,” he answers, genuinely, before emitting a nervous chuckle. “Aye. I /do/ know Elrone cared for you very much…and still does, most likely,” Jan says softly. He leans back in the saddle thoughtfully, taking another swig before quipping, with another small grin, “Hell, I’ve seen my fair share of women with louts around King’s Landing, wondering how /they/ pulled it off. And if they can, I’ve no doubt you can.”
Even Ammon Massey can chuckle, and he does so at Marbrand’s jape, looking at the road ahead. “Aye, she cares for me, I’ve no doubt. Still, I’ll keep my distance for a time. I gave her a present yesterday, for her nameday—a month late, but I’ve never been one to remember such things.”
He glances aside to the younger knight. “It was a bow I’d had made for my sister before she…” Ammon trails off into silence for a moment. “Well, you know.”
Jan gives a knowing, melancholy nod, as only the sounds of the horses’ hooves across the road can be heard for awhile. “A meaningful present then, of course. I’m sure she was pleased.” He scratches his beard, pondering his next words carefully before continuing, “You know, I still remember when you first told me you were to ride to Duskendale. I think the very next words out of your mouth had to do with killing Saan.” He explains, hissing the pirate’s name.
“That always upset me the most, Ammon. I knew what your first priority was and felt it wasn’t…compatible with providing for Elrone, with keeping her safe.” He unleashes a deep sigh and adds, “But it’s an understandable - nay, it is a /just/ - desire. And I know you’ll never come to any kind of peace, however small, about your sister’s fate, until you do so. I want you to know that, when that time comes, I’ll be one of the first behind you to see that it is done.”
The sidelong glance becomes a full one as Jan speaks heartfelt words, and those words bring a shrug with them, and an answer—but not the expected answer, perhaps. “No, Jan; I told you at Harrenhal to stay with her and keep her safe, and that was not meant as an insult.” He spreads his arms out, palms up. “What kind of husband would I be, chasing after vengeance for my sister?”
“It would not be a happy marriage, my friend, and she would soon be a widow. No, I never expected any answer from Duskendale save this, but it’s a happy chance that Lord Darklyn thinks enough of you to make such an offer.”
“So stay with her, love her, protect her, and leave the vengeance to those of us with nothing to lose.”
“Well,” Jan says, hooking the skin back to his saddle. “I won’t go chasing after him, of course. But should he show his face in King’s Landing, or anywhere near us, my sword will be there. I still have my duties as a knight - and as a man of the Kingswood company. Those cannot be avoided.”
He meets Ammon’s gaze, though, and nods purposefully, then beams widely, impulsively, at the very prospect of the Massey knight’s last direction. “But yes, Ammon. /That/ will be my first priority, always.” He looks down the road, to his cousin and cherished companion, to the retainers, guarding the prize that suddenly, unexpectedly made him a man of means, and finally, past them to the outline of the city itself.
“Speaking of which, I was hoping to make time, so as to give her the news before nightfall. What say we quicken the pace?” Before he spurs the horse forward, though, he smiles one last time. “I’m glad we had this talk, though, Ammon. Truly.”
Ammon nods at Jan’s words. “As am I, Jan—a long time coming, that. But go ahead home, Jan. You, and Waxley, and your men. I’ll be along soon enough.”
The Blackhand halts his horse to allow the small company to pass him by, watching as they grow smaller, melding into the city. And when they are out of sight, as the sky begins to color in the west, Ammon turns his horse off the road to the east and rides to the top of a rise. The hilltop is clear, the chill wind whips the grass at the crest, whips Massey’s cloak with it—but there is a view here of the city, the bay beyond, and the first twinkling stars in the darkling sky.
Ammon dismounts, draws his sword, and sits with it across his knee. The scrape of stone against steel can be heard long into the night, as Ammon Massey watches the ships pass on Blackwater Bay.