The bride and groom are wedded and bedded, but the celebration is far from over. Within the Kitchen Keep the knights and would-be heroes eat and drink their fill; fair ladies dance and laugh to their heart’s content.
But in the chilly, misty damp of the yard, evil stalks. It is no mere beast, this. No, not since the last dragon died has something so fearsome been seen within the walls of the city. Not since the Ripper preyed on the innocent has such a monster been so adept at slaughter. Fear is come to the Red Keep, and with it murder.
If not for Ser Robyn the Brave, of course. For the hero of a thousand songs, the slayer of a hundred monsters, the rescuer of half a dozen damsels, at least, has come to hunt the hunter. His sword gleams in the flickering torchlight as he comes in sight of his pray, glistens as he lunges forward to strike the horror of countless nightmares….
....But misses! With a shriek, the vile beast vaults into the darkness and away. And Ser Robyn the Brave gives vent to his frustration with a mighty war cry, naming that which must never be named.
And with a slump of his shoulders, he is simply Robyn the stableboy again, the switch falling from his limp fingers and into the dirt as he glares into the darkness after the retreating tomcat.
The gentle sound of laughter fills the air as the last that curse fades from the air. Arm in arm with the lady beside her, Jyana Arryn catches sight of that cat’s flight and the boy left frustrated in its wake.
“Fearsome words from such a young man,” the lady comments to her friend, but an indulgent smile graces her features. “I know how he must feel—I’ve been attacked by a cat before. Didn’t realize she had kittens in a haystack when I went jumping in for fun…”
The Jewel of the Eyrie trails off, then calls to the young lad as they draw closer: “Better luck next time, perhaps.”
Elrone, on the other hand, leapt in fright at the boy’s loud curse, ducking almost behind Jyana, her one clear eye peering out over the girl’s shoulder. “Ah- cats, yes.”
She clears her throat, eyeing the boy closely before she resumes her original position. Her guards- yes, two of them now- shift about in the shadows behind them, before Haensyl breaks off to summon the horses they shall need to make it back to the manse with.
The boy turns at those words, at that laughter, suddenly and with words on his lips—but when he sees the party drawn up before him, he finds something of great interest in the area of his boots. He clasps his hands before him as he ducks his face from view. But not before the flickering torches show the rising pink in his cheeks, the fading yellow of the bruises around his eye.
“Pardons, miladies,” he mumbles in that way humiliated eight year olds do. “I was only playin’, is all. I weren’t attacked by no cat.”
They draw close enough, at just such a moment, that the boy’s features are not entirely lost on the Jewel of the Eyrie’s sharp eyes. She turns a look of concern to the Darklyn lass—in part for her spooking, and for the mark on the boy’s face. This she indicates with the furrow of a brow.
But when she turns to the youth before them, a soft smile overtakes her expression instead. She leans over, hands on her knees beneath those satin skirts. “Well, far be it from me to stop a boy from playing at… hmm… dragonslaying, was it?” That gaze narrows, shrewd and calculating, “Or was it some terrible villain, instead?”
The Darklyn maid snaps a brow up at the sight of his bruises, not so dissimilar from what her own will look like in time. Her eyes meet Jyana’s, and she turns back to the boy with an equally warm smile, only marred by the one visible bruise on her right cheek. The ones on the left stay safely hidden behind her carefully arranged curls.
“Oh, dragons, I think, with the strength this lad shows?”
Talk of dragons brings Robyn’s eyes back up, wide as can be, though he still speaks sheepishly. “All them dragons died,” he says. He catches sight of Elrone’s battered face, or half of it, as she comes closer; his hand rises to touch his own bruise before quickly clasped in front of him again.
“I heard theres that Sullen Ham comin’, that Blackhand was tellin’ his squire all ‘bout how he kilt his sister and that.” Robyn’s tone turns from sheepish to solemn. “When I grow up, I’ll be a knight, and I’ll kill the Sullen Ham so he can’t kill no more sisters. Miladies.”
The pirate’s name—or what the boy manages to make of it—causes Jyana to straighten again. Her lips draw a grim line now, and she studies the youth carefully.
“A dread man, Saan; a dread pirate, indeed.” She glances again at the Darklyn lady, then back to the boy once more. “You know the Blackhand, then? We do, too—quite good friends, really. I’m sure he would think you very brave, having such noble intentions as you do, er…”
“What’s your name, then, boy?” And that she asks in a kind voice, a small smile to match.
Another exchange of glances between the ladies, another kind smile from Elrone. “Yes, we are /quite/ good friends with the Blackhand…. has he been teaching you to spar with such dangerous foes then? Saan, and…” she glances to the spot the cat vanished in. “Other creatures of dark places?”
“I don’t know no Saan, and I don’t know no Blackhand!” says the boy, his temper getting the best of him. Though he remembers his place in but a moment, adding, “Miladies. But he comes to get his horse ev’ry day, and he talked to Banen once and told him to mind hisself or the Unknight wouldn’t be trifled with.” His face is screwed up now, his brow furrowed, and he absently touches his bruised eye again. “That Unknight said he’d teach me, though, but they say he ain’t nearly a knight a’tall.”
And then, his tangent finished for the nonce, “My momma named me Robyn, after some famous outlaw in the Kingswood, she said.”
The widening of her eyes is the only indication Jyana gives of her surprise at the boy’s vehemence. The smile, slight as it is, stays thoroughly in place.
“Hm, the Unknight you say—well,” Jyana’s head tilts to one side, “He ...is a knight…” The smile fades and turns wry, “But only just. I think you might find better to squire for, Robyn. And make a hero’s reputation out of an outlaw’s name?”
The Darklyn maid shrugs amiably- perhaps she, in light of her cousins connection to the man, means to tread more moderate ground. “Indeed, quite the hero’s reputation.” Elrone studies the boy more closely.
“Was it Banen who had a go at you?” She bends to the boy’s level and brushes her hair aside, giving the boy a glimpse of her own black eye. “Someone had a go at me too, but it will be the Blackhand who will refuse to trifle with him.” She lets the hair drop back.
“That was not very kind of him, if he did it. Why would anyone want to do such a thing to such a brave young man?”
As both women come closer, Robyn’s vehemence ebbs. He blushes again, looks once more to his feet, and mutters, “I’m named after my pa, not no outlaw, milady. I lied—and it’s a terrible crime to lie, I know.” A tear rolls down his cheek, he furiously wipes it away.
And as the questions continue, face still downcast, Robyn sniffs. “No,” he lies quietly, shuffling his feet.
Just there beside Elrone, a soft look on her face as the other lady makes the inquiry, Jyana bends match her height to his in much the same way the Darklyn lady does.
“Here, now,” she murmurs gently and from the folds of her skirts she pulls a hankerchief, holds it out to the boy, “You don’t need to be afraid of us… What’d he go and do a thing like that for, anyway?” The tone is light, light as it can be, and careful to not spook the youth—but Jyana’s face hardens imperceptibly.
“Yes, dear, nothing to be afraid of…” Elrone smiles reassuringly. “See, this is Lady Jyana, and my name is Lady Elrone. Maybe you’ve seen us about with the horses before… I am sure you do an excellent job caring for them, strong lad like you.” She grins, waiting for the boy to answer Jyana.
“That Tully lady gave me coins ‘n’ that, milady,” Robyn mutters to Jyana as she comes closer yet. “I tried to give ‘em to my friend, but Banen wanted ‘em.”
And then Elrone introduces herself and Jyana.
Robyn’s eyes widen, he takes a step back, and another. “You!” he says, pointing towards Elrone’s chest. “You’re the one made Baryck go away! He were my friend!”
“Robyn!” Perhaps that comes out more fiercely than it need be—but Jyana gentles herself in the next instant, reaching an upturned hand out to the boy.
“Robyn,” she starts again, this time in a quieter voice, and glances at Elrone with a look of worry plain on her face. “Listen to me, dear, it’s not… it’s not like that… there are things you don’t understand…”
“It’s alright, Jya.” Elrone looks the young boy in the eye.
“He was my friend too, Robyn. But sometimes friends have arguments.” It may not ring wholly true for those with a keen ear, but one does try for children. She takes a breath, never letting the reassuring look fade from her face as she draws her hair completely back to show the child exactly how bad the purply bruises, the four matched marks of fingers on her cheek are.
“See, Baryck made a mistake. You know how hitting ladies is wrong? He got too angry and he hit me, so now he’s run away until he’s ready to apologize.” Her hair falls again, hiding a little flicker in her smile.
“Now. Did the Tully lady give you coins cause you found her ring? I know she had been looking for it everywhere. I’ve been looking for my own necklace, so I’m hoping someone might have seen it that I could give coins to as well.”
The Jewel’s fierce tone does little to calm the boy. He is shaking his head again, appears on the edge of tears. “He were my friend,” he says, sniffling and taking deep breaths. “He wouldn’t hit no ladies,” he says, “he weren’t like that—he stopped Banen from hittin’. Most times. When he could, ‘n’ that.”
Robyn takes a few more steps backwards, his back to the open yard now. “I ain’t go no necklace, milady!” he hisses, tears running unheeded down his cheeks now. “And I ain’t got no friends, neither, ‘cept for Fy!” And then Robyn turns and runs into the night.
“Robyn, please!” But it’s useless—the boy is off at a run and Jyana can do naught to stop in, no matter how pleading her tone may be.
She stands to her full height with a huff and puts her hands on her hips. “Gods—I’m sorry, Elrone—I… I didn’t mean to snap at the poor boy like that, it’s just.”
She shakes her head, gaze on the path that boy beat into the earth to put distance between them. “Here,” she reaches down a hand to help Elrone straighten up, a grimace plain on her face. “It must have been Simona’s ring he… found. Who—who do you suppose Fy is? I don’t know the name…”
“I didn’t even know Simona’s ring /was/ found.” Elrone straightens slowly, putting a fair bit of her weight on Jyana’s offered hand. “Perhaps it was Lady Jannia. She’s always giving out coins and bread and such.”
She winces as she makes it fully upright, just in time for Haensyl to return with the horses. “Fy… I do not know, a horse, maybe?” She shakes her head. “Poor child. This Banen interests me though. The sort of man who would beat a child for a few coins might also be the sort to steal from nobles.”
“I hadn’t heard it had been either, but…” Jyana sighs and glances back the way the boy ran once again. “No, maybe you’re right and it was Jannia.”
“Banen,” and the name tastes of filth, the way the Jewel’s mouth twists around the sound of it. “You know… I had an interesting conversation with Ser Humfrey himself, of all people, in the library. We’d get no true answer from the likes of Banen ourselves, but it may be we can use the Westerling for a certain purpose.”
“That seems to me a good plan.” Elrone grins wryly. “I suppose it is too much to hope I have the same luck as you.”
She sighs and moves closer to the horses. “Perhaps we should ask him after the tournament tomorrow? Assuming he is permitted to compete. I had meant to speak to Ser Albyn as well, but… well, I find little reason to leave the manse unnecessarily right at this time.”