The road goes ever, ever on, with the promise of treasures at its end: a wedding feast!; a tourney!; Riverrun! Acorn Hall, a place of merriment while Lord Smallwood played host to the court, is but a memory. That ancient keep recedes into the distance with every passing step.
But this night, two out from where the Smallwoods call home, will be spent along the side of the road like so many before. It is a dreary night, to be sure—for a drizzle has been falling most of the day, and the chill of autumn is enough to sink straight into the bones.
One man is about at least, cloaked and hooded against the cold and rain. Ammon Massey is no stranger to this part of the camp: he often calls upon Lady Elrone near the dinner hour, or comes to talk with the Iron Serpent before the day’s ride. But he has been scarce of late, since the Tourney of Singers, and tonight he comes seeking different company.
On this night, Ammon Blackhand has sent his squire ahead, asking after Reyna Saltcliffe.
Inside the pavilion, where a brazier glows with warming coals, Reyna Saltcliffe is sitting with Jyana Arryn, stitching while the other lady reads aloud. Reyna is laughing over something Jyana has just read when the squire scratches at the tent flap. The Silver Rose hesitates, then calls out that he can come in, if he is careful not to let in any rain when he enters the pavilion.
“‘I have but one claw,’ said the dragon to the knight, ‘But bewar—’” Jyana’s recitation halts as that squire scratches; her head turns to the tent’s entrance, then swivels back to Reyna with a curious lift of her brow. She places a finger into the fold of the small, worn book and lets it rest in her lap; her eyes return to the flap, expectant.
So bidden, the squire enters, closing the flap behind him—though the boy drips enough water onto the floor that an open flap wouldn’t hurt matters. “Lady Reyna, Ser Ammon Massey has sent me ahead to ask if yo….”
But Benther Estermont cuts off as the flap opens again, and the Blackhand ducks in. “I’m here, Ben,” says Ammon. His voice is gruff from use, his cloak as sodden as his squire’s. “It’s too cold to wait out there. Good evening Lady Reyna.” His eyes take in both the lady of Saltcliffe, her guest, and their brazier. “My lady of Arryn.”
Reyna puts her sewing aside on the small camp table set between her and Jyana and rises. “Ser Ammon,” she says, her voice lacking the warmth it usually holds for the knight. “Will you hold very still a moment? I have something to give you.”
“Ser Ammon,” murmurs the Jewel; a strange combination of curiosity and wariness causes a twitch around her mouth as she greets the Massey man. Her eyes are not entirely devoid of a welcoming light, however much they flick between her friend and Blackhand in the seconds that last between his entrance and her request—or rather, requirement.
There is naught for Jyana to do but sit so still it’s as if Reyna had commanded it of /her/, rather than the knight. Her gaze sharpens upon the Silver Rose as the young Arryn waits, and watches.
A raised brow from Ammon Massey at Reyna’s question, a wan smile threatens to form on his lips at the petite woman’s approach. And his sigh, when he releases it, comes with a note of acceptance. “Aye, my lady,” he says.
And so he stands and waits, arms hanging limply at his side.
For his part, the squire watches impassively. But who can tell if the lad secretly enjoys the clouting his master seems about to receive? And who, indeed, could blame him?
She is not a tall woman, Reyna Saltcliffe. She is not even especially plump. But there is some strength in her arm and when she slaps him, the crack resounds in the confines of the pavilion. Then, with her other hand, she slaps him again, though this one has less strength—and comes closer to his nose than his cheek.
Arms laden with freshly repaired shifts and tunics, Elrone Darklyn carefully pushes through the tent flap. The hood of her cloak as been up against the rain, and she pushes it down as she enters- just in time to see at least the second slap. Her mouth forms a small o.
“I’ll just… put these in the trunk then.” The girl scampers toward the back of the pavilion, cheeks a little pinker than when she entered.
The small, squeaking, “Oh!” that eeks from between Jyana’s lips is completely lost beneath that whip-like smack of Reyna’s palm against Ammon’s cheek; her hand flies from the book to press against her chest as the second slap flies out.
That is as far as her shock takes her, however. Otherwise stiff as a board, the Jewel stares at her friend with—is that… amazement? awe?—widening her eyes. Even Elrone’s entrance causes no more than the briefest of glances in the Darklyn girl’s direction.
Ammon Massey’s cool, azure eyes never leave Reyna’s own brown ones. Two slaps before he moves, both cheeks pink with hand prints. Then he brings his arms up just high enough for his hands to rest close to Reyna’s shoulders—close but not touching. The knight’s nose, so recently broken by Marbrand, is bleeding. He doesn’t seem to notice.
And it’s that moment that the smile which threatened during Reyna’s advance blooms on his lips.
“Two is enough,” is all Ammon says. Elrone’s entrance goes unremarked upon for the nonce.
“It is not enough. But I haven’t the strength to give you enough,” Reyna says furiously, two spots of color flaming in her cheeks. “How dare you. How -dare- you make a mockery of what happened? Do you know what happens when I hear that name, Ammon? I -remember-. I remember every horrible thing he did to me, and to my cousin, and to your sister. I feel every place he touched me. I feel every scar on my back from his strap. -Damn- you, Ammon Blackhand, for making it all come back there in front of everyone!”
Quietly- so very quietly- Elrone places the garments in their proper places. She glances over toward her mistress and the Blackhand- but almost as if she is determined to fight the urge to look, continues with her duties. Slowly. But despite this determination not to watch, she cannot help but hear- and jump a bit like a whip has been cracked near her feet when Reyna lays into Ammon.
It is now that Jyana rises—the only sound is the whisper of her skirts against the seat as she moves—and places the book down next to the scrap of sewing on that small table. She glances at Elrone again, as if looking for some form of confirmation before she makes her next move.
The move is made with or without advice, however, as the Jewel steps to her friend’s side. A hand reaches for Reyna’s shoulder, but where Ammon himself won’t touch, Jyana dares to gently. Sympathy wrinkles her brow, shows in the shining gaze that she shares between both—the knight and the lady.
“You think I -mocked- it?” Ammon asks incredulously. And with that incredulity, formality flees. “It was a song of vengenace, Reyna. Or did you not actually listen to the words?” Massey holds his ground, staying close to Reyna—steps closer, even, as his voice lowers.
“I am sorry, lady,” he continues, “upsetting you was not my intent. You’ve often said that Ser thinks of this or that as some terrible weakness, and I’ve often defended you. But,” he trails off a moment, “it is a -name-. Only a name. He is not some monster from a child’s story, set to jump out at us even now. And we are giving that name power, Reyna. I see it already: women tremble when he’s mentioned; men quiver. But he is -just- a man. A man!”
Ammon punches his half-hand into his open palm at the last.
“We will hunt him, and we will find him, and we will kill him.” Massey pauses a moment to breathe. But it would seem his rant is not yet done. “If we give his name power, when he dies he will become something worse than death. He will become a legend.”
“And that, I cannot allow.”
“I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks,” Reyna replies. “I cannot separate what happened to me from the sound of that name, Ammon. Not yet. What you thought was a song of vengeance sounded to me like a litany of everything he did to us. Think about -that- before you try to tell me how I can respond to the sound of that cursed name.”
The Jewel does get a half-shrug from Elrone. A gesture of support, or a warning- it isn’t clear. But with Jyana there, Elrone does start to watch. Kneeling by the side of the trunk, her eyes grow sadder as the argument goes on, and the corners of her lips begin to edge down into a frown.
“Rose,” is all Jyana can say after both have said their part, and she murmurs it so quietly it could just as easily go unheard—the tone of her voice speaks more than the single word can. Softly soothing; gently cautioning. With worry knitting her brows together, the Arryn girl’s gaze no longer includes Ammon, but focuses only on the lady at her side.
“What happened to the four of you was—,” Ammon begins, but doesn’t finish. He shakes his head sadly and finally wipes some of the blood from under his nose. It doesn’t do much good, despite the effort. “It should never have happened. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that; not a night passes where I don’t wake in the middle. We couldn’t stop it, and if it ever happened again—,” again, Ammon breaks off, and he breaks Reyna’s eye contact at last to glance toward the back of the pavillion. To Elrone.
And then, quietly. Almost a whisper. Almost, but not quite. “Was she raped? Tell me true.”
This makes Reyna recoil, and for the first time she seems to see the others in the tent. “I don’t know,” she says to Ammon. “He preferred Mellony. My cousin. She was. I don’t know about Doryssa, but… maybe. Probably.” She fumbles past Jyana and takes a linen handkerchief from the table to hold out to Ammon. “Your nose is bleeding.”
With Reyna’s movement, Elrone stands as well. The girl moves quickly for a bottle of wine, a group of small cups, and her lady’s shawl. All things to provide comfort, or at least take the edge from the pain for a little while. The wine she sets on a little table, and a small motion of her head toward the Jewel invites the Arryn woman to take a cup for herself, and Reyna if she wishes. For her part, Elrone pours a cup not for herself, but for Ammon- though she holds onto it until he has had a chance to clean the blood from his face. The shawl Elrone drapes over her arm for the nonce, more in preparation than as an urgent need.
Jyana visibly flinches as Ammon’s question hisses forth—her hand leaves Reyna’s shoulder to press against her stomach, instead, where the other hand joins to do the same. The Jewel pales at the thought, turns her head away as Reyna gives her stark, honest answer.
The Saltcliffe lady fetches the bit of cloth for the Massey’s nose, leaving Jyana to notice Elrone—and a smile, tremulous as it is, silently thanks the young woman’s foresight. Quickly, she crosses the room and takes up a cup. She takes up the second after a sip from the first, and turns to hold it for Reyna.
Ammon makes no move to take the kerchief. He makes no move to take the wine. He simply nods.
Even for the most hardened knight, it could be considered an appropriate response to shed a tear when one is told that their beloved sister was, in all probability, raped. But Ammon Massey sheds no tears. His eyes narrow, he swallows, and nods.
“He told me as much, last time we fought. For what it’s worth, Lady Reyna, my apology stands. Good evening, ladies.”
Turning on his heel, knight and squire walk out into the rain.
Reyna watches the knight walk out, and his squire, and the fall of the tent flap against the rain. Then, with trembling hands, she takes the cup of wine from Jyana and sits down hard on her camp chair. “Well,” she says finally, her voice shaking as hard as her hands, “that’s over.”
Elrone stares after Ammon a long while, simply holding the cup meant for him. But a sigh breaks the moment, and the girl takes a sip from it herself.
She takes a few hesitant steps over to Reyna, shrugging the shawl off her arm to offer to her lady, should she have need of it. The girl’s mouth works, like she might say something- it takes a moment but eventually Elrone does work the words out. “I’m so sorry, Reyna.”
During those final tense moments that Ammon remains in the tent, Jyana stands still as a statue. Only her eyes move, tracking the man’s quick departure through the flap of the tent.
Reyna’s trembling grasp on the cup breaks her gaze and it falls on the Silver Rose next with quiet study. Elrone moves first, speaks next—and the Jewel comes around from the other side to reclaim her seat beside the small table.
“It is over, Rose,” the Arryn lady says, but the quiet finality of her words speaks to more than just this moment, and she says it again: “It is over.”
Reyna nods, downs the wine, and looks up at these two friends. “It -is- over. I’m all right.” And she does seem to be all right now. She smiles at the two women and takes her shawl. “Will you finish the story, Jewel? I know Elrone would like to hear it. And perhaps then the rain will have let up enough for you to get back to your own tent.”
The Darklyn girl studies the Silver Rose a moment, assuring herself that she is well. That gained, Elrone musters a rather weak smile and turns to Jyana. “Please continue then. I am fond of stories.” The fourth cup, alone on the table now, she puts away empty and unneeded.
The book is only taken up again after Jyana sips once more from the cup of wine, her eyes studying Reyna from across its rim in much the same way the Darklyn lady watches her. Only after Elrone’s encouragement does she crack open the worn, leatherbound pages, thumbs through them until that former place is found. The story is a comedy, and at first the Jewel must force the humor into her retelling. But, the charm of the tale of a knight and a dragon, and the Children of the Forest who shrunk them down to their size, strengthens the lady’s voice at last.