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The solar is dappled with only half light. The swath of curtains are drawn aside, but only the meagrest of afternoon light spills within. Seated before the windows in an overstuffed brocade chair, is a slender woman in green and gold. And at Elanna Penrose’s shoulder is a gleaming lantern, lending a light to the needlework she completes with steady fingers. A gentle hum falls from her lips.
Before her is a tray of untouched delicacies, and at the distant wall by the door is a silent guardsman in the livery of the Stormbreaker’s riders.
“No, I know the way. Step aside.” A stern and impatient voice belonging to the tall Stormlands knight Ser Almer Connington drifts through the doorway. An instant later that selfsame knight follows; he is clad formally in red and white, the dancing griffins of his house broidered upon his doublet.
He blinks once, twice, his eyes adjusting to the pale brightness from the windows, and glances around the solar at the lady and the guard alike. “Elanna! I think I left a pair of gloves here the other night. Have you seen them?”
Rurik enters the room at a brisk pace, passing Ser Almer along the way, ignoring his domestic concern. He takes a quick glance about the room and walks directly towards the lady, set in his purpose. Rurik stops a pace away from Elanna and reaches down with a nmible hand to grab one of the untouched delicacies. Plopping it into his mouth, he luxuriates over the morsel for a moment before swallowing it down in a gulp. “Mmm, delicious,” he coos, looking rather directly at the seated woman.
And with that, Rurik turns about, moving to sit at the central table, a few dice appearing from his sleeve and jiggling about in his hand.
Others seem to find the solar a retreat from the noise and merriment in the hall below, or so Ser Aidan finds when he appears alone at the door. A hesitation, as the young Dornish knight appears to consider withdrawing, and then with a small shake of his head he comes nearer. In his hand is a tidy bundle wrapped in a kerchief. His eyes, dark in the poor light, search for some place other than the table where the Raven sits—but there are none that seem to suit.
“My lord of Greyjoy,” he says briefly, as he sits at one end of the table, as far from the honey-voiced reaver as etiquette allows. Setting the bundle before him, he unwraps it to reveal a few morsels of his own: some cold meats, bread, cheese, and such like things.
Elanna glances up and a warm smile spreads across her features, “Good day, Almer,” she greets him, and frowns slightly, “I fear I have seen no gloves, yours or otherwise. Perhaps the household staff have them?”
Upon the arrival and antics of the new arrival her eyes cool somewhat as she regards him with a faintly curious air.
“Greyjoy?” she utters softly, “I fear we have not had the ...pleasure of meeting as yet.”
And once more to the Dornish knight does she turn her gaze.
“Good day, Ser Aidan. It has been an age since we last spoke.” All very soft, very mellow and with no small amount of cautiousness when addressing the Reaver.
“No, noone has seen them. Perhaps he ate them,” Almer mutters, watching Rurik eat with a mixture of fascination and distaste.
He skirts the table where the ironman sits, glancing around at various nooks and crannies in the darkened room.
The Knight of the Twilight draws Connington’s attention as well, and he offers Ser Aidan a curt but polite nod.
“Lady Elanna,” the Knight of the Twilight responds, half-bowing even from his seat. “I hope the day finds you well. And you as well, Ser Almer.” So with such courtesies done, he returns to his meal. It seems the Dornishmen are at least allowed small knives now, for he produces one with handsome gold and silver embellishments on its pale hilt which he proceeds to use to spear a small slice of roast beef.
“Your food looks duller than small talk with the wife of another man after you thought you’d fucked her into silence, Ser Aidan,” parlays Rurik across the table at the hostage. The dice fall from his hands, a kraken on each face. He snatches the up and peers once more at Elanna, nodding faintly, almost insolently, “Rurik the Raven, my lady. As you can imagine,” his smile widens and his gaze intensifies, “the pleasure is all mine.”
Rurik tosses the dice again, and this time five kraken land surrounding a sun and spear. He grins and winks knowingly to Ser Almer.
Elanna’s eyes narrow faintly, “Yes, I am sure the pleasure is all yours.” Her voice takes on a drawling cast, “You have such a quaint turn of phrase, Rurik Greyjoy. I am sure I have hardly heard its like in the Old Keep. Though perhaps,” she waves airily, “Men converse differently whilst ladies are present.”
She does regard the Dornishman’s food briefly though, “You are welcome to partake in what lies here, my Lord. I am very well, though rather…amused by your companion here.”
A hitch in the motion which brings the morsel to Aidan’s mouth is quite noticeable when the ironman addresses him in such a ... fashion, but he completes it and chews for a good while, then swallows, before he offers the man a response. By then Elanna has already addressed the man, and himself as well. He smiles to her first, saying, “My thanks, my lady. I’ll take you up on the offer, once I’ve dealt with what I’ve before me.” And then the smile fades like morning mist on the Greenblood as he turns to Rurik, and gestures at the food with his knife rather pointedly. “It’s what the kitchen had on offer, my lord Rurik. It lacks spice, but all the food here does.”
“Would that real war was as simple as a throw of your dice, master ironman,” Ser Almer says mildly to Rurik. “Although I think there are rather more of your little krakens there on the table than I saw in Dorne.”
He perches gracefully on the back of a chair and rests a booted foot on the arm, scuffing and propriety be damned. Glancing over at Aidan’s repast, he smiles wryly. “What our food lacks in spice, Ser Aidan, it makes up for in wholesomeness. You won’t find any scorpions in your stew, at least.”
“Perhaps you have yet to meet a real man in these halls, my Lady Elanna,” Rurik retorts. “All I see these days are fuzz-faced little boys who blush at the sight of your golden underskirt, twitter like hummingbirds, and play about with their little swords.” Rurik does not blush.
He laughs in response to Almer’s remark and retorts, “Perhaps we were busy.” He rattles the dice in his hands and in a rapid succession of tosses, six lions turn into five lions and one kraken…one by one until six kraken show. He laughs again and calls down to Aidan, “It just so happens that I know three of the eleven finest spice merchants in the Free Cities. Perhaps I can be of service, ser hostage.”
Apparantly conversation is more diverting than needlework, for the frame is laid aside, and bright blue eyes are turned on those present. A laugh from the widow is heard then, at the Iron born’s words.
“Oh, there are real men here, my Lord of Greyjoy, some might consider them difficult to find amongst the dross, but they are here.” Her eyes twinkle.
“And their swordplay is the finest in the Seven Kingdoms, or so I hear,” an arched brow.
“But just what were you doing during the Dornish conquest, my lord?” Elanna queries, “If getting sand into your small clothes held no appeal, then…” she gestures vaguely, “just -what- were you doing?”
A faint scowl touches Aidan’s lips, but he buries it by pulling off a chunk of bread from the roll he has and pushing it into his mouth. He eats with the appropriate decorum otherwise, but it seems it takes an effort to avoid the reaver’s irritation. Eventually, though, he’s done with that, and must respond for propriety’s sake. “That will be of little help. We’ve spices enough in this city, but few in the kitchens have any interest in preparing a Dornish meal.” A shrug, then, and he adds, “It is no matter.”
He’s happier to turn to Almer and say to him, “Well, and no sand as well, as was often the case during the war. But as you say, it is wholesome. Not so wholesome as a good hot sauce, with dragon peppers and mustard seed and perhaps a drop of venom, but wholesome enough.” As if to make a point, he slices off a piece of the cheese and delivers it to his mouth.
“Venom. Remarkable.” Almer watches Aidan eat, his eyes narrowing in curiosity. “Tell me, Ser Aidan… it is said your countrymen are proficient with the use of poison in battle. Do you also use it to hunt?” For the nonce, Rurik and the lady are ignored.
“I would think such a practice would taint the meat, but if you season your food with venom…” Connington’s head shakes in wonderment.
Rurik inclines his ears faintly forward as Aidan lists the spices that would interest him before leaning back and tossing the dice once more, revealing six dragons. “We were not summoned to battle, my Lady. It would have made things too easy if there were no lonely widows left behind for the Maesters to comfort.”
His eyes twinkle, “And if you have heard the songs, there’s far more hiding in the Raven’s smallclothes than just sand, which is why he was busy bedding mermaids during the Conquest.”
Elanna just snorts faintly at Rurik’s words, “You should have a care before barnacles start growing on more than the sides of your ships. The scraping of them is most unpleasant, I hear.” She turns to the conversation betwixt Dornish and Westeros knight.
“Venom? What kinds of venom?” she interjects softly in query.
“That is sheer calumny,” is the immediate response to Almer’s question, as Aidan straightens in his seat (a hard thing to do, for one who never seems to have anything but perfect posture). “That claim, that we use poisons in battle. It is a lie. There never was a knight in Dorne who did such a thing and, by the grace of the gods, there never shall.” His lips are thin as they press together, and then he adds, eyes slightly averted, “That is not to say that there are not poachers who might well improve their chances with an arrowhead dipped in venom, and maybe there are some common soldiers who might think that worth while…”
A glance to Rurik as the man makes his boasts, and then Aidan spears another slice of meat—rather forcefully, too—as he tells Elanna, “From the snake, my lady. Or, sometimes, from scorpions. It’s said to provide certain ... certain benefits. For the health. One hardly notices it, for all the spice.” He ducks his head, long dark mane obscuring his face as he eats his next morsel.
Almer laughs at Elanna’s overheard jape, then looks hard at Aidan. “Really. Poachers, you say. And common soldiers.” His voice fairly drips sarcasm now, but the steely sheen of courtesy never once flexes. “There are many things, Ser Aidan, that I never thought to see in Dornish chivalry… and yet the eyes do not lie.”
“Did you ever know a Ser Dagos Manwoody?” Ser Almer asks Dayne, seemingly apropos of nothing. He doesn’t seem all that interested in a response, though, for he looks over at Rurik and nods.
“We have not met, ser. I am Almer Connington. And you are a Greyjoy and a Raven, but I do not know your name.”
Rurik scoops up his dice, rises to his feet once more, and cocks his head to the side. “Rurik the Raven,” he declares archly, “The finest singer in the Seven Kingdoms, so they say.” He grins, “Though that might just be flattery, since it’s bad to be on the wrong side of one ironborn.”
He marches over to Elanna yet again. “There’s a saying in Old Valyrian that applies to you, my lady.” A mellifluous phrase in a foreign language pours from his mouth, “You’re a saucy little slut.” He smiles and deftly plucks another delicacy, putting it to his lips.
“I knew him, but not well,” comes Aidan’s stiff reply, tone cool. “He was a friend of my father, Ser Aethan, and was with him when he died while hunting in the mountains.” He says no more on the subject of Ser Dagos, but a frown tugs at his lips, which urges him to add, “Unchivalrous behavior was found as much upon your side of the mountain as ours, ser. But I would not claim your knights use poison, for it is no more true than to claim that it is a practice of ours in Dorne.”
The strange sound of Valyrian—spoken with marked fluency—turns the young knight’s head, and he seems ... almost amazed, in truth. But he didn’t understand a word of it, it’s clear. As he turns to break off a heel of bread, he can be seen trying to sound out the words.
There is a cooling in the regard of the Penrose widow as she regards the Raven once more.
“Why, that is such a charming sound, Rurik Greyjoy,” she utters archly, tapping her fingertips on the arm of the chair in which she sat, “Though I confess curiosity to its translation and determine whether or not I should henceforth ignore you as propriety demands.”
The Dayne knight’s diplomatic response elicits a grudging nod from Ser Almer. “I regret to say you’re right, Ser Aidan. War is no game, as many of my comrades found out to their sorrow. I meant no offense; one hears many soldiers’ tales, as you know, and I have no reason to doubt your word on the matter.”
He looks at Rurik then, faintly smiling, and with a voice that is preternaturally calm says, “I don’t speak that tongue, but I doubt it was a compliment, my lady.”
Aidan’s nod in reciprocation accepts Connington’s statement, and he seems content enough to return to his meal. But not before offering quite unexpectedly, “There was something about being ‘small’.” He looks between the three others, and then explains, “In what my lord of Greyjoy said. Am I right, my lord Rurik? Our maester at Starfall would be quite pleased if I recalled even that much.”
Rurik pauses, sniffing the morsel at his lips with studied curiosity. A long finger rests upon his lips before he says in a voice thick with mischief, “Pay the toy soldiers no heed, my lady. I merely said that that blue eyes like yours would be greatly prized even on Lys.”% He downs the delicacy and plucks another, beginning to make for the exit while wearing a broad smile. “I believe you confused the great with the small, Ser Aidan.”
“Oh,” the young knight responds, frowning. And then after the briefest pause, in which he looks suspiciously at Rurik, “Well, I was never the most apt student of Valyrian.” He seems distinctly dubious of the man, but he says nothing else. Instead, he continues with the repast, now eating with care as he slices pieces of cheese, meat, and bread and tries them in various combinations.
“I doubt you ‘merely’ say anything, my lord of Greyjoy,” Elanna replies smoothly, “And if you all you can compliment are ‘pretty eyes’ I see you have all the simplistic tastes of so many of the young knights in this place.”
“As for ‘toy soldiers’, I would rather trust their honour than that of a man who speaks in tongues unknown that he might say what he wishes and dismiss it out of hand if it is protested.”
Almer’s tone, as ever, is carefully neutral; the very model of knightly courtesy. But his cold grey eyes are like the bite of winter when they turn upon Rurik, and the ghost of a smile that lingers upon his lips is utterly mirthless.
“Perhaps he thinks it will impress you, Elanna,” Connington suggests acerbically. “What works on a Braavosi oyster bint must work on a lady of King’s Landing, yes?” The cold smile lingers. “Or perhaps he fears to tell you what he really said.”
Rurik’s initial remark in Valyrian is validated by Elanna’s latest words, provoking a peal of melodious laughter suffused with great warmth that belies Rurik’s status as a rake and degenerate. He slows his pace out of the room to slide in a last remark, “You have me all wrong, my lady. It’s no secret what the Raven does with his tongue. My tastes are far simpler…and far more complicated.”
His laughter amplifies, “And I leave it to you, Ser Almer, to puzzle out whether Braavosi oyster is a simple or a refined taste. Travel farther than a fart flies and you might learn a thing or two.”
A shake of his head, and Aidan does his best to ignore the caws of the Raven. He eats his meal in silence.
“Oh, I do not impress so easily, Ser Almer, so it is to my fortune that most give up rather swiftly. It does save a lot of time,” Elanna replies with a drawl, “And I am sure your tastes are quite prosaic, Rurik Greyjoy. I rather doubt I had you wrong at all.” She casts a quizzical look back upon Almer then, but falls silent.
Sniffing the air in Rurik’s retreating wake sardonically, Almer wrinkles his nose in exaggerated disgust. “I’ll leave the oysters and the farting to your practiced hand, Captain Crow.” For the first time, though, the knight actually seems genuinely bemused by the loutish ironman.
Then, to Elanna: “I wonder if Saltcliffe knows that fellow. Quite a contrast between them, wouldn’t you say?”
Rurik heads off to smoke the hallucinogenic buried fruits of Dothraki plains through a glass vase fashioned in the guise of a mermaid with the tail of a kraken, all while being fanned by the whores of the Maiden’s Blush dressed up as septas and being fed baby doves.
“Oh,” Elanna remarks softly, watching the Iron born depart, “In some ways I think them not so very far apart. But there is a certain manner about them that is different.” Her fingers lift to touch her chin thoughtfully.
“I cannot imagine them great friends at all.”
Not knowing Ser Dagur well, Aidan makes no response to the overheard remark. Instead he finishes up his meal, down to the last morsel, and then puts away his small knife before he neatly shakes and then folds the kerchief on which the repast rested as he ate. He tucks it behind the brocaded sash he wears, and lets his eyes turn to Lady Elanna’s offered morsels of food.
“If you are still willing, Lady Elanna,” Ser Aidan says, “I should be glad to avail myself your hospitality. It was kind of you to offer. Greyjoy was right—the meal was rather dull.”
“Different indeed” says Ser Almer in reply to the lady’s remark. And then: “Ser Aidan, when the Lord Hand permits you and your countrymen, perhaps you will accept my invitation to go hawking in the Kingswood. And perhaps we’ll have some pheasant, then, and you can spice it till your bowels burst into flame.”
Almer pushes himself up from the seatback where he has perched and begins making for the door, but pauses to address Elanna. “My lady, I’m glad to see you up and about once more. Please pay me a visit soon; I’ve some news to share about our little enterprise. Farewell.” And at that, Connington heads out of the solar and on his way.
“I shall, Ser Almer,” Elanna replies to the Connington knight with that same warm smile, “And soon.”
To Aidan, “Of course, Ser Aidan, please.” She gestures at the still full platter before her, despite the decimation wrought by Greyjoy.
Standing as Ser Almer prepares to depart, Aidan responds to his offer, “I should be glad, ser, to do just that.” Then as the man does depart, he moves to examine Lady Elanna’s platter. “Here,” he says, finally selecting a small apple tart. And then, perhaps unable to resist, a lemon tart is added to it. “More and I shall be on my way to becoming Ser Aidan the Round, I fear,” he says, smiling as he does so and then taking a bite of one of the pastries.
“Oh, I should think an afternoon hunting in the Kingswood would be a most diverting way to run off any pastries,” Elanna replies with a chuckle, “In any case, at your own age, you have the most marvellous ability to burn off any excess just by chasing any of the fair maids around the Red Keep.” One eye winks in mischief.
“I suppose that’s true, my lady,” the young knight replies—and is that a blush on his cheek? A traitorous color, given that it confirms the Raven’s claims. But Aidan goes on to say, “Yet I would rather chase game in your woods than make a fool of myself at court chasing the uncatchable.” Another bite of a tart, a thoughtful chew and swallow, and then he smiles wanly, “You see, a hostage is not so enticing a prospect, whatever his qualities; and for good reason.”
“Oh, you are quite right,” Elanna nods her reply, her eyes still twinkling a little, “But that will not always be so, I am sure. Old memories fade, new ones take their place, and thus, the Knight of the Twilight is as though he were always of Westeros and the pretty maids will giggle over the speaking of your name. I hear that wins upon the tournament field are useful for fading memories.” Her voice is faintly cynical at this last.
A moment’s seriousness clouds his eyes, and then Aidan asks, “Do you find it so, that old memories fade? I wonder.” But what prompts that, he does not explain. Instead he finishes off one of the tarts, and instead touches on the topic of tournaments. “There are no tourneys, however, and the Hand is unlikely to allow us to take part. So I cannot place too much hope in that,” he says easily enough, making it clear that he’s already dwelled on this particular subject. “I expect we will be allowed to hunt in the kingswood before we are allowed to humble your northern chivalry… Or be humbled by them.” The last is an afterthought, said with a bright and possibly fatuous smile.
“Memories fade,” Elanna affirms softly, “They remain with us, but the sharpness of emotions that accompany them are not so painful.” She shakes her head, and seems almost grateful then for the change of topic.
“I confess, feats of arms at a tournament do little to impress me. It is easy enough to strike at a man with a blunted blade when you know if the blade is returned measure for measure, you will still live.” She holds up her hand.
“Aye, I know that accidents happen. But by and large, a tournament seems to my jaded eyes to be little more than boys playing at war where they will grow complacent once more and forget that it is not the cheering smallfolk and the regard of fair maids. Too many youths have that sad impression and still have their heads filled with the glory of it all.”
“Ah, forgive me my musings, ser knight,” Elanna waves her hand, “Perhaps at the end of it all, it is better that wars are fought upon a tournament field.”
Aidan holds his tongue—but barely—as Elanna explains her views. In the end, he sounds a little defensive as he responds, “There is no need for forgiveness. I cannot speak for all knights, Lady Elanna, but for me it was in tournaments that I first had my chance to try myself against other knights. When there is no war, the tournament is one of the few means by which one can get a sense of it.” Other means, such as private feuds or raids across a certain set of mountains on a certain set of marches, he does not discuss. Instead he pauses and then adds a little ruefully, “It’s true that the joust is not so very warlike. The melee is closer to real battle. Smashed fingers, broken teeth, and more are common enough; and worse has been known to happen. The pain is not death, mayhaps, but it’s closer to it than just standing by and thinking you’ll not a lift a blade until war is on you.
Elanna listens thoughtfully, “I had not thought of it thus.” Her voice was considering.
“It would be preferable to test your arms against others you have not faced, rather than just hoping your training was sufficient.” She rests her chin on her palm.
“It stood me well, in any case,” Aidan replies, relaxing a little. He takes a bite from the tart, chews on it pensively, and then hazards, “As to the glory of it all. Perhaps it leads some astray, I suppose. My cousin…” He drifts off, then, and starts again, glancing briefly away. “The gods made knights, and armed them with faith and with prowess. Surely, the exercise of that prowess is then .... well, I do not have the words. Something good and right. I see nothing wrong with winning praise for that prowess, then.”
“As long as the praise does not fill the knight’s head with too much pride, and he finds it a very long way to fall to the earth and reality,” Elanna chuckles slightly, seemingly at some private amusement, “Sadly there are too many of our young knights that proclaim themselves worthy before others proclaim it for them.”
Aidan smiles a trifle uncertainty, and bows his head. “As you say, my lady. Sometimes one can be too confident.” He says that with no significant amount of self-reflection in his eyes or his tone—it’s a bit blithe, even—and then he finishes the last morsel of the lemon tart. He dusts his hands briefly as he says, “Of course, I suppose this is where ladies play their part. All the songs have them shepherding their chosen knights, keeping them from vainglory and falsehood. Jonquil did just that with her Florian.”
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