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The hall is quiet, awash with a strange mixture of torchlight and the purple tints that herald a summer day’s end. Wisps of smoke rise from the torches, only to be whipped away through the tall, narrow casements set high in the wall—more arrow slits, in truth. Only a few men remain now, leaning against the walls or gathered in small clusters, conversing softly; stout, prosperous merchants, lordlings no less proud for all their obscure sigils and even a septon in a corner.
The murmur of voices from within the Hand’s audience chamber rises for a moment, then ceases. Moments later, the doors open and a tall, black-clad man steps out, his cloak fastened at the shoulder with a serpent brooch. Past him, Prince Viserys can be seen leaning back in his seat, a frown on his face.
And then a merchant is beckoned within and the doors shut again behind him.
Open and shut. The mighty door is held open a moment to admit a slight woman, then shut resoundingly behind her. She has a sheaf of parchment in one hand; with the other she nervously smoothes the bodice of her gown over her stomach.
On the stewards approach, she extends the papers, and murmurs something in a voice too soft to be heard. The steward’s reply, however, is loud and simple: “Tomorrow.”
With a sigh, Reyna Rowan nods, and turns back toward the door.
The black-cloaked man pauses at the door to the audience chamber, half-turned—he seems to be doing nothing save staring at the closed door. Then, he shakes his head and strides towards the tower door, brushing past the steward; it earns him an annoyed look.
He glances at the woman in passing, looks away—and then looks at her again, more closely. This time, he nods, “Lady Reyna.”
Hearing her name, Reyna looks up, startled. “Oh! Ser Dagur,” she replies, looking down and rolling the papers more tightly. “How do you do?”
“Well enough if a bit dry. Being locked in there with the Hand gives a man a thirst.” He glances at the papers in the woman’s hand, then over his shoulder at the steward, “I’ll wager he told you to come next week. Or the week after.”
“He’s been telling me ‘tomorrow’ for days,” Reyna replies drily. “But you seem to have gotten in. What’s the secret?”
“The secret,” replies the knight with a half-smile, “is that the Hand sent for me.”
“He”—Dagur indicates the steward with a thumb—“would have turned me away even then if he could. A toad of a man.” The last is said casually; he seems unconcerned about who might overhear. Whether the words reach the much-maligned steward or not, they earn Dagur another look of withering annoyance—a markedly frostier one.
Reyna observes, and shakes her head. “I haven’t the coin to bribe my way in, and while I’m sure walking in naked would get me attention, it’s not likely the sort I desire. So I shall keep coming back until he gets tired of me.” She smiles sweetly at the steward, rolling her shoulders so that the sleeves of her gown slip off her shoulders a little.
The steward rolls his eyes, for all that the murmuring around her is appreciative. “You see?”
“It would get you the Hand’s bed if not his ear,” replies Dagur offhandedly. He glances at the woman’s bared flesh without any pretence at subtlety—and then, nods in casual appreciation.
“Or perhaps not. He is a strange man, Prince Viserys. But for all that, he is still within at this hour while the other lords are off getting drunk and dandling their whores.”
“And why are you not off ‘dandling a whore,’ as you so quaintly put it?” Something hardens in Reyna’s eyes, though her expression is all innocence. “It is quite the thing to do, I’m told. Plenty of hostages about.”
“I’ve never paid to bed a woman,” replies the ironman with some amusement. “I don’t mean to start now. And the hostages…people here would call me a hard man but I have better sense than to go sniffing around a woman’s skirts with her kinsman’s blood on my hands.”
Reyna stares at Dagur for a moment, then bursts into laughter. “You had me quite fooled, Ser,” she says finally, shaking her head. “All that talk about Flea Bottom… well, perhaps you can help me. I rather detest being dependent upon my father-in-law and my brother, and was told I might receive a pension on the weight of Colyn’s service, at least until I wed again or Tywell comes of age. Is there any truth to this?”
“There are,” comments the ironman drily, “places other than whorehouses in Flea Bottom. Difficult though it may be to believe.”
“As for a pension, I have heard of such things before. But they were given to the wives of poor knights and the like. You, Lady Reyna..”—he shrugs—“are far from being that.”
“Ah.” Reyna nods once, then looks at the papers in her hand. She turns and touches them to a nearby candle, holding them and watching dispassionately as they burn in her hand. Only when her fingers are in danger does she drop them, and grinds the last tiny flicker out under her heel on the stones.
“You do not know how fortunate you are, Ser Dagur,” she remarks bitterly. “A woman has little to occupy her mind, and less independence in which to find occupation.”
The ironman watches the little ritual with raised eyebrows—and he is not the only one. A guard comes hurrying towards the two but subsides when the flames die out.
“That was, perhaps,” says Dagur, “a bit too hasty. I am not the best person to ask about such customs here in the greenlands.”
He leans against the column at his back, crossing his arms upon his chest: “And if it’s independence you want, you’re not likely to get more of it than with a dead husband.” It is bluntly said, if not cruelly.
“You speak the truth,” Reyna replies, in a more practical tone. “Especially here in Kings Landing, where I have no guardian watching over me and the entire population wholly unconcerned with morality.”
Reyna glances over the milling petitioners, and wrinkles her nose. “What did the Hand summon you for? Or is it all secrecy?”
There is a moment’s pause. And then: “He wished to hear an account of the ordering of the campaign in the Prince’s Pass from someone who was there. The outrider movements, the commands they were given…”
The ironman’s tone is markedly neutral, “He had Balian Blackwood with him yesterday. For all I know, it’ll be your griffin knight tomorrow.”
“He is not MY griffin knight,” Reyna replies sharply. “He’s no better than any of the rest, and worse than some, from what I hear. So kindly do not call him -mine-.”
Again, that hint of amusement; the ironman holds up his hands in mock surrender, “Do all of you rush to take offence where none was meant?” Yet, strangely enough, beneath it is a hint almost of relief.
“He can fuck all of Kings Landing for all I care,” Reyna replies tartly. “I would prefer, since he’s a relative, that he refrain from doing so behind the Sept.”
At that, the ironman frowns; the amusement is tinged now with irritation and the two struggle for mastery, “Behind the Sept, was it? I suppose I should thank the Seven he didn’t take her on the Maiden’s altar. I wonder if any man here knows how to keep his cock in his breeches.”
And now, the Steward’s face has grown thunderous. Neither the man nor the woman have cared to keep their voices down and red-faced merchants are edging nearer with embarassed avidness.
Glancing at the man, Dagur grunts and pushes away from the column, “He’ll be sending for the goldcloaks any minute now.”
Reyna looks around as if surprised to realize they are still in the Hand’s tower, though not at the Ironman’s blunt speech. “Damn,” she mutters, turning for the door. “We should speak outside, I think.”
“I had best be going about my business anyway.” With that, a nod—and as usual, no farewell—the ironman strides past Reyna towards the tower doors.
But he pauses just a few paces away and turns: “Who is this…Taria Buckwell?”
The question is sudden, almost abrupt.
Just behind Dagur, Reyna’s face takes on a queer look. “You are not the first to ask me that, and I can say only that she seems high in the Court’s esteem, for she was seated at the High Table at the feast and spoke familiarly with the Hand. My mother instructed me to treat her with the utmost respect, but to never tell her anything I do not wish known from the Wall to Sunspear by week’s end.”
There is no reply but the ironman nods; he may be looking at Reyna but his gaze is distant as if his mind is on other matters. And then, another question:
“And her relation to Lord Jarmon Buckwell?”
“I’ve not met him, but I believe him to be her grandson,” Reyna replies, casting a glance over her shoulder at the glowering steward. “She’s quite a bit older, you see. Though mind your arse; she’s an eye for a fine one.” Reyna glances at said appendage and raises a brow.
Whatever it was that occupied the ironman’s thoughts is not enough to keep his attention from this warning. His gaze focuses on Reyna again—bemusedly so: “What?”
And then he shakes his head, “Nevermind.”
Turning around, he makes his way to the doors—and as he does so, he may be heard muttering to himself, “A fool of a grandson and a randy grandmother. A pox on this place.” A moment later, he steps into the shadows of the yard outside.
Reyna watches Dagur go, laughing under her breath, and only departs herself when the guards at the door clear their throats and thump the butts of their spears on the stones.
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