The sun is nearly gone for the day, and the night wind out of the north is chilly with a kiss of damp, though the stars shine brightly overhead and there is no threat of rain. A light mist rises from the waters of the Blue Byrn, here where they slow. Here, too, the river narrows just a bit, and so it is that an enterprising chap has set up a ferry crossing.
It is a necessary crossing, for it seems almost as if the Gods, when laying the river out like a ribbon, twisted it over on itself, carrying the thick, stony woods along with it in the turn so that the going toward Grassy Vale on one side is impossible, and proceeding to Longtable on the other likewise impossible. So here one must cross, and the way is well worn by foot and hoof.
A tiny settlement has sprung up, mushroom-like, on the far side. A taproom, much of it open to the air save for the thatched roof above, serves the weary travellers who are tired of musty wine from their wineskins. A smithy, forge coals banked for the night, snoozes beside the taproom, and there is stabling behind for a dozen horses; more, if one doesn’t mind leaving his mount outside. A well in the center of the road marks the center of the little village, and the denizens of the half-dozen stone and mud huts that cluster around it move about the square, finishing their evening’s business or wandering toward the taproom, where the ale flows freely and the mistress is a merry middle-aged woman with bountiful breasts and a missing front tooth.
The ferry itself, a flat, unsteady craft that boasts railing of branches tied together with ivy, rides on the slow wash of the river where the gravel of the road slopes down into the river. The ferry man, a lean youth who looks as if he could use a good meal or three, yawns on the tiller.
Presently, as the sun comes closer to the horizon, he straightens. “Comin’ over, Mum!” he shouts over the water toward the taproom. Then he sets about lifting the long oar to shove off and begin poling to the other side.
Alyard leans back in his saddle as he approaches the river amongst the other riders and knights, glistening in his plate and white surcoat bearing his personal arms. One hand rests idly on the hilt of his longsword as the other takes care of the reins, his white charger happily keeping line with the other mounts around hm. In truth his white horse is beginning to look a mixture of brown and grey as the travel dirt starts to build up. “How quaint…” He utters mockingly to his squire as they approach before flashing that wry grin at his companion.
Standing on the ferry, with his horses and squire, is Ser Alek Reyne. He stands at the prow, watching the scenery, seeming to finally relax as he looks over the river and the town. As they approach, Alek begins fishing about in his pockets, bringing out a small leather pouch.
They land on the other side, and, as Albin is helping remove the horses from the ferry, Alek tosses a small purse to the ferryman. Inside should be the rather princley sum of 5 dragons. A royalty in any smallfolk’s eyes, the rumours that Ser Alek is generous with his gold being quite proven in that act. He smiles to the ferryman. “Thank you, lad, we should be able to continue swifter now, thanks to you.” He steps off the ferry, looking about. “Quaint it may be, ser, but mock it not.” He calls. “Why, this already has the making of a fine village already.”
Ammon Massey sits in the taproom and accepts a full tankard from the barmaid. His feet stretch out under the table; his traveler’s harp sits clutched in his lap. He watches the line of men coming from the river with several empty tankards already sitting in front of him. Seeing Ser Alek’s party leave the confines of the ferry, Ammon raises his arm - and knocks several of the empty tankards spinning. “Ser Alek!” he shouts. A moment later he adds, “...and Ser Alyard! Come, come!”
Alyard glances at the ferryman with a knowing smile before looking to Alek. “Are all Reynes so easy with their coin? I wonder, do you think he took as much from your nephews captors?” The Corbray knight asks, musing more than mocking, though that wry grin remains. Wheeling his horse around he slowly moves to the side of the taproom and dismounts easily, handing the reins to his squire. “You can eat once he has been fed and watered.” He instructs the young lad before patting the lad on the shoulder. Ammon Massey is met with a smile, not that it had gone anywhere since he spoke to Alek. “/Scouting/ ahead for us, Ser?”
The old lion raises an eyebrow to the Corbray knight. “Smallfolk do not oft take sides unless their lord commands them to. Am I to blame him if he ferryed my nephew? Would you have me strike off his head?” Alek leaves his reply at that. “Aye, I’d say he’s gotten well into his work.” Alek comments, walking over. “I shall buy the first drinks. Unless you object, ser?” Alek says, “Not many men like to drink with people who aid abd abet criminals.” He finishes, voice a tad cold, but polite.
The taproom, with its fence “walls,” is open and welcoming. The villagers, such as they are, gather together to look curiously over the fence at the nobles coming through, mouths agape. The mistress is less reticent. She comes out into the street and throws wide her fleshy arms. “Come and drink, good therth!” she lisps through her missing tooth. “I’ve ale and all good thingth! Come! Come!”
Ammon laughs at Alyard’s jest. “Scouting? Clever, ser! Ha ha! ‘Ser’. Just Ammon will do for me.” The squire waves the two men over again. “Sit, sers. The ale is wonderful: thick and rich and tasting of Dornish piss! Wonderful!” To prove his point, Ammon takes a long gulp - and sputters a bit at Alek’s words. “Ser Alek,” he says, coughing, “is something amiss? Is the ferryman a scoundrel?”
“His head, no that would be drastic do you not think, ser?” Alyard replies as he enters the taproom with Alek, speaking quietly now. “I am sure he meant no harm, perhaps just a smile and an awkward laugh as they japed at your nephew’s expense.” He looks at Ammon for a moment and then back to Alek. “I just struggle to see why you reward these people.” At that, the Corbray knight takes a seat opposite the Massey squire and grins. “Ammon, you look well. Tell me, how are our siblings?” He asks as he lifts a hand to beckon over the toothless wench. “Wine, if you have it, and a heel of bread with whatever broth you have, if you’d be so kind.” He says.
Alek grunts. “It is my opinion, ser, that if you dislike the company we have, then there is always the woods.” He says a bit sourly. The elder knight clearly does not like being given advice on what to do with his own gold. “Wolves never tire of company.” He takes a seat next to Ammon. “A tankard of ale, if you please. And my thanks for such a warm welcome. We are all grateful.” He flashes the wench a smile, as his squire sits on the other side of him.
“Wine?” queries the mistress, blinking at Alyard. “Oh, ther, I’m that thorry, but haven’t any wine.” She bows to each of them, so that she is bowing to everyone, then nods at Alek. “Aye, we’ve good strong ale, lotth of it, that I brew mythelf. Ale, you thlut, bring all for all the knighth! Ith that a Reyne badge, Ther?” she asks Alek, ingratiating as she peers at him.
Ammon takes another sip of ale before answering. “In truth, I haven’t been to Stonedance nor sent word in quite some time.” He shrugs, continuing. “I assume Maslan is as much a boar as usual and Salanna as much a bore. Ham is likely stuttering his way around the castle, getting into mischief.” Ammon smiles as he talks of his brother Harmon. He continues: “Dory is well, as I’m sure you know.”
Ammon quickly turns his attention to Alek, filling him in. “Ser Alyard and I are good-brothers, ser.” Ammon seems oblivious to the rising tensions between the two knights.
“Ale then, if you would.” Alyard replies, flashing that handsome smile even at the least deserving of wenches, /no wine/...“The woods can keep their wolves.” He adds simply to Alek, leaving him to discuss the livery of House Reyne with the mistress.
“I have seen Doryssa in passing, she looks well. And you, did you compete in the squire’s melee?”
Alek blinks in surprise. “Why, yes, it is.” He says, sounding a tiny bit suspicious. “Have you seen my house’s badge before, my good lady?” He asks, his smile returning. The older knight’s voice is curious.
“We have all thorth of people through here, but even old Yolly can tell a lion from a lamb,” the mistress says, waving impatiently at one her of serving girls. “The good thtuff!” she says to the girl, who pauses. “But isn’t that—” she begins, only for the mistress to cut her off. “Only the very betht for our vithitorth,” she lisps, giving the poor girl a shove.
Alek nods. “Curious.” He says, before looking to the mistress. “Pray, my good lady, when was the last you saw a lion amongst your number?” He asks.
Ammon shakes his head. “No, ser, Ser Alyard, I did not. Compete. ‘No’, Ser Dagur told me when it was mentioned - exactly like that, he said it: ‘No’.” Ammon takes another sip of ale. “I didn’t mention fighting, of course. I agree with him, as it happens. I’m far too old for squire melees; A man grown.”
The serving girl’s slip of the tongue is noted by Alyard who looks to Alek with that knowing smile. he takes his tankard and has a tentative sip before cocking his head and having a little more, not /too/ bad. Turning his attention back to Ammon he nods. “Perhaps, you might have shown the youngsters up in truth.” He offers, keeping half an ear on Alek’s conversation with the mistress.
The serving girl fetches tankard after tankard of the best ale, a tasty brew for all that it has a bitter endnote on the back of the tongue. Yolly the mistress takes one to sip from. “Ahh, yeth,” she says happily. “Thith is the good ale. Drink up, my lordth, and be merry,” she calls out, upending her own tankard and drinking deeply.
When she has wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, she considers Alek’s question, rubbing her hand dry across the bodice of her dress, which sets her pendulous breasts to swaying. “I can’t think when I thaw a lion,” she says finally. “I don’t know if I ever have. It’th a poor place we have here, you can thee it plain.”
Another sip of ale. “Aye, ser, perhaps.” Suddenly Ammon turns on Albin, Alek’s squire. His finger stabs forward as he speaks. “Albin, you fought in the melee. How did you fare?”
The old lion looks thoughtful for a second. “Then, perhaps, one of your girls can remember.” He says. “You.” He says, ignoring the tankard before him for now, motioning for the girl who served them to come forward. “Perhaps you recall when you last saw one of my kin?” He asks.
Albin, interrupted in drinking, coughs and splutters, the young Sarsfield lad not expecting to be addressed. “I, uh, I fared well.” He says. “I lasted for some time before Barion Smallwood,” There is a slight bitter tone to the boy’s voice, “Took me down.”
“Who’s your kin, ser?” asks the girl politely, but with a blank expression. She is carrying dirty tankards in each hand, and now she darts an anxious glance toward someone calling for more ale. “Please, ser, I have to go, ser. I get—”
She breaks off when Yolly flicks the back of her head. “Back to work, thlut,” she mutters as the girl runs off. “Wasting good coin. Was she making eyeth at you, ther?” Yolly asks Alek. “I’ll thtrip her back for you, that I will, if she wath.”
Alyard taps the tankard with his finger, the metal of his lobstered gauntlet ringing off against the vessel. He watches Alek converse with the mistress, idly tapping away as they speak.
Alek frowns lightly, but looks at the mistress. “No, my lady. She was not.” He says, turning to his tankard, taking it in one hand. “Another question, if you please.” He says, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. “In the past few days, have you seen a group of Goodbrooks, Bulwers and Meadows pass through?” He asks. “Perhaps escorting a young man with hair as golden as this coin?” He asks, removing another dragon from his pocket.
Ammon nods his head sagely towards Albin; takes another drink. “Arion, eh? I met an Arion just the other day while I was talking with Ser Alek here. An upjumped ass of a lad, if you ask me. I wish you’d beaten him - and once for me! Remember what I told you, Albin. ‘Don’t forget your feet.’ Kick this Arion once in the stones and that’ll do for him.”
“Meadowtheth go through all the time,” shrugs Yolly, though she watches the play of light on the golden coin. “We’re on the way to Grathy Vale. Lately they all wear helmth on their headth.” She shrugs again, her great breasts heaving up and falling down again. “Can’t thee the hair when they do that.”
Glancing up at Yolly and then down to her breasts for a fleeting moment, Alyard rolls his eyes and has another sip as Alek tries to extract some information from her. Eventually speaks quietly. “Your Meadows won’t find out you spoke, you will keep /the rest/ of those lovely teeth, I assure you.” His soothing tones hide any mocking. A quick glance around, this time for any potential Meadows whisperers sat in the Taproom.
“Are you positive, now?” He says, now twirling the coin between his fingers, the gold catching the light of the setting sun. “Perhaps you have seen a man by the name of Longaxe, then?” He asks, smiling as he watches the woman’s eyes fix on the golden glint. “See, we’re friends of his, and it is /very/ important that we catch back up with him. He’s quite famous around here, isn’t he? Surely you would know Ser Kendros Longaxe?” The gold twirls again. He shoots a glare to Alyard. “Ser Alyard! Where the hells are your manners, threatening a host!” He scolds.
Albin looks confused, the lad taking a sip of ale. “It was Barion, my lord.” He says, quietly. “With a B.”
“Ther Kendroth,” Yolly says with great venom; she turns and spits into the dirt floor. “He got my eldeth daughter with a bathtard and she drowned herthelf when he didn’t claim it!” She spits again, then downs the rest of her ale. “More of the black flower ale, girl!” she shouts at the harried serving maid, who bobs—again—and brings another tankard for the mistress.
Ammon stops the tankard halfway to his lips as his eyes catch the gold and his ears catch the tone. He brings the tankard slowly back to the table and mutters under his breath to Albin. “Arion, right. But now it’s Longaxe.” And Ammon promptly ignores the other squire.
Alek grins lightly. “Did he now? Well, that /is/ interesting.” He glances back to Alyard. “Has he passed through here recently? Perhaps you can recall where he rode?” Again, the coin is moving between the old lion’s fingers. He glances back at his fellows. “I do not like to see my friends commit offences to anyone. If we knew where he was, we could bring him to justice.”
Alyard quietly sips at his drink again, letting Alek go ahead with the questioning for a few moments. A little froth clings to his stubble until he wipes it away with a gauntlet, the droplets smearing across the shiny steel. The mention of Kendros getting Yolly’s daughter with a bastard causes him to clench his teeth briefly, involuntarily, a distant memory serving to rile him somewhat. “We cannot return your daughter, we might put a sword in his belly in place of the bastard he put in your girl.” He offers, that wry grin reappearing again as he speaks.
“Toward Grathy Vale,” Yolly says, looking perplexed now. The girl brings more ale, even for Alek, so that he has two tankards before him now. “It’th where he liveth, you know.” She points over the fence, where the river roads wends its way along the bank. “That way.”
She grins at Alyard then, her missing tooth a black stain in her smile. “Drink more of my ale and leave me lotth of good coin and I’ll be happy I will.”
Ammon’s eyes narrow as he looks thoughtfully towards the pendulous bosom before him. He scratches his chin and leans towards the Reyne knight, whispering….
Ammon whispers to Alek, “Ask her how many men Longaxe has. And how well they are armed and provisioned.”
Alek leans back as the Massey squire hisses something into his ear. He nods. “One more thing, my lady.” He says. “Last you saw Longaxe, how many men did he have with him?” He asks, the coin still rolling between his mailed fingers. “And did they seem well?”
Simply raising his tankard to the woman, Alyard takes a long draught and sets it down. “My broth and bread, if you would.” He adds, leaning back a little.
There are many men enjoying the ale tonight, and the girl, her brown hair straggling down onto her shoulders, is run off her feet. Yolly, meanwhile, is looking at her fingers and frowning. “How many?” she echoes Alek, curling a finger here, unfurling another there. “I dunno, ther. I don’t count too high. I’ve the ten fingerth, thee, and the eleven toes. It was more than ten and eleven. No one looked ill, but I wath brewing that day, tho I didn’t thee everyone to count ‘em. Tippy poled the ferry over and back at leatht that many timeth. Ten timeth and eleven timeth. At leatht that many.” She grins again, apparently proud of herself.
Then, that coin is flicked towards the mistress to catch, should she be quick enough to catch the glinting gold. Alek smiles. “Thank you for the information, kind lady. You have given me all the information I need. Now, if you please, my companion here is like to waste away if you do not bring his broth to him!”
Likewise, Ammon leans back in his seat and takes up his tankard once again. Not to be outdone by his goodbrother, he drains the tankard in one long pull - and chokes on it as Lolly speaks. “My….Apol…ogies,” he says contritely between coughs.
Quite thankful now that Yolly doesn’t make wine, the thought of eleven toes pressing the grapes /almost/ seeing off his appetite. He shivers at the thought and doesn’t quite make eye contact with the wench again. He does nod politely as Alek confirms again that he is waiting for food. “We have similar numbers then, though the garrison will boast more.” He says to the Old Lion as he has a little more ale, dragging the drink out.
Yolly is quick enough; she plucks the coin out of the air, bites it, then drops it into her cleavage. “Girl! Bring the broth and the bread!” Poor girl. She hops to it, though, and a moment later Alyard has what he asked for, right there. Yolly pats her on the back. “More ale, lovey, all the ale they want.”
Alek grins, finally taking his ale, the Reyne knight drinking down most of that first tankard in a few long gulps, sighing, and relaxing back into his chair. He grins to his fellows. “Well, this lay by has proved most intriguing, has it not?”
Ammon does not reply to Ser Alek. His gaze is still for Yolly - her feet now, rather than her breasts - but he quickly looks up to her eyes. “And when did you last see Longaxe, my lady?” he asks.
“Aye, we now know Josmyn is being taken to the home of the men that took him, that and I now know a woman with eleven toes.” Alyard replies with a grin before ripping a bit of bread, dipping it in the broth and tossing it into his mouth.
The men have drunk deeply, eaten well, and some have even managed to catch the eye of a village wench or two. But there is another sort of activity going on, less salubrious. One man, then another, then several, fart with the sort of rumbling squelch that bodes ill for the night; now a pair of them leap to their feet and go staggering out of the taproom enclosure into the darkness, where those seated along the fence can hear the nasty sound of someone evacuating his bowels in a hurry. And from the sounds of things, they will not be alone in this.
Alek looks down at his tankard, then at the other men, his lip curling ever so slightly. “I have suddenly slaked my thirst.” He comments.
When the men start farting, Yolly shakes her head. “You’re too truthting, you are,” she says to Alek. “We are Meadowth people here, and Kendroth Longakth loveth my ale and my daughter both,” she adds, nodding toward the harried serving girl, who waves at Alek. “You might get off eathy,” Yolly goes on, looking toward Alek’s largely undrunk ale, “but some of thethe chapth are going to be theeing purple thquirrels before the morning cometh!”
Ammon has drank his fair share; he was one of the first men across the river. His stomach rumbles loudly as he looks around: first at the men running for the woods and then at Lolly. “You eleven-toed bitch,” he slurs. “You’ve poisoned us!” And with that he’s up and over the fence, running with all haste towards the forest.
Alek sighs. “Well played.” The old lion comments. “So, even the smallfolk turn against the Tyrells, eh?” He stands, turning to Yolly. “Meadows, eh? Well, another thing is now clear. Lord Meadows is not innocent in this.” He scowls. “Now, I wonder how many men it would take to put this place to the torch?”
Alyard upends his tankard, even now that wry grin remains on his face as he stands, looming over Yolly in his shining plate. He leans in, whispering. “If you were a man and not some toothless wench I would slit your throat here, mayhaps you would like to watch as I make young Tippy pay in your place?”
“We do what our lord tellth uth to do!” wails Yolly, covering her head with her fleshy arms so that her bosom is even more prominent. “Your thmallfolk would do the thame if you told them to! You let my poor Tippy alone!”
“Let the wench alone, ser.” Alek says, voice now devoid of all humour. “And if you wish your daughter to remain Longaxe’s, I suggest you hand over my gold.” Alek says, his green eyes narrowing.
Yolly roots around in her cleavage, cowering like a hunted dog now as she flings the gold back at Alek. “I’ve gold,” she says defensively. “I don’t need filthy coin from the men who killed poor Ser Obyn!” At that name, a wailing goes up from the villagers who are still watching, most of the cowering in fear over their audacity.
Alyard’s curved lips hide any ill will or feeling at all for the woman or her wailing, almost devoid of emotion. “My smallfolk would use clubs and axes, not poison, now answer my companion’s questions again, truthfully, and Tippy will remain above water.” Alyard turns and looks to Alek as he gives him an order. He smirks, lifting a hand to brush a stray lock of hair behind his ear. He leans in and whispers something to Alek before stepping away. “She is all yours, ser…” With that he steps out into the darkness.
Alyard whispers to Alek, “... you ... ...”
Alek catches his gold, stowing it back in his pocket as he rests his hand on the hilt of his dirk. “I am a fair man, and a man of my word. Ser Obyn’s death was an accident.” He says, “One that has been repaid in the eyes of the gods, the Tyrells and the crown.” He looks about. “And that is the truth.” He smirks at Alyard’s whisper, leaning back to reply.
Alek whispers to Alyard, “... ... not, ... may ... all ... ... but ... to ... ...”
Yolly squats down in the mud and stubbornly says nothing now. “I already told all the truth,” she says. “You have to go now. Get out of my taproom.”
“Very well.” Alek says, looking down at Yolly. “Since I am seen to be so… Trusting, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt. Smallfolk work for their lords, after all, and I do not blame you.” He turns on his heel. “If, however, this information proves to be false.” He looks to the wench’s daughter. “Well, I cannot make any promises, I’m afraid.” And with that, the Reyne knight moves to leave, his squire trailing out, looking pale.