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The heat of the day outside is hardly felt in the Hand’s audience chamber. Seated upon a high-backed seat, behind a dark desk covered with parchments, the Hand is at work doing the realm’s business. The matter before him will, no doubt, be an imposition on his duty and those who have had the chance to impose on such before know that he does not take it kindly.
An attendant ushers the three in, while Prince Viserys puts his seal on a scroll.
Stiff and silent, Ser Almer Connington stands as if made of stone. He has chosen simple raiment of red and black, as austere as the expression upon his hard features. The tall young knight from the Stormlands shows the signs of his recent encounter with Ser Dagur; his left wrist bound tightly… an angry cut on his cheek… a bruised lip.
One of the trio is an elegantly garbed Elanna Penrose, all in red, gold and black, her features schooled into a composed pale mask, not looking at all intimidated, despite the hands that clutch at her skirts, whiteknuckled, as she draws them back to dip into a deep curtsey. Her eyes seek the ground, pausing there, perhaps waiting for permission to rise.
Clad in his customary black—save that in deference to the occasion he wears a rich sable cloak as well, the silver serpent that is his sigil writhing on its back—the ironman pauses before the Hand’s seat. The thin cut that snakes its way across his cheekbone has faded but is visible yet; far more so is the bruised lip and, like, the Connington knight, a bound hand.
He too, waits in silence and there is something in the way he holds himself, canted slightly to one side, that hints at discomfort.
Setting aside the scroll, Prince Viserys regards the two miscreant knights with a cool, steady gaze. Nigh a minute passes before at last he says, “I would know which of you is to blame for this folly.”
Elanna rises and folds her hands before her, blue gaze watchful upon the Hand. It seems she waits for either of the men to speak first.
“If it is the sparring you mean, my lord Hand,” replies the ironman impassively, “that would be both of us. Although it seemed to me more swordplay than folly.”
“If you mean the matter in the Small Council Tower”—he begins to shrug, then checks himself with a faint grimace—“that would be mine. I pressed him hard there.”
Almer shoots a furtive glance over at the ironman, then frowns faintly at the Hand of the King. “It was a simple exercise at arms,” he agrees. “Things escalated, perhaps.”
“But I think this is mostly a misunderstanding,” he says diplomatically. “Saltcliffe was merely trying to gain an advantage.”
“‘Perhaps,’ ser?” Viserys asks, hard eyes staring at Connington. But he does not wait for an answer, instead looking to the third person ushered into the room. “My thanks for your attendance, Lady Elanna,” he says to the woman, inclining his head with precise courtesy. “I have it from Lord Arryn that you seemed to have witnessed this whole matter. As these two ... knights ... seem not to take the matter seriously, mayhaps you would be so kind as to say what you saw, and what you made of it.”
Elanna returns his regard with a bow of her head. “My thanks for allowing my attendance,” her voice is smooth as she speaks, “The Lord Arryn was correct, I was in attendance from the time that both decided to take up arms against the other. As I have been lead to believe, both are excellent swordsmen and wished to try out each others competence at arms, and its seems..to settle the matter of it.” She turns her head to eye first Dagur, then Almer.
“They were well matched, my prince,” she observes softly, “With neither one nor the other gaining much ground. I believe that they were so entirely intent on one gaining the hand upon the other, that they did not even realise. Indeed, it was within moments of entering the council tower that their bout was stayed as each lay a blade upon the other at equal time. The interruption by Ser Sarmion occured only after the bout seemed…ended.” She shrugs lightly.
“I truly think it is as they have said, your excellency, so intent were they upon their bout, that their surrounds faded away. Perhaps this is why they stand before you now, and lay not buried with so many of our kinsmen.” And thus…she takes a breath and pauses.
Throughout Elanna’s explanation, Almer continues to stare stonily ahead. In truth, the knight looks weary; dark circles under his eyes and a wan pallour to his complexion speak of sleepless nights.
He says nothing, and does not stir at all.
On his part, the ironman merely gives Elanna a long, considering look before turning back to the Hand.
A grimace touches Viserys’s lips, though it disappears nearly as quickly as it appears. “I see. You have my thanks twice over, Lady Elanna.” His dark purple eyes return to the two men, his bushy brows beetled over them. And at last, a sigh escapes him. “I had thought men come from Dorne would be wiser than when they left. I seem to have been wrong—or neither of you were wise before you went to Dorne, and are not much improved. But you are men, either way, and not boys. I will not scold you, sers.” That seems hopeful enough, but his next words put an end to such hope. “But I will punish you. Ser Dagur, have you a squire?”
“A squire?” the ironman frowns. “No, my lord. An ironborn knight and a sellsword company do not go well with a squire.”
Connington seems more curious than anything, despite the damning edict from the Prince; he looks at Dagur silently, sparing a quick, questioning glance for the lady.
Elanna bows, and back away, perhaps a little further from the Ironborn knight than the Stormland. Her sapphirine gaze meets Almer’s with a slight frown.
Sounding neither pleased nor displeased at this news, Viserys casually remarks, “I see.” He glances to Almer, and then states matter-of-factly, eyes already beginning to drift down to the edicts and accounts and other such things on his desk now that he seems to have found himself a satisfactory solution. “It seems Ser Almer has need of a few orpans boys to be placed, as pages and squires. His lord father had asked for assistance in this matter. You shall take two or three of them, I think, ser, for your own.”
His eyes narrowing, Almer listens to the Hand’s decree in silence. But he nods to himself, and the stiffness in his posture relaxes a bit; apparently this turn of events, at least, is not unwelcome to him.
Where the Hand’s obvious displeasure had failed to find a chink in the ironman’s impassive demeanour, this does. “Squires? Two or three of them?”—and startlement is writ clear on his face and in his voice. “That is…”
And then he reigns himself in, hissing between his teeth before inclining his head woodenly, “As you say, my lord Hand.”
With no part in these proceedings, Elanna merely nods slightly at the edict, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
“Very well, so. You shall bear all responsibility for them,” the Hand says, emphasizing the last words. Then his gaze turns to Almer, and he considers the man. Viserys is a perceptive man and, taking note of the way his posture relaxed, he states, “As for you, ser. Lord Athell is a good and loyal servant to His Grace, and I will not shame him by any obvious punishment.” A long pause, and then he states, “You are a man of deeds, so we shall deny them to you for the nonce. You will bear no weapons in the Red Keep for a fortnight, ser. Instead, during that time, you shall be providing assistance to Beron Buckwell, one of the King’s Scales. He has need of a man of your single-minded nature to assist him in examining weights and scales throughout the city, to make sure they measure true.”
A tiny sound comes from Elanna. But to glance upon her one would only see a serene face…though her eyes are wryly amused.
His jaw clenching in barely concealed irritation, Almer’s eyes flash for an instant. He considers his words carefully.
“If that is the Hand’s judgment.” It is more a flat statement of fact than a submission of will, but he inclines his head in acceptance. At the faint noise from the Penrose widow, the griffin knight’s eyes flicker again.
“Now leave me, sers,” the Hand says, waving a dismissive hand while his eyes search back to some edict or other before him. “I will have no more time taken up with your foolishness. If this should happen again, however, I will not go so lightly.” He does take a moment to glance up to Elanna and nod his head to her, brusque but at least remembering his courtesies. “I am sorry you had need to witness any of this, Lady Elanna. Again, my thanks. Fare well.”
Elanna’s eyes twinkle mercilessly as she rests her gaze upon the Connington knight. She deeply curtsies again to Viserys.
“Thankyou, my Prince, it was no trouble at all,” and thus rising she sweeps from the room with a whisper of silk and her posture straight.
Again the ironman inclines his head—and then he turns and strides from the hall without waiting to see what becomes of the other two, his footsteps ringing loud and firm upon the stone.
“My lord,” Almer echoes Dagur, and strides after the others. Already is unbuckling the sword belt from around his hips. Through the open door the wispy form of Rease Trant, his squire, can be seen; he knight tosses sword and scabbard to the bewildered boy as he stalks out.
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