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The noon hour has come and gone in desultory silence. A heavy mist hangs over the Kingswood, and in particular over the rude village in which the survivors of the Sun Pearl’s foundering find themselves. Perhaps it is the mist that has kept the promised men from arriving, for they are not yet here and the ladies are left waiting and praying.
Reyna Saltcliffe sits on a stump with her back to their shack, legs crossed under her. She is humming softly, a hymn to the Seven, and attempting with strips of muslin from her skirts to prevent her tattered, shoulder-baring gown from baring anything more.
Liane has been active, or as active as she can be within the bounds of the village and the watchfulness of her guards. She’s explored the entire perimeter, made a survey of whatever wildlife ventures to the edges of the village, and probably counted the inhabitants ten times over - as much because they aren’t exactly holding still for counting as to establish a number. Now, she’s gone to the edge of the woods, and seems to be considering large sticks of varying width and length, humming under her breath.
Carmella has been given Ser Giles’ cloak to wear over her shoulders, but she presents an odd image, of her skirts are still tied up around her upper legs amid complaints that the skirts bother the scraped along her shins and knees. Sariah has busied herself with trying to weave together lengths of dried grass, but the efforts are futile. She’s been at it for hours and what she’s made is barely the size of a small platter. As the Dondarrion walks past Reyna she gives the woman a hopeful smile as she moves towards Liane. “And sign of Marian and Elyn yet?”
“I think it’s safe to assume that they’ve deserted us,” Reyna replies with a hard edge to her voice as she rises. Her own skirts have been tied up at her knees, dipping down front and back but out of the mud that squelches between her bare toes as she follows Carmella. She coughs as she goes, the damp and the cool nights of mist and fog catching up to her.
“It’s not really abandoning us, is it?” Liane asks, considering a stick about two feet long and five inches across. “There are two of them, so each can corroborate the other’s story about whether or not they were raped. And there’s more than one of each of us here, too. Perhaps they’ll make it through.” Her voice is hoarse, and if she’s not coughing now, there were those sorts of noises coming from her last night.
“I still think it’s foolish,” Carmella says, her own voice dull and lacking the usual warmth. “I don’t care if they’re northerners and grew up in the woods. One could easily get lost out there. I prefer to be able to see the sky,” she says, tilting her head to look up at the mist that hangs over them. She frowns at it and looks back at Liane and then Reyna. “You know what I mean,” she scowls and hugs the cloak tighter around her.
“I meant abandoning us as in they are skilled healers, and they have been tending our hurts. Rosalind knows what she’s about, but she’s hurt as well, and feverish with it.” Reyna holds her hands out, examining the reddened skin, the broken nails where some have bled, the scratches and scrapes. But she doesn’t complain about them; she only sighs and drops them to her sides. She offers Carmella a wan smile. “I know what you mean,” she says gently.
“If we were in Dorne…” Liane’s hypothetical just trails off with a sigh, and she abandons her current stick in favor of moving a few feet along. “Well. Here we are, and I suppose we’ve done all we can. Who is this Starveling fellow, anyhow?” she asks curiously.
Carmella sighs and looks out towards the woods before she offers an answer to the Uller woman. “I don’t know much about him myself, only that he’s the most notorious outlaw in the Kingswood. Hundreds of men at his command, he’s ruthless and vile and has no love for any kind of civilized life.” She pauses. “At least, those are what they say, I don’t know if it is the truth but I don’t wish to find out myself either.”
“Starion Flowers,” Reyna scowls, as if she’s just eaten something nasty. “Lord Joslon Beesbury’s second bastard son. I don’t know all that much of him, save that he was always just bad. Lord Beesbury disowned him ages ago, and he’s been the Starveling ever since. He was a menace in the Reach, but he’s an outright vile bastard now. Loves nothing so much as raping, plundering and spilling blood. Or so Almer’s told me.”
“Anything about his history? Why he does what he does?” Liane muses, even as she leans down to pick up another stick, thinner than the first, but longer, too. “Although I suppose if he was disowned, he has to feed himself somehow, and better by preying on innocents here than risking his life against real enemies in Dorne. I wish I’d paid more attention to Alyx’s ramblings about her lover,” she grimaces.
Carmella shakes her head and looks over towards Reyna who obviously knows more about this man than she does. “I’m not educated in the ways of outlaws, Liane,” she admits, though it certainly isn’t something that most young ladies would be schooled in. She leans over and picks up one of the discarded sticks and idly turns it between her fingers, simply for something to do. “When you say Alyx, do you mean the one the reports refer to as the Witch?” The question comes after a bit of silence, as Carmella’s thoughts drift from place to place and her eyes look without really seeing much.
“Being disowned needn’t mean turning to banditry,” Reyna says touchily—thinking, no doubt, of her disowned husband. She looks up sharply at mention of the Witch, however. “The one on the Boneway?” she asks curiously—then looks just as sharply into the mist. “Did you hear that?”
“She’s a cousin, of sorts,” Liane answers Carmella with a faint smile. “A little queer, but she was something of a friend when I was in Sunspear. Too young to go with the rest of us most of the time, though. Which is probably why she got a bit queer,” she muses, as though the thought has just occurred to her. She pauses at Reyna’s question, tipping her head and looking in the direction Reyna’s turned. “I didn’t hear anything,” she says slowly.
Carmella nods to Liane and murmurs quietly. “I remember Joss mentioning her a time or two.” She pauses and gets a quizzical look on her face before she amends that. “Or it might have been Serion, I ... I don’t recall,” comes slower as she she’s actively searching her memory for that particular discussion. The growing frustration in her eyes suggests that she finds no answer.
“I didn’t either,” Carmella says, drawn out of her own thoughts by Reyna’s question. “But it is probably just one of the men keeping guard. Or one of those damned skinny chickens,” she says with a shudder.
“They may be skinny,” Reyna replies, dismissing the phantom sound, “but I’d give a hundred dragons to have one stewed into a good strong broth.” And she coughs harshly, no doubt the reason for that particular wish.
A moment later, the sound of singing comes in bits through the fog: “With a hey and a ho away home we go!” And slowly, a number of men begin emerging from the fog to converge on the tiny village.
“I never paid much attention to what she said about Rhyse,” Liane grimaces to Carmella before she stiffens at the sound of song. “I heard that,” she murmurs, tucking the current stick behind her back in the ragged edge of her skirts even as she backs toward Reyna. She watches the entering men, expression closed, though there’s a measuring tilt to her chin, cautious and wary.
Unless the chickens have adopted some magical ability of song, then it certainly isn’t the skinny birds out in the mists. Like Liane, Carmella stiffens at the first words of the song and at the emerging shapes in the mists. “Oh Seven,” she breathes, taking a step back. Her fingers tighten around the stick in her hand, though it is a poor weapon at best.
“Well, well, well,” croons one of the men, a lean and weathered fellow with a hard eye. “The birds sang true!” He leers at the three women appraisingly, then shoos them back toward the village proper. “Let’s see all of you, then. Men as well. And put them sticks down. What d’you think you’re gonna do, poke our eyes out?” And the men all laugh as if in high good humor.
Reyna draws back as well. “We’d best go back,” she murmurs, watching the men all the way to the door of their shack.
Liane gives the stick in her hand a little spin - one that shows at least /some/ knowledge of how to use it - before opening her palm and letting it fall with a small smile. As she’s done so many times in King’s Landing, she says nothing to the men, merely bobbing a polite curtsey before turning and walking, unhurried, back towards the ladies little camp.
Carmella seems to be watching Liane and following her lead. Though her fingers are white-knuckled around the stick in her hand she drops it shortly after Liane does. There is a look of disappointment in her eyes though as it falls with a dull sound. With her other hand she grips at the cloak around her shoulders and slowly begins backing up towards the shack, not willing to completely turn her back on these strange men.
“Now then,” the leader—for so he seems to be—says as the other ladies come warily out of the shack. “You can call me Chett, for that’s my name. Now, I’ll have yours of you. I’m told we’ve a lion and a rose, a direwolf and a hell-bitch. And some other lessers, as well. We’ll turn a pretty ransom for you girls, we will. So stand for’ard and name yourselves.”
Reyna swallows hard and glances at Liane and Carmella sidewise. Then she steps forward and raises her chin. “I am Reyna Tyrell, sister to the Lord of the Reach. You -will- regret this.”
“Liane Uller, of Hellholt,” Liane answers the man, a faint smile of wry amusement tugging at one corner of her lips. “I’m afraid I’m fresh out of terrifying relatives to threaten you with, though. Half are dead and the rest are otherwise occupied.”
Carmella steps forward as well and releases her grip on the cloak in an attempt to not look quite so terrified. “Lady Carmella Dondarrion of Blackhaven,” she says in a rough voice. “One of the lessers,” she adds with a touch of bitterness to that. She refrains from offering threats of her own, uncertain if they’d actually be worth anything.
“Mind your tongue, Rose,” snaps Chett, patting Reyna’s cheek none too kindly. “Your brother’s in Dorne, isn’t he? And you, Uller. Keep a civil tongue.” And he twists the end of Liane’s nose, glaring. He listens to the other introductions, his frown deepening. “There’s Lady Lion there,” he says, prodding Kellyn. “But where is the direwolf?”
Reyna flinches from Chett’s hand, and looks to the other ladies. “I… she must be… sleeping.”
Liane winces slightly at the tweak, leaning back and rubbing a hand over her nose once it’s released. At the question, she keeps her civil tongue in silence, crossing her arms loosely over her chest.
Carmella bites on her tongue and begins looking concerned again as the man dares lay hands on the ladies. She keeps a wary eye on the strangers while at the same time trying not to look afraid. It’s not working very well.
“My arse!” Chett shoves Reyna aside into Liane, then grabs Carmella by the upper arms. “Where… is… the… STARK!” he roars furiously, shaking her with each word. And around the women, his men close in menacingly.
“We woke up this morning and she was gone, ser,” Liane answers the man’s question in a calm, measured voice after a half stumble when Reyna is shoved into her, placing her hands lightly on the other woman’s shoulders. “We simply assumed she was out using the latrines, or in another part of the village. Perhaps she still is. Ser,” she adds with precise politeness.
There’s a strangled squeal from Carmella as the man grabs her and she bites down harder, this time drawing blood. Droplets of it darken her lips as she speaks. “Wha ... What Li ... Liane says,” she tells the man shaking her. “We ... we don’t know ... where ... she is.”
Not what the man wants to hear. He shoves Carmella harshly aside and swings a backhand toward Liane. “I’m no ser! Lying little whores, tricky bitches!” He looks at each of the women in turn, the malice in his eyes easy for even the simplest to read. “Perhaps you do not realize the position you darlings are in. You are ours. We can ransom you, or we might just make sport with you. Not much you can do, eh?”
Liane shakes her head slightly, stumbling half a step back at the backhand and licking blood from a split lip. “Not particularly, no,” she agrees with Chett. “Though I expect you could make sport for days with whores who know what they’re doing for what the people back at King’s Landing would pay for our return.” Her voice is a bit thick, the words a little slurred as she tries to avoid the tender lip. “As for the direwolf, I’m sure you and your men can find her easily, here in your home territory,” she adds deferentially.
“Much nicer having a wench who’s never had it before,” leers one of the other men, reaching out to slide a lock of Carmella’s hair through his fingers—and hoping to graze a breast as well, judging by the direction of his hand. Chett smiles at Liane. “You see the way of it. We don’t want to wait that long.”
More blood flies from Carmella’s lips as she’s flung to the side without a chance to try and catch herself. Instead one of the other men is happy to catch her, tangling his disgusting fingers into her hair and down to graze against her breast. She scowls at him and even makes to slap him away, spitting blood on him, though that part is likely unintentional. “There are those that would kill you for that,” she hisses at him.
“Two days.” Liane tips her head to one side, voice still calm despite the change to her words as she tries to negotiate. “Give us two days, and allow us to send the men on to King’s Landing. I don’t imagine they’d be as much fun as we would anyhow, and then someone would have to spend time keeping them restrained, as well. Unless one of you prefers men, but it’s not something I’ve noticed as common here,” she muses, looking from face to face. “You’re more likely to get the money and no trouble that way, really, rather than a few days of fun followed by weeks of trouble.”
“They’re not here, are they, love?” the smelly man says to Carmella, giving her a cuddle and licking her ear before releasing her roughly with a clout to the head. Reyna steps forward and puts her own arms around the younger girl, glaring.
But she can’t protect Liane from Chett, who swings another fist at her. “Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you. And no, my little hellcat. Your men will be tied to yon trees before we’ll let ‘em go to rat us out. My own men will serve as messenger.”
Carmella turns her head away but can’t escape the man’s tongue to her ear and she looks as if she’s about to lose her meager breakfast. When released she stumbles into Reyna’s arms, but tosses the man a glare that would kill if but given the chance.
Liane doesn’t stand still for this blow, leaning back and pushing at Chett’s arm so that his fist hits her shoulder rather than her face, wincing, but not stumbling. “As you wish, Master Chett,” she says after a moment, managing a polite tone through clenched teeth. Her right arm hangs a little limp, numbed by the blow, but she doesn’t raise her other hand to her shoulder.
“That’s better. So. You’ll stay here in your palace,” Chett says, making a grand gesture toward the shack. “And we will send our demands. You’re safe—for now. But get mouthy—” and he nods at Liane “—or too noble—” a nod to Reyna “—and you’ll suffer.” He grabs Reyna by the front of her bodice; an obliging rip affords him a view down the front of her gown and he smiles. “Kinda hope you all misbehave, myself.” And he shoves her away.
Carmella continues to glare at the threats as blood dribbles from the corner of her mouth. However, there is a gasp and she does reach to pull Reyna back as Chett yanks her forward. “That’ll be the last time you touch her,” she says in some odd effort to suggest that they will behave.
Liane bites down on the inside of her cheek, forcing a faint smile toward the man. Though she says nothing, her curtsey is awfully courtly and polite for the situation.
“That would be a pity,” replies Chett, stroking Carmella’s cheek. “You’re all quite lovely, despite your distress. Pity indeed.” He clucks his tongue, and then the men begin to disperse to various tasks about the village. But while they may look busy, they are very watchful of their guests.
As soon as the scrutiny is off, Reyna looks at her companions with a very pale face. “I hope we’re not in over our heads,” she coughs, raising a tattered unattached bit of her skirt to Carmella’s lip.
Liane brushes the back of her hand across the corner of her mouth, her smile fading to a grimace when Chett walks away. “Everyone all right?” she asks quietly, finally reaching up a hand to rub at her shoulder, rolling it back a bit.
Carmella waits until the men have turned away before she wipes vigorously at her ear where the man had licked her. “I’ve been better,” she admits dryly, wiping her hand against her cloak. “I think I bit my tongue though,” she adds, tentatively sticking it out and going cross-eyed to look at it. It’s a lovely shade of crimson red.
“I know Rosalind has things,” Reyna says vaguely, offering another tattered piece of muslin to Liane. “But I don’t know what to do with them. Oh, your poor faces.” Tears spring to her eyes, but she blinks them back. “We must try to stay out of their way and trust that our own men will come…”
“I’m fine,” Liane assures Reyna, though her shoulder moves stiffly and the rag still comes away stained with blood. “I suspect these men can’t be very high up in this bandit organization, though. If there is one. They clearly don’t think far enough in advance. Which could be good if the leadership actually shows up, or bad if no one does.”
“I just don’t want them… hurting us. More.” Reyna swallows and sits down on a stump. “I haven’t your knack for defiance, Liane. I’m just scared out of my mind.”
“I tried to run in Dorne,” Liane confesses, sitting down next to the stump and leaning back against it. “Alyx and I had a plan. Obviously, Alyx made it. And I didn’t. Really, this whole thing is much easier to deal with when it isn’t compounded by the realization that your entire kingdom is being conquered. Or wondering how they’ll couch the terms of your rape, or lock you in a tower.” There’s a dull practicality to her words, her voice low.
“Did they hurt you when they took you?” Reyna asks Liane gently, glad of something else to discuss. “They paint us pretty pictures here, you know, as if we can’t be trusted with truth. Everyone but Dagur, I think, and even he protects me from a great deal.”
“Not particularly,” Liane answers with a faint grimace, then sighs. “To be honest, there was someone blocking the escape route I was going to use, and I didn’t even see them until too late. By the time I thought of a way to get around them, it was morning, and the whole thing was worthless. Alyx was always better at sneaking around than I was.”
Carmella had disappeared for a few minutes, going behind the shack after finding a cup of water. On her return her lips look clean and the blood is likewise gone from the back of her hand. But she certainly looks nothing like her normal self.
Reyna is silent a moment, looking at her ravaged hands, once so soft and white. Finally, she looks up at the Uller. “You must hate us,” she says softly, holding one of those red, rough hands out to Carmella. “For bringing you war and death, and then bringing you here.”
“You?” Liane arches a brow, looking between Reyna and Carmella as she rubs at her shoulder. “That would be stupid of me. /You/ didn’t start the war in Dorne. You didn’t take us hostage. You aren’t likely to push me into some arranged marriage. As for coming here, it’s still the most fresh air and the least walls I’ve had in months,” she says ruefully. She looks away then, still rubbing her shoulder. “I can’t stand small spaces,” she finally confides in a near whisper.
“Just my brother,” Reyna replies bitterly, hesitating only a breath before putting her arm around the Uller heiress. “And my husband…” she sighs, then smiles over at Carmella. “I suppose I understand. It would be like hating Carmella because an Yronwood killed my Colyn.”
Carmella takes Reyna’s hands as she moves quietly back towards the other two women. They barely hold her attention, for she’s looking around at the rest of the village - what can be seen from here - waiting for the men to return. “It’ll all be over soon,” she says quietly, looking back to Liane and Reyna, though she could be talking about their current situation or the war itself.
“Not to mention it accomplishes about as much as protesting the way these gentlemen are treating us,” Liane adds to Reyna with a rueful smile and a tip of her chin toward the men. “I could kick and scream all I wanted. It wouldn’t get me anywhere.” She holds out a hand to Carmella, giving her shoulder another slight roll. “Whatever happens, we’ll survive,” she promises quietly.
With her free hand, Reyna takes Liane’s free hand. “At least we’re together. It’s something. I don’t think I’d survive if I were all alone. I hate being alone almost as much as I hate sailing. I’m a coward at heart. A desperate awful coward.” But she smiles despite it all.
Carmella slips her other hand in Liane’s and smiles at the Uller woman. “And all of this aside,” she says, nodding her chin towards the village and the men keeping them here, “I’m glad you were permitted the trip. I know what it is like to have a large sky above you and sometimes I miss that within the Keep.” She then looks in another direction, towards where they first arrived. “I just hope someone finds us soon. I don’t want their hands on me.”
Liane twists a faint smile at Reyna. “Well, it’s likely to keep your skin on your bones a good deal longer than bravery will do for me,” she observes quietly. “We’re all in here together, though. And hopefully someone will find us soon,” she agrees.
“Next time, we will go to Highgarden with a proper escort and lie about in the roses being pampered and petted,” promises the Rose with a wistful smile. “And I won’t let them touch you, Carmella, if I can help it. No one would be surprised if something like that happened to me.” Her voice fades into bitterness as she lets go the hands she holds and rises. “We should rest while we can. They wanted us all in the shack, anyway.” She touches the girls on their shoulders as she passes, and is soon gone into the shack, trying to hold the bodice of her gown up.
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