- Raven: Tywin will arrive in 3 days
- Mycroft calls knights to secure fringes
- Ser Bryce’s trial
- Knights set out to lure out bandits
- Knights slaughter bandits
The morning had dawned clear and damp, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer, but Aelyn was not cold practicing in the yard. Lord Mycroft had gathered the knights returning from their patrols since the day before. The last to return was Ser Meyon, who speaks to those not seen by others. It was whispered by some that he had been touched by one of the Gods, others whispered that he was simply “touched” in the head.
The maester had not shared the message with Aelyn, but she was certain it was the raven from Casterly rock a night before, the only reason Lord Mycroft would keep his knights from the lawless fringes. They gathered in Lord Mycroft’s solar in Afallon tower, but Aelyn could not make out any of the details before septa Loreen found her and gave her to Large Maudge to prepare her for supper.
Aelyn’s squalid hair betrayed her day’s activities to Large Maudge. Aelyn was stripped and dumped into a tub of scalding water despite her resistance. Faye and Eloise joined Maudge in flaying her with brushes, and a defeated Aelyn sunk into the tub, her hair spread like roots of a tree on the surface of the water.
When the trio of women were done with Aelyn, her hair was once again silver as white moonlight, running down her matching pale skin to the small of her back. “Your hair is so pretty”, Eloise attempted to make conversation as she took the knots out of Aelyn’s hair. “You are too kind”, Aelyn selected a practiced response.
Aelyn knew what they were really thinking, about her dark blue lips, the dark blue ring about her eyes, her freakishly pale skin, the ghostly white hair she hated so much. If only I could be normal, Aelyn thought to herself as she clenched her fist so her black nails would dig themselves into her palm and ever be seen again.
Everyone pretended not to see, Lord Mycroft made sure of it, but not everyone had the gift for acting. Aelyn heard the whispers about her, no one could save her from that, and she kept to herself save for a few people in Monmouth. Oftimes, Aelyn felt as if the Stranger understood her more than anyone ever could staring into the black eyes of the Stranger in the sept.
Large Maudge decided on a simple but elegant blue and white gown for Aelyn tonight,“Seven hells not a-”, Large Maudge tightened the laces before Aelyn could continue, squeezing all the air out of her. “That is not how a lady should speak,” Large Maudge continued to tighten. Aelyn was uncertain whether the suffocating tightness was punishment for what she said, or if it had been Large Maudge’s intensions from the beginning. “Was it that Steele girl? She’s unlady like that one, working the forge and all.”, Large Maudge finished with a tight knot. “But Ryia is pretty”, Eloise added. “Pretty and unwed”, Large Maudge returned, pushing the finished Aelyn forward for inspection.
Aelyn’s dark blue lips had been painted a lively red, and her eyes have been lined with a dark charcoal to hide the blue. She also smelled of a kind of flower she did not know, “Did I forget someone’s name day?”, Aelyn asked with her precious breath as they hurried her down to the great hall on the second floor of Escalate hall. “We’re feasting the knights tonight,” Faye answered from behind, “It’s also to prepare for Lord Tywin’s arrival in three days”, Large Maudge added without so much as turning her head.
The large hall was brighter than usual, most were dressed in finer garbs than usual, garlic, herbs, and burning grease was in the air, but the quality of the food did not compare to the scents or occasion as she walked past the tables in the hall towards the head table on the dais. Aelyn hoped in her mind that there would be better food when Lord Tywin arrives. Hadrian and Isaac were already there, just as uncomfortable in their silk and velvet garbs as Aelyn was in her gown. Aelyn sat between the two at the head table, and he could hear Hadrian snicker.
“You are beautiful tonight my lady”, Hadrian jested trying to hold laughter. Aelyn kicked him beneath the table, clothed in the stripped black and silver trimming of Afallon. Hadrian was Lord Mycroft’s firstborn and heir, one of the few of people who she was not a stranger to. They would find each other in the yard and spar from time to time, or go hunting in the forest, while Aelyn was a better sword, Hadrian was a better bow like his father.
To the right side of the long head table, on the other side of Lord Mycroft, the knights sat, already finished their leek soup, nursing their tankards of ale. “Five and twenty heads,”, “What if no bandits show themselves?”, Aelyn continued to sip her thin leek stew listening to the chatter of the knights. “We’ll show ourselves to the bandits and then behead them”, the men roared as tankards met in the air. The master at arms always scared her, the way he would look at her when they passed each other gave her chills on the warmest summer day. At first, she thought it was her appearance, but she noticed it was not only her which got the master at arm’s soul rendering gaze. He was just old, that’s all she told herself.
The main course streamed into the room, though the display was far more impressive than the food, regular mutton and lamb was served. More than the average sup, but this was no feast. Lord Mycroft was carefully studying the movement of the servants across the hall, with special attention when they served the right side of the table where the knights sat.
Aelyn worked on the mutton set in front of her, slightly bland for her tastes despite the smell of garlic and herbs in the air. At least the wine was not a disappointment, sweet like honey and anise and cream. “This is good wine Lord Mycroft”, she raised her goblet to her adopted father who did not seem to notice. “This wine seems spoiled”, Hadrian cringed as he swirled is goblet. “Wine cannot spoil”, Aelyn shot back. “I cannot see why you like this foul liquid”, Hadrian pushed away his goblet. Aelyn simply shrugged and finished the rest of the goblet which became better with each sip.
Aelyn was walking through the cellar, but it was nowhere familiar, was she lost? She thought to herself, it was most like the wine from earlier. The hallway was long and dark, but light somehow found its way into the halls, the outlines of doors and hinges apparent to Aelyn. Rough men carried wooden boxes with the ring of steel through one of the doors ahead. The sound of flowing water against a shore grew louder as Aelyn approached.
The door closed before Aelyn could see what was on the other side, she reached for the door, and it opened, light as a feather. “Mercy.”, the voice of an old woman called towards her from a blue flame within the darkness. “Mercy is all I ask, my children, my children… Mercy.” A hand reached out of the flame, covered in blue smoke and tapped on her forehead. Aelyn swatted the hand away, and a loud screech brought her back into her featherbed.
Aelyn’s eyes shot open, the air was filled with white feathers, she was drenched with sweat. The feathers stayed in the air and time slowed when she realized she could not draw breath. She was suffocating, her lungs would not expand, the damned corset! She struggled with smaller breaths until the world stopped spinning. Ivory landed at the end of her bed, his white head turned and studied Aelyn with its shimmering black eye. I can’t believe I went to sleep with this on. Aelyn returned the raven’s stare as she reached behind the corest, but found that she could not undo Large Maudge’s sorcery, which would explain why she slept with the damned thing after the wine.
Where is everyone? Aelyn was quickly frustrated being trapped in this horrible torture device, at least her sweat still smelt of some mysterious flower. Ivory took flight and perched on the window. “Hey, come back and help me”. White ravens were supposed to be smarter, Marwyn once told her. Ivory had preformed tasks much more complex than undoing knots. Ivory flew out into the yard as Aelyn approached. She poked her head of out of the window to see a crowd around the entrance of Escalate Hall, some kind of commotion, the guards were keeping the small folk from entering the hall, at least half of Monmouth had to be out there.
Ivory was circling the crowd with a wingspan larger than the hawk Hadrian used on hunting trips. “Fine, be that way”, Aelyn called out of the window, Ivory returned an almost mocking call, as if he had heard Aelyn from down below. Aelyn found her gown from the night before in a pile on the ground, she quickly laid it straight before Large Maudge found it in that sorry state. She quickly put on a simple brown linen garb and wrapped herself in a dark wool cloak.
Aelyn’s legs found a pair of leather boots, and she descended to the lower hall with haste, where the winged seat of Afallon could be found. The seat had sharp steel wings for its back, mimicking the Afallon crest, but unlike the iron throne, this chair was built with comfort in mind. Its seat and armrest polished, inlaid with structured patterns and scrollwork.
Aelyn pulled the hood of the cloak over her head, carefully tucking her silver white hair from sight. On one side the guards were holding back those who were outside of the hall, and on the other there was Lord Mycroft with his knights atop the elevated stone dais, a man dressed in simple clothing, a knight in dark plate and a wagon drawn by a warhorse. She joined the crowd within the hall to satisfy her curiosity, carefully slipping through the cracks in the crowd.
Then Aelyn saw the plated knight’s face and her heart stopped, the lacing on her body seem to tighten and she was short of breath again. She gazed at the young knight worshipfully, his perfect hazel eyes, fierce, but kind. His smooth cheeks, his strong gallant jaw, his kissable lips. She could feel her fingers running through his soft chestnut hair, Aelyn clutched her wool cloak tightly, loosing herself in the moment. Then it all came back, her heart pounding like the drum of a war galley in a fierce storm, heat swelled within her and Aelyn’s pale face flushed with life.
His return was supposed to be a joyous occasion, but now a gloom hung over him. More importantly, he was questioning himself and his knightly vows, the very foundation of who he was. The line between good and evil had always been clear to Bryce until now, when did he become astray?
A touch on the right shoulder with the blade. “In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave.” Bryce drew his elegant longsword, Randyll Tarly had executed this technique with a greatsword, but Bryce knew a longsword would suffice. The Palfrey charged Bryce head on, its rider leveled a spear at Bryce. He held the longsword his father had forged him with a two handed grip, his sliver cloak trailed behind him as he met the horsed bandit in a full sprint on foot. Bryce sidestepped the horse at the last second with a wide stance, parrying the spear as he drove his longsword deep into the horse. The longsword failed to find its way out of the horse as a greatsword would have, but the rider and the horse screamed in unison as they collapsed violently several yards behind Bryce’s flowing cloak.
The sword moves from right shoulder to left. “In the name of the Father I charge you to be just.” Bryce heard a man cry for mercy by the farmhouse, and he moved with the swiftness of a scout in leather instead of plate, a tourney sword in hand instead of his longsword.
Right shoulder. “In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent.” There were three of them, the bandits were trying to carry the woman away without much success, the father outmatched, begging and weeping. Bryce clutched his blunt sword tightly and approached with an air of confidence, two of them charged wielding hatchet and club. Bryce parried the cumbersome club with ease, and met the hatchet twice before Bryce turned the hatchet towards the man with the club killing him instantly. Lord Randyll gave no quarter, and none shall be given, a lesson engrained into Bryce’s every movement. Before the bandit with the hatchet could recover from his shock, Bryce’s cloak swirled and his blunt blade found the back of the bandit’s knee and neck with two swift strokes as he walked towards the maid in distress.
The left. “In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women.” The last man released the woman and drew his longsword. The cries of the daughter and father were drowned by the song of steel in the air. This last bandit held his own longer than the others, mayhaps a sellsword, but Bryce made an opening, striking his thigh. The maid screamed a name at the bandit, calling for him to flee, and rushed Bryce with a dagger. But the bandit took the chance and attacked at the same time from the other side. Bryce deflected the longsword and countered the dagger in one swift motion, perfected after practicing a hundred times against other men in the yard under the watchful eye of Lord Randyll.
The right. “In the name of the Stranger…”. The dagger was deep within the belly of the maid, the last bandit had made himself scarce. The father cursing and weeping at the same time. Was I to be blamed? What role had he played? Who was the villain? Should I have interfered? Would that had made the realm a better place? “Ser Bryce.”
“Ser Bryce?” Lord Mycroft spoke with a cool, calm voice. Bryce looked up at Lord Mycroft, “My lord”. Mycroft steepled his fingers, “Your story.”