It was a fine summer afternoon, with minimal clouds in the sky.
Edwyn slowed his destrier into a canter as Fallow Hill's formidable shape drew closer into view. It had been three months and nine days since he had last seen it's great grey turrets - too long, for his liking. But home he was, with only a single road that cut through the vast golden fields separating him from the castle's gates. He had missed Fallow Hill. King's Landing stank of piss, and was full of far too many people Edwyn cared not for; and Pinkmaiden... well, Pinkmaiden had a terribly macabre atmosphere following the death of Ser Derrick Piper, and, given recent events, was not a particularly safe place to be with only a handful of men.
Edmund, Edwyn's secondborn son, rode a black destrier to his left, and to his right, Edwyn's squire Axell rode a small brown steed. The three had gone ahead, eager to reach home, confident in their safety on the road. Ser Tristifer, head of Edwyn's personal guard, had stayed behind with the wagon, ten fighting men beside him - two less than the twelve that had left the castle three months ago. It had been a tumultuous time, one that Edwyn had not truly prepared for. He had set out for King's Landing for the Hand's tourney simply to keep up appearances and support his son, but, as was his luck, a funeral and a potential war came thereafter.
Ser Gregor Clegane had been the one to unhorse Edmund from the tourney, but not without a fight, with several lances breaking in the joust. The tourney ended with Ser Gregor furiously slaughtering his own horse, and Ser Loras Tyrell conceding to Sandor Clegane. Entertaining, if nothing else, and Edwyn was proud of his lad for giving the Mountain a fair match; something most men would not even dare attempt. The festivities didn't appeal much to Edwyn outside of that, however, and he had itched to ride back north as soon as he had the chance. But news then came of the death of Ser Derrick, husband to Edwyn's sister, Maya, and plans changed.
The retinue made for Pinkmaiden, and Edwyn sought to console his dear sister. Maya had a boy of only two, named Artos, and Derrick's death came as a sudden, shaking surprise. Illness that led to pneumonia, apparently. The funeral came the week after. The group remained in Pinkmaiden for a short while, and it was there they learned of Tyrion Lannister's capture, which subsequently led to Ser Gregor Clegane's arrival in the Riverlands, where he and his men tore through several settlements.
Edwyn and his men had assisted in repelling the raiders from nearby Pinkmaiden, and it was there they lost two men. Good men. But their lives meant that the invaders were curbed, and Pinkmaiden was safe. By the time the dead were buried, the riverlords had already been called to Riverrun to respond to the raids. Edwyn had been eager for Maya to journey with his retinue, but she was mother to a Piper boy, and her place was in Pinkmaiden, so Lord Edwyn marched up the red fork without her. The stay in Riverrun was brief. More of a passing, really, as it was quickly decided by Lord Hoster that no formal call to war was yet necessary. And so, Edwyn marched east.
As the three horsed men turned the corner to face the southern gate of the castle, another rider converged beside them. Edwyn snapped out of thought. Ariella, Edwyn's eldest child and only daughter, now rode beside them. The riverlord smiled her way as she approached.
“The two of you are a welcome sight!” Ariella greeted her father and brother cheerfully, maneuvering around Axell to match pace and leaning forward on Thunder to get a glimpse of Edmund. Quickly, though, her smile changed to an expression of concern, made all the more apparent by the ghosts of dark circles that seemed ever-present under her eyes. “I noticed you were short a few men with the wagon. Did we lose them in the lists?”
"No, we lost them defending Aunt Maya's home." Edmund was very blunt in his speech, getting the first taste of war sat bitterly in his gut. He didn't elaborate on why their aunt's home was under attack, just that it was.
Ariella’s hand flew up to her mouth and she gasped; a pit formed in her stomach, first from shock, and then from realization. She knew Ashton had been hiding something from her! He must have gotten a raven and not told her. “Are the two of you alright? Was anyone else lost? Who would attack Pinkmaiden?” A familiar worry set in, etching into her features.
”Raiders. Westermen. Sent by Tywin Lannister, it is believed,” Edwin replied calmly. It was not odd for him to seem so unphased by such a troublesome situation. He was always one to deal with things first, and worry later. ”It’s safe, for now, and Aunt Maya and Artos are well protected.”
"Lift the gate!" had been called by one of the gatesmen, and so it rose before them. Redemption settled into a trot as she passed under the gate, Edwyn guiding her to the stable.
”You needn’t worry about it, Ariella,” the lord said as he dismounted from his steed. His words felt half-true, and it seemed almost as if he deflected the topic out of consideration for his daughter’s worries. ”How is your mother? And Ashton?”
Ariella’s brow furrowed, but she didn’t press further; she could tell when her father was avoiding something. Making a mental note to speak to him later if she could get him alone, she went along with the change of subject.
“Ashton has taken the mantle of the face of House Landry in great stride,” she reported, leaving out that the duty he’d taken on - more than he likely needed to, given her mother and Ser Baldric’s work keeping everything running - seemed to be taking a toll on him. “And Mother is… Mother.” She chuckled a little then, eager to get to happier topics, even if she still seemed a little uneasy. “How was the tourney? Ed, I heard you did well in the lists.”
The change in topic was a relief to Edmund, perhaps he just need some rest to get the last few weeks out of his mind. "I did well enough. Won a couple and even knocked Ser Symon Haigh of his horse." Edmund was a little smug mentioning that. "I was defeated by Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain. Broke a few but in the end he was too much." He left out how bad he was hurting after the match and the death of Ser Hugh of the Vale.
Ariella couldn't help but smirk at the image of Symon flailing off his horse; he probably threw a fit, too. Her eyebrows shot up, however, at the mention of Ser Gregor. Her first instinct was to scold her brother for taking such a risk, but she reminded herself that such courage was fitting for a young knight. She just wished he wouldn't be foolish with it.
“An accomplishment indeed,” she conceded, knowing a comment to Edmund about keeping his wits about him would probably be ill-received. “To walk away from that match, anyway. I would have liked to see it.” She offered her brother a coy grin. “Of course, I also would have loved to see Ser Symon face-down in the mud.”
"Knocking him down in person and in front of the king no less made it even sweeter." Edmund mused a chuckle when he thought of Symon nearly crapping himself in front of half the realm.
Ariella laughed, a genuine, musical sound that had grown a little more rare over the past two years. She followed her father into the stables, dismounting with a few gentle words to Thunder before she let the stablehand take him away. “Lord Walker must have been absolutely red in the face,” she mused, picturing the old fool’s expression watching his son unhorsed by none other than a Landry. “I hope the sight sticks in his mind.”
”Now, now, you two,” Edwyn allowed a wry smile to grace his face, but shook his head. ”Lord Walker is a riverlord. Regardless of what we think of him, we still owe him respect; and Ser Symon is a fine knight. It is a testament to Ed’s skill to dehorse him.” The statement was more a lesson in subtlety than actual fact. Ser Symon was a mediocre knight at best, and Lord Walker, a hateful prick of a man. But Edwyn wished for his family to set a better example than their rivals to the north. "Anyhow, Ariella, would you alert your mother of our return?"
Ariella knew her manners well, but she was eager for something uplifting to take her mind off of things, and the image of Symon at the end of a lance was as good as any. At her father’s request, her smile changed a touch, near-invisible to anyone but those who knew her well, looking a little more painted-on than before. “Of course, father,” she replied dutifully, offering a curt dip of the head and a half curtsy as she made her way between the men. “Do try to rest a little,” she added to both of them before leaving, “You both have come a long way, surely whatever needs to be done can wait until tomorrow.”
Edwyn gave his daughter a reassuring nod as she departed, but he would continue regardless. It was not in his nature to rest when there was work to be done. "Axell, tell Ashton, Maester Oylen and Ser Baldric that I must speak with them in my chambers, there's a good lad," Edwyn instructed, as he turned to face his squire, giving the ginger lad a hefty pat on the back. Axell dipped his head affirmatively and scuttled off. Edwyn glanced back to his second son. The lad had grown up a lot in the past year, especially in the months just gone. "Go and get some rest, Ed. You've earned it."
"I will be having a drink in the hall if you need me." Edmund left his conversation with his father at that, knowing full well saying anything else would've been wasted breath. Edwyn simply gave a slight nod and turned, making his way towards his quarters in the keep.
Fallow Hill, the Riverlands The castle was on fire, barely seen through the smog but on fire nonetheless. Screams could be heard from all around, some Ashton knew but many were just an unknown. Ash stood in the Great Hall surrounded by men-at-arms and beside Tristifer Paege, the Knight whose duty it was to protect the Lord of the House. Women and men ran through the Great Hall, panic from all around, some being chased by figures shrouded in darkness. No sigils could be made out and Ash felt terror in his heart, but also determination. He needed to protect these people! He rushed forward and gave the order to charge, with himself forming the wedge point. The formation crashed into a line of enemy troops that had come to engage the remnants of resistance and the clash of steel could be heard over the cries of “For Tully! Fallow Hill! LANDRY!” Ashton did what he had always done in a larger melee, he put his back to a safe place and kept everyone in front of him. He then picked out a fighter and goaded them over to him, where he was able to engage in single combat which is where he excelled. He made quick work of his first opponent, the shadowy man's form weak and untrained. But something was wrong… He looked up and readied his shield, expecting another enemy but instead stared into a mirror. His reflection was covered in blood, but it was old and dried. His doppelganger shook his head, looking forlorn and lost completely. ”You failed Ashton, everyone is dead because of you.” The figure gasped and a knife appeared through his neck and the mirrored image slowly began to fall forward, eyes blank and limbs limp…
Ashton awoke with a start, chest heaving and eyes wild. He glanced around his room and jumped up as if he had just been scalded. The stone didn’t seem to have any answers and other than his breathing, all was quiet. Faster than many, Ash took control of his mind and calmed himself down. He gave an exhausted sigh and slumped back onto his bed, sprawling across it and staring up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and let his breathing settle down before he shook his head and groaned, wishing he knew the time. It didn’t really matter, but he was trying to get a number on how much sleep he was actually getting since his father and brother left for a funeral in Pinkmaiden. With another sigh, the 14-year-old stood and lit another torch since the one that had burned during the night was almost dead. With that done, the lad turned towards the clothes he had put out the night prior and stripped out of the underclothes he had worn to bed. He replaced them quickly with a new pair as the Castle walls were quite chilly and Ash had no intention of freezing his bits to pieces. He gave a small smirk at the thought and continued dressing in a simple white linen tunic and breeches. The only distinguishing feature of the tunic was the embroidered Landry sigil on the right breast. Sufficiently clothed and ready to begin another day, Ashton exited his room and began heading out of the great keep, nodding to a few of the guards who stood at the ready. It was fairly common to see Ash out this early, the guards having longed figured out the habits of the young Landry and as such, they merely gave a respectful salute and knowing smirk.
He started off in a jog around the enclosed portion of the keep and then after that circle, he entered the courtyard proper. The Castle was slowly coming to life, and Ashton let a smile across his face. It was his favorite time of day, the time when the world became aware once again and the animals started getting restless after a long night of quiet and relative stillness. Guards rotated out of the barracks and to the armory to prepare for their shift on the walls or stationed at the gates, and the early birds went to retrieve water from the well or supplies for breakfast. It was a time of serenity and peace, everyone just going about their business and if Ash had to pick a time that would last forever it would be this stretch of the morning. He passed by the sept and headed for the North Gate, which was his usual exercise spot. The hill running down was perfect, and he remained within sight of the guards on the battlements. He chuckled a bit to himself as he remembered the one time he had ‘disappeared’ and sent the entire watch on high alert. It hadn’t been funny at the time but reliving it in his head allowed the fourteen-year-old to appreciate the situation and how much the soldiers of House Landry cared.
He shook his head to get his thoughts in order and gave a small wave to the guards at the gate. He received a few eye rolls and grins but the gate was opened and Ash’s slim figure started stretching as he left the safe confines of the castle proper. After the quick warm-up, he began an easy jog down the hill, as he ran he let his brain wander once more and the events of the week started coming back to the young man so his mine could contemplate them better. The first thing, however, that came to the forefront of his mind was the nightmare he had. Did it mean something? Was he just exhausted and overworking himself? He didn’t know and not knowing something made the lad all the more anxious. He resigned himself to talking about it with Ella later one and until then moving on with his duties as the de facto head of the House. He still had Baldric to lean on but as the only male Landry left at Fallow Hill it was left to him to deal with things, and his judgment that would be reconsidered when his father returned. That would be soon actually, a raven had come a week prior speaking of trouble on the road back. It was no doubt the same bandits that Ash had been made aware of by the Landry merchant caravans that reported thieves stealing supplies and even some of the precious food that was being sent to various Houses as exports.
Before he knew it he had run five ‘laps’, consisting of going down and back up the hill and his breathing was becoming heavier and heavier. He could keep going, but for a simple exercise, he didn’t need to exhaust himself as he knew the rest of the day was going to be quite long. He started walking to pace himself and replayed the last decisions of the day to re-plan themselves out. A meeting with the Maester, Trademaster, and Quartermaster would be needed to iron out the finalized harvest and what else could be sold. The last of the summer trading caravans would need to be accounted for, and the final imports of weapons, armor, and other needed supplies would be arriving within the week. After that meeting, Ash would call for the Landry military advisors in order to discuss a plan to eradicate the bandits harrying trade routes. In between all of those meeting he would need to eat, and find some time to train and then be ready to go over all that his father had missed with the man himself and his brother Edmund. All in all, a very stressful day and by the end he would -definitely- need a soak in the bath to relax. He shook his head and finished his walking lap, grabbing his discarded tunic and wiping off his face and neck. He placed the linen shirt around his neck and made his way back into the Castle. He nodded to the new guards who closed the gate and secured it and slowly made his way back towards the enclosed Great Keep.
It was still early but Ash must have been out for longer than usual as more servants were out and about and as the lad made his way towards his room he heard a few giggles and glanced to his right to see a small gaggle of serving girls blushing and looking away. Ash made eye contact with one and flashed a bright smile and gave a bit of a wink. He felt a bit of that boldness he was beginning to get used to and watching the girl turn into hysterics boosted his ego a bit. He didn’t linger long, however, definitely not like his older brother Edmund. In Ash’s mind, it was better to be an object of fantasy, an unreachable goal and almost mythical creature in those girl’s minds. It gave Ash a mysterious vibe and also secured at least a basic loyalty should they ever be tested. Beyond that, the youngest Landry had no real desire for a girl's touch as the moment. He had to ensure that he was the best he could be for his family before thinking of such things.
He passed one of his servants in the hall and verified that his bath was already waiting on him. It was sometimes nice having a predictable routine as things just seemed to always be ready to go. Ash liked that, appreciated having everything in its right place at the right time. He entered his room once more and stripped back down to his skin and slowly sunk into the tub. Unfortunately, this bath wasn’t one of relaxation, as the day wouldn’t wait for that. He washed the sweat and grime from his body and when he was satisfied gave his hair a wash as well. After he toweled himself off and then wrapped the linen fabric around his waist to pad over to the mirror. He styled his hair as best as possible into the usual messy spiked brown that he always wore and then turned to his closet. He picked out a much more refined silk set of clothing, as he would be addressing concerns of the population that morning. His shirt was blue with golden grain embroidered into the fabric, and his breeches matched perfectly. A pair of tan boots completed the outfit and after dressing, Ash made sure to check over his appearance in the mirror. Briefly, Ash remembered his dream and hesitated to take a full look before he told himself he was being ridiculous. Finally satisfied, the young Landry placed his signet ring and sword belt onto his waist and smiled at the familiar weight of his blades.
Priscilla had just finished adjusting her outfit after her handmaidens had messed up the snitching. She cursed to herself in a low breath and turned to the side then back to the other side to make sure everything was perfect. Priscilla let out a soft huff that eventually turned to a sigh as she walked over to her window and peered her eyes out of her window. She couldn’t really see anything right now and slumped down a bit and grew a bit worried. She hasn’t seen her husband but not that she was forward to it or her son, Edmund, in quite some time and she was eager for their return. Mostly Edmund’s if she was being honest with herself.
With a simple turn of her heel, she was heading out of her room and heading to the kitchen to make sure they were preparing breakfast for herself and others. Especially her little otter, Ashton. Gosh, how she loved her little man. He’ll make a great lord someday, or hell, even a king. The thought made her smile with glee as the servants stared at her, making sure it was real then her smiled wavered into a glare towards them. She had opted out of breakfast this morning because she was too worried to eat anything but as long as Ashton ate, that’s all she really cared about.
For now, she just wandered around the home to make sure things were ready for when Edwyn and the others return home. She even checked with the stable boys to make sure that they were ready. Her mind slipped for a second as she had forgotten about Ashton holding court for the day and immediately rushed in that direction before she missed anything.
Dressed and ready for the day, Ash left his room and headed straight for the Great Hall. As he arrived he gave his breakfast order of two small fish, some bread, an apple, and crispy bacon to the servant that awaited such at his chair and then sat with a sigh. It was rather lonely at this point in time, no one else awake to keep Ash company. He briefly wondered what Axell was doing at this same moment, and had a laugh as he imagined the redhead scrambling to get breakfast for Edwyn ready to go. It didn’t take long for his food to be ready, his routine once again paying up as the cooks had his order already prepared. He ate silently and -almost- made it through the entire meal without being interrupted. As it was Ash could only smile as Maester Oylen made his way up to the high table and sat down heavily. ”Maester, good morning to you. I thought for a moment I finally was up early enough to get through the meal without seeing you. Sleep well?” The Dornishman’s eyes twinkled a bit with laughter before he inclined his head to Ashton.
“Young Master Landry, your early morning escapades are well known within the Castle. But it’s my job to be as annoying as possible so all of the work that needs to be done, is in fact done.” He smirked a bit then. “As for my sleeping, I think the better question is whether you yourself slept well.” It was crazy at how fast the man could turn Ash’s questions back on him and the teenager just gave a half grimace, knowing it was useless to try and bluff the Maester.
”I slept fine for most of the night.” It wasn’t a lie, as a good majority of the night had in fact been quite perfect. He couldn’t help the rest of it was restless and knew the Maester was now regretting his decision of teaching Ash half-truths.
“My Lord, I know it’s early. But the commoners have already begun gathering, and the gate reports more coming towards the keep now from the village.” Ash looked past Oylen and gave a sigh before nodding and finishing off his bacon.
”You can send them in now, we’re ready. If my sister is awake let her know I’ll be holding court but she’s more than welcome to come as well.” Ash sincerely doubted that Ella would ever voluntarily step into a court session, but felt that offering would be polite and would let her know he was at least thinking of her. The guard bowed and hurried off to see to his orders. Ash leaned back and closed his eyes, his fingers gripping the chair until they turned white. He controlled his breathing and slowly relaxed before giving a knowing look to Oylen who said nothing but did nod in understanding to the young Lord sitting and preparing to fix what needs he could for the common folk. Sure enough, not even ten minutes later the first few filed in. They were put in a line and guards filled the rest of the Great Hall, just in case. While most of the requests were small, there were also many that would require quick thinking and problem-solving skills. This took most of the morning, and by the time it was over Ash was exhausted. ”And to think Father does this all the time.” He supposed it was the price one had to pay to have a population that respected and adored their Lord, but it was not an easy job in the slightest. Oylen just chuckled a bit and placed a weathered hand on Ash’s shoulder.
❝Yes, yes he does.❞ She commented plainly but chuckled right along with Oylen. ❝But I think you did an outstanding job, Ashton.❞ Priscilla said with a smile as she walked to stand before him now with a smile. ❝Your father and brother are coming back home today.❞ She stated as if it wasn’t big news. ❝Are you excited?❞ She questioned towards him and knelt down to be at eye level with him and a smile slowly crept between her lips.
Ashton had no idea his mother had been watching and a wide, dimpled smile hit his face. ”Mother! I didn’t know you were here!” He felt the pride in his chest and let it sit there for a bit. ❝Yeah, I slipped in through the crowd.❞ Priscilla commented honestly. She did move through the crowd of people with ease. ”Yes, I figured it would be today or tomorrow. It doesn’t stop me from being busy today, however. I’ll try to find you at lunch?!” He didn’t want to leave Priscilla’s side, in fact, he would like to have the rest of the morning to walk the Castle and talk to the woman, but he was still Lord and he had to make sure -nothing- went wrong.
❝Well...❞ Before she could say anything further, Ashton had left her side. She had sighed a bit, seeing him all grown up or growing up did sadden her a bit. She didn’t know what to do right now as she was still in the Great Hall, eyes wandered around the premises so, she just decided to sit down in the chair for now. Priscilla wondered heavily to herself when were her men coming home because of the growing worry that began to set in again.
”Bye mother!” Ash called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the hallway leading back into the Great Keep.
“It gets easier with practice, and a lot of the situations are repeated. It comes down to whether or not you believe that the problem is real and if helping will be a true blessing or just a convenience. You did very well, your father will be proud.” Ash frowned -just- slightly at that and doubted that even if Edwyn felt pride for his youngest son, it wouldn’t be shown. He hid the frown quickly and nodded to the old and wise Maester. “Now, young Master, we have a meeting to attend to.” Ash faked a groan and gave a chuckle as he followed Oylen out of the Great Hall and back into the Keep itself. They didn’t have travel far, only a few turns until the two arrived into a large yet very active room where a man stood directing the chaos.
“No, this one goes there, -THAT- one goes there.” Ash gave a subtle smirk and stepped closer to the yelling Pentoshi. Indiriyo Daratis had the tell-tale look of an eccentric foreigner, his well-trimmed beard and mustache dyed a smoky blue but to Ash he was a well-known retainer of his family and made House Landry more gold than many of the other Riverlanders could even think of. As such, he was a figure to be respected and not to be approached while in the middle of a tirade. Ashton and Oylen simply stood near the Trade Master’s office and his their amusement by glancing around the large storeroom. It was never the same, sometimes being filled with barrels of oats or crates of feed. Other times it was well-tanned leather armor or packages of grain. All if it was exported to various Houses all over the Seven Kingdoms, or across the narrow sea to Essos. After another few minutes of yelling Indiriyo swiftly turned and changed personalities from overseer to his usual charming and intelligent side. “Master Landry, Maester Oylen, time all ready for our meeting? The time just seems to disappear I tell you! Come, please into my office, I have had a few recent imported teas prepared for our discussion! I’m quite interested in trying these blends, and I’ve heard nothing but good things! Besides, if we -don’t- like it we can always sell it to another House.” The Trade Master shrugged and Ash could only think that this was the main reason Indiriyo was so good at his job. He took calculated risks and always had a backup plan with the products he procured. The Pentoshi led the way into the office and sure enough, three cups of tea awaited them. Ashton sat, at Indiriro’s insistence behind the desk, another reason Ash truly liked the man. Politely, he tried to tea and had to admit it was rather good, though not something that Ashton would -have- to have.
”A fine blend, as you said. I’m sure if I was a bit more interested in teas I would be much more impressed.” Oylen, on the other hand, seemed as if he had tasted pure bliss and began making sounds that Ash wasn’t sure was appropriate for the Maester of a House. It seemed the older man agreed as he quickly replaced the tea and cleared his throat a bit, his kind smile returning.
“Ah, yes… It is quite a good blend Trade Master if you erm… Decide to sell it I’m sure you’ll get good prices from those of Dorne.” Even when the Maester hid it, however, Ash could tell that Oylen would consider the loss of the tea a great tragedy. Ashton cleared his throat, hiding his amusement and wanting to get the meeting underway before some other issue sprouted up that he would need to deal with.
”Well, tea aside.” He pushed his away for dramatic effect and then continued. ”The final harvest for summer is finished, we have our own winter supply doubled and the rest has been placed in your warehouses Indiriyo. However, with the recent trouble within the Kingdom, I have decided to scratch the last shipment to Essos in favor of stockpiling the food in case of war.” He knew this wasn’t -truly- his decision to make, as he wasn’t the Lord and at the end of the day his father trusted Indiriyo with what and when to trade. However, Ashton was always practicing his diplomacy and with the Landry name behind him, he knew his words did actually matter, despite them coming from a 14-year-old, acting Lord or not. The Trade Master seemed to flounder slightly, almost choking on his tea and quickly set it down, tilting his head and going to stroke his mustache a bit. Maester Oylen, on the other hand, seemed thoughtful and even nodded a few times.
“A wise action My Lord.” You could always tell when Oylen truly respected a decision from the children as he would always call them ‘Young Master’s’. When they did something or thought a problem through however he would change it to My Lord or Lady, and Ash felt a rush of pride run through him. Indiriyo, however, didn’t seem to enjoy the idea in the slightest.
“If we don’t send this shipment, we’ll have to deal with diplomatic repercussions from across the sea.” Ashton nodded a bit and frowned to show that he indeed, didn’t want that to occur but then gave a dramatic shrug and sigh.
”I’m sure the Good Master’s of Astapor, the Wise Master’s of Yunkai, and the Benevolent enslavers of Volantis will understand that war sometimes will prevent shipments from being sent? And if they can, then the three kingdoms of the contested lands will also understand, besides if war -does- break out then only the Reach and us will have a tradeable surplus of food to spare. That makes us a target yes, but also a good friend to have. The profits would be astronomical.” He nodded a few times and leaned back in his chair. For his part, Indiriyo remained silent and hid his actual feeling very well though Ash was perceptive enough to see just a glimmer, the tiniest glimmer, of respect and the Pentoshi inclined his head.
“I will change the order as you have suggested My Lord. I will also stop the export of our cowhide leather armor to the Summer Isles as well.” Ashton inclined his head to say he agreed with that move as well and flipped through a few parchments on the Trade Master’s desk.
“Now, the imported shipment of weapons couldn’t come at a better time. Do you have a full inventory of what we’ll be gaining?” Indiriyo nodded and stepped over to a chest and rummaged through a few older correspondences and pulled out a small ledger which he passed to Ash. ”100 Halberds, 100 Arming swords, 100 heavy kite shields, 100 heater shields, 100 lances, 50 longswords, and 50 set pieces consisting of Mail, surcoat, and coat of plates combination.” Ash shook his head a bit and tilted his head over to the Trade Master. ”I assume this was the remaining pieces to arm half of our potential forces?” Indiriyo nodded and sipped his tea.
“Yes, My Lord. The rest of that booklet has all orders of that fact.” Ashton nodded and felt a small wave of exhaustion wash over him.
”Very well, then everything seems to be in order. Thank you, Trade Master, for your time, Maester Oylen will finish his recording of the meeting and take the notes to my father’s study so he may review them when he returns. Until then, continue the good work, House Landry thanks you for your continued service and loyalty.” He grins at the end of his words so the Pentoshi knew he did actually mean the more ceremonial words. Indiriyo bows as Ashton stands and moves to leave, the young man leaving both older behind him. As soon as he enters the hall once more he releases the breath he only just realized he was holding and a wide grin split across his face. If he could get through this meeting then he could get through the next. First on the docket however would be lunch as sitting through the assembly, and then the meeting had his stomach growling unhappily. He made his way back to the Great Hall and almost ran right into the Maester’s assistant who helped run the ravenary. Ash tilted his head and ushered the poor teenager to a seat.
“Sorry my Lord, I didn’t see you even when I was lookin for ye. Raven came from Riverrun, Lord Tully has sent us commands if the banners are called again.” The boy bowed low and left the note on the table. Ash was flabbergasted for a moment and closed his eyes, war was surely coming soon enough. Now, more than ever did he need to speak to the military men of the House. He stood and looked towards one of the Hall servants and spoke gently to her.
“I will take my lunch in the meeting hall near my father’s quarters.” The girl nodded and curtsied before rushing out towards the kitchens. Ash grabbed the note and took a deep breath, controlling his nerves and emotions before returning back to the Keep.
It wasn’t long after, that the Landry entered the meeting room. His eyes were clouded with thought and in his hand was a note commonly attached to a raven. He seemed to be the first in the room and took a seat at the head of a long table. No more than 2 minutes later did the serving girl from the Great Hall enter carrying a plate of fish, bread, cheese, and fruit. A very small glass of wine and a larger glass of water balanced in her other hand. He placed all of these things upon the table and gave a shy smile to Ashton who inclined his head in thanks and gave her a wink. He had a reputation to keep up after all, but inside he was feeling anything but bold and alive. He was anxious, and a bit nervous now that he sat in the room. Left alone again, he took a few deep breaths and sipped his water. His company would be here soon enough.
“Good afternoon, m’lord,” Baldric addressed the current lord of Castle Fallow Hill while his father and older brother were away at the Hand’s Tournament. The Master-at-Arms wore a green silk tunic with the white image of a snow shrike emblazoned upon the left breast. The snow shrike is the house sigil in the lands north of the Riverlands. Resting his hand on the pommel of Shriek attached to his left hip, he took a seat the table across from Ashton Landry. This move enabled him to push the sword out of the way; allowing him easier access to take the seat. “Wench! Goblet of wine!” Baldric called the young woman who brought Ashton his fish and water. Then he turned back to the current lord of the house, “do ye know when ye father is returnin’ home?”
With his mouth full of bread, Ash could only dip his head in greeting as Baldric entered the room. He chewed slowly and let the Master-At-Arms get comfortable before he washed down the bread with some water. “Yes, I suppose at this point it is afternoon Ser Baldric, things have moved rather quickly today. He gave the man a glance over, his eyes not missing a detail, and said eyes lingered a bit on the sword that Baldric wore on his hip. It was well-made castle-forged steel, exactly what he would expect from his primary swordmaster. ”Should be some time today or tomorrow I would expect. His stay at Riverrun wasn’t long, Lord Tully released the other Riverlords to their respective lands to await further instruction and protect their own borders… But a raven just arrived for us in particular.” He pushed over the note which would read, ‘House Landry, your rapid pace in answering the call of banners is to be commended. House Tully appreciates your unwavering loyalty and has charged you with the primary defense of the South Eastern area of the Riverlands. If the banners are called again, forces from House Mallister and others will rendezvous at Fallow Hill. Family. Duty. Honor.’ Lyren, the serving girl came back with the requested wine right after Ash passed the note, and made sure she saw nothing before leaving the two alone once more.
“Good-day My Lord,” Royce Deddings announced as he strolled across the room, taking a seat next to Ser Baldric. He nodded at the Master-at-Arms, “Ser.” The portly shaped Captain of the Guards addressed the larger man on his left. Ser Royce had also come from a minor house in the foothills west of Riverrun. His family had supported the Tullys from time immemorial. It only made sense for the third son of a bannerman to work for one of the houses in the Riverlands. He had been training the off-shift garrison detachment since before the sun had risen. They ran drills around the castle and through the countryside until about a half hour after the sun rose. Upon return to the castle, they broke their fast and returned to the training yard for sword training with and without shields. Regardless of the round belly beneath Ser Royce’s armor, he was a very muscular man; age had not slowed him down.
Ash smiled a bit as Royce entered, he knew the big man was probably more than ready to see his son just as Ash was ready to see his brother and father. ”Good afternoon Captain, I just showed Ser Baldric our new ‘orders’ should Tully call the banners once more.” He gestured towards Baldric and the note and continued eating some of his lunch. ”Can I have Lyren get you anything Captain?” The serving girl had gone to stand near the doorway after handing over the cup of wine and awaited any instructions. As she heard her name the girl stepped forward and flashed a quick smile to Ash and Royce before lowering her head and awaiting a possible lunch order.
Baldric slid the missive or miniature scroll across the table for Royce Deddings to read. Baldric stared across the room past Ashton Landry, as though he were inspecting the rocks forming the great hall. After reading the message, Royce looked up slightly annoyed towards Ashton and Baldric. “Appears we may be heading to war soon,” the Captain murmured.
“Ye sure have a keen fukin’ eye for the bloody obvious, don’t ye?” Baldric stammered.
“Don’t you dare address me like that ser!” Royce blustered as though surprised by the larger man’s comment. He pulled back away from Baldric. “I’ve never been so offended.” Ser Royce was genuinely offended by Ser Baldric’s comments; well at least appearing to be offended.
“Oh climb down off your fokkin’ horse, ye fat cunt. Did ye really think this peace-shit was gonna last forever?”
“No. You’re right about the peace, Baldy,” Royce collected himself. “Just don’t address me like that. It is improper for a lord to address another in such a distasteful manner.”
“Of course, ye dumb cunt.” Baldy held back a grin; retaining a more stoic expression.
Royce attempted to overlook the Northman's rude comments. “How many men do you think we will be able to provide for the campaign?” Ser Deddings asked.
“Based on recent figures, we’re lookin’ at twenty-fife hundred foot and six hundred horse. That number includes two hundred longbowmen and three hundred Rangers.” Baldric knew he was optimistic with his numbers. ’Let’s see if Deddings picks up on that.’ the Master-at-Arms mused to himself.
“Six hundred horse!?” Ser Royce queried.
’Ah, maybe the blithering idiot is paying attention,’ Baldric thought to himself with hope. “Yes, ser. I coun’ fifty heavy cavalry when you include the lords of the house, their kin and the hedge knights in our region. The two hundred conscripted cavalry known as Landry’s Lancers and another three hundred fifty mounted men-at-arms.” Baldric let the words float out there for a brief pause. Baldric focused his eyes on the Captain of the Guard and leaned in toward the man, “tell me if my numbers be off a wee bit.”
“Fifty is a bit optimistic. We’ll be lucky if we get forty. Those Lancers you speak of?... I doubt none of those lads show up. As for the remaining three hundred fifty men-at-arms, mounted? I expect no more than a few hundred. Maybe two fifty.”
“Good man, Ser Royce,” Baldric complimented the older man with a smile. “Maybe there is hope for you yet. How about the garrison? What do they look like?”
“We have two shifts of fifty men working twelve hours each. When the off shift is awake and not eating, I have them training either in the courtyard or in the fields around the castle. They are in tip top shape and prepared for whatever encounter may be presented to us.”
“Wonderful, Ser Royce,” Baldric spat out softly. “Maybe you’re not such a dumb cunt after all.”
”Alright, alright.” Ash had been eating while the two men went after each other, hiding his amusement in his cup. Baldric was an acquired taste but was one of the most respected soldiers and teachers Ash had in his years. ”I just came from a meeting with our Master of Trade and Maester Oylen. You’ll be happy to know we can arm all of our levee’s, though a quarter of them will have to use older equipment. Each infantryman can be equipped with Halberd, kite shield, arming sword, and armor. The Cavalry can be equipped with weapons of your choosing, but heater shields will be available. You can thank Indiriyo for all of the equipment when you both see him next.” He finished off his lunch and leaned back in his chair. ”Before we go any further on combat readiness I want to discuss the bandits that have hit our trade caravans. If we are to go to war, banditry will need to be handled swiftly as we will need clean supply lines. I have a plan I’d like to propose to you both.” He stood and tilted his head to either man.
Baldric was curious to hear the lad’s idea. “If it pleases m’lord. Let’s hear what ye haf to say.”
“Aye”, Ser Royce Deddings concurred.
Inclining his still tilted head Ash paced a bit to gather his thoughts and opened a map on the table. It showed the layout of the Riverlands as a whole and a red circle had already been placed in a location where Landry caravans have been attacked in the recent past. ”The raiders can’t be very large, as they only attack the more weakly guarded caravans. I would wager that they scout the traders here.” He pointed to a hilly area of the route on the map. ”They then find the target that they desire, prepare for combat, and hit the transport. This would mean their encampment is somewhere in these woods.” He gestured once again to the map and drew a black circle with the quill around woods that ran parallel to the road. ”My plan is to have a larger caravan leave Fallow Hill and run as all others do. But instead of transporting supplies they’d be transporting soldiers. They’d be covered and we’d have to ensure the deception can’t be seen before the bandit's attack. Our Rangers will enter the woods themselves and will find the encampment from their movements. Mounted men will ride north as if answering the call to banners. The bandits won’t know any better but our men will camp further down the road at this bend.” He once again pointed and drew a line from the various groups and formations. The Landry Lancers will come from the opposite end. We will eradicate the bandits, root, and st-. He cuts off as the door to the room opened and tilts his head at the interruption.
From the doorway, a familiar face emerged. Axell, squire to Lord Edwyn, and son to Ser Royce. The boy was ungraceful in his movements, and a little red in the face, dipping his head apologetically. He shared a brief look with his father, who’s expression brightened slightly, before looking to Ashton. A friend of his, for the most part, but, in the halls of House Landry, at this moment, his lord. “Apologies for the interruption, my lord,” the boy spoke, his voice monotone and deep. “Lord Edwyn has arrived, and he requests your presence in his quarters, and Ser Baldric’s likewise, with posthaste.” The boy panted. Perhaps he had run here.
If the appearance of Axell surprised Ashton, the young Landry didn’t let it show. He was in his element, and in command at this moment and as such merely placed his hands behind his back and considered for a few moments. He glanced back to the two military advisors, opened his mouth, and then closed it before turning back to Axell. ”Thank you for the message, inform my Lord Father that I’m currently in a meeting of utmost import to the protection of our lands. He is as always welcome to come and take over but otherwise, we will be along presently.” He nodded at the end of his words and turned back around, hesitating before throwing over his shoulder. ”It’s good to see you back Axell.” With that he turned his attention back to the two men. ”We shall wait and see if my father comes to join. He will no doubt wish to know about the plan regardless so my informed guess is that he will wish to sit in.”
Axell blushed redder than he was previously. He looked as if he was about to say something. It was apparent by his expression that he did not believe it was a smart move to reply to Lord Edwyn’s call with another call, and he didn’t look thrilled to be the one to deliver the message, but he loyally dipped his head. “It’s good to see you again, my lord,” he spoke, the edge of his lips curling into a small smile, before turning to Royce, “father.” He then turned to leave through the still-open door.
Royce Deddings looked uncomfortable at his son. He glanced at the young Landry knowing he had made a mistake but was unsure of how to approach the subject. He gave a wave to his son as though suggesting he should do what the present Lord Landry instructed him to do.
“Hold Fast, Axell!” Baldric called out. “Take one step and you will surely annoy the Lord of Fallow Hill! You do not want that attention.” Baldric then turned to Lord Ashton. “M’lord. Your father has returned. He is home. Been gone for over three months. I trust you miss his fatherly guidance. Wouldn’t you like to greet him in a respectable manner!? Show him how you have taken care of his house?” Baldric pointed to Axell, “please don’t place that lad over there in a more uncomfortable place. He is a good squire. Does fine service for your house and your father. It would be an insult for you not to go see the Lord of Fallow Hill in person. He requested our presence, we will accompany you.” Baldric gestured to both himself and ser Royce allowing the young man to think it over a few minutes. To emphasize the seriousness of his advice, he dropped the formal titles and deepened his tones, focusing on the young man’s eyes, “Ash, I strongly urge you heed my words if you know what is good for you.” His final statement, spoken with those low deep tones to underline the graveness of his decision.
Ashton tilted his head a bit as Baldric spoke and turned to face him slowly. He listened to the words and nodded a few times and stood beside his chair. ”Wise council Ser Baldric and I appreciate it.” Inside he was a hornet's nest but he didn’t let it show and did truly try to see it from Baldric’s point of view. The man must think that he didn’t know his father, or that he was some child to be coddled, that his decisions needed to be second-guessed publicly and his orders stopped entirely. He closed his eyes and then smiled slightly, dimples and all. ”If my father becomes annoyed at anyone it will be me and now Axell, and it’s his annoyance I’m willing to face because my father would do the same thing I have asked Axell to do here. He would -not- want me to leave this important meeting to go and see him, he would want me to handle business and to secure the people of our land than meet him in the hall all smiles and pretty words, and to show ‘how good of a job I did while he away’. I will show him with actions and not words, and another thing. Until Edwyn Landry of House Landry enters that door and I pass the scepter back to him I am Lord Landry. I do not think that you would question and halt his orders, but then again your council is beloved because of those reasons so maybe you would. Regardless, I need you to know that I can handle myself and my father. Axell only has one awkward position and that’s you throwing doubt on whose orders he is to follow. ” He stopped and turned back to Axell, giving him a much friendlier smile and an apologetic face. ”You must feel like you’re being thrown all over. Please let my father know where I am, and if he enters a fit of anger let him know it was me that spurned his initial invitation to handle work of our House.” He inclined his head again and returned his gaze back to the two men.”Now, I was discussing the pincer cavalry maneuver correct?”
Inside, however, Ashton was now a complete anxious mess. He had gone three months without his orders and command being questioned but the second his father returned it was back to Ashton is the youngest and needs all the help, his ideas should all be re-thought. He knew in his heart that it was for that reason Edwyn had summoned him and Baldric. They were going to go over every single choice Ash made while he sat the Lord’s chair and would tell them all of the things he had failed in. He couldn’t let it show… He knew his eyes were clouding, and tried to play it off as if he was pacing again, but Baldric knew of Ash’s condition, as the teenager had told him, long ago when he was still a lad and had come to the intimidating Master-At-Arms for help.
He would only have to deal with this weight on his chest for a bit longer. He drank a bit of the water, realizing he had completely ignored the wine and prepared to move on with his battle plans, father or no father.
The day was warm but the shade from the roofing and the slight breeze that occasionally swept through from the courtyard, offered enough relief. As such, Liliana was more than content as she held out an apple to a huge destrier, his mouth eagerly biting down on the fruit in large mouthfuls, causing her to giggle a little at the feeling on her palm. The young female was at the far end of the stable, stood by one of the stalls far from the quiet hustle and bustle of the stable hands. They of course knew that she was there but did not offer anything in the way of discouragement for her presence. As long as she did not cause more work for them or spook the horses, they were content. And the fact that she had also come loaded with a few fresh apples did not hurt either.
She had arrived after seeing Ashton lead the court earlier that morning. It wasn't something she had attended at Fallow Hill before, but she liked what she'd seen of the youngest Landry so far, and had been curious as to what he'd be like. He had impressed her and dealt with the queries far better than she could have, having to contain herself a couple of times over some ridiculously amusing disagreements between neighbours. Lilliana would have to remind herself to let him know later...
“Miss, please. We should go. It wouldn’t be proper for you to greet the Lord and his family in the stables.” The voice that spoke up came from a tall and somewhat lanky maid that stood beside her with hands clasped together insistently, her words breaking Lilianas train of thought. The pair were close enough to the gates that they had overheard the guards announce that their Lord was returning to Fallow hill, having been spotted traversing the wide fields.
At first Liliana simply continued to feed the horse, waiting until only the core of the apple was remaining and then letting the chestnut coloured destrier consume that as well. She enjoyed their enthusiasm for food and their single-mindedness in getting it. She smiled gently at the creature, rubbing its muzzle with her free hand. Beatrice, of course, was right. But she did not see any need to rush away immediately.
“Miss Blackwood, please…” The handmaid pressed on, a rising level of anxiety clearly etched across her plain features. The apple gone and the horse content, Lilliana finally turned to answer her maid. “I’m gone. I’m gone.” She laughed , holding her hands up in submission, then wiping them roughly on the front of her dress.
“And must you insist on calling me that? Do we not know each other well enough by now? I think anyone who has seen me undressed should be able to call me by my first name.” She responded, only the slight up-curl of the corner of her lips indicating that she anything other than deadly serious.
“Miss..!” Beatrice blushed a bright crimson as a hand cupped over her mouth in surprise. The ‘girl’, though she had to be at least a few years Lilianas elder, still seemed to be shocked by every other thing the young Blackwood said, despite being well acquainted with her. She did not recover quickly either and one would think she heard nothing more outrageous in her entire life. “You shouldn’t...that isn’t proper...” Came her eventual reply, the poor girl at a complete loss as to what to say.
By this point Liliana had to lean against one of the aged wooden posts that held up the stable as she composed herself, unable to contain her amusement at the maids easily shockable nature. When she was so easily teased, Liliana could just not help herself. It was as tempting as the bright red apple had been for the destrier.
“Fine, I’m sorry...” She eventually conceded, knowing that Beatrice only meant the best for her. She had been in her families service during many of her formative years at Blackwood Hall and Lilliana was eternally grateful that she had agreed to come to Fallow Hill with her. “Call me what you wish. I will utter no further complaints!” She submitted, flicking her long plait over her shoulder. “And look, I’m perfectly clean.” She continued, gesturing to herself proudly. And in truth, Lilliana was clean. Somehow, she had not a mark on her, save for a couple of pieces of hay which she picked off gently and dropped to the ground. It could have been a purposeful effort but really it was just luck that led Liliana to not be covered in, and smelling of, the stable muck.
The pair slipped out of the stable just as the small party passed through the gate and were, to the relief of Beatrice, out of view before the group headed there to dismount from their steeds. They walked slowly across the grounds, taking their time as Liliana observed the bustling going-ons of Fallow Hill. Too absorbed in the different activities, Liliana did not notice someone was nearby until she heard the footsteps. His longer strides had meant he trod the path they had taken at a much quicker pace and when Liliana naturally turned to find out who they belonged to, she saw that it was Edmund.
“Oh. Edmund…you’re back.” Was what she unfortunately blurted out, her mouth just a little too fast for formalities. Now it was Beatrice’s time to silently laugh. Shooting her a subtle look that clearly meant ‘please go away,’ the maid begrudgingly obliged Lilianas plea, leaving the pair alone. “I mean, I’m glad to see that you and your father have returned safely from your trip.” Lilliana eventually continued somewhat more politely.
Edmund almost didn't even see Liliana if he was to be honest with himself. She was a welcome site though, his father's company had been taxing to say the least. “It is quite fine, dismiss the formalities when it is only the two of us.”
He didn't see the need for formalities when it was just the two of them. He wanted her to be comfortable, dismissing the formalities was the best way he knew how at the moment.
“It was complicated getting back but safe all the same.” Extending his arm out so that they may walk. “The road has been long, do you care to have drink with me. The ride from Pinkmaiden has left me parched.”
Liliana couldn’t help but smile at Edmund, happy that he wished to talk more naturally. If she was honest with herself, she really had no idea how to act, though she had been warned to be well behaved around the Landrys. “You must be tired.” She observed as she took his hand, allowing him to lead them towards the great hall. “Complicated?” She continued as she mused over his words, “did anyone...did you get hurt?” Liliana glanced up at him as she spoke, knowing complicated never meant anything good.
Edmund slowed his pace so that she wouldn’t have to struggle to keep up with his stride”Some did and…” Debating on how to explain jousting against The Mountain. “Well I am no worse for wear and lets hope I never have to face a particular knight again.” Offering a small but simple smile to her. “But enough of me, how have you been?” His travels these last three months had been taxing and strenuous, he wanted to talk about something both simple and pleasant.
“Hm, how secretive.” Came her reply, wondering why he didn’t want to divulge what had happened, to her. “Well, best not to tell me or I’d be able to tease you about it then.” Her smile still playing mischievously at the edge of her lips. She may be able to find out more from his siblings later anyway. If it had been her family, she would have pestered them until they told her but she knew it wouldn’t be right to torture poor Edmund in such a way.
“Me?” She paused for a moment as she considered his question. “I’m well. Exploring this place has been able to keep me happily occupied.” She gestured around her just as the two reached the outer doors of the Great Hall. “Though unfortunately I haven’t found a Godswood hidden anywhere..” The one thing she missed about Raventree Hall was the godswood and it’s impressive weirwood tree. She wasn’t a stranger to the idea of septs, for most of the Riverlands worshipped the seven, but it was just not the same for her.
“Brown beer.” Edmund called to one of the serving girls as they were about to enter the great hall.
“Just not good news really. I am no Godswood but perhaps another walk tonight might suffice? I will have a gift for you also that I wish to give you.” It wasn't so much a gift but practical in his eyes, especially during the shit storm that was about to erupt. That was if he survived supper first.
Lilliana just nodded in response to Edmunds offer, more than curious as to what he meant by a gift. It wasn't something she had expected afterall. She gave the serving girl who Edmund had called out to a small, and probably improper, wave. Lili had gotten to know some of them fairly well and besides, it was how she had managed to get hold of those fresh apples, by being friendly with the servants. "A blackberry wine for me. Thank you."
Edwyn exhaled, easing himself down into his chair. This was the first time that he felt able to breathe easy in weeks. It was ironic to him, truly, that as a boy he had longed to leave the walls of Fallow Hill behind, but now, as a lord, he felt uncomfortable leaving it behind. It wasn’t necessarily his own safety that he feared for, but the organization of his house and home, and the safety of his family as a whole. He was confident that Ashton, Priscilla and Baldric, together, would have kept things in order in his time away, but he hated having no control whatsoever.
He’d changed from his travel clothing, and now wore a simple leather jerkin over a blue doublet. Having sent Axell to gather Maester Oylen, Ashton, and Ser Baldric, he now had a rare minute to rest and gather his thoughts. It was almost poetic; the longest summer in recorded history was almost over. A decade of peace and prosperity. And it seemed that the winter that loomed on the horizon would be a cruel one. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t prepared for what was to come. His garrison was well-drilled and trained, and his granary was plentiful. But that only meant longevity in war; not victory. Nonetheless, he felt that something had to be done in response to the raids, and his gut said that.
A rhythmic rattle sounded on the door. Two knocks, a beat, and then a third. Edwyn knew at once who requested entrance. ”You may enter, Maester Oylen.”
The old Dornishman slowly pushed the door open, a smile upon his face. In his hand, a closed book. He had likely headed straight over from his quarters having learned of Edwyn’s return. Oylen was a good man, a loyal man, and his happiness to see his lord return was earnest. He was not only a trusted advisor and tutor to the Landry family, but a friend, and he counted himself truly grateful for how the lord and his issue treated him. Not all maesters were afforded such respect.
“My lord,” Oylen spoke. “It is good to see you. Are you in good health?”
”I am, maester. But I cannot say the same for the men and women of the Red Fork.” Edwyn gave a slight, pained smile to Oylen, before reverting the neutral, cold frown that was almost synonymous of him.
Oylen’s smile faded, too. He was well aware of the situation. “Lord Ashton has been working tirelessly to keep things in check whilst you were away, my lord. The boy has excelled, given the situation.”
”I expected no less.” Edwyn nodded. He had raised all of his boys to be good, reliable men. He had hammered the house words and values into them since they were babes. He acknowledged his mediocrity as a loving father, but his harshness had moulded each of them into honourable men. Now, in this time of war, his sons were what the Riverlands needed. ”And where is he now?”
“In a meeting, my lord, with Ser Royce and Ser Baldric,” Maester Oylen stood up straight. “Preparations for what may be to come, I believe.”
Edwyn stroked his greying brown beard as he thought. He was a perfectionist when it came to preparation, and would likely repeat what his son had already addressed in the meeting, but he was happy to hear that the lad had taken his own initiative to tackle the subject, knowing that he could have left it for Edwyn upon his return. He looked back up at the Dornishman, and allowed for a slight smile to grace his face. ”That will be all for now, Maester Oylen.”
“Of course, my lord,” Oylen said, dipping his head respectfully, and departing the room.
It was only seconds later that Axell came bustling through the door, looking flustered and unsure. He looked to Lord Edwyn and spoke, once he had gathered his thoughts. “My lord-”
”Do not fret, Axell.” Edwyn immediately interjected. The boy’s bumbling clumsiness was frustrating to him, at times, but had a certain charm that Edwyn found endearing. ”Maester Oylen has informed me of Ashton’s council.”
Axell looked relieved, but continued nonetheless. “He wishes for you to attend, if you would, my lord.”
Lord Edwyn tilted his head back a little. He looked almost slighted by the request. For his call to be answered in another call was most irregular. But he took it as a message; Ashton truly believed the meeting he was holding was important. So important that the lord himself could wait. So he stood. ”Very well. See to it that some food is prepared for me. After, you may spend your evening how you see fit. We’ll be up early tomorrow.”
“Yes, my lord,” Axell spoke with relief. The last two months had likely been the most exhausting of his life. “Thank you, my lord.” And with that, the boy, too, took his leave.
Edwyn made his way to the meeting room.
“If you are nothing else, you are courageous,” Baldric mumbled to Ashton. “The morale courage to do what is you know is right in your heart, is a rare and precious quality. Your father has taught you well and you have learned from him. For this I am proud of you. Let us see how he responds.” Baldric smiled at the young lord, who was cut short of a reply as the door opened.
There was a shift in the mood of the room as the riverlord entered. He had been the face of this castle and house for sixteen years, and commanded a level of respect that few others could. He wore a neutral expression. Unreadable. First he gave his master-at-arms a nod, ”Ser Baldric,” he spoke with a warmness to his voice. He'd surely catch up without the formalities at a later point. He gave the captain of the guards a similar nod, ”Ser Royce.” And then, Edwyn's gaze fell to his youngest son.
”Ash.” The Lord's voice was unflinching. ”You look in your element.” He peered at the boy, his pale hazel eyes unblinking. It was unapparent if he was about to scold or praise.
Ashton was in the middle of a respectful nod to the Master-At-Arms when the door opened once more. The appearance of his father seemed to have no real impact on Ashton at first, he simply bowed his head and allowed the man to speak. He was never really able to read his father, something that he had tried to copy in his own mannerisms of command, and this time was no different. Ash decided he wouldn’t even try to decipher the facial expressions and body language. He was proud of his decisions and as Ser Baldric said, he would stand by them. ”Father, welcome home. If I am in my element it’s because of your teachings." He was going to go on about the road and how he hoped the travel was to tiring before he stopped himself. ”I was just going over a potential plan to destroy the raiders on our trading routes.” He inclined his head once more and moved away from his chair. It was a silent way of telling Edwyn ‘the seat is once again yours’, and Ashton took the chair directly to the right. Edwyn took a moment, before obliging, taking his place and allowing the meeting to resume.
“The young lord was detailing his plan to strike at the raiders. Lord Ashton believes the raiders scout the traders here,” pointing at a hilly location on the map arrayed between the men. “They then ready themselves to strike. They could not be very large as they tend to strike at the smaller caravans only. Based on the locations they have struck, the young lord believes the raiders base camp is in this general location here,” Baldric pointed the location. “You can see where Ash placed a black circle on the map. Ash had just told the Captain and myself to employ a ruse; have a caravan leave Fallow Hill, running along a similar route as the previous caravans. He suggests we place soldiers in the wagons instead of foodstuff or supplies. The soldiers must remain hidden else they ruin the surprise. The Rangers could position themselves at a distance here,” Baldric pointed at the map. “We would then dispatch riders as though answering a call to banners. The raiders won’t know the difference, but our men will be further down the road here waiting in ambush.” The markings were already on the map displaying Lord Ashton’s plan. “The young lord suggests we use the Landry Lancers to come in from the opposite end. Personally, those smallfolk have proven to be unreliable. I suggest we merely use one of the other troops of cavalry to close the door on the raiders.” Baldric took a sip of wine. “M’lord, it is a viable plan. I recommend we put Ashton’s plan into action. We’ll need to assemble the troops and brief the leadership on their specific roles.”
”Aye…” Edwyn stroked his chin and looked Ashton's way. He had kept his tongue at bay thus far. ”Aye,” he said again, this time more firmly. ”A sound plan, Ash, and a wise suggestion Baldy.” Edwyn stood from his chair, observing the map. ”You will lead this operation, Baldric. I trust no-one else more to ensure it is safely executed. I suggest you take the Rivers boy,” the lord spoke, drawing his finger down on the map. ”He's got a shrewd bowfinger, and can cut the bandits short a couple before they have the situation clocked.” Edwyn nodded to himself, side-glancing Baldy. ”You know the men better than anyone, I trust you can assemble the unit..”
“The Rivers boy,” Baldric murmured. “The best place for me to be is in the Wagons. That way, I can initiate the attack on the raiders. We’ll plan to use a horn to signal the mounted element. How about Edmund lead the cavalry and use that Rivers boy to lead the Rangers in their ambush. He really only needs about fifty or a hundred.” Baldric hesitated a few seconds and then made another suggestion. “Would it be acceptable if I took Ashton in the wagon with me? It is his plan. Maybe he could see it happen.”
Lord Edwyn mulled over his thoughts. ”I’m not so sure about the wagon.” Edwyn shook his head slightly. ”But he could do with the experience. I'd allow for him to observe the ambush from the rear… accompanied by Ser Tristifer.” Edwyn didn't want to cushion the boy. But Lady Priscilla would never allow for him to accompany the vanguard - and even though Edwyn's word was final, the lady of the house was unflinching if met in disagreement. ”See to it that he is well guarded.”
”Father, I only ask that you prepare me for the war to come, because with the tension in the Kingdoms, I think even I know that war is certain. Within the wagons I’ll be in the safest place in the entire attack, as even in the rear I’m a target for retreating bandits or ones we didn’t see. A stray arrow…” He trailed off and shrugs, ”but within the van I’ll be surrounded by our own men and between the surprise and the double flank, I’ll be in no true danger while gaining more experience.” He nodded his head as he finished, letting his father know that in the end he was the last call in the matter.
”You’ve already asked a lot of me today, Ashton,” Edwyn spoke sternly. ”And I'd expect you to respect my judgement..” He peered at the boy, eyes glinting. ”But… I will allow for you to accompany the men. Again, under Ser Tristifer's keen eye. You are to follow Ser Baldric's every instruction.” Edwyn tapped his finger upon the table. ”There are squires who have seen war at your age from Winterfell to Oldtown. I will allow for you to learn. But you are to stay at Ser Tristifer's side, you understand?”
”I only ask of you what you have come to expect from me father. You taught me.” He smiled a bit but backed off, knowing that he was pushing his luck this day. ”I won’t be a problem, I promise.” He glanced back over to Baldric and had enough tact to keep his face clear again.
Baldric looked at the boy with a stern face. He was measuring the man for what he was worth more than anything else. For it is times like this when boys become men. He will either shine or cower and it is not in him to cower. “M’lord, it is a wise notion to place the boy with Paege. Ser Tristifer will take good care of the lad. I’ll keep an eye out for him when I see him as well.” Baldric was more concerned with the bastard, Rivers. “What about Robert Rivers? Do you think he can handle the Rangers? Be at the right place at the right time?”
”I can vouch for the lad.” Edwyn spoke with certainty. ”He’s loyal, and a better aim than any of us with a bow.” He looked to Ashton. ”You certain you're ready, boy?” He spoke with compassion, but the look in his eyes was clear; he would be disappointed with any answer that was not 'yes’.
”Yes father, I’m ready.” He truly was, ever since he put a sword in his own hand and went to Ser Baldric for tutoring. He developed a style that was entirely his own and formed it to his strengths and to cover his weaknesses. Beyond that he would need the experience if war broke out, and it was better to do it against bandits instead of an opposing House’s standing army. ”Will Axell be coming as well?” He and the Deddings lad had promised to be beside each other in the first battle, but while he assumed Edwyn would be going. He wasn’t entirely sure, and if Edwyn didn’t go, Axell may not either.
”This is your operation, Ashton. I will remain in Fallow Hill. I have plenty of matters to attend to.” Edwyn looked at the boy. He was certain that Ash could hold his own on the battlefield. But Axell? Not so much. He stroked his beard oncemore. ”Ser Royce. Do you believe your son is ready for potential combat?”
Ser Dedding puffed up his chest as he stood. He looked Edwyn in the eyes and responded with certainty, “I have no doubt in my mind that your squire, my son would do well on Lord Ashton’s raid. If it is consent you are looking for, you have it. You don’t need it, you can use him as you see fit, but you have it either way. I’m sure he will enjoy this outing.”
“Very well. He shall squire for Ser Baldric in my stead.” Edwyn decided vocally. Ser Baldric nodded in affirmation. ”Ashton, I will find some time tomorrow morning to get better caught up on things with you. You must've had a long few months,” Edwyn continued, as he adjusted his place in the chair. ”I think it's only fair you have an evening to relax yourself. Is there anything that can't wait?” Edwyn exhaled. The trip had been exhausting. The coming weeks would be rigorous, and, tonight, he wished to bathe and to eat a good meal.
”Would you like me to speak to Edmund about it, or leave it until tomorrow? Other than that question I have nothing further. I’m sure Maester Oylen will have pages and pages of notes to go over with you on everything else.” He gave a chuckle at that and stood from chair, bowing slightly in respect to his father. ”Thank you for your time Father, and I’m truly glad to have you back.” He stood until he was dismissed and a rush of excitement ran through him as everything was decided. He made a mental note to get with Axell later on as well, they would finally be entering their first battle! Then again, he supposed Axell sort of already have a smaller engagement near Pinkmaiden, though he didn’t know the specifics.
”Aye. Perhaps leave Edmund to have a night of leisure. He's had plenty on his plate these last few weeks. But I want things set in motion for the ambush immediately.” Edwyn stood from his chair. ”Ser Baldric. Ser Royce. Ashton. Thank you for your time. I trust you will execute this operation cleanly without my supervision.” He cleared his throat, placing his hand, straight, on Ashton's shoulder, his face still stony cold. ”Well done, son.” And with that, he made his leave.
Gladly, when he arrived at his desk in his personal study, dinner was not yet cold.
Dutifully following her father’s request, Ariella made her way from the stables back into the keep, heading toward her mother’s chambers, where she expected she might be spending the afternoon what with Ashton and Ser Baldric having kept such a close eye on things. On her way there, however, a servant girl informed her that Lady Priscilla was actually in the Great Hall. Right, it was probably time for lunch; Ariella had a bad habit of losing track of meals.
She adjusted her course to the Great Hall, but halted outside the door for a moment before entering, drawing a long breath. Something about speaking with her mother was always so… taxing, that Ariella often took a moment to prepare. Rearranging her plaited braid and tugging at the slim sleeves of her plain green riding dress, she wondered if perhaps she should have changed into something a bit more formal, befitting of her station, before calling upon the Lady of the House. With a sigh, though, she simply smoothed her skirts and steeled herself for the conversation; it wasn’t as if her dress would change her mother’s opinion of her much, anyway.
Back straight and head high, Ariella entered the Great Hall wearing a familiar smile, though she was surprised to find her mother alone, and not eating. A bit strange, but her mother’s habits had always had just the slightest twist. She wondered if perhaps the stress of her father and brother’s absence was affecting her mother’s appetite, but decided she wouldn’t question it. For now.
Approaching the table, Ariella offered a small curtsy and a smile. “Good afternoon, Mother,” she greeted warmly, placing a hand on a nearby chair back, “I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear, Father and Edmund have just returned, a little ahead of the retinue but both in one piece.”
The hall had been cleared out by now and the only thing that filled the room was silence. She had sat down in the chair that Ashton placed himself in moments ago and let out a brief sigh. So many questions were running through her head right now. How was Edmund? How was Edwyn? When were they going to return to Fallow Hill? When they be in one piece? Priscilla raised a hand up to rub her temples as her head began to hurt a bit. Another sigh slipped out but then she thought about Ashton rising up to take the reigns. It was really, really impressive to her and while she had that on her mind now, she couldn’t wait until she saw either Edwyn or Edmund first because boy, she was fuming and would really like to get her hands on either one of them right now.
Everything aside, she had finally straightened herself up in the chair, just as the doors opened up to the Great Hall. Her face had gleamed up because she had hoped that it’d be Edwyn coming to meet with her but it was Ariella instead. She rolled her eyes while Ariella was still at a distance then sat back in the chair and gave her the side-eye a bit.
Priscilla scoffed at the curtsy and smile and her warm tone. She was happy to hear the news but why was Ariella delivering this news instead of the Lord of the house. Why wasn’t Edwyn coming to her first? Sure, their marriage is basically at a dead end but he could’ve still had the decency to come and greet her, couldn’t he? Priscilla just placed that thought in the back of her mind and tried, yes tried to make an attempt with Ariella while they had this moment alone.
❝I see.❞ She spoke rather plainly but managed to smile at least. ❝But why isn’t Edwyn here to let me know about his return?❞ She had questioned then stood up to turn and face Ariella now with those piercing blue eyes of hers. ❝Did he send you here to let me know, Ariella?❞ Her question and tone were more direct now as if she demanded an answer from her, which she really did.
Ariella stayed in place, unflinching as her mother stood, affected only inwardly by her dismissive manner and remarks. She supposed she couldn’t expect much more than that. Her brow furrowed just a touch, but her expression remained amiable as she replied.
“Yes,” she told her mother, voice gentle. “I expect he went straight off somewhere to check on things. I’m sure he won’t be able to relax until he’s had a second look at everything that’s happened in his absence.” Ariella’s voice took on a hint of amusement; despite urging the man to relax, the image of him poring over every Maester’s document for the past three months in the middle of the night seemed typical.
Priscilla's eyes were locked on Ariella and her mannerisms at the moment. She looked for any moment that Ariella would feel vulnerable before she’d go in for a strike but this daughter of hers was definitely her father through and though and nothing like her. It was quite obvious. ❝Even more excuses.❞ She said with the wave of her hand. ❝The man is seemingly filled with them.❞ Priscilla spat as she walked closer toward Ariella now and propped her elbow upon the back of the chair that she had sat in moments ago.
❝Tell me, Ariella...❞ She had a smirk creep between her red stained lips now and her gaze was locked with Ariella’s. ❝Do you miss Morgain at all?❞ There it was. That dreadful question that Priscilla repeatedly asked Ariella on multiple occasions previously. ❝Think about him much?❞ She asked as she waited for the reaction from Ariella. It was something she was really expecting.
Ariella’s smile faltered to a more neutral expression, as it often had before, and her eyes hardened. Seven Hells, why was this woman like this? Was she having a bad day and wanted someone to take it out on? It was as if she got some sick pleasure from her daughter’s grief, a grief she should have shared in droves. According to that little smirk, though, apparently, the disappearance of her firstborn son was little more than a game to Lady Landry.
Composing herself, Ariella offered a sad little smile, loath for her mother to bring out the worst in her. “Every day,” she replied calmly, not looking away from her mother’s gaze. “Don’t you?”
Priscilla’s head snapped over to Ariella as she turned the question back to her. How dare she ask that? She did bore him after all. She had missed Morgain since she had heard and learned of his disappearance. She cried herself in the confines of her room but remained strong in public for the family but of course, Ariella did not need to know all of that, so she just gave the nod of her head as a response then walked past Ariella to walk down three steps.
She had sighed when her feet reached the floor beneath her now, remembering seeing little Morgain run around this hall. Her eyes briefly closed and a smile wandered over her lips but she soon turned heel to face Ariella again, a sigh escaped over her parted lips now. ❝He was my firstborn son, after all. Heir to Fallow Hill.❞ She spoke with a little glee. ❝How could I not miss him? Do you think I am that cold, Ariella?❞ The first question was obviously rhetorical while the other question was meant for a response. No matter how truthful Ariella might’ve given her one.
Ariella stayed in place, following her mother with her eyes. Oh, how quickly she changed her tune. After all this time, so many repetitions of that awful question, Ariella couldn’t tell if it was sincere, or all an act.
Of course, she couldn’t just snap, tell her mother what she really thought and run off in a huff like a child. It was unbecoming of her station, and like it or not, disrespecting her mother so blatantly was a crime she couldn’t bring herself to commit.
So, she just took a tired breath, and sighed. “Grief weighs on us all,” she replied, glancing down in concession and hoping her response was demure enough to quell her mother’s apparent upset.
That reply of Ariella’s bothered her but she did not show it, really. Priscilla just stood there still on the bottom floor from the steps and eyed her only daughter with the shake of her head. ❝Ariella, you are too young to know what real grief is like.❞ She commented with the flick of her hand in the air then stood up, a bit stiffened. She had shrugged her shoulders, completely wanting to forgo the whole conversation and quickly changed the subject matter onto something that was on hand.
❝Where is your father, by chance?❞ Priscilla asked as if she didn’t want to continue their previous conversation, which she really didn’t but had her own way of deflecting things. ❝Do you even know?❞ She questioned her with a huff then rolled her eyes as if Ariella had already answered that she had no idea. Priscilla was fuming but it wasn’t directed towards Ariella, who was just really caught in the crossfire right now. She did feel bad but at the same time, she didn’t feel too bad. It was all a toss up for her right now.
Ariella somehow doubted that response; two years into Morgain’s disappearance and the thought of it still opened a fresh wound each time, as if some phantom had come and cleaved off a piece of her. Sometimes it troubled her so that she could scarcely breathe; no wonder, for she was certain Morgain had taken one of her lungs with him when he vanished.
But there was no talking to her mother when she was like this. Suppressing another sigh, Ariella simply folded her hands in front of her, replying, “If I were to venture a guess, I’d say he’s in his study.”
When Ariella gave her response, she’d nod her head then turn heel to walk out of the Great Hall. No bye, see you at dinner or anything and honestly, that was the type of relationship that they shared with one another. While it pained Priscilla internally, she had to act like it didn’t. Outwardly, she showed that greatly. Almost too great to make Ariella actually believe it. She did as Ariella had said then stood before Edwyn’s study door. Her stomach tossed and turned and her throat gulped as she raised up her lightly closed fist then knocked on the door. This might’ve been a mistake. Priscilla couldn’t help but think as she just stood there, waiting.
Any and all who train with the bow are invited to a special range time experience just outside the walls at Fallow Hill. Targets are set up in a field at varying ranges; twenty-five yards, fifty yards, a hundred, a hundred fifty. Two hundred and three hundred yards. Only a handful of people present are able to hit the three-hundred-yard target.
“Try to replicate your stance, posture, string pull and aim point every time. That is the key to bow accuracy,” Baldric told his son, Mace.
Roughly thirty people were in attendance with bows. Baldric and Royce Deddings laid down the rules so that no one was shooting while people retrieved arrows down range. When it was time to retrieve arrows, Deddings would call a halt. Every man would walk the distance to the targets to secure their arrows and then return to the firing line. Mace nocked an arrow, angling his bow up about twenty degrees trying to hit the two-hundred-yard target. He pulled back on the string, so his right thumb stopped at the right corner of his mouth. He lined up a notch on his bow with the target down range establishing a twenty-degree lift. When he felt he had the weapon lined up properly, he released the string watching the arrow fly down range. Father and son tracked it all the way to where it hit with a thud! Into the ground right in front of the target he was aiming at.
“I am lined up properly. Might need to raise the angle a little. I’ll try again.” Mace was more of a swordsman fighting up close and personal. His size gave him a decisive advantage in hand to hand combat; something he excelled in. Practicing this skill was more for his father. The Master-at-arms wanted his son skilled in every weapon, not just a few.
From a short distance Robert watched as the group in front of him sent arrows down range. The standard of skill stretched from pretty decent, right down to absolutely terrible. It frustrated the young man because some of those in front of him had been practising for months with little to no improvement.
“Fenwick! How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t be so rigid! I dread to think of how many blisters your cock has if you hold the bow that hard!” There were a few chuckles as Robert put down the spotted redhead with his words. In truth he liked the boy and he did show promise, he just liked to keep him in his place.
As the group continued to fire their shots Robert strolled across the line. He would occasionally stop to adjust the posture of people while at least one person needed to be shown how to get the best leverage on his string. Using his own bow he showed the short lad the best way to draw the string back. He did it several times until the shorter of the two could mimic the motion almost in unison.
“The trick is to keep doing it until your body just does it naturally.” With his tip he patted the boy and moved on.
He had soon reached Baldric and his son, both better suited for the front line than bowmen. However, a good soldier was able to fight with any and all weaponry and that was what Baldric drilled into the soldiers of House Landry. Looking at the pair working together Robert just watched on, listening to the sons critique of his own shot.
Baldric noticed Robert Rivers. He watched the young man helping the other soldiers with their bow work. Rivers had a reputation across Westeros as one of the best archers on the continent. Baldric stepped back off the line as Mace continued sending arrow shafts down range. “Mr. Rivers, may I have a word?” Baldric called the bastard to him. “Lord Edwyn intends to strike at these raiders who have been plundering our caravans. The bloody wankers are giving our lord a pain in the arse. His son, Lord Ashton has developed a plan involving a ruse to draw the raiders out to attack. Instead of wagons filled with food stores, they will be filled with soldiers. I’ll be in one of the wagons with my son and several others. Ser Edmund will lead a detachment of mounted men-at-arms to reinforce our position once the attack begins. We expect the raiders to withdraw in the direction of their base camp, which we believe is not too far away. I can show you on a map when we get back to the keep. Lord Edwyn would like you to lead an element of roughly fifty Rangers to establish an ambush along the expected route the raiders would be moving along. I want you to pick the best Rangers we have. You should not be alone in the fight for very long as Ser Edmund and I will be chasing them in your direction. The plan is to sandwich the raiders between our heavier force and your lighter more mobile one.” Baldric paid attention to Robert Rivers’ face to get a clue has to how he felt about the task being assigned him. “I know you are an outstanding archer. I’ve seen your work. I’d wager a night at the brothel you could knock a tick off a goat at a hundred yards without harming the goat. My concern is, how are you with leading troops? Do you have any experience in this realm? I guess this raid will give me the answers I am looking for. If you need any help in assembling your force, please let me know. Myself and Lord Edwyn will render whatever assistance you may require.”
A grin crossed Robert’s face as Baldric spoke. He was usually a man of few words so whenever he spoke it meant people listened. The fact was that he knew what he was talking about and it provided Robert with some semblance of acceptance that the big man was willing to share his expertise and even offer his help.
“I do love setting a good trap, so it shouldn’t be an issue to set something up. As for the rangers, leave it to me. I have a good core of twenty that I would bet my life on, the rest I’ll make up with a mixture of experience and new blood.” Scratching at the small beard on his chin Robert glanced back out over the range, taking his gaze away from Baldric. “As for me, Baldy you don’t need to worry. I might not have the experience like yourself but I can get fifty men to fight as hard as even you can. Just don’t expect me to be commanding thousands. That’s a bit too grand for my tastes. Besides, I like to be where the action is.”
Robert stretched his arms out wide and felt the satisfying stretch of his muscles throughout his body. He looked over to Mace and gestured with is head. “Are you bringing your boy along? I’d love to see if he is anywhere near the monster on the battlefield that his old man is.”
“Aye, Mace will be in one of the wagons,” Baldric responded to the question. “Knowing the boy’s desire to get killed in battle, he may be one of the first you see chasing the raiders into your ambush.” Baldric allowed a half smile at the notion. He didn’t like Mace’s reckless behavior. It meant, he had to work harder to be available in case he needed help.
Ariella finally let out the breath she was holding when her mother finally left the Great Hall, presumably to go haunt her father’s study. Sitting down in a chair at the table, she put a hand over her mouth, blinking rapidly and struggling to swallow the lump in her throat. Why that witch had to torment her like that was beyond her, but it stung all the more as she remembered her foolish hope and subsequent disappointment that morning at seeing that her father and Edmund hadn’t miraculously found Morgain on their travels and brought him back with them.
She took a sharp breath when she heard someone enter the Hall, sitting up straighter and doing her best to banish her upset from her face. The source of the sound, a serving girl, approached her and curtsied, receiving a nod in return. “Would you like some lunch, milady?”
Ariella smiled. “No thank you, Evelyn, I’m not hungry.”
Evelyn looked concerned. “Are you sure milady? You barely ate nothin’ this mornin’.”
Ariella shook her head. “I’m fine, thank you.”
Evelyn looked unsatisfied but didn’t press the issue, simply curtsying and heading back to the kitchen, leaving Ariella alone again. She didn’t inger there long, though, loath to lose herself in grief anywhere anyone could see her. She needed to find a distraction, and opted to head back to the stables, hoping to take refuge in the hills again.
~ /// ~
“Shh, hey now, be still,” Ariella cooed, tightening her pull on the reins just a touch as she coaxed the slim black destrier to back up a few steps. This horse was young, meant to be a warhorse someday, but still antsy and a little mischievous. Truly, it was a blessing in disguise; Ariella couldn’t bring herself to take Thunder back out after having had so little rest after their morning outing, so she’d opted for this one, nicknamed ‘Snap’ for his little attitude. Luckily, Ariella was no novice, and in fact, Snap’s naughty tendencies had made for an excellent distraction from her troubles. Unlike Thunder, who could operate almost of his own accord, Snap needed constant attention and correction, leaving Ariella little time to dwell on her sorrows.
“That’s it, you’re a smart fellow after all!” She congratulated the horse, the beast having finally figured out what she was asking of him and reversing a few steps, calming down a bit. They had stopped in their ride for this little exercise after Snap had been spooked by some birds flying out of the brush in the harvested field they were traversing; the poor thing had bolted, carrying the two of them quite a distance before Ariella got him back under control. She had found in the past that some basic training exercises could help bring a horse back down to normal after such an affair, and luckily, it seemed to have worked.
As Ariella pet Snap’s neck as a reward, a gust of wind brought with it a faint bout of shouting, though she couldn’t make out the words. Finally looking up from the horse, Ariella spotted a group of men standing in a line a little ways off; after squinting into the distance for a moment, she spotted the bows in their hands, and the lumps of targets they must have been aiming at. Of course! That was the training range the men set up every week or so. Snap must have carried them farther than she’d thought.
Intrigued, Ariella turned Snap toward the group (doing an impromptu spin in the process to keep him thinking) before coaxing him into a gallop. Now, running Snap could do well; he wasted no time getting up to speed and before she knew it, Ariella had to slow him before they simply bowled the archers over. She approached the group from behind, slowing Snap down to a walk; a few of the archers waiting their turn saw her and bowed, but she held up a hand to stop them, smiling warmly as she neared the only two men who weren’t shooting.
“Ser Baldric, good afternoon!” she greeted brightly, invigorated from the ride, “And Robert, glad to see you back in one piece.” She offered a smile, then looked to the archers. “How are the men performing?”
Edmund knew the serving girls and knew them well. From time to time he would catch glimpses of them starting at him, blushing and then scurrying away. While it did his bolster his ego but that was all that it did. The last thing he needed was a serving girl or a kitchen wench carrying his bastard around the castle. So Edmund kept his illicit activities to the brothels and peasantry outside of Fallow Hill.
Truthfully he didn't know what else to say as the two of them entered the great hall. Trying to think of anything else that might be relevant or if interest at least to Liliana. While he had been deep in thought, Edmund mistakenly returned to his normal stride. A pace that must've been difficult for his small betrothed to keep up with. Noticing only when he looked down to offer a small but subtle smile but only to notice her struggling to keep up. “My apologies Liliana, I didn't realise my stride had been so long.” Standing there in the middle great hall, letting his small betrothed catch up to Edmund.
Liliana had noticed that his pace had quickened to outmatch hers but she’d simple smiled and let him walk on ahead, seeing no need to rush after him. It was more interesting to watch him stride on ahead anyway, though as he turned around she did quicken her pace a little to catch up “No need to worry. Growing up with only brothers meant that I was always running behind someone. A hazard of being the youngest sibling I suppose!”
“I will still try to remember to shorten my stride next time.” He resumed their little walk to one of the tables. Taking her hand, guiding the small woman to her prospective seat.
Taking his seat next to her as the serving girl brought out their drinks. Brown beer for Edmund and blackberry wine for Liliana. Edmunds was a bit larger because of his size and appetite. His first sip had been long, perhaps too long as if he was wanting to forget something. Setting the wooden mug down, forgetting his own manners as he used his own sleeve to wipe the excess beer from his lips. “I trust my mother and siblings have treated you well?” Asking out of curiosity more than anything.
Liliana plopped herself down in the seat that was offered to her, instantly cradling the wine gratefully between her hands. It was sweet and a bit sickly, but she liked it well enough. She raised an amused eyebrow at Edmund as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, tempted to scold him in jest but deciding otherwise.
“Well Ashton has been play-...” Liliana caught herself mid-sentence, about to blurt out about the few pranks the youngest Landry has played on herself, but thought better of it...not wanting to get the boy in trouble. Besides, it would stop her from paying him back in kind if his parents or siblings were to find out about it. “Well actually, I saw him in court today. He was very good for someone of his age.” She continued instead, taking a small sip of her wine after she had spoken.
“They’ve been very kind though. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you back no doubt. You must have missed your family being away for such a time?”
“I have missed home, the road was… unpleasant in a manner of speaking. ” Finishing the rest of his beer and as before he wiped with his sleeve. Ushing for another drink, his thirst somewhat parched and the nasty feeling of the future mildly mellowed for the time being. “ But I did get to see the king while I competed in the Tourney of the Hand. ’ Exchanging an empty pint with a full one before he continued speaking. “I did fairly well but going against Ser Gregor Clegane ‘The Mountain’ was probably a bad idea now that I look back at it.”
Shaking her head at the serving girl as she offered to pour her more wine, Liliana's eyes widened at Edmunds mentioning of Gregor Clegane. “Wait..” She continued as she leaned closer towards him, her enthusiasm only fuelled by the wine that was now running through her system. “You challenged the Mountain? As in the Mountain!? He’s, well…I do always feel sorry for his poor horses.” She gestured as she spoke, raising her arms to indicate someone very tall and very wide. The Mountain was of course infamous for several reasons, most of them terribly unsavoury. Thinking back, she realised that this must have been what he‘d been hesitant to tell her about earlier. ”You must have done well not to have been hurt.” She wondered if his mother knew about it yet, having seen enough of Lady Priscilla to know it undoubtedly would not go down well.
Yes as in The Mountain and it's just something I don’t plan on doing again. Recalling the incident he was incredibly brave but incredibly stupid also. Each time he’d broke a lance against Ser Gregor it was in the same spot, over and over again. The amount of raw power the man had was unfathomable, no rumor did it justice. Edmund apparently had agitated Ser Gregor for lasting as long as he did and in that slight of anger he was going to make sure that Edmund regret agitating him so. The next round had come and Ser Gregor had hit Edmund with the force of the Smith himself. Knocking him down and off his horse, luckily flat on his back but he didn’t feel right. He at least kept his composure in front of King Robert but walked away quickly and started clawing at his armor when he was out of sight. He couldn’t breathe the weight of his armor was too much. Finding out he bruised several ribs and a severe concussion, but Edmund shook his head and brought himself back to the present.
“Ash has always been that way.” Edmund let a small smirk loose knowing what Liliana was gonna say earlier and how his brother was still up to his old tricks. The first genuine smile he had shown since being home. He’d been the target of his little brother’s pranks plenty of times and whenever he’d try to get revenge it ended up badly. “He got me so bad once that when I returned the favor our mother ended up chasing me down with a riding crop. So I’ll help you get him one of these days.” Ashton was due for some long deserved pay back. Yes he’d get scolded again but it might be worth it.
As he thought for a moment the arrival of one the castles many apprentices had come to him delivering a package. Raising his brow at the young man but he knew it wasn't the young man's fault. He would however be speaking to the blacksmith later on.
“Well it seems you are to receive your gift sooner than I anticipated. I had the smith take into account your size.” Edmund unveiled his gift to Liliana two in fact. One a small dagger for personal protection, much like his sisters. The second an actual blade to fight with but considerably smaller and would be easier to swing. He had heard stories about her youth and how she played with wooden swords and with the realm in chaos it seemed more appropriate than ever now.
Liliana had been grinning at the idea of getting back at Ashton, a whole host of ideas already popping up into her devious mind, when the apprentice boy strolled over to their table. At first a look of confusion spread across her features, for she had completely forgotten Edmunds mention of a gift. Nor could not have guessed in a thousand years what he was going to give her. Clearly she had never received a gift from a betrothed before but had assumed that it would usually consist of an item of clothing or jewellery. “You had these made for me..? They’re beautiful!” Her face lit up as he revealed the two weapons, moving to gently pick up the dagger between her hands. Liliana turned it over to admire its design, even her untrained eye being able to see that it was well made. She couldn’t count the number of times she has begged her father for a real weapon, though understandably as she had been a girl of only seven, he had been inclined to say no.
Realising that she had been staring at the blades for a bit too long without saying anything, she quickly turned to Edmund and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. Though I think you’ll have to show me how to use them...” Still smiling, she carefully wrapped the blades back up, not wanting to damage them before she’d even had one attempt at wielding one. If she was honest with herself, it was a more thoughtful gesture than she had expected, for it must have only been in passing that she had mentioned her eagerness to always be involved in her brothers swordplay.
“That is what I intend to do Liliana, just try not poke someones eye out in the meantime.” Obviously joking around but serious at the same time. “Put them up for now though and once things settle I will show you how to use them properly.” He had to admit the kiss to his cheek was more enlightening than he thought it would be, waving back to Liliana as she was taking his gift of to her chambers. Two things lingered in the back of his mind as his betrothed left the hall. The first being on Baldric would react to giving a woman weapons, the second being on how bad his mother temperament was going to be when the finally did meet again.
Rubbing his chin with his fingers, Edwyn leaned back in his chair. On his desk in front of him were several sheets of parchment, on which he’d scribbled various notes and plans. His head was abuzz with thought. There was much to prepare in the event that the Lannister army marched east, and scarce time. The Freys, and, by extension, the Haighs, had not answered the Tully call of banners. This was unsurprising, but extremely concerning nonetheless. Lord Hoster needed every riverlord to unite in arms if he wanted to stand a chance of repelling the Westermen. Edwyn didn’t know why, exactly, the Freys did not come when the banners were called, and he had to assume that they would still fight for their land should war come; but he would not take chances. Usually, he would have Oylen write for him, but, tonight, he lay ink to paper.
‘Lord Walder Frey,
I hope this letter finds you well. As you surely know, the west Riverlands have been raided over the past weeks, and there is word of a Lannister host ammassing in the Westerlands. I write this message to you as a guarantee; your family and people will always be considered by the lords of Fallow Hill, and our granaries. Wh-
Edwyn flinched as he heard a knock at the door, the ink smudging slightly. He sighed a little, but nodded to himself. Perhaps it would be wiser not to intervene. Lord Frey was a devious man who likely already had a plan for the coming war, and Edwyn was proud. He would not grovel - and without grovelling, he was unlikely to see results. Clearing his throat, Edwyn moved the parchment aside and called out. ”Come in.”
Priscilla paced back and forth after she knocked, now wishing that she really had not. She delved deep into her mind and thought about how much of a bad idea this was, or how much of a bad idea it can become. Crap She thought to herself as she walked away from the door, only to run back to it then walked away again. It was a constant internal struggle for her because she never knew what sort of mood she’d catch him in. Especially with her. Her hand raised up to her face as she sighed, praying to the seven gods to take back her actions from a few moments ago but nothing happened. Of course, she expected that because the gods have not been kind to her over the years. It was known.
Just as she was about to walk away again, she heard his voice mutter for her to come in. She had wondered if he had known it was her, would he have been so accepting to say those words again. Priscilla closed her eyes and inhaled before she twisted the knob and pushed forward, where she exhaled and opened her eyes. As she entered Edwyn’s study, her gaze bounced around as she remembered the fond memories before their love for each other went cold. A little smile even crept between her lips as she closed the door behind her and stood there, eyes still wandered around the study.
It was then when her gaze settled onto Edwyn, her husband, that her smile faded away and her face went expressionless. It was more of a look reserved for him and she never once hesitated to deny it. ❝Edwyn.❞ She breathed his name a bit while her hands clasped in front of her in a greeting gesture. ❝Hope I did not catch you at a bad time.❞ She muttered almost lowly but loud enough for Edwyn to catch her words. ❝How were things while you and Edmund were in King’s Landing for the tourney?❞
Her tone was a bit disgusted by it because she had wanted to be there to support Edmund, her son whom she adored very much so. He was like her in some ways and glad that someone was or else, this family would be doomed. She had hoped that her and Edwyn can speak calmly about things but knew that was probably only shared by her. She still stood closer by the door because she was unsure what type of mood Edwyn was in at the moment and did not want to make matters worse.
”Priscilla.” Edwyn looked up at his wife. He did not smile, but, for just a moment there was a slight glint in his eyes that only seemed to show when he felt something. He had not remembered to greet his wife with all that had gone on - or perhaps he had avoided it. The awkwardness between them was often an elephant in the room that he would rather leave unaddressed. But he was somewhat glad she came to him. It had been three months, after all. Nonetheless, he wasn’t sure he was ready to have a long talk. He had much to do, and he was sure Priscilla would want a real conversation. He was not the type for ‘real’ conversations. Not usually.
When he used to call her name, she used to feel something inside that made her tingle. But now, she felt only a small tingle, really small as if it was already diminished. She did see that glint and that made her smile with her lips a little bit but there was still that awkward feeling between them that clung to the air around them. Priscilla hated this feeling and just wished she would have known where things went wrong between them. There was no use now since their marriage had gone cold and stale years ago. She did enjoy sleeping beside him though because she felt really protected, now all she feels is worried. Priscilla couldn’t help the way she felt around him these days. After all, maybe she was the cause of their marriage taking the unexpected turn as it did.
”No, it’s fine,” he spoke through a sigh. ”The tourney was a tourney. Formalities, appearances.” Edwyn looked up at Priscilla. He knew she had wanted to go. She had said so, and he had declined, and nothing more came of it. But he knew her temperament. It still bothered her that he had left her at the Hill. But transporting a lady down the Kingsroad, housing her, and keeping her safe cost money, and Edwyn was unwilling to waste gold on a whim. The reason that House Landry had such fruitful harvests and solid trade links was because Edwyn kept his purse tight, spending little on travel, accomodation and luxury items, and instead re-investing the coin into his land. As far as he was concerned, he would hear no more of it.
❝How did our boy, Edmund compete?❞ She inquired as she felt comfortable enough to walk a little further inside of the study room now. There was a tension that swirled in the air but it wasn’t between them, something else was going on and it made her feel a bit confused. Priscilla wanted to inquire about the tension but hesitated a bit because she was unsure of what type of reaction she’d get out of Edwyn. ❝Something...❞ She muttered with hesitation then cleared her throat before she shrugged her shoulders and inquired anyway. ❝Something doesn’t feel right here, Edwyn. And I don’t mean between us.❞ She had picked up a bit of pace in her walk now as she stood mere inches from him and the desk now, eyes glanced over him for a moment. ❝What’s going on, Edwyn?❞ Priscilla asked with no hesitation whatsoever.
”I’m sure you heard of Edmund’s performance,” Edwyn gave a forced smile. ”A valiant effort. He remained silent for a moment, looking down at his desk ponderingly. He cared not for these pleasantries, and he knew Pris could live with him skipping over them. ”We need to be ready, Priscilla.” He looked her straight in the eyes now. These ‘skirmishes’ in the west are far from over. They will come for us, too.” Edwyn danced around the wording, but he knew she understood. Priscilla knew what it was to live through war, at home, and with two infants in her arms. She had arguably struggled just as much as those out in the field. ”I need you to be ready. For whatever happens.”
Her lips curved up into a smile whenever Edwyn spoke of Edmund’s valiant effort performance in the tourney. Her lips then curved into a half frown whenever Edwyn looked down at his desk with the look of wonder expressed upon his face. Something good is not happening right now. Her gut was telling her that story and she could feel it in the air like an impending storm that was about the clash with itself in the skies above them. Then he spoke and said that they need to be ready. Ready for what? She meant to ask him but thought it instead. It was like he had read her mind as he began to explain his previous and rather cryptic statement. Priscilla had sighed at his words and lowered her head a bit as she took a seat in one of the chairs nearby to brace herself.
This would not be the first time she has had to endure something such as this. Only this time, she had to children to carry in her arms and was more than ready for anything. She had knew that this day would come eventually but just did not think more of it until now. The room started to spin a bit but still, she remained strong in front of Edwyn because it’d be tragic if he had saw her breaking down right now. She stiffened herself up and eyed him with the nod of her head, licking her lips and pressing them together before she spoke.
❝Edwyn, you know that I am more than ready to protect this household by any means necessary.❞ She muttered lowly but loud enough for him to hear her, to which he nodded silently. ❝Even if that means suiting Ashton up to join in the fight.❞ Of course, it was just a figure of speech and she hoped that Edwyn did not take her words to thought. She’d die inside if something happened to her little otter out there on the battlefield or just on any field really. She’d revel the day that Ashton is able to join in on the battles though. ❝Speaking of Ashton, you would’ve been proud of him today at the court.❞ She said then ended her words with a smile.
❝He looked so much like you sitting in that chair today. I almost had flashbacks to those times.❞ Priscilla was very brief in her tone but made it quite clear for Edwyn to get the message. She had sighed a bit before she lowered her head again, her hands rubbed together before her gaze went back to meet his. ❝What does this mean for us, Edwyn? What’s going to happen?❞ Priscilla questioned, rather sternly as if she was wanting to take charge of the situation. Of course, if there was an impending battle, she’d have no choice but to take charge of the household and those who stayed behind and dwelled their for the moment. She’d also pray for her husband, Edwyn and whoever stood beside him on the battlefield.
Edwyn had remained quiet and calm as his wife spoke. It had been a while since they had been able to speak like this, but perhaps it was just because of the circumstances. Even with the respectful nature of the conversation, there was still a clear underlying tension between the two. Perhaps there would always be one. ”Ashton has grown a great deal in my absence. He is more of a man at fourteen than many are at twenty.” He neglected to mention that he intended to send Ash out on the operation of his own design in the coming days. Perhaps that was a conversation to face another time. Edwyn waited a moment before considering her question. What did this all mean? Aside from the obvious; war. Pain. Potential grief.
”I don’t know yet.” He was blunt and unfeeling in his delivery. ”But tonight I will write to Lord Horton. He is a dear friend, and, should the safety of our home be compromised, he would be glad to offer shelter.” He did not sugar-coat the situation. The idea of having to evacuate home was perhaps a pessimistic one, but Edwyn was nothing if not prepared. ”Baldy is readying our men as we speak. In the coming week we will know what is to come.” He sighed a little, but attempted to give a reassuring smile, which appeared blatantly forced. ”We have the most plentiful granary in the Riverlands. So long as we can keep a hold on the Kingsroad, we will be fine, and this will likely be put to an end swiftly. King Robert is not the kind of man to allow a war behind his own back.”
She only nodded her head at him whenever he muttered his thoughts about Ashton then stood up, walking closer to him now. She reached her hand out with nerves that caused it to shake a bit. Her hand would rest upon his shoulder as she closed her eyes a bit and breathed, hoping to ignite that spark that they once shared between them. Priscilla always carried that spark that will once light up a torch between them and she will never lose it, so it seems. She cared deeply for Edwyn, respected his decisions and stood beside him in the darkest of times. It looks as so, she has to be that Priscilla he fell in love with once again.
❝Please, let me know Lord Horton thoughts, Edwyn so I can be better prepared.❞ She spoke lowly and softly then curled her hand upon his shoulder now to show her worry. She had sighed breathlessly and leaned in to kiss his cheek then leaned backward. Why was she trying to salvage the distant feelings between them so much? Especially now in the time such as this. ❝I hope whatever is to come will be in good in our favor. If it’s a war then I know we shall prevail with you leading the charge, Edwyn alongside Ser Baldric.❞ She spoke in the same tone as before though with a bit more loving tone to it now. Priscilla had to show that she cared for him in some way and she think that she just did that, or least, she hope that he felt it.
❝King Robert won’t know unless someone tells him. Perhaps, you should write to him, as well? Let him know of the brewing troubles?❞ Priscilla inquired with hesitation because of course, King of the Seven Kingdoms knows what is going but what if, just this once, he did not know. She had sighed under her breath again, feeling as if she just made matters worse and removed her hand from Edwyn’s shoulder then turned her back from him. Her head lowered to stare at the floor beneath her because she feels as if she just makes terrible decisions for the sake of everyone that’s involved.
”We will make it in our favour.” Edwyn stated, but turned silent as his wife approached him. He did not object to her touch, but his face continued to lack any sense of emotion. As she turned away, he closed his eyes for a moment, but quickly restored his unflinching frown. ”The King has respect for this house, I know that,” he said, then shook his head. ”But he will always trust the Lannisters over a minor Riverlands family. It would only raise further chance of major conflict if I interfered, I fear...” He seemed to trail of a little, gazing off to the wall. He snapped his eyes back to Priscilla; it seemed he had decided he wanted to be alone now. That this was enough human contact for today.
”Have you seen Edmund yet?” He feigned sentimentality in his tone. ”You should seek him out. I’m sure he’ll have missed you.” His eyes seemed to drift back to the papers on his desk, as if the conversation was surely almost over.
She had understood his words and did not comment any further. It was as if he did not want her to do so, anyway. Priscilla simply nodded her head in an understanding and agreeable nature then turned back to face him. Then he changed the topic and it was clearly a sign to get rid of her. She couldn’t blame him because whatever spark that was left between them, fizzled out right then and there. It was disheartening for her to think about but at the same time, it was probably for the best. ❝I have missed him so, it’s no doubt in my mind that the feeling is mutual.❞ She muttered, throwing a brief hint to Edwyn.
After her words, she walked to the door and twisted the knob to open it. Her head glanced back and she wanted to tell him goodbye, see you at bedtime or something of that nature but was it really worth it at this point? Priscilla gulped and held back her words and just exited out of the study. She closed the door behind her then rested her back against, on the verge of absolute tears because of how cold her and Edwyn had really become with each other. Her hand raised up to her mouth as she gasped then stood up straight, sniffling before she went on the search for Edmund.
Wherever he was.
Edwyn returned to his papers. For a moment, lost in thought, but quickly back to work. Maester Oylen appeared as a shadow at the door. A knock. Edwyn called, he entered. “Is there anything else you need this evening, Lord Edwyn?” The Dornishman asked with a gentle tone. He was well aware of the Landry family dynamics, and was aware that the lord would most likely want to be left alone for the night. ”No, that’ll be all, Maester," Edwyn spoke almost dejectedly. As Oylen nodded and turned to make his leave, Edwyn adjusted himself and spoke out again. ”Actually… Oylen,” He dipped his head and focused a little. ”Perhaps the house would have supper tonight, together, in the hall. Would you be as kind to arrange it with the kitchen?” Edwyn wanted his family have some vague sense of togetherness if war was to come.
“Of course, my lord,” Maester Oylen smiled. “I will see it done.” And with that, the door to Edwyn’s study creaked shut.
The conversation with Mr. Rivers left him feeling more confident in the Ranger’s ambush. Lord Edwyn gave the young man a recommendation without reproach. That was enough for Baldric. Robert stated he had a solid group of Rangers he could build his fifty around.
The sight of a young woman riding upon the range from a distance caught his eye. He watched as Ariella Landry made her way towards their firing line. She was able to keep the mount under control. This was not her usual mount. As Master-at-Arms he recognized the horse, but didn’t know its name.
“Lady Ariella,” Baldric called out as he walked over to her horse. Baldric took the horse by the bridle, stroking him along the neck and whispering cooing words into the horse’s ear. “Where is Thunder, m’lady?” Baldric reached into a satchel and pulled out a bit of carrot. He held it out for the horse to eat, which he readily took chomping loudly. “What are you doing out here this lovely afternoon?”
Ariella smiled down at the Master-at-Arms, absently stroking Snap’s mane as he got the older man’s attention. “Thunder and I went out this morning, I figured I’d give him a rest and give Snap here a little practice,” she replied, carefully climbing down from the towering beast and hopping to the ground. She kept ahold of the reins, though Ser Baldric had the horse well under control.
“We had a little unexpected run across the field, and I couldn’t help but come over once I saw your range,” she explained, gesturing to the impromptu range and the men using it. “What’s the occasion? Routine training?”
Baldric looked the horse in the eye, “Hello there, Snap!” He rubbed the horse’s neck scratching him behind the ear; then fed another carrot. “I know I’ve seen you around the stables before.” Baldric loved horses. They were magnificent beasts that never complained about their workload much like some humans he knew. Baldric turned back to lady Ariella, “The Archery range is something I like to put together once a week or every other week. Most of the work can be accomplished less than 25 yards, but some of our more proficient bowmen can reach the 300 yard target. Not many can hit that. My son is currently struggling with 250. Practice makes perfect. I don’t know if many houses work on range and accuracy. I think it helps. I also like putting the more experienced archers, like Mr. Rivers in a position where they can help others to learn to shoot at distance.”
Robert chuckled as he patted Baldric on the shoulder. “You really need to stop throwing me complements or people will start to talk Baldy.” He looked at Ariella with a wide smile and gave her a stealthy wink. Her presence was always welcome as far as Robert was concerned, bringing some semblance of light to what could often be long, boring days.
“M’lady.” Robert tipped an imaginary cap on his head towards the dismounted Lady before approaching her horse. He ran his hand up and down its neck before glancing over to Ariella once more. “From what I’ve seen of the men here is that they are improving week on week. One or two have no hope unfortunately but with most it’s just about slight technical adjustments. There’s always a chance that a couple of them could even end up with the rangers...if Baldric would allow it of course.”
Ariella looked to the archers as Baldric explained, watching them take their positions, nock, shoot and repeat with great interest. She took Robert’s wink and greeting with a warm smile; as uncouth as he could sometimes be, he certainly was a charmer.
“Come now, surely they’re not beyond all hope,” she suggested gently, though she found herself proven wrong as she watched one soldier try and fail three consecutive times to hit the nearest target. “Surely they’re of use somewhere else,” she added, suppressing a laugh.
Tempering herself a touch, she turned back to Baldric and Robert, folding her hands in front of her. “I’m sure my father will be pleased to hear they’re improving,” she assured them. She was quiet for a moment, her face falling a touch as she remembered what her father had told her earlier.
“Is there… something you’re preparing them for?” she asked cautiously, tugging at the hem of one of her sleeves, “There’s been all this talk of bandits, and Father mentioned conflict…” she trailed off rather lamely, admittedly a little afraid to hear the answer.
Robert raised an eyebrow at the question. Even though he wasn’t one for the ways of lords and ladies he knew that sharing such information was never a good idea, even if it was just to make sure Ariella wouldn’t worry. Fortunately Baldric was much more well versed in the affairs of the nobility and so knew how to answer her question without having to force a lie.
“M’lady, it would be true, if I were to tell you we were planning for something,” Baldric mentioned hesitantly. “But I am not telling you that. This range, is something we do two or three weeks per month just to help those archers who need help in hitting targets at long range. House Landry has both an archer battalion and a company of rangers. The archer battalion supports our footmen and the rangers serve multiple purposes including scouting, tracking, archery and raiding. A soldier chosen as a ranger needs to be proficient in both the sword and the bow as well as skilled in tracking.” Baldric felt uncomfortable discussing operational concerns. He knew too much chatter could blow the operation if word got back to the bandits and you never knew who had a connection. It could be someone in your own retinue and never know it.
“M’lady, does the family have any plans later this evening?” Baldric asked Ariella.
Ariella shook her head, somewhat relieved at Baldric’s reassurance, but not yet entirely at ease. However, she would play along, and allowed the Master-at-Arms to change the subject. “Not that I know of, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Father called everyone to eat together this evening.” Her father may have been hard, sometimes even chilly, but she expected that he missed his kin more than he let on.
“Aye,” Baldric acknowledged. “Knowing your lord father he may want the entire family, plus at dinner this evening. It may take some time to break down the range before then.”
“This talk of dinner is making me hungry.” Robert rubbed at his stomach as it let out a soft groan. He had been so engrossed in training that he’d forgotten to eat. “Baldy would you mind getting this lot to clean up so I can get to the tavern and have something to eat?” The request was cheeky, as Robert often was. The chances of him being allowed to disappear was slim but he firmly believed that if you don’t ask, then you don’t get. He soon saw an opportunity however. “I could escort the lady back to the castle on the way so that she isn’t unaccompanied?”
“It would be appreciated,” Ariella added. It was no secret that she often rode alone, but nonetheless she was eager to get a chance to speak with Robert privately.
Baldric frowned at Robert. His request was disquieting to the older man. He did not appreciate those who desired to shirk their duties in favor of more pleasurable pursuits. This was one of those times colorful language bubbled to the surface. With the lady present, he stifled that notion allowing for a more civil version of himself to emanate, “Robert, I believe the bowmen can help me break the range down. Get yourself a meal at the tavern and see to the young lady here.” Baldric was annoyed at the ranger who would pay for his indiscretion later.
Robert could see the expression on Baldric’s face change. He clearly hadn’t been happy with the young man’s attempt to get food into his grumbling stomach. Even so, the master of arms’ anger would be for another time. Whether stern words or even the risk of some hard labour were to follow, the Ranger was all too distracted by Ariella.
For all of the forced formalities in public the pair were often much more lax when in the company of each other outside of prying eyes. M’lady would be replaced with the young woman’s actual name and playful words would be exchanged that the nobility would heavily frown upon if they were to ever bear witness to it. Such was the way of the world that two young adults couldn’t be friends without offending half of Westeros.
Reaching out with his hand Robert offered it to the young lady to help her return to her saddle. “Please let me help you back onto your horse m’lady.”
Ariella gave Robert a smile, accepting his help even though the two of them both knew she didn’t need it. She was still grateful, of course; Snap was a tall destrier, and it wouldn’t have been the most graceful of scrambles back into the saddle. “Thank you, Robert,” she said graciously, waiting patiently for him to mount his own horse.
Breaking into a steady jog Robert covered a short distance until he reached Shadow. The horses deep, black colouration made it seem almost otherworldly. In general Shadow’s demeanour was stern verging on angry, only those it had warmed to being allowed to move within a few feet of it. The horse was a brave as most men Robert had come across and had played its part in saving the young man’s life more than once.
With a gentle stroke of its mane, Robert leapt onto the horses back. Taking the reins in hand he headed towards Ariella and Snap. The distance was closed in moments and the two began on their way.
Sat relaxed in his saddle, Robert smiled as he looked into the sky above. He could make out the silhouette of Wight flying high above, joyfully maneuvering through the air. He soon returned his gaze to Ariella and gave her a wide smile. It had been a while since they had some time alone so he was glad to hear how things had been for her lately. “So how is the life of a lady treating you since we last spoke?”
Ariella had been looking for Robert’s little “friend” as well, smiling up at the crow in the sky before returning her attention to Robert when he spoke.
She shrugged. “Very little changes,” she told him wistfully, absently combing her fingers through Snap’s mane, “though of course, Father and Edmund’s return is a welcome one.”
She was quiet for a moment or two, and eventually glanced back at the archers, shrinking in the distance behind them. Once she was sure they were out of earshot, she nudged Snap as close to Shadow as she dared (Robert’s horse wasn’t always fond of others), though she remained as nonchalant as she could manage.
“And the life of a Ranger?” she asked, “Did you find anything of note on your travels?”
With the approaching Snap, Robert could feel Shadow tense up beneath him. His horse had grown accustomed to Thunder but Snap was new. It was only the sight of Ariella atop the new mount that relaxed the black coated horse.
Robert sighed at the question from Ariella, he knew what she was really asking. Her missing twin was almost always the focus of their conversations and the Ranger was secretly using his excursions to try and find him. The friendship Robert and Ariella shared made the young man go above and beyond to find out what he could but as yet there was no luck.
“Things are how they always are, time outside in the fresh air and the occasional arrow or two for bandits.” Soon an apologetic look was painted across Robert’s face as he continue on. “I really wish I could give you some good news. Unfortunately I have nothing. Of all the people I have come across, none know anything.” The rangers expression remained forlorn as he watched for Ariella’s reaction.
Ariella nodded, face falling a touch. Her eyes fell on Snaps’ neck, and for a moment she simply stared down, twisting the reins in her hands. Truthfully, she didn’t know what she’d been expecting; Morgain had been missing for two years, there was no good reason to believe any sign of him would show up after combing through the Riverlands all this time. But she foolishly hoped nonetheless; some days that hope was all she could cling to, frail as it was.
Coming back to her senses a moment later, Ariella nodded again, this time more insistently as she schooled her features into something more neutral. “I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more,” she sighed, taking a deep breath and pushing her sorrows aside for the time being.
Offering Robert a smile (if somewhat more forced than before) she opted to move on to more cheerful things. “Well, I’m delighted to see you home safe again. Things have been awfully dull around Fallow Hill as of late.” She gave Robert a hopeful look. “Will you at least be staying a while before you set off again?”
Feeling some sense of warmth from Ariella’s smile, Robert’s expression returned to one far more positive. “Thanks for the kind words Ariella. It means a great deal. As for se...” In an instant Robert felt a small set of feet land on his shoulder and a softness soon brushing against his cheek. He let out a laugh as Wight had decided to interrupt the young man mid-sentence. He reached into a satchel hanging from his saddle and pulled out a small amount of feed. As the bird began to peck at the feed Robert continued to speak.
“Sorry about that...the little guy has a bigger appetite than me. So to answer your question, yes and no. I have to go do something for your father but as soon as that’s out of the way, I’m hoping to stay around for a few weeks.” Robert’s smile remained on his face as Wight took to the skies from his shoulder once more. “Maybe when I’m back we can take the hounds out for a walk into the fields...assuming Edwyn doesn’t mind of course.”
Ariella watched Wight as Robert spoke, a bit of a genuine smile replacing her more forced one. She’d always been fond of animals and birds, and Wight entertained her to no end. Robert’s suggestion was also a welcome one, and she nodded, a little more enthusiastically than before. “I’d be delighted to, and I’m sure Father won’t pay any mind.” She gave Robert a knowing look. “He has a lot of respect for you, after all.”
Robert knew her father respected him, he didn’t ever really understand why. Even so, he was one Lord that the Ranger would show the utmost respect to. His words carried weight with the young man and he would die for him if needed. So even though he enjoyed the company of Ariella he would never knowingly take her anywhere without her fathers say so.
“Aye I know, I just think that sometimes he’d rather you be a proper lady rather than out with me and the dogs.” Robert turned around briefly to see that the range was now well out of sight. “Just make sure you at least let him know. The last thing I want is him thinking we’ve run off together somewhere.” Robert would expect the full force of House Landry to search for them if they ever failed to return by dusk. Her father liked him but Ariella was still his daughter.
Ariella laughed at the prospect, imagining her father pacing the floor of his study counting down the seconds and organizing some grand search party. Robert was right, her father did like knowing her whereabouts. She remembered how troubled he’d seemed when she went off to live with the Blackwoods, even knowing she’d be safe going off to meet her then-betrothed.
“Father likes things a certain way, but he never could say no to me,” she flashed Robert a cheeky grin, leaning a little in her saddle. Snap didn’t seem too happy with that, though, and did a strange little step to the side, slowing down stubbornly.
“Oh, Snap,” Ariella scolded gently, trying to coax the young horse into moving again. He complied, but in an odd burst, rushing up ahead of Shadow and tossing his head in irritation.
Ariella sighed, but couldn’t help a small laugh. “I think Snap’s patience is running out,” she called to Robert, focused on getting the horse back under control. “Meet me later tonight so I can get you your payment, Snap here seems to be in a bit of a rush.”
Robert gave a polite nod before giving Ariella the most sarcastic of bows from atop his horse. “Of course m’lady. I will see you tonight m’lady.” Robert winked and gave Ariella a smile. “Only joking Ariella. I look forward to later. Have a good day.” With his sincere goodbye shared Robert directed Shadow down the next fork in the path.
Ariella hesitated only long enough to hear Robert’s reply before kicking Snap into a gallop, the horse happy to comply and racing back toward the keep.
As Robert and Shadow moved away from Ariella the Ranger watched as Snap picked up its speed. Shadow however was still content to slowly walk along. Fortunately they were within sight of the Keep so Robert could watch Ariella all the way to the entrance.
Ashton walked out of the war council feeling much better than he had going in. He had fretted non-stop at what his father would do and say when coming face to face with Ashton’s management of the House. As it was, things seemed just fine for the moment and with Edwyn back it meant that Ash could finally breathe clearly. He made his way to his room, calling for one of his servants to prepare a hot bath for him to actually enjoy this time. He entered his room proper and threw himself onto his bed, breathing in and out over and over again with a wide grin on his face.
The relaxing bath was very much a gift from the seven and Ashton savored it until the water was ice cold, even with Tristam, Ashton’s servant, refilling it many times. With all good things however, it had to come to and end and Ashton frowned as he stepped from the water, wrapping a cloth around his waist and drying his dripping body slowly. While drying the young Landry couldn’t help but yawn repeatedly and realized he had kept his emotions hidden and beat down for so long. He was exhausted, mentally and physically and he made an important mental note to find some excuse to go and visit with Ariella later that night, perhaps after supper… For now though, a nap would be perfect.
Said nap ended up taking away the entire afternoon and Ash would have would probably slept through lunch, the night, and most of the following day if Tristam didn’t start shaking his shoulder to wake the sleeping teen for supper. “Come on little Lord, and don’t fight me. I’ll toss ya off this bed if I have to.” Ash simply groaned and slammed his head back into the pillow and ever so slowly pushed himself up with his arms. He threw himself sideways and almost fell as his legs protested to being used so soon after waking. Tristam just rolled his eyes and put out a simple yet formal looking tunic and breeches.
“Thank you Trist.” Came the teen’s voice and Tristam just nodded and closed the door. Ashton dressed himself quickly and after tucking in his tunic he strapped on his sword belt once again and exited his room, his feet taking him unconsciously upon the memorized path to the Great Hall. As he entered he found servants all over preparing for the first time every Landry would sit at the same table. Every Landry but one… He thought with a sad grimace as his mind went to bring up Morgain.
“Ashton,” Lord Edwyn spoke, abruptly interrupting the thoughts of his youngest son. The riverlord’s strides were long and swift; he had likely just arrived from his study. Despite his demeanour being no less stoic than the norm, he seemed less formal than he had in the meeting room a few hours prior. He was no longer addressing the acting Lord of House Landry; he was addressing his son. “Are you well?” His question was broad and unspecific, but clearly sincere.
Ash pulled himself together in record fast time, forcing the grimace away and replacing it with a blank face. He turned to his father and nodded a few times, of course he was ok. “Father, yes I’m fine. I was just thinking that we’ll still have one empty chair at the High Table tonight, despite so many homecomings.” He gave a soft shrug and hoped his exhaustion wasn’t so evident, or the fact that he had slept for most of the day.
Edwyn’s eyes fell upon the hall’s interior as he listened. It was larger than the average castle’s. Old and stalwart, it’s mighty beams seemed unbreakable; if there was ever a quake of some kind, this would be the last building to fall. Two parallel rows of tables filled the room, with four on each side. There was space for ten at each table, with the hall having a maximum capacity of eighty, excluding the high table. The front right table was traditionally where the children of the lord would sit, along with any members of the extended household, such as Liliana. Morgain had always sat in the furthest-left forward-facing seat at this table. Ever since he left, it had remained untouched. This was the table the was currently being prepared for supper.
The high table was at the front of the hall; anyone who laid eyes on it would immediately notice the great mahogany seat that’s back stretched triple the length of any chair in the hall. This was Edwyn’s seat. It was the central of five at the high table; with Maester Oylen typically seated to Edwyn’s immediate right, and then Ser Baldric. Lady Priscilla would usually sit to Edwyn’s immediate left, with Ser Tristifer then next to her.
“Everyone keeps telling me of how well you’ve handled your circumstances,” Edwyn allowed for a strained smile to grace his mouth as he spoke. Now was not the time to speak about Morgain. But then again, there had never been a time to speak about Morgain for Edwyn, at least with his sons. He had discussed the disappearance with Ariella a handful of times, and his wife too, but even on those occasions he had held himself back emotionally. Never had he bared his thoughts on the subject to Ashton or Edmund. “I must admit, I am impressed you managed to keep this place from falling apart. I’m sure it took its toll.” Edwyn saw the fatigue in Ash’s face. He knew it too well. It was the same fatigue that he had felt intensely for the first few years of his lordship, and in times like this.
With a small nod Ashton accepted his father’s praise, taking it as such anyway and leaned against the wall as the servants continued to bustle about, all of them bowing when they caught sight of Edwyn. “I didn’t do anything special, only what I was taught father.” He was taken off his guard, not expecting the Lord Landry to express his praise this openly. Then again, they were alone and Ash had done a good job. It simply made him feel silly for worrying so much about the man's return to the Castle. “I’m fine father, no need to worry about me.” He refused to look weak when he was so close to finishing out this night and decompressing, just had to get through this dinner and it was clear sailing. “I just don’t know how you do it all the time.” The words came quickly, and Ash knew he was exhausted at that point if his usual filter wasn’t working. He had never been very talkative with Edwyn, had never expressed anything other than a loyal son but here he was...
“Just know there may be little time to relax going forward.” Edwyn's face turned colder. Ashton had been in command of the castle for the past week, so he would understand what his father meant by this. “Enjoy tonight. I need you back out in the yard training tomorrow. I'll not have you underprepared for the ambush,” and the war that may be to come he had thought, but not said. Setting his eyes on the table, which was now in the final stages of being prepared, Edwyn spoke curtly. “Let's sit.”
Ashton knew exactly what his father meant and the potential moment between father and son was shattered as Edwyn spoke on preparing for the ambush. Ash felt a small bit of relief as the ship was sent into safer and normal waters and he gave a firm nod of his head to his father. “I’ll be stealing Axell from you for most of the day tomorrow if that’s ok father, we were going to spend the day sparring. He’s getting some volunteers to fight against us, I figure if it’s going to be a battle, best train for one.” He nodded again as he finished speaking. He followed Edwyn into the hall proper and stared at the table, wondering who would sit where...
“Aye, it's better that he's prepared for the skirmish,” Edwyn glanced to his boy. “That you both are.” Edwyn's eyes shifted to the doors of the hall, hearing movement.
Edmund had left Priscilla after they chatted for a time like they often did. Leaving her to take care of a few things which included the savory smell of meat roasting that was calling to him. Nodding to his father.
"Ash I hear you've done good." Giving him a large pat on the back. "I did the family well at the tourney. I humbled Ser Symon and did well against Ser Gregor 'The Mountain'.” Edmund didn't embellish as much as he wanted with his father around.
“Quite the feat indeed,” Ariella added, coming into the Great Hall on Edmund’s heels. She had changed out of her riding clothes and into a slightly more regal burgundy gown, bishop sleeves hiding the sharpness of her elbows and wrists. “Though I’m somehow more impressed by the idea of knocking Symon into the mud.”
She wore something of a mischievous grin, but schooled it into a more polite smile as she curtseyed to her father, remembering his gentle reprimand from earlier. She hoped to lighten the mood, though; as much as she enjoyed getting the family together once in a while, she wasn’t looking forward to the tension that usually followed. Combined with the funny looks and gentle chastising she even for eating so little, dinners like these could sometimes be tiring.
Spotting her youngest brother, and subsequently the exhaustion on his face, her own expression softened. She’d watched those dark circles forming over the past few months as he acted as the head of household, but he’d done her proud standing strong against the wind. “Ashton, I haven’t seen you all day.” she gently chided, offering a warm smile, “I do apologize for missing court this morning, I’m afraid it slipped my mind.”
“I saw him.” Lilliana spoke up as she strolled cheerily over to the few gathered members of the Landry family [color=f6989d]“He wasn’t too bad…I suppose.”[color=f6989d] She grinned teasingly at Ashton, knowing full well that he had performed very capably but not wanting to give him too much praise. She did still owe him a bit of payback afterall.
The young Blackwood had returned to the Great Hall after having stored her new gifts in a hidden spot, taking care to make sure that no-one had spotted her with them. At least not yet. She had, after a brief squabble with Beatrice, also changed from her day clothes. Now she donned a dark blue dress, whose corset tied at the back instead of the front, the sleeves of which were only long enough to cover her shoulders. Her hair also hung loose in casual waves brought about by her braid. having run away before her handmaid could alter it.
“I’m glad to see you’ve returned safely Lord Edwyn.” She added to the head of the house, nodding politely as she spoke, having not yet seen him since he and Edmund arrived back at Fallow Hill.
”Thank you, my dear,” the riverlord spoke softly, leaving it at that. He had always been kind and gracious to Liliana, but ever distant, as with most.
Ashton gave a genuine smile as his family began to trickle into the Great Hall. He gave a final nod to his father and grinned ear to ear as Edmund spoke about the tourney. With a playful punch of his brothers arm Ash stood and nodded to him. ”Forget about me, you’re going to have to tell me everything.” He was broken out of his thoughts on King’s Landing and the bright armor by Ariella entering and speaking to him. He knew she could read him like a book so he didn’t bother to try and hide anything and just nodded at her words. ”I was in meeting most of the day sister, and then spent some time cleaning up. And no worri-” He cut himself off as Lilianna then made an appearance and he stuck out his tongue playfully as she spoke about his performance with the smallfolk. ”Great words of praise coming from a Blackwood!” He chuckled and gave Lili a wink and elbowed his brother in the chest, looking for support.
"Everything, how about just the best parts." Giving his little brother a hearty pat on his back as he could only smile at Ashton's excitement.
"I'm on her side now Ash. So watch out." Edmund offered a slight grin knowing Ash's reign as the prankster was coming to an end. Ash would know one day when he was to betrothed to a young woman that was to be his match. "Once we eat I will tell you all about knocking Ser Symon in the mud in front of King Robert no less and taking on Ser Gregor Clegane." Edmund remembered his father's light scolding earlier but Ashton was his brother and felt like he needed tell him the embellished version of the story. He felt that as a brother he needed to exaggerate some.
Ash just grinned widely and shrugged happily. He was quite more animated than he had been recently, and it showed just how much he still needed his family. All of them had a role to play in Ashton’s life and losing one could throw a wrench in everything. Though, as shown with Morgain’s disappearance all of the Landry’s could be resilient. The talk was cut short as the food arrived, carried in by five different servants and then another five carrying drinks. Boar, venison, and fish were placed upon the table sitting on large platters. Vegetables, and fresh baked bread came after and then a glass of wine (for the elders) or water came last.
Ashton nodded respectfully to the servants and gave a soft thanks as the last one began to file out before he looked back over his family and to Edwyn who would start the feast when he desired.
”Now,” Edwyn glanced over to the steaming boar. ”We will sit, and wait for Lady Landry,” Edwyn gracefully moved towards the table, where an additional seat had been placed at the end - a makeshift ‘head’ for the table fit for the lord. He gestured to his issue and the young Lilliana to sit. He’d had a fine meal in King’s Landing for the tourney, and been fed well in Pinkmaiden and Riverrun, but the best meals he could hope for were cooked in the kitchen of Fallow Hill.
After taking his seat, Edwyn ushered for one of the serving girls to fill the goblet that was laid out for him. Wine, Arbor Gold. The lord glanced over the children. By their age, Ariella, Edmund, and Lilliana were free to make their own decisions when it came to drink; at least in his household. Ashton, however, was still a boy in the eyes of most. ”I’ll allow for one glass, if you thirst for it,” he spoke, eyeing his youngest. ”Any more and your mother would surely object.”
Watching the food being brought in Edmund eyed the boar especially. Savory aromas would draw him to the meat when they all decided eat. Taking his prospective seat next to Liliana since it would be expected of him to sit next to his betrothed. Offering to help her into her seat before he took his own in turn.
It wasn’t until his stomach let loose several grumbles as telltale sign of his hunger. In terms of wine Edmund wasn’t one for a sweet wine like the one Edwyn had chosen but instead opted for a sour Dornish Red instead, the bitter taste would compliment the boar being served in his opinion. Edmund was ready for the food but his father was right, they needed to wait for their mother...Where was she anyways? “Where is mother anyways?” He’d wait for his mother on the food but the drink was a different story, sipping once from the goblet as everyone was getting situated.
Ariella sat daintily as the rest did, though she politely refused the servant’s offer of wine, taking water instead. Despite not having eaten much all day, the smells of the feast before her, tantalizing to most, nearly turned her stomach. Eating had been a chore ever since Morgain’s disappearance, and already in her head she was working out an excuse should her father or one of her brothers question her nearly-empty plate. But for now, they would wait for the assuredly joyous arrival of Lady Landry, a blessing only in that it allowed Ariella a little more time before having to force herself to eat something.
She looked over to Edmund at his question, but could offer little more than a shrug. “I saw her earlier, but I can’t speak to where she went next,” she replied, before looking to Liliana.
“But Liliana,” she began, giving the girl a coy look, “You must be so happy to have Edmund back!” She laughed a little, giving Ed a teasing look. “Knowing him, he probably brought back a lion cub from King’s Landing as a gift.”
Liliana turned to Ariella as she addressed her, eyeing her over the small goblet which was now cupped between her hands. “I wish! Though he clearly knows me better than to trust me with anything so lethal.” She cast a sideways glance at Edmund, raising her eyebrows playfully. At least she knew better than to mention his actual gift in front of his entire family... “Besides, I prefer ravens...” Lili commented as she took a small sip of her own wine. “..less chance of getting bitten!” She smiled lightheartedly, her gaze following one of the servants as they placed a dish containing an assortment of vegetables near her, the tables nearly full to the brim with food.
The Master-at-Arms oversaw the dismantling of the archery range. The several bales of hay used as targets were loaded onto wagons and driven back up to the castle. The arrows were gathered back up and returned to where they belonged. Those who borrowed bows from the armory were gathered up by the Master-at-Arms’ apprentice, his son, Mace. The young man then returned them to their proper place.
Once Ser Baldric returned to his quarters at the keep, he changed his attire to include a forest green silk doublet with a white snow shrike over the left breast; the sigil for House Durant. He was permitted to wear the sigil for House Landry and indeed wore the dull yellow otter from time to time, but occasionally, he fashioned himself with the deadly snow shrike of the north men.
Upon entering the great hall, Ser Baldric Durant strode with a purpose towards his seat near Ser Edwyn Landry. Before taking his seat, he greeted the head of the house, “Lord Landry,” with a nod of his head, which the lord returned. Then he pulled out the chair and deposited his large frame into the wooden seat. It was understood that he had been working with the archers on hitting targets at long distance. At least that was his excuse for being late to dinner.
“Edwyn,” a voice came from the doorway. Maester Oylen stood, a sullen look on his face. He quickly adapted it into a polite smile. “I am sorry to interrupt, but you are needed. There’s been a raven from the capital. Lady Priscilla opened it, and well…” He peered over. “You are required. Again, I am sorry.”
Edwyn glanced over at the Dornishman. He knew whatever the raven had brought for him, it wasn’t good. He sighed and nodded, rising to his feet. For once he’d felt comfortable and able to let his guard down around his children, but quickly, it fell apart. Predictable. Nonetheless, he had a duty. ”Very well,” Edwyn sighed, glancing over to Baldy. ”Baldric, if you would keep an eye on the children for me? Make sure they do not consume too much red.”
Shooting a disappointed look at each of his children, Edwyn gave a slight dip of his head, drowned the last of his wine, and marched out of the hall.
Two weeks had gone since Edwyn had returned to Fallow Hill. Two weeks since their failed family supper. Two weeks since he had heard word of the Golden Tooth. Lord Piper and Lord Vance's men had been crushed under the boot of Jaime Lannister and his forces. It was not just a passing battle, either, but the opening battle of a war.
It was not long after the news came of the Battle near the Golden Tooth that news came of the Battle at the Mummer's Ford. And then, the death of Robert Baratheon. And then, the arrest of Lord Eddard Stark. It all flooded in so fast. It made Edwyn sick to his stomach. Around him, he saw the Seven Kingdoms crumbling. The peace that had been upheld for almost two decades melting away to ash. He had struggled to find the strength to tell his wife of this, and warn his children. But it had been necessary, and he had done so unflinchingly in the end.
Edwyn peered out at the courtyard from where he rested on his windowsill in his great bedroom. He hadn't much slept the night before, nor the night before that, or so on and so forth since his return. In the yard, footmen bustled to prepare for the skirmish ahead. A wagon, perfectly inconspicuous in appearance, sat by the stable. It's contents were obscured. The ambush that Ashton had planned had quickly been put to the side after the news from the west, but Edwyn had soon decided it would be important to cut the criminals out root and stem before the war came to them, so he had re-organized.
Priscilla had been protective when Edwyn told her Ashton would ride in the wagon, essentially riding in the vanguard, but she had accepted it. No man was made wrapped in cotton wool in Westeros, that was for certain, and the lady knew that. Edwyn had been assured by Ser Tristifer and Baldy both that the boy would have a fair shot at combat, but without any real risk of having his throat cut. Edwyn trusted them both.
The ambush, however, was of little concern to Edwyn in this moment. He sighed, rubbing his forehead. He had letters to write. Nobles to persuade. Armies to train. Granaries to fill. And around one-hundred other things that he had not even started yet.
The Tullys had sent ravens for the riverlords to prepare them for what was to come. House Landry had been told to stay put and safeguard the land east of the Green Fork of the Trident, from Deepbank to Saltpans. They would watch over the Kingsroad, and attempt to protect the people that lived along it. Edwyn was trusted to take command over this defence effort. He knew the Haighs of Deepbank would be less than thrilled to hear as such; if they even answered the call, that is. He did not expect much from his northern neighbours. Cravens, and bannermen of the Freys.
Approaching his dresser, Edwyn mulled things over, pulling out a change of clothes for the day. Assuming the Westermen would ride down the River Road; Darry, and the crossroads beyond, would be their point of attack. Near there, of course, would be the best place to defend the east. Edwyn would inform the Lords of houses Haigh, Terrick, Cox and Deddings of this, organise his army, and then march a little way south down the Kingsroad and wait for the battle to come to him. This would likely take several weeks, but he was confident that the Lannisters would not progress that quickly through the Riverlands. He hoped that the war, somehow, would be halted before it even became necessary for battle there. But it was a doubtful hope.
What of the children, was the question that had been on Edwyn's mind the most this past fortnight. Edmund could take care of himself, he knew that much. He would likely ride in the van, beside Edwyn, when the war came to them. He feared for the young man's life, as any father would, but he knew it was a calling that Edmund would not, and could not refuse. It was the same calling Edwyn himself had accepted many years ago during Robert's Rebellion, albeit a few years older.
Will would remain in Redfort for now. Safe, relatively speaking. Maester Oylen had suggested sending Ariella there, perhaps to marry one of Lord Horton's two unmarried sons. Dashing lads, by now, Edwyn had been told. And it was past time for Ariella to marry, Edwyn thought further, perhaps in attempt to justify sending his beloved daughter away from him, perhaps never to meet again. He was not exceedingly fond of the concept, but he saw her safety paramount. She would head east, he decided, in that moment.
The question, of course, would be of Ashton and Lady Priscilla. Should they be sent to Redfort, too? Edwyn instantly inaudibly laughed the thought off. Sending away half of his family would be like crying defeat to his men, and Fallow Hill needed a lord. He did not wish to risk them, but he had faith in his castle. It could last through a siege longer than any other north of Highgarden. How involved Ashton would be in the war to come would likely be a topic of much debate in the following weeks.
The last question that played on Edwyn's mind was Liliana. Would she remain, unmarried? It was Edwyn's intention to ride south and return soonafter, having successfully repelling the Westermen. But only the gods knew when, or if, he would return; and the same could be said for Edmund. He would ask Edmund's thoughts on the subject, but his inkling was to plan the marriage for within the month, before they would depart. Something to instil hope in them both, and solidify their bond. Something to make Edmund fight a little harder to come home.
Edwyn felt a strange clarity in this moment. None of these decisions were easy, but they were required of him. He would speak to Priscilla later in the day, when the men were away on the ambush. The two hadn't communicated much since the revelation. She worried for her family; both children, and extended, back in Willow Wood. It was a lot for her to digest, same as him, and they did not get on well when both stressed and anxious.
Now dressed, Edwyn left the room and headed down the hallway. Soon, he was in Oylen's quarters. The older man was fresh awake, already sifting through various documents and working on something of apparent important. Edwyn shot his bright eyes at the Dornishman and dipped his head. "Maester. I need a raven writing."