“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR WITS!?! MOVE, BOY. NOW!”
The roar was heard through the walls and doors of the inn, the Last Cobblestone, right before they saw the squire of Merryweather’s come scrambling backwards into the main room of the inn’s first floor.
He stood, he blinked at Vittoria, and began to say something…before he was pushed aside by a slightly hunched, bull of an old, towering, man. His shoulders were still nearly as wide as his belly was big, his head spotted and bald, but a white whiskered mustache was still thick and bushy. “Oh, shut up and move, she knows who I am.”
She knew who it was when she heard the roar, but her lips didn’t bend into a smile until she actually saw him with her own eyes. Around her sat Pater and Merna, with Mina and Garrett and Rycherd off in the far side of the room, as the two Tyrells regaled the young Tarly Lord with tales of the road.
The moment he saw her, his face changed utterly: from wrothful and contentious to infectiously happy and amused. He wore simple clothing, nothing that immediately gave him away, except for the boots and the belt and the fact that all of it looked perfectly made and new. It would be a teaching moment for the young squire, later, when the flush of emotion and the moment of chaos was well past him.
“There she is! You’d make an old man wait?”
To her credit, Vittoria Tyrell looked at him with exhausted eyes. Both from his antics, and the day she had already had…yet, as always, the old burning fire of a man in human tower form burned straight through her outer walls with his bullish affection and pugnacious demeanor. She smiled, rose, and went to him as he held his arms wide. He took her up and spun her like she was still a child of eight, her dress of green linen with dagged sleeves to show off the gold satin lining beneath swaying in the air as he spun her, making her laugh.
“I am NOT eight anymore, my Lord,” Vittoria tried to protest, even if him spinning her still made her laugh no matter her mood just as it had when she was eight; he ignored her, looking at Pater even as he held her close to him.
“Pater! How could you let them do this to her? She’s TALL. She’s a bloody damned WOMAN…this is a disaster!”
Pater’s laughter was far softer and restrained, the wise Septon, obviously quite familiar with the old Lord, feigning a good fluster, “I admit, Lord Manfred, it would seem the Seven had their own plans for our little Lady Vittoria of House Tyrell.”
Finally, snickering, grinning, he looked back to her, his voice becoming a gentle thing, no matter the stone it was made of, “How is your father? Still scared as shit of losing Highgarden?”
“He is good,” was all she said, even if her golden brown eyes said something much more pointed to the old man, that only seemed to leave him cackling as he turned to face the others, keeping a large arm around her shoulders.
“Lady Merna. How is Horn Hill surviving without you?”
She laughed, “It’s probably little more than a hunting lodge at this point, your Lordship.”
“Hot damn, I oughta be there, then.” He nodded, firmly, even as Vittoria rolled her eyes. “Your youngin’, Lady Merna?”
She smiled as she looked over, her own dress a simple cotton thing with the sigil of her new house at it’s chest. Well made, even if Merna had made it herself. “Yes, that is Lord Rycherd. Rycherd!”
The younger ones followed the youngest, as Rycherd kept close to his mother, eyeing the old man, warily. To his credit, the old man let go of Vittoria, came close, and with a menacing tone, arched his head down to be close to the four year old’s eyes, “Rycherd, hmm? And are you to be a strong man of the Reach, Rycherd? Or a boy who hides behind his mother?”
At that, Lord Rycherd moved past his mother and stood, legs wide, hands on his waist, big blue eyes staring a hole through the old man’s face, “I am Lord Rycherd of HORN HILL!”
Merna, Vittoria, and Pater laughed. Lord Manfred smirked, and nodded, “Aye, boy, I think you are, indeed. Well done, Lady Merna. And these two?...” The Lord of Hightower offered an exaggerated double-take at the sight he saw: “GARRETT TYRELL? IS THAT YOU?”
Garrett laughed, but at least, held his ground in the face of such a loud, thunderous, man. “Yes, Lord Manfred. Ready to defend the Reach.” The time on the road with the Order had done Garrett’s confidence much good, was all Vittoria could think in the moment.
“You…” he pointed at Mina, gruffly snorting, “you’re the Tyrell girl who forgot they’re a girl?” There was the very real threat of judgment or mockery in the air as Lord Manfred pointed at Mina. Lord Manfred was known for many things, but these days, he might most be known for saying anything he pleased. The moment passed as Manfred chuckled, loudly, and nodded again. “Gods be damned, cut your own path in this life, girl. Take it from an old man, your time is short, make the most of it.”
He stood, turned, and feigned the confusion of the old, “What was I going on about?” He asked her, Vittoria, and her smile widened.
“I believe you were tormenting a poor squire with your ‘disguise’ and imparting wisdom to the youth, Lord Manfred.”
He looked at her suspiciously. “You were always too smart for your own damned good.” His head turned to the member of the Most Devout, and sighed, “This is your doing, Pater. I told you, years ago, not to encourage her.”
Septon Pater balked. “Me? If I recall, my Lord, it was another who—”
“—let’s not get carried away, Pater.” Manfred waved his hand at the Septon, suddenly not wanting to get carried away with blame on such trivial, historical, details like who encouraged her the most. “My steward brought your dresses. Ceryse picked them out, so don’t be expecting anything half as nice as your armor.”
Vittoria missed Ceryse. “That armor left me sweaty and sore, Lord Manfred.” Her tone was as pointed as her look, a soft scolding…
…that he also waved away and dismissed, “It’s armor, girl. What the Seven Hells did you expect?”
Merna’s eyes seemed to roll for Vittoria, even as Vittoria remained too polite, “Will Ceryse be there tonight?”
“She’s around. There, here, Hightower, Oldtown…” He shrugged.
She pressed. “Is she okay?”
“HER?” He balked. “What about old me? If I could get my hands on that little pricked Prince. Between him and my cursed brother—”
“—His High Holiness,” Pater deftly, softly, added.
“I know who my brother is, Pater: he’s Melwyn, my fool’s ass, hard-headed little brother.” Vittoria nearly died next to the man, even as he elbowed her ribs ‘gently’ in amusement, and snickered, more than enjoying himself as the only man on the planet who could so casually say such things about the High Septon, and cackle about it. “I brought the, uh…’other thing’, too. Well made. Had one of those little Braavosi men instruct the smith. The shit made the smith re-make it three times.”
On her tippy toes, Vittoria wrapped her arms around the trunk of a neck of the old man. “Thank you, my Lord.”
“…sure, sure, easy girl. You’ll get the Faith rumor mongering.” The room laughed, Lord Manfred near looked offended, “I’m a bachelor, I’ll have you all know. Heh. Don’t make me wait too long tonight, girl, and bring your other sort of armor…I may be one of the ‘agreeable’ ones that bends your ear tonight. Merna.” He said, blowing the woman a kiss, “Pater…good luck with your horse’s ass of a High Septon. Heh.”
As he walked out, he stopped, sudden, next to the squire. “…good lad.” He massive paw gave a loud slap of the squire’s chain shoulder, nearly stealing the squire of his balance. Quiet, head down, he began to follow Lord Manfred Hightower before Lady Vittoria interjected.
“Talbert? Can you bring the items from Lord Manfred to my room upstairs?” When the squire nodded and moved quickly after Lord Manfred,
Vittoria’s eyes hit her sister, “Mina, may I borrow you for a moment upstairs?”
Mina was still grinning slightly after Lord Manfred’s tacit approval, a bit stunned by the boulder of an old man’s energy and bluster all the same. The mention of smiths and Braavosi had her perk up even more, and as she fell in step behind Vittoria she was practically boring holes into her sister’s head with her gaze and bouncing up and down in place.
“Did he mean what I think he meant?”
Vittoria ignored her and moved to the room that had been set aside for her. It was a small thing, with one bed size enough for two, a chair and a wash basin, with a few extra cups and a bottle of wine just for good measure, let alone a small trunk of books on the floor beside the bed. Most of her quill and parchment had been left in the chandler home, where there was a desk, and room to move about a little.
On the bed were two gowns; one gown of silk and Myrish lace, with satin linings, gold and green in color. The other was green with a lacy bodice that covered all but the arms themselves. Vittoria spent a moment making sure the latter would fit her sister before the door sounded Talbert the squire’s return. A quick diversion of opening the door and Talbert set the trunk down just inside, off to the side of the doorway, before returning to his front door responsibility.
The wooden chest was just large enough, a dark cherry wood. A quick unlatch and opening, and Vittoria took out the blade. “The scabbard is walnut, carved by hand to match the blade, wrapped in a dark green leather. There are steel pins on the top, and one on the bottom, but that’s for support and not for ornament. There is no ornamentation on this. The green leather matches what wraps the handle. The slight hand guard is there for defense, according to the Braavosi, and little else.” The steel gave a smooth sound as it released from the scabbard, a thin blade with a natural balance, that Vittoria placed right back in the scabbard before ever taking out. The accompanying belt was black leather, simple, plain, but a high quality just the same.
Without another word, she handed it over to Mina. “Lord Manfred made the Braavosi think he’d have to fight for his own life as champion in a trial with such a sword, to ensure it’s as perfect a bravo’s tool as we could manage. Enjoy it, but no cutting yourself, and be ready by the start of sunset. The smaller gown is yours, the one with the lace bodice. And there’s little use saying anything but the truth if father asks; Lord Manfred and I made the gift happen.”
Vittoria leaned over, dared a kiss of her younger sister’s head, and took her own gown with her. Merna had offered to help her ready herself at the chandler’s house, and that’s where she was going to head. “Good luck. See you soon.”
Mina stared at the sword in her hands as if she’d just been handed her own dragon and told she was the next heir to the iron throne, mouth working open and closed in elated shock. Before Vittoria could walk out the door Mina threw her arms around her in a quick, tight hug. She let her sister go, rearranged herself and examined the sword again. She drew it out carefully, feeling how it released from the scabbard, then testing the balance and bringing it up smoothly into the Water Dancer's first guard, side-on, point out. It was perfect so far as she could tell, and resheathing it and setting it down to focus on the dress took all of her willpower.
She stared at the lacey behemoth and set her shoulders, clenching her fists. This was just another type of battle, like Vitta had said. Besides, she would wear a thousand useless dresses if it meant that sword was really hers to keep.