(120-07-02) An Unkindness of Blackwoods
An Unkindness of Blackwoods
Summary: The night after Tewdric Blackwood is laid in the ground, his remaining siblings mourn in their own way. (Flashback to about a year ago.)
Date: May 21, 2014
Related: None

Location: Godswood of Raventree Hall

Tewdric Blackwood breathed his last, yesterday. And tonight, at dusk, when the ravens came to roost in the corpse of the great weirwood tree, he was buried in the ground, cradled in its lifeless roots. There is still a small patch of land, churned and raw-looking, where his body freshly lies, the earth having had no chance to reclaim it, yet. The weirwood is one of the places where Ainsley can often be found, but not tonight.

Tonight, Riderch's sister sits beneath a more mundane tree that overlooks a stretch of plains where she and Esra most often choose to hunt. The gyrfalcon perches on a low branch, the bells on her jesses jingling occasionally as she does her best to sleep, despite her mistress insisting she stay out of her mews at such an hour. And Ainsley Blackwood herself sits at the roots of the tree. Wearing mourning back, with her long, dark hair down, she's nearly lost in the stretched shadows of night. Her legs are drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around them, moonlight occasionally glimmering off the tear tracks that trace her cheeks. She stares up at the sky with its spread of twinkling stars drowned out by the light of the nearly full moon.

It's a noisy place, and a windy night. The Godswood of Raventree Hall, complete with the dead-yet-still-standing reminder if its namesake, and what some in the family have held to be the symbolic essence of the House, stands solemn, overlooking yet another soul of one of its stewards and defenders that the earth here has reclaimed. With a certain amount of detachment, one would note that Tewdric Blackwood was not the first. But also not the last.

Detachment is not a good byword for the mood of Tewdric's younger brother, either, who has been wordless since the burial, and disappeared into the night soon after. After Mother, Father, other family and mourners had dispersed, a ghost had returned from the unknown. But it is not a ghost of the dead. A more accurate description of Riderch Blackwood here would be a 'ghost of the living.' While not lavish clothing in the style of the opulent South, he is still wearing a fine outfit of black woolen, crisscrossed with red velvet slashes. While fit for a court the whole outfit looks more — martial. A flight of ravens much like the ones nesting in the tree decorate his chest. His hair is shorn short, framing a face which looks more pale than usual in the moonlight. The only announcment of his arrival in the Godswood was a soft padding of bootsteps. And when he comes to his chosen spot, just a few yards from Tewdric's resting place, he just glances at the great dead Weirwood, a little dead-eyed.

There's another soft jingling as Esra stirs and her head lifts. Falcons hear better than people and pay far more attention than siblings in mourning. Ainsley is used to paying attention to Esra, so her own head lifts and she turns to regard Riderch standing by the weirwood. "Brother," she offers softly, her voice rough and rusty, from where she sits under "her" tree.

Did someone say something? It would almost appear that the answer to this would be 'no,' given the long-hanging silence in the air that for a moment is only broken by the quork of a raven overhead, which is a common thing in this place. It's almost as though he did not need to turn his head. Riderch knows her tree. "Aine." His nickname for her, relied on even here. Things are too raw right now to rely on formalities anyway.

After merely saying this, he turns, the sword buckled at his side when he wore it for ceremonial purposes casts a dark silhouette in the moonlight, he never removed it. His eyes drift to the great raptor, and then Ainsley. "We're still here." He observes, his voice muted and a little rough.

"Yes," Ainsley agrees, pushing up into a stand. The sleeves of her gown are torn. Shredded with a knife and with intent, most likely. The hem, too, has been made jagged and irregular, and beneath, her feet are bare. They're silent as she walks across the earth and over to Riderch, save for the occasional and irregular jingles of Esra's bells as she watches her mistress.

"And he's here. With them." Ainsley's older brother, the one that still draws breath, is noted as a man of a certain vibrance and joviality. Most of the time. There are times though, infrequent ones, where they can feel a little forced. Forced as though they were a reflex and an unconscious defense against a brand of creeping melancholy that is uniquely his. She hasn't seen that melancholy in a /good/ while, but here it is. And it's likely as deep as she has ever witnessed.

"Isn't that a thing? We're never alone, even in the end." He edges his chin towards the great dead Weirwood and the ground below as he lolls his head to watch his sister and her falcon. The look he shoots her is thin-lipped and drawn, and the moonlight does nothing to make it seem less so.

She steps quietly in beside Riderch and looks not at the ground but at the tree itself, with its ravens clustered so heavily they might as well be leaves. "I sometimes think," Ainsley says softly, "they are us." Her chin lifts and nods towards the mostly sleeping collection of midnight-colored birds. "Our ancestors. What we become, when we die."

With a series of furtive glances up above at the Great Tree, Riderch's chest heaves upwards with a heavy, deep sigh. And exhales, his lips parting wordlessly. At first. His eyes remain firmly affixed in a straight arc from his face. A face that trails through the night to settle on her. "They are? They are." He considers, and then repeats these same two words in agreement. "Then I wonder if we /learn/." There's a raggedness that just permeates that very last word, He's looking her in the eye here, or as close as he can manage, and the smile is wry — and then it is gone.

Aisley gazes back at her brother, her normally blue eyes pools of indigo shadows in the night. Her hand lifts to wipe and one cheek, then the other, drying them until the next tears fall, whenever that may be. "I hope so. But we are not ravens, yet, brother. We can still learn as men."

"We're supposed to be." There's a surprising quickness to Riderch's counter as he looks up again at that mad mass of black birds, a wary glance to the Esra as well as Ainsley. It's an odd thing, looking for answers in the bird's mien but he does it. "We are Ravens, from birth. You and me. Tewdric. That's what we say." He lets out a hapless laugh to her. "But we mourn. We're men /and/ we are ravens." He says, with a couple more syllables of laughter. "If I learn I don't learn anything easy. I got the worst of traits in the family, I think." Then he asks something simple. "How are you feeling, now?" It's a silly question.Very silly.

Ainsley gives a small sniff and an imperious toss of her hair. As the same moment, Esra rouses, her feathers fluffing up with a full-body shake and a noisy jingle. "And why not?" Aine asks, as haughty as a seventeen-year-old girl can be. "If Targaryens are dragons and men both, why can't we be ravens and men? Our line is as old as theirs. Older. They came to our lands." The gyrfalcon on the tree, white amid the shadows, watches Riderch right back with her yellow eyes. "You are the best of us, Riderch. I've always thought so. Even when you…" Ainsley sucks in a small breath and looks away. "I feel… wounded. Like something has sunk its claws into me and won't let go."

Something in his sister's words catches Riderch here as he clenches his jaw and clicks his tongue a little bit. There are enough years between them to have never made them children at the same time, but he looks as though he wants to counter something in that statement. Petulantly. If the (small) twitch of his nose is any indication. He doesn't, though. This is the most inappropriate of inappropriate times.

"There's something to that, Aine. Sometimes I look up there a —" His words are unfunished as he cuts himself off, pointing at that Great, dead old Tree. There's a wary gaze at the gyrfalcon, as he trails off, watching it, but the next words he has are for Ainsley, and her alone. "They've /always/ come to our lands. /Always/. And they come to our lands, and when they press us, sooner or later they end up feeding /them/." Almost always, as he points at a raven again. The bird being an example of those who are fed. There's a lot of this going on. Just for a moment, his expression is defiant but he can't keep a hold on it. "And when I —?" He prompts her. "If I was the best of us, why? Tell me one thing? Why the /fuck/ wasn't I here?" He barks out the question, wide-eyed. "I — I'm sorry." Delivered a moment after.

Ainsley has known her brother for the whole of her life. She's been witness to such outbursts before and she doesn't back away from this one. She puffs up her own chest, as if she thought she did have feathers to fluff, and takes a step closer to her brother. "When you rejected us and became one of them," she accuses, her voice clear and soft. "You are strong, Riderch, and fierce, and sometimes when you laugh, it's like there's nothing in the world but laughter. You are a man others will follow. I loved Tewdric. I will always love him. But his name would have been no more than another line in our books, his achievements nothing of note. You weren't here, brother, because this was your destiny."

One bird to another, the now-eldest brother of what might be fancifully called an Unkindness of Blackwoods half-scowls at his little sister. He's studying her, but even without study he almost mirrored her indigant puff. "One of /what?/ Ancestors' blood, Ainsley" — uh oh, now he's serious when he bothered to word her whole name, and his jaw is clenched shut for mere moments as the whole of his turmoil starts to spill out. "I never rejected us. I never rejected this." A wide gesture to the Hall in the distance, "This." To the Great Tree, or "This." The last 'this' accompanies a firm pointing gesture right at her face. "What I did was ponce around instead of being home, and —"I didn't reject. I just wasn't here."

He's not really angry at her. Or even indignant, and finally his shoulders slump a little. "And spare me, please. For as much as I loved him" Tewdric "and as much as I love you. I don't need to hear all that from /you/ of all people. I've heard it enough already."

"You swore an oath. An oath! To their gods!" And goodness, Ainsley sounds as wounded as she might if Riderch had said he was rejecting all of those things. "They call you 'Ser', now. 'Ser Riderch Blackwood'!" The name is more spat out than said. "A knight of the Seven!"

"I was charged, Aine." The insistence of her brother comes back now, his voice a little more gentle. "Lukas Mallister did it right there. Not in a bloody sept. I didn't go through all those motions." He counters, looking a mixture of nonplussed and just plain weary. "Be courageous. Be just. Protect those —" it's clear he's had to think long and hard about this and the contesting of it almost seems rote at this point. "These are good oaths, featherhead." It's a more taunting name for her, but it's not used as a perjorative. "He puts a sword on my shoulder and names a bunch of irrelevant gods that have not managed to wipe us out? Fine. /FINE/. That was not where my heart lies, and it's useful. These people take us seriously if I dangle their little title in front of it. Besides, those are Mother's gods. Not /ours/, but /they/ aren't all Brackens and fucking Ironborn. They let us keep Our ways."

"They are fine oaths," the 'featherhead’ agrees with another small, imperious sniff, "but not when they are made to some seven chunks of marble, no matter in a sept or not. You call them irrelevant here, but the rest of the world thinks you follow the seven. I fear, in time, they will be right. They are mother's gods and you love mother best." Ainsley shakes her head sharply. "Which is it, brother? Do they treat with us in good faith and honor our ways? Or must you wear some cloak of lies for them to consider you worthy of their respect? It cannot be both."

"I love Mother. I love Father. Ben, when he's not running and bloody screaming with a wooden spoon trying to hit me like I used to ambush Donal Fenn." Riderch can't help but reminisce his failed childhood attempts to terrorize House Blackwood's Crannogman Master-of-Arms here and another time it would bring a self-deprecating smirk to his face. But now, all he does is eye her warily, and a little wounded. Maybe more wounded than he allowed himself to be at Tewdric's death. "And you, you know. I remember the first time you fired a damn arrow and I saw how you just made me look li—PFFT! Fine then." He spits. Ainsley's got him going here.

"To the dirt with the /rest of the world/. They need to /respect/ us. And that means playing their little game and knowing that their 'Gods' aren't going to save them when they stand against us, anymore than that putrid squid the Ironborn bow to did them during the Great Rising against Harren." He practically spits out these last words. "But fine. I look here at this Great Tree that stands before us, even in death it stands watch. I haven't abandoned them and I never will abandon them. Or us. Not again, anyway." Poor, stupid Tewdric.

"I remember firing that arrow, too," Ainsley murmurs with a soft, sad little smile. "I remember you, when you were here. Your company was so much of my life." Her hand curls into a fist and presses against her chest. "There are claws in my heart, today, but they hurt less than what it felt when I first heard you knelt before Lucas Mallister and let him knight you. Death, I can understand. But you, turning away…" her throat closes and she blinks rapidly, and still another tear falls. "Fine then," she whispers. "Let the world think what it will, for now. If you will stay with us, if you are still one of us, swear it. Swear your fealty and your good vows here as you did before a giggling Mallister. In front of me. In front of Tewdric. In front of all your kin." The fist pressed against her heart lifts to gesture towards the ravens who, somewhere during all the shouting, stopped dozing and now regard the pair of Blackwoods from hundred of red-brown eyes.

"I imagine you would remember. And Lukas? He was giggling because he and the rest of us were still alive." Riderch offers in a tone as dry as he could muster in this situation which is — well, complex isn't /half/ a strong enough word for it. Raising a hand, he extends a finger and gives Ainsley's shoulder a light, good-natured poke in some desperate attempt to lighten the mood. And as hers falls, his falls.

Looking down at the ground that bears the bones of so many that have gone before them. "Sometimes you almost feel that you can hear them, you know? Or they can hear you. Like they're watching me. This land is so, so old. and it's seen so much." It's not an oath or a protest of faith here, but this distant observation muttered by her brother is something more of an honest statement made by a man who believes what she believes.

And then he merely turns. Up to the tree, and up to the ravens roosting within, and there's something — a slight glint in his eye. It's a single tear that wells. Maybe for Tewdric, maybe for himself, and maybe for all of this. " And then in a sudden, whiplash-inducing turn, he reaches for his sword and it hisses free of its sheath. He the cradles it in his hands, and offers it to her. "It was Lukas Mallister before. But now, I want it to be you." Well hey, if you're going to break a rule, you might as break a lot of them.

Ainsley accepts the poke, even sways backwards from it as if his finger pressed hard enough to budge her. An old joke. A childhood game. But, somehow, they stopped being children some time ago. "If our tree is dead, perhaps it harbors its own ghost. Its own memories of this ground and all the bones within it." There is a small nod for how old that ground is. How small it makes them, how much they are but one piece of a far greater whole, if only one's eyes could look out across time. Ainsley looks down at the sword Riderch offers and then she lifts it by the pommel without hesitation. "Well, then," she breathes softly, "Kneel, brother." Because if you're going to invent an oath on the spot, you might as well do it with flare.

"I don't know that it is really dead. Just —" Riderch's voice catches in his throat as he turns to his sister, briefly. "Look at that. Right now if you glance at it just right? It's only sleeping." His green-blue eyes slowly drag their focus from her to the tree as she grasps the blade. It's as well-made as anything castle-forged here could be, and balanced. A willowy girl could move it casually without an overt amount of exertion, which is a good thing.

His exclamation stops and then he drops as she suggests, facing the Weirwood. "I, Riderch Blackwood of House Blackwood stand before our Gods. The Old Gods from the days before time began." He pauses a beat between each vow, his eyes widened. "Before the bones of my ancestors, young and old. And before the Light of my Blood as a witess, do swear. I swear by all these to be courageous in the face of all adversity. I swear by all these to act with purpose, and justice, and honor. I swear by these to defend our blood and our people. And I swear by these to serve as a Shield to the innocent in the face of the terrors brought to this world. And may I face the Others if I break these oaths. These things. I. Swear." It may be just one's imagination, but the ravens roosting in the Weirwood cackle excitedly. A little more than they were, at least?

Ainsley listens, holding her brother's blade so that it points directly at him, a metal finger demanding these vows. "So heard," she intones, "so witnessed and so charged. Be you Riderch Blackwood: man, raven, dream of the weirwood and true to your gods, your family, and your blood." With the last word, she angles the sword downward and stabs it into that rich and history-filled earth. When she does, those softly cackling ravens shriek and launch themselves into the night sky in a flurry of feathers and wings. It's 'skin' stripped away, the weirwood looms over them, skeletal and bone white. High above, the ravens circle, outlining themselves against the moon and stars. There is one more pale flash as Esra, startled from her own rest, soars up into the sky to fly with them.

Ainsley lifts her gaze and gives a soft, wild, triumphant laugh. And then she slides her palm along the edge of Riderch's sword to open a small gash there. Looking to her brother, she waits for him to do the same.

"And Our Gods." Riderch says weightily, his eyes only so briefly catching the wild, primal explosion taking flight from the huge, dead Weirwood. But no, his eyes remain affixed not on Esra, not the ravens, nor the tree now, but the sword, and his sister's hand "We give witness here, with our Blood." And with that, he sharply swipes his hand out to grasp the sword-blade with his right hand, closing his palm around it and pursing his lips as it makes a fine, thin cut. And then he throws his head back, and the two siblings have an eerie resemblance in this. He too lets out a laugh that is less of an expression and more of a prayer. And he holds up his own hand, open palm and utters these words.

"Let all that dies leave some mark of its passing." There's a flash of teeth in his slight, wild-eyed smile.

So they stand, a touch mad, a little bloodied, before the corpse of a heart tree dead hundreds of years. Ainsley looks down at the blood welling on her hand and closes it again into a fist until palm and fingers are smeared. And then she steps forward to press her hand against the white bark of the weirwood and draw back, leaving a bloody handprint behind. "The first mark of many," she promises herself or their gods or maybe just Riderch.

Rising to his feet, Riderch mirrors Ainsley's gesture, clenching his own bloodied palm as he stands now — a little bit of poise and confidence returned from his deflated state just a short while prior. This moment, it has a weird gravity to it, that indicates it's not as though everything has just become allright. Rather, it's a sense of purpose he shares with her as he follows behind. His fingers unfurl as he places his own bloodied print just over hers, staining the colorless, dead bark of the still-standing tree. There are a few ravens circling above, and they quork and rip their angry little cries through the air, furiously.

"And the first of many." He repeats. "We know whose blood will be shed next. This we swear." He shoots her a smile now that is brilliant and maybe a little /too/ serene.

And Ainsley smiles back at him, less tense, now, more at ease. Their family is still less than it should be, their brother is still dead, but just for this one moment in the moonlight, everything feels right. Leaning so that she can rest her head against Riderch's arm, she whispers, "I'm glad you're back."

"I am —. I am too." Riderch says tentatively. One wounded-hearted sister, one fallen brother, one child and one young Lord who has suddenly had the mantle of inheritance thrust upon him. These are what the previous generation will leave to Raventree Hall. There's a small bit of comfort he takes though, in Ainsley's presence as he just stands there, glancing at her with a turn of his head. It's tentative. "When Donall Fenn has word of where they went, I will have to leave again. The ground demands blood, and not the blood of our family this time."

He stands very still, and his eyes go to the ground. For now the sword is left in the earth. It seems a fitting sheathe for it. "Thank you." It's not specified for what, but spoken with the implication that she already knows.

"Yes," Ainsley agrees for Riderch needing to leave once more. No argument, no fear for his safety, just a quiet surety that this must be done and he must do it. She nods again for that thanks and presses her shoulder hard against Riderch's arm in a sort of not-a-hug hug before stepping away. Walking back to her tree where she sat before, she slides her falconer's glove, laying among the roots, back onto her arm. Then she steps into a pool of moonlight, whistles twice and lifts her arm high. It's just a few seconds before a pale form descends like a blur only to wing back and land light as a snowflake on that glove, bells chiming. Looking over her shoulder, Ainsley offers a soft smile and a peaceful, "Goodnight, brother."

"—Let nothing die without some mark of its passing." It's a surprisingly quick delivery for what seems to be such a careful and measured response as Riderch steps a few paces away, watching the odd creature that just shared a blood oath with him return to what looks like her natural territory.

As for other odd creature and territory, he just stands for a few minutes, it's a silent vigil for him as he lingers over his sword plunged into this old earth that has seen so much history. With a final glance, he pulls the blade from the ground and finally holds it aloft being careful to not let it slip in his bloodied palm. And so a quiet vigil in front of the Tree is made, until his new Oaths to the Old Ways have been satisfied. He turns and disappears into the night with a measured stroll, the same way he came.

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