(121-07-31) The Second Son
The Second Son
Summary: Kellan presents Lady Mormont an offer of marriage from Lord Karstark.
Date: 31 July 2014)
Related: Only Refusal, The Queen of Skagos

This modest stone manse is well appointed, with three levels, each about forty feet square. This lowest floor seems smaller, because the kitchens, stables, and a single tiny room are walled off from the main hall and accessed by narrow wooden doors.

The room is dominated by is a massive stone fireplace. It stands on the wall that's shared with the kitchen and so lies more or less in the center of the house. In front of it is a big wooden table, heavy and smooth with age. Along the opposite wall is sideboard where wine and tableware are kept. Over by the stairs is a smaller table, serving as a workbench or writing desk.

There are no windows facing the wynd, but an arched door and wide windows give a view of a walled garden in the back.

When Kellan arrives at the Manse where the Mormonts are keeping house he is recognized by Maera's men-at-arms, men from the Island that grew up the same time as they did, and is lead into the house with little preamble. He is given wine along with cold cuts of meat and cheese to sup on as it is assumed that travel by boat works up quite an appetite in a man.

Maera descends the stairs just as Kellan is tucking into his meal, and comes to stand next to the table while he eats. "You've a message from your father, then?" Typical Maera. She's always been bad with smalltalk.

She'll find him plowing through the food, what's already a voracious appetite to begin with practically doubled on account of the dreary fare on offer during his voyage. Wine cup in one fist, he's almost cleared half the plate by the time Maera comes down the stairs, not so much as bothering to tear the cuts of salted meat to pieces before devouring them. His head is bowed over the plate, but Kellan looks up just as the Lady Mormont materializes, pushing back his chair to rise to his feet to greet her.

She might be quick to speak, but Kellan takes his time in breaking his silence, and also in drinking her in, as if to determine if and how the years have changed her. "Maera," he says finally, his voice as gruff as his mien, with none of the sentimentality betrayed by his hungry stare. And then, "I do."

The South has been good to Lady Mormont. Still, there is a flinty look to her eyes that wasn't there before her brothers and father's deaths. She has more iron to her spine than she did when she was a maid.

She sits down across from Kellan, and pulls the jug of wine towards herself. A cup is filled, and she has a good swallow before flicking her eyes upwards to look over him. "That fucking beard." She picks up a grape from the center of the table, and tosses it at the bushy mass. "Finally grew in, I see."

Kellan collapses back into his chair, and it creaks beneath his hulking mass, threatening to bust. He drinks when she does, but his eyes don't leave her, and he drains the cup all in one go, leaning forward to pull the jug back toward him and make his cup full again. "Aye, 'course it did," he says, leaning back his chair to rock on the hind legs. "Where's yours, She Bear?" He resumes the devastation of his plate, one wedge of cheese at a time (all right, sometimes two or three at a time), studying Maera all the while, not even bothering to swat the grape away when she lobs it at him.

"Had to shave it." Maera says with a nonchalant little shrug of her shoulders. "Southern lords didn't like my whiskers." She reaches for her cup again, and her long strong fingers grasp the rim before she takes another swallow before sitting it down. "Bah. This place…the heat muddles the brain. I can't wait for Lord Stark's business to be done, and then we can all go home." She reaches for another grape, but this one is tossed into her mouth instead of Kellan's beard. She chews and swallows before meeting Kellan's eyes and demanding, "Why the hell are you looking at me like that?"

"A southern lord wouldn't know a good woman if she introduced herself with a knife at his throat," says Kellan, after snorting his amusement at Maera's reply. He leans back over the table to polish off what's left of the food, looking left and right when he's done, as if to determine where more is most like to come from. "You're worried about your brain. I fear for my balls. Small wonder the men here dress so much like their ladies." But he seems to have run dry on words, because when Maera puts him on the spot about having been staring at her, he just shrugs and finds something else to look at.

"Most've them would not classify a woman holding a knife to their throat as 'good'." Maera says wryly. She tosses another grape into her mouth, and chews. The subject of staring is dropped. "What does your father have to say?"

"More fool them," Kellan declares, throwing back his head as he tosses down the wine, putting down the cup with a resounding thud after he's done. What does his father have to say? He folds his arms over his chest uneasily, leaning back in his seat, thirst and hunger sated well enough that he might actually focus on their conversation, if only he appreciated its topic. "It can wait," he says.

"It can." Maera says with a little nod, "But I want to talk about it now." She sits up as he leans back, and puts her elbows on the table. Her chin is placed in one hand while the wine glass is gathered in another. "We might as well get the business part of this over."

"You won't like it, but it won't surprise you neither," Kellan answers, almost as if he's going to capitulate to her will and tell her what she wants to hear. But he doesn't, and he goes back to watching her when she leans forward in her seat, his stare as unwavering as his resolve. "What I want to talk about is what I have to do to get brought another plate," he says, eyes dropping briefly to the one before him that he's already cleared.

"Obviously Lord Karstark wants to come to some sort of agreement or you wouldn't be here." Maera observes, her eyes lingering on Kellan thoughtfully before looking away to one of the servants, "Our guest hungers still. Bring him more." That said, she looks back to Kellan with a tight smile. "You can begin to explain while she fixes you another plate."

Kellan looks to the servant too, the lingering of his eye betraying him as the girl goes off to make him that plate. Food and drink are evidently not the only appetites not well enough sated in his travels. "Not much to explain about it," he says, if only to stop her hounding him. Taking up the jug of wine again, he dumps more in his cup, and then leans over to refill Maera's, too. "Gods, but if you aren't the same pain in my ass you always were. Not so much as a how do you fare for your old friend. Might be I'd like to throw some water over my head before I talk business with you."

"There's a bucket outside." Maera says dryly. She extends her arm to make refilling her cup easier. "You've always been the pain in my ass." She takes a sip of the wine before sitting it down. "Now, I know the skirts may fool you, but I am still a ruling Lord in my own right. We have business." She makes a motion in the space between the two of them. "So, let's get it out of the way. I have things I need to plan. I need to know what your father intends."

When she pulls rank, Maera leaves him little room left to argue. Kellan heaves a sigh and takes a swig of the wine, but he says, "Yes, my lord," his tone enough to make clear that whatever their history, he doesn't so much as question the authority she wields so well. "He wants to join Karstark and Mormont," he finally says, not bothering to pretty it up with anything other than his usual blunt speech.

"…That was the whole point-" Maera stops speaking abruptly. She pushes out her chair abruptly, and stands up. The floor near the table is then paced. "You mean he wants to absorb Mormont lands." She shakes her head, "Why would he think that I would ever agree to that?" She lets out a frustrated exhale through her nostrils. "You're right. I don't like it, and it's not going to happen."

It's likely exactly the reception he might have expected, and Kellan watches Maera pace in silence, tracking her with his stare, to and fro and to and fro, his expression neutral, unreadable, blank. He lets her burn through that initial surge in energy, and when the servant girl comes back with more food, he doesn't hesitate to grab a hunk of bread and chow down. He's in no rush to answer, and waits for her to quiet before saying anything.

Maera stops, and puts her hand on the back of her chair. "Your father and mine were friends. Even if he thinks I'm some dumb little chit who would enjoy playing house does he not have respect for my father? For my grandfather?" She shakes her head in light disgust. The chair is pulled out, and she sits down. "Tell me how else your father intended to insult me with his agreement."

Kellan throws down the bread, reaching a hand inside the leather jerkin he wears, retrieving some flattened parchment he'd kept tucked there for safekeeping along the way. When he pushes it across the table, Maera will find its wax stamped with the Karstark seal. "He says as much in the proposal," Kellan replies, of their fathers being friends. "For love of your father, see, he'd join our houses and lend yours some of the strength and resources of ours." He says the words, but doesn't sound totally convinced of them. "Sheep, horses, men. He's very generous." Indeed, the terms outline all manner of provisions for livestock and fighting men, and when she bears them further scrutiny she'll even find suggestions of how the individual estates and titles might be divided among future heirs produced.

"And anyway," Kellan says, grabbing for his cup of wine and taking a hearty drink, "My brother's not half the pain in the ass that I am, so you'd be like to tolerate him well enough."

Maera takes the parchment, and breaks the seal. She skims over the offer with a look of unveiled disgust. "I don't want your fucking sheep." She says in a surly tone as she throws the parchment down onto the table. "This is not out of love for my father. This is a land grab." She crosses her arms over her chest. "I don't give a damn if he offers me a million gold dragons. Bear Island remains under Mormont control. That is non-negotiable."

Kellan gives his bearded cheek a thorough scratch, watching Maera glance through the offer. "Some other lord will be along to snatch your land sooner or later if you don't start making sons," he suggests pragmatically. "Might as well make 'em with an ally." He pauses. "Is my father's thinking." There's no relish on the messenger's behalf in delivering this particular message, that much is clear from the way he now avoids her stare.

"Any man who thinks he can take my land is more than welcome to try." Maera says in a chilly tone. She pushes the parchment across the table towards Kellan as if it were a piece of rubbish. "There's no need to speak on this further. It doesn't matter what your father's terms are. Bear Island will not go outside of the Mormont family. If I must pass it down to one of my younger sisters than I shall."

"So Bear Island will go to the Boltons," Kellan says, sucking salt from his thumb and forefinger after having conveyed several rolls of meat from plate to mouth and devouring them. That done, he reaches out to shove the parchment back toward Maera, the act of doing so making a bizarre laugh catch in his throat. He shakes his head, throwing it back to look up at the roof. "I remembered, recently, the time you showed me how to count the stars on the Ice Dragon," he says of a northron constellation, bringing his eyes down, once more, to the She Bear. "How old were we? Children. I tried to kiss you after." Where's the jug of wine? He reaches for it.

"Your brother isn't the only man alive." Maera points out with a little snort. "And Lord Stark will grant me a boon or two. I could have a bastard, and have them legitimized. I could name Tanda or Ulyka my heir. That you think I am too stupid and helpless to do without you or your father is insulting. I offered an alliance in good faith." She rolls her eyes faintly, "Of course you tried to kiss me. You never respected me. Even when you got taller than me, and I could still knock you on your arse, you never truly respected me. This." She motions towards the parchment, "Is just more proof of that." She leans back in her chair, "Well, you can tell your father that I don't need allies who would steal from my ancestors."

"I told him you wouldn't accept," Kellan says, taking back the parchment, rather than leave it laying out on the table at risk of being shredded or burned or whatever other whim strikes the Lady Mormont. He stuffs it back inside his leathers. "He sent me anyway. Do you think I like a fool's errand, me? I don't." He refills his cup of wine, for neither the first or, likely, the last tonight, and sets it down with less dramatic a thud for how much they've drained from it in the course of their parlay. At first it seems he won't argue her accusation where respect is concerned, but he does. "You're wrong. It's because you could that I respected you. And it's because I respected you that I wanted to put my mouth on you. Well, not just respect." He drinks. Sure, he mislikes coming to her with an offer that insults her, but he's not likely to look forward to returning to Karhold with nothing to show for his efforts, so she can count it a victory that he says, "I will," rather than try to argue the marriage match as a boon. Some negotiator.

"I'm sorry." Maera says in a gentled voice. "In my anger I forgot that you are not your father, and you do not make his decisions. You are just doing as your Lord commands." She holds out her cup to be refilled. "Truth of the matter is I thought he'd sent you because he agreed to a match between us." She draws the cup back, and brings it to her lips before saying, "I wasn't horribly disappointed. It would be awkward, but I know I could trust you with helping manage the land, and I know your sword arm is good." When he says he will deliver her response to his father, she nods her head in acceptance of this.

Refill the cup he does, further proving his aptitude for obeying commands. Kellan shrugs, saying as he pours, "You don't need to apologize to me, my lady. You've a right to your anger. If your father and brothers lived…" Well, he doesn't finish the thought, putting down the jug and turning his attention to his own cup of wine. He drinks, and he eats, and he pushes back from the table when the second plate is cleared, watching as both are taken from the table. "Us? Why should he?" Now he studies Maera anew. Manage the land, sword arm… "Aye, but it's not just my axe that strikes true," he argues, flashing her a wink.

"I can't keep his death from you." Maera says suddenly. She rubs a hand down her face, and lets out a sigh. "You were his friend. You were Cressen's friend as well, weren't you?" She fortifies herself with another healthy swallow before saying, "Randyll didn't die at the hands of a Wildling. The Glover's had him killed. Humfrey, too. They kiled my brothers. They thought they could force me to marry Cressen, and take the Island."

Kellan goes stony, fast, when Maera offers him this revelation, his grip on the cup of wine tightening until his knuckles go bone white. His fury is palpable, roiling off of him in hot, heavy waves. He leans forward in his seat, reaching out his free hand to take Maera by the wrist, where she holds her own cup of wine. "How long have you known?" He asks, reading her face with his stare, like he might find the answer written in her expression. "Why did you not tell me? I would have brought you heads, not paper."

"Cressen and his mother are both dead. They fell prey to their own ambitions." Maera turns her head upwards to look into Kellan's face. "Months. I didn't need you to bring me their heads. They were my beautiful little baby brothers, and I needed to do it myself." She lets out a sad little sound, "And someone stole that from me. But, I plan on making the whole house pay. That's why I have allied with Bolton. That is why I sought an alliance with Karhold. I would make them suffer as they have never suffered."

The set of Kellan's jaw produces a visible clench as he grits his teeth, consumed all at once by the overwhelming urge to repay blood with blood. Maybe it's the quiet sound she makes, the break in her voice, but he realizes he'd been clutching her wrist with a vice grip, and he relents, the hand he leaves on her arm a demonstration of solidarity. "Let me swear you my sword, and I will help you teach them what they must learn of suffering."

Maera's murky blue-green eyes lift upwards to stare into Kellan's a moment or two. And then she nods once. "Alright." She lets out a low exhale, and leans her head down slightly. "You're like a brother to me, and you were a brother to them in everything but blood. You should have a hand in their vengeance as well."

Kellan lets go his hold on her wrist, and he puts down his cup, rising to his feet for the second time since she came down to join him. He moves around the table, needing no further prompting but her words to unsheathe his blade and take a knee before Maera. He lifts his blade, balancing it across his palms, and swears, with all the reverence of a prayer, "Until this debt of blood is repaid, I am yours to command. Accept my sword and my service, and they are yours." Her brothers were indeed like his own; closer, probably, than his own, for having been raised among Mormonts rather than Karstarks. Every ounce of that love is in the fealty he offers Maera now.

Maera places a hand on Kellan's shoulder. "By the Old Gods I accept your sword, and your service." She says this in a quiet, but firm voice, "Know that my hearth is open to you, and you are under my house's protection while you serve." There's a vulnerability to her then. Something she rarely lets others see shining in her eyes. "Thank you, Kellan."

"And by the Old Gods, I vow not to rest til you have had your due," Kellan swears in reply, her hand on his broad, muscled shoulder. He looks from the blade to her, his rage matched by an equal measure of resolve. He rises from his knee, restoring the blade to its sheath, and then he takes Maera's hand in his, bowing his head over it and brushing lips across her knuckles in a demonstration of deference, sworn sword to liege lady. "For your brothers," he says. "And for you. You will always have an ally in Karhold, as I live and breathe."
<FS3> Kellan rolls Chivalry: Good Success.

"At least I will have one ally." Maera says ruefully. She allows Kellan to place his lips on her knuckles, the signet ring her father used to wear now placed on her thumb. When he rises she also moves out of her chair. "Pansy will show you to a room." Her somber expression lightens a bit as she adds teasingly, "And Kellan? She's not on the menu."

He touches his lips to the signet, too, before he's done, and then he lets go Maera's hand. "Is she not?" Kellan asks, glancing in the girl's direction. "No matter. From the look of her, I doubt she could knock me on my ass." He repays the tease in kind.

"I doubt she could as well, but her mother is the cook. Mistreat her at your own peril, for the woman is mean-spirited, and will see that you've nothing to eat!" That said, she steps towards the stairs. "Goodnight, Kellan."

And as Maera disappears up the stairs, after goodnights are exchanged, she may or may not overhear him bribing the girl for a room near the Lady Mormont's.

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