(122-11-30) Mare
Summary: When two Northroners meet in a winesink, common ground doesn't exactly seem to bode well for either of them.
Date: 30/11/2015
Related: None

Tooth and Nail Oldtown

This squalid winesink never closes — somebody broke the front door, probably with an ax, years ago. It doesn't latch, and it'd not even a complete door. Bad weather can leak in through its broken edges. There are a few battered tables, and stools and benches or just empty barrels to sit on. The furniture, such as it is, doesn't match and is probably mostly stolen. It doesn't last long in here. The place has a dirt floor strewn with straw and rushes. They don't appear to have been changed for decades and they emit a dank smell.

The drink is cheap, the food cheaper, and the whores may be cheapest of all.

For a penny one can sleep, or do any other thing, on the second floor. It's drier up there. However, it is all one room and there are neither beds nor a limit to how many 'guests' are sold lodging there each night.

Though it is broad daylight out on the streets, it might as well be midnight in the Tooth and Nail. The place is crowded with the dispossessed - sellswords, whores, smallfolk, thieves - and the straw smells particularly foul today. That might be blamed on the drunkard, passed out in his own vomit, lying across the door. Men come and go ignoring him, apart from a few sharp kicks.

At the bar, surrounded by sellswords, stands one mammoth of a man. His voice booms across the room as he slurps strong brown ale, snatches of his words clearly audible. "…And I swear it by the Old Gods, he lay sprawling at my feet. Took it well, though. Little bugger was a game one, I say, maiden-faced or no." The big man is clearly of the North, his accent perfectly evident. He is armored in unadorned brigadine, as though even here he expects battle.

The woman who comes ambling into the winesink does not look like anyone in particular, which is rather the point. The only thing that marks her as odd — besides the fact that she is a woman at the Tooth who isn't, at least obviously, a whore — is that she's wearing a cloak with a spacious hood when the air outside is warm and the sun shines outside, not even a drop of Oldtown's frequent rains dampening the old fabric. It might have been olive green once; now it's worn down, frayed, the colour of the muddied fields when it does pour. Hellan, her slightly more noble clothing hidden beneath this attire, eyes the foul place without quite seeing it and walks straight for the voice of the man from the North, half-tripping over the passed out drunkard on her way. By the time she reaches the booming voice, her balance is unsteady, and she slams a square shoulder carelessly into him … but doesn't even seem to notice. If she was drawn to his voice, it does not seem to be on purpose. Already, she's grabbing at a server, mumbling something about 'strongest ale'.

On first impulse, the bearish figure snatches down at his coin-purse as the woman slams into him. His hand moves with a speed that belies his frame, and he eyes her curiously for a moment when he finds the purse still present on his hip. He pauses, as though to speak, then shrugs and takes a long gulp of the ale in his fist. One of the men near him says, challengingly, "Are you to say you knocked the Maiden-Knight on his arse, Snow? I knew y'were a bastard. I didn't know y'were a liar."

There's a silence for a moment. The giant man is utterly still for a moment, before turning to the woman beside him and speaking with a surprising courtesy, his booming voice dropping respectfully. "Forgive me this, madam, but would you be so good as to hold my ale?"

Hellan snorts to herself when she hears the talk of the Maiden Knight, but as the man is dubbed 'Snow', she whips her head around, strands of dark hair streaked with a hint of grey striking across her face. Staggering, off-balance, she studies him — not that anyone would quite be able to tell, under the half-shadow of her hood. She's nothing but a squared jaw, pale skin and mess of hair. She grabs the back of a chair, leaning into the array of men to get a better look. She's looking for something. Someone. As it turns out, he's not it. She's about to stagger off when she notices the cup of ale jutting out, more than hears his words, and reaches over to grab it from him.

And down it.

As soon as the ale is out of his hand, the bear man spins and smashes the back of his gauntleted fist against the speaker. He sends the other man sprawling into the hay and, quick as that, smashes his boot down into the man's chest. His voice, so courteous a moment before, rises into a true battle-cry. "No man calls me liar, you fucking goat-son!" There are hands on him, the other sellswords heaving him back from the bleeding man. It takes three, but they manage to hold him for just long enough.

Like that, his temper is snuffed. He speaks quite mildly. "I'm through. I'm through." And turning away from the cluster of men to look at the woman, he flashes a grin. "I meant you to hold it, love, not drink it. But I see you've a thirst. Another?"

Hellan is unfazed by the brawl, except to crack a sharp snort of a laugh when the man bursts into a battle-cry. "And you were busy," she explains when he's so certainly through, holding the empty cup out to him. Her voice is deep, strong; resonating, even when she speaks low and with a faint blur of inebriation. As she goes on, clearly from the North. "I'm not your love, love. What Umber spawned you, then?"

Again, for a moment, the giant goes utterly still. It seems he might even lose his temper. His face flushes red, and then pale as milk, as he struggles to master himself. Then he stoops down to peer at the woman's face, if he can, beneath her hood. The cup is grasped in his hand, all forgotten. "Lord Ulryk Umber. Who are you, madam?" The last is more wondering than angry. He swallows, his color returning more naturally, whatever inner struggle having been resolved.

Hellan's hood may be meant to hide her, but she won't hide when he's looking straight at her. No. She tips her head up, letting the sickly light in the winesink trace her face. The powerful cheekbones, the dark brows pinched now in seemingly perpetual anger, the long nose. Her eyes are blasts of ice, set in hollows. "No one who cares about Lord Ulryk." Granted, it's possible the woman doesn't care about anything right now; she pulls a chair from the nearest table with a grating noise, sitting slowly down in it.

"And that makes two," says the huge bastard-born Umber, the lie fairly hanging in the air. He gestures for more ale, holding up two fingers, and drops into a chair across from the woman, transfixed by something. Her icy gaze seems to arrest him. "You've an air about you that doesn't speak of wine-sinks, madam. I am Desmond Snow." His rumble is pitched lower, perhaps in an attempt to be overlooked, but it still carries. "You're here for the ale, then? Not the men, that's certain. I've never seen a woman less a whore."

"What a breathtaking compliment," she returns, scathing. "The ale is shit. That makes it some of the strongest in this … flowering cesspool of city." She reaches into a pocket of her cloak. "But you have to tell them not to water it down." Between her fingers, she flashes a much shinier coinage than necessary for the average ale — thrice the price of an ale at somewhere like the Quill and Tankard, even — and glances the way the servers went with full intent to snare them and make them redo the order.

Gaze raking the room after spying the coin, he reaches down and returns with his hand full of a dagger. Smashing it down onto the table, the big man locks eyes defiantly with a few of the rougher elements. And then he looks back to the woman. "You needn't have paid, woman. I don't mind tossing coin away for a lesson in manners. And they won't water it here. They prefer you stumbling, especially with that coin flashed." His manner is easier now, but his fingers do linger on the dagger, as if in reminder.

"You didn't come here for compliments." He says it plainly, his gaze passing up and down the woman's figure. "I can only guess why you did, but it isn't for pleasantries. I could praise your beauty well enough - I learned the ways of it in the Free Cities - and I'd even mean it. But I'd rather learn your name."

The woman leans back against her rickety chair and sighs at length, and though it is with an air of drama, the sound is ragged and not without a true sense of exhaustion. "Go to a winesink, get schooled by the ruffians," she mumbles largely to herself, pressing a few fingertips into her eyebrow. She reaches down, tucking the coin away, and returns with her hand full of dagger. She smashes it down on the table across from his. The weapon is non-descript, but finely made. The steel is castle-forged. "I can take care of myself," she says boldly as though she was not staggering moments ago. "Don't you see, Snow. I came here so no one would use my name." She looks over her shoulder, raising her voice commandingly for the servers, "And for the ale."

"Ah, well, forgive me then. You cannot both hide your name and expect me to treat you as a lady." The big bastard grins, his scarred features twisting with good humor. "But abuse me, do, love. I've nothing more to do today than relish an ice-eyed, sharp-tongued, woman. Particularly when she carries such fine steel." The ale finally arrives, and the big man takes a healthy swig before turning to the server. "And fair change, girl, or I'll have you over my knee." He turns back to the woman, his smile losing much of its sharp edge. "Come. Let's begin again. Call me Desmond, and I'll call you Mare. You look to me a Mare."

Hellan rolls her eyes so far the expression seems to dizzy her, for she brings a hand to her brow again and squeezes the bridge of her nose. Wrinkles etch into her skin, showing her age here and there. "Mare?" she replies, contrary, but lets it be. She sees ale and a kind of tunnel vision kicks in: she slides her cup close and drinks heavily from it. It might as well be watered down to nothing, for how freely and easily she drinks of the gutrotting concoction. "What's an Umber bastard," she pauses to interject with decidedly false apology, "Desmond," she drinks again, "doing in the South?" She looks him and his brigandine up and down. "Selling yourself?"

Flushing for a moment, as though to acknowledge the point, the big man hides his discomfiture in the ale. He takes another swig. "Oh, yes. My Lord Father, some years past, told me that I was doomed to be a whore and a catamite. So I sell myself, yes, but not in the way he imagined." He draws himself up, pride plain on his face. "I've crossed blades with princes, and won, aye." And then he sags back. "But I doubt much would impress you, my Mare. You're a hard one." He leans forward for a moment. "I'll make the question plain, then, pretty lady. If I were selling myself, would you be in need of hiring me?"

"The Maiden Knight, I heard." Several minutes ago. As famed as the Maiden Knight is, the claim, as expected, doesn't exactly garner Hellan's interest. "Mmh," she murmurs, gruff, leaning in to prop her elbows on the table on either side of the hefty mug of ale. "As what? My dutiful guard? My server of ale? I cannot think of anyone I immediately want to kill— " That can't be right. Perhaps she's had too much to drink after all. She gives her pause and she narrows her icy eyes, which have become blearier since's sat down.

"You'll need a guard if you come here often, and alone, though you carry yourself well. You're drunk now. Steel or no, I or any man here could have you." The huge man doesn't say it like a threat - he seems almost sad as he gazes at the woman's ever-blearier eyes. "You say you've no one you need to kill. Are you certain you won't pay me to slit your own throat?" His voice is gentle, not mocking. "But yes, I'd guard you, Mare. For coin. Or for a favor. You know Uryk. I'd guard you tonight for word alone — does my father live?" The sudden, painful plaintiveness in his voice is utterly exposed. "Has his wife borne him a trueborn son to make him proud?"

"What do I pay them for, my guards," Hellan says disjointedly, pushing illogical anger onto the sellsword. She shoves the corner of the table until her cup falls; she grabs it, drinks the dregs. "If they do not notice when I leave?" Her gaze does not catch on Desmond except in the brief moment when he mentions, in such a way, slitting her throat. She seems to at least hear him, his plaintiveness, but answering seems beyond Hellan. She gets it in her head to stand, and that's when it goes awry: she falls before she forms an answer, although in truth it's unlikely that she could dredge the memory from her mind. The woman blacks out before her feet give way from underneath her.

Faster than many would have thought, even having seen him in battle, Desmond heaves himself out of his chair and dives to catch the woman. He doesn't make it, though he scoops her up as easily as another man might bundle a babe into his arms. Once he holds her against his chest, however, the man seems utterly at a loss. "Bugger me with a horse's cock," he murmurs, for the second time in a day. "And make me take it in my mouth after. Damnit." The huge man searches the room, then sighs. "She don't want to be seen. Alright. Alright." He turns and makes his way for the stairs, after carefully gathering both daggers. Flicking three coppers toward the slatternly innkeep, he says "The woman will sleep off the ale and be on her way."

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