(123-01-13) Hellan's Northmen
Hellan's Northmen
Summary: Desmond seeks the service of Hellan; Kellan seeks to serve Hellan.
Date: 13/01/2016
Related: Proposal for the Past, Value

Weirwood Manse

Old Street

This is one of the oldest houses in the city, a large square structure of pale grey-brown stone, squat and heavy. On its facade is a mosaic of small, thick, white and red bricks, set deep into the stone facade of the rowhouse. They form a mosaic image beside its door — a weirwood tree with its white trunk and branches and its red leaves. The image doesn't have a face, but from time to time someone will paint one on, and someone else will scrub it off. Like most houses in Oldtown, there are few windows on the street level, only small high ones to let in a little light. The upper stories have unevenly sized and spaced windows that from the outside appear to be caught in the weirwood's branches.

The living space in the ground floor consists only of a single large hall, with a massive hearth, a long plank trestle-table, and a group of leather-covered chairs set off to one side. There's a spot on the back wall where there used to be a door but it's been filled in with stone blocks, probably when the garden became the jumble of buildings that stand there now. The rest of the bottom floor is taken up by a smallish kitchen and a large private stable that one can access from outside or from a narrow door beside the stairs. The staircase is wide, made of blackened wood that's aged hard as stone but bears dips in the treads from centuries of feet.

For the lady of the house and the self-proclaimed savior of Kellan Karstark into usefulness in the name of House Stark (or at least her own bidding; it has yet to be seen), Hellan is somewhat elusive. She's there one day and absent the next several, locked in her chamber like a recluse, only to appear again as if no such thing ever occurred. It is in one of these times that she stands between the old manse's single large hall and its stable, leaning beside the stairs, where the draft catches her skirts and the horses rustle about nearby and she can see glimpses of Old Street. Why the woman is here is anyone's guess (actually, the household has likely stopped trying to guess why she's anywhere at any given time long ago).

Kellan comes in from the stable through the narrow door abutting the stairs, smelling equal parts of horse and Northman, looking like the son of a Yeti and a giant with the long hair and full beard of a savage. He seems surprised to encounter Hellan just then, but recovers and bows his head to her. "Lady Stark. I've just seen to your mare and set her to rights. I'd let her have a run, me, if she were mine. Seems restless." He hasn't exactly sobered up since coming until Hellan's employ, but he's no longer frequenting winesinks and whorehouses since finding his new purpose.

Desmond Snow is waiting in the anteroom, having been greeted by a servant. Perhaps the man remembers the time Desmond brought home Lady Hellan Stark, or perhaps he just recognizes a Northman when he sees one. Regardless, the Snow Giant is padding around, gazing at the huge hall, when he hears Kellan address 'Lady Stark'. Rather rudely, the huge Northman just heads in the direction of the voices.

"She's not yours, is she," Hellan remarks sharply, although it's with no real conviction. A thoughtful look ghosts across her pale face, lowering one brow more than the other. "I take her out for walks with Eonn, time to time…" She lays a hand across her abdomen, idle, instinctive. "If you want to run her, though, give her a go. I don't want her getting cramped up in here." There's gratitude in her voice, if one listens very closely and uses their imagination. Footsteps gnaw at the edge of her hearing, meanwhile, distracting her before she's even gotten the words out. She stands straight, out of her lean; by the time Desmond approaches, she's staring up at him with her cool grey eyes. "Snow."

"She's not, milady," Kellan says in the habitual way of a man who's spent his life being spoken to sharply by his betters. And just as easily, and noncommitally, he nods when Hellan gives him leave to run the horse, as he'd recommended. "I will, then. So she's ready for you when you need her." The footsteps draw his own attention, and when Desmond appears, the Karstark offers no greeting of his own to echo Hellan's. He squares his shoulders, as if on alert for instruction from his mistress where the intruder is concerned.

Desmond offers a respectful bow toward Hellan, though there is a faintly sardonic expression on his features. "Lady Hellan. I'm pleased to see you well." And indeed, he does seem rather relieved to hear no slur in Hellan's words. He doesn't take offense at her curt greeting. "I had come by to see about that matter I'd asked you to look into for me?" But he's distracted by Kellan, squinting over at the man, not in a threatening manner but in the way of someone trying to remember something. "I've seen you before," he tells the Karstark.

Kellan makes a low sound that's halfway between a scoff and a grunt, but he doesn't otherwise acknowledge Desmond. He still stares, though.

"That. Well." Hellan looks from Desmond to Kellan, following the line of recognition. "This is Kellan Karstark," she introduces without pomp or circumstance and becomes distracted before fulfilling the opposite introduction — or simply doesn't care to. "I didn't get into the Citadel." She folds her arms and leans back against the wall as she was. "But I started to look through some of my book collection for any mentions of your old Umbers."

At his name, Kellan rests a hand on his swordbelt. He doesn't seem bothered that the introduction is only done halfway. And he doesn't seem like the kind who makes small talk, since he doesn't offer any. Hellan doesn't dismiss him, though, so he stands attendant at the stable door.

Desmond stares at Kellan for a few moments longer, then smiles — a thin, guarded, expression. "It's a pleasure to learn your name, Kellan Karstark. I am Ser Desmond Snow." He watches the man a moment longer, then looks back to Hellan.

"I appreciate what you've done so far, Lady." And for once, there's no mockery in the man's voice, no latent sardonicism. "Did anything come up? In your books?"

Hellan turns her back on Desmond to stroll into the stable, making her way to her mare, past the somewhat mismatched assemblage of other horses that call the Stark stable home. As she reaches for the horse's broad face to stroke and examine it, she gives Kellan a wide, nigh on conspiratorial grin. "Meagerly," she answers with none of her expression reaching her voice. "But enough to confirm some of your theory, if the old scribe is to be trusted in saying your ancestors came south."

"Then I was right. I was right." Desmond Snow seems to grow even more mammoth in light of this news. He follows Hellan into the stable, smiling to watch her with the horse. "We just have to prove the rest of it, and the Hightowers will have to give me permission. Won't they?"

But he seems distracted by Kellan's snort, by his overall attitude, and turns to the other Northman. "You know that was only business, don't you? I mean, I seem to recall I buried a few friends that day myself, mate. Don't see me carrying a grudge."

Kellan stands aside when the other two go into the stables, but he stays lingering in the doorway, like a giant towering sentinel. There's no question that he's hearing their entire conversation, but he has the impassive look of someone that's not actually listening, and it doesn't even flicker when Desmond turns to address him. The Karstark gruffs, "As you say, ser," back at the other Northman, an incredible amount of shade peppered on that single final syllable.

Hellan glances from her horse to eye Desmond and Kellan, their exchange (such as it is, on the Karstark's part) only earning an amused, unconcerned shake of her head. "I can't bloody well say what the Hightowers will or won't do. If you had a mighty tower," a thought that makes her pause to scoff, "would you want some giant clod rooting around in your basement for a relic of the past who has nothing to do with them any longer? If you want them to take you seriously, maybe you should get the lofty maesters at the Citadel to take you seriously in the name of," she turns around to face Desmond, wearing an animated grimace on her usually more grim features and waving a hand, "'history and the pursuit of knowledge'."

"Yes, I do say," replies Desmond. But he doesn't seem angry as he eyes Kellan — just considering him, perhaps measuring him up. He looks back to Hellan. "I've got a boy in the Citadel doing his own research. And might be I can get a Maester or two to show some interest. Might be, maybe, even an Archmaester. Especially now, with you to vouch I ain't insane." Desmond smiles hugely, looking over to Kellan Karstark, inviting the man to share his pleasure. Or perhaps taunting him with it.

But Desmond Snow is so far beyond Kellan's notice that he isn't even looking in the right direction to catch the smile, taunting or otherwise, thrown his way. The bearded giant is instead watching some internal comings and goings in the hall of the manse, like he's got one foot in the stable and one in the house proper in the name of service to Hellan Stark. Research, citadel, archmaesters, none of it concerns the lumbering axeman, who doesn't show any sign of having even the faintest idea what it is they're about. Or maybe his conversational skills are limited to yes, milady and no, milady.

"The book gives a hint. You'll remember, I never said anything resembling the sort," Hellan points out drily - while it's not without a vague amusement in her sharp gaze, the same gaze also critically studies the Snow Giant. She draws her brows together, eventually giving in to a scrap of curiosity. "You seem to have a plan."

"A plan? No. But if I continue to press, I've found it often works out. Don't you, Lady Hellan?" After all, the woman has a decided reputation for pressing, herself. "If I can convince Maester Leandro and Bryn to arrange a meeting with an Archmaester, and I present your book as evidence.." The huge man smiles for a moment, then shrugs. "And then, well. Hopefully I can convince at least one Hightower to help me. Though.." He trails off. "..That may become awkward."

"My book isn't going anywhere without me. It should help to have a Stark interested in the claim in front of the archmaester." Hellan moves for the door into the house proper with the confident stride of a woman who assumes everyone is simply going to get out of her way before she collides with them — and expects them to follow, indicated by a mere jerk of her head.

Kellan falls in after Hellan, bypassing Desmond to be first in the line. His obedience is instinctive, and hardly requires the tilt of the head to prompt.

Desmond follows along at the rear, smiling. "I had hoped you might offer," he tells Hellan. In fact, a note in the man's voice implies that he had been counting on it. He's smiling a little smugly as he walks along, studying Kellan's back. His eyes narrow briefly, though the smile doesn't fade. He absently touches the hilt of Giantsblade.

Slung over Kellan's back is an axe that looks like it could separate two heads from two sets of shoulders in one fell swoop, a weapon so heavy that only a man his size could even think to heft it.

Hellan waits until she and the two trailing giants have reached the trestle table in the hall to turn and eye Desmond, cutting wordlessly into his smugness. "I've a few more books to look through, but the timing might be off by a few thousand years. Still, one cannot be sure what happened when that many years ago." She sits down slowly at the table's bench. "Come, Kellan, you've been out there long enough." Evidently an invitation — or command — to eat or drink; there's bread, salt, hard cheese and wine already laid out on the table, fresh, likely snuck out after Desmond's arrival just in case.

Desmond gazes at the food, apparently confused as to whether this invitation extends to him. He sighs as Hellan tears down his hopes, rubbing at the side of his neck. "Well. I would love to stay, but I'm afraid I must.." He wordlessly nods toward the door. "I must be going. When you're finished with the other books, Lady, could you send word? Or should I check back?"

"And where do I send word," Hellan asks in a tone that might just be rhetorical, "the dragon's nest?" She nods to the door, as if bidding him leave either way; she'll find him. "I will."

Desmond looks grateful, passing out the door with a single backward glance.

Kellan takes a heavy seat of his own at the table, a grateful, "Aye, milady," offered to Hellan when she bids him join her. He watches Desmond go, piling his plate with bread and cheese and meat and using both hands to do it. Big man, big appetite. Big thirst, too, if the way he downs his first cup of wine in a single gulp is any indication.

Once Desmond is out of sight, he's out of mind. Hellan watches the Karstark drink his entire cup of wine. "Are you settling in?" It seems such a simple, casual question on the surface, but the woman's ice-grey eyes stare more deeply, cut more sharply, into Kellan.

Kellan eats like a man who doesn't know where his next meal is coming from, even though he's been at the manse long enough to know it's coming on schedule, like clockwork. He tears a hunk of bread in his hands, piling it with cheese and salted meat and ripping at it with his teeth, more like beast than man. Not the sort who shares a table with a lady much often. "I'd settle into the stables if you asked me," he assures her, not above or beyond sleeping in a stack of hay or under a tree or in a bank of snow. All things he has done.

"More comfortable than they look, the stables," Hellan states, so dry as to either be expertly sarcastic or speaking, in fact, from knowledge. She takes a cup of wine for herself. When she drinks, it is not the entire cup, but hearty, far from a mere sip. "No more winesinks?" Would she notice if he up and left?

Kellan is just about to refill his own cup from the jug when Hellan asks about the winesinks. "No, milady." But daydrinking is still an integral part of a Northman's day, and wine and beer are not in short supply at the manse. Ladies of the night, however… Those he would seem to have quit cold turkey. He splashes more wine into Hellan's cup, just because, and then sets the jug down with an unintentionally heavy slam. Staring at the contents of his plate, he seems to have something further to say. His eye contact is strong when it does lift to target Hellan. "Might be you've more for me to do, milady?" A sworn sword, after all, craves service above all else.

Hellan meets the man's gaze head-on, her own as strong. Yet she does not answers straight away; only stares, locked. "Hmm." Not a sound of thought; one of displeasure. Distant regret. She looks away only when her cup of wine draws her attention. "I wish we were in the North," she says, although it does not sound precisely like a lamentation; it is prideful, talk of the place they cannot go. The lamentation comes later. "I would never wish for war or raiders scratching at our door, I would set you upon them in an instant." And she, too, seems to crave it. She reaches for a piece of bread, tearing it in half viciously. "Every so often I catch a whisper of Iron Islanders making business for themselves in Oldtown," she says, louder than previous, "I should like you to find them and find out who they are. Every one."

It's the very same that Kellan longs for, his bloodlust a thing that might go dormant for a time but that never truly leaves him. He only says, "I'd follow you home," when Hellan speaks her wish aloud, as good as a vow and as earnest as one. He must have sated his hunger a bit, because he forgets his plate for the moment. Iron Islanders. The Karstark seems to frown. "Find them," he repeats, like to clarify her instructions. "I'm not much for smarts, me," he tells her. "You want the squids crushed under a boot when they're found, that's a job for me. But finding them out at their business…"

"They're not usually subtle, are they," Hellan points out — sharp, but with a knowing smile in distaste for said squids. Her voice lowers, deepening, smoothening, lest any of the more benevolent members of the household are in earshot, lurking about a corner (Malcolm, she means Malcolm). "Crushing them is exactly what I'd prefer. I just want to know where they rest their bloody tentacles first, and which vile houses they've sailed from." She nods curtly, lifting the piece of bread and gesturing toward Kellan with it. "You can do that," she says certainly. "And then I promise your sword blood."

Kellan's nod, the set of his jaw, are both grim. But his gaze is intent, and when Hellan gives him his marching orders, he surely accepts them. "Aye, milady. It will be done." Maybe her confidence in him instills some of his own, or maybe he's just eager for the promised blood for his sword. He returns to devouring the contents of his plate, once he's sure that's the extent of it, passing the meal in companionable silence.

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