(123-06-09) What Women (Don't) Want
What Women (Don't) Want
Summary: Thrust and parry in the training yard at Starfall.
Date: 09/06/2016
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The Dornish sun has relented, retiring for the night from its eternal assault on the southrons known more for surviving it than anything else. A light rain even offers its sullen condolences for it's friends fiery behavior, misting those in the castle courtyard and providing some welcome relief.

Amongst those, one group stands out from the rest. So much so that they have even attracted a small knot of onlookers who come and spend a minute or two admiring before going on about their business for the night. In the middle is Ser Faelan Fowler, the Talon, known well to the Daynes of Starfall and to much of Dorne besides. He is stripped to the waist and stood in a ready position with his spear held across his back and out to one side; he wears a large angry welt across his shoulders and a grin on his face even as the rain tries to tear his hair out of its tail and hide the one. Around him is a young Fowler man at arms and two baby faced Dayne lordlings. The entire group looks dirty and exhausted.

"And there, my little birds, you see why it is important to move. Speed is life; sloth is death."

The spectators of these recent bouts include several young ladies of the household, one a sandy Dornish beauty with wide dark eyes and skin the colour of caramel, garbed incongruously in a Westerosi gown of black linen trimmed with dark blue. She can't be a day over sixteen — nor can either of her companions, lissom creatures in pale sandsilks. All three are expert commentators and inveterate whisperers. Who wouldn't be tempted to show off?

"… And here are my little birds," drawls a woman's voice behind them, velvety and low, patient for now but not forever.

Lady Ynys Yronwood has come just in time to overhear Ser Faelan's observation. She is a tall and queenly woman, clad in a sleeveless gown of lurid yellow sandsilk which would wash out colouring less rich than her own: her bare arm snaking about the sandy Dornish girl's waist, the sight of them side by side, marks her at once as the original. She embraces her daughter only to release her a breath later, patting her back with a hand weighted by a heavy golden signet ring, ordering in the nonchalant expectation of obedience: "Go in, or you'll be too late to change." Then she turns to the other girls and lifts her eyebrows at them, and the exodus becomes a general one, with curtseys to her.

One of the young Daynelings, fortunate enough to witness the dismissal of some of the most favored admirers, gasps with dismay as the lady he was trying to impress is sent away. Only half hearing his lord of Fowler's advice, he suddenly advances. This Dayne knight favors the sword over the traditional spear, though, and Faelan nonchalantly shifts his weight to the side and the weapon whistles harmlessly through the air. The Dayne boy, or the squire of a Dayne boy, it's hard to keep track of the little ones, his attempt at winning fame and glory and the admiration of a Yronwood foiled continues past the Talon and rallies his friends to attack.

As for Faelan, he just never is where the sword or spears are. Though he hardly moves, they just miss, and just miss, and oh! Almost! But no. All without ever moving his simple black spear, the red sash hanging from it hanging listlessly. "Come, boys! Mind your blades before you fret about your shaft! A memory of a sweet pair of tits will do you little good if you bleed to death in the sand!"

Finally, the Talon moves his spear. It dances through the dark like midnight, catching the Fowler man at arms at his hand with a painful THWACK; he pulls that hand away from his spear and is rewarded by a dancing Faelan spinning behind him and stealing his legs. The Fowler knight then uses the hook just beneath the blade of his spear, hooks it to the hilt of the attacking Dayne's sword, and drags him across his fallen friend's body, sending them down in a heap. Then he ducks, just as the last of his foes swings from behind, and with a quick pivot and rapid twitch his own spear blade is at the little one's neck. After holding that pose for a second, he stands and helps the other two to their feet. "Now. Who is it that's distracting my little soldiers?" He asks with a grin to the remaining crowd- eyes lingering for a second on the Lady of Yronwood with the slightest hint of surprise.

And the Yronwood lady regards Ser Faelan expressionlessly, head carried high and one hand resting on the gentle curve of her hip. Her large, liquid, dark brown eyes, framed by delicate creases, don't scruple to lock with his. After a moment she raises an eyebrow. "I sent my girls away," she explains kindly. "If your boys remain so inept, I'd look for the problem nearer to home."

"If you think you've found a way to keep young girls from admiring clumsy boys and clumsy boys from doing foolish things for silly girls, you are either a mad genius or woefully mistaken, my lady." The Dayne gives the woman a fierce look, but stops to fetch the Fowler lord his coat and something to wipe his face of rain and dirt. The Talon then jerks his head back towards the castle, and the young ones depart. "Either way, a bold move to insult a Dayne in Starfall. Even a little one. I can respect that. The boy has promise, though; do not be too cross if you find him abed with your daughters."

Lady Ynys laughs a rich, low laugh; she gives the Dayne boy a nod as he passes by her, though, returning easy tolerance for his ferocity. To Ser Faelan she confides, "If I've found a way to keep them from it till after dinner I'll be content. I don't ask for the impossible — only the highly improbable."

She shrugs muscled shoulders left almost bare by her yellow sandsilk, and glistening with the fine rain that falls intermittently; high on her left arm, a faded knife scar testifies to the turbulence of her youth. "Only one of them," she adds, "was my own daughter, and I think I have brought her up with better sense than to settle for him." A glance after the lordling's retreating back. "I can't speak to the others; he may have better luck there," she speculates, as the quiet force of her attention returns to Ser Faelan. "We haven't met. You're…?" Her eyebrows lift together, in courteous question.

"Faelan Fowler," the Talon replies as he slips his silk coat- probably ruined from the rain -over his shoulders. He steps closer to Ynys and offers something of an approximation of a bow. With one hand he leans on his spear, which squelches just a little into the muddy earth. With his other, he points to the long scar down the left side of his face. "Though I know well the dangers of youthful exuberance. And you are?"

The revelation of her new acquaintance's name brings an amused light into Lady Ynys's eyes. "Ynys Yronwood," she answers, studying him, her head unbowed despite the rain. "I wonder if you're a brother of the Lady Alaeyna's…?" And thus a son of the Lady Sabela's, though that thought she keeps to herself. Why rake up such ancient gossip—? He won't have heard it in any case.

Faelan raises a brow when she doesn't recognize his name, but it draws a smile from the knight. "Indeed. My dear sister is Lady Fowler, and the best of us. Except maybe for the bastard though I don't quite know where he has run off to of late. I must admit, it is rather charming to meet someone who's not heard of me. Have you been away?"

"Your fame usually precedes you, does it?" the lady teases indulgently. "… Savour it while you may, Ser Faelan; youths such as that Dayne boy you were beating a moment ago will rise up and take it from you soon enough." Another quirk of her eyebrows. "And then strangers will be reduced to asking their mothers and their uncles who you are, as you might ask yours about me."

"I never asked for it, nor lusted after it, my lady. It happened upon me. When it goes I will not mourn its passing." The Talon narrows his eyes and takes a longer look at this lady of Yronwood. "I am merely what I am needed to be, and in all honesty, that most likely means I'll be dead before that happens. Men who make poor husbands are only good for one thing, and it's a frightful perilous thing at that. Though I suppose bleeding out in the sand is probably not a better fate than you were trying to warn me of."

Lady Ynys narrows her fine eyes, sceptical of Ser Faelan's estimate of his own worth and utility. "Only one thing—?" she drawls. "I can think of at least eleven; but every one of them would require you still to be drawing breath." A pause. "I've given up wondering," she goes on, head held high through another sprinkling of rain which gleams upon the silver in her hair, "why it is that whenever a man is given his spurs he decides he would far sooner die for his home than live for it, and pledges himself to his funeral pyre. It unfits him for conversation, never mind matrimony."

"Oh, you are too kind, my lady. I'd decided that long before I earned my spurs." Water drips from a rogue strand of Faelan's hair that has pulled itself loose from its tail. In this light his scars, not just the one down the side of his face, stand out. "Fear is a fierce, powerful master. It is not an easy thing to take up a spear, to tilt in the lists, to face death on the field… No. It is a hard thing to put down your horse so it does not suffer. A hard thing to watch your father, your brothers, your men die. The listening, really, is the worst. Dying men scream, often and loudly." A heavy silence rings between breaths. "Most men cannot admit how terribly afraid of all that they are. If they do they cannot do their duty when called. You might think on that before you judge them too harshly for coping as best they can with that reality they can't escape. They boast so they don't cower."

The Talon looks up in an attempt to find the moon, then. "But I am a less noble creature than most men. War and women are the only things that have ever made me feel alive. If I have to die for that, I am at peace with that."

The lady hears him out — and then asks him slowly, in that voice of hers like dark velvet: "… Do you suppose I have never cut the throat of a wounded horse after falling from his back, or watched a man die whom I loved, or screamed aloud with a pain I thought I might not survive—? Your little birds might find your homilies impressive, Ser Faelan, and the girls who gather about to watch them take their first flights — I don't advise you to offer them too freely to grown women," she says gently. "We have no respect for men who can't admit their fears. We know too well that fear is a tempering force, that it is only in fear that a man's mettle, or a woman's, can be proven. To be stricken with fear, to rise above it in the meeting of one's duty — what else is bravery? Fear is its precondition." She shrugs again, her hand slipping away from her hip to hang loosely at her side. "But to be so much in love with what is, from time to time, a regrettable necessity… that, I do judge."

"No, my lady. You do not." The mirth has vanished now; flown away with the birdies and the watchers. There is nothing left of the jovial grinning man from before. "You have danced along the edge of madness but never bathed in it, else you would know it was no necessity at all. And women love too well men who can't admit their fears. They've lusted after me since before I was your daughter's age. Young maidens and widowers alike. For my face, for my name, for my reputation; never for Faelan, though. Whether you choose to admit it or not they are just as empty and vapid as the men you'd so love to belittle, so spare me your words of wisdom on what grown ladies prefer. If they would all let me be, none would be happier than I…" The sound of mud sucking out from around Faelan's spear announces its movement as he slings it over his shoulder. "I wonder if you'll have such disdain the next time you ask young men to die on your behalf. I should think it would not make for a very good speech. Good evening, my lady of Yronwood. You'll find more pleasant company… anywhere you're not bothering me."

Listening, Lady Ynys remains more or less impassive, but her shoulders quiver just once with the effort of suppressing an amusement which has lingered on in her long after being banished from her interlocutor's scarred visage.

"I've hardly seen your face, in this light," she begins; "I could not have put a name to it, nor judged you by your reputation even had I wished so to do. You might have made anything of such a meeting — even, if the Seven willed it, an ally — but what have I heard from you but your name, and your reputation, and your brash talk of warfare and bloodshed and madness…? You would fain be valued for more than such deeds — but could you let five minutes pass without trumpeting them…? If you find that's all women see in you, perhaps that's because it's all you show them," she suggests caustically. "I have neither such a low opinion of my sex as you assert, or of yours as you suppose from this handful of remarks we've exchanged — I am fond enough of men, I admire men enough, to wish better for the men I know than they oft choose for themselves… I am the first, always, to discourage men from dying needlessly, on my behalf or anyone else's. But, as I say, there are some questions I have given up asking, some worries I've given up worrying; we all choose our own damnations in this life, and no one else has the right to choose for another… Though I hope you'll believe me," she drawls, "when I assure you I'll do what I can to encourage the ladies of Starfall to spare you their lusts. Good evening, Ser Faelan." And she turns, sandsilk swirling.

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