(123-08-30) Kingsroad Crossroads
Kingsroad Crossroads
Summary: A young Stark lady at a crossroads in her life meets a future kinswoman on the Kingsroad, at the beginning of a long journey south. (Genevra and Wylliam NPC'd by their mother, Hellan.)
Date: 28/09/2016
Related: Kingsroad Crossroads, Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth, The Reason Why Not, The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Seventh Order.

A week's hard ride north of Moat Cailin — longer if one is burdened with wagons and wheelhouses and womenfolk — a subtle curve in the Kingsroad inclines toward a stone cairn, built higher and higher by succeeding generations of travelers, until the base of it almost touches the road itself.

Beyond the cairn frosty grass has been trampled green again by hooves and feet, or trampled further into cold, thick mud; and smoke mingles with tendrils of morning mist. A sizable armed party, traveling mostly on horseback, has dismounted and set up the most makeshift of camps, surrounding a couple of cookfires and a couple of sturdy wagons. The main business of course is feeding the horses. The horses vastly outnumber the men.

There's a perimeter, of course. That came even before the nosebags were strapped on. It's barely perceptible through the mist, but at the sound of hoofbeats — another party of riders, coming south from Winterfell — it solidifies, to block the way of these newcomers, expected though they are, until salutes have been exchanged between men who know one another.

Word is quick to reach the middle of the camp, and the one woman present who's in her saddle. She breaks off a conversation with a few quick, low-voiced orders, predicated upon the understanding that they'll be underway shortly, and knees her fine bay courser in the direction of the Stark party.

Eddara Ryswell, Lady of the Rills these fifteen years, rides astride like a man, in well-made, well-worn-in dark leather and brigandine befitting a great northern lord; her head is bare at present, her grey-streaked brown hair pulled back by means of a leather thong into a very short tail at the back of her neck. She's solidly built and in the autumn of her life, armed as is her wont with longsword, bow and quiver, and any number of knives. A heavy ashwood walking stick, topped with a knob of copper burnished by her touch, is strapped to the off-side of her saddle, in place of another weapon. Her horse's reins are held negligently in her leather-gauntleted left hand; she lifts her right hand to shield her eyes from a sudden ray of sunshine, and squints into the brightness, scanning the group of Winterfell men ahead of her for the smaller, slighter figure of the young Stark lady to be entrusted to her care.

The travellers from Winterfell are few, consisting only of four men and a dark-haired young lady, scarcely a woman — Genevra Stark — and followed by a stout wagon, not heavily weighed down. All of the men wear hardened leather, and most have the Stark wolf emblazoned proudly upon their garb; they are the first to greet the camp and spread out across the cold, hoofbeat ground.

One hangs back, making a more precise line for the oncoming Lady of the Rills. He stands out from the rest, younger than the grizzled Stark men-at-arms, clad in a handsome brigandine and boasting a lordly fur-ruffed cape. Behind him, astride her saddle just like the men were as well, the Stark girl is less eager for her feet to touch the ground. While her caped brother Wylliam dismounts, she remains exactly where she is, small shoulders set proud and stubborn. She wears a dress — warm, tightly knit wool dyed a deep shade of cobalt, with tall riding boots jutting from the hem. She has a bow slung over her back, a quiver of arrows at her hip. Her hair — dark, nearly black — has grown long and waving, wild down her back from the wind and the cool promise of winter. Her face would be sweet if it weren't quite so wrenched with aggravation.

"Lady Ryswell!" the older of the siblings calls out. His horse sways its head as he comes to a halt. Perhaps it knows it's in front of better blood. "Well met this day. I hope you have not been encamped long— ? I don't know if you remember; my name is Wylliam Stark." He's a polite young lord, almost overly so, the way he speaks, wanting to impress with his etiquette. Meanwhile, his sister forgoes hers utterly by not even moving her horse. It's come to the stop at the edge of the camp, tugging at frosty blades of grass on the exterior.

The hand shielding Lady Ryswell's eyes becomes, upon recognition, a salute of greeting. He's that Stark lad who doesn't look like a Stark lad, anomaly enough that her eye has picked him out of wolf-packs once or twice before during her duty-visits to Winterfell. And she herself, well, she's used to being known for who she is — when she isn't mistaken for a man… In the absence of Mormont banners from Bear Island, there's only one person she can be.

"No time at all," she calls back, cheerfully, and then, "I do remember." Her courser halts with the pressure of a knee, near enough to her interlocutor, but still requiring adolescent and collateral Starks to cover their share of the distance to a prominent older vassal of Cregan Stark's. "Well met, lad. This your sister?" A crisp nod of her head to the young lady in blue, hanging back. "You'll forgive me if I don't get down," she says bluntly to both Stark siblings: her bad leg, and what befell it, are common currency round the campfires of the north. Her gaze reverts to the brother. "Amory will show your man where to bring the wagon in to see her gear moved across," she explains, casting a glance about for and then nodding to an older man with the horse's head of House Ryswell boldly tooled upon his brigandine jerkin, who is already squelching nearer through a patch of mud to direct the wagondriver.

"Shouldn't take too long," she adds, with a touch of optimism — it dims from her eyes, however, as she gets a better look at the wagon's contents. It seems any gear at all looks like too much, to her. "There's still hot soup, if you and your men would care for it," she offers.

Indeed, his sister. The most Stark-like part of Wylliam is perhaps his dark and heavy-set brow, which he presses down now; mismatched to the strands of honey in his hair, above a face still bright and soft with youth, hardening only recently around the edges, firming with responsibility in his eyes. There's a depth to them; borne more of the penchant for feeling and moodiness than deep intellect.

"Thank you, my lady, I am sure we would all appreciate a hot meal." He turns his head to look back at Genevra, who shan't be summoned with just a look from her brother, as it turns out. "It is not as much as it looks; some of it, blankets and such, we can take back with us," Wylliam says of the wagon instead, "My sister is not one for many dresses. But she did insist on bringing her harp, which was not so easily strapped to the horse."

One of the men of the Stark party has, meanwhile, rounded back in to check on Genevra; a cheery-faced chap, at least given what one can see of his face beyond his bushy beard, he seems familiar with the girl. He's probably known her all her life, and been pestered for arms lessons more than he can count. He's gesturing to the camp, encouraging her to dismount — although he wisely doesn't go so far as to offer the independent young lady a hand off her horse. The exchange is civil until Genevra's voice raises. " — to turn around right now by myself! I would rather go back home to Winterfell!"

As that aggrieved young voice cuts through the misty autumnal morning, Lady Ryswell cocks her head towards Lady Genevra — but she says nothing of it, instead speaking evenly to Wylliam. "Come with me, then, and we'll find a bite of something," she suggests to him; with a slight lift of her voice she adds, "for all those who want it." Either Lady Genevra can dismount and join them, or she can set out on the road again with an empty stomach. At this stage it's a matter of pure indifference to Lady Ryswell, who's keen to be away.

Some of the men with horses on their chests are busily striking camp; others endeavour to make the wolves feel at home in what was, so briefly, Ryswell territory. Visitors are fed and fires are doused. Cooking gear washed off in the nearby stream. Picket lines dismantled. Packs packed and straps checked. The scents of leather and horse and smoke hang heavy in the air, along with intermittent whiffs of the hearty vegetable soup all the Ryswell men present seems either to be drinking down, or to have just finished with.

Nearer to the warmth of the one remaining fire Lady Ryswell pauses to dismount. She gives her reins into the charge of a man-at-arms of her own generation who comes forward in an unhurried way to meet her, nevertheless arriving just in time. She proves to be a tall woman, broad-shouldered, more at home now in her brigandine than in the long dresses she sometimes dons at Winterfell. She needs no helping hand — but she's unsteady at first, planting her stick and testing the muddy ground before each limping step, getting into her stride just as they arrive within the area of operations of a stout redheaded woman in dark blue divided skirts and a leather jerkin, who is dispensing not only the soup but other assorted comestibles, and quantities of salty language for flavouring.

"Mornin', milady," she calls to Lady Ryswell, but without pausing to curtsey or to genuflect. By means of another well-placed phrase she sees off a lad hoping for seconds; then, without needing to be asked, dishes up soup, cheese, and bread which was fresh yesterday, for her lady's lordly young guest.

"No more for me, Karelin," Lady Ryswell disclaims, for the record, making a warding-off gesture with her free right hand. Then, looking to Wylliam Stark: "Any messages you'd have me carry?" she asks very quietly.

"My lady?" The query of the young Stark man, as to potential messages to be delivered to Lady Ryswell's destination, is more of a stall while he pushes his brows down and considers with those moody eyes. He knows the likely beneficiary of any message, and starts to shake his head. "No, I— "

"I have a message," Genevra has come marching up through the mud, not, as it turns out, riding out into the morning mist back to Winterfell. Perhaps the tantalizing smell of food is to thank, although all she seems to want to do is complain. "You can tell Mother I died in a snowbank. I want to go home."

Standing next to her brother, off horse, it is more evident that she has a lot of growing to do; she's short next to him, appearing even younger than her four-and-ten years.

"Gen," Wylliam chastises gently; not without a dose of well lived-in sibling annoyance, however. "You have not even said hello to Lady Ryswell. She's doing a good thing for you. So is Mother."

The girl gives Eddara a proper look, all the way up. She's cowed by the imposing figure the woman cut but tries not to show it; borne of respect, not exactly fear, and subsequent embarrassment for having been disrespectful in the presence of the Lady of the Rills. She bows her head. "…My lady," she manages. The displeased downturn of her mouth has not fled, however. "I still don't understand why ought to go," she insists through a mumble.

"You…" Wylliam hedges; quiets more sternly. "You ought to take the chance to see Mother while you can, at any rate. Lady Ryswell will see you there safely. Behave and get some soup in you, will you."

Five feet and nine inches high in her scuffed riding boots, her squarely-planted figure hung about with sword and knives, with a great big stick in her hand and the weatherbeaten features and cropped earlobe of one who knows how to use all this kit to devastating effect, Eddara Ryswell is all nonchalance. At home in her role, and in her own skin.

She turns when Lady Genevra speaks. The amiable half-smile from which issued her remarks to the brother fades as she looks upon the sister, becoming an impassive expression with a hint of weary tension about the eyes. "It's a pleasure, Lady Genevra," she says softly, courteously, "to make the acquaintance of a child of Hellan Stark's. I'll have a word with you, if I may, before you say your farewells to your brother." She lifts her empty hand, palm-up, in a suggestion that they should step aside together whilst Lord Wylliam gets on with the hot breakfast Mistress Karelin has finished putting together for him. She doesn't wait for an answer: she takes a few slow, limping steps towards an area of clear ground, checking with her stick before she moves her feet, fully expecting that Lady Genevra will be close behind her.

Having walked no further than was necessary to get out of earshot of Stark men and Ryswells alike, she turns again, unhurriedly. Her eyes find the girl's and hold them, her own a warm dark brown, intense and unflinching, framed by crow's feet and heavy dark brows. "You can stay in the north," she explains confidentially, woman to woman, "wed my cousin next month in accordance with the agreement between our houses, and take up all the duties of a wife and a mother. This time next year," she quirks those unplucked eyebrows, "you might already have a babe in your arms." She pauses to let that idea sink in.

"Or you can accept this gift I'm offering you — I, and no one else, you may be certain of that," she points out with a grim note in her voice. "This time, this reprieve given to few enough women of our birth — another six months, perhaps another full year of freedom, in which to travel, to see far-flung kin, and to finish growing up. Which is it to be, Lady Genevra?"

It is crystal clear. For all Genevra had lamented the notion of marrying after the betrothal was struck, all too soon carrying a babe in her arms in the too-short years to come, she had not thought of the trip south like this. Eddara shines a shocking light on reality. Discomfort spreads across her youthful face, tensing her arms about her midsection where a baby would lie. "I will go with you," she says, in at that moment, her voice deeper when it's so steady and somber, she sounds like a distant reflection of her mother, and grown. "But I am grown-up," she feels the need to hurriedly tack on, and the illusion shatters.

Grown-ups don't talk about being grown-up, let alone boast of it. They might deny it, if only they could — but they haven't that luxury… Eddara Ryswell doesn't argue the point with her new charge. She only watches pensively as the truth sinks in, and nods. "Good," she says, and then, "That'll make the next six weeks a sight easier for the both of us." A prognostication her tone of voice suggests she would like to see come true, though she has her doubts.

"I aim to be in Oldtown as soon as possible," she says bluntly, speaking to Lady Genevra for the time being as she would to another adult, albeit a young one; "it's your choice whether you stay ahorse or ride in the wagon with my daughter and the women," somehow, she never includes herself in such phrases, "but we'll be keeping to our scheduled halts, for the horses' rest more than ours. It's up to you what you think you can manage… If you think you could do without the harp," she suggests, more gently, "I'd take it as a kindness — the wagon's slow enough as it is. I appreciate your wish to keep up your practice, but you'll have no time for it while we're on the road, and I'm sure your kin in Oldtown have an instrument you could make use of while you're there."

"It's a small harp," Genevra insists, but does not push the point, nodding her head in understanding after the fact. Even small harps can be lend weight to a wagon, else they'd topple over upon plucking, wouldn't they? "I wish to stay ahorse," she adds, and in this, she is insistent — and confident, besides. Perhaps it's more than bluster. She has the hardy blood of her parentage and something of their will. "I know the road. I rode with my father from Oldtown." The chance to prove herself in such a way is another check mark in the Go To Oldtown category. "And the wagon will be lighter without me in it." Will that make room for her harp… no, never mind.

Lady Ryswell gives a quick, assured nod, agreeing because she has as yet no reason to disagree. "You've spare mounts? Good, good," she says, taking her weight off her walking stick and planting it anew, beginning her stroll back toward the others. "Even a small harp," she adds conversationally to Lady Genevra, who having been cured of her rudeness by that short, sharp shock a moment ago has been promoted to walking by her side, "is big enough; and on a long journey I think one has enough to worry about with the things one can't do without. Let's get some soup into you and get on the road — mist's clearing and we've a fine day ahead. Too fine to waste."

Genevra strolls several feet, watching Eddara's walking stick with every strike into the mud. "Thank you Lady Ryswell," she says quietly, weightily, and hangs her head as if to forget the reasons.

Soup's on. Wylliam has inhaled his and acquired another helping from Karelin for Genevra. The rest of the Starks' men are busy preparing for the lengthy leg of the journey, assuring all of the lady's things are in order. "To think," Wylliam says as Genevra and Eddara stroll closer, offering the bowl to his sister. His voice is cheerful with the familiar but not unkind mockery of brother to sister. "The next time I see you after this morning, you'll be on your way to marrying a Ryswell lord. Who could imagine it?"

Genevra snatches the bowl of soup from Wylliam's grasp, holding her head high. "If you think it's such a brilliant idea, you marry him."

Another day, it might devolve into a sibling squabble. Someone might get an elbow to the ribs. Another, a splash of hot soup. This misty morning, in the company of the formidable Lady of the Rills, surrounded with every reminder that his sister's life is about to change, Wylliam only smiles.

Their hostess for this brief halt between one journey and the next eyes Wylliam up and down, as though imagining him between the altars with her cousin Rodrik — she draws in a sniff and shakes her head, but her dark eyes continue to rest upon him kindly enough. "Take some of the bread and cheese," she advises Lady Genevra, "for your saddlebags, in case you're hungry later."

The camp meanwhile… has ceased to be a camp. Lady Ryswell's people are forming up into a convoy which grows neater and more regimented minute by minute, as the mist clears enough to give a better idea of just how many men — and how many horses — she's traveling with. Not too many of the former, when they haven't finished getting the harvest in, but a great many of the latter, for sale as they travel south, to fund the journey and purchase the winter provisions they'll bring north again in a few months' time.

A young groom is holding the reins of Lady Ryswell's bay courser, and as soon as she looks about for that fine animal whose four legs are so much better than her own two, he's at her elbow. She wipes mud from her walking stick with a handful of grass, restores it to its holster, and mounts easily up into her saddle, all with her back to the Stark siblings, giving them time to say their goodbyes and to do what they will with the soup. It's not coming along anyway.

Conveniently, Genevra can down food as fast as her brother. She delays through the last dredges, watching everything that makes a camp a camp disappear, watching the organized bustle of men and horses, staring up at the old cairn that suddenly looks desolate. Soup, like all things, must end. She dawdles no more. Bread and cheese is packed into the saddlebag of the horse she was riding, the one who will see her through the rest of the journey. She gives her brother a wave and a cheeky smile as she lays her hands upon horseflesh and saddle … only to go rushing back toward Wylliam as though launched from a catapult, jumping and throwing her arms all the way around him. He's nearly bowled backwards by the unexpected surge, but wraps his own arms about his little sister cautiously.

"Why can't you come to Oldtown?"

"You know I've taken on responsibilities at Winterfell," he replies slowly. "And with winter coming…"

Genevra holds on tighter, her eyes shut, her pale cheek pressed up against her brother's brigandine tight enough to leave marks on her skin. After several moments, she relinquishes, stepping back. "I don't need you to protect me anyhow," she recovers, punching him in the stomach — lightly, although it might be quite otherwise if it weren't for his gear. "Cow."

"I know," he responds. "Brat."

She doesn't look back as she mounts her horse and joins Lady Ryswell.

The Lady of the Rills is by now in conference with a pair of greying, grey-bearded men-at-arms, their horses (more fine Ryswell bloodstock) drawn up close by hers, their faces (well, what can be seen of them) mirroring her own reserved, nonchalant confidence. Their eyes seek, as each listens in turn to the others, the nearby Kingsroad, the southern horizon.

Nobody pays much attention to Lady Genevra at first, though one of the men, the one who took Lady Ryswell's reins when she dismounted earlier, does give her a casual glance even as he cocks his ear toward his lady's low-pitched words.

When some cryptic mutual understanding is reached the three separate.

Lady Ryswell raises her arm, makes a fist, lowers it again, and suddenly the convoy is moving. Onto the road and away. At a smart enough pace, considering the wagons in the middle, one of them covered in a manner which suggests passengers. The man who isn't the man who held her horse spurs his own forward, to join the outriders in the lead; the other stays close enough as the lady shifts in her saddle, looking over her shoulder for Starks. She sees Lord Wylliam just mounting his own horse again, to return north; she comes nearer to take her leave of him, straight past Lady Genevra without another word.

"Be safe," she calls softly to the Stark boy, across the intervening mud through which their horses are so cautiously picking their way, "and please, give my regards to Lord Cregan."

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