(123-09-04) Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth
Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth
Summary: The Ryswell party, with two Starks, continues south. The young ladies of the party are not wholly delighted by their circumstances. (Genevra is NPC'd by her mother, Hellan.)
Date: 29/09/2016
Related: Kingsroad Crossroads, Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth, The Reason Why Not, The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Seventh Order.

The days are long, the halts few and timed, and every man up to and including Lady Ryswell herself busy every hour they're not fast asleep.

During that first day the Lady of the Rills sends a sworn sword to relieve the Stark man at Lady Genevra's side, that the latter might ride forward and converse with her. From that hour the young lady is never out of one man's sight or the other's, the horse told off to watch her whenever the wolf so much as feels the call of nature. He's an affable fellow, nearly forty, happily married and with his first grandchild on the way. No co-conspirator in youthful folly, but a conscientious servant of Eddara Ryswell's who has northern girls of his own and knows just what perils they're likely to seek.

Apart from all these competent, confident, battle-hardened Ryswell men and their liege lady, the party consists of a few less fearsome grooms (though everyone shares in the endless task of caring for the horses), the cook Karelin and the harried boy-minions whose ears she is forever boxing, Lady Ryswell's two younger children and a bastard of her house, two maids — and, unexpectedly, a minstrel, a winsome blue-eyed man of twenty-two or twenty-three, off to seek his fortune in the courts of the south. He has some special dispensation to travel with a musical instrument; his lute wakes the camp every morning with a stirring tune encouraging them to be up and about it, and sends them to sleep every night with a medley of lullabies.

Lady Bethany Ryswell, when met again, proves to have blossomed into a slender yet delicately curvaceous creature who holds her dark head with dignity almost six whole inches above Lady Genevra's. The two years longer she has lived have made her a woman and she is with every breath conscious of her fortune.

She only comes out of her covered wagon, trailed by her bastard lady-in-waiting and her maid and her inevitable Ryswell man-at-arms (not to mention her pale and skinny little brother Lord Rickard, whose claims upon her attention she endeavours to ignore): to stretch her legs for a couple of minutes twice a day, and to walk the few paces to the women's tent at night, only after all the work of putting it up and arranging its makeshift furnishings has been done. She is apt to complain of the difficulty she and her attendants find in trying new southron hairstyles, with the wagon forever jolting. The bathing arrangements never quite meet with her approval. She eats the party's decent but simple journey-food with an air of toleration. She is not uncivil to Lady Genevra but makes no effort to befriend her. One of them is to be married in the north, the other in the south. What would be the point?

The other girl who is always with her, Aryana Snow, whose lighter hair and simpler dresses with skirts divided for the riding she's never set free to do set off a face more striking than Lady Bethany's and eyes incomparably finer, seems to exercise a moderating influence by a word here, a suggestion there. She's always showing Lady Bethany how to make the best of things, in a manner calculated to convince her that she, Lady Bethany, thought of it all herself. To Lady Genevra she offers the occasional friendly smile or small favour, suggesting she might be better company if she hadn't her duty.

The women's tent is occupied nightly by the three girls, the two maids, and little Lord Rickard, who is an obliging child and turns round to face the wall with his hands over his eyes whenever he's so commanded. He's quiet whenever Lady Bethany is present; otherwise a font of information on the lands they're passing through and the city which is their destination. He's to be a maester, and it seems he's already read every book in the north in preparation. Sometimes his mother takes him up in front of her on her horse for a few hours and rides with her arms around him. But, on the whole, Lady Ryswell is not one for motherly fuss. When Lady Bethany is slow to dress in the mornings, despite Aryana's help, she's apt to be ordered to "Stop arsing about!" and threatened with being thrown into the wagon in her shift if she doesn't hurry up.

The second tent is always pitched on the other side of camp. Lady Ryswell sleeps there, generally with a few of her sworn swords bedded down around her — the man called Ser Wyll of the Rills, that grizzled yet slyly watchful warrior of her own vintage, is always of their number, just as he is wont to ride at her side by day when she hasn't any little commissions to send him away on. Sometimes the two of them (alone, or with other men-at-arms) vanish from the convoy altogether for a handful of hours and catch up with it later. It's anybody's guess what they're up to, as the ground at either side of the Kingsroad grows swampier the nearer they come to the Neck.

One morning Lady Bethany is handed down out of her wagon by her guard, and utters a light soprano cry of dismay at that soggy sensation beneath her fine leather boots. She looks up into the man's eyes as though pleading with him to make it not so — and then her brown eyes veer off in search of her mother, regarded always as the ultimate author of her sufferings. There's no sign of Lady Ryswell, or any of her bays. Lady Bethany closes her eyes and sighs.

The young Stark is abiding well enough by the rules. She's been keeping astride of her horse well, and not complaining if she's sore from riding, thus far consistent in her desire to stay out of the wagon. She's slow to speak to the other members of the riding party, though she watches them with curiosity. The hardened Ryswells, sure to know tricks she hasn't had the opportunity to learn upon horse, Eddara the most intruiging of all. The out-of-place lute player with his charming tunes; she wonders how it's played, and sometimes she sings quietly under her breath. She hasn't veered off on her own, even when there's something interesting in the distance off the road; how could she, with eyes upon her at all times. As a result, she's restless: it's especially easy to give in to restlessness when one knows their destination is not one looked forward to, even taking Lady Ryswell's soundly jarring advice into account.

She's been friendly in passing to Aryana and Rickard — she always starts off interested in what he has to say and drifts out of focus halfway through. To Lady Bethany, she's been ambivalent — except to laugh when she's scolded — at least to her face. When Bethany's back is turned, she's gained a habit of rolling her eyes exaggeratedly for the viewing of anybody else.

At this particular juncture, as Genevra stands nearby feeding her horse a fragment of her last dinner (not that the creature has been lacking for anything, surrounded by horse people), she's only just misses capture, her eye-roll cutting short just as the other girl closes her eyes. She can't stand to keep quiet anymore, however. "Did you know mud is good for your skin?" she remarks suddenly, too matter-of-fact, looking at Bethany's wet boots. "Southron ladies put it on their face to keep looking young."

Ah, could there be any less likely daughter for Eddara Ryswell, than this willowy creature who travels in daintily-embroidered gowns and never, ever risks breaking a fingernail—? Lady Bethany's blue eyes are smaller than Aryana Snow's, though their features are in other ways oddly similar — as if they were sisters rather than cousins — but they pop open again widened by surprise and a hint of irritation, as she is addressed by that uncouth little Stark girl who whilst being too young to be interesting has also committed the sin of having been south, been to Oldtown, before she herself.

"… That isn't true," she accuses a moment later, "and Rickard put you up to saying it, didn't he? To see if I'd try it. He tried to make me cut half my hair off last month," she sniffs, "and I didn't do that, either."

"It is so true," Genevra insists (not without a touch of pride for knowing a thing — or at least, pretending to know a thing — Bethany doesn't). She turns away from her spoiled horse to fully face Lady Bethany, wiping a equine-slobbered hand on the trousers which replaced her dress a few days past. Trousers are good enough for Lady Ryswell, after all. "There's a fancy bathhouse in Oldtown like they have across the Narrow Sea, and they've got baths hot enough for dragons and mud baths besides! There's always perfumed ladies coming and going with their stupid flowery dresses like yours." Some of that is true. Maybe all of it is true, Genevra having stepped foot in the bathhouse to know for certain. She lifts her dark little eyebrows and nods down at the swampy ground, stating obviously, "Where do you think they get the mud?"

But Lady Bethany isn't to be caught so easily. Oh, no. Not once she has sensed her brother's hand in all this: his style of pranking is apt to be as arcane as it is oblique, the little rat. "Southern ladies," she informs Lady Genevra, careful to use the southern pronunciation rather than the negligent northern 'southron', "bathe in milk, with flower petals floating on top. Everyone knows that." She lifts her eyebrows; she lectures this backward child with all the patience she can muster. "Milk makes your skin pale and pretty — mud would only make it dirty. But perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised you don't know much about baths. You don't believe in taking them at all, do you?" she inquires sweetly, whilst her gaze travels down over Lady Genevra's thrice-worn tunic and horse-smeared breeches. Her classically pretty features shift softly into an expression of sad regret for what might have been.

Genevra screws her face up incredulously, having none of this southron impersonator or that look she's being given. "I'd rather smell like mud and horses than sour milk," she says confidently. "I don't know what's so great about the South," she complains, turning back to her horse, fetching a brush from the saddlebag and giving the creature's dark neck a few swipes. "Especially the Reach. It rains all the time, and everyone's obsessed with knights. Mother says they talk about valor but just end up killing each other for no reason and the ladies swoon because there's nothing in their heads but flowers."

"Better rain than snow," insists Lady Bethany, "and better flowers than—" Here her mature wit deserts her. She presses her lips together, looking vexed, and then catching hold of herself pastes a luminous but false smile upon her face. "Perhaps it's no wonder," she murmurs, "you've been chosen to become a Ryswell. You and my lady mother have so much in common. Aryana?" And with this crowning insult she tucks her hand into her bastard cousin's arm and leaves Lady Genevra to her horse-fussing, the two girls in their flowing dresses and light fur-trimmed capes strolling away under guard.

Genevra makes a face at Bethany's back. This time, it's utterly inadvertent.

They avoid each other for awhile after. The day grows a bit longer, and Genevra's attempt to stretch her legs and appease her restlessness without getting underfoot leads Galen, her merry, bearded watcher for the moment, to teach her how to properly whittle a stick to give her something to do. Genevra brandishes her lopsided stake. Galen blames the damp for the soft wood. She sits upon her knees (mud and all, Bethany!) and, as though she has an important use for it, she sharpens her little dagger, instead — that, she knows how to do — while she watches for Lady Ryswell. "Where do you think they go?" she asks, but of course Galen only shakes his head. He doesn't know, and it's not his place to guess. All he says in his warm, gruff voice is, "Lady Ryswell knows best."

The break is over, the men are remounting, and the older girls are back in their wagon — Lady Bethany never walks far, and Aryana Snow isn't given the chance — when two riders are seen approaching from the south, at speed. Everything stops until the man-at-arms in charge of the party's Myrish far-seeing glass confirms the return of Lady Ryswell and her stalwart companion, Ser Wyll of the Rills. Then everything resumes, nonchalantly.

A groom comes to meet them with a change of mounts from the horse lines, two beasts with little difference between them in height or handsomeness: Ser Wyll, like his lady, enjoys the pick of House Ryswell's herds. He dismounts, while she has her fresh horse led up next to her own, nose to tail, and rises in her stirrups and casually swings herself around from one saddle to the other. Ser Wyll hands up her walking stick and she stores it briskly in the new saddle's holster. Then he unstraps an oddly-shaped bundle from the back of his previous mount and disappears with it, round the corner of a wagon, while she receives deputations from a few of her men-at-arms, dealing with the morning's minor troubles with a crisp decision here, a request for detail there. She's in her shirtsleeves this morning beneath a brigandine jerkin, her tanned forearms cris-crossed with knife scars of varying vintages above the brigandine gauntlets she invariably wears. Even the country round Moat Cailin feels warm to her, in early autumn. She's not looking forward to the Oldtown heat.

Since the men remount, so does Genevra. Her dagger has found its home at her hip now, secure in a leather sheath that hasn't seen much hard wear. She watches Lady Ryswell and her men, not the least of which is the one who goes off with a strange bundle, and imagines what important business they discuss. When it's all over — at least, in estimation, which might be wrong — she eases her horse toward the formidable woman. Genevra looks tiny in the saddle in comparison. Even her horse is smaller. She sits particularly straight to compensate. "Lady Ryswell?" she ventures. "I was wondering…"

The important talk is over, yes. Not so the vexing reflections, from which Lady Ryswell surfaces at the sound of that small young voice. She looks away from her people and her horses and her wagons, moving slowly out onto the road, heading south, always south; she sits with her strong, scarred arms folded over her brigandine'd chest and her reins wrapped round the pommel of her saddle, and regards Lady Genevra amiably. (She's can only be found in one of her thundering tempers at night, and not by any means every night.)

"Good morning, lass," she says. Not eager for the girl's talk, or fascinated by her point of view; but polite and unhurried. You'll never see Eddara Ryswell hurry. When she's ready to go, or when she arrives, that is simply the correct time. "What's on your mind on this fine autumn day?"

"Good morning, my lady. I was wondering," Genevra picks up her thought. She looks up from Eddara's arms to say so, finding her gaze idly wondering on them; none too deeply, mind. Not the way a softer, differently raised lady might, in shock or revolt. The way the daughter of Hellan Stark would. She can imagine well enough the blades that might have inflicted them. "If, the next time the hunting party goes out, I could go as well. I'm good with my bow and arrow."

The older woman's clever, creased brown eyes focus on Lady Genevra's small figure with an estimating air. Instead of handing down a yes or a no in that blunt way of hers, she asks: "Who had the teaching of you?"

Genevra answers frankly. "Father, but he did not want to take my hunting much when I was small. Wylliam helped me with my marksmanship but mostly did not bother, so I mostly taught myself on targets until I was good enough."

"The hard way," drawls Lady Ryswell. Then she nods. "Next time we halt, find me and I'll see what you can do. There may," her gaze ranges away over the horizon, then returns to Lady Genevra with a sardonic lift of her brows, "be a decent-sized tree for you to combat somewhere in this swamp." Then, considering their conversation at an end, she nods again in parting and brings her fresh and energetic young bay stallion up to her usual place near the head of the convoy, with the older men, her companions in arms for many years.

Later in the day, when Lady Genevra draws herself once more to Lady Ryswell's attention, she's asked courteously enough to wait for a couple of minutes whilst the Lady of the Rills puts her head together, again, inevitably, with Ser Wyll of the same. But then it transpires that a treestump has already been selected for their use. Lady Ryswell calmly puts an arrow into it and allows her future kinswoman three, to see how close she can get them. She watches impassively from her stallion's back, then rides nearer the stump to inspect it. "Fetch the arrows, lass," she says first, and then, when Lady Genevra has handed her own green-feather-fletched arrow up to her, she looks down into the girl's eyes and pronounces, quietly, as a promise, "Next time." And she leaves Lady Genevra to Galen's care and spurs her stallion away.

That night, when the camp's made and the horses are fed and watered and the girls are in their tent, and, crucially, Karelin's soup is in everyone's stomach, the Ryswells settle round their campfires in the usual groups to scrape mud off boots, mend whatever tore during the day, and sharpen and polish the astonishing quantities of edged weaponry without which no northern man would consider getting out of bed. (Or, in some cases, into it.)

One of the fires is just outside Lady Ryswell's tent. She sits a couple of feet away from it, by virtue of infirmity more than that of rank on a barrel rather than the ground, with her stick lying by her side, her sword in one hand, and her whetstone in the other. Not the ancestral greatsword of House Ryswell, which she employs only on ceremonial occasions; but a longsword of more or less average size, a better match to the length of her arms and the regrettably female strength in them. The firelight flickers over castle-forged steel, and illuminates an expression of absolute concentration, as stone and blade come together again and again, the blunt refining the sharp.

The shlick of whetstone on blade takes on a sort of meditative rhythm. Genevra takes part from her place 'round the fire, not because her dagger needs sharpening again, but — perhaps — to feel of use. Useful as one of the Ryswells. She's a far way off from that… but next time, after all. Lady Ryswell said.

Silver at her sternum glints in the firelight. A stylized direwolf head is positioned there, fashioned of thick, well-made metal pieces as sturdy as castle-forged steel — maybe it is — all interconnected, curving lines about four inches wide, suspended on a hefty metal chain about her neck. She's had pins welded to the back specially, so she can wear it without it jingle-jangling. In case she needs to be stealthy, you see. It's not the kind of jewelry the likes of Lady Bethany approves of, but it means home to Genevra. She touches it with idle fondness as she stares into the fire. There's still such a long way to go, but already, the further away she gets from Winterfell, the closer she wishes she were to it… if only things were different.

She looks up with a query poised on her lips, but it hangs unsaid while she watches Lady Ryswell. She waits until she perceives a break in that intense concentration. Even so, she hesitates again, thinking she shouldn't interrupt or else. A habit formed long before this journey. She speaks anyway. "What is Lord Rodrik like?"

Lady Ryswell surfaces slowly. A long moment passes before she lets on that she's heard, by laying down her whetstone and picking up instead the tin cup of ale she's drained twice already since her party halted for the day.

She shifts on her barrel, holding sword and cup, aligning her strong and solid body towards Lady Genevra's slight young figure. She drinks a measured mouthful of ale, giving thought to the question, and then says slowly, "Lord Rodrik is a kinsman of mine. My only trueborn first cousin, though I'm older — his father, my Uncle Tavion, wed late. Not for any lack of enthusiasm for the fairer sex," and she lets out a huff of amusement as memories light her eyes and curve her lips, turning her more than usually handsome. "You've met Aryana. She's his eldest grandchild, Rodrik's niece on the other side of the blankets — he has brothers and sisters aplenty, most older and one or two younger."

All this genealogy fails to shed light upon the character of the man himself; Lady Bethany's voice interjects from the far side of the fire. She has approached unseen from her own tent across camp. "I'm sure Lady Genevra will be pleased to know that he's still young — only twenty-six," she says sweetly, smiling at the fourteen-year-old bride to be. "Now, Aryana always says he has a face like a fish, but I think that's very unkind, and not true at all."

Genevra listens raptly to Eddara, waiting for the geanology to unfold into the meat of the answer. It doesn't, and she's left with Bethany's assessment. She grimaces. "That's older than Lord Stark," she states, a comparison of no particular consequence, only grasping at the ages of men she knows in her memory and trying to ascribe meaning to the abstract concept of "twenty-six" to a girl six years out from twenty. Of course, Cregan is known as the Lord Pup of Winterfell, mostly behind his back, having only recently aged past his twentieth year; he was younger than that when he gained his title of Lord of Winterfell.

Lady Ryswell shifts again. Firelight glints brightly off the bare sword in her hand. "You've a sour tongue in your head tonight, milady," she drawls to her only daughter. Their eyes meet across the fire, cold and blue forced to yield by warm and dark. "Take it away, or I'll knock it out for you."

The threat doesn't sound an idle one — and Lady Bethany, knowing it isn't, not only bows her head beneath that fierce maternal gaze but pales to a ghostly whiteness. The last thing she wants is a new bruise to bear upon her much-discussed complexion, or a new tale spreading through the camp of her being turned over her mother's knee, and at her age. All the same, these things are just sometimes waiting there for her to say them… "My lady," she says softly, and backs away with a curtsey to the Lady of the Rills.

The voice in which Lady Ryswell then addresses Lady Genevra is gruff, coloured with lingering irritation, but intended to soothe. "Don't listen to a word that girl says, lass. She hates the world and doesn't even know why."

Genevra's eyes — in the dimness and flickering shadow-and-light, they look black — flit between mother and daughter, back and forth, back and forth. There's a tension in the slow way that she crosses her arms, half-hidden by the casual pose, her elbows on her knees, glistening whetstone in one hand, shining blade in the other. Her gaze stays on Bethany longer than it ever has at one time. "… But what is he like," she goes on, shifting focus to Lady Ryswell. She won't let the interruption misdirect her quest for answers if she has anything to do with it.

It's too reasonable a question for Lady Ryswell to duck it, but to tackle it head-on would require more mental agility than she has left in her at the end of a day on the road. She inhales, hesitates, and settling her sword across her knees admits, "He's a northman." Surprise, surprise. "Not the daintiest fellow you'll ever meet, but he's healthy and strong, not much fat on him, and he has all his teeth." She follows this swoonworthy physical description with, "He's a decent horseman," which phrase alone fails to carry conviction, "and he can look after himself in a fight. He's impetuous sometimes — he bucks at the traces — but he's young yet; there's time for him to settle. Men," she explains softly to Lady Genevra, "take longer than we do to grow up. A younger wife has often settled an older husband; I've seen it happen."

Another swallow of her ale, and she wipes her mouth with the back of her other hand. Her hands are strong and capable, less tanned than her arms below the line where they're often covered by gauntlets, with short, clean nails and a swordsman's calluses; she wears a heavy golden signet ring, engraved with her house's arms, on the middle finger of her left hand. It was sized for a man's hand; she hasn't altered it, but adapted herself to it.

"You're both from the same place," she says frankly, "and you've been brought up to the same life. Twelve years may seem like a long time now, but a gap like that's something you'll hardly notice when you're both on the same side of twenty-five. With goodwill on both sides there's no reason you can't make a life together, as thousands have before you and thousands will after."

Well, as long as he has his teeth— ! The Stark girl sighs a bit more loudly than she meant, her thoughtful grimace puffing her baby fat cheeks. It's both enough and not enough. She chews on it meaningfully for awhile, digging her heel into the soft ground with a few restless swivels of her boot. In her own way, she tries to make the best of it. "I'd rather marry a man who's a man rather than a man who's really a boy behind his title of lord," Genevra figures, rather mature in this wisdom; until, "Boys are the worst. Wylliam was an utter fool until he went fighting. Well. He's still a fool. But less. Mother said he knocked his head too hard and lost all his sense for awhile. I think he's just girl crazed." Hellan Stark evidently has a lot of opinions about what is in isn't right in people's heads, according to Genevra this day. She shoots a pointed, slightly derisive look to the way Lady Bethany went. "He'd like her, I bet."

Lady Ryswell lifts her eyebrows at that — and puts down her ale to pick up her whetstone again. It's soon shlick-ing along the edge of her longsword, punctuating her mild words. "Then you may find twenty-six suits you better than sixteen. My cousin has his faults, but he's a man," she opines, glad to have found something both true and encouraging to give the girl to mull over on her journey south. "Bethany calls her elder brother a fool, too," she offers. "Didn't know you had anything in common with her, did you?" The humour there is in neither her face nor her voice — only her eyes, if you look closely.

Genevra is looking for it, that hint of humour, out of hope that it's there. She can't quite be sure if she's imagining it when she sees it. She gives an expression that's as much wince as it is smile; she thinks about replying but doesn't, and the expression softens into nothing quickly. She contemplates the fire. She's quiet; then another very important question emerges. "Will I get horses? When I'm a Ryswell."

"You have horses now," the woman in overall charge of the breeding of the north's finest bloodstock points out, with a deadpan expression. Shlick, shlick. Then she relents, shrugging her shoulders. "I take your meaning, lass. Is that what you'd wish for a wedding gift? A mount from our stables?"

"I dunno," Genevra replies with unladylike grammar, becoming slightly irate. In truth, it's too soon for her to contemplate wedding gifts, the way some girls might ponder and dream. "Is it really a wedding present if I'm going to be around all the Ryswells and all their horses anyway? Do the Redwynes give their new brides wine and the Fossoways give them apples?" Probably. The Redwynes really love their wine and the Fossoways their apples, and all the examples she could think of are stupid frivolous rainy flowery Reachlanders, reminding Genevra all over about where they're headed. She rises, bowing her dark-haired head, frizzy from wind and mist and riding. "My lady," she says quietly, meant to be a goodbye to take leave, fraught with an awkward tone of apology.

The way Lady Ryswell inhales is enough by itself to suggest displeasure. Perhaps her blood hasn't cooled after all, since that grating moment with Lady Bethany—? Her strong, suntanned features seem more than usually set as she confronts Lady Genevra's latest manifestation of short-sightedness, her latest ingratitude in the face of a generous gift — but she controls herself. Oh, yes. She controls herself at least. Her words come slowly, coolly, distantly. "And when the wine is drunk and the apples eaten, those brides have nothing left of such gifts but sore heads and rotting cores," she points out. "If I give you one of our young mares, you'll have a fine and faithful mount beneath you on every hunt and every journey for the next twenty years, to say nothing of the strong foals you might breed from her to mount your own children. I don't see the comparison. Good evening to you, lass."

Genevra has turned to go but pauses with her head still down before she makes it two paces. "I— I know." There is nothing contrite about it; she has a hesitant gratitude, her irritation dissolved into something truer. Something more melancholy and frightened of the future. Give her a fight any day. "I'm— I'm glad for it. The horses. Winterfell has good horses, and I'm certain the best of them… come from the Rills. I… really do like horses." In other words, she doesn't want to get married so soon … but at least there will be the horses. "It's just— " Her small voice inches higher, her fists clenching around the hilt of her dagger and the whetstone she still carries. "Goodnight, Lady Ryswell." The diminutive Stark lady heads toward the shadow shaped like the tent she sleeps in. Dagger in hand, she touches her silver direwolf.

In the women's tent Aryana Snow is doing her best, by candlelight, to mend one of Lady Bethany's stockings. She sits hunched over flame and darning egg, forming each stitch with care, her alabaster brow furrowed by the knowledge that whatever she does it'll end up looking wonky by day. She sees Lady Bethany return silent and vexed from what ought to have been a simple errand; moments later, she sees Lady Genevra, in her own way equally troubled; she says nothing at first, nothing at all till she pricks her finger with her darning needle and exclaims: "Oh…" If only there were a stronger word she could use!

Later when Lady Bethany has been tucked into her bedroll to sulk her way to sleep, her bastard cousin makes an excuse to step round the recumbent forms of lady and lady's maid, to pay a visit to the Stark side of the tent. She's usually the last one still out of bed. She takes time to settle.

And when everything's as tidy as she likes, and she has checked their tentflap again, unnecessarily, to be certain it won't blow open in the night, she kneels down tentatively next to Lady Genevra's bedroll and folds her hands in her plain grey woolen lap. She breathes: "… She ought to have known better. Though I suppose you wouldn't, yet. My lady," she adds belatedly, giving the trueborn Stark girl an apologetic look chosen from her extensive repertoire of the same. "If you want something from the lady, don't ever ask her at night. Ask her in the morning," she advises. "As early as you can find her."

Genevra stirs with a jangle of chain: the silver direwolf rests on her bedroll in front of her, and slides down slightly when she props herself up on an elbow to pay attention to Aryana. She's wide awake, her eyes still shining too strongly to even approach drowsiness despite the long day on the road. She appears a bit surprised by Aryana's still-of-the-night advice; not certain to be bewildered by the offering or thankful of it. "I guess I thought her mood at night was only for Bethany," she reasons. She'd shrug, if she weren't recumbent as she were; a tug down of her rosy mouth accomplished the same. "I didn't want anything from her, though, I mean… not really. She didn't tell me anything that wasn't true."

The corners of Aryana's own wide but pretty mouth tilt upward in a tentative, hopeful smile — she doesn't know what it was all about, but she's still pleased to hear so forgiving a judgment of her heroine. "It probably wasn't really either of you. Her leg hurts more at night," she explains simply.

The Stark girl frowns lopsidedly, a subtle dawn of realization striking her shadowed gaze. "I didn't get that," she states; now she does. "See, my Mother is hateful all of the time." Spoken not without a hint of bitterness; it fades tentatively as she flops back down with her arm under her head and wonders quietly, still looking up at Aryana. "Maybe that means she hurts all of the time." A pause. "What happened to Lady Ryswell's leg?"

These mysteries are beyond Aryana's ken, the girl not having had the pleasure of making Hellan Stark's acquaintance, let alone the pain of being raised by her in such idle moments as she has free for the task. She, kneeling, can shrug — she does, very slightly. Then she provides the one answer she does know, or pieces enough of it to shed gruesome light. "It was in a raid," she murmurs, "a long time ago… Before I was born. My uncle Thom lost his ear carrying her home. I heard him say once to my mother that she was already hurt before her horse rolled on her, and then—" Illuminated by the light of their one remaining candle her brow furrows, and she shrugs again.

Thoughtful, Genevra pulls her woolen blanket up to her chin even though it scratches. "I know that Mother was hurt in a raid too, a long long time ago on Bear Island," she says. "Father was hurt and scarred because the Boltons, when he was Wylliam's age I think, and he's… Father is stern, but he's not// nearly// as mean as Mother." A simple estimation of the character of Hellan and Gidion Stark, but how could a girl who's never seen a real battle know how it affects a person? How it affects different people? The horrors and pain? Her mother tried to tell her, once. It is perhaps that memory that leads Genevra to nestle tighter into her blanket. "I do … like Lady Ryswell," she goes on to say, half an appeasement to Aryana but genuine at once. "I wish I could lead all those men and horses."

Aryana listens with an attitude of care. "I think some wounds last longer than others," she says frankly, and then cracks an unabashed smile for Lady Ryswell's men and her horses. "She says we ought to call her Lord of the Rills, because that's the job she does," she confides, pleased and fractionally scandalised by the thought. "I like her too," as though that weren't obvious. "Anyway," she concludes, "I only wanted to say… If you talk to her in the morning instead of at night, you'll see what she's really like." She tucks her feet beneath her, preparatory to getting up and finding at last her own bedroll; the night's a chilly one, the northern autumn taking hold.

Genevra smiles. It starts as silly amusement, Lord of the Rills, turns to admiration, and at last, becomes directed at Aryana herself. "Thanks for the tip." She rolls onto her back to look up at the Snow girl as she makes to go, seeming to consider. Maybe she could make a friend. But there will be time for that later. For now, she simply rolls back over and tries to catch some sleep to carry on the long road South in the morning.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License