(123-09-26) The Wisdom of the Ancients
The Wisdom of the Ancients
Summary: Lady Ryswell tackles Lady Genevra Stark on the subject of mothers, daughters, and duty. (Genevra is NPC'd by her mother, Hellan.)
Date: 8/10/2016
Related: To Fight Like a Woman (past); Kingsroad Crossroads, Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth, The Reason Why Not, The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Seventh Order.

The warmth of these fertile southern lands south of the Trident pleased the Ryswells for a handful of days, then became a burden to be borne. It's one thing to wear leather and armour in the climate to which one is accustomed. Another thing to ride in such garb for the better part of every day, beneath a sun always seemingly hotter than it was the day before. Southerners, their homes, and their ways, come in for a great deal of salty, sweaty commentary.

Lady Genevra Stark has learned more about horses in the last month, than in all the rest of her life put together. Everyone in the Ryswell party (with the notable exception of Lady Bethany: but not her little brother Lord Rickard, who volunteered a very good trick he, being even shorter than she, uses for mounting) is a mine of information, easily extracted. Or perhaps the correct metaphor would be, a spring of information: it bubbles up continually, whether one invites it or no. She has lately even been promoted to the unsupervised grooming of two particular charges amongst Lady Ryswell's herd of northern bloodstock for sale in the south. She's trusted. She's earning her way. And the odds are that when she is invited, one fine and balmy morning, to move up through the convoy and ride with Lady Ryswell a while, it isn't for one of those occasional, low-voiced reprimands which shrivel a man's spine in his armour and send him back down the column of riders slouched in his saddle and yearning palpably for the oblivion of strong drink.

The Lady of the Rills is sitting easily in the saddle of a chestnut gelding called Robert. Everyone knows Robert. Everyone has seen him playing dead of an afternoon, sprawled swooning on his side, rather than accept the indignity of being ridden. Lady Ryswell is the only one who can get anywhere with him; she has thus brought him south, not for sale, but to continue the uphill work of his own, very particular training regimen. At the party's present brisk walking pace he's plodding rather, requiring the occasional encouragement by means of her spurs. Otherwise she's having a pleasant enough ride. The sun isn't too far over the horizon. She's eating bread and cheese.

She doesn't look round when she senses another horse coming up close by Robert; she only swallows a mouthful of cheese and says, "Morning, lass."

Even if she isn't in for a withering reprimand, the possibility isn't completely abolished from Genevra's mind. She hasn't done anything that would warrant chastisement, as far as she knows, but that doesn't always stop her mother. And so, the Stark girl is smiling but watchful as she comes up alongside Eddara — not too closely to Robert. Genevra is faring a bit better than some of the riders in the Southern warmth; she packed some lighter garb that she wore her last stay in Oldtown. Even so, she's feeling the change in climate as well and working hard, and she seems to always be covered in a sheen of sweat, a slight bit of grime … and the seemingly unending stamina of youth throughout it all. Her dark hair is curling wildly at the temples. "My lady," she greets. "Not much farther now, huh?"

A couple of Lady Ryswell's shirts have lost their sleeves, courtesy of Aryana Snow's deft needle last night. (Of course the sleeves have been kept, and will be stitched on again for her return to the north.) She rides now with the whole length of her arms bare to the sunshine, freshly tanned and corded with muscle, knife scars below giving way to tattoos and a puncture wound above. Her upper right arm, nearest to Lady Genevra, is encircled by three bands of (plant tbd), old enough that the dark blue ink is blurring into her skin.

"Not long," she agrees. "Cheese?" And she breaks off half of what remains to her, and offers it across to the Stark girl. "… I can't help but notice, lass," she mentions a moment later, neutrally, "that you don't look forward with any relish to the prospect of seeing your lady mother again."

With that, Genevra finds herself looking slightly darkly at the piece of cheese not yet stuffed into her mouth with abandon. It takes her a moment to respond to Lady Ryswell. "She wanted me to be in the North." On that, she could agree with her mother. "Not only at Winterfell, but on Bear Island, too. To learn. And grow up, she said. Only now I'm going south to finish growing up." She pauses to eat her cheese, but she takes less relish in the snack than when she began. "Before I left, she…" Unsure, her words trail off, taken over by silent thoughts.

Like unto her horses, Lady Ryswell has excellent peripheral vision. Her eyes are more or less upon the Kingsroad ahead and the small clouds of dust which mark the position of her party's vanguard — but still she's conscious of the varying fortunes of that piece of cheese… After a while she ventures, mildly, "Growth invariably entails a certain distance from one's roots, sooner or later. Particularly for a woman. Your mother may have felt that your roots weren't yet sufficiently anchored in northern soil — but the situation has altered since last year; you have altered too." A pause. "Before you left…?"

"I have," Genevra agrees solemnly, sounding more the young (begrudging) woman that she is rather than the girl. She takes Lady Ryswell's words to heart. She makes another attempt to speak her thoughts, now that she's sifted through them. Even on this trip, she's grown up further; or perhaps she's simply begun to realize that she already had. "She was just … so hard. To talk to. I would try, and … it was as though she was looking straight through me. When she did speak, it was to tell me to leave her alone. I tried to show her all I'd learned from Lady Mormont with the sword; I tried to tell her goodbye before I left…"

"Perhaps she finds it difficult to talk to you," murmurs Lady Ryswell, mother of three, diffidently. Robert is slowing again: a delicate press of her spurred heels reminds him that he's a horse and not a tortoise.

"Your mother," she mentions, "is not I think wholly fond of me." This observation has the weight of truth long considered. "We had a lot in common when we were younger, of course. We both saw our true purpose in defending our homes and our people — it brings," and she gives Lady Genevra a sidelong glance, "a satisfaction beyond mere pleasure. We had the same sense of duty, of destiny, of being born to ride and to fight and to lead, though we were women. And then her wound put an end to all that had given her life its meaning, while I… I," the corners of her mouth twist, "could continue. Whenever she sees me I am a reminder to her of all that has been taken from her."

She waits.

Genevra is silent for another spell. She looks across at Eddara, taking in the sight of her - and her those winding tattoos unlike any she's ever seen, let alone on a woman — in a different light. As if she could see her as her mother must see her. At the very least, she seems to understand a little bit. Her lips press in and her gaze becomes set on the dark, gently swaying mane of her horse. "If it's any consolation," she starts, "I'm not certain she's wholly fond of anyone." The joke, if it was that, leaves her a bit longer in the face than she meant. "That is what I have always wanted," she says, taking a moment to clarify, "That destiny, I mean. To have a duty like that, to fight for my family and what's right. Like you. Like Mother. I know she wishes things were different for her," she allows. "I suppose, if I couldn't either… if I can't, now that I'm to marry— " Genevra grows quiet in thought once again, but soon clenches her jaw and says with a surge of quiet, half-contained emotion, "But she told me I was a warrior."

Lady Ryswell is content to leave silences for her young companion to fill, and then discreetly attentive to how she fills them. She offers, "Marriage is your duty to your house — and, in time, to mine. I wouldn't underrate its difficulties, or its dangers. But a woman's life goes in cycles, lass, more so than a man's. Your life isn't ending — it's beginning. You may find it contains more than you now suppose…" After which cautious venture into optimism, she concedes, "If I had a daughter who, despite all I could do to discourage her, turned into a warrior — I'd be scared shitless."

Genevra's chin had drooped; she looks up quickly upon Eddara's last words, blinking round grey eyes. "I can't imagine you scared, Lady Ryswell," she states. "I can't imagine Mother scared either. You remind me of her sometimes. Except you're easier to talk to." And that's saying something, isn't it. She has a low bar for the approachability of matriarchs. "The day I told her, really told her I wanted to fight, she told me two things. She told me what it is to be a warrior, and what it is to be a lady. Even when she wanted me to understand the horrors of real battle, I thought I understood being a warrior more than being a lady." But how could she, no matter how much she yearned. She was caught between the two, never one or the other.

Wherever the battlefield, Hellan had told Genevra, be it against two knights or fifty dishonourable men, true battle is death.

"She let agreed that day to let me train with Lady Mormont. Said I was a warrior. But she said it takes the strength of a warrior to commit to the things a lady must for the good of her family. Duty, like you said. I've— I've been trying to believe that." Her small shoulders are tense beyond her riding stance. She's desperate to believe it, to have that sense of purpose to fulfill, at odds with what she thought she wanted. "Really, I have."

The cheese occupies Lady Ryswell for a moment or so beyond the time Lady Genevra falls silent upon that optimistic insistence. Then she wipes her hands on the linen cloth it was wrapped in, and folds up the latter and tucks it away in her open saddlebag. "Whether you believe it or not," she says at last, "won't alter the truth of it. It's easy to do your duty when it matches your inclination — or when you haven't any strong feeling either way. But when your heart is calling you one way and your duty the other, then yes, lass. You need all your strength," she agrees pensively, gazing ahead not at the dusty road and the Reach's fertile fields beyond, "to set your back against your own desires and do what you know to be right. Your mother's right.

"She's scared, too, I promise you that. She loves you — I don't say that in order to praise her or excuse her, but because that's simply how it is with your children. They come out of you and you love them. You don't necessarily make a good job of it, but the sentiment is there." This is all very dry. "She thinks you've grown up too fast. She closed her eyes on a babe and opened them upon a young lady who wishes to be a warrior. And, loving you, she sees you now not only seeking what is forever denied to her, but risking, in your innocence, the same experiences which made her the woman she is today. Is she so happy, your mother," she asks softly, "that she'd wish the same for her child?"

The words are foreign to Genevra, the notion abstract, yet to hear the theory of sentiment as such seems to create a winding knot in her stomach. It is as though all the discomforts of travelling these many weeks rise to the surface; or one might think such, to look at the way she sits now in her saddle, stiff from toe to throat, clenching her jaw, knitting her brow, clenching her fists. Her gelding receives mixed messages, and it's the quickening skip in his step that jars her into response. "No…" she agrees, speaking low. In her voice, there is both a reluctance to see reason and a certain depth of budding understanding. "Do you suppose that's why she was so quick to say I ought to marry Lord Rodrik…? To somehow save me… from a fate like hers?"

In Lady Ryswell's hands (as it were: her reins are draped as usual round the pommel of her saddle) Robert's pace remains steady, as it wouldn't for anyone else; they both eye the gelding sideways, he in case of being invited into trouble, she in order to intervene if need be… Seeing all's well, though, she looks up into Lady Genevra's eyes, her own intelligent and kind. "Or to delay it," she suggests. "A wedding, a babe or two — you might find that your desires and your priorities shift, or if they don't, at least you'll be coming to the sword a few years older and ideally a few years wiser."

It is a difficult thing for young persons everywhere to accept that their elders truly do know better than them, much of the time. Wisdom. That elusive old thing. Genevra's days of replying obstinately are over, however, at least for this leg of the journey. While she leaves the reins to tie her stubborn hair back with a leather cord from her wrist, she simply nods her dark-haired head a few times and takes the words, instead, with an unspoken promise to remember them. To think on them. Wisdom in the making.

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