The Kingsroad: Kenrith
"Come," said the woman, and she moved forward, gesturing to Kenrith and his escorts to follow her.
Kenrith nodded, and led the band on foot, with Jayne and the rest of Evan's band following not far behind, and Mal in the rear making frequent glances over his shoulder.
She led them off the main road and along a track. It looked good, solid and firm and after a while, they grew slightly more careless as they walked it, leading their horeses, until Garyn stuck his foot of the edge of the path and it took all of Jayne and the Ox's strength to haul him clear. The crannog woman watched impassively.
"You must be more carefull," was all she said.
Kenrith took this lesson to heart. He was wearing a good deal of armor, and the chances of Jayne and Ox hauling him out without him casting half of it aside was marginal at best. The horses, too, would likely be lost if their feet went astray.
It was some distance. The first fat, heavy drops of rain were falling as they came over a low hillock and saw, in a drepression beyond, a series of strange houses that seemed to be mounted on stilts, rising above a boggy marsh.
"You must leave the horses here," the woman said. She indicated three flat-bottomed boats wedged against the back nearest to them, and secured in place by long upright poles stuck vertically in the water, each some twelve foot long.
"We will punt across to the meeting hall."
Kenrith nodded, but said "First, we must see to the horses," as he eyed the boats warily.
The band quickly set about removing the saddles from their horses and rubbing them down quickly. The horses eyed the water nervously, and were probably greatful they would not be crossing in the boats.
Once this had been attended to, and someone had helped Garyn right his gear, the men cautiously boarded the boats. Kenrith boarded the same boat as the unnamed woman with the strange, almost lambent, green eyes. Jayne took up the pole and pushed off, with only low grumbling. The boat which carried Ox had to be one man light as well, but the band otherwise split up equally. Kenrith had indicated their saddlebags should go along with them, as he intended to offer to share what food they had with their hosts.
The woman took one of the long poles and began to bring them across the water with speed, grace and skill - it seemed hard to believe that she could make the long flat-bottomed boat move so swift and easily through the water with such a clumsy means of propulsion.
Kenrith was far too polite to say 'My, you sure are competent in manly matters... for a woman,' but his upbringing did bring such thoughts to mind. In a way, she vaguely reminded him of his cousin, and he found this as disturbing as anything else. Once he found himself glancing over his shoulder one too many times at her, he forced himself to look forwards instead.
The other boats did not far so well. Mal managed to drive his boat through the water, but (according to his loud complaints) it steered like a sluggish cow. Still, he fared better than Garryn, who insisted on trying to steer the third boat while the Ox lounged at his ease. When his pole stuck in the mud, Garryn quickly realised, as the distance between boat and pole grew, that he had a choice of abandoning boat or pole - and made the inevitably wrong choice.
After they had fished him out of the water, covered with river weed (his second boot now lost, as his first had been sucked off in the earlier mud), Stavros took over and brought them to the stilted meeting house without further incident.
Kenrith only noticed this folly after the fact, as Stavros fished him out of the jam he'd gotten himself into. He once again hoped that the marsh lions stayed far away from the craggomen's homes... for the horses sakes, if not for Garryn's. Still, if anything would scare away the draconic predators... Garryn's thrashing was probably it.
There was a long ladder here, to climb up to the main floor of the thatched building. At the top, they fopund a platform that stretched around the entirity of the building, and inside a surisingly warm and cosy space, hung with painted cloths that kept away any drafts that might blow through the reeds. The dloor was strong enough to support a hearthstone and here food was cooking, tended by three women, all of them wizened with age - although it was hard to tell what was old for a crannogman.
Something about the scene, three elderly women standing on a hearth before a bubbling cookpot, triggered something deep in Kenrith's mind. He knew that this, what he was seeing, meant something... but he did not know what. He did sense, however, that he must follow hospitality to the letter... at least insofar as he knew anything about crannogman hospitality customs... which was practically not at all.
ooc: If I accidentally do something which violates mideval hospitality rules, kick me. I think I should be okay, as I think I know them... fortunately, I haven't sworn to 'never eat dog' or anything like that. He'll follow the manners he knows from the north, and hope it works out.
He ducked as he entered the dwelling, his helm under his right arm. As he saw the three women, he bowwed slightly and waited to be addressed.
The crannog woman who had brought them now turned to him and gave a slight bow - it seemed more fitting than a curtsey would have been.
"My name," she said, "is Wendla Greenborn. I am sister to Darron Farsight who has gone with your companion ... He says you are owed a life. He says it is because ... " She made a gesture, indicating his crippled arm. "He has the greensight," she added.
"I am Kenrith Hardy," he said. In a metaphysical sense, it seemed truer to him than to say "Ser Kenrith." He, perhaps, was not yet used to the title... and the absense of knights among the crannogmen was excuse enough for him to drop the title. He bowwed to his guide, and the three older women as he introduced himself. As she had mentioned his arm, his jaw had tensed... but he was expecting to be asked about it, so having it dropped into the conversation didn't raise his ire as it might have under other circumstances.
Then she lifted both hands in a gesture of welcome.
"Come," she said. "Be seated. Tonight you will eat with us - and find warm beds ... "
There was something about the way she had said that, the lift to her voice as she had mentioned warm beds, which disturbed Kenrith even as it warmed his blood. Although sorely tempted to inspect the shinyness of his shoes, he managed to keep his gaze even and his face placid.
Her green eyes rested on Kenrith's face. "And other things too, perghaps. Questions. And answers."
At this, his eyebrows did raise. Kenrith stared into her eyes, and wondered if she was of noble birth. He had heard that the lord of this land had green eyes, and from the way it was said... 'he has the green eyes,' he knew it meant something. Still, he had no idea what that 'something' was.
Even as she spoke, his companions were taking seats around a great long table, urged there by several crannogmen and women who emerged from the shadows of the room. Two seates were left - one at the head of the table - the other at the foot - an arrangement more common in the communal farmhouse than in a Lord's house, where there would be a high table and the long tables for lesser folk. But this, perhaps, was not a noble's house at all. Perhaps Wendla and Darron held no rank among the crannogmen.
And yet, looking at the deference with which tthose around her treated her, Kenrith might doubt that.
Kenrith was unsure if he was supposed to take the head or foot of the table. He took one step towards the head, indicated it with his outstretched arm, and looked to Wendla as if to ask if he should sit there. He also looked around for her husband... for surely, if she bore a different family name from her brother, she must be married.
There was no visible husband, and no-one seemed to find it strange (well, no-one except the men he brought with him) when he moved to take his seat at the top of the table.
"If I may ask my first question... after this one...?" Kenrith asked politely after he had taken his seat and set his helm on the floor beside his chair.
"When you said... I was owed a life because of my... condition," he said as he touched his left pauldron with his right index finger, "what did you mean?"
"They were my brother's words," said Wendla, "and I do not know whether he understood them himself. Sometimes ... he sees only partial meanings. The greensight is not always clear. But I believe he saw a life lived ... differently. A life which was taken from you. There is a debt there."
Kenrith looked as if he were about to ask another question, but wasn't sure where to begin. Soon, he found himself sorting through thoughts of the possible and of the might-have-been. He might have been a lancer... but did this mean he had lost more than he thought? If he was to believe any of this at all... and if he was, who owed who what? Might he have misinterpreted the vision? Might not Kenrith owe his life to the old gods, and might this vision be reproachment for having sworn oaths under the new? As always... he never knew the whole story.
She moved away from him then to take her own seat at the foot of the table - and he found himself with a crannogman to his right and an older crannogwoman to his left. But their eyes were brown, not green, and though they conversed with him throughout the meal, they did not speak of dreams ...
Kenrith ate, and spoke, but quickly abandoned escoteric questions about dreams. Instead, he asked about Wendla and Darron. He wanted to know if they were related to their Lord, and what their role was in the community. He was prepared to discuss the weather, however, if he found himself treading on a taboo.
Wendla and Darron, he discovered, were the children of Howland Reed's sister. Although they bore the name of their father, Curlew, they were more commonly known by the names the crannogmen had chosen to give them. They were held in esteem and not solely, it seemed for their birth.
Kenrith simply nodded, and after his pressing questions had been answered did not follow them up with another round.
When his accompanyment said something rude about the food, or asked if it was frog, he was quick to smooth over any hurt feelings which developed.
After dinner, by common consent the crannogmen moved out to the balcony that ran around the upper storey of the stilted house. Here there were comfortable chairs, rugs and cushions - and even a couple of seats suspended from the ceiling, so that they gently swayed to and fro (the Ox and Jayne were gently persuaded not to sit in these).
Then the crannogmen - and women too -began to tell stories of the marshes. Some had liquid voices that seemed to move from song to speech and back again without effort. Others had harsh, croaking voices that seemed like the calling of the frogs that they heard from the darkening waters below them - and yet their tales were as fascinating as those of the singers. They told the usual tales of love and loss, of brave adventures and of mysteries ... the mysteries that dwelt in the marshes, the flickering lights that led men to their dooms - the sorrowing lonely women, twelve years dead, who guided their unknowing children to safety and - at the end of their passage - gave them a token that those who remembered might know by whom the children had been saved. And between the tales there were songs, mellow and sweet in the night air, plangent with the plucking of a strange kind of lute that Kenrith had not seen before.
Kenrith tried to relax in his seat, and listened to the tales accompanied by the sounds of the storm over the marshes.
After one such song, by general acclamation, the instrument was passed to Wendla, who sat beside Kenrith on one of the swaying seats. At once she started a tune and began to sing in a high, remote voice. It was a well-known song because soon others took up the tune and began to hum gently along as she sang of a maid of the Marshes who had fallen in love with an earthborn knight, who had left the marshes to dwell with him but - when he proved false - returned to the marhes to die. And he, filled with remorse, had followed - losing himself in the marshes - but on moonlit nights his voice could be still be heard, calling his lost love.
Between Wendla's haunting voice, and the pathos of the tale itself, Kenrith discretely wiped away a tear with his index finger.
Wendla's voice died away into silence, and there was a minute's quiet appreciation - before she struck the loot again - a merry, bawdy tune of a crannognman who had attempted to visit his lady love - drunk - and the mishaps he encountered on his journey. This time the srowd joined in so noisily that at first Kenrith failed to realise that Wendla had ceased singing and was sitting back, watching him.
Even as the lighter song took in the crowd, it took Kenrith a short while to emerge from the reflective fugue the more tragic song had put him in. When he saw Wendla looking at him, he watched her face curiously, as if he didn't understand what she was expecting. Eventually, he decided she must be waiting for him to say something... but curiously, he did not feel the usual social pressure to fill any empty space in conversation with empty words. Still, it could hardly be said he was -comfortable- around the strange, beatiful young woman.
"You had said your brother had the green sight, and this was how he knew the things you spoke of... I do not know what the green sight is, or whether that means you would share it as his sister. Is it something which all crannogmen with green eyes possess, perhaps?" Kenrith asked softly.
"I don't know," said Wendla. "Not all who have green eyes posses the green sight - but all who possess the greensight have green eyes - make of that what you will.
"I for my part have green eyes, and yet do not share my brother's habit of seeing veiled futures in my dreams - for such is his greensight. Some say that only maids among women will see visions. Others say it is only those who have borne children. Well, maidenhood has failed me, so I must wait and see if it comes with motherhood."
She smiled at him as she spoke, but he sensed a seriousness behind her words.
Half to himself, Kenrith remarked "So, you are unwed then... I had wondered, when you and your brother did not share a family name. Crannog names, then, are descriptive, rather than familial?" he said as he changed the subject, and so to avoid blushing.
She laughed, tipping her head back so her saw her long, pale throat.
"No questions. The ways of your people are perhaps better known to us than ours are to you. Any questions I have for you would be, perhaps, too bold for one to ask after so slight an acquaintance."
"I have more questions... but perhaps you have questions for me? You had said questions and answers... but not who would be doing the asking. I do not mean to presume to ask all the questions... what would you know, that I have to share?" Kenrith asked curiously.
"Do you keep to the old gods? I did not see any wyrwoods in the marshes... but I have heard you have no Septons, either..."
She smiled. "We have our own ways of worshipping the gods." But she did not say more - or even expand on which gods she followed.
"Was there any more?.. to your brother's vision, I mean" Kenrith asked, still curious.
"There may have been," she acknowledged. "But he did not share it with me. Perhaps you were only to know it if you had been the one to accompany him, and not me." She smiled then. "Or perhaps there was no more to tell."
Kenrith nodded, and added a moment later "You had said these visions were imperfect... unless something has happened of which I am unaware, I feel it is I who owe the gods. I am not owed for the loss of an arm; I am indebted for the gift of all the rest... unless I did not come by my disease naturally."
She looked at him with sympathy, not pity. "It was the summer fever, was it not? That can be cruel - I have seen those who can no longer walk ... "
Kenrith gave a kind of stiff nod, and forced a thin smile onto his face.
She rose suddenly as the song ended. "Come - I will show you where you may all sleep. You will have a hard day's journey tomorrow."
Kenrith nodded and rose. After the meal and his heavy thoughts, sleep sounded divine. It certainly wasn't the only thing on his young mind, but he had every intension of staying out of -that- kind of trouble.
It seemed that =that= kind of trouble was not even to be offered him. The visitors were shown to another of the stilted houses, connected to their own by a swaying rope bridge that made them all glad they had drunk no more ... Stavros and Mal exchanged glances and went one behind and once ahead of Garyn, so close to him as they crossed that it was well nigh impossible to fall ... and when he nearly did, Mal grabbed the scruff of his neck and set him straight, while Stavros fought to hold the bridge steady.
Eventually then were all across and in what seemed to be a guest room set aside for sleeping. The accommodation was simple, but invitingly comfortable. There were low beds with frames supporting mattresses of woven reds, with duckdown quilts, and the soft lapping on the water below them drew them, one and all ... into a sweet, dreamless sleep.