Had Lyle Snow anything about her childhood home that she fiercely missed now, it would be the maple taffy they made at the first of every moon. The servants would gather their chisels, nails and little wooden buckets, hammer openings into the black bark of the trees, boil the sap in a giant iron cauldron and then divide out portions for every child, trueborn or bastard, lordling or smallfolk, to have. The children would run outside and find their own freshly spotted mounds of snow to toss the hot syrup on. Once landed, the sap would crystallize into sweetly soft maple candy that always left smears of sticky honey-gold on her lips for the rest of the day. She suddenly ached for some now.
Lyle missed her family too, of course, but she'd kill for a good maple stick now.
'Anything more than the sugar-dusted fruit cakes here,' Lyle inwardly bemoaned, taking a bite of the sweet nonetheless. For all that she had spent two years in the Reach now, she still hadn't grown accustomed to all of the rich foods gracing her palate. In Winterfell, it would be two or three maple sticks a moon and occasionally roasted almonds or honeyed chestnuts in between. Cakes like these were meant for grand feasts, not to be given covertly to girls-dressed-as-boys by stall keeper's daughters that had made decidedly unfortunate romantic choices.
The slender dark-haired scholar couldn't deny a certain kindness in the action, however, and it led to the earnest compliment to follow. "This is delicious, my lady. As sweet as the nature of the maiden to gift it to me."
That elicited a lighthearted burst of giggles that reminded Lyle of her middle sister. It added a curious bounce to the girl's bountiful chest that Lyle carefully refrained from staring enviously at. That was never interpreted well and besides, her own relatively late flowering had contributed to two successful years of donning a man's cloak. "May I be so bold as to request a name, my lady?"
"Meredyth, good Acolyte," was the shy reply. The doe-eyed brunette tucked a sun-streaked strand behind her ear and offered Lyle a wide smile. There was a tiny gap between her teeth that was almost adorable. Shame that she had never taken to the female form, no matter Alleras' efforts. "My friends call me Merry."
"I can hardly use such an intimate title, Lady Meredyth," Lyle protested. Her eyes flickered behind the girl's shoulder to where Pate was trying, and failing, to gain the favor of Merry's twin sister.
"I would not mind whatever you choose to call me, Lyle."
Lyle sharply bit her tongue before 'and if I choose to call you mine?' could slip her lips. She was spending far too much time with Alleras recently. Her ancestors must be rolling in their graves for what an incorrigible flirt she'd become. 'Or for other, rather more significant, offenses.'
Banishing the cloud of melancholy as swiftly as the storm-raisers in her best friend's tales of Rhoynish sorceresses, Lyle offered an enigmatic smile and a few kind words more as she moved away. Pate looked desperate and as a loyal friend, she had a duty to drag him away before the poetry could start. Of course, friendship was what had her here in the first place, chattering with Merry as the novice struggled to charm the girl's sister. Before arriving here, Lyle hadn't any clue that men did this sort of flirtation in pairs.
Slinging one arm around the pasty boy's thin shoulders and careful to keep her bandaged chest from brushing against him, Lyle grinned. "We should get going, right Pete? Don't want Armen to dry the tavern of all its ale without us!"
"Probably so," Pate grabbed onto the lifeline with both hands and then turned hopeful eyes to the pretty girl. "Do you work here every morning?"
"Till noon, 'cept on the lord's day," was the nonchalant reply. Dark brown eyes assessed her closely and then the girl smiled. "Bring your friend and visit."
"Right," Pate answered morosely. As they walked away, Lyle attempted to elbow him into cheer.
"And here I thought Rosey had your heart. She'll be so disappointed to learn you so fickle."
Pate scoffed. "Rosey only has eyes for Alleras, just as those girls only mooned over you."
"What can I say? Ladies here have a discerning taste and I'm devastatingly handsome."
"Handsome? Well that's one word for it," Pate nudged her back, a bit of humor returning. "Does Leo Tyrell still run in the other direction when you walk by?"
"He'll come to accept his grand love for me eventually." After the initial horror of the act, Lyle had found great humor in the ash-blonde nobleman's drunkenly planting a kiss on her lips. No doubt had her first kiss not been stolen by Alleras on a lark, she'd have decked the boy. It helped that the only one more traumatized than she had been him. Leo still couldn't look her in the eyes and walked in the opposite direction whenever she came near him.
"Alleras still making sport of it?"
"I've made him stop." Yes, it was amusing but dragging her to every lecture the boy had and watching him scurry away got old quickly.
After a moment of fantasizing over the torment of his most-oft bully, Pate turned forlorn eyes on her. "I wish the Gods had given me what you have. You look so pretty, you can almost pass for a girl."
'You have no idea.' Aloud she twisted her lips into a sulk. "Are you claiming it's not my charm and wit that gains me all those favors?"
"What charm? What wit?" Pate asked in aggrandized shock. She moved to trip him as they walked but he jumped over her legs and laughingly jogged the remainder of the way Quill and Tankard. Dodging the press of people, dark-haired to russette to pale, from all manner of lands throughout Westeros and afar, Lyle followed. Her slim chain of links, forged with a black iron for ravenry, a bronze for astronomy and gold for economics, jingled around her neck. This she took pride in more than any other of her limited possessions. This was proof that running away from home to hone her mind and forge her talents was not without any gain of her own.
Despite the head start that Pete had, it was the quick-footed Snow that was first to rush through the door, spinning on one heel to slip around the cloak stand positioned right inside. Pete crashed into it a heartbeat later, proving once again that it was folly to place that particular bit of furniture at that particular area of the tavern floor. Not bothering to stick around for the after effects- Lyle didn't need to look, to know that Madam Emma would be swooping down to dig her claws into the unfortunate Westerlands boy- the dark-haired girl scurried over to one of the back booths. She'd fulfilled her allotment of friendship-related stupidity today, thank you. Besides if Pate really was serious about Rosey, then building up a resistance against his future goodmother's strident tones was paramount.
"A drink to Pate," Roone suggested, raising his tankard. "A fine boy. Gone before his time."
"To Pate," Mollander and Armen echoed, the former's muscular frame squeezing himself away from the two stools he took up to allow her a seat. Alleras was at her other side, a lazy, typically inscrutable smile on dusk-toned skin as a mug was slid over to her. There was just the slightest shade of lighter gold in her own drink, proof that Alleras had them watered down once again.
Lyle took a sip and fondly regarded the mismatched group. They were an odd bunch. The crippled son of a knight, a well-fed farmer's boy, a pointy-nosed third son, a commoner from the Westerlands and of course, likely the only two ladies to ever disguise themselves as men and study for their maester's chains. She was the youngest and shortest of the bunch, often protected and teased in turns by the others but also one of only three, alongside Alleras and Armen to hold maester's links. Her last had been forged only last sennight and there ran through her veins still the triumph of gaining it. Archmaester Gormon was a prideful ass but he was one skilled in his field and attaining the gold link from him had been almost as sweet as her last two put together.
The dark-haired Acolyte hadn't needed to apply to Gormon for her chain. There were others able to approve of her economics link, as it was one common to maesters in the Citadel but the Archmaester had been the best and she wanted that measure of approval. There was still that bright-eyed, naive Northern bastard in her that marched on her own two feet all the way down from Winterfell only to discover that the world wasn't made of dreams. Yes, the Citadel accepted students from all over the realm, whichever ancestry they laid claim to, but there was a prejudice against those like her, either for the sinfulness of her bastardy or the savagery of her Northern blood. Her first lecture, Archmaester Gormon had called her before the floor, quizzed her on all matter of topics she had little understanding of and driven her from the room in tears. Had it not been for her shame in returning without a single link at all- and after her brother had gone to such risks in sneaking her out and funding this trip- Lyle would have left at that.
But she had not. And as she looked around the bar, when Pate came staggering in red-faced to much laughter and a tunkard of freshly poured ale, she found herself glad. Stripped of the loneliness, the ignorance and the fear, Lyarra Snow, bastard daughter of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, found herself exactly where she cared to be. Had there been a strip of maple candy in her hand, it would have been perfect.
Lord Arthur Dayne was as certain of few matters in his life as his belief that he didn't deserve to be here. He was a dutiful lord, a devoted brother and a good man, was he not? At the very least, he wasn't as embarassing a figure as his future goodbrother and the drunken priest of R'hllor that he was forced to share a tavern booth with. The Hound's Tooth would be lucky to have any spot of floor empty of sick once Thoros ended his drinking binge with this round of foolish novices and greenboys to challenge him. Not that the mistress of the tavern looked any less pleased with how swiftly her stores were emptying.
"Don't be such a grump, Arty, have a drink!" Beric Dondarrion was a handsome Stormland prone to laughter and japes. He was Allyria's betrothed, not that Arthur knew what precisely his sister saw in the man, as well as the knight he'd squired to for the last three years. The Dayne knight wouldn't precisely refer to him as a bad man but he certainly lacked the constancy and force of will that Arthur felt his aunt deserved in a husband.
And he kept referring to him as Arty. Arthur could not express how little endeared he was to such a name.
"I'll refrain, thank you."
Pushing the sloshing drink towards Thoros, where it'd be better appreciated, the young man slid out of the stool and past women fluttering eyelashes or drunken revellers pressing against his body. Oldtown was a city bursting to the seams on even the commonmost day but the upcoming tourney for Baelor Brightsmile's nameday had crowded it past his admittedly low tolerance. He was fortunately only in that House Hightower ruled these lands and his silver-gilt hair made those unable to focus on the lavender and white sigil on his tunic assume him one. This gave his feet a bit of purchase and Arthur elbowed his way out to air that didn't smell of human sweat or ale breath.
'Another fortnight more and I'll return to Starfall.' Moving away from the old men smoking sourleaf in their wooden pipes, a brief smile crossed the usually serious lordling's face. 'Perhaps Edric has finally learnt to stop chasing the kingfishers on the riverbed.'
His nine-year-old brother would leave to squire soon. He had served as page to a knight pledged to House Dayne thus far but soon the necessities of politics would have the second son fostered out to complete his knighthood elsewhere. Arthur loathed sending his gentle-hearted brother away but knew it would open more opportunities to Ned to do so. Even then, he would selfishly keep the little brother that chased after him with worshipful eyes home for a year more and then foster him to another Dornish House. Perhaps House Blackmont. Then he could still visit when time permitted.
Lord Arthur Dayne, only thirteen namedays old, was not a man to find joy in many things, his small family excepted. He had been named after his famous uncle, of the Sword of Morning fame, when born to Lady Delia Dayne a mere nine moons after Ser Arthur was slain on his ancestral lands. His father had taken one glance at his silver-haired, violet-eyed son and proudly named him 'Arthur', later on boasting of his foresight when the boy took to the sword with a talent rivalled one mere generation before by his namesake. Arthur was raised a gifted child but lighthearted and amicable until forced into the mantle of leadership at only seven namedays.
Lord Allyric Dayne died in the Greyjoy Rebellion and his mother moons afterwards, of sunfever the maesters claimed though servants spoke of a broken heart and an empty vial. Shortly thereafter, Arthur was official recognized as the new Head of House for an aunt barely out of childhood herself and a brother of only three namedays. His first action had been to dismiss any servant that dared to claim the Stranger took his mother by anything but the sun's touch. His second was to move himself to the Master's Suite of the castle and begin the arduous labor of learning to rule.
That had been six years ago. Since then, Arthur had laid to rest any doubts of his youth and competence. He had completed his page years in Starfall while familiarizing himself with a lord's duties to his servants, tenants, villagers and allies. More time had been spent pouring over sums with Maester Torlen than had been devoted to any other activity in his childhood. When he was nine, he left for Blackhaven and threw himself into his squirehood duties. Handling most House matters through correspondence, Arthur survived swordsmanship lessons, schoolyard taunts, almost nightly thunderstorms and Beric Dondarrion's attempts at 'bonding'. He had received his knighthood proudly in the last sennight and pride still thrummed within his veins for the title of 'Ser' given to him now.
In his lifetime, Ser Arthur Dayne, Lord of Starfall, had proved himself as intelligent, dutiful, virtuous and above all, capable as any lord before him. And if his nightly dreams plagued him with snatches of conversation and visions of people and places he'd never seen before, so vivid that he often needed a touch of dreamwine to rest? Well, no one had to know of that particular weakness other than him.