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What truth is gleaned in the mud?

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Iyalon enjoys the stream of information flowing from Lady Uldwar as they eat in an amiable atmosphere, nodding as he takes in the various lines of trade that they are involved in. The faint smile playing on his lips is genuine, as much as it is allowed to show.

With his interjection, Lord Uldwar turns the conversation back towards the might of their noble house, and the Hildebrand knight tilts his head, about to speak when the doors open and the opportunity is lost.

If he had but the time to answer, Iyalon would have grinned and said yes, our enemies may no longer fear us for our prowess in battle, but we hold enough power to shake the livelihoods of the people if we wanted to, and that, more than anything, can bring our enemies to their knees without spilling a drop of blood. They fear our might as much as they fear yours, my lord.

In hindsight, perhaps he is better off not answering after all, Iyalon muses with a tired half-smile, staring down at his plate with unseeing eyes.

The conversation between the nobles and the Dogs of War flies over his head for a few moments, but then Lord Uldwar’s introduction of his son reaches his ears, and Iyalon snaps to attention. He tampers down the trepidation crawling up his throat at the sight of the boy, the strict gaze the patriarch sends his way.

He is not well-versed in the knowledge of the warrior house’s lineage, but he has taken note that red hair seems to have no place on an Uldwar’s head. The boy’s green gaze reminds him of soft grass and fields of verdant harvests, a sight usually found anywhere but here. He keeps his mouth shut on that particular matter, however; it is not his place.

“I—well—” Iyalon trips over his words, unsure of the finer details of this development. “I have not been informed of such an arrangement beforehand, but if the Lady Varda has accepted, then I shall be honored to accompany the young Lord Uldwar on the journey back to Hildebrand lands.” He places a hand on his chest as he bows his head, first to the noble couple then to the boy himself.

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"I trust it will not be an issue." Lord Uldwar said. "It is after all an even trade, in my opinion. Both of us are sharing knowledge to the other, and what's the harm in teaching a boy how to work the earth for food?"

There were times when Cassandra wondered whether or not her husband would receive a more positive reputation if he didn't act so guarded all the time. Strength had always been the prevailing trait of the Uldwar clan, but at times she knew it was an exhausting quality to hold onto, especially for someone as troubled as her husband. People didn't always react well to someone trying to he strong, but Oscar didn't seem to care, as if he actually wanted to come off as intimidating to those they interacted with. Perhaps it was his pride, or fear, that kept him from showing anyone a more vulnerable side of himself. Whatever the case, she didn't want to trouble herself too deeply on it, knowing that by her own hand their relationship was dead, and all these happy moments they were showing their guest were nothing but a ruse to maintain that damned strength she hated with a passion.


"I certainly agree with my husband. This would be a great opportunity for Eric to learn of the world outside of these walls." It would also do well in calming the rugged, gnawing anger she felt whenever she was forced to look upon the living reminder of her husband's infidelity. Sometimes she wondered just exactly it was that made her husband so tolerant towards Eric's devious actions, her mind drifting off towards unsavory ideas that had her doubting her mate's integrity more at each passing day.


If Eric had been born with a womb instead of a penis, would Oscar have been so adamant to keep him in their home?

Surely her husband could not be so cold hearted, but in truth, their world actively supported and rewarded such behavior, for it was the only way to advance up the social ladder. Women in nobility were very restricted in what they could become, and as such their best option would be to follow the orders of their fathers, marrying whoever they chose so as to further their family's power. As a bastard, Eric would have had no worth unless legitimized, and even then, others would be far more willing to pass on a former bastard, as long as other options were available. Who would such a girl be able to marry then? Likely someone cruel, cruel enough to scare off real prospects, but for a desperate girl seeking some measure of a life away from a family that doesn't want her? That would allow for him to be as cruel as he desired, and she would never be brave enough to leave him, resigned to suffer at the hands of a monster. It was a possibility, but one she simply didn't wish to believe in.

While Eric and the knights joined them at the table, the main dinner was served. "Tell me, Iyalon." Sir Gerald stated as ornate plates of fish fillet, seasoned with nuts, berries and herbs on a bed of salad, accompanied with a small bowl of potato soup. "What has been your favorite so far, since coming to visit our little island?"

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It takes a fair amount of restraint not to frown at the detached way Lord Uldwar had spoken of his own son, as if he were something to fashion into his father’s own liking, as if he were merely a tool for a comparable trade deal. Iyalon just barely manages not to slide his gaze to the boy himself to see the look on his young face.

"I certainly agree with my husband. This would be a great opportunity for Eric to learn of the world outside of these walls."

The knight’s gaze turns to Lady Uldwar, and he opts to say nothing about the conflicted expression on her features. If anything, further questioning about Eric could perhaps lead to an uncomfortable conversation Iyalon is not in any way prepared to deal with, and so he does not pursue his curiosity. “I will do my utmost in this task, my Lord, my Lady. The young Lord Uldwar will want for nothing in our journey,” he nods, the polite smile on his lips shifting to an encouraging one when he looks to the boy again.

Eric and the knights take their seats around the table, and Iyalon wordlessly gapes at the sight of the fish fillet being delivered to his plate. House Hildebrand may have some fish ponds from which to take their supply of bass and trout, but hardly anything can beat fresh fish straight from the seas. Due to their location at the heart of Corinth, bordering the city of Andelusia, and the long distance from the nearest shoreline, the noble house he serves can never really get a steady supply of fish from the ocean.

Perhaps his Lady would not be averse to expanding into ocean fisheries, he muses, digging into the fillet with delight. After a while, Sir Gerald asks for his opinion of his favorite thing on the island, and he gives the elder knight a bright grin.

“Aside from your supply of fresh seafood, I presume?” Iyalon laughs, takes another bite of the fish as he thinks about a proper answer. “Perhaps it is the learnings I have gained about your art of war. It is, of course, the reason I have been sent in the first place, and I have taken in much knowledge since my first step into Uldwar Keep.” Iyalon smiles affably, nods at Lord Uldwar and every other knight around the table. “It is always a pleasure to learn from fellow warriors and pursue a higher form of mastery.”

Edited by vielle

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"That is good, we are glad you are learning so much. I am certain your people will be very happy once they know that they are in safer hands now that you have all this knowledge of good defenses." Sir Gerald said, smiling with his other knights as they enjoyed their meals.


"Though I would be careful before you start encroaching on the fishing business. Lord Uldwar can be a mean competitor." While this was to be considered a joke, the look that Lord Uldwar gave to the warrior told of how he did not see the humor in it. "Apologies, my Lord." Sir Lorry Kingson said. "I did not mean to offend you." Tension rose in the air, and those at the table were concerned with what Oscar might do next.

He finished eating, wiping his face with a cloth napkin, then sighed softly before he spoke. "Yes, I can come off as aggressive at times when I compete with others in matters of business. That is the way of the world. If you are unwilling or unable to be on the offensive whenever you need to, then you will be taken advantage of, even destroyed, by those who are willing and able." Looking to their guest, his one eye pierced deeply into the knight's two. "The world is a hostile place, sir knight, as you and I both know intimately. Weakness can mean death, and death is in many cases, a permanent condition."

The ringing of a bell came, and dessert was being served. "I cannot stay at the table any longer. There are things I need to deal with in my study. Good night to you all." With that he stood up, leaving the table and everyone else in the atmosphere of awkwardness.

"My husband is...under quite a bit of stress lately. He hasn't been himself as of late." Once again he leaves her to clean up a mess that he has made himself. "Perhaps we should skip dessert and retire to our rooms."

"That's not fair!" Eric said with a shout, upset with the cancellation of his favorite meal. "Why can't I have my dessert? I wasn't the one who insulted father. If anything I should have his dessert and he be sent to bed early."

"Eric that is enough." Cassandra warned. "I will have you sent to bed early."

"You can't tell me what to do! Only father can tell me what to do." He huffed, arms crossed and expression sour.

"That's it!" Cassandra exclaimed. "Sir Gerald, please escort Eric to his room so he can get some sleep for his trip." She refused to be disrespected by such a petulant child and especially one that did not belong in her home.

"No!" He screamed and got up out of his chair faster than the knights could move, running out of the dining hall with the knights hot on his trail. All Cassandra could do was put her face in her hands, sighing softly as she felt the embarrassment redden her cheeks. "Why must these dinners always turn into disasters?"

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Iyalon had been more or less smiling, his face amiable and open since the start of the dinner, but then the rather ill-advised jest had sucked all the levity from the room in one blow. The tension settles over the table, and he can feel his shoulders tightening as Lord Uldwar looks on with a grave expression, spouts words in a tone that brooks no argument.

"The world is a hostile place, sir knight, as you and I both know intimately. Weakness can mean death, and death is in many cases, a permanent condition."

Despite the current atmosphere of discomfiture, Iyalon can only find himself agreeing. Only the ruthless are allowed to survive, and to be weak is to attract destruction and elimination. He can understand that, understand where those words are coming from, if nothing else: he thinks along the same lines every day.

At the ring of the bell, Lord Uldwar excuses himself, leaves deafening silence in his wake. Iyalon keeps his gaze trained on his own plate, quietly scooping up spoonfuls of fish into his mouth as he waits for the others to speak. Not unsurprisingly, Lady Uldwar herself breaks the air, justifies her husband’s mood with the weight of the duties he bears. He is about to open his mouth to speak platitudes and acquiesce to her suggestion to end dinner early when a piercing cry rings through the room.

"That's not fair! Why can't I have my dessert? I wasn't the one who insulted father. If anything I should have his dessert and he be sent to bed early."

Guilt settles oddly in his gut, but Iyalon cannot help himself: it rather feels as if he’s intruded on something private, witnessing the subsequent dialogue between the matriarch of the house and the young Uldwar son. When Eric races out of the hall, bringing the Dogs of War with him, the Hildebrand knight carefully puts down his utensils and focuses his attention on the woman burying her face in her palms.

"Why must these dinners always turn into disasters?"

Compassion blooms unexpectedly in his chest at that. Despite the circumstances, Iyalon rather thinks Lady Uldwar bears as much burden of keeping their house in line as her husband does. It does not sit well with him to leave her thinking that they all feel ill will towards her. “If—if it is of any comfort, my Lady, I quite enjoyed myself,” he begins hesitantly, giving her a tiny smile. “Your hospitality has made me feel very welcome in your estate. It is not only in battle that the Uldwar house excels, but in cordiality as well.” It is really only due to the Lady and their knights’ efforts to extend courtesy, Iyalon muses, not without a sense of reluctance. He pauses for a moment, thinking deeply, before continuing. “I would offer my company to walk with the Lady Uldwar to wherever she needs to go before I retire. It is what I do often with my Lady Hildebrand in our own halls.” The thought of Varda places a soft grin on his face, and Iyalon bows deeply after he comes to stand to his feet. He is unsure of his own offer, unsure of her own acceptance, but the deed has been done. "If not with me, then perhaps going with another of your knights would comfort you, my Lady. It would be lonely to walk alone." If the Lady refuses his offer, then he will thank her once again before going to his chambers for the night.

Edited by vielle

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The offer felt sincere, and the whirlwind of emotions inside Cassandra were beginning to die down for a moment. Just the thought of walking back to her room alone made her ache in her chest, yet she did not wish to wait for another knight to come this way. "Yes, Sir Iyalon, I would appreciate that greatly. Your kindness is most welcome."

Rising from her chair, she offered the knight her hand, feeling a twinge of desire shock her system as his hand accepted it with the grace of a gentleman. Loneliness had crept its way slowly into the heart of the noblewoman, as the secret separation between Oscar and herself had left her bed cold at night. Weeks had passed, and Cassandra had begun to think she were nothing but an old crone, destined to live untouched for the remainder of her days. Even now it was hard to imagine such a handsome, strong man such as this courteous knight to ever wonder what may lie beneath the surface of her elegant dress. Such thoughts, she knew, had to be banished from the forefront of her mind, but that was easier said than done.

While she directed Sir Iyalon to her room, Cassandra spoke of her children, and of her relationship with Eric. "He is not my child. Oscar had him with another woman, a maiden, as I've been told, in a village somewhere in Thraece. I am told she was rather beautiful, before she died giving birth to him."

Turning a corner, they were just another corridor away from their destination. "It was the first time he had ever betrayed us, and it wouldn't be the last, as I've discovered. I cannot blame him for what he does though, being that he is a man, that he is the Patriarch, after all." How many bastard children has he sired out there, she wondered to herself, finding it ever more difficult to push away her feelings of hate for her husband, and feelings of lust towards their guest. It burned her insides, making it difficult to think, yet the words kept tumbling out from her lips, as if spoken by some other woman, full of spite and sorrowful hatred.

"Tell me, Sir Iyalon." She said, arriving just at her door, but not yet wishing to retire just yet, not until she knew for certain. "Do I look beautiful to you? Would you be willing to risk so much for a single night of passion?" Part of her didn't know what she was doing, the other painfully awareness of what was going on. "Whatever you say, you will not be punished. My husband may be a brute, but in this place, in this home, I hold true dominion. So tell me." One hand held onto his, the other slowly dragging her fingers down his chest. "Am I beautiful enough for such a thing?"

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Despite his doubts, Lady Uldwar accepts his offer, and Iyalon thinks nothing but courtesy when he takes her hand to guide her from the table and out of the dining room. He thinks nothing but politeness, nothing but the faint desire to bring a moment’s comfort to the lady of the house through his companionship, though a guest he may be.

As they walk through the keep’s halls, in between murmured directions to her chambers, she unburdens herself before him, tells him truths Iyalon does not think a foreign knight in the servitude of another noble house must be privy to. He wonders if they are even truths at all, but in the face of her apparent grief and anger, he will have to believe her words for what they are.

And then, at the doorstep to her rooms, Lady Uldwar steps closer to him, and the world comes to a standstill, hushed and tense.

"Am I beautiful enough for such a thing?"

If he were a lesser man, Iyalon thinks he would have crumbled, would have given in, would have allowed a night of indiscretion for the affections of a beautiful and powerful noble, if even for just a moment that no one need know ever.

But: Varda.

For a brief, manic second, he sees her face superimposed on Lady Uldwar’s, all softness and light and grace, and it gives him the strength to step back, to refuse this.

Burn him, bury him, break him. Anything but betraying the woman he owes his everything to.

“My Lady,” he says gently as he untangles himself from her grip, lets cold air rush up between them, “you are undoubtedly beautiful, and Lord Uldwar has not treated you the way you ought to be treated. But we both know that to do this would be wrong.” Iyalon breathes in deep, locks his gaze with that of the woman before him. “A single night of passion is not worth the pain and shame that will follow, and I cannot allow myself to do such a thing in your very home, with your husband under the same roof.” The next words are the hardest to speak out, too tightly kept against his chest that he had not said the sentiment out loud more than twice in his lifetime. But here he is, and to refuse this temptation, he must remind himself of that shining warmth behind his ribcage, unspoken but undeniably deep. “And I cannot betray the thought of the one I love most in this world. Forgive me, my lady, but I cannot. It could very well kill me.” His smile is aching made incarnate.

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So there it was, her beauty was nothing compared to that of another. She could never be the one to start wars over, she was simply an old crone now, destined for loneliness till the end.

"I see..." she said, dejected and suddenly incredibly tired now. Tired of putting up this charade, tired of holding so many secrets, so many lies and schemes, but most importantly, tired of trying to retain her beauty. It was gone for good, and she must accept that. "Make sure then that whoever holds your heart treats it kindly, sir knight. You look like a man who deserves love, and I hope you find it."

Pulling away, she turned to open her door. "Goodnight." She said softly, closing the door behind her, her breath catching in her chest. Why did the world have to be so cruel she wondered to herself in silence. As always, she resolved to stay strong, refusing to cry, no matter how hard despair tugged at her heart. Her children still needed her, what little of them were left, that is. Even if she was no longer desirable, she was still a mother, and that was by far more important than any crown or position of power.

In the morning, it was time for the visiting knight and his new charge to leave the isle of Misral, so they may go to Corinth, to House Hildebrand. Oscar was there to see them off, with Cassandra absent from the day's proceedings.

"May you have a safe journey, good knight." Oscar said, flanked by the full force of the Dogs of War. It was in these moments that relationships are cultivated, and allies are made in these uncertain times.

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Standing in the early sunrise-warm-light, Iyalon turns his eyes to the horizon, onward beyond the plains as if he could see Ravenel Manor from where he stands, across the wide open seas. As much as he’s learned plenty, the faint crackle of homesickness continues to spark up the length of his throat. He misses the sight of golden wheat stalks in the sun, the mosaic colors of his sister’s fingers, the grey shade of his lady’s eyes. He cannot wait to be home.

Looking back towards the Keep, Iyalon spares a thought, amber-tinged with worry, for the Uldwar matriarch; she is nowhere to be seen amongst the members of her house. The events of the previous night weigh heavy on his mind even now, but he does not regret his actions, not one bit, not when his hands are clean and his conscience is whole.

"May you have a safe journey, good knight."

Iyalon lifts his hand to his chest, bows low and respectfully in the presence of Lord Uldwar and all his knights before him. “I thank you for everything you have imparted to me, my Lord. I shall keep the young Lord Uldwar safe as we journey to Corinth.” He straightens up, looks to every single knight he has acquainted himself with during his visit, then to the Uldwar patriarch himself. “May peace and prosperity reign over the House of Uldwar.”

With one last quiet smile, Iyalon turns away from his noble hosts, placing a proprietary hand on the young Uldwar’s shoulder as he leads the boy to the carriage that will lead them away to the docks, then onward to Corinth. Anticipation bubbles up in his gut, and Iyalon cannot help the smile that makes itself known along the curve of his lips.

He has much to tell his Lady about.

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