“I think it’s an improvement,” his sister offered, lips tugged in a slight smile. Cassana touched a finger to the bruised flesh, pressing the pad against the swell as though to test how much pain he could withstand. “The colour goes well with your eyes.” She’d never been particularly kind, but then, younger sisters, by definition, were a plague. Cassana outdone the very definition by additionally pointing out all those little things he wished to ignore. Like the fact that half his face sported the colour of cabbage gone bad.
“If you like it so much, I could help you get a little as well,” he warned with a decided lack of heat and a subsequent wince when his sister pressed even harder against the bruise, this time with the bottom of her palm, which might have been an attempt at comfort on her part. “Not that hard.”
“Apologies. Might be we should rub some more ointment on it.” Her eyes, flickering an undecided colour in the candlelight, scrutinised the flesh. “Let me put some more on.” Without waiting for his reply, she turned for the small box, opening it. “At least the old bat is good for something,” Cassana conversed easily. “I was truly beginning to wonder if he had any preoccupation other than leering at maidens as they pass him by.”
It took a few moments for the information to sink in. But when it did, Jon arrested her wrist with one quick move. Pycelle was not shy of showing interest, but it was not maidens he angled after. “What are you saying, sister? Did he–“
Disgust curved her lips downwards. “He wouldn’t dare. My father is one of the most important men in the realm; besides, I have you and Maekar. The man would be a fool to try anything.” His shoulders lost some of their tenseness. “An even greater fool to even think of it.” As for that, one could rarely know another’s thoughts. Just as long as he did not attempt aught.
“The drunkest man in all the kingdoms to boot. But all the same, he would do admirably against Pycelle.” The man was a hundred if a day and likely to crumble from as slight an assault as a gale passing him by. Jon released Cassana’s hand and she spread the thick concoction over the injured area. “I have been thinking about your harp.”
“’Tis beyond salvaging,” she assured him, tracing the line of his lower lip. “And not worth mentioning I did not truly think he meant what he said, and did.” Jon glanced at her, but the girl kept a steady gaze trained on his disfiguring blemishes, “Sansa said I am welcome to her harp whenever I wish it, but I’ve been thinking it would be a pointless exercise in futility.”
“You do?” He put the question tentatively for one reason and one reason only; Cassana might be hurt by him too readily agreeing to the brilliance of such an act. For all he enjoyed teasing her, he’d long ago place boundaries.
“Don’t look at me like that.” His sister slapped her palm lightly against his arm. “I do not need to hear it said to know I am no true virtuoso.”
“You don’t?” Jon considered it a rare occurrence to be surprised in truth by Cassana. Not because Cassana was boring or merited little attention. But he’d known her for longer than she knew him and had collected a fair amount of information on her to the point where he had a library of idiosyncrasies. Such a level of self-awareness was unprecedented.
A small sigh slithered past her lips, coiling around his ear almost ticklish-like. “Someone has to act as though there is little difference between us and any others. And mother seemed genuinely pleased that I showed interest in music.” Mother also had a tin ear, Jon thought. “I couldn’t disappoint her even when it became frustrating, now could I?”
“You’ve always been so fond of that harp,” he murmured.
“Of course I was. But it wasn’t the harp that mattered. Not all that much. You know Uncle Ned brought it for me.” He nodded. In truth, he’d not truly understood her fondness for the thing. And still did not; entirely. “I never told you why.”
“Never say there is a tale behind your harp.” If she did not stop with the surprising revelations his heart might give way.
“Had you not been away squiring you would have know.” Her task at an end, she climbed upon the mattress, sitting by his side. “But there is a tale, if you will.” Cassana did not elaborate. And he, despite the inkling of curiosity, did not press. “Is father truly allowing Maekar on the hunt?”
“He said he would.” And the gods knew if there was a potentially dangerous situation, the man would not shy from it; if possible dragging the rest of them in as well. “Maekar is a good shot; there is no need to worry over him.”
“Never you mind his skill with a bow; it’s that horse of his I trust not at all.” She pouted, “It’s a fierce beast. Let father ride him if he would. Maekar should take a bay or a mare or even a gelding. I care not, except that ‘tis not that beast he insisted upon having.”
“I daresay he would be deeply offended at your lack of trust.” But the idea of their father risking his neck in lieu of poor Maekar was not as drab as all that. In fact, the more he considered it, the more he enjoyed the notion. “Still, you might be on the right road with this. A good scare might well do our father some good.”
“And give you some more of this lovely colour. I would not attempt that.” Her finger wagged in front of his face. “Do not even consider it, Jon. I mean it. A hunt is truly not the best place to offer lessons.”
“That is not necessarily accurate.”
“You know, this could turn out to be a disaster,” Robb pointed out, self-importantly motioning for his cloak to be taken away. The servant whose hands were full made no comment, they never did. But his cousin was very much pleased. “But so far it is a most pleasing gift.”
“Alas, not one I made to you. You should truly learn not to invite yourself along.” Jon rolled his eyes at the banter, not entirely pulled in by such talk. Those two would be at it until they received proper attention. For himself, he’d have to encourage their distraction. Sooner rather than later.
“Wouldn’t you know, my lover has returned.” Jon did not bother to turn towards the intruder. Instead he handed over his own cloak and stepped to the side as a tall red-head brushed past him in her quest for Aegon. “And you’ve brought friends.” He shared a look with Robb over her head as Aegon managed a weak reply. Aught about her not having to share with everyone. “How glum you,” she answered, apparently not at all put out by his mood. “Here, let me call a few other girls over.”
It was certainly not the first time Jon stepped foot within the premises of a brothel. And likely not the rest. “Actually, I already know who I want,” he interrupted the gracious offer, clapping a hand over Robb’s shoulder. “This one, though, will require careful handling. I leave him in your care.”
With a curt nod Aegon’s way, he departed the trio, hearing little above a whisper. “That is Lord Baratheon’s son, isn’t he?”
“How would you know?” the Prince demanded. Jon winced, hoping it was not too obvious.
“Ehe, I have ears. And eyes.” Tinkling laughter followed those words. He hurried his step in turn, hoping to be done with the matter. Dancy was about as discreet as a thunderstorm in the middle of the day. And twice as annoying. The Seven knew what the Prince saw in her. Might be ‘twas her gaiety; a girl always ready with a smile. He supposed Aegon would like something of the kind. His musing in order, Jon sidestepped one of the more mature whores whose appreciative stare had settled somewhere near the pouch filled with coins.
It was also not the first time he felt himself on the brink of falling short on some unknown scale/ A hand reached out, settling upon his cheek, forcing him to halt and his face to turn. “You look little like your sire,” the woman spoke, another one of the senior workers. She offered a smile, pearly white teeth unveiled. “I wonder if you have inherited his skill though.”
She was mayhap his own lady mother’s age. Jon looked her over, grazing his gaze over the gaping neckline of the thin gossamer wrap-like garment she wore. “Aren’t you even a little bit curious?” He was not his father. Jon told himself that much even as the smile became a shade of predatory and her hand slid lower. “I could teach you a thing or two.”
He cocked his head to the side and caught her wrist mid-dip. “Teach me what?” he asked, lifting the limb away from his person. “Do you think I need you to teach me?” It was not a difficult thing to push her away; he only had to shove against her and she’d be stumbling backwards trying to catch her balance. Jon did not do that though. Instead he released her wrist and gripped her by rounded shoulders. “What do they call you?”
“Rodya,” she answered, her own grip moving to his forearm. “What do you say?” What was it with the ones that wanted a man when he did not want them?
A minute smile curled his lips. “I will remember that.” He released her and tugged himself out of her grasp, turning on his way. The woman called after him, but Jon was already entering the comforting embrace of the shadows.
The same shadows which released a pouting Marei. “At it again, are you, Rodya? You just cannot help yourself.” Her usually focused mien contorted in apparent disgust as her hand wrapped around one of his arms, dragging it into her chest until he could feel her breasts against it.
“Are you some sort of bitch of a hunt?” the other whore taunted. “Sniffed out danger and came running. To heel then, until you are called.”
The best thing to do was to interrupt them and be about his business. For the life of him though, Jon could not. Marei staggered forth, her shoulder slamming against his in her haste. “As if,” she snorted. Her hold on him tightened. “Isn’t there some fat merchant whose bed you should be warming just about now?”
Rodya laughed. “I’ll leave those to you, my dear. A bit of extra coin might work to feed you into aught more,” she gestured at her chest level, “more. I daresay there’s barely enough there to satisfy a blind man, let alone one in possession of sight.”
“At least I can endure the candlelight without my garments on,” Marei snapped. Jon swallowed his chuckle of amusement. It was to be hoped it would not reach the stage of bloodshed. If it did, he imagined he’d have quite the fee to pay.
“Now, now, Marei; I believe you and I have an arrangement; we should see to it.” He turned his gaze to the other woman, whose pursed lips might well mean he would be barred from that bed. More the pity. But he had little enough concern for such a loss. Marei hesitated, glowering still. Unwilling to wait, Jon set his hand on the small of her back and pressed hard. She jumped.
The shadows engulfed them both. He allowed her to rest her hand on his arm still even as they encountered other tenants of the brothel, no doubt about their business as well. “I did not think you would visit again so soon.”
“I was not going to,” he admitted wounding an arm around her waist, steering her around a petite brunette who winked at her. “A friend of yours?”
“Not at all.” They finally reached the chamber meant for use. He suspected it was one of those chambers which housed no more than a few men and certainly not more than one per night unless that was the party required. He opened the door and walked within, Marei following. “Have you managed to read more?”
“I have actually. Chataya was not too hard on me for it this time. I imagine I have you to thank for that.” She took her hand in his own, linking their fingers together. Jon wondered how much was innocent make-belief and how much a desire to please in hopes of benefits. Then he pushed that away. “Would you allow it?”
“Tell me what you enjoyed about it.” He moved away and sat down upon the edge of the bed, eyeing the sconces burning on the wall as he patted the spot at his side to him blindly. He felt the mattress, filled with feather, dip under the added weight.
“The ending. I liked that best.” Her fingers began working on the laces holding his the barriers up between them. “I enjoyed the riddles as well.” It was not a very likely thing to find a whore who could read and write. Most of them prefer arts more directly associated with their craft. “I did have some trouble with the last one.” The tugging continued.
“I trust you found your way out of that tangle.” Jon finally glanced at her. She nodded, lips parting. But only her warm, moist breath flowed without. He wondered, had they been born in positions completely unlike the ones the fates had landed them in, would he have found more of a stirring deriving from her charm.
As rumour had it, and if one could give such words credence, what Marei had was a likeness to the most beautiful woman in the kingdoms. Golden hair and green eyes, a fair enough likeness to that woman that Jon had to wonder; how had she not convinced any man to find her a more comfortable position. “It was what you wished me to do. I did as expected.”
“Aye, as expected. That does seem to be the theme of our existence.” He blinked down at her, rolling his shoulders to escape the slide and slip of cloth. “And did you enjoy yourself doing as expected of you?”
“It would be a lie to state otherwise. I did not mean I felt in any way obligated to.” Having made up his mind, Jon slid his hands over her sides, stroking gently up and down. “I would be very pleased if you did allow me to show my appreciation.”
“If you insist. But I still maintain you needn’t.” It was her turn to chuckle.
“You are much too tense.” Marei climbed in his lap.
It was rather like going through the motions. Jon carefully orchestrated the reminder of their encounter. He was not his father. He was not Robert either. Thankfully, Marei could be trusted enough to not lose her head. No matter her words, she cared more for her position than she did much else.
Once done they untangled themselves, the single point of contact her leg brushing against his as she moved about the mattress. “I have heard that King’s Landing is to see some changes very soon,” she said after a few moments, breathing heavily still. “Might be enough of them even you shall be satisfied.”
“I will only be satisfied when I have left this place behind,” he murmured, rising to a sitting position. He brought one of his knees up, resting his arm atop of it. “And what secrets have you discovered?” he questioned nonetheless. Mayhap it could be used.
“It seems His Majesty is planning on making some changes to the laws of the land,” Marei offered, bringing an arm beneath her head as she turned to face him. “Old Jon Arryn would neither confirm nor deny, which more than likely means ‘tis a sure thing.”
“Old Jon Arryn is ‘my lord’ to you, as far as I know,” he warned. “You might not take it to heart, but some would. I should hate to have any ill befall you.”
“And I should hate for it as well. Apologies, ‘tis the manner in which the news was delivered to me and I relied it without thought. But why do you wish to involve yourself now? I thought you planned to convince Lord Baratheon to return to Storm’s End soon.”
“I gave the matter further thought. Unfortunately leaving now is not an option.” He dragged his fingers through his hair, a light grimace touching upon his lips when the felt the slight wetness clinging to the roots. “I might as well go on my own in the end.” Mother would not wish to leave and great oaf staggering on his feet would likely not either unless all the wine suddenly drained from King’s Landing. Still, he needed to make for Storm’s End if he hoped for victory in the matter.
“These thoughts which consume you conspire to keep us apart even now,” Marei sighed. “Very well, but at least answer me this; when shall you return?”
“Gods be willing, before my lord father manages to drive my poor mother insane and Maekar to kinslaying. Although, I suppose I should not discount Cassana either. Her harp is in shard if you can believe it.”
“Had I a more suspicious mind, I would doubt those words. You bear bruises enough to make one think. And I do not imagine your sister would be gracious enough not to aim for the face.” He laughed. “But then you would not be my Jon had you done so.”
The mirth died upon his lips. The truth was he was no one’s Jon. “You damn me with faint praise.”