The road to Redgate from Lonetree couldn’t properly be called a road. Although the castle folk referred to it as the Lonetree Road and those in Lonetree simply called it the Road, it was little more than a rutted track. It needed little to differentiate it from other paths between the Oakdown keep and the small hamlet as there were no others. No paving stones or guideposts to mark the way, only ground worn smooth by centuries of wagon wheels, hooves, and feet. Desmond guided his sand steed, Tempest, up the mountain path as countless travelers through the Prince’s Pass had done throughout the history of Westeros.
Desmond had taken his leave of Lysa and the Cup early in the afternoon. His head still ached and he was certain now more than he had been upon first waking that the pain came from the ale mug that had been smashed against his skull rather than the ale itself. He never should have turned his back on the second guardsman last night and considered himself lucky that the treacherous dog had just had the tankard and not a cudgel. Or worse yet, a blade.
After the first hawk had insulted and struck the serving wench Desmond had the excuse he needed. The oaf had felt the need to argue after Desmond had removed the armsman’s hand rather forcibly from the girl. A quick heel of the hand to the hawk’s throat had lessened his argument considerably, but, unfortunately, his companion had wanted to continue the conversation, which is when the thick pottery had crashed into the back of Desmond’s head. At least, that’s what Desmond assumed happened when the common room of the inn had suddenly resembled staring into the noonday sun over the desert and he had found himself on the floor inhaling the scents of stale beer and dirty sawdust.
Blood had trickled down his neck and joined its scent to the pungent mélange. After his vision resolved to something close to normal, Des had pulled his dagger as he rose to the shout of “Bastard!” from the second hawk. Instead of spinning to take the man in the throat as he had originally intended, Desmond spun on his knees and buried the blade in the Fowler’s groin.
“And now you’ll be making none, you treacherous scum.”
With both men writhing on the floor in agony, the first silently gasping for air, the second perhaps dying judging from the amount of blood pouring from the stab wound, Desmond had stood slowly and reached down to lift the man that had assaulted the young woman from the floor by his stained tunic. He wasn’t sure if he had intended to grab the azure hawk badge in his fist but found in his memory that the hooded bird was perhaps prophetic given what happened next. A blinded hawk, indeed.
“Now, be a good fellow and apologize to this young lady,” Desmond had said indicating the serving girl who was still sobbing in a heap next to the table, her cheek already showing faint hints of a bruise where the lout had struck it.
“Go fuck yerself," the guardsman managed to gasp out. “I ain’t apologizing to no one-eyed, common cunt. And nothin’ you can do is gonna change that."
“Is that your final word on the matter, then?”
“You can bet your arse it is, bastard.”
Desmond could still feel the pop the man’s left eyeball had made beneath his thumb and hear the cries of both hawks as Nethen, the Cup’s doorman, had thrown them both out into the street.
Desmond entered the gate of the keep to the knelling of the mourning bells in the tower above. Off toward the ridge he could hear the wails of the common folk. That was what separated the castle-raised from the commoners, the ability to control one’s emotions. Not for the first time Desmond felt anger toward the commoners. Granted, he was a step below noble-born – two steps or more according to some – but at least he had control of his emotions.
As Tempest crossed the yard Desmond was little surprised to find it deserted. The family and majority of the household would be up on Sorrow Ridge while the remainder of the servants would be preparing for the feast. All the better, he’d have the run of the keep until the memorial was finished and it would allow him to take a bath in peace. No thinly veiled contempt from Andros, no need to feign interest in whatever tales Quinn brought from Kingsgrave, no trying to figure out the moods of Daera, Charlotte, or Elyana, no lectures from Maester Llewellyn, and no enduring another lecture – no matter how well-meaning – from Grandmother. At least for a few more blessed hours.
By the Seven, a bath to wash off the desert dust, Fowler blood, and Lysa and perhaps a skin of wine from the kitchens and then, maybe, he’d have the strength to deal with his family.