Marriage and Contracts
Ser Gerbold turned as he heard the doors to Lord Pierce’s study slam open. He and his Lord exchanged glances as the rotund Lord Marlsby thundered into the room, his jowls shaking with indignation. Aaron followed behind him. While only fourteen, he carried himself with determination, even if his eyes betrayed doubt and anxiety.
“Your son is being completely obstinate!” snarled the Lord. “I demand you order him to marry my daughter as we agreed!”
Lord Pierce looked up from his desk blandly. “Calm yourself my Lord. You will do yourself an injury.”
“How can I be calm?” Marlsby replied in a cross between a bellow and a shriek. “Do you know the insults your son has hurled at me?”
Gareth pursed his lips for a moment and then gracefully rose, walking to the nearby sideboard as Ser Gerbold took his usual place beside the window. “As I recall,” replied Gareth as he poured two drinks, “the only thing I agreed to is allowing the marriage if Aaron was amenable.” Walking back he handed one of the glasses to the raging man. “Have a seat my Lord, calm yourself, and we shall discuss it.”
Snatching the cup, he downed the wine in a swallow, slammed the cup down on Lord Pierce’s mahogany desk and dropped his heavy bulk into a nearby chair. “House Marlsby will not accept such insults to my daughter’s reputation.” the man growled.
Gareth paused for a moment and turned to his son. “What did you say?”
Aaron took a deep breath but kept his composure. “I said there were three reasons I would not marry his daughter. The first being I do not love her. The second being she is in love with another.”
“And the third?” asked Gareth after his son’s hesitation.
The boy bit his bottom lip for a moment. “I said his lordship, aside from being fat and obnoxious was a liar, a thief and a cheat. I would never marry Lindra because I would never want him as a father-in-law.”
“You see!” shouted Marlsby. “You see! Are you going to allow your son to insult me like that?”
Lord Gareth paused for a moment and then turned to the red-faced man. “Yes.”
“What?” The Lord tried to leap to his feet, but given his girth and the time it took, it lessened the effect considerably.
“Well, with respect Lord Marlsby, everything my son said is true. I can hardly punish him because you take offense to the truth.” Gareth smiled slightly, which only seemed to infuriate the other man.
“So you’re not going to order him to marry my daughter?”
Gareth chuckled. “Of course not. Aaron is my heir and will be the next Lord of Falconcliff. What kind of Lord will he make if he can be bullied into such an important decision?”
Lord Marlsby was literally foaming at the mouth. “You dare to… House Marlsby will not be insulted this way… I will…”
“Are you feeling quite well my Lord?” Gareth remarked with mild interest.
“No. I seem to be… something…”
“I did warn you, my Lord. Such anger to a man like you can be very unhealthy.” Gareth’s face was a mask of concern. “Let me guess. Fast heartbeat, hot flashes, blurred vision, shortness of breath? You must be having some sort of fit.” Gareth returned to his desk and picked up Marlsby’s cup. “Either that or you’re reacting badly to the poison I put in your wine.” he continued with a soft smile.
“Poison… you poisoned me…” Marlsby’s face shone with sweat and terror. He tried to run from the room but only made three steps before crashing to the floor.
As Aaron rushed to the man, Gareth returned the two cups to the sideboard and casually sat again at his desk, taking a moment to examine its surface to see if the goblet had left a mark. “Well then. Where were we before we were interrupted Ser Gerbold?”
The Knight would have answered but Aaron interrupted him. “You poisoned him?”
Gareth looked up at his son with momentary confusion. “What? Oh. Yes.”
Aaron rose from the body and strode to his Father’s desk. “You can’t just poison people!”
The boy was stunned by the question. “You just….can’t!”
Gareth leaned back in his seat. “Interesting. Well, since Lord Marlsby is currently drooling all over my carpet, the evidence suggests I can and have.”
It was Aaron’s turn to shake… with frustration. “Fine. You shouldn’t poison people.”
“Much better.” his Father replied. “Why?”
Aaron took several deep breaths. “Aside from casually poisoning someone being completely immoral? There will be terrible consequences. He’s a Lord for Gods’ sake!”
“Well.” said Gareth thoughtfully. “He’s a very minor Lord; almost insignificant in the scheme of things. The consequences should be equally insignificant. And as far as it being immoral, can you think of anyone you know who deserves poisoning more than Lord Marlsby?”
Aaron’s reply was more of a sputtering noise than anything coherent. He began to pace back and forth while his Father and Ser Gerbold watched. He continued for some minutes until lurching to a halt. “Gods. What am I going to tell Lindra!”
“Why tell her anything at all?” his Father replied casually.
“Well, she is going to figure out something is wrong when she finds out her Father is dead!” Aaron snarled.
As if on cue, a loud groan came from behind him. Aaron whirled around to see Lord Marlsby shuddering. Racing to the man, he could see that the Lord was now breathing heavily again and trying groggily to open his eyes.
“He alive!” Aaron looked confused at his Father who only smiled. “You said you poisoned him.”
“I did poison him.” Gareth’s smile grew into a smirk. “Ser Gerbold. Can you see if you and my son can return his Lordship to his seat without the necessity of a pair of oxen?”
Despite Aaron’s help and the Knight’s strength, it still took several minutes to leverage the Lord back into his chair. As they did so, Gareth rose and placed another chair in front of the man. Sitting in it, he waited for the unusually convoluted procedure to be completed.
“Lord Marlsby. So nice to have you back with us again.”
“You poi-son-ed me… shall have… King shall hear…”
Gareth made a soft tisking noise. “Lord Marlsby, for a man who thought he was about to die, you seem remarkably ungrateful to be alive. Since you are still unwell, why don’t you sit there and listen for a change.” The Lord glared daggers at Gareth but fell silent. “Much better.” Gareth continued. “Now, you should have known that barging into my private study and screaming in my face would have consequences, but let’s leave that aside for the moment get into the real reasons you want Lindra to marry Aaron; none of which being the ones you told me.
Your first problem is the recently discovered vein of gold on your land. Unfortunately, you don’t have the money, the manpower or the expertise to mine it. I do, and it was your hope that you could prevail upon me to help you once Aaron was married. I will help you, marriage or not. I will arrange to have the vein mined and you will receive twenty percent of the profits.”
“Only twenty percent! That’s outrageous!” Marlsby blurted.
“Really? I think twenty percent for doing nothing is quite generous. It will be my men, my expertise and my risk. You’re welcome to try and find a better offer, but since no-one with the necessary resources will deal with you, you may be looking for quite some time.” The Lord glowered at Gareth but said nothing as the man continued. “Your next problem is your debts, which I must say are remarkably sizable for such a minor House. I can help there as well. As you are aware, I have influence with those you owe. I would be willing to buy your debts. In exchange, half of your profits from the mine will go to paying off that debt until it’s retired. I doubt you will receive the same offer from those you owe, as the potential marriage with my son is the only thing restraining them from dropping you down a very deep well. The only other condition being that you will not incur any more debts until what you owe me is paid. Finally, you seem to be having a number of issues with Hillsman raiders.”
“I tried to negotiate with them!” Marlsby broke in. “They are complete barbarians!”
“Yes. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t negotiate with a fat, soft, balding milksop like you.” Lord Pierce replied dryly. “Luckily, both my son and I have dealings with several of the groups regularly.” He turned to Aaron. “Any ideas?”
Aaron thought for a moment. “Darkenveldt has had a large game boom in the last few years, and it’s attracting predators; wolves and such. We could relax some of the hunting rules. If they can get game more readily here they would probably leave Marlsby’s lands alone, especially if we make it a requirement.”
“Marvelous idea Aaron; and what would you require of Marlsby for this valuable service?”
Aaron thought for another moment. “I would ask that Lindra be allowed to marry the one she loves.”
The young heir did not see the look on Gareth’s face as he turned away, but Ser Gerbold did. Lord Pierce had gotten the exact answer he’d expected.
“You can’t be serious.” sputtered Marlsby.
“Why not? You were prepared to sell your daughter to get what you want. I don’t see how this is any different. Besides, she is in love with Ser Ainsley, who will make a much better steward of House Marlsby than you ever have. He’s three times the man you are.” Gareth hesitated for a moment. “Well, actually, you’re three times the man he is, but you get my point.”
“You can’t honestly think I’ll agree to any of this.”
Lord Pierce shrugged as he rose. “Frankly, I don’t care one way or another. The choice is yours. My offer will allow you live out the remainder of your life in comfort with your food, drink and whores; but if you think you can solve your current problems on your own, by all means refuse” Returning to the seat at his desk, Gareth began examining the papers there.
A deep silence fell over the room as Lord Marlsby thought over everything that happened. “Fine, I agree.” he finally snarled.
Gareth put down the paper he was reading. “Are you sure my Lord? You have been under a great deal of stress. Once the agreement is made it will be binding. I always fulfill my agreements and I hold others to theirs.”
“I said I agree, didn’t I! What more do you want?”
“Only what I have asked for, Lord Marlsby. Very well. I will have the papers drawn up.” Gareth replied. “Ser Gerbold, would you mind assisting Lord Marlsby to his rooms? He may need to lie down for a few hours until his nausea passes.” As the Knight helped the Lord up, Gareth turned his attention to Aaron. “Would you tell Maester Jonys to come see me when he has a chance?”
Instead of leaving, Aaron closed the door behind Ser Gerbold and picked up the chair his Father had vacated, placing it in front of the desk. “You knew I would refuse Lindra.”
“Of course.” replied Gareth, not looking up from his papers.
“So you must have planned this all along. You wouldn’t have allowed Marlsby and Lindra to come here otherwise. You lied to me.”
That caught Gareth’s attention. “I never lie to you Aaron. That is our bargain and I always keep my bargains. If you fell in love with Lindra and wished to marry her, I would have blessed the union.”
Aaron sat silently for a moment. “You would never gamble on such an unknown. His gold vein is a continuation of the north rim, isn’t it?”
His Father nodded.
“It’s also you he owes his debts to, isn’t it? You’ve been feeding him money through others until he’d be forced to come to you.”
“He didn’t have to waste it. That was his choice.”
“But you knew he would.”
“Yes. I knew he would.” Gareth paused for a moment. “People are who they are Aaron. You must always remember that. In that way you and I are just like him.”
“We are not like him.”
“Yes, we are. We both act within our nature. Once you know someone’s nature, you know how to deal with them.”
“You knew exactly what I was going to do, just like him. Didn’t you?” Aaron said a little sadly.
Gareth smiled. “Did I know that you would speak the truth and try to do the honorable thing? Of course. Right now, that is your weakness, but someday, if you temper your nature, it will be your sword and shield. We may not see eye to eye all that often, but someday you will be a great Lord of this House, even if you won’t be the one I might have asked for.”
Aaron thought for a very long time as his Father watched him. “What about Ser Ainsley? Was that you too?”
“I had a hand in it. The young Knight is a smart and capable young man. He will make a good Lord of the House, far better than the current Lord ever has, and I expect they will be happy together.”
“That seems uncharacteristically generous of you Father.”
Gareth shrugged. “As long as I get what I want, I don’t see why others shouldn’t get what they want as well; especially if it will benefit me in the long run.”
Aaron sighed and rose. He supposed that everything had worked out for the best, all things considered. With a final bow, he went off to search for Maester Jonys, leaving his Father to his papers and plots.
The Lord Pierce watched his son go, deep in thought. He was really very proud of his son. They boy had asked almost all of the right questions… almost. Luckily, he hadn’t asked why Ser Ainsley had been chosen. Gareth would have had to tell him that the Knight was Marlsby’s bastard by one of his whores from years ago; although neither of them knew it. It appealed to Gareth’s sense of ironic justice that a competent young scion would be running House Marlsby, even if he had to marry his half-sister to do it. It also gave Gareth a strong card to play should he ever need it.
The only thing left to do was plan for Lord Marlsby’s removal in a few years. It would take that long for his House to realize enough gold that the fat man would think he no longer needed Gareth. The betrayal would come, though. It was inevitable. It would be crude and transparent, but it would only be a matter of time. People didn’t change their nature. Certainly not people like Lord Marlsby.