(121-06-10) On Pruning
On Pruning
Summary: The invalid Lady Cora Baratheon interviews a potential new maester.
Date: 10/06/121
Related: None

Walled Garden - Lion Door Manse

The Lion Door Manse has a large walled garden behind. The tall stone walls have a heavy double oak-and-iron gate leading into the alley behind. It's quite solid, though there is a little door in it that one might open to look out. Near that gate is the stables. There's a separate small building for the kennels. Nearby is a space for training at arms, with a simple pell. The area separated from the rest of the garden by a row of white benches.

The garden proper has white stone paths and is planted with flowerbeds and flowering trees. Blooms of every colour riot. Near the house is a tall, grand, fragrantly blooming honey locust tree.

At the center of the garden is a fountain, made of white stone. A statue of the Lannister Lion stands in its center, rampant and roaring, with the water spilling from its jaws.

Beneath the resplendent honey locust tree in the garden of the Lion Door Manse stands a small dais; and, upon that dais, a sort of throne carved from fragrant old wood, heavy and high-backed, easily dwarfing the figure of the small elderly lady sitting in it. Her burgundy silk skirts get their own back, however, by trailing for some considerable distance over the dais, as though she hadn't any feet at all, nor need to walk upon them. A veil of golden lace occludes her white hair; above, inlaid in the chair back, a rampant golden lion, in case anyone were inclined to forget the lineage of the woman who calls herself Cora Baratheon.

She's leaning one elbow upon an arm of her lion throne; one claw-like white hand has, in consequence, emerged from her sleeve, and with a single finger she is pointing. "It isn't symmetrical," she calls out, to the smallfolk gardener with the pair of shears as venerable as she herself, who is under her supervision attending to a nearby topiary. "More off the left, boy. No, higher. Higher!"

Upon a stool to her left sits a rivetingly rounded brunette maidservant, hunching over her sewing. When she lifts her head again it's obvious that a) she is excessively pretty, with big dark eyes, and b) she has just stifled a giggle.

The visitor has been shown into the manse and thence the garden by a tall and brawny blond fellow who introduced himself as Elfrid Hill, Lady Baratheon's steward; now Elfrid emits a discreet cough to attract his lady's attention, presents this unprepossessing grey-clad limping man to her in the most formal and correct terms, and steps smartly to the right, mirroring on his feet and with his hands clasped behind his back the orientation of the sitting, stitching maid.

Cora Baratheon's eyes flick instantly to the newcomer; "Maester Jacsen," she pronounces, in a perfectly pleasant, perfectly level alto voice. "Lately, I understand, in service to House Tyrell?"

And here is where he stops, his gaze settling on Cora Baratheon now. His eyes narrow a bit. And then he places the cane forwards just once as he dips a little in a slight bow of his head, a gesture of service that is accompanied by the jingle of multicolored metal links strewn about his neck. Yes yes, it's obvious he's a Maester.

"Lady Cora Baratheon. I have to say, you certainly live up to the stories I've heard." He begins, in precise tones, with a polite enough look upon his countenance, although his eyes are just a little too wary to give off boundless energetic warmth. "And lately is a fine way to put it." His lips curl to one side at the mention of House Tyrell. Of course, he's too polite to voice more than that on the subject. "And before that, to House Waynwood in the Vale of Arryn." There's a little less implied when that name is mentioned.

My, isn't there a lot of aged chilliness going on here, although it's clear that the Maester is still a bit on the younger and probably more obsequious of the pair. Not that that's saying much, he looks like he has seen a few things in his time, himself. "For one, My Lady." He begins, as his teeth flash in a smile, "It is one thing to hear stories of lions. I have never seen a live one. Bears? Yes. But never a lion. And there is a certain way you appear — at ease in that seat." It might be a compliment, or an observation, but the man's clipped manner of speaking skews the obvious tone of it away from simple flattery.

Maester Jacsen now leans both hands upon the cane in a somewhat relaxed pose as he glances about the garden and lets out a 'hrmph.' "If I may, I know a thing or two about gardens in disrepair." Which, should she keep her ears open, might come across as a subtle reference to the scandal-ridden Garden Isle here, home of House Tyrell. "A few out-of-place leaves aren't weeds."

The lioness in the flesh sips her wine; and smiles faintly across the rim of the jewel-encrusted vessel in which it was served to her by a bright-eyed, yellow-haired page boy who is now behind the dais, scratching one foot against the opposite ankle as though he has a terrible itch. "There are weeds aplenty within these environs," she observes, "why, they must be all over the Reach," she lifts her eyebrows and draws her delicately-painted lips together in an exaggerated moue, "if what I've seen in three days is anything to go by; and I shall get to them all in due course, should my stay in Oldtown prove to be of a sufficient duration. But one hedge, one path, one bed at a time — one must have method, wouldn't you agree, Maester Jacsen? And, of course, as you may have heard," a corner of her smile quirks, "I am not a well woman. I might keel over at any moment, I hear."

"All a weed is is a flower that grows somewhere unwanted." Jacsen quips, rather quickly, a vulpine grin accompanying the words as he creakily and jingly adjusts his pose a little more, maybe making a semi-subtle effort to straighten a bit. With the cane. Always with the cane. For now though, his eyes slowly dart about the garden again before landing squarely on the throne. "I suppose you could say that, though, Lady." He pauses a beat, before offering helpfully. "The other option is always to take a more drastic route and just set the whole thing ablaze, hoping the ashes are enough to start over." He shrugs, in a simple motion. "I'm not the sort that would wish to be trapped in a burning garden, though."

Careful consideration is given before he answers her last words, now. "That is unfortunate, M'lady. But there are treatments for almost anything short of death. And from one who has had his share of ailments to another, if you have your mind, you have everything." This last is all-too-cheery. "I am sure three days was enough to give you a brief understanding of how things are." He pauses here, carefully. "Apparently a Targaryen Prince is to meet a Dornishman in a duel tomorrow because Oldtown demands its entertainment paid in blood." Gossip gossip.

This intelligence, Lady Baratheon receives without any notable shift in her expression. Yet it has diverted her, patently, for she declares in a quiet voice of command (has she any others?), "A stool for Maester Jacsen." And such is brought forth from behind the dais by the tow-headed page, who has either conquered his itch or is bravely bearing with it for long enough to obey.

Whilst Jacsen is lowering himself to it the lady lioness's eyes lift, to where her much-harried gardener has moved on to the next topiary in the line. "Too sharp an angle," she calls, "you'll have cut too much off by the time you get to the end. Slowly! Come and stand beside me a moment and look at what you're doing. Never, ever cut in the sunlight," she adds, as the gardener lowers his shears and steps hesitantly into her vicinity, "always in shadow." Something in her tone suggests it's an injunction oft repeated during the course of the afternoon.

"There, you see? Too sharp," she states definitively; and she, good heavens, would know. The gardener is dispatched to see about wielding his shears with greater discretion; her attention returns to the maester, if, indeed, it ever left him. "I don't believe in reaching for the tinderbox," she murmurs, "save as a last resort, when there's nothing at all to be made from what is. Had you many ailing old ladies to look after at Highgarden, at Ironoaks, Maester Jacsen?"

In the grand scheme of things, Jacsen has to be obsequious as a mark of his station in life. But not so much as to refuse an offer of a seat. There's a little nod to the page which almost manifests as a non-contact pat on the head, ambling on to the seat. "Gracious, Lady Baratheon." He offers some flowery thanks here, no doubt a relic of having to deal with Highgarden's brood of late. As this is done, he just watches the Lady in the Lion Throne wordlessly as she directs the groundskeepers with an idle glance, his cane tapping against the ground once or twice as it remains in his hands.

"Oh, I was fortunate to not be in Highgarden, M'lady," he begins. And pauses a beat. "And I would not be exaggerating when I would say that there weren't many ladies there. Just the twins, who are of a good sort and very young." He softens a little as they are mentioned, or at least his words are not as dripping with such obvious contempt. Waynwood though does get a more measured consideration. "Lady Enthia. Although I feel that her ailments were as much of the spirit as they were of the body. And yet, she still carries on."

The Lion Throne, discovered in a store-room and commandeered for Lady Baratheon's use (oh, did you think three days wasn't long enough for her and her minions to go over the manse from cellars to attics?) is well-padded with silk cushions, united by the gold thread of their embroidery though their hues are various, and between said cushions and the trailing nature of the lady's skirts and sleeves it's no wonder Maester Jacsen wasn't, till this very moment, aware of the folded parchment she draws out from somewhere or another. She could have a whole library in there incognito. "I have a letter here, from Lady Enthia," she remarks, flicking the missive this way and that between her emaciated, heavily-beringed white fingers, that he might study the broken wheel seal embedded in green wax and broken, it must be assumed, by just those fingers. "What did you suppose she had to say to me of her acquaintances in Oldtown, when I mentioned to her that I was entertaining a sojourn in this city?" Of course her amiable expression, her chill blue eyes, give her beleaguered interlocutor no hint of what she has read, or thought.

If it were a hidden snake, he certainly wouldn't have seen the letter, that's for damn sure. Jacsen's eyebrows raise just ever-so-slightly as he gives Cora a slow nod. "Well, Lady Baratheon. I would have hoped that Lady Enthia remembered me fondly after the incident with her grandson." Of which, he does not elaborate, but her grandson is definitely not a spoiled young lordling that almost got a visiting young Royce's handmaid with child. But really, who knows how forthcoming Lady Enthia is? She is of temperamental humour, of course.

"Had she the foresight to understand that maybe my tenure with Lord Garvin Tyrell was to last for but a few months." He lets out a slight cough which is obviously designed to hide something of a smirk. But really, sticking forks in the cooked turkey that is House Tyrell seems too easy, here. "House Waynwood is nothing if not insistent upon proper behavior, and how to act within its boundaries. Maybe moreso than the Houses of the Reach, I have rediscovered."

Is this the right answer? Perhaps. The Lady Baratheon tucks her letter from the Vale down amongst her cushions again, and lets that subject rest. She is a great one for mulling over this and that, and bringing it up again just when you'd hoped she'd forgotten. "A few months…" she echoes. "Three and a half, in point of fact. Long enough, I conjecture, for a man of your intelligence, who grew up within the walls of this city, to rediscover all manner of things." She takes one last sip from her goblet of wine and deposits it in the air to her right — where suddenly her handsome young steward's hand is there to receive it. And then she changes tack. "You're the fifth maester I've interviewed today. Why ought I to ask my old friend Archmaester Gyldayn to grant me the boon of your service?"

"I wouldn't know, Lady Baratheon, if 'rediscovering' is exactly the correct term." Jacsen notes, still idly thumbing the cane as it is firmly planted against the ground. It's a gentle clarification, but what happens next is something she would well discover. A sigh of irritation. "It is as though every time I have returned to this city, it has felt a little diminished." His lips part and teeth flash a little bit. "And yet, in the most predictable of ways. I would not suggest you are interviewing seers, but those that understand the nature of men and the things they do." He pauses a drawn-out beat.

"A physician's care is merely an added boon." He's not quite done, though.

"I would ask if the other four candidates understood the Reach? I mean truly understood it?"

The veil of golden lace shifts as Cora Baratheon tilts her head; pearls glow discreetly in her hair. "I believe they all believe they do," she murmurs in a grave tone. The curve of her lips deepens (really, if they're still so full now, she must have been something to see forty years ago) into an expression which, upon any other feminine face, would suggest the sharing of a jest with a new comrade-in-arms. But the warmth of it doesn't quite touch her eyes.

"You, Maester Jacsen, are growing old," she pronounces. "It is one of the symptoms of age, to look about one and see only an absent, glorious past. Shall I tell you something I understand about the Reach, after just three days? Something I might have told you before ever I arrived here? … It was never," she pronounces clearly, "what it was. It was never larger, better, more beautiful than this. The people were never wiser nor more chivalrous; their amusements were never better nor more elegant; their city was never handsomer nor more welcoming. The Golden Age of the parents, is ever but dross to their children. And their grandchildren — goodness, why should they think anything of it?" She lifts a shoulder in half a shrug, offering all of this in calm good humour rather than bitterness.

"It's easy to believe that after you have been here a while. The Kingdoms are a massive place." Jacsen notes airily, mulling over something Cora is well aware of, certainly. She's been educated in geography at one point in her life. He lifts up his cane and idly presses it back down against the ground, it's definitely something of a prop while he is sitting. All the while there is a crafty, foxlike smile on the silver fox's face.

And he just gestures with an arch of his head, listening as the Lady speaks of what it is she understands. "I believe I understand what you are saying, here." He finally begins an answer. "Because the grandparents told these things to their children, Lady Baratheon? In hopes that maybe their children would be less — ah, disappointing in life than how they disappointed themselves? And in turn, they told their children, and the expectations get ever bigger with each army of babes that enters this world." He raises the cane for emphasis indicating, well, 'bigger expectations.' If there was a joke that could be made here about this gesture, he certainly was not aware of it. "In the Vale, sometimes you would see great balls of snow sliding down a mountain." And suddenly his smile turns angular and toothy, it's a little bit of a ghastly thing to some. "And what do you think happens to those poor fools at the bottom of the mountain? Or who those poor fools are?"

"I imagine those fools find life a little bleak, a little chilly — for a little while," Lady Baratheon concedes tranquilly. "Though my point had more to do with memory and its failings. To see clearly at the time is rare enough; to remember clearly still more so. We all rewrite the tales of our lives to suit ourselves, as ably as any maester penning an historical tome amongst the mouse droppings and candle ends in a dank and draughty library. The longer we labour over them, the less accurate they become." She lifts that same thin shoulder in another gesture toward a shrug. "Recent history, of course, that is another matter. How well do you know the Reach, Maester Jacsen? Oldtown itself? The thorns amid the roses, the dueling dragons and—" She presses her lips together to suggest frigid amusement. "—Sandroaches, the high, the low…?"

"All I would find, Lady Baratheon? Is that I wouldn't want to be one of those poor fools. Nor anyone I was in service to." Jacsen says with a surprising matter-of-factness. "But I understand. Your point — merely reminded myself of an observation I had made." Knitting his fingers around the cane now, the silver-haired Maester lets out a little grunt as he straightens upon the stool. "Memory is a foggy thing. Which is why we have writings of knights in a time this land was covered with painted savages beating each other with bronze axes over ill-fed sheep."

And then the question comes. "Recent history? This duel is something new. The Targaryens here have generally been more at odds with the Tyrells than the sandroaches. I believe this Lord Blackmont is drawing swords over some issue between Prince Daevon and Lord Blackmont's wife. Although I don't imagine it's the usual sort of matter. Supposedly the most recent blood feud and the recent Trial of the Seven erupted over Reach Lords and Sandroaches killing one another in endless border raids. The things you would expect." He puffs out a breath. "And an exiled Targaryen Prince who apparently cut a Tyrell or two in half over some thing or other championed the Dornish. Presumably because there were Tyrells on the other side. Now? The King has decided to have Prince Daevon wed a princess from House Martell. So you can see the inherent hilarity of a Dornishman challenging him to a duel, and what that means, of course." Tap tap tap, the cane goes up and down. "But I am probably telling you all of this, and these are all things that you already know. And they are all happening right. Here." Well, she asked.

Both shoulders lift this time. "Of course I knew. And of course," her chin lowers, but in the same motion her gaze lifts, so that her eyes remain cool and steady upon Jacsen's face, "I knew you knew… but I wondered how you would tell the tale." And how he would fiddle with his stick whilst he did so; that's obviously a potent clue to the man's moods and opinions. "My previous maester — the one I've just sent packing, after a truly arduous journey from King's Landing in his company; the man was seasick — had it in mind that I go somewhere warm and quiet and have a nice rest. Shall I have a nice rest in Oldtown, do you suppose?"

"As long as you are diligent with pruning the weeds, Lady Baratheon." Maester Jacsen responds with a certain pause in his voice. The cane is now still as he gives her a sharp nod. "And I suppose the weeds never stop coming back up, do they? Because they are weeds." He took in the story of Cora's previous Maester with a certain lack of enthusiasm. "And all the weeds I just told you of are not even half a year old. So — there's no rest in that garden." The shrarp smile that follows indicates one thing. Boy, doesn't he know it? "And — seasick from King's Landing? That wouldn't bode well. Not at all."

The pretty dark maid sits stitching; the handsome blond steward does his best to blend into as-yet-untrimmed bushes; the only sounds in the garden are buzzing bees, and snipping shears. At last Lady Baratheon shifts in her chair, recrossing her ankles in a different configuration somewhere beneath her silken train, and speaks. "Why is it you think you would like to join my household, Maester Jacsen? One reason, please, one alone. The most vital."

"One reason? Lady Baratheon? One?" Jacsen finally offers a solid, carefully considered 'humm' sound here as he is asked that very pointed question. The hand goes off the cane now as it is set flat across his lap, the chains around his neck jingling as he leans forward, watching the commotion in the garden. And he gives the elderly Lady a slow blink before finally responding. "I am coming to the conclusion that you learned more about this place in a handful of days than half the nobles I've dealt with who made this place home a handful of years. Maybe I'm getting tired as I get on in my years and it is nice to be able to do something meaningful with my life instead of having to spoonfeed children who should know better." This is also a surprisingly frank admission that might have even surprised him.

She knows the links on his chain and what they betoken, the marks he received in his final examinations, the names and the dates most significant in his career, the innocently offered commendation from her old chum Lady Enthia Waynwood — the purpose of this interview is for Lady Baratheon to take the measure of the man. And, with shrewd ancient eyes boring into him all the while, she has to a very great extent done so. Her fingertip taps three times now upon the arm of her lion throne: her steward, Elfrid Hill, unclasps his hands from behind his back and takes three neat steps, so that he is behind and to the side of Maester Jacsen, ready to lead him out when the moment arrives. It hasn't, yet. But it is near.

"How shall you spend your evening, Maester Jacsen?" the lady inquires.

"The same way I often do when I am able, Lady Baratheon." Jacsen himself has said a great many things, here. And instead of shrinking, there's a certain 'here I am' quality to the generally polite glance he returns to Cora. "Far, far away from fools. Maybe I will find a carriage. I used to enjoy walking along the Honeywine, but there are things that age and injury take from you. No matter how many potions or salves you can muster." He doesn't really answer, specifically. But maybe what he specified? Was all that matters to him at this time.

The maester enjoys then some brief respite from the inspection of those cold blue eyes: they rise beyond him, for the length of a breath, as Lady Baratheon directs her steward to, "Show Maester Jacsen out." And then her gaze settles upon him again, weighing him down just as he might have risen from his stool. "I shall let you know what I decide."

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