(121-06-11) On Weeding
On Weeding
Summary: The latest installment of Gossip in the Garden, with your hostess Cora Baratheon and special guest Maester Jacsen.
Date: 11/06/121
Related: On Pruning

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.

The small round topiaries in the garden of the Lannister manse have come along nicely since yesterday; they rise with military precision from the low box hedges which assist the white stone paths in maintaining order amongst the parterres, the spherical shape of each echoing precisely those to its left and its right.

Thus the lady Cora Baratheon's lion throne has migrated inwards from the honey locust tree: she sits now with her back to the central fountain, but somewhat to the side, so that approaching petitioners may see a white Lannister lion at her side as well as the golden one inlaid above her head — and she may see a bed of petunias being dug out by the roots by two girls on their knees with their hair bound up in clean white kerchiefs. What did the petunias do, one might wonder?

At present she has a retreating petitioner, a young knight backing away from her and pausing every three steps (much encumbered by his pair of swords) to execute a deep and chivalrous bow — which departure, superintended by a household functionary to whom Maester Jacsen has not been introduced, is the signal for Elfrid Hill to lead the said maester forward, and for the tow-headed page boy to lug the stool out from behind the dais for him to rest his aged and gimpish form upon. The stool has been near enough to the fountain that fine droplets of water have collected upon it. Discerning this, the page boy fishes a handkerchief out of his pocket, gives it a wipe-down, beams at Jacsen, and returns to his station.

"Good day to you, Maester Jacsen," his hostess says pleasantly. "How fared you, last night, in your campaign to avoid all the fools of Oldtown?"

It is not every man in Westeros who can command his own musical ensemble wherever he goes. But the melodious jingling of chains and the rhythmic tapping of iron-shod cane serve as accompaniment to the slow gait of one silver-haired, lean-faced Maester from the Citadel, who has until-recently been tasked with duties that have become, in his words, onerous, has made his way into the garden of this little Lannister stronghold.

Which is not to say anything about House Lannister is 'little.' The tapping cane carries him further in as he notes Knight, and Elfrid Hill, and the stool. Bowing his head once, that melodious jingle heralds his presence as he smiles a charming enough smile at the retreating knight and settles into his seat. "I may be no Knight but I bore knightly blood. So I will say that I fought valiantly but the beasts are too cunning, and too strong, Lady Baratheon."

"Brute strength I shall allow them, for they are wont to attack in force," replies that lady, with elegant condescension and a wave of one long-fingered, bone-white hand; "but cunning? What species of cunning, maester, is native to the fools in this part of Westeros? That I haven't yet managed to discern for myself — they haven't been so good as to display any of it for my diversion."

She favours him with a rueful smile, just as the amply-curved maid of yesterday makes her curtsey with a tray held steadily in her hands. The girl stitching at Lady Baratheon's side today is long-faced and no beauty, her frock without any particular shape — what a relief, then, for any fellow (whatever his vows) considering employment here that this creature is still on staff, and that having presented a goblet of wine to her lady she is, necessarily, bending to offer the other to Jacsen. Hospitality indeed, in a garment so flatteringly low-cut.

Already sipping her wine Lady Baratheon is paying no attention to the serving girl, but a great deal to the petunias. Their expungement from the flower-bed brings another of those rare, real smiles to her etiolated visage.

"They outnumbered us, ten to one. But still, these odds were a magnificent thing, My Lady." Jacsen intones, cheerily. A little too cheerily as he settles onto the stool. "And we drove them back at the pass. We drove them back at the gate. And the fools would not prevail." Pausing a beat though, he does address Cora's second point. "Cunning is something they do have in this place. Otherwise they would simply not survive. It is wrong to underestimate your enemy."

Blue eyes are of course directed towards the maid and her obvious charms, but the Maester of course is too subtle to overplay these things. Even as he accepts the goblet. He doubtless knows why she is here.

"So thankful I am to partake of your hospitality again, Lady Baratheon."

Well, yes, naturally he's thankful. His hostess gives him a shallow, gracious nod, her veil of delicate golden lace shifting about her; and she presses on. "Do you care for petunias? As you so perspicaciously remarked yesterday a weed is nothing but a flower growing where it is unwelcome — those petunias, then, are among Oldtown's most notorious weeds. I'm having them all removed — you may have a bouquet of the blooms to take away with you if you wish." She nods again, to the flowerbed-plundering operations being carried out beyond Jacsen's left shoulder, the girls in their white kerchiefs and the piles of orange and yellow and violet flowers lying uprooted in their wicker baskets. "I offered the same to my last visitor, but he didn't seem interested. Of course you may have had your fill of Oldtown weeds yourself, in recent months…?" she implies.

"I believe," Jacsen remarks with a certain broad amount of graciousness here, "that I have had all the flowers a man of my nature can stand, be they planned, or weeds, for the discernible future." He shows a broad flash of teeth like an altogether-too-amused fox as he answers the older Lady. "And indeed, you might have cut to the heart of it." Again as he lifts the drinking vessel, the cane goes laid across his legs in a horizontal position as he stretches out a little upon the stool. "I am afraid these blossoms must meet a more suitable end, as they do."

Another inclination of Lady Baratheon's head, her hair pure white and richly dressed with pearls beneath that shimmering golden veil. This time her pose becomes a trifle more confidential — a trifle more the great lady taking her ease in the garden. "And what fate do you suppose would be suitable for such blossoms?" she wonders smoothly. "Knowing as much as you must of gardening in this climate, I'd be most interested in your views on local… variegations, shall we say?"

"Me? I would personally scale the stairs of the highest tower one could find, Lady Baratheon." Jacsen begins, carefully choosing his words here with carefully drawn breaths, his eyes narrowing considerably as he glances at Cora, purposefully making a grand gesture of rolling said eyes left, and then right. Back and forth. Before settling on the elderly woman dutifully. "And lean out of the nearest, largest window, and scatter them all to the sea. For that is what flowers seem to do, here. It is a strange thing." The look that he gives the woman settles on a priceless, if slightly-cold smile. "Should High Towers be a place that you would want to spend any of your time."

"Ah, but we neither of us," and Lady Baratheon's cool blue eyes flick down to the cane in his lap, then up again to his face, as her lips twitch into an ironic smile, "are ideally suited to scaling high towers personally, Maester Jacsen." She lifts her finely-wrought goblet of wine from the broad arm of her lion throne, till it just touches her lips, and drinks a slow, savouring mouthful.

The equally finely-wrought serving maid glides forward with a silver jug which matches the goblets; her mistress gives her a Look and a small shake of her head. This results in Lady Baratheon's goblet being left alone, Jacsen's being replenished by a flowing stream of this superb Arbor red, and the serving maid's withdrawal from the scene with the page boy trooping reluctantly at her heels. Obviously too young and green to appreciate the value of such a summons.

It just so happens that, save for the plain-faced serving maid who hasn't looked up from her needlework in all this time, Lady Baratheon and her guest are now alone with the steady splashing of the lion fountain. She sips her wine again and adds, meditatively, "Blossoms adrift in the ocean, tossed hither and yon by the rush of the waves; it's a charming spectacle for an onlooker, I shouldn't wonder, but hardly an easy arrangement for the blossoms. Poor, bedraggled things they'd become, shedding their petals, of neither use nor ornament."

In response, the lift of cup to Jacsen's lips is more measured. Restrained. He takes a tiny taste of it and doesn't spend too much time savoring the Arbor Red beyond that simple taste. One would note that he's been in the Reach long enough to become politely initiated to its charms but not overly fawning over them. Cup tilted up, it tilts downward now and he sets it next to him in a languid fashion. "That is why, one would assume, one would have others who are willing to climb those tall spires and navigate the twisty turns of staircases and — windows to dispose of things from." He's talking in code here but not really that blatantly.

"If I were to define the single most prominent arrangement present in Oldtown, it is something resembling what I just described. Funny to think that a Paramount House would be so — threatened by their own vassals. I've no doubt that your own lineage would make that seem doubly strange."

"Highly peculiar," the Lannister lioness before him agrees; "but then, a house built on an enormous rock filled with gold, has little to fear. Whereas, I promise you, all manner of lesser and greater disasters may befall a garden, from season to season." She leans her elbow upon the arm of her throne which isn't presently occupied by her goblet of wine, and then her chin in her hand, as she ruminates. "A late frost, and blooms wither before they can unfurl; too many insects, and they'll be bitten to pieces; neglect of the soil, and they'll never grow as high as they might; and, come winter, there's no plant with roots so deep a gale sweeping down from the north can't wrench them from the earth. No, a garden is altogether a perilous place; I spend my afternoons quite instructively in disciplining gardens, but I shouldn't care to live in one. The climbing roses in the Reach are fine and fair, truly so, and yet — have they some peril in particular to fear, do you suppose, Maester Jacsen, from the high frame which supports them?"

"Peculiar isn't even the word I would use," the Maester retorts in a very, well, diplomatic tone that is clearly designed to express much while saying very little. "That is a thing, though, that the weeds managed to sprout around all manner of places they shouldn't have." He fiddles with the cane again as an accessory more than a real tool, and swirls the arbor red in his cup with the most idle of gestures. "But you asked an interesting question." He admits now, with all manner of hesitation informing his response. Or at least the final part of his response.

"And it deserves an interesting answer. Most in the Hightower seem to be asleep, and if some little gardeners are trying to provoke them, they don't even notice. It is a curious thing, Lady Baratheon."

"In your estimation, then, the Tyrells are jumping at shadows?" she asks of him with sudden brutal bluntness, the point of her chin still nestled in the palm of her creased and pearl-bedecked hand. "Or would you have it they are merely ineffectual in their response to what may be a real threat from below?"

"The Tyrells have managed to alienate the Targaryens and the Hightowers, from what I am able to gather." Jacsen says, succinctly here in a tone that indicates a plain-spoken earnestness. "Erm. I would not openly besmirch the name of my former Lord Garvin, but apparently he was betrothed to two Targaryen Princesses in his tenure. However, there were — complications of a personal nature which soured that." Jumping at shadows? Check.

And then his grin goes broad and toothy. "As far as the Hightowers are, it seems they are mostly — unaware or uncaring. Although one Lord Garvin's cousins is a squire to Ser Brynden Hightower. I believe that was due to a personal obligation."

Lady Baratheon nods two or three times whilst her visitor is offering her— alas, no new dirt for the flourishing and well-tended garden in her mind, but perhaps this is a step nearer to it. "Oh, yes, quite an able sword-swallower, I'm informed," is her comment upon Lord Garvin Tyrell. "Natural enough for a young man, hardly a barrier to his doing his duty — unless of course he happens to have been brought up without any great care for his duty, in which case…" Her thin shoulders shift in a shrug beneath her crimson and gold silks. "His house will no doubt reap an unexampled harvest from what he's sown."

"He handled a blade as though he were born with it," Jacsen opines, at least about his now-former Lord with a certain detachment even if he is grinning like a mummer, here. "It is quite telling though that he spared no offended party while doing so. I believe Lord Lorant finally reached the end of his vaunted patience. Which means Lord Greydon has stepped in, and I do not know Lord Greydon that well. But he seems a level-headed sort. Still, being sent to clean up such messes requires nothing less and I would pity any man who had to do such a thing." He sighs a dramatic, ragged sigh.

"Rather sordid, isn't it?" Lady Baratheon offers sympathetically. "These children who can't manage their own affairs… And yet they won't be told, will they? I imagine you tried, Maester Jacsen; I imagine you did all you could to fulfill your duties." She gives a small sigh of her own, as though to say: sometimes, in this world, all one can do is not enough. "Tell me," she murmurs, her alto voice just audible above the fountain beyond, "how did your former lord so nearly catch himself a second dragon? Butterfly net?"

"Unfortunately, sordid was at the heart of it, Lady Baratheon." Jacsen admits, coolly. "I think the last of it was when Lord Garvin was kidnapped by some bandit who tried putting on the airs of a Lord. The thing is, he was kidnapped along with a Florent. Which should tell you a lot about how absurd this all became." He recounts the whole sordid situation as though it were spilled wine by a giddy nobleman at supper, simply punctuating the story with a lateral shake of his head.

"I suppose the Dragons are desperate to forge better ties with the Reach. Something that has not gone well here — given the fact that one of their own took arms in the Trial of the Seven alongside Dornishmen for a chance at Ser Laurent Tyrell." Messy? That's one way to put it. He's all tight smiles at the end of the story.

The lady for whose benefit he's relating this squalid tale listens as though she hasn't already heard it, in different words, by letter and by raven from various sources at the time, and from one of her less public acquaintances in Oldtown the other night — and lifts her chin from her hand to sip her wine, though if Jacsen were sitting high enough to see into her goblet he'd note that the level in it has hardly dropped in all the time she's had it — and then the moment arrives for her to say, "Well, Maester Jacsen, you have an admirable talent for gossip, one from which I should hope to derive much amusement as well as instruction if you were to join my household. That remains your wish?" Hands clasped neatly in her lap, she inclines her head toward him, smiling faintly. "You haven't thought better of it?"

"May I be candid, Lady Baratheon?" Jacsen counters with a very simple, succinct question of his own, now, as he taps his foot a little upon the cool grass of the garden and turning his head to admire the landscape with a harsh smile, drinking deep of his wine cup. And of course, he is candid here. "My study at the Citadel was an interesting thing. While some probe the deeper mysteries of the land, or the physical arts merely, I am a sort that seems to study Westeros, itself. I am at waste in a tower. And I am at waste in service to a House that cares little about its own standing or its own future." Pausing a beat, he clarifies as the cup is emptied and set down, "I am a sort that simply pays attention to the comings and goings of change in the land. I am at waste while not in service to a House that cares about such things. I should counter your question with one of my own. What do you seek in a Maester? You have proven yourself to be wise. Wiser already than ones I have served in the recent past, and I would hear your concerns."

"You'll hear my concerns, Maester Jacsen, if and when you enter my service — not a moment before," the lady counters, coolly, levelly, without pause to consider. Which alone is an answer of a sort. "And you'll not enter my service," how extreme the candour now, and how studiously the long-faced stitching maid is ignoring the proceedings, "until you have given me a token of your earnestness to do so." Her eyes, elderly yet fiendishly acute, bore into the maester on his stool during a long moment's pause. "Something, in short, that may be of use to me — and," she specifies pleasantly, "that anyone at all in my employ couldn't have gathered in ten minutes' eavesdropping in a tavern frequented by the lowest Tyrell guardsmen."

And at this, Jacsen does deliver a response, of a sort. It is a pleasant-enough smile, at first, and then it falters, as a sort of an awful, barking laugh which shows the barest hint of teeth. "I am — I apologize, Lady Baratheon, for I mean you not the slightest hint of disrespect. If anything it is merely an expression of how House Tyrell has managed to make their name in this corner of the Reach." The sputter of laughter turns into a slight, wheezing cough. "Their remaining Lords are a pair of Twins who are young Ladies, both unwed and have taken to squabbling with Targaryens, a rather bloodthirsty Knight who bears the, I would say, Lion's Share of the House's martial burden, and his younger brother who apparently wishes he were a mummer. But is squired to Ser Brynden Hightower." He pauses a beat. "Indeed, all of these things are things that can easily be known. But I will tell you a thing that is not easily known. You might also note that the Tyrells are in secret negotiations with House Stark of the North. They sent over one of their Lords as a houseguest, but he and his men behaved as little more than hostages." Well, gossip is his forte. "If you'd like more, I am sure I could ask around. But the truth is, House Tyrell's doings are not the most interesting in this city."

"Wolves nibbling at the roses…?" Lady Baratheon murmurs in a tone so idle that a listener without a clear view of her face, of her gleaming blue eyes, might suppose she were hardly paying her visitor's calculated indiscretion any mind. "I've no doubt they have it in them to take far larger, more jagged bites out of rose-petals than those insects I mentioned… But I have little birds of my own in the north, Maester Jacsen, who made note for me of certain transplanted flowers, and of how ill they adopted to the climate. As," she sighs tiredly, and has recourse again to her wine, "I'm certain you conjectured, when you selected that tidbit to offer me. Shall you try again? Shall you mean it this time?"

"As strange as it sounds, it may be the other way around. I merely provide an incidence of House Tyrell's — shall we say, eagerness for allies. But I am certain that with enough drink you could ply a guard at Garden Isle to tell you this and a lot, lot more." The Maester says, haplessly. Truth be told, he seems in good spirits, all the same, although has that certain discontent, annoyed edge that seems to cling to him.

"I believe you have me at something of a disadvantage. House Tyrell's secrets are nothing to — grand. Or Secret." comes his admission.

… Unlike House Baratheon's secrets, which ought to be burned before reading; or House Lannister's secrets, which they could tell you, but then they'd have to kill you, your heirs, and your cousins unto the fifth degree, and arrange all the heads upon a neatly symmetrical display of pikes; dismember your keep stone by stone; raze the villages of your smallfolk; and sow your fields with salt.

Cora of House Baratheon, formerly and yet ever of House Lannister, rests her chin in her hand again and lets out a slightly deeper breath, hardly qualifying as a sigh, whilst her regard never wavers from the apologetic maester's face. "That, at any rate, I have had proof of from many quarters; but I am certain, somehow, that a man with your keen eye and canny mind, living in proximity to the scions of that house, reading and writing their letters, noting to yourself their comings and goings, their expenditures and their guests, might have gathered… oh, some small something… which might be not the gossip of any guardsman with a thirst, but his gossip alone. You're no fool, you know what I have to offer a homeless maester: comfort, diversion, a life in the midst of great cities rather than cow pastures, and, more than that — work. And you know that old saying, and the many styles in which a Lannister may choose to honour it."

And yes. House Tyrell's secrets. An open book of lurid, awful things that would turn a Septon's ears to flame or strike a Septa blind. It's also a book of largely dull things to one who has lived a long time and seen many things, as Cora no doubt can be described. For a moment, the hard look in Jacsen's eyes is delivered as he lurches forward, clutching the cane upon his lap and gives her a wary look. "Oh, these things I know, Lady Baratheon. All of these things. And I would know that your house is in a bit more of a healthy state than the Tyrells are, at the moment. But if you are looking for the details of ledgers, the secret potions that Lord Lorant buys, the places where Lord Garvin disposed of his lovers?" He words this rather frankly. "You might be disappointed at what I would be able to provide." Able? Able or willing?

"Then you do not," old Lady Baratheon inquires quietly, "find yourself 'able'," how neatly she's seized upon that word, "to entertain me with any tales of true interest, from your own gardening days?" One last chance — she's a generous old bird, if the superb wine she had him served wasn't proof enough.

"Really, Lady Baratheon. I must admit, you have me at quite the disadvantage. It is not hat I am not willing, but I am not able." Simply put, either Jacsen can't, or Jacsen won't offer a significant pile of deep, illicit dirt on his former masters. He doesn't seem completely honest. "Every single secret House Tyrell has involves some sort of massive indiscretion. Or Lord Matrim's apparent inability to father children." He pauses a beat. Is this common knowledge? May be. "Were I him, I'm not sure I would consider that an affliction."

No, this imminent interruption in the line of succession is not such a secret, to an ancient noblewoman who is welcome in all the most elevated sewing-circles in Westeros; Lady Baratheon's thin white fingers rise to wave away this detail as the trifle it is (now). "You can't bear the Tyrells at any price; and with so much in the balance, your very future, still you stand firm," she observes.

And she lets four long seconds tick by before issuing, crisply, her orders. "Vika, have a fire lit in my bedchamber and send Elfrid to me; I would go up and rest for a while." The long-faced maid is already threading her needle through the length of cloth in her lap and bobbing a quick curtsey; her good leather shoes crunch on the white stone path as she hastens to obey. "Jacsen, you may as well pack whatever things a maester must pack — spare robes, I suppose," she raises an eyebrow, "and your favourite inkwell. I shall write to Archmaester Gyldayn directly and let him know that I have made my decision."

"There are — things we do in our service to Westeros, Lady Baratheon. But I will spare you any number of useless platitudes about a Maester's life of service." He utters, gruffly, keeping that iron-shod cane balanced upon his lap like a servant with a drink tray. "Some of them more pleasant than others. I am certain you have heard them all." And for now, he flashes a vulpine show of teeth as the elder Lady states her opinion.

"My Lady. I imagine I will have better stories to tell you very soon, then." With that, he scrambles to his feet. Such as they are.

"You may bring me also a new book to read, when you come," Lady Baratheon adds; "I enjoy history, not too dry nor too cloyingly romantic, in the common tongue or in High Valyrian. Something to occupy my mind when I wake in the night. I'm sure you'll have some idea what I mean. Ah, now here is Elfrid to show you out; though from tomorrow you shall be no longer a guest, and you shall find your own way."

The blond steward, having approached hastily to a point, slows to a more dignified pace as he approaches his lady and her future maester: and executes a bow.

And not one to waste time, there is a bow of his own, as the future Maester sets off to approach his future. "May the name Lady Cora Baratheon be one — everyone, everyone in this city will remember." He says, gruffly, but with a certain degree of pride. "You shall have it, My Lady." And then he is off. With a spring in his step, if such a thing is possible.

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