(122-09-11) Bathed in Light
Bathed in Light
Summary: A charitable and prayerful rest before making the rest of the trip to Cider Hall.
Date: 10/09/2015
Related: A Word to the Wizened, A Red Omen, The Road Ahead Leads Back, more Fossoway plot

The party escorting Lady Marsei has made it past the halfway mark to Cider Hall. Perhaps a day's solid travel, perhaps longer, given the slower pace they must take to pull the noblewoman and her companions. On Marsei's insistence, they stop at an inn before undertaking the last portion of their small journey. It is a far cry from any establishment the lady is accustomed to staying in, but the little building, nestled next to a farm having a fine season, is well-appointed for what it is. The food is hot and well-seasoned, the red-faced, ginger-haired, round-bodied innkeeper is kindly. Most importantly, the other guests are quiet and the rooms are clean. Or perhaps it's only Lady Marsei's room, the largest and airiest the inn has to offer, that has been scrubbed clean and dressed with the finest bedding they have to offer — if still plain, in comparison to those in her chambers. Flowers have even been laid out, for the Flower of Oldtown. In fact, beyond those taken by the Hightower men, and the stable, the availability of other rooms is scarce, the only other being a leftover corner clearly used for rougher travellers and rats.

Marsei is walking about her room, touching the fresh wood that's been installed around the windowframe in the fading light of the day. Siva busies herself making certain the room is proper for her lady, while her other handmaiden accompaniment searches for Marsei's other companion for the trip: the septa, Leire.

When Leire was first anointed a septa in the eyes of the Seven, at the age of ten-and-six, she took to the fields and villages surrounding Oldtown, traveling the Reach to minister to the humble folk oft forgotten by her peers. Before being elevated to the ranks of the Most Devout, she would frequently do the same, disappearing from town for a month or two, roving like a common minstrel. And when their party arrived at the little inn on their way to Cider Hall, word quickly spread of a septa being among their ranks, doubly so when she was recognized by the inn keeper's sister. There were whispers about Leire helping to save a weak babe doomed to succumb to its ill health some summers earlier, now a sprightly girl of five or six often seen running about in front of the inn with other local children. Common people are as superstitious as they are religious, and they murmur amongst themselves that Leire is 'touched,' placing her in rather high demand during their stay.

She's been scarce since their arrival, administering blessings on the old, the young, the sick, the expectant, the sad and the glad all the same. When Marsei's handmaiden at last finds her, it's thanks to the inn keeper's directions; Leire is barefoot in a field about a half hour's walk from the inn, helping the farmer to offer prayers of thanks to the Seven for a boon crop, and consecrating the land for next year's harvest. The handmaiden returns to the inn at least a quarter hour ahead of Leire, reporting all this to Marsei ahead of the septa's return; the rites were not yet done, but she assured the handmaiden she would be along when they were.

When at last Leire arrives, it's with a gentle rap on the door. She enters, her hair down around her shoulders, tousled by the breeze, the hair at her temples braided from her face. Her smile is warm, and it doesn't occur to her to be apologetic for the delay.

Marsei had been fascinated by the smallfolk's reaction to the septa and eager to offer her own kind words. It's a good day for the inn, glowing with a charitable atmosphere. It makes for a pleasant, if temporary interlude for Marsei, whose worries rose and fell and rose again during her travels with the knowledge that Cider Hall looms in the distance, full of memories and painted red by an ill omen. She does not mind the wait, sitting by the window and overlooking the fields while Siva carries in a heavy bucket of water to warm in the small hearth while the returned handmaiden sees to Marsei's belongings.

"Septa Leire," Marsei greets warmly as if anew when Leire enters, as though she hadn't seen the septa downstairs earlier before rising to her room early, while the men still ate, in the moments between the septa offering blessings. She stands, smiling to look upon Leire, the sight of her evidence of the good work she'd been doing out in the farmlands. The hearth fire and a few foggy lamps illuminate the room quite fully now that the day wears thinner still. One side of the room is dominated by the bed, the other the hearth, a old dressing panel, and a couch that has seen several re-sewings. It's cozy within, fending off any dampness that may want to cling to the wooden and stone. "How welcome you seem to be to these lands and their people. It's as though you are a fresh rain in a drought to them."

Leire greets Marsei with a gentle kiss to her cheek, her own flushed with color from the exertion of being outdoors. "Who am I but one of them?" she asks, quietly, before moving from the noblewoman's side. Leire goes to the spread of wildflowers left for Marsei on the sideboard, leaning in to a bouquet of them to inhale their sweet scent.

Looking over her shoulder at Marsei, and then between the two handmaidens, Leire asks, "Did you sleep well?" The question is full of subtext, but she does not give name to the myriad obstacles Marsei might face when it comes to a restful night.

"I have not yet slept," Marsei answers, turning to watch Leire dip into the wildflowers. "After our travels, however much I may yearn for a true bed, I know it is when I close my eyes that I my head will fill with images about what lies ahead. When we veer from the Roseroad." For the moment, eyes open, her countenance does not tense with such worries; they lurk behind her changeable eyes, but here she finds some peace. "I would like to thank you again for accompanying me, septa. It puts my mind at ease, knowing you're close by," she expresses softly. Even though Leire's connection to the Crone has underlined her worries so harshly. "The innkeeper said there was only one room left and that it was too poor for the likes of you. He was in a hurry to move his other guests, but I told him there was no need to jostle them. This room is the biggest, and more than accommodating, if you should like," she offers, her sincere kindness bearing a definitiveness already, as though she has already decided. Evidently, she does not count her dutiful handmaidens — who fuss quietly about behind the screen — as taking up space.

"If only we could will our minds to betray our heavy hearts," Leire says, with soft empathy, when Marsei laments her lack of sleep. When she returns to Marsei, she seems cool and airy, the freshness of the field still clinging to her priestess robes. Leire takes the noblewoman's hands in hers, clasping them reassuringly. "You are so welcome, Lady Marsei. I hope my physical presence might be a comfort to you. A reminder that the Seven are everpresent."

Her smile is a steady constant, and it deepens, slightly, when Marsei makes offer of the room. "It is a lovely room. Thank you." As simple as that, she accepts the offer, her eyes going to the window briefly as she observes, "We can keep the candle's vigil together, tonight."

The septa's reassurance brings out a deeper smile in Marsei as well, setting her cheeks aglow. Still, even as she clasps Leire's hands in return, a seed of doubt lingers behind even her kindest gaze; wanting to believe absolutely that she's worthy of the Seven's everpresence. Of comfort, in their eyes.

Siva steps out from behind the panel, and Marsei, without quite turning her gaze from Leire, catches sight of her before the young woman opens her mouth. "Will you get my candle for me please," she beseeches. All of her words to the handmaidens are kind, sounding more like pleasant suggestions more than orders. At every stop they've made along the road, Marsei has lit a special candle and prayed.

"Yes, my lady," the dark-haired maid replies. "And your bath will be ready in but a moment." She needs little instruction to fetch a candle, wrapped in dark cloth, from amidst Marsei's things. They have all been laid out and put away where they ought to be, were it a real room. A noblewoman shan't live out of luggage, even for a night. She holds the candle out to the lady and septa respectfully.

Leire takes the candle when it is retrieved and presented, peeling back a corner of the cloth to check the integrity of the wax. It's perfect, even in spite of their travels, and she covers it again, holding the taper instead of Marsei's hands. She caught the flicker in Marsei's stare, that little bit of a cloud borne of doubt. And while the maids go back to preparing the bath, she asks, "May I attend you?" She might ask if Marsei would prefer privacy to bathe, but after all, she did send the girl into the field to find her. With the question hanging heavy on the air, she goes to the window sill, taking a flower from the arrangement along the way, laying it next to the cloth-wrapped candle on the ledge in anticipation of its further use.

Marsei finds herself looking at the wildflower laid upon the cloth, pressing her hand lightly against her abdomen and the cream lacing of her gown, which is otherwise a quiet green and basic in cut, simple for travel. Siva winds her way back around from the opposite side of the panel, starting to unbutton the gown from behind without needing to be told; it is the most basic of routines. "Do you know any prayer songs?" Marsei asks, rather than answers. A silly question to put toward of septa of the Most Devout order, perhaps, but it is posed as a gentle, wondering prompt.

Leire stays at the window for a few minutes, while Marsei is prepared for the bath. She seems well used to spending all the day and a good bit of the night, besides, on her feet, and enjoys the view offered through the heavy glass panes of the countryside beyond. "A few," she answers modestly when asked about songs. Already she contemplates which of the many she knows might best suit Marsei's mood. And then she recalls one and begins to hum it, idly, while the tub is brought in and filled with water, so that it is full by the time Marsei is ready for it.

It takes some time for even the simple gown and its related garments to be dismantled properly. The rustles and soft scrapes of fabric and skin, then the careful pour of water, mingle with Leire's prayerful hum. Marsei steps around the divider toward the tub, in smallclothes, on bare toes that don't make a sound. Soon the sound of shifting water belies her delving into the basin just large enough to fit her and the stronger scent of flowers and oils travels outward through the room, carried on the steam. While Siva stays with Marsei, the other girl sets about carefully smoothing all of the lady's shorn clothes and hanging them on pegs on the wall near Leire. "I remember that one," Marsei says fondly of the song. "Only I would always forget the words."

When prompted, Leire gives words to the melody, singing the first verse straight through. Though it seems innocuous enough when hummed, the lyrics hint at darker themes. Songs traditionally aren't sung to the Stranger, but there are tendrils of homage in this piece. It's familiar and comforting because it's one often hummed at bedtime to daughters by their mothers. Just the sort of song most would recognize but few would know the words to.

Leire skirts the line between servant and companion, not truly fully one or the other, and it manifests in the way she displaces Siva at the bathside, assuming the girl's place and presuming, in turn, to attend the noblewoman at her bath. She takes the delicate copper cup hanging over the rim of the tub, dipping it into the steaming hot water to fill it, pouring it gently over Marsei's shoulders. At this proximity, she sings the second verse of the song, the lyrics bearing out a metaphor began in the first verse about a beautiful woman fleeing the dark domain of the Stranger and emerging in the holy light of the Seven.

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