(122-09-12) Cider Hall
Cider Hall
Summary: Lady Marsei, with a disguised Camillo in tow, arrive in Cider Hall, seat of House Fossoway.
Date: 13/11/15
Related: A Red Omen, The Road Ahead Leads Back, more Fossoway plot

Four days and then some; a straightforward travel upon a decent road, extended slightly by the slow pace the enclosed wagon carrying the most dignified lady had to take. Now the Roseroad is behind them, and a smaller, grassier road leads them through the fields to Cider Hall, seat of the Fossoways. It's a bright, blue day, and the sight of it is clear up ahead. The road becomes flatly cobbled and widens to a courtyard as the small procession reaches their destination, so familiar to two of the travellers — one expected, one not.

Cider Hall itself, where the grand hall lies and the lords come together, sits snug in-between two shorter stone buildings. The left is flanked by apple trees bearing red fruit; the right, yellow. Apple trees so ancient they've grown tall and twisted arch overhead on the way to the Hall. Their horses' hooves tread upon apple blossoms already fallen. Cider Hall is insignificant, compared to the Hightower — every building in all of Westeros is insignificant to the Hightower. The home of the Fossoways is modest, compared to more powerful Houses, but it bears a richness in its own right. It welcomes with the promise of sweet apples, the lush orchards that surround it … or it should. Marsei looks up at the small apples high above her head from her tiny window, having pushed the curtain aside. She hums the Mother's hymn softly under her breath, scarcely aware that she does so.

The guests are welcomed, having been spotted before their arrival. A small crowd of nobles — and a few distant, curious smallfolk in their employ — gather as the Hightower-marked man at the front halts their procession. Another opens the door for Marsei, allowing her small hand to take his and step carefully down onto the apple blossomed stones she hasn't set foot on since the weeks following her husband's death.

One would think that Camillo has already reached a very respectable level of quiet and gloom, but he seems to manage to plumb new depths as they get closer to the Fossoway home. Of course, this is only particularly evident to anyone when they make stops. For today, he's just been riding, eyes on the path, much as one would expect. He halts his horse, but doesn't dismount quite yet.

Marsei's worries have been in a cycle of rising and falling and rising again, more tempestuous the closer they reached Cider Hall. By all appearances, she now leaves them behind. She smooths out the mild blue of her gown and strides toward the Fossoways with poise. Her head is held high, but not with too much pride, and her smile is joyuous, but not too blithe: all a tapestry of subtleties. She does not once glance at Camillo on her way past the horses to greet her former family. Most eyes upon Marsei reflect a spectrum of welcoming, fondness, and pity; others, curiosity disuised poorly as indifference; and one far-off young man of perhaps ten-and-five, apparent surprise, upon seeing some glimpse of her red hair through the small crowd of people and horses.

Lady Jana is the first to embrace Marsei; around her, other members of her husband's family of the Golden Orchard, although members of the Red Orchard are scattered here and there. "Thank you for the welcome. You are too kind, truly, it is but a small visit," Marsei tells her former goodsister.

"Think nothing of it," says a red-faced, white-haired older man nearby, "We miss your presence here at Cider Hall, good Lady Marsei. We've a meal prepared. Come inside, make yourself at home once again," he says while the horses are seen to. The startled young man turns out to be a stableboy, on hand to guide any of the visitors' horses to the stables, should they need.

Camillo keeps a hood on and his head down. He more or less fits in with the other riders of the party. He keeps with them for now, to see to it that the horses are stabled, since it wouldn't do to leave them all to one boy. Camillo leads his horse near the boy's. "Did you not know who the family was expecting?"

"I— " the boy stumbles, as if not expecting to be spoken to. He's a rangy little fellow, all limbs. "I reckon I forgot what she looked like, is all," he says, in a rush both to answer and to get the horses properly where they're meant to go. "I was new t' Cider Hall. When she left."

Meanwhile, Marsei is all smiles. "I would like that very much," she says to the Fossoway elder, "although I would not mind an hour to get settled," she glances once toward the men and horses — silently gauging time — as well as her quiet lady companions emerging behind her, remaining at a distance, "before I sit down to a meal. How I've missed the delights of the Cider Hall kitchen." Conversation drifts into quiet chatter about how the trip was as the nobles make their way to the main building, quite likely to give greeting to the Lord — or two — of Cider Hall before Marsei settles in.

Camillo doesn't neglect the work, even if he's addressing the boy. "But you remember," he concludes. "Her husband died, I heard."

The stable isn't far off and is clean and well-equipped to handle additional horses. "Did ya hear how? They talk about 'im a lot, Lord Jarvas, around here." He's a nervous gossip, if he can be called one at all. A few of the Hightower men stride past, attending to their own horses or barking a few orders around about how their steeds are to be handled.

"What do they say he was like?" Camillo asks, untacking the horse he came on. He unbuckles the girth first, putting it over his shoulder while he lifts the saddle off.

"Sort've loud." The young man sets about untacking the horse next to Camillo. "Not like 'is brother. I met 'im once — Lord Jarvas — before he, you know." He pauses to grimace and tense up his neck, portraying… nothing well, in particular. "Yelled at me a good deal, but y'know, 'e had strong opinions. I liked 'im well enough, better than Lord Owen, or Lord Haemon, for that matter." His nerves strike again and he ducks his head down, regretting it all. "Nevermind I said that," he hurries insistently.

"Of course not," Camillo assures the lad. "Forgotten." Once he puts the saddle somewhere safe, he only has to remove the blanket and bridle and then leave the rest to the staff. He takes a coin from his pocket and gives it to the boy.

* * *

A meal, in these terms, is an understatement. While the evening the Fossoways prepared in honour of Lady Marsei's visit is not lush, it is far more than a simple dinner. She's surrounded by familiar faces (as well as a few new, even in such short a time) at the long table in Cider Hall proper that is shared by both sides of the family for special events. It proves as an excuse for most everyone to come together and take advantage of the food and wine and, of course, the cider … as well as an opportunity to angle for ways to ask Marsei about her new betrothal, different in every way to the man that had been at her side here in these walls. Most of the questions are sweetly demurred, with nothing but fine things to say about Prince Dhraegon, only ever a few words, quick to move on. Here, it seems it was only yesterday that Jarvas died. How different her life is now. Sitting at this table, it's as though everything and nothing has changed.

The dinner lasts for hours, until food has been replaced with only drink.

Camillo has a rare night off from service, since they're in someone else's place, staffed with plenty who know how things are done here, and there are no male nobles to attend to. The house staff is busy serving dinner while the nobles eat, so he has the opportunity to slip away. Quiet steps and a couple of well-placed bribes— with promises of more should they keep quiet until his departure— and Camillo gains entrance to a cellar prison where he can find his former master in the gloom. He unpacks a pouch he had stuffed with any portable foodstuff possible: bread, fruit, and meat that wasn't noticed missing from the kitchen trays.

When all is finished in the dungeon and with dinner, Camillo comes knocking at Marsei's door.

Expecting a knock, Marsei opens the door to the chamber. The light still graces the sky outside, but the lamp on within is minuscule and the window is shuttered, closing in the gloom. Immediately, the noblewoman looks colourless; she stares through Camillo all too dully, almost as though his disguise is so keen that she suddenly does not recognize him anymore. No; perhaps it is more that she does not recognize anything at all, until she remembers the purpose with which she opened the door and steps past him, hurrying out of the room rather than welcoming him in. "Let us go to the orchards," she suggests, setting forth straight away toward familiar stairs.

Camillo simply responds with a quick nod, though that may be concern on his face as he looks at Marsei. He lets her lead the way and follows a few steps behind. If anyone should chance on them in the hallway, it won't look terribly strange that he's accompanying his lady.

Marsei is silent until they wind their way out of the building and into the back orchard. It won't look terribly strange, either, should anyone happen to chance upon them in the orchard. As Marsei enjoys taking air in the gardens of Oldtown, it was the sprawling orchards she always enjoyed at Cider Hall. The apples are yellow here, some tinged with green. They're nearing the end of their season. "I forgot how it always smells like fermented apples this time of year." She still sounds a bit distant, out-of-sorts. "They put me in my old room," she explains her disorientation; something she absolutely does not want to dwell on, looking to Camillo and regaining her focus, keen and expecting a tale of what he's accomplished in the meanwhile.

Camillo tilts his head slightly, as if to say that he doesn't find that to have been a very wise decision on their hosts' part. But he doesn't comment explicitly. "I went down," he says. "I saw him." If he intends to elaborate, he doesn't do so right away. Very helpful.

"You did," Marsei breathes, relieved to hear it, but she's still in suspense. She regards Camillo rather intently, so clearly wondering how the reunion was for him. She presses a hand delicately to her collarbones, glancing back the way they came and carrying on walking through the orchard. "Was he— is he well?" she ventures to ask, her face immediately tensing in dismissal of her silly question. No one is well in a prison.

Camillo can be terribly hard to read behind all that beard, since he is rarely a jovial sort in the best of times. But he does seem worried, at the very least. The question makes him hesitate. "He has grown thinner, but he did not seem ill…" A movement of his chin causes a movement of the beard. "I have concerns. About his mind. It's been some time to be locked away."

Marsei lowers her head, looking more plainly troubled. "Of course…" she says quietly, trying to imagine and finding the image unsettling; it only grows her sympathy. "It must be… absolutely… treacherous, navigating only a small cell for all those years."

"Perhaps…it is unwise," Camillo says with some difficulty, "To have him at your wedding." He finds a tree to look at. Apples. "It might be a risk, at a joyous occasion. It might be too late. I should have found something earlier."

Conflict crosses Marsei's gaze — lifting from the grassy path to Camillo — indecision parting her lips. "In what… way has Istor's mind changed?" she asked, tinged with disappointment. She's not ready to let go of their plan just yet.

Camillo holds his right hand in his left, tension in the gesture. "He seemed…" Groping for words takes a while. "He was…on-edge. I sense that he has plans. He forgets the time that has passed."

"I… see…" Marsei's frown is as gentle as her smiles. "This is a difficult predicament then, isn't it," she voices, soft and regretful. "I would very much like to help him, but if you think he would cause a stir…" A stir is putting it mildly, she knows; it shows little in her voice, however, as she thinks it over.

"Perhaps, when it's all over," Camillo says, "I can return quietly on my own and do something." What, he doesn't say. "Then it would have nothing to do with you or your wedding."

The ambiguous something does not go past Marsei's attention; it causes the faintest ripple, a disturbance in her posture, and then it settles. "Perhaps he could come for the festivities, before the wedding. The games," she suggests in a burst of optimism, "and leave before the wedding." She sobers to add, "…before… any Fossoways arrive." Not watching where she steps, the tip of her soft boot crushes the edge of a soft, half-rotten apple, and she stops to stare at it more than necessarily warranted.

Camillo tilts his head slightly. "You would be willing to risk even that?" he asks. "If he…should bolt, I will take responsibility."

"I…" Marsei is distracted, her head still tipped down. She takes a step back, free from the spoiled apple. "It is important to you, and it if it is the right thing… well…" Conviction is a strange companion to uncertainty; the two mingle, at odds, in her voice. The noblewoman lifts her head and squares her small shoulders. "… There is something I should tell you."

"I'm not sure about right things," Camillo admits, but Marsei's manner quiets him immediately and he looks at her face, gaze uncharacteristically steady. "What is that, my lady?"

"I have received an omen." It is ominous, and it should be: Marsei takes it seriously, stepping forward around the fallen apple with her hands clasped tensely in front of her. "I sought counsel with Septa Leire, who is close to the Crone. She said…" She; it could either be the septa or the Crone she speaks of. "There is trouble here. Emerging… rotten, a worm. The words have been haunting me," she says, pushing her brows together in more distress than her features usually show. The words have haunted her; now she struggles to put her own voice to them. "I did not tell you, because… I felt the threat was not yours but mine, alone," she says, apologetic, "and I still feel that it is. But… you should know." Just incase. "A taste of glory is not so sweet," she hesitantly recites a warped rendition of the Fossoways' words.

Camillo looks troubled by this revelation. "Trouble where? Here at the Fossoways'? Or…with the wedding?" he can't help asking. "I…would never want to be the cause of trouble to you."

"Here. Perhaps it has already begun." She wraps her arms about herself, lightly rubbing her arms, although the air is warm. "I'm sure it will be my fault," she says with an encouraging smile she does not quite feel, eager to take blame. "I feel … foolish for not telling you. I know you would hold such counsel in high regard. I only hope I have not led us both knowingly into something rotten. I…" She squeezes her arms tighter, looking here and there hanging apples and hoping they bear no worms. "I hope I am right and that it does not concern your Lord Istor."

"Of course I take words passed on by the Crone very seriously," Camillo says. "But you could not have led me into anything here. It was I who asked you to intercede on my behalf." He frowns deeply. "Should we even consider leaving him here until sometime after the wedding?" he wonders aloud. "And…is there anything I can do to help ensure your safety, in case the worry is something else?"

Marsei is silent in thought at first. However flooded she is with thoughts, they don't get her very far. "I don't know," she answers for all of that. "But no— no, I believe I am safe." Gradually, she begins a decisive nod. "I will try to speak to Istor's mother in the morning, if she is well enough. Perhaps she has a … further understanding of the progression of his mind. Then I will set about ascertaining whether or not his respite is truly possible in the first place," she says, smiling with a return of her warmth. For a fleeting a moment, she banishes the thought — or at least talk — of omens.

Camillo twists his right hand in his left, but he nods. "Was…your dinner pleasant?" he makes the effort to ask, perhaps hoping to distract Marsei with a nicer topic.

Marsei's smile takes on a grateful shine — for Camillo's effort. "It… you know, it was, rather," she says with pleasant surprise. "The greater part of it." She turns about, setting their course back toward the way they came.

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