(122-12-04) Scrutiny
Summary: A continued conversation of layers and layers.
Date: 04/12/2015
Related: Allegiance

Level 3 - The Hightower Battle Island

Even a single tier of the great white stone tower is grand enough for any palace, and this floor is one is the grandest of all. The third level houses the Hightower family themselves. It has many suites of private rooms, as well as suites with multiple bedchambers, each enough to serve as a noble house in themselves. The open part of the level includes shared parlours with large windows that light the tower's interior. The floor is polished stone in three colours, red-orange and white and grey, laid in a pattern of chevrons. The grand gracious staircases are accessible from near the center of the tower.

For a royal prince, Rhaegor's comings and goings from Oldtown are generally without pomp or circumstance, precluding the procession that departed for Dorne earlier in the year. The procession that culminated in the wedding of the Martell heir to Rhaegor's cousin, Visenya. It was on something of the eve of that departure that Rhaegor and Marsei last met, but word has spread throughout the Hightower that the prince and his own Dornish souvenir have at last returned to Oldtown, and that he is at last resuming his diplomatic affairs with the Hightower serving, as ever, as his base of operations.
It's a short time since the rumors began, some days but less than a fortnight, when chance crosses their paths intimately rather than peripherally; Rhaegor and Marsei happen to find themselves coming and going in unison upon the third floor of the Hightower. For his part, he is the same but different, in some intangible, imprecise way. He greets her directly, hazarding to interrupt a conversation she engages in with her ladies, for he sees her before she sees him. "Lady Marsei," he says, as if resuming some conversation of their own, and not for the first time in months.

Marsei has an air of lightness and cheer about her, as she so often does, and as should indeed suit a woman soon to be married in an ideal world, even though her situation has been a source of gossip up and town the Hightower and beyond. The presence of Rhaegor — or perhaps the change in him, however subtle — draws her to observe him for one quick moment before she greets him. "Prince Rhaegor." One must always give a prince the time of day, but her attention is more than that, attentive toward his direct manner, curious, and not without memory of the conversation they had last. She gives her ladies a few gentle words, and amid respectful murmurings of "your grace" to the returned diplomat, they depart to a parlour, leaving her with the Targaryen. "I do hope your travels were fortuitous."

Ladies? What ladies? Rhaegor does not much notice them, even when the your graces are said his way. It is either the arrogance of a prince or the attention he bestows his intended conversational companion. Where once he would have instinctually offered a smooth, polished rejoinder to her pleasant, well-meaning inquiry, he now grants Marsei the sort of shrug of his shoulder that telegraphs defeat rather than glosses over it. "I am told our return is well-timed, and that you are imminently to be wed to my cousin." Among Targaryens, everyone is a cousin, though she is only engaged to the one of them.

"Very fine timing, my prince. The wedding grows closer every day," Marsei concurs, sounding almost relieved. The sweet Hightower is all bright smiles and, while earnest, a seed of question grows behind her expression, wondering at the prince. Subterfuge, he'd said, during their last true conversation. "And you will have the opportunity to see some more of your family, I expect, with some of the royal court making their way to Oldtown."

Rhaegor seizes the initiative and offers Marsei his arm, and perhaps it is conspiration or subterfuge indeed that the adjacent parlor he guides her to happens to be empty. The way he seems to examine the room anew belies how long it is he's been away, and he releases her to her own devices in the midst of the exchange, himself going to one of the ornate glass windows to look upon the garden grounds below. "I have word that we ought expect a rather sizeable entourage from the Crownlands," Rhaegor confirms, lingering longer at the vista than is strictly polite given the company. He happens to meet Marsei's eye as he says aloud, "Your betrothal came as an unexpected surprise to most." It's much more direct than his habit, and the implication is obvious; she makes a finer wife than he a potential husband.

The window is a favoured view of Lady Marsei, but she follows only halfway across the parlour, standing in the middle with her hands lightly clasped in front of her. It could be a nervous pose, exposed, uncertain of what Rhaegor will say next — but, at least so far, she's relaxed. The beautifully furnished parlour on the grand, gleaming third level is part of her home; she's at ease here, and she's expecting his observation, if perhaps not the directness of it. It's where he's going with his line of thought that concerns the noblewoman. "Yes," she answers simply. "Most may even be under-stating. I do not believe there is anyone who could have predicted it." She smiles with a gently hint of jest.

It doesn't seem that Rhaegor knows where he's going with it either, or at least he doesn't follow through immediately. He doesn't join her in the smile, not even to be polite. But he seems to concede her point; he says, "It would be different had the betrothal been arranged between our families on your behalfs." Now his back is to the window. He seems expectant, and lacks her relaxed, at ease airs.

Marsei feels the pressure of having Rhaegor waiting for an answer; the disparity between them starts to wear her at ease nature down. "Yes," she says again, just as before, but with an expectancy of her own. She shifts a shoulder back, ever-so-slightly, and strolls — with a nevertheless elegant wander — to hold the back of a tall chair half turned away from the prince. "And yet it … is a beneficial pairing," she says carefully; political words, those, almost as though they are not wholly her own.

Political words, and they do little to move Rhaegor. "Expect scrutiny," is his blunt counsel. A beneficial pairing, perhaps, but strictly speaking of little political significance when a Hightower is already queen consort to a Targaryen king. Still, though he is direct in his speech, his intent seems to be to warn rather than to wound, a lifting of the curtain upon the machinations of his Targaryen kin for Marsei's benefit.

Marsei nods, at first, accepting the counsel, but the budding warning has a different effect on her; she tilts her head of softly coiffed waves and braids and looks Rhaegor in the eye with curiosity. Looking under the curtain so intently perhaps reveals that she has her own and that is has not yet lifted. "I do," she says, soft, certain. "I must." She seems on the verge of saying more; the beginning of her smile is assuring, of all things, but it only hovers not quite fully formed.

Rhaegor's gaze is as direct as his speech, and for a few minutes it's as if they are locked in some kind of a standoff that either of them might end with a word. He doesn't want for assurance, even if she seems to offer it with her smile, and it goes unreciprocated. In the end, he nods. Perhaps he expected her to say more. When she does not immediately, he makes an assurance of his own. "I renew my offer of support." It sounds like a conversation ender, and indeed he shifts his weight as if to imminently depart.

She too shifts her weight as if prepared to move as well, but it's naught but a sway of her pastel-hued gown; she holds tighter to the chair text to her. "You do?" Marsei queries as though surprised, a hint of hopefulness rising her voice — that is, hope that he'll speak more on his support, or hope that shan't leave just yet, pressed with hurry now that Rhaegor seems poised to do just that.

Her surprise transmutes into his confusion, and stays him for at least the moment. "Of course," Rhaegor says, his eyes going to the entrance to the parlor, as if it confirm that no one lurks at the threshold to overhear him. Still, to be safe, he does move, only closer to Marsei rather than to leave. The chair separates him, but his voice is low. "I have included in past reports to the King the behavior I have observed in Dhraegon. And, too, the effect I've observed you to have on him." He is precariously blunt, skirting the line even further when he says, "The Crown is sensitive to the whispers there is madness in our blood."

Marsei is more guarded as Rhaegor's voice lowers. She seems lighter on her feet, her hand tighter on the chair. "What effect is that, your grace?" she asks despite the bluntness with which he spoke. She lowers her head partly as if to apologize, but also to impart gently, "He has certain— … it is true that he must be kept in check from time to time with a gentle hand. I believe … that the King knows that is a task for which I am suited," she says with flat modesty. Uncertainty — a flash of worry — traces her brows, flashes in her gaze. "Does the Crown expect— …"

"A positive one," Rhaegor is relatively quick to supply, to ensure his meaning is taken. That the Crown is invested in the marriage, in the advantage of her role as a minder of her future husband. It's Rhaegor that seems to question the advantage she herself draws from the bargain. But it's all in the nuances of what he says and doesn't say, and what he hinted at in the garden when last they met. That she seems to try to convince him of her eligibility for the role prompts him to study her with some of that same scrutiny he'd earlier warned about.

She trails off and, realizing scrutiny, Marsei shakes her head softly, wordlessly dismissing her paths of thought, of which there are too many. "Of course," she delivers, a polite apology of sorts. She sweeps back from the chair, her hand relaxing from it to fall at her side. She still watches Rhaegor closely, but now it's her who seems prepared to depart; naturally, however, she defers to the prince.

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