(122-12-20) Loyalty in the Eyes of Gods and Noblewomen
Loyalty in the Eyes of Gods and Noblewomen
Summary: The newly knighted Ser Desmond has something to say to Lady Marsei.
Date: 20/12/2015
Related: Then, The Feast, Targaryen and Hightower Tourney, Duel: Rhaegor vs Desmond, Fossoway plot

The Hightower Battle Island

The great tower is all of white stone, ancient and beautiful, but for the lowest part, which is seamless black, akin to dragonglass, and more ancient still. This lowest tier is quite wide and grand enough for any palace. There are two stories of this bottom part of the tower, and while the grand entry is wide and open, the corridors are a twisting maze of black stone. The tower has a narrower white stone tier above, and a circular balcony-garden on the roof-space left unoccupied.

The ground floor is dominated by this grand receiving hall, and the great main doors lead directly to it. High windows let in light that reflects off the glossy walls and makes the space airy and brighter than one would think black stone would allow. It is here that the Lord of Hightower holds his local court, from a large chair on a tall wooden dais. Both chair and dais are carved with images of the tower itself, and with dolphins and sea-dragons. They are inlaid with stones of white and grey, and decorated with silver-leaf. There's space for the Lord's councillors to sit alongside him, but visitors seeking audience must stand.

Past this grand hall there is a wide gracious stone stairway allowing access to the higher levels. Hidden behind the wall behind it and to and on one side, ramps allow wagon-loads of firewood for the beacon to be hauled up.

It is a steamy day, with heavy warm drops of rain falling, and popping, against the windows of the Hightower. The sea has chopped up, sending white-capped breakers crashing against the edges of the Battle Island. Off in the distance, the water is oil-black and seething. It is out of this weather that the newly-knighted Ser Desmond Snow arrives at the Hightower. He makes his way inside, taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of the room, wiping water off his scalp with one leathery hand.

There is an air of nervousness about the man, but he squares his huge shoulders and strides forward, nodding amiably to a servant. "Ser Desmond Snow. I've come to call on Lady Marsei, if she's at liberty."

Desmond is left waiting, but not for terribly long; summoned by word of the new knight's request, Lady Marsei drifts down from on high, stepping down from the grand staircase to make her way through the receiving hall toward the giant of a figure in her sights. She's arm-in-arm with Siva, the dark-haired handmaiden, but leaves her on the last step after exchanging a few words. Marsei is awash in bright colours, cheerful pinks and reds together in swirling silk, an easy leap to the flowers she's so often called by her new husband.

"Ser Desmond," she greets when she's still several steps away, speaking the moniker curiously for the first time. Curiosity also colours her gaze, overlapping, only subtly, with a hint of uncertainty; never so much as to mar her cheerful manners. "I hear there are congratulations in order."

Desmond makes his clumsy bow to Marsei, and straightens with a huge smile. "The King honored me," he says in his rumbling baritone. "For helping you at the Tourney. And for what aid I was able to render His Grace." Some of his nervousness fades away as he essays a jest. "In truth, I've you to thank for it." He absently clasps his hands behind his back. "But that's not why I've come, Lady. I.." He glances around.

"Might we sit? I've come to say a thing to you, and I'd rather not make a spectacle of myself in the saying." But it's pretty hard for Desmond Snow, with his giant sword and his giant stature, to stop from making a spectacle. They call him the Snow Giant now.

"The king is generous," Marsei commends with warmth toward Viserys; it is, just as much, a modest deflection from having anything to do with it, as Desmond said. "Of course." She starts a stroll through the grand hall, her own hands clasped at her back, a daintier echo of Desmond's posture, conscious or not. Rather than head for the dining hall, where voices every so often rumble, or toward the massive stairs, she leads the so-called Snow Giant through the slight maze of black corridors. "I hope it is nothing too dire," she says on the way, her voice soft and jesting; yet the lady's gentle eyes do study him for a moment, wondering. Perhaps guessing.

The doors she leads them do give way to a room which Desmond is, in fact, bound to stick out in like a sore thumb - the Hightower library. Aside from a few young noble children playing cyvasse and aging men sitting in a corner appearing either asleep or dead with their noses in their books, however, they have happened upon it in a lull, many would-be guests preparing for the light tournament later in the day.

* * *

Library - The Hightower
Battle Island

This expansive room serves as the library for House Hightower and their guests. While its book collection does not compare to what the Citadel might offer, the space is entirely admirable, and well suited so socialization as well as study.

Tall shelves line the walls. The ends of the wooden bookcases are carved with the Hightower sigil, an image of the very tower that holds this room. They are painted, and the flames of the beacon-fire covered with bright gold leaf. While the carvings are largely the same, the paint-jobs are each different, some showing the tower at night, some at dawn, some in rain, and so forth.

The shelves nearest the door hold, not books, but games of various sorts, most in wooden boxes. There are several large round tables to facilitate play, surrounded by chairs plushly padded with silk, some in silver and some in red.

Further back, the bookshelves are not pressed against the walls but arranged in stacks that divide up the space into small, semi-private areas. Hidden there are more tables, these ones small, as well as single chairs and plush couches.

The room is windowless, but kept well-lit by many lamps.

Desmond seems about to answer Marsei, but then he's in the library and all thought escapes him for a moment. He gapes around, staring up at the shelves of books. "So many," he murmurs softly. "I didn't know." He smiles and waves to one of the children, then moves toward a secluded table and draws out a chair for Marsei, standing behind it, regaining his wits. "Dire? No, Lady. But I owe you an explanation."

The huge Northman's smile grows a touch strained. "I know," he says, his voice pitched lower, "That you heard me. At your feast. You heard what I said about your Lord Husband." He shakes his head faintly. "And of all things, I wish for you to trust me. So please, Lady, sit."

For a brief moment, Marsei smiles as though touched by Desmond's awe of the books — as if she, too, is awed by the library she's visited uncountable times since she was a girl. The topic at hand, before it is quite given words, takes precedence, turning her smile ever-so-slightly down. She sits neatly in the chair offered, tipping her head slightly in confirmation. She seems on the verge of speaking, but lets him say his peace first.

Desmond eases down into the other seat, the wood creaking beneath his weight. "At the Wedding," he says very quietly, "when he fainted.." Desmond trails off, gazing earnestly at Marsei. He starts again. "..When he fainted, I rushed to you both. You remember. But other men stayed back. And they heard things. Whispers of poison. Word came to me, it doesn't matter how, that dangerous rumors were beginning to spread."

He lays his huge hands atop the table, sighing. "I won't apologize for what I did. I did not see it as a choice. The narrative had to be changed, and quickly. I needed a rumor to overwhelm the other." He watches Marsei tensely, tonguing his cheek, nervous. "I do apologize, Lady, that I did not come to you sooner, and tell you this. It was not chivalrous. But.." he sighs, looking down. "..I had a duty to perform. To keep you safe."

"I am" the lady starts slowly, looking across the table with those seawater eyes of hers, seeming so empathic to Desmond's intent, yet with soft hints of conflict touching her delicate features. "… grateful for what you did— why you did it." She pauses, quickly adding with a burst of warmth, "I do forgive you." She looks down, quieter still. "Prince Dhraegon whispered to me the logic of it, in fewer words, but I could not say I fully understood then. I only wish it had not been so." She looks at her hands, folded and small upon the table. "I would rather rumours of poison that would die unfounded than … crudeness."

Desmond gazes back at Marsei, and for a moment, something slips through his expression, some hint of warmth, beyond a knight's pledge. He looks away, frowning down at the table. "I know, Lady. But the fear was.. my instruc…" he trails off, suddenly, then starts again. "My fear was that you would be harmed. And it nearly happened anyhow. I couldn't get to the two of you quickly enough, at the Tourney." He exhales. "I would do anything to keep the two of you safe. If it means that I must do the unpleasant task.." The man looks up again, locking eyes with Marsei. "I am trying to discover how to be a knight. But I know how to be loyal."

"You are loyal very fast," Marsei states; an observation, a fact that draws her curiosity, not her suspicion, at least not visibly. She smiles a little again through her gentle study of the man, looking him back in the eye. "The real danger came later, I think," she says, glancing away with lingering worry into the bookcase upon thoughts of the dragons, even now.

"A fair observation, Lady. I was a sellsword. Men did not buy my blade, in truth. They bought loyalty. My reputation was that I would die for my employer." Desmond smiles briefly as he watches Marsei, studying her in turn. "Many were unpleasant employers. Ser Daevon is not an unpleasant man to serve. And Prince Dhraegon hugged me." He lets that hang for a moment. "..And you?" Another pause. He does look down, just for a moment. "You treat me kindly. As though I were your equal. Even before I was knighted."

Marsei smiles fondly over mention of Dhraegon's penchant for hugging; there is a hint of a wince at the corners of the expression, but it, too, is good-natured, in the end. She honours each of Desmond's pauses, though words hover close to speech; she's quiet, pausing herself after he's spoken. "I think everyone begins equal." Rare and generous words from a noblewoman; she seems sincere. "In the eyes of the Seven." She flattens her hands, one over the other, on the table, and leans so subtly in that she barely seems to move; only her attention intensifies, that curiosity. "May I ask you something, Ser Desmond?"

Desmond's gaze flickers for a moment, no more, across Marsei's frame. His features are grave, intent. "You may ask me anything you like, Lady." Perhaps unconsciously drawn by the woman's own lean, so subtle that he may not have noticed, Desmond leans forward as well. The Northern brute rests an elbow on the table, keeping his gaze level with Marsei's. Again, perhaps without realizing it, he's maneuvered to bring himself down to about her height.

"You are from the North," she says with a hint of question — wondering and innocent, as if the concept is faraway, foreign and full of dark cold tales; and it is, truly, compared to the life the lady leads in the Reach, extravagant and safe, riots and wayward dragons notwithstanding. "Men who are knighted vow to the Seven as much as those they are sworn to protect." Marsei takes this seriously, it is clear, and concern steadies her features and widens her animated gaze with hope for the sellsword turned knight. "Does this mean you take our gods now?"

Desmond watches Marsei for a long moment. He doesn't flinch away from the question. When he speaks, his voice is gentle. "I prayed to your Gods on the night I sat vigil, Lady. Perhaps they heard me." A faint smile touches his features. "Afterward, I went to the Godswood and prayed to the Old Gods." He tilts his head slightly. "My father may never forgive me for leaving when I was a boy, or for the things that we said on parting. But I could never abandon his Gods, nor the Old Ways." He smiles, a touch apologetically. "My oaths are to protect the weak, defend the innocent and all women, to defend the Realm, to hold my Lord's honor dear.." He hesitates. "But I am afraid I swore them before the weirwood."

Marsei listens absolutely; she is attentive, patient, intrigued. She does not show disappointment in the new knight's decisions, or his Old Gods, although when she nods her red head in understanding, it is a touch somber. Still, her smile is nothing but compassionate. "Thank you for telling me, Ser Desmond," she says quietly. "It is clear that you are a man of your word. I am glad for it, whatever god you look up to."

Desmond smiles across the table to Marsei and nods. "I am a man of my word," he agrees. "I'm told I've many positive qualities." His smile is a touch wry as he studies Marsei's features. "But many of them can also be wicked, in the wrong hands. Courage. Skill at arms. A certain hardness of character. All of those are, at best, gray." He spreads his hands slightly. "Deviousness is rarely considered a good quality, but it is one I possess, on occasion, Lady. And ruthlessness. A horrible temper. And I am always too ready to think with my fist than is quite right." He is watching Marsei's features as he speaks, scarred head tilted. "But I am loyal to a fault, and I keep my oaths."

The honesty slightly unsettles Marsei, when it comes to deviousness and temper, but the tremble in her expression is short-lived, and her smile solidifies all the more for it, in the end. "I must admit I was surprised, when— you were knighted by the king. After the … " Her smile falters ever-so-slightly. "Incident with Prince Rhaegor, that is." Speaking of tempers.

Desmond smiles to see the shifts in Marsei's expression. "I lay myself bare to you, you see, Lady." He spreads his hands again. "As for my encounter with the Prince.." He trails off, looking down briefly. "I regret that it happened at your betrothal feast. I should have known he was in such a temper. When he insulted me, I spoke back without thinking. My fast temper." He hesitates, gaze returning to Marsei's features. "And I regretted that I should have embarrassed you, and Prince Dhraegon, and Prince Daevon. But I believe that the King was grateful for my courage, later. At the riots and when the dragons came. I did what I could to protect His Grace then." There's another pause, a shy little smile. "I don't think he expected me to ask for knighthood, when he asked how he could reward me. Perhaps coin, or armor, or the love of my father. But not even His Grace can give me the last."

Marsei is, again, quiet, listening. Accepting each word, one by one. A frown threatens her face, but it is over the recollection of Rhaegor's temper, not the timing of the encounter at her wedding feast. "His Grace is generous," she says in agreement. She has a manner of regarding Desmond calmly that seems knowing, as if she immediately understands the rift between father and son, although she of course cannot fully.

"The King is good. And I repay his kindness, I hope." Desmond speaks sincerely, watching Marsei closely. "And Daevon — Ser Daevon — is good to me as well. He knows me better than any man has in years, and he still says I'm a good man." A brief cloud crosses the scarred face of the Northerner. "I try to be. Because of him, and Prince Dhraegon, and yourself. I do try." He exhales. "May I tell you a secret?"

The lady tips her head to the side like an inquisitive little bird — half a second before Desmond asks his question, in fact. She gives him a gentle, prompting nod.

Desmond smiles faintly. "I am not a particularly good man. I swore myself to Ser Daevon because he is one. What he says is good, I believe is good. If he says I must not do a thing, I know I must not. He told me I must ensure Rhaegor yielded to me, that I did not kill him." The Northman tilts his head slightly. "It was good that he did so, Lady. When he struck me, and dismissed me like a dog, the only thing that stopped me then was you. Your look. Prince Dhraegon's tears. So I stayed on my knees. And that hurt me deeply."

"When I fought him, he refused to yield. And men mocked me in the crowd. I could hear them the whole time." He spreads his hands slightly. "But I had given my word, you see. This is why you can trust me to be loyal, Lady. I know that without you — Dhraegon — Daevon — I might be a much different man. And that frightens me."

"I do not know what provoked Prince Rhaegor to be so…" She hesitates, finding words; they are not as articulate as she would like, "… easily provoked. He has been different since his return…" she admits, looking away in brief, uncomfortable concern. "…I do not know Daevon well," she changes tracks, "but it seems fortunate that he found you." Marsei smiles her benevolent, earnest smile. "For us as well, for your loyalty."

Desmond searches Marsei's face for something, perhaps finding it, perhaps not. He smiles. "I think I understand Prince Rhaegor well enough, Lady. There's little enough ill-will between us, now that the matter is settled. We have decided, he and I, that I am a man. Not a dog." His tone is subtly self-mocking. "And I hope it is true, Lady, that you view me as an ally. As someone to be relied upon." He hesitates, swallowing. "It saddens me that you do not know Ser Daevon well. But, as I see it, I am your man as much as I am his." He falls silent, a distant cast to his features for a moment. "Now, I think, I might ask a secret of you, Lady."

Marsei's smile is subtly approving - of the man's coming to terms with Rhaegor, of his loyalty; she's poised to reply when her brows lift, the picture of sweet and nearly childlike surprise. "A secret of me, ser…?" she queries, uncertain.

Desmond nods gravely. "Yes. A secret of you, Lady." he smiles at the woman, to soften his tone — unaccountably, there is the faintest hint of hardness in his gaze now. "I hear rumor of a death in your dungeons, Lady. A.. suicide." He lets that word hang for a moment. There's no real judgement in his voice, only a considering gaze to his eyes. "I know something of the story behind it, and I do not intend to claw at old wounds. Nor is it my place to do so."

He spreads his hands faintly. "Only tell me this secret, Lady — do you fear? Are you in danger?"

Delicate brows that had only just risen now fall, shocking rivulets of tension between them normally so absent from the lady's smooth features. "A suicide?" Confusion heightens her small voice. Rumours, it seems, reach the ground faster than they do her chamber high in the tower. "I- I do not … please," she goes on, quietly distressed, "Do tell me what it is you've heard, ser. I… cannot imagine…"

Very softly, Desmond speaks on. "Istor Fossoway is dead, Lady. They say he took a splinter of iron from his manacles and drove it into his heart. I am sorry." He hesitates, then continues on, watching Marsei closely. "They are lying, Lady. Someone murdered Istor Fossoway. I know that.. though you bear him no ill will.. he was no friend of yours. But I know what a death in a dungeon means, and it always means murder."

The news strikes Marsei like a brick. She seems to pale, even in the warm lamplight of the library, and her rosy lips fall delicately apart. "A- " She shakes her head. "In the care of the Fossoways?" she asks as if she cannot quite believe it. "Are you certain? Murder? He was…" She looks far past the table, beyond Desmond, forlorn, "… he was so very … unsettled, Lord Istor. He was not well… perhaps he could have… oh, no." She clamps her mouth shut and closes her eyes, only momentary, shaking her head gently once again, reminding herself of Desmond's question. "I am safe, I think. But I— " She clutches her skirts and slips from her seat, so slight she barely needs to push it back from the table's edge. "I must go see to something," she says politely, albeit hurried. "Thank you, Ser Desmond."

Desmond rises to let the woman leave, but calls quietly after her, "Do not forget, Lady, that you own my mind as well as my blade. I can help." He stands there for a long time afterward, quite still.

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