(123-01-01) Many Faces
Many Faces
Summary: Desmond comes to Marsei for advice about the Seven, and with a request.
Date: 01/01/2015
Related: Loyalty in the Eyes of Gods and Noblewomen, Sink or Swim

Lower Garden - The Hightower Battle Island

The bottom two levels, giving some forty-five feet of height to the tower, are below, and the next tier of the white stone structure looms above. The second tier is narrower than the first, and the roof-space left behind supports this garden. It's a large ring, some twenty-five feet from the wall to the interior of the tower to the battlements at the roof edge. There's a paved walk along those crenellations, but the rest of the space has been floored in rich deep soil.

The garden has two winding paths around the rings, twisting among beds of flowers and blossoming shrubs. They bloom profusely, and in every colour. A few small fountains are nestled amid the plants. The soil is not deep enough for large trees, so there are canopies of colourful fabric to create the shady spots. White stone benches and tables grace the shaded areas. Still, the rich earth is deep enough for small trees, and little plum trees and spreading berry bushes offer their sweets on some months.

There's a games court on the Western side of the ring. The Butterfly Garden is on the South side.

The Lady Marsei sits at a small round table beneath one of the colourful canopies in the garden, a needlework project in hand, bound upon a small circle. A cluster of ladies — various women of the family and of the court and their kin — have just departed and stroll along the lovely, blossom-lined pathway back toward the mighty Hightower, but Marsei stays put, conversing softly with her handmaid, Siva, who sits beside her, occasionally reaching over to guide her needle and thread to better placement. The lady is clad in a lovely gown of sapphire and pastel blue detail, elegantly sleeveless; Siva has a matching cloak folded over her arm, incase the storm that has been stirring the skies stirs again. Up here, the wind and rain can tear through the gardens and batter the tower. Presently it's only a warm, threatening breeze, moving the ladies' curling hair and shaking the leaves, petals and canopies all around them.

Shown up the stairs of the Hightower, Desmond turns and thanks the servant graciously before moving into the Gardens. He pauses, his eyes widening, as he takes in the surroundings, the Terrace and its beauty, and the view of the ocean beyond. Warm wind tickles at the edge of his cloak. He pauses, taking in a breath, smelling the myriad perfumes of flower and women both.

After a moment to drink it all in, the huge Northman approaches Lady Marsei and her handmaid. He keeps a respectful distance, clasping his hands behind his back. If one could see behind him, they'd see him tangle his fingers up in one another, to keep from fidgeting.

Marsei is clueless to the new presence, having a keen focus on her needlework; it's easier to dedicate her attention to it when it's turning out well, with the helpful instruction of Siva. A violet seven-pointed star fills the white space and she decorates the edge, now, with delicate, embroidered flowers in purple, yellow, and green.

It is Siva who notices Desmond first. The dark-haired Volantene woman stares at him expressionlessly without notifying her lady immediately; she seems, briefly, to look straight into him. "Ser Desmond Snow, my lady," she says then, and Marsei's hands suddenly cease their work, leafy green thread mid-pull. "Ser Desmond," she greets quietly without looking up.

Desmond stares at the two women, consternation written on his features. Whatever he had been expecting, it was perhaps not this coldness. "Lady Siva. Lady Marsei." The Northerner turns to look at the flower-garden for a moment, flexing his jaw, then looks back. "I need your help, Lady." The words burst out of him in a sudden exhalation.

He swallows, then eases down into a crouch to examine a particular flower. Without looking up, he says, "I was hoping, Lady, you would tell me about the Mother."

The sudden request surprises the lady almost to the point of startle, prompting the quick turn of her head toward Desmond with slightly concerned and widened eyes. Turning in her seat to study him more curiously, she lightly places one hand on the back of the white chair, the other gently abandoning her needlepoint to her lap. "The Mother?" she repeats, searching. "Whatever for, ser?"

Desmond closes his eyes for a moment. When he speaks, it's reluctant. "I've been told, Lady, that it's not enough for me to believe in your Gods. That I'm a false knight. That my oaths mean nothing." He's trembling, though he tries to hide it. "I don't know if this matters, Lady, but they were never false oaths to me. I've never sworn a false oath in my life." The huge man waves a hand absently. "But I wish to be a true knight. I know the Seven are real.. but I know nothing of them. And I'd like to. Septa Leire has told me of the Crone. Ser Daevon has told me of the Maiden. I was hoping you would tell me of the Mother."

Marsei looks away upon false oaths. A delicate but growing tension forms across the lady's lips, pressing them together as Desmond goes on to speak of the Maiden, and Daevon; the Crone, and Leire. She touches fingertips to the seven-pointed star she's created in thread. "The Mother embodies mercy…" she begins to answer softly, thoughtful, "and compassion."

Desmond nods his head slowly. "Mercy and compassion." He gazes down at the flowers. "Does she speak to you, Lady? Do you dream of the Mother?" It's an earnest question, the man seeming more puzzled than anything else. Another beat. "Lady, do you hate me?" He looks up at the woman.

A soft sound is captured in Marsei's throat, cutting off what she might have said before Desmond's query. "… I am not … blessed with such dreams," she says slowly, with a hint of regret for that fact. She looks upon Desmond again, studying him once more, a faint hesitancy preventing her look from becoming deep, although she inclines her head ever-so-slightly in his direction. "Do you think you have done something that warrants such feelings — ?" she queries, soft and wondering but pointed, in its way. "The Mother speaks to me in other ways that I must find for myself," she says earnestly after a small pause. "She tells us not to hate."

Desmond nods his head slowly. "She tells us not to," he says after a moment, "But it's hard sometimes, isn't it?" Sadness, hurt, are layered into his words. "I'm not certain what I've done," he says slowly. "I thought — I thought I've always been a friend to you, Lady." The man meets Marsei's gaze, open, frank. "It's a funny thing," the man says after awhile, looking out again, over to the ocean. "I've only broken one contract in my life, and that was the best thing I ever did. But I can see that I've done something to make you mistrust me, Lady." He closes his eyes for a moment. "Perhaps I don't understand the Seven at all. Isn't loyalty important?"

"Yes," Marsei agrees, voice yet soft. "Loyalty among people. And loyalty to one's faith." She smiles a little, the expression lingering so that he may see it with open eyes. "You confessed to me that you would not abandon your father's gods. If I were you, I would not be able to abandon mine… but one cannot have both." Her brows lift, faintly taut with some manner of concern; the lady appears conflicted. "I think your heart means well, Desmond," she says, so vividly sincere; even though that clear conflict winds its way into her voice, so too does compassion, that embodiment of the Mother she spoke of. "For that alone I could never fault you."

Desmond gazes at Marsei, some of the tension and hurt dropping away as he sees the smile. He dampens his lower lip. "Some would say I oughtn't continue telling you the truth. That you'd be more likely to help me if I told you what you want to hear." He tilts his head slightly, gazing at Marsei. "I won't do that. I won't ever lie to you, not when the truth could do you harm, Lady. There's something between us — some pain I've caused you. I wish that you'd say what I've done, so that I can make amends."

"As for the Seven.. I believe in them. In it? Some tell me they're Seven and One." He squints at Marsei. "I truly don't understand — perhaps you can explain to me why I cannot respect all the Gods? My gods are warriors, possessed of strength before all else, as are my people. But yours speak of compassion, kindness, wisdom, gentleness.." He trails off, spreading his hands awkwardly. "Can you see what I am trying to say? I've not words to talk well about Gods."

Marsei tips her head back slightly as she regards Desmond. Her face is as impassive as Siva's, though her gaze is gentler. "They are strength in battle and courage, too. And hard work and death and all things not known in this world and beyond," she explains patiently. "They are seven faces of one." She turns the needlework in her lap toward Desmond, showing him the seven points that make up one star. "I think all gods can be respected," she says, "but not…" she trails off, frowning a touch sympathetically. She tries, herself, to find the proper words. "Would your Old Gods not look unfavourably upon you speaking prayers to what your people call the new gods?"

Desmond considers that, frowning. "They haven't told me so," he says after awhile. "I asked." He rubs a hand over his face, exhaling as he gazes at the star. "They're new gods," he says after awhile. "But I've never heard they were false. It's just that they're.. well, they're new, aren't they? During the Long Night, in the time of the First Hero, our Gods saw us through the darkness. The bloodshed. Those are the sorts of Gods who walked here with the First Men, Lady — Gods of blood."

"Sometimes a man needs blood, Lady. Sometimes a man needs that fire. Needs to hear the words whisper through the trees and know that your arms will never tire until your enemies are dead at your feet and your women safe. I was born to those Gods." He pauses, letting the words hang in the air, before continuing. "But sometimes all I want is to be told how to be gentle. Compassionate. How to work hard. When it's wrong to kill?"

Marsei listens pensively and her gaze falls, watching her thumb move subtly to and fro on the edge of her needlework where thread has formed the shape of wildflowers. "There is nothing wrong with wanting that," she admits quietly, and is quieter after: she might want to give Desmond a clearer answer, but she cannot. "You should read the Seven-Pointed Star," she says after that silence, "and the Book of Holy Prayers."

Desmond nods once. "Then I shall," he says. He exhales, gazing at Marsei for a long moment before continuing. "There's another thing I need to speak to you about, Lady." He seems hesitant. "You know that I am estranged from my father." He dampens his lower lip before continuing. "I helped Lady Hellan Stark once. Asked her to write home to my father, tell him I was a good man. Last week, I told her to tear it up." He gazes out at the ocean. "Do you know what it is I'd beg of you, Lady?"

The breeze turns cool and gradually swirls of drizzle dampen the air all through the garden. Far below and beyond, the Whispering Sound seems to stir and whisper its song. Siva lays a hand on the lady's forearm and, with the silent communication of many years' practice, Marsei rises from her seat. While Siva drapes her in her cloak to protect her, Marsei tilts her head of ginger waves, giving Desmond a new curious study. She ventures only, "A favour… stronger than a letter…?"

Desmond nods his head once. "Far stronger," he admits. He lays a hand against the ground, gazing up at the woman from his crouch. The rain-drops begin to touch his face, but he doesn't seem to notice, apart from a faint smile as one falls against his lips. "A long time ago, my Family came south with Bran the Builder. We helped him to raise this place." He gazes around absently. "Before us, the maesters say, were the Valyrians." He falls silent, canting his head to listen to the rising winds, before finishing. "I believe, in the Valyrian catacombs, there is an ancestor of mine. I wish to find where he lies."

Marsei's head tilts the tiniest amount further at Desmond's certainty over his family's part in the building of the Hightower; the gesture can't be said to be skeptical, however, only intrigued, if on the hesitant side. Perhaps her Hightower history lessons left that part out. Her gaze drifts from Desmond only to look thoughtfully up at the Hightower's many levels above the garden. "The catacombs?" It is this she focuses on, the mysterious labyrinthine sprawl beneath her home that so few truly know exist in earnest — and so she asks simply, sounding benign, "How did you come to know all of this?"

Desmond considers Marsei, head tilting. "Some of it, I learned when I learned of your Family's flute," he says quietly. The huge Northman seems to sense a squall coming, perhaps metaphorically, but he meets it head-on. "I learned of the flute because I found a man with a false one. He'd murdered a woman. I killed him. He was insane, and others were behind the scheme. I've not found them yet."

He shrugs his shoulders slightly, watching Marsei. "The rest.. Maester Leandro suggested that my Family had been here. And then I started reading. It makes sense that the Umbers came south; we've ever been the Starks' most leal servants, since we bent the knee." He rubs at a scar on his scalp, still fresh. "I do not intend, Lady, to make trouble for your Family. Only to recover one of mine. If you refuse me, I'll not make a fuss. I'll understand."

"A false flute?" As she pins her cloak shut below her throat, with the pretty floral silver piece won from the light contest of flowers, Marsei's attention narrows on this with a burst of concern, distraught to hear of such a thing and the murder of a woman, a clear surprise to her ears. "Who was she, the woman— ?" The wind picks up and so does the rain, and with it, Marsei's attention reroutes back around. She lifts the hood of her cloak, resting it gently atop her head. She and Siva begin to naturally make their way toward the door back inside. "I can only ask my lord brother, Ormund, what he thinks." A neutral answer, but an offer, all the same.

"A merchant's daughter." Desmond seems reluctant to speak further on the subject, his features closing up. "I…carried her back to the city, returned her to the Silent Sisters. Spoke to her mother." The huge Northman closes his eyes for a moment. "She was a sweet girl. An innocent. When I found them, he'd hurt her." He listens to the woman's answer, pressing a knuckle into his temple. "Without your help, Lady, I fear your brother will say no. I know I'm asking…I'm asking you to trust me. And that is hard for you, with me."

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