(123-01-02) In the Service of Truth
In the Service of Truth
Summary: Ser Desmond Snow and Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck discuss the recent duel between his master and her nephew, and the accusations at the root of it. (Warning: mature material under discussion.)
Date: 02/01/2015
Related: The duel.
Players:
Joyeuse..Desmond..

The Quill and Tankard is always noisy. Always packed. Acolytes and even young Maesters make up a large proportion of the crowd. Seamen and ironsmiths, craftsmen of all sorts, interact with them, and there are often loud debates on the proper way of doing…something. Anything. Pretty servers circulate through the room, carrying goblets of wine and tankards of ale. And there are swordsmen, too. Sellswords and knights, and those who are both.

Desmond Snow, once a sellsword, once an adventurer in Braavos, now a knight, sits alone at a corner table. He's drinking black ale — strong, thick, bitter. A prayer book is open in front of him, and by the way the man massages his temple, it's not light reading.

Such is the fame of the tavern's apple cider and its conviviality that the finely-clad folk from Battle Island and the manses of Starry Street make their way here almost as reliably as the grey-robed ravens of the Citadel; thus an older lord with golden cranes emblazoned upon his azure doublet to mark himself as a visitor from Red Lake, in earnest conversation with a lady in a gown of gleaming sandsilk redder even than her hair. Their places across from one another at the end of a trestle table (she sitting demurely sideways upon her bench, one forearm leaning against the table), and the empty seats next to them providing a buffer for privacy's sake, are guarded by her man and his, and the sour-faced serving-woman in her late forties who sits with her back to her mistress's, glowering at the tavern's other patrons whenever she lifts her eyes from the singularly unprepossessing piece of knitting in her lap.

When they've been speaking some half an hour or so the lord — fifty if he's a day, but with hair on his head still and a figure which doesn't speak of too much indulgence — rises and executes a correct bow to his lady companion. He takes for a moment the long-fingered, beringed hand offered him and bows over that too and lingers over his parting words — but again and again he glances to the door, the very image of a chivalrous fellow tearing himself away with all due reluctance, offering escort, offering all that the lady might need or desire, and, by the slow diminution of the smile he shows to the common room (while she displays only the back of her elaborately-dressed red head) being put off and put off and put off.

Gently, though. He leaves looking thoughtful, and without his man to walk ahead of him he'd bump into even more of the inn's other denizens than just that acolyte walking while reading and the girl hurrying too fast with the tray of tankards and the sellsword who gets as far as "Oy, you—" before falling silent and tugging his forelock to such apparent consequence.

When she suspects the coast to be clear the redhead sneaks a peek over her silken shoulder, her heavy-lidded grey-green eyes flickering over the common room and its myriad sights in search of azure doublets until— why, who's that…? She could almost swear she's seen him before, and not only seen him. It's only that she can't think where… And so her attention lingers speculatively upon Ser Desmond Snow, as though with her very gaze she might rifle through his pockets and turn up the key to the conundrum.

Desmond licks his thumb and turns a page, frowning down at the prayer-book. He traces a line with his finger, mouths something in apparent frustration, traces it again. But something's irritating him. A man with as many scars as this does not live without developing a sixth sense for being watched. Without looking up, he closes the book, reaches for his tankard, and takes a long gulp. His other hand goes unhurriedly beneath the table. Out of sight, a small punch-dagger appears in his hand. Plain iron, ugly, with a two-inch blade. And only then does he look up.

His gaze first goes to the clusters of sellswords, searching through them attentively, watching over the rim of his tankard. Around to the smaller men, shadow-eyed and quick, who linger in corners and speak in hushed tones. Nothing. A frown beginning to creep onto his usually-stolid features, he looks around again. Prey, before some predator. Ah. There. A woman. He smiles, a slender edge of relief touching his features, and makes the tiny blade disappear again.

Rising, the huge Northman makes his way toward Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck. It takes him a minute to edge through the crowd, murmuring politely where he can, using an elbow where people are disinclined to listen. Finally, he makes as much of a bow as room allows for. "Lady Hastwyck. I'd not expect to see you here." His northern accent is just noticeable over the din of the tavern.

The instant the northman's eyes meet hers Lady Joy (prey, very much so, especially with her sandsilk gown clinging so) looks away again and becomes very occupied with the wooden cup before her, which a moment later will furnish a convenient excuse. "Oh, it's you!" she declares in greeting, with still absolutely no notion what that entails. She tilts her head nearer to confide, in a voice hardly lowered and yet just between the two of them, "In truth I'm fond of the apple cider they serve here — but I find that somehow or another it doesn't taste the same anywhere but here." Looking up into his eyes she gives a little shrug, as though to say, what can one do?

Desmond rumbles a laugh in answer, leaning over the seat across from Joyeuse. He hasn't been invited to sit, and so he does not. "I've heard that before, Lady. Ser Daevon buys a cask or a few bottles every now and then. It's the only liquor he truly drinks." Amusement touches the huge man's features. He seems oblivious to the fact that poor Joyeuse has no idea who he is. A glance around at the crowd, though at least the woman has a bit of a cushion from the chaos. "But he complains, even so, that it's not the same when he drinks it in the manse, or out on a trail." The huge man leans in confidingly. "I cannot taste the difference. I don't think I've the… sophistication…for it."

Lady Hastwyck brings her cup once more to her lips as she listens, as is only natural, given the subject under discussion — it shields, thus, the melting away of her smile when she begins at last to place the enormous northman in his proper context. The Maidenday Gardens. A shower of rain, a stream of richly optimistic Braavosi. My cousin Daevon's man. "… Perhaps you'll forgive me," she suggests, lowering her cup and lifting her chin; "but I don't quite recall the nature of your connection with Prince Daevon."

"I'll forgive you whatever you wish, Lady." Desmond doesn't see that smile vanishing, but perhaps he catches a change in tone as she lifts her chin. "I'm Ser Daevon's sworn sword, Lady. Before the King knighted me, I was just a sellsword he'd hired." The huge man looks as though he may wish to have a drink in his hand; he's left his ale back on the corner table, which has already been claimed by drunk students.

And his speech — so chivalrous on the one hand and so damning on the other — brings the lady to her feet in a rustle of sandsilk, the arrangement of her riotously curly red hair striving to bring her up from her five and a half feet almost as far as six six, though she's in no danger of reaching his seven save by her searching, wistful, regretful, grey-green gaze.

"Will you?" she asks softly. "I only wish," and she bites the curve of her lower lip with neat white teeth, "I could forgive you."

Her serving-woman has risen with her and tucked her knitting away in the capacious bag hanging from her wrist; sensing Lady Hastwyck's imminent departure she unfolds a colourful hand-painted silken shawl and holds it ready to drape about her shoulders in defense against sea breezes. The strapping young guardsman who completes their party looms meanwhile behind.

Suddenly, there is hostility in the air. Desmond Snow looks completely mystified. He stares at Joyeuse, then at the serving-woman, and finally at the guardsman. His look at the poor young man is first assessing, then dismissive. He looks back to the woman before him, his jaw sagging a touch before he speaks.

"Lady, I've done many things in my life that I wish I hadn't, but I'm not certain what I've done to offend you." The words are carefully chosen. He keeps his hands carefully away from the sword at his hip, spreading them lightly.

"Forgive me. But I beg you, before you leave, what ill have I done?"

In fact Lady Hastwyck appears less irate than dejected, for all the pleasure of her outing (old friends, apple cider, gentle flirtation, more apple cider, a second meeting with a newer acquaintance known to talk amusing rot) has been overwritten by the remembrance of who and what Ser Desmond Snow may truly be. She has taken a step away — but she hovers, arrested by his words — but she's obviously reluctant to speak — but the rest of her apple cider is just sitting there on the table between them and it looks as lonely as she suddenly feels. She retraces that dainty step and takes up the cup and drains it — and it lifts her spirits a little, she couldn't say it doesn't.

And so what if this bastard knight of the north is a head taller than her man, and she has reason to doubt his honour? They're in the middle of the Quill and Tankard, surrounded by dozens of witnesses; and she never leaves the Hightower without proper escort; and in her opinion he deserves to hear that he isn't quite such a fine fellow as he supposes himself to be, and that not all princes are created equal, and that not all the world esteems his.

"You've asked me," she answers slowly, her voice strengthening with each word, "and so I shall tell you. You've sold your sword," her pause at which juncture serves as a second emphasis, "to one whose idea of chivalry is to accuse my nephew of the foulest of crimes, of which I need hardly say he is innocent; to force upon him an unequal duel in which he had no chance at all of getting through your prince's heavy plate armour with only a spear; and then, had the Seven not sent along in the very nick of time a better and more temperate man to prevent it, to extract from him a false oath — or slaughter him for refusing to besmirch his old and honourable name."

And even now she speaks without anger or bitterness, but her gaze upon Ser Desmond's is steady and her tone firm and confident: he faces a dangerous opponent indeed, a noblewoman of high breeding who knows herself to be in the right. "I may no longer bear that name," she explains to him, "but I can't laugh and I can't drink with one who is party to the slandering of a son of House Qorgyle — and that, because he is well-paid for his services."

For a moment, anger threatens to override good sense. Desmond stares at the woman, his pupils dilating, his nostrils flaring. He takes in a breath so deep it might be assumed that his lungs have collapsed. When he speaks, it's in a low voice - but it cannot hide the genuine hurt, the injury, in its notes. "I'm afraid, Lady, that you mistake me entirely." He chews on his lower lip. "Likely, that is because you're not in possession of certain facts. I call no man a liar, but no man possesses all knowledge." As he speaks, the northern accent grows thicker, and he pauses again to rein in his voice.

He continues in more clear tones. "I've just come from visiting with Ser Manfryd, at the Citadel, not a few hours past. I left him a copy of The Seven Pointed Star. It comforts me. I thought it might do the same for him." His shoulders sag slightly.

"I will not speak ill of your nephew. What he did, what Ser Daevon did, is done. And your words against me — well, I accept them. I've sold my sword before, and if you accuse me of it now, what of it? I do not stand on pride." But there is pride in his next words. "But I am a son of House Umber, Lady. I do not swear false oaths. I do not speak false words. Believe me in this — you mistake Ser Daevon grievously. I have seen him perform acts of generosity. Not least among those was letting me serve him, after I begged. And I've seen him perform acts of courage."

He trails off, clearing his throat. "I do not follow Ser Daevon because I am well-paid, Lady. In truth, I asked for two sets of clothes and a new sword when he accepted me into his employ. I serve him because I've never known a kinder man. Call me what you will.. but I must insist, you mistake him."

The lady does him the courtesy of listening; but her elegant red head shakes more than once in silent commentary upon his words. "How easily you say that what's done is done, when there's no harm in it to you and yours…" Lady Hastwyck sighs. "Precisely because rape is a crime far less common in Dorne than in Westeros, it is regarded as being far more serious — and the shadow of it will follow my nephew all his life, after what your prince has done to him," she points out. "That, perhaps, is one of the facts of which you are not in possession — and where Ser Manfryd was brought up, and by whom, and what kind of a boy he was, and his relations with girls… I don't pretend to the intimate knowledge of your prince which you must have amassed in your years of service to House Targaryen; I can consider him only by the results of his actions, by what he brings about in the world.

"And I, ser," her eyes soften as they didn't in answer to the northern knight's injured tones, "I care with all my heart for the friendship between our kingdoms, and when I see one who ought to know better — Princess Visenya's own brother! — working up his own squalid accusations into a public furore when it would have been so simple for him to bring up within the circle of his own close relations whatever tales he'd been told, privately, discreetly, so as not to raise any further the tensions in the city… Well," and she shakes her head so hard that a pearl-tipped pin pops loose. She appears unaware; but her serving-maid kneels down with a creaky sigh to seek it under the table. "I'm sorry you're not being paid better for what I'm certain is exemplary service," she laughs in a sudden change of tack, "and I'm certain you believe what you say, and yet you cannot expect all you meet to take so uncomplicated a view of he whom you serve. I know the tales of the Maiden Knight as well as anyone, but it takes all manner of qualities, doesn't it, to make a man? And not all of them are shining and golden; and there's no such creature," and for all she claimed she couldn't laugh with him she does so again, this time rather sadly, "as a storybook knight."

"It won't matter to you, Lady, but I am the one who told Prince Daevon what I had learned. I knew the person in question, you see. We confirmed it. And I recognize that my Prince lost his temper. Frankly, between you and I, he should have allowed me to handle it — as I begged him to do." For a moment, there's a strange coldness to the huge man, a chill that speaks of hidden punch-daggers and a mercurial temper. But he swallows it down and smiles wanly. "But he didn't. And he did lose his temper, just as I feared he would. As you say, Lady, he is a man — not a God."

Desmond meets the woman's gaze more steadily now, perhaps feeling on better footing. "I am sorry that we cannot agree. I won't hear my Prince slandered, as you will not hear your nephew slandered." He shrugs, and like Joyeuse, his expression grows rather sad. "For what it is worth, the fault is mine. I ought to have called him to account for the insults he gave me. A quiet dispute between your nephew and a nobody would have drawn little notice. I failed my Prince in that."

That momentary chill in Ser Desmond's demeanour reminds Lady Joy (and several gawkers straining with various degrees of success to catch their conversation) that she's a small woman clad in silk and he's a giant of a man in brigandine with a sword belted to his hip. Nonetheless, twelve years in Dorne didn't leave her untouched — she takes a deep breath, lifts her chin higher, keeps looking up at him despite the crick in her neck, and persists.

"Surely I am a better judge than you of what matters to me, ser. And if this absurd tale came from you, if you're the one who whispered the poison in your prince's ear and set in motion the events by which my nephew came within a hair's breadth of losing his life… then you're the very man of whom I have been wishing to inquire. How could you have confirmed it?" she demands. "What confirmation is there for an untruth, save another untruth? How can you count it a failure to speak as you did, without considering it a failure greater still not to pursue the right of the matter as far as you could? Explain it to me. If you are a man who speaks no false words and utters no false words, explain to me how this came to pass, and how you brought the wroth of House Targaryen down upon a man who could not have committed such an act."

"You asked. Remember that, Lady. You asked." Again, the mercurial shift in temper. Now he seems almost tender. He looks around at the gawkers, then leans forward and lowers his voice. "First, you must understand certain things about my own past. I traveled alone, as a green boy, in rough company. I hope I needn't say more than that, and I hope I do not mistake your honor. What was done was very painful, and I'd not have it spread about. Truth is, you're the only one as ever heard that. I tell you that, so you know y'can destroy me if y'find me false."

As he speaks, his voice grows less stilted, formal, and more like the sellsword he once was. "I saw Manfryd follow the young man. I saw him grab at him and not let go. I saw him speak to him, heard his words. He was drunk." Desmond stares intently at Joyeuse. "I stepped in. It was in the street. There were witnesses. I stopped it, or so I thought." He shakes his head slowly. "When the lad came to the Manse later, I'd been planning to speak with him. But it had already happened. I didn't get the story from him, but I knew. When you've had a thing done to you, you know the look." The man pauses. "We waited until someone else had got the story. Then I confronted the boy. Pushed him hard. Heard the same tale, no changes. As true a thing as you're like to hear."

Desmond has been speaking in a patient, plodding, monotone all along. "So all along, see, it was me. It wasn't my Prince. It was me and it was Manfryd. He and I created this mess. My Prince simply lost his temper in the wrong moment." He meets Joyeuse's gaze flatly. "Ask him. Ask him if I slandered him. If he says it is so, then I'll stand for it, take the consequences, any way he sees fit."

It's curious how alone two people can be, in the midst of dozens, when there's a racket all about them and, whatever their differences, each truly desires not only to be in possession of the truth but to press it upon the other.

Lady Hastwyck, with such tales whispered in her ear as no lady of gentle breeding ought ever to hear, fails notably to flinch or to blush; she listens, thoughtfully, pursing her lips, craning close so as to hear every word, the rubies and pearls dangling from her ear bumping once against Ser Desmond's chin before, instinctively, she adjusts the angle of her head.

"… If I were to hear two people tell a tale so much alike," she offers at last, her voice pitched low as it can be and still reach him, her lips quite close now to his ear and her breath perfumed by apple cider, "without a variation or a confusion or a mistake, I would wonder whether they had not worked it out between them to some advantage. Ser, I cannot but regret what befell you in your youth," and, having received his confidence, she's finally speaking to him with a measure of compassion, audible in ever word, "and I'll hold your secret with my own; but if all the evidence you have to put before me is the word of a young man you know, and that of some other acquaintance you have in common — and the understandable apprehension of a man who has suffered, that a friend of his might have suffered likewise, and then his wish to see someone punished for such crimes — I cannot accept such a tissue of talk and feelings, as a judgment upon one whose character is known to me. My nephew has his faults — and, like all Qorgyle men, he has strong passions — but he would not force another. Such an act is anathema to a Dornishman. And, you see, I can think of so many ways in which the matter might have got muddled at the time, or afterwards, that I'm astonished, ser, you'd pursue it so far with so little proof… You have one man's word against another's, and no more but your own pain and your own regret for the past.

"Ser," and Lady Joy turns her head to look at him for a moment, letting out a soft sigh, "you see I am reduced to pleading with you now. I beg you'll look into the matter further, look into your own heart, do whatever else it might take to satisfy you that a mistake was made and my nephew is innocent of this crime. You've tied my hands; I cannot repeat what you have said to any other; I cannot say, my nephew was slandered, the duel he fought and lost was provoked, in thus-and-such a way, by a man who was uneasy in his heart; I do not know the men you speak of, or what they said to you, or when, or where this happened, or what witnesses there might have been with something to say of it besides your own self. I can only rely upon your honour, and trust in your wish to make amends for, as you said it, failing your prince, by seeing this question settled beyond the shadow of a doubt. I don't believe," she explains gently, "it is settled yet, or that the truth can necessarily be reached by two men unleashing their tempers upon one another."

Desmond considers it all in silence. He gazes at the woman, exhaling. "I also have what I saw. And the way he has treated me has never left me much room for love." In the face of this onslaught of pleading, the huge Northman retreats into perfect speech. He seems almost frightened by the woman's words, gazing at her with such deep sympathy that the man blushes and looks away. "Here is what I will do," he finally mutters.

"I will ask Manfryd. I will sit with him and I will ask him, man to man, the truth of the tale I heard. A tale, Lady, I believe with all my soul. For the reluctance with which it was told, for what I saw, for a thousand things I cannot properly put to words." He looks back to Joyeuse. "But I will ask him if he put drugs into the boy's drink, as he said. And I will abide by his answer. Does that satisfy you?"

Among those who best know Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck, née Qorgyle, née Florent, scant surprise would be mustered at the sight of the seven-foot-tall Snow Giant from the far north colouring and averting his gaze, rather than the round little Reachlady, whose own eyes are alight with sudden concern for him as he wrestles with this conundrum. If she weren't gripping the edges of the table between them quite so firmly, to draw strength from the wood, she might almost pat his hand… It's too bad, really, that he's a breathing, feeling, fallible, breakable man for her now, and not a villainous sellsword she could have looked down upon if only she'd had a chair to stand upon.

"… First will you sit down?" she asks him, and lets out a little sigh. "It's so awkward, isn't it, trying to whisper like this?"

Relief and pleasure both surge onto the man's face. He drops into the seat like, as a puppet, his strings were cut. "Yes, I'll sit, Lady. With pleasure." He gazes at the woman, sincere gratitude in his expression. "I met with Manfryd this evening, as I said, and I don't think I need doubt his word any longer. So if it would appease you, I shall ask him. But…"

He looks at Joyeuse, wincing faintly. "Lady, whatever he says, if I draw attention to it, will it not make the matter worse? If he admits he is guilty, would you even want to know?" He leans forward slightly. "The man is lost. Damaged. I don't know why — perhaps because he is no longer with his Prince. I know what that would do to me."

Red sandsilk is hard put to it to contain Lady Hastwyck's remarkable bosom as she leans forward over the table, her hands clasped upon it, one adorned with pearls and the other rubies. Her servants adjust their perimeter, her maid taking the opportunity to pop the rescued pin back into her hair now that she's at a convenient height, her guardsman seeing off another fellow who entertained some delusion of taking one of the empty places at this table.

"But he isn't guilty," she explains impatiently, "that's just what I've been trying to tell you. I've no fear for the truth, Ser— Ser I don't know," she admits with a sigh, "for all this while I haven't been able to recollect your name… Shall I say what I think happened?" She quirks her eyebrows. "I don't know all of it, Seven know, but I do know something of people and of love — and I've talked with you long enough, though I didn't mean to, that I can't help feeling you really do care for the truth — and believe you have it — and I know," she lets out a soft, unconsciously sensual laugh, her gaze flicking sideways and back again, "much and more of Qorgyle men… Ser Manfryd doesn't belong here, and that's bad enough; but these accusations damage his pride and his honour. I fear for him, I fear for the peace, if the shadow is left upon him when it might somehow be cleared…"

A hint of amusement touches the Northman's face, in between his glances at Lady Joyeuse's substantial bosom. "Desmond Snow," he offers softly. "Son of Lord Uryk Umber." He considers for a moment. "Bear in mind, Lady, that I believe I know what happened. Proving it beyond a shadow of a doubt is…difficult, as you see. I could present ten men, and a person might doubt me."

"But tell me what you believe, Lady. And tell me if you'll accept his word on what happened. And if he says I am false…" Desmond considers. "What do you think my punishment should be? I trust you." It's a sincere, painfully naive, question.

The difficulty men have in looking her in the eye even when she's speaking, is so much a part of Lady Joy's experience of the world that she scarcely notices the repeated reversions of the northman's gaze: "Ser Desmond," she echoes, nodding to him, looking at any rate at his well-scarred face. "Of course I'd accept my nephew's word, though I suppose I see why you of all men," one corner of her mouth lifts in a half-hearted attempt at a smile, "might not… My thought is that — well, I know," she admits, leaning still nearer, till the habitues of the Quill and Tankard must surely begin to think the Snow Giant's luck is in tonight, "that not all young men are the same… If you thought you put a stop to it, and then it transpired that you had not, perhaps that was because neither of them wished it to be stopped. You gave me a secret of yours — I'll give you one of mine, although in Dorne…" A truer smile curves her reddened lips, giving her a wistful air if only Ser Desmond were paying attention. "Well it's hardly a secret in Dorne."

A quick wave of her hand and a lift of her empty cup suffices to attract the attention of a tavern wench and summon reinforcements, for her throat is parched with all this talk, and all the talk still to come.

"My first husband, my Qorgyle husband," she confides, "much preferred the company of men… He had the— powerful passions," which words she selects delicately, "which come so often with Qorgyle blood; he was a magnificent lover but not always, for the young men who were his companions, an easy one… But for every taste, there is someone who shares it. The difficulty arises only when someone is mistaken about his taste, when he entangles himself of his own will with a lover not to his liking and— changes his mind after it is done. The question I would have you ask Ser Manfryd," she sighs, and quietens as the tavern wench's shadow falls across them.

She speaks again when she has wet her throat amply with apple cider. "The question, man to man, as you say, I'd have you ask is just this: did your friend come to him of his own will, and did they share in whatever took place that night? I was a Dornishwoman twelve years, Ser Desmond," she says gently, "I know full well the extraordinary things two men might do in the name of amusement, or even of love — and I wouldn't pin a man's guilt upon the nature of one act or another, without knowing whether or not it was agreed upon between them. And now I rather think you can destroy me, too," she realises, for in her passion for the truth she has spoken as no lady of impeccable virtue would speak, "if your secrets are spoken aloud, and you can trace them to my lips… But neither of us would do such a thing. Would we?"

"Lady…" Desmond considers the woman before him with a faint smile. "Far be it from me to ever question love, in whatever form it comes. It's rare enough a treasure, and I delight in all forms of it." He grunts softly, hesitating. "I mean, I wish joy to all who find love, in whatever .. form.. it comes in." His repetition ends rather lamely. He's left staring at Joyeuse for a few moments, blankly, in dull dismay. Once again — this time unwillingly — the huge man has imparted a secret.

He clears his throat. "I will ask him, then, exactly what you say. But he will not answer with anyone present but me. So, then, comes the next dilemma." He smiles miserably at Joyeuse. "Will you accept my word, even if it goes against him?"

For an instant those heavy-lidded eyes simply reflect Ser Desmond, whilst Lady Joy considers — and then the realisation strikes her, visibly, and she does pat his hand. "There isn't enough of it about, is there, that it behooves one to turn up one's nose, wouldn't you say?" she offers sympathetically, though whether or not her words qualify as a like admission is hard to say. "I'll accept his words, Ser Desmond, even if they must come from you… Whatever you must think of me now," and she sighs, and helps herself liberally to her apple cider, "I am not quite so bold a creature as to ask Ser Manfryd myself just what— Particularly when he might think I asked because I doubted him, when you must know, I truly don't."

Desmond looks down at the hand atop his as Lady Joyeuse pats it, and his features cave in. There is a stark grief where, before, there was doughty strength (if one likes the man) or stolid stupidity (if one does not). "That is kind of you to say," he whispers. "I understand what it is you mean to imply. Perhaps none better. And perhaps I am best suited to say, I do not believe it the case here." The words are reluctant. He stares at Joyeuse with the heavy expression of a mourner. "I'll do as I've promised. I'll ask." He pauses for a long moment, then rises from his seat. "I am so sorry, Lady, for the answer I believe I will bring back."

"… Perhaps that's not quite what I was implying, then," the lady adds, in the same confidential tone she's been employing and which now Ser Desmond, risen up and up onto his feet, can hardly catch. The other half of her sentence is lost in a thoughtful mutter as she looks up at him. She doesn't offer him her hand, under the circumstances, keeping her fingers knitted together about the cup of apple cider in her hands. "My chambers are on the fifth floor of the Hightower. You'll call on me, when you've seen him?"

And so it is agreed; and the partisans separate, to meet another day and a step nearer the truth of these questions preoccupying them both.

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