(123-01-17) Paths Taken and Untaken
Paths Taken and Untaken
Summary: Wandering in the Maidenday Gardens Lady Hastwyck comes upon Ser Desmond Snow and the servant Camillo, well into their cups, words are had, enemies are made and unmade. With cameo appearances by Ser Daevon Targaryen and a hedge.
Date: 17/01/2016
Related: The last time Lady Hastwyck and Ser Desmond spoke; perhaps also her visit with her nephew, Ser Manfryd Qorgyle.

When one lives immured night and day in the Hightower, when one's comings and goings are so much a matter of record, what more charming, more fragrant corner of the city might one escape to for a quiet conversation with an old friend, than the Maidenday Gardens—? Somehow afternoon lapses into evening before Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck's footsteps bring her along a winding path beneath flowering vines, clad in flowing robes of golden sandsilk and a gaily painted silk shawl which constitutes a garden all in itself.

Several steps behind her and with an air of uncommon smugness, her maid Dora, whose black gown fades into the night and its greenery so that only her white hands and face may be seen. She totes that damn shawl (or one like it) all over Oldtown and for once it has come in useful. She is vindicated at last.

The final figure in the procession is the lady's guardsman, of whom all that can realistically be seen is that he's a tall, solid sort of fellow, and something he's got on is apt to catch what moonlight there is.

Coming upon two men, speaking quietly enough that at first she didn't hear them over her own rustling, her own preoccupations, Lady Joy stops short and lets out a breath. The pearl pins in her hair, the pearls about her throat, are small faint dots of light in the evening gloom. "Oh… forgive me." And at once she turns, as though to look for another path — for it must be another rendezvous such as her own, and as little in need of spectators, too.

Camillo looks thoughtful. "I don't think you lie," he says. Then he stops. He hears the sounds of movement and then a voice. "Someone's here," he says to Desmond in case the man is too drunk to realize he should not say anything sensitive now. When the Lady appears in the darkness, he is very still, picking out the details he can in the dark. But he doesn't say anything to her.

Drunk he may be, but Desmond is a professional. He's fallen silent as well for long beats as the footsteps begin to approach. Indeed, there is steel in his hand — a short-bladed dagger, drawn from at his hip. The huge man slides it away, however, when he hears the woman's voice. He rises to his feet — becoming a rather recognizable silhouette himself — and bows. The bow is a ponderous gesture, slow and very tentative. "Lady Hastwyck," the man says in his booming slur. "No need to apologize."

Having turned halfway in a circle the lady turns the rest of the way, completing a full revolution, her feathery-light silken skirts swaying with her motion. She's quite steady, which as one of the Hightower's all-seeing, all-serving eyes Camillo at least must know better than to assume means a sober person has come amongst them. "Ser Desmond…" she breathes, abandoning the thought of another path, coming nearer at once along this one, which seems correct after all. Initial surprise has melted into unsinkable curiosity. "You were to call upon me," she reminds him, lifting her chin as she looks up and up to a point in shadow where she supposes his eyes must be. "Is it my vindication you have hesitated to bring, or your own?"

Camillo yet remains still and quiet in the shadow.

Desmond sways as he straightens from his bow, and sways a few moments later still. He watches Joyeuse closely, perhaps trying to sort out her question, perhaps trying to find a way to answer it. Finally, mustering up what sobriety he still possesses, he answers with a semblance of dignity. "I've hesitated to bring my entire failure, Lady," he admits, glancing down to the man in the shadows. "Ser Manfryd was gone before I could put the question to him once and for all. Maybe I was too scared to go — I don't think so, but maybe I was. But he's gone. And all we have now, each of us, are our..our..certainties."

Lady Joy glances to the man in the shadows; she can't see him well enough, not quite, to recognise him as one who has waited upon her now and again in Lady Marsei's company, and yet his presence doesn't put her off. Oh, no.

"You didn't see him—?" she demands of the northerner who overtops her by a foot and a half. Her tone is injured more than outraged — and then she lets out a belated gasp of surprise, her shoulders shaking just once. Quite as though, braced in that moment for whatever answer she might have received from this sworn seeker after truth, she can't quite grasp that that he has no message of substance for her at all… When she speaks again her words come out quick and high and her sleeves rustle as her hands rub one over the other: unmistakable signs of a highborn lady about to give way to her Delicate Sensibilities. "You know I had not made up my mind to go — whether I ought to go, whether I could go — and yet I had time to decide, time to choose gifts, time to have a long visit with him — and you, you promised me…"

"He was gone, Lady. He was gone. I didn't know he was going to be taken." Desmond's first words are almost a shout — certainly louder than the drunken Northerner intends. He swallows hard, then raises his hands. "But you're right. I did promise. I didn't lie. I failed. But I figure you'll see it as a lie, and you've the right to." The huge man reaches up to rub a hand across his face. "I'm sorry. I'm a bit.." he searches for a delicate word. "Indisposed," he says at last.

Camillo keeps his peace. Surely he sees the lady looking at him, but he doesn't offer his identity, or shift so that she might see another part of his face.

Till now it has been Lady Hastwyck's habit to stand her ground before Ser Desmond Snow, and damnation to his height, his breadth, his scars, his multiply-broken nose, and the caterpillars which serve him as eyebrows. But as he raises his voice to her — a voice with still that faint slurred edge to it, which reveals his 'indisposition' for what it is — she takes several small steps backwards, right off the path and over the well-kept border of grass beyond it, her guardsman coming to the fore (how rarely he's obliged to earn his keep!) even before she arrives in an unexpected laurel hedge.

The hedge startles her a second time; she gasps, loses her footing and gains it again, stands up quite straight and takes even a step forward, and finds her maid plucking leaves off her. "Ser Desmond," she manages, putting on her dignity again just as much as she can by batting Dora's hands away and adjusting her painted shawl about herself as though it could provide some protection from further shoutiness, "I… I regret having troubled you."

Desmond stares at the woman blankly, and then — far too late — he realizes that he's scared her. He doesn't hesitate. The huge Northman drops to his knees quickly, not even acknowledging the guardsman. "Oh, Lady, I'm sorry, I never meant any harm. I never meant to scare you." His features, in the dim light, are truly distraught. "I — I beg your pardon most sincerely. I'd never harm you, Lady, and I'm.. I'm *terribly* sorry I scared you." His voice grows thicker, more Northern, the longer he talks. "I've naught but regret for how I failed before, is all, and for other failings, and I just.. I'm sorry." All in all, perhaps, the Northman has managed to make matters doubly as awkward as they were moments ago. And still, the figure in the shadows doesn't tell him to shut up.

Camillo half rises when Joyeuse goes over backward, but her man is at her side far more quickly than he could be, so instead he steps forward and puts a hand on Desmond's shoulder to encourage him to pull himself together.

When Ser Desmond falls onto his knees, the guardsman Udo steps again between him and Lady Hastwyck, in case it's some sort of northern trick: her smaller, rounder silhouette appears again, a second or two later, on Udo's other side, cautiously, her head first, for they've had the conversation about shielding her more than once of late, Udo being more serious-minded than the last boy.

"I was only startled," she says then — firmly, bravely, deliberately; "that's all. I'm sure you… you meant no harm." He only keeps on doing it, over and over again, to her nephew and occasionally to her. "Ser Desmond," she sighs then, "you speak so much of truth and lies, but from where I stand it seems you were so nervous of the truth that now all you have are lies. My nephew's name will never be a whit cleaner than it is now, will it?" She lets out a small, sad laugh. "How could it be? He's been taken away in disgrace, leaving all the people here who hate them to keep on saying what they will with not a word to be spoken in answer or proven in his favour, and it's as you said, you know, he fears above all things losing the trust of his prince. I looked into his eyes and I believe in him. I don't say he's the best man who ever lived," she admits, matter-of-factly, "he's a Qorgyle, and I know all there is to know about Qorgyles. But he's innocent of this. It may be that his prince will believe in his innocence as I do and still have no choice but to turn him away because of what you've done to his name, you and your prince." She lets out a quiet, rather shaky sigh. "I think I should like to go home now. Goodnight, Ser Desmond. I hope your wine brings you peace."

Desmond looks over at the hand on his shoulder, and then at the woman before him, and he stays down. "I…can only speak as I believe, Lady. You know that. We spoke of it." He rubs at his face tiredly, looking at the woman for a long stretch of time, some glimmer of sobriety coming to his features. "And while I've done despicable deeds before now, I still believe that what I did here was the right one. I'm sorry that it hurt a man so terribly — but he was not the only one hurt." He hesitates briefly. "I'm sorry we can't be friends, Lady. I truly want to be. But we're on opposite lines now, aren't we?"

Now that gives the lady pause. "I don't believe I've had an enemy before," she murmurs slowly, "but for a few of my own kin. If you would have it so, Ser Desmond, I don't see what I can do to help it, if trusting in you and keeping your secrets has not sufficed. You know I never feared the truth — I wished, I wish," she utters in a sudden burst of passion, "only to see it brought into the light. I wish you had had the courage to do what was needful in the very hour when we parted. And I wish I hadn't fallen back into this cursed Westerosi habit of depending so much upon men." And with that she bites her lip upon all the rest; and she turns her head and then the rest of her purposefully away, her maid and her guard falling into line behind. The path she follows is the one she came to them upon. She departs with a speed reckless in those shoes and with only the moon's silvery guidance.

"Neither of you—" Camillo says, beginning to break his silence. But he's a little stoo slow. Joyeuse is already walking away.

Desmond states, despairingly, at the departing woman, "I never wanted it at all." He turns to look up at Camillo, who was almost certainly saying the same words — or so he seems to decide. "I'm really a fucking useless person, ain't I?" Without a noble present, his voice drops back down to the gutter. "I just made an enemy without even meaning to. I've got no bloody talent except killing things."

"No," Camillo says, hauling on Desmond's arm to encourage him to get up and come back to sit on the bench. "You are talking to one another wrongly. She doesn't want to be your enemy, either. She only doesn't know… Well, when a servant drops a teacup, a noble shouts they shouldn't have dropped a teacup, that they should've been better trained, that the teacup once belonged to such and thus a person. But the servant is thinking of how they will clean the pieces up and whether they can have them repaired tomorrow and how they will wash the rug and whether they will need to look for a new position. Do you…do you see?"

"We were friendly before," Desmond says remorsefully, as he lets himself be led over to the bench. "But I'd agreed to talk to Manfryd. But then things started to happen. Leire, and the dragon-hunt, and nearly getting my head burned off, and.." He reaches, unwisely, for the jug and takes a long gulp. "..And everyone telling me I'm a liar for letting myself be knighted. I got distracted. I let her down. She's right."

"She is let down," Camillo agrees. "She can be right to be unhappy. But that is no reason for either of you to be enemies," Camillo counsels, getting Desmond seated. After Desmond drinks he moves the jug to his other side, out of Desmond's reach unless he wants to lean over Camillo. "If she is wise, when she has a little time to think, she will see it was not out of malice and you could still be a steadfast friend. If she has no use for you after one mistake, then you were never friends, you were a tool."

Desmond considers Camillo's words carefully, rubbing at his face with both hands. "Oh, I dunno, mate. I really don't. What if the boy played me for a fool all along? I mean, Manfryd deserved what he got in that duel, just for telling me I sucked cock to get knighted, but what if I did wrong? I don't think I did. I don't think the boy lied. I'm sure he didn't." He sighs. "But if he did, she'd be right to have no use for me."

"I haven't heard the story from anyone reliable," Camillo says, "So I only imagine I may know what you are talking about. But…from other things I have seen and heard, the Lady may not know how lucky it is that the man Manfryd lives at all. Had he not been sent away, I believe there were others waiting to kill him, on matters that had nothing to do with any boy. But. Let her have no use for you. You are not her man. Your duty is not to her. That does not mean you need be enemies."

Desmond inclines his head slowly, nodding along. "You're right. I did my duty. I stood by my Prince. I've nothing to feel ashamed over. And more, I told the truth." He inclines his head again, this time more slowly, gravely. "I wish the woman no harm," he tells Camillo honestly. "And I won't do her harm, neither. If she chooses t'do me, then I can't stop her." He eyes that jug, seems to be considering leaning across, but then pauses. "..What do you mean, other men wanted him dead?"

In the dark all cats are black; and any given white marble path bears a striking resemblance to any other; and the distant sounds of Starry Street might be coming from over there, or along there, or over that way… In her haste Lady Joy plunges recklessly along one avenue of flowering trees and then another, past pavilions all of which she knows intimately and none of which she can tell apart, certain the gates must be near, yes? … And then she comes face to face with a precious and well-remembered peach tree and knows she's far deeper in the gardens than ever she intended to be.

Letting out a huff of pure vexation she turns on her heel and rushes straight back whence she came, her shawl loosening about her, its long red silken fringe trailing beyond her, her maid knowing better than to say a word just now and Udo in the rearguard (a King's Landing man, whelped and whipped) the most turned-round of their trio. Left turn here, yes? If she comes in time to a particularly luxuriant bed of white trilliums, perhaps— But she spends too long in looking for it, in bending hopefully to sniff each white flowerbed she passes, in case this one might be the one; and she is if anything further off course by the time of her next abrupt reversal.

These vicissitudes go on plaguing her, even after she finds her trilliums and begins to suppose at last her direction is the correct one; and thus it is that several dark red curls have come loose to frame her face and she's a trifle out of breath, a trifle pinkened, by the time quick little footsteps and silken rustlings herald, again, her arrival in the vicinity of the bench selected by Camillo and Ser Desmond for their evening's indisposition.

At the sight of them she stops short and cries out: "Seven hells—!" Which despairing sentiment is directed more to the starry skies above, and the moon coming out from behind its cloud, than to the men from whom she lately took her leave. "Is there no way out of here?" she inquires of the said stars.

Camillo hesitates briefly, then tilts his head. "He was offending many," he observes. "That…cocksucker talk was not reserved for you alone. He said it in rough places to rough men. I saw him brawl at the Tooth with a quarterstaff, nearly cracking the skulls of a half dozen sellswords who have killed men for less. He dumped pints over the heads of men who'd done nothing to deserve it. I also heard whispers…that he had severely insulted more Targaryens than your prince. That he raised a hand against Prince Dhraegon. That he—" He stops listing Manfryd's many known offenses when he hears the female voice cry out. He gets to his feet. "Stay here," he says quietly, leaving his bag behind. "I'll walk her to the gate." He approaches. He smells a lot less like the liquor than Desmond does. "My lady, I will show you the gate," he offers.

Desmond keeps trying to interject as Camillo talks on and on about the man's affronts. But then Lady Joyeuse has returned to the pair, albeit unwillingly. He starts to rise, but Camillo's insistance that he stays seated bears weight. "Yeah, you're prob'ly right. She definitely don't want to see me," he mutters to the man's back. And he starts to laugh, helplessly, as he considers the woman's dilemma. "All paths start to look the same," he murmurs between slightly-too-damp chuckles. "And ain't it true, they all lead the same place."

When Camillo comes nearer, when he speaks, when he permits himself to resolve into a man in truth and not only a shadow, Lady Joy lowers her eyes to meet his and unclenches one hand from her shawl, almost as though reaching out… Then she grips her shawl again, holding it high in front of her whereas it has slipped low in the back during her travels; but his appearance has undeniably diverted her. "Why," she breathes, "you're a servant at the Hightower, aren't you? You're—" Her eyelids lower; she strains, in the midst of her present distress, to recall the place, the occasion, the words upon her cousin Marsei's lips… Her eyes pop open again. Even in the moonlight they're gleaming too brightly to show her unaffected by the intensity of her earlier passage with Ser Desmond. "You're Camillo. Was it you here all along?"

"Yes, my lady," Camillo answers, to both questions. "I am sorry to have intruded upon your meeting, but I was already present. I tried not to disturb. But I will lead you out, if you are lost." He makes a gesture. "Ser Desmond is still on the bench. He will not intrude if you are angry with him. He understands your position. But…my lady, he does not wish to be your enemy. He…knows he disappointed you."

It is Desmond's turn to be in darkness, and he stays on his bench, obedient to the servant's suggestion. Maybe he does know wisdom when he hears it.

"Tonight I think we're all rather lost," sighs Lady Joy, picking at her shawl, encouraging it up onto one of her shoulders and into an arrangement which would be altogether becoming if there were light enough to see it; "and if you know the way, then— then I thank you. I haven't been able to find it on my own. If— if you could only set me upon the right path—?" she asks Camillo, rather anxiously, stepping aside to let him take the lead. And then she adds in an undertone, "I don't want Ser Desmond for an enemy, of course I don't — he knows I've felt sorry for him from the first. But I should like to have felt something else. Proud of him, I suppose. That would have been…" She falters, and once again resorts to shawl reorganisation.

Ser Daevon Targaryen, The Maiden's Knight, clearly must have business to attend to if he's travelling in the gardens at this time of night. He is, in fact a man on a mission, not pausing to appreciate the delights of the garden, but instead just striding off in search… of… well there's voices and so that's the way he walks, direct and with a purpose, footsteps echoing on the path.

Camillo slowly moves toward the correct path to lead to an exit for the lady. "I understand, my lady," Camillo says softly as they move. "I think…he should have liked you to be proud of him, too. But a man in his position has a narrow path to tread. The path does not always go where he would like. I am sure even a lady of your standing is…sometimes not able to do what she would like. But…perhaps there are chances for two good people to…repair a rift, that their paths may converge again someday." Camillo doesn't usually deploy such diplomatic poetry, especially to nobles, and it's clear that he is summoning this with great thought and effort. But, for once, what comes out of Camillo's mouth is near enough to what he means to say. Or at least, once he's said it he doesn't look distressed. But he does dip his head in apology for impertinence. "Forgive my words, lady. But I would not have seen either of you make an enemy this night." He gestures to the gate that can be seen at the end of the path. "The exit is just there, lady."

Desmond seems to loll into a stupor, staying half-awake as Joyeuse and Camillo converse, the servant masterfully both taking up the Snow Giant's case and guiding the woman toward safety. But he awakes, hearing someone approach, a hand instinctively going to the dagger at his hip and pulling it free. He looks down for a moment, apparently realizing the folly, and slides it away again. But — ah, there. His jug. The huge northman grabs that up and takes a swig, swallowing hard and hissing. He holds it on his knee instead of his dagger, a better welcome in the dark by far.

Lady Hastwyck inclines her ear towards the servant at her side, listening, her breath quieter now that after a moment's rest she's walking at a much less impetuous pace… "Doing what one likes," she exhales. "That isn't what one would always wish most of all, though, is it? I've tried always to do what I think is right, Camillo, even when I knew it would bring me one kind of trouble or another. Such as the trouble I seem to have got into now." With the gate in sight she halts and turns to face her guide, looking straight into his eyes across the void between his rank and her own. "He's your friend, isn't he? Tell him his secrets are safe, for I won't have any more— senseless, stupid harm come of this business. There's been too much of it already. If he doesn't want an enemy, then he needn't have one," she insists. "He's the one who suggested it, not I. The choice is with him. Squarely where all the choices have been all along, Seven help us." She sighs and looks away up into the branches of a tree all blossom even so late in summer…

"Thank you for showing me how to get out," she sighs again. "Goodnight, Camillo." And with by her own attendants, who have trailed behind in silence during this colloquy, she makes her subdued progress out into the street.

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