(123-01-23) The Secret Anti-Desmond Club
The Secret Anti-Desmond Club
Summary: Only not-so-secret, because we're telling you all about it! We have no shame.
Date: 23/01/2016
Related: Every Desmond scene, ever. Which you should read anyway because he's a great player and his logs always tend to be fun.

Marsei has been somewhat elusive as of late, despite her most natural tendency to be a social creature and to flit about like one of the happy butterflies in her garden, seeing everyone she possibly can. It is easy to become scarce in a place such as the Hightower; it is, however, less easy when you are a Hightower, and everyone knows where you spend your days and rest your head, and when you happen to be Marsei Hightower, any prolonged absence — at least since widowhood — tends to register as, frankly, bizarre, and threatens to prompt bizarre questions. And so the sweet redhead has been elusive, not gone: she makes polite excuses, she hurries off from the dinner table but always with a kind word, every so often she's even turned away company but there's always been a good reason; these past few weeks, Marsei has always been just around the corner.

When Joyeuse comes calling this evening, however, she's let in right away to see her cousin. Siva directs the way through the suite to a sitting room decorated most predominantly with vases of fresh flowers. Marsei sits on a couch, her legs crossed. She's wearing a slender, flowing gown of the palest, orange-tinged pink, draped in a foam of Myrish lace. The sleeves hem just below her elbows, where they're immediately met by matching sets of ruby armbands snug to her skin; shaped like frolicking dragons, they were likely a wedding present, like nearly all of her possessions with a Targaryen motif. They look little more than playful, on her.

A copy of the Book of Holy Prayers sits next to her and a flowery needlepoint project is clutched in her hands, on which she seems singularly focused.

The summer breeze wafts in Lady Marsei's direction sea-green sandsilk and a familiar warm, spicy fragrance; somewhere in the midst of this is Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck, hands lifted as though to reach out and pearls enswathing one wrist, exclaiming already, "Oh, what an age since I've said three words to you, sweetling! And suddenly today I was worried I might know why…"

There's an apologetic catch in her voice as she trails off; she makes a beeline for the place next to her cousin on the couch, relegating the prayerbook without a glance to her own other side as she perches.

Marsei's focus doesn't shift right away; she's caught up in her needlework, as though, if she were to look away at this exact moment, the entire thing may somehow unravel. It's irrelevant, truly. What she earns for her overwrought effort is the point of the needle in her thumb and a half-embroidered violet that could be anything, if you squint. The sharp prick jolts her back to reality. "Oh! Lady Joy," she smiles while bringing the side of her thumb and the tiny bead of blood balanced on it, to her mouth. "I'm so— I'm sorry I've been so…" she trails off herself apologetically, looking this way and that in a scattered manner before shuffling her little project onto the side of the couch Joy didn't choose. "I meant to catch up with you; and about— well, Dhraegon, and … " It seems only then she truly hears what Joy said; she looks more closely at her cousin, wondering — not without a dose of worry. Her brows lift in gentle, wary prompt. "Did something happen today…?"

"Oh, your poor thumb!" gasps her cousin, distracted from her purpose; and she is quick to donate to the cause her own lacy white handkerchief, embroidered with flamboyant green letters that can be nothing but 'J' and 'H'. Holding Lady Marsei's hand between her own, pressing soft white linen to the injured digit, she looks up again to meet her eyes and the mood of one thus enters the other. "Oh, but— what's really the matter?" she asks earnestly.

"Oh, it's nothing," Marsei says hurriedly, although it's surely about her needled thumb as she protests mildly against the concept of staining the pristine white of the linen with crimson, however tiny the drops. She smiles her gratitude all the same — even as she meets Lady Joy's gaze somewhat fitfully. "Is it so obvious?" she says, almost imploring her to say that it's not — making it all the more obvious that something is the matter.

Lady Joy keeps hold of her cousin's hand, cradling it and the handkerchief warmly between her own. "Well… Perhaps it's more obvious to me," she suggests, meeting her somewhere in the middle ground between a soothing fib and a truth that might serve further to distress. "You see, I did come looking… I heard it said, just today," she sighs, her gaze flicking wryly away before returning to hold Lady Marsei's as surely as her hand, "I suppose people didn't like to speak in front of me — but I heard that there has been talk of what happened in the winery, talk of me and of your husband of a sort I was sure you couldn't like. I came to tell you how sorry I was to have given anyone cause to say such things, least of all where you might hear them; and to hope that that wasn't why I hadn't seen you… But all of a sudden, sweetling, I begin to wish it had been so," and her tone turns even gentler, "and that your heart were troubled by no greater matter."

Mention of the winery — and more, of rumours — does put the threat of a frown at the corners of Marsei's mouth, but she looks more thoughtful and regretful than sorrowful over it all. She looks down - a minuscule tuck of her chin — under Joy's observant wish. "I hoped you did not think I was avoiding you. I'm glad you were there when you were— despite the rumours," she expresses as her seawater eyes lift. "You've no need to be sorry at all, Lady Joy. I know you were nothing but kind to Dhraegon. Thank you for that," she says with apology in her tone, as if she feels some measure of responsibility for her husband.

The reassurance that whatever else may be troubling her lovely young cousin, they still stand well with one another, summons back Lady Joy's smile for a brief, frankly relieved appearance. "I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you say so. I'm afraid I didn't think of how it might have seemed to others," she admits, "only that— I couldn't have looked you in the eye again if I'd left him there by himself. Someone had upset him — I couldn't quite make out who — he said it was very noisy, inside his head…?" She tilts her own, red curls and pearl-tipped pins gleaming, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she muses upon a state of affairs she somehow has a feeling Lady Marsei must understand better than she. "If you're sure you don't mind, then, I'm very glad too. So that's all right," she concludes. "Sweetling, is it… everyone you've been avoiding, mmm? Now I feel rather as though I've been putting on airs," she makes an amused little face, "thinking it was me!"

A flash of— embarrassment?— passes across Marsei's features over the thought of Dhraegon's upset and the noise inside his head, but she's quick to smile at Lady Joy, some of her amusement catching. "You've found me out," she says with good humour — and honesty. The humour fades in favour of a pensive look aside. "It hasn't anything to do with any of that, I promise. I just haven't been feeling myself, I suppose…"

Lady Joy's smile lingers on, till she loses hold of her cousin's gaze and finds herself watching again from the outside. Then her expression settles into the sympathetic apprehension of one uncertain how hard to push, or where: only that a nudge is called for. "Is it anything you'd wish to talk about?" she asks softly. "Or do you think it'll go away on its own, if you give it a little time?" By way of demonstration she lifts her handkerchief and inspects Lady Marsei's thumb, her other hand still gently clasping the injured one, and pronounces: "I think the patient will live to stitch again."

"A shame," Marsei says with a smile and a glance to her abandoned needlepoint, a mild, joking jab at her less-than-top-notch stitching skills. She ducks her head down once more, but does not hide for long. "It will all work out, in the end," she reiterates quite faithfully, agreeing, "… but it is not yet the end. In the meantime I pray." She pauses to study Joyeuse, wonder and worry seeping into her gaze. She quiets. "Have you ever been in such a situation, Lady Joy, where you fear no matter what you say or do there is someone who will be upset for it?"

"Oh, often." Which admission leaves Lady Joy's lips almost as a groan. She drops the handkerchief heedlessly in her lap and gives her cousin's hand another encouraging squeeze. "I do try to get along, you know, with as many people as I can," she admits candidly, "but there are times when quite good and pleasant people have quite good and pleasant reasons for thinking and wanting and doing absolutely different things. And then, if they're apt to force a choice, what can be done? Choose one, the other is unhappy; decline to choose at all, and they both are." She gives Lady Marsei an amused little pout and shrugs her shoulders. "And then, of course, sometimes one must do what one knows is the right thing, no matter how awful one feels about it and who will be upset by it… I should think not wanting to be put finally to that choice, before one was ready in one's heart to make it, would be rather a fine reason for avoiding the world for a time," she guesses.

Marsei appears equal parts all-too-knowing and pained from the exasperation of it all, and winds up turning slightly more toward Joy to lean a shoulder against the back of the couch. "I don't know that I do know what the right thing is," she admits — Lady Marsei, of such moral character. The conflict wounds her, the worry fraught all along her brow though it scarcely wrinkles. "… or that I've done it," she adds. "I only know what felt right, and I fear I am being selfish." She looks up at the ceiling, giving her head a small, tense shake.

A choice made, rather than in the making…? Lady Joy lets out a thoughtful little sound and settles herself likewise further into the couch's well-cushioned embrace. The corner of the prayerbook nudges her all too personally: she reaches behind herself and fishes it out and tucks it, still without paying it any particular heed, into the narrow gap between herself and her cousin, where her blood-spotted handkerchief has already slipped.

"I don't think selfish people are the ones who worry they're being selfish," she says first, "and I've not known you to be selfish, if that's of any use… I find, when I'm particularly troubled in my mind over something, it's usually because in at least some way I do know what's right, but I wish it weren't so. And I think and I pray and I take counsel of my friends less to confirm what I believe," she lifts her eyebrows and smiles self-deprecatingly, "than to try to see whether there might not be an easier way… whether I might not be able to get out of doing the right but difficult thing I had as soon not do. You see? I'll do it if I must," she pulls another face, "but oh, if only there could be a true and honourable way out—!"

Marsei can't help but smile a little at Joy pulling faces. "If only everyone was true and honourable at the start, none of this would have happened," she says with a sad, tired sort of resentment toward at least one of the parties in her dilemma. She's instantly conflicted about it, shifting her arm onto the back of the couch and her head, thusly, into her hand, all with a delicate sigh.

Turning her head toward the entrance of the sitting room, Marsei requests, barely raising her voice, "Siva, will you get us some drinks, please?" Siva was nowhere in sight, but she is in a heartbeat, ready with wine for the ladies in just a moment.

But the only face Lady Joy has for that is a sympathetic one. "Other people's muddle, then, and it's fallen into your lap…?" she asks, looking up to bestow a fleeting smile of gratitude upon Siva as a cup of wine ideally calculated to her taste arrives within her reach and she plucks it from the tray with a glad hand. "I suppose I have one of those, too — only I don't think mine shall ever really have an end to it, for good or ill. The only hope I had of seeing it resolved… Well, in short," she laughs, without mirth, "it's too late." She lifts her cup in a toast to Lady Marsei and drinks.

Is it other people's muddle that's fallen into her lap? In a way… "I…" Marsei is struck with wonder at that line of thinking suddenly, unsure, even unsettled, drifting off before her words can take form. Siva hands her a cup and Marsei smiles sympathetically to Joy. "I'm sorry for your missed ending," she says sincerely. "How dreary I must be," she says after a small drink, an attempt at a lighter mood, "all this talk and not even any gossip to show for it."

"Do you know, Marsei," sighs Lady Joy, "quite what you are—? You're proof that a woman can be wholly good and kind and gentle, without being the least bit dreary. I always feel better when I've seen you and there aren't too many people I could say that of… Your husband's one, though," she adds, somewhat struck by their having such a quality in common. "And if I've no ending it's my own fault, I suppose," she sighs again, "for trusting too much in a great big oaf of a northerner who means well far more than he does well." On which note she dives again into her cup of wine.

Marsei's gentle smile enlivens her face, brightening not for Joy's assessment of her but of Dhraegon, when the comparison is made. Another comparison, however, takes stark and cutting precedence, wiping the smile off her face to the point of near-paling just as she was about to take a sip of wine. "Oh, don't tell me," she implores, a true and earnest lament. Her arm slips from the couch; she looks more like she wants to slip in-between the cushions and disappear. "It must be him. Don't tell me it's him." With a description like that. She stares across the sitting room.

"Oh!" And her interlocutress draws back with a rustle of silk, sitting straight upright on the edge of the couch to study Lady Marsei's expression. "But you can't mean… He can't have managed to upset us both," she exclaims, indignant now; "how does he find the time to take his meals?"

Marsei's eyes are wide and charged, fraught with conflict she does not know what to do with; her gaze can't stay still. "But it must be him," she says again, going on more sadly than angrily, "for it seems every time he is kind to me he does something to harm it. Every time I try to forgive him he does something I do not know how to forgive yet. Every time I turn around he seems to be there, reminding me." When she quiets, it is sudden, and her stare turns to meet Joy. "What did he…" But she stops; she didn't clarify her own story, after all. She folds her hands in her lap and watches them, instead, as if to regain composure; sense. "Of course…" she re-starts softly, "I suppose there are other great bif oafs of northerners who don't do as they should…"

As her cousin speaks Lady Joy's eyes fill with tears and, after her usual habit, she stares and stares and tries her best not to blink in order that perhaps they might not spill… But she can't keep from nodding, and nodding again; and then she feels a tear run down her cheek after all. She sighs and seizes the fallen handkerchief and dabs at herself with a clean bit of it. "Oh, but it does sound awfully like him," she confesses. "He always seems to mean well, and to have the finest of intentions, but when one looks at what follows his actions — or his inactions…" She draws in a breath and simply looks at Lady Marsei for a few seconds, the handkerchief crushed in her grip, her lower lip caught between her teeth. "Which of us shall say it?"

Watching Joy intently, Marsei clings to the words as if they were her own. She finds herself mimicking her cousin unconsciously in her nerves, biting her lip. She runs a hand up her arm as though chilled, until she meets the band of rubied dragons and frowns slightly down at them. She was the one to implore the man's name not be spoken; she'll be the one to say it now. "Desmond Snow."

She only gets as far as the 'Des' before her cousin's lips form the remaining syllables in unison with her; and then Lady Joy's shoulders slouch as she settles down again on the sofa, looking earnestly into her eyes. "What happened? Is it anything you can say? Or— when you spoke, before, I had the feeling it was other people's business, really, even more than your own, so perhaps I oughtn't to ask…" She thinks a moment. "Will you, then, give me your estimation of his character? I begin to feel you might know him better than I… and, oh," she draws in a shaky breath which threatens a recurrence of her tears, "for your sake too I wish he had never come to Oldtown!"

"Oh, Joy." Marsei lays her hand on the other woman's arm, keeping a close, concerned watch on the threat of tears. The very notion threatens the moisture in her own eyes to spill. "The situation is … it i-it's complicated, and not all mine to tell, and so I can't," she says regretfully, "but for the fact that— he wanted my advice, you see, on the Faith, after he had taken his oaths of knighthood. He wanted to be a true knight, but in the same breath he said he would not leave the Old Gods." She shakes her head a little; the finer details of how passionately she feels about religion and the finer points of what makes a knight could go on and on. "He seemed so sincere in wanting to honour the Seven, though; yet… then I hear he's… not only dishonoured the Faith but in such a way that… I…" Another shake of her head; she dabs a knuckle gently under her eye. "Yet there is someone who knows him … much better," she struggles, somewhat, to say so, "than I, and believes him to be good, or at least deserving, whose judgment I cannot fault. I don't know what to think," she admits, at a loss. "It is as you say. He seems to mean well, and then it is as though everything falls apart, instead." Her lips pull tensely and she goes very quiet. "But he does have such anger underneath it all."

Once again Lady Joy is holding her grey-green eyes wide open without blinking, this time with greater success… Her tears dry, more or less, as she listens. And then she banishes the prayerbook a second time and takes hold of Lady Marsei's hand, lifting it from her arm and tucking it behind her, and mirroring the gesture above so that when she snuggles a little closer on the couch and gathers her cousin in to her they have each an arm about the other. It seems to her a comfort they could both do with in the moment.

"But it's astonishing… I don't pretend to know a great deal about it but even I don't see how he can swear to our gods and pray still to his own. When he introduced himself to me as a knight and a Snow I assumed he must be one of those northerners who don't keep the Old Gods," she admits, "well, like House Manderly — there are a few… And he was knighted by the king! Do you suppose he knew? He couldn't have known, could he?" Again she chews her lip. "And I can't tell everything I know either," she goes on, her conversation so jumbled it's an ideal reflection of her thoughts, "for like a fool I promised him I'd keep his secrets. I don't think he meant to tell me, but he'd had a little to drink… Is it my imagination, or has he generally had a little to drink? He shouted at me the other night when he'd had a little to drink and, you know, with his size it was really rather alarming — he didn't mean to," and she exchanges a sidelong glance with her cousin, "and he begged my pardon on his knees after, but that was after… Altogether, what I know of him makes more sense when I add to it what you've told me. He would like to be a knight but he doesn't understand how to be one."

"He knew before he was knighted, I know he did," Marsei insists after she's listened at length, understanding every word, looking distinctly worried when she learns Joy holds on to Desmond's secrets. "He is always so apologetic, but it— it seems there is always something to apologize for, that's what's worrying." A pause. "Is it… is it strange that I'm almost relieved? He seems so beloved. I have felt like a pariah for being alone in mistrusting him," she says, a slight tremble in her voice that steadies as she goes on, "Whatever his intentions. Even if they are good to start."

"Oh! I was wondering if the king knew, or if… if His Grace only trusted that all must be right, that a man wouldn't be brought before him otherwise. Oh… oh, Marsei, what did I just say?" demands Lady Joy softly, sounding a wee bit crushed. "Look; he has you feeling like a pariah, and me wondering whether our own king has been deceived. And you're the sweetest and most beloved creature in Oldtown, and I don't think I have a suspicious mind… have I? What's happened to us, that we're thinking all these things?" She drains her cup and sighs and lowers it simply to the floor at her feet, rather than move away from her cousin. "You think he knew, though? Desmond Snow," she clarifies, taking Lady Marsei's lead in dropping the 'ser'. "I was about to say that, perhaps… Well, do you remember the first time you were married? I do. My own first wedding, I mean. I stood up and spoke the words with no notion what they meant, or what it would be like, or how to be a wife… I think almost every girl does; we learn later. But you suppose he knew?"

"I knew," Marsei answers right away, though she nods. "I mean — I didn't know what it would be like, but I knew words meant, or what they were supposed to mean, because I'd studied them beforehand." She is, perhaps, not the norm. "Those vows are… they're different. Desmond Snow knew he had to take the oaths, he had to, but maybe he wanted to be a knight without knowing what it meant first. I imagine the king knew, but Desmond had apparently just helped him escape the path of a dragon at my wedding tournament…" And here they are discussing the faults of a man who tried to save the king from an angry dragon? She sighs, her narrow shoulders rising and falling. "It's not the king's fault. It's the man who takes the oaths who is …" she hesitates to think of a word, decisive on, "beholden to them." She drinks from her cup. Her voice drifts into a whisper. "I'm so tired of thinking about Desmond Snow."

"… And I've only brought him back into your company." Lady Joy leans her darker red head against Lady Marsei's fierier one and sighs. "Sweetling, I'm sorry. What are the odds, though, that he was troubling us both? He's a perfect prodigy. Oh, let's put him aside; let's take an oath of our own not to think upon him again today, if we can manage it, mmm? He'll still be in there in the morning, I'm very much afraid, but if he's been upsetting you so — well, you deserve a rest from him, and then, coming back to the question afresh after you have rested might help you think more clearly. D'you think it might work, if we both try? Or am I too silly?"

"I think you're perfectly silly," Marsei says, managing an optimistic — if weary — smile as she leans her head, in turn, against her cousin's. "It's worth a shot. An oath, I hereby swear!"

"And I too swear it," declares Lady Joy, with a solemnity she holds just long enough to tighten her arm round her cousin's shoulder, "and now, I simply must know, who stitched you that gown? And did Prince Dhraegon make you a gift of those bracelets? They're really quite glorious, you know."

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