(123-01-28) Charity Begins
Charity Begins
Summary: Lady Margot Rowan has a project in mind; she's certain Septa Miranda, known for her familiarity with the orphans of Oldtown, is just the girl to discuss it with.
Date: 11-12/02/2016
Related: None

A letter arrives for Septa Miranda, written on fine parchment in an exquisite and unerringly neat hand which forms each capital letter so ornately one hardly can read it, inviting her to attend upon Lady Margot Rowan at the Hightower, at her, Septa Miranda's, convenience to discuss a matter of charity in which she, Lady Rowan, earnestly solicits the septa's assistance.

Being a lady of the Reach as well as a woman of religion, no doubt Septa Miranda has heard a tale or two of Lady Rowan: a Hightower by birth, a beauty who wears only white, a lady-in-waiting once upon a time to Queen Alicent — and now for eight long years separated from her husband.

The chamber to which the septa is duly shown is an exceptionally pretty sitting-room on the seventh floor, where another grey-robed woman is reading aloud from a book of devotion whilst a lady in a gown of crisp white linen sits at her embroidery before the window which affords the best light. The light standing wooden frame across which her work is stretched is angled away from the door, but coming further inside the septa may well see that it depicts a winter garden, chiefly at this stage in the form of a sketch upon the cloth. Thread of silver and gold and silks in different shades of white and ivory and palest grey have made a few inches' progress in covering it.

Reaching the end of a no-doubt-familiar phrase the other septa falls silent, looking up at the newcomer as she is announced by the servant who has conducted her this far. Lady Rowan, her silver needle gleaming between her fingertips, looks up as well, with fine blue eyes marred by the dark circles of sleeplessness and the faint pink swelling of ample tears shed.

"Thank you, Ilsa," she murmurs to the maid in a low, well-bred contralto; and then, "Septa Miranda, my thanks to you for coming out of your way." She threads the needle through the loose edging of the cloth, outside the limits of the rectangular frame, and turns the movement of her hand into a gracious gesture toward the chair nearest her own. "Won't you sit?"

Miranda smiles kindly as she bows to the maid and the second septa. The lady is given a much more formal greeting with a deeper reverance. "My lady, seven blessings to you. It's never out of my way to visit someone seeking assistance." She takes the chair and sits, primly smoothing out her grey robes about her in neat fashion. "How is it I may be of service, my Lady Rowan?"

"Nonetheless, it is very good of you," insists Lady Rowan with a smooth, unfaltering courtesy which doesn't quite extend so far as a smile. Nearer to her complexion has the pallor of fatigue more than of elegance: the only colour in her face is the pink swelling about her eyes. Her hair is worn loose her shoulders, in shining blue-black waves; her only jewellery is a delicate white golden chain vanishing beneath her modest neckline, and her wedding ring. Her husband is rumoured to be a brute; but he is still her husband.

There is a pause, in which the same maid delivers a tray laden with finely-made silver goblets, a pitcher of lemon water, and a plate of frivolous small cakes, no two exactly alike. She pours for the visiting septa first, then her mistress, then the septa who resides here, and leaves the plate within reach of the first two ladies, upon a low table.

As she withdraws Lady Rowan finds again her needle and resumes her painstaking, delicate embroidery, her attention shifting in a practiced rhythm from her work with it to Septa Miranda's face above. She hasn't touched her lemon water. "I am given to understand you have a special care for the orphans and the street children of this city, Septa. With the dolphin festival approaching I would like to undertake some small effort for them, and I would value your advice upon the best means of doing so. I have ideas of my own," she grants, lowering her eyes into her pure white linen lap, "but I don't pretend I understand the situation as well as you must…" Her gaze lifts again, past the winter garden to her visitor. "On this occasion I would like to be certain I do well, instead of… entrusting my coin blindly."

The young woman has exquisite manners of her own. She sits with her full attention on the speaker until the water and cakes are offered, at which the maid is given a gracious nod. She takes a polite sip of the water and a bite of the cake to show good faith in her hostess' offerings.

After a moment to pause she gives a warm smile and nods enthusiastically. "Oh yes, my Lady Rowan, I'm often tasked with minding the children - they seem to listen to me more as they do not see me as the Crone, more the Maiden or Mother. But I would hear your ideas, my lady, and I can offer guidance to them. I am certain whatever your heart tells you may be best after all."

Lady Rowan contrives to give the appearance of listening closely even as she stitches. "Children always do make up their own minds who to like and dislike… I'm sure you have a way with them," she murmurs, inclining her head graciously to Septa Miranda. "I'm afraid I am obliged to curtail my original plans; the chief idea I have now is to arrange a kitchen near the sept, with provisions and cooks, and tables and benches enough, to serve hot meals to children for the duration of the festival. Up to the age of eleven or twelve, perhaps," she considers, again meeting the septa's eyes, "though I shouldn't turn away older ones who appeared to be hungry… If you and some of the city's other septas were willing to give of your time, to keep order, it might easily be managed. It would not be grand, of course," and her needle stills as she regards the visiting septa with a look of apology, "but the Mother can't like Her children to go hungry during Her own festival."

Miranda offers a warm smile in reply. "If it is filling and done in love, it will be as grand as a roasted peacock and likely far tastier to the little ones. Although they may enjoy having the feathers," she says with a tiny laugh- unsure if humor is appropriate or not with the somber lady. "It would be a pleasure, and honor, and our happy duty to assist, my lady. I can give word to the sept and have it arranged by your say-so. Though if I may suggest an addition?" Her eyebrows raise curiously.

The mention of feathers doesn't provoke Lady Rowan to a smile, but there's a small sound in her throat as though she's considering the matter. "You reassure me greatly. Thank you. My own Septa Melarie has graciously offered to do anything she can, but she has other duties…" More important it would seem in Lady Rowan's estimation than orphans and charity, and not to be specified. She continues, "I have also purchased as many pairs of leather shoes as my women could find in sizes to fit small feet, and I have set cobblers to making more — on the last day of the festival I should like to give them away… What else do you think would be suitable?" she inquires seriously.

Miranda folds her hands neatly in her lap. "I was going to suggest something they may carry away from it. Perhaps wooden dolphins on wheels for the littles ones? The older children don't care for toys so much, but the smallest have no such comforts. Perhaps rag-dolls for the girls and wooden swords for the lads." She takes another sip of her drink before returning her hands neatly to her lap. "The shoes are an excellent idea as they tend to be run through rather quickly."

"I see I've inquired of the right woman," murmurs Lady Rowan. She threads her needle once again through the edge of the cloth, in a place already pock-marked by such pauses, and reaches at last for the goblet the maid Ylsa set down so near to her. She sips her lemon water whilst thinking; one can almost imagine columns of numbers running through her cool head. "Yes, that might be arranged, on another day — I shall look into it. But how many do you think we might require? I should not like to run short and disappoint them: better no toys at all, than giving to some and leaving others without."

Miranda's blue eyes widen. She, too, does a bit of mental calculation. "Let me do a count of the orphans in our care, and I can have a list brought to you, my Lady Rowan. I will add perhaps a dozen or so beyond that for the children who are not directly in the Sept's keeping."

"… I am more concerned for children who are not in the sept's keeping," explains Lady Rowan gently. "I would prefer to err on the side of more, rather than fewer, and see how many of Oldtown's lost boys and girls can be shown a kindness from the Mother's hand and perhaps draw nearer Her because of it."

The young septa flushes a little and ducks her head apologetically. "An excellent idea, my lady. I would say three times the number, perhaps, of those in the sept's keeping. I try to keep track of the children of the streets but it is far harder."

Lady Rowan averts her eyes likewise, with a smooth and demure turn of her dark head. There's a small metallic sound as her silver goblet arrives again upon the table. "I imagine it must be. But perhaps we might make it easier?" she suggests. "If we manage to feed a few such unfortunates on the first day, if we make it understood that the same shall be done throughout the festival, surely they'll speak amongst themselves and the word will spread in that way to children you might not otherwise see… The shoes," she adds, for her mind is much upon the shoes, "must be given out in sizes somewhat too large. It will be autumn before long, and then they'll be wanted more than in summer. Shoes too small are of no use; shoes too big can at least have the toes stuffed for a time. And if toys enough can be found,” she breathes out a pensive sigh, “each must choose: a little girl who would prefer a wooden sword must not be told she may only have a doll."

Miranda sighs as she nods, taking a dainty bite of the cakes. "The Seven are One, so a girl who has the spirit of the Warrior in her heart is as welcome as the man who possesses the Crone's wisdom," she says solemnly.

"I think that structure will serve well. If they know there will be food and perhaps more as the festival goes on, we can bring more of them to the light and out of the alleys," Miranda agrees. "Perhaps I can ask the woman who runs the foreign baths to provoke tokens for the children to wash themselves? She is not of the Faith but Peri has a kind heart."

The point agreed, Lady Rowan meets the young septa's eyes again and lowers her pointed chin in a nod. Good. And, sitting there in her fresh, spotless white linen and redolent of white flowers, she receives the suggestion of washing the children as well as feeding them with a small sound of interest. "The— Lysene Baths, it's called?" she inquires softly. "If you know this woman, and you feel she would be amenable to such a suggestion — that would be very welcome… Perhaps not as popular as food and toys, but if the tokens might be given several days into the festival, when the children have less reason to feel suspicious, and offered as another treat…?"

Miranda gives a nod to the naming of the place. "I have seen it for myself. It is separated by gender so there is little risk of untoward abuse." She gives a tiny smile at that. "I will negotiate with her, my lady. She may be open to donating such a generous gift as she often permits the children in the sept's care to be bathed freely."

The nod recurs, twice more; "If you are confident in this woman and her establishment, Septa Miranda, then so shall I be. But I would not wish to take too great an advantage…" The lady's alabaster brow furrows infinitesimally before she disciplines it once more to smoothness. "Of course I should provide toward her expenses, so that if she does not make a great gain by her generosity, nor will she lose by it."

Miranda says, "Charity is best received when the heart is rewarded." She bows her head solemnly before adding, "Yet many do have livelihoods to manage. Let me speak to Mistress Peri. Perhaps I could also offset any expenses from my own stipend. My needs are few and the coin does no good sitting idle.""

"Of course," agrees Lady Rowan to the first, nodding again to authorise the younger woman to act on her behalf; and then, speedily reassuring, for of course she's aware of the surname the girl cast off and the hardly meagre resources which accompany it, "I wouldn't deny you the opportunity to dispose of your coin as you feel most fitting, but please don't feel obliged. You must do only as you wish. It is your time and your care that I value most; and your… understanding of what I should like to achieve.”

"I would think we are of one understanding," Lord Merryweather's daughter replies. "The boundless love of the Mother must be made known to those who may forget Her gentle touch. Always- yes, but especially when we sing Her praises and welcome her favored creatures home. It would be wrong not to," she says with firm conviction.

The septa smiles in shy apology. "First, though. The numbers so the costs can be calculated. And to estimate the shoes, toys, and the size of the meals to be prepared." She pauses, dark brows knitted. "Shall I see what estimations are needed?"

When the septa speaks of the Mother's love the lady before her seems to sink deeper and deeper into her garden of pale silk and sparkling silver and gold; she is slow to lift her gaze from her work and she keeps hold of her needle even during the long pause in her stitching which follows.

"Thank you. Yes. If you might determine only how many children, and provide me with an idea of their ages, I'll attend to the rest… And of course I leave the matter of the bathing tokens to you to negotiate, with your friend." Lady Rowan inclines her head in another of those nods which seem to indicate she's ready to move on. "Naturally I'd encourage those concerned to speak of the Seven to the children, but I'd not have them— lectured…" A word chosen with care, apologised for with a look, and a lift of a white shoulder. "I'd not have them reluctant to return. There is one small favour I would ask, however — only ask," and her eyes hold Septa Miranda's in emphasis, for charity which comes with absolute conditions doesn't deserve the name, "of each child who eats my bread. That he or she light a candle — these I'd provide," she explains, grave in this as in everything, "and say a prayer to the Mother for the soul of my son, Lord Gareth Rowan, who passed from this life several weeks ago. I am acting now, particularly, in his memory." And she bows her head and places the next tiny stitch of an unfinished white silken snowdrift.

Miranda's Reach sun-kissed face falls sympathetically. "My sorrow to you, my lady. I shall make sure it is -encouraged- of those old enough to understand. The small ones will simply give their love and gratitude."

"That is all I could hope," answers Lady Rowan, not yet looking up from her embroidery. "Thank you, septa." Then her gaze lifts, her eyes by a miracle still dry, the pain in them ruthlessly restrained and yet betrayed in every instant by the dark shadows below and the swelling of their lids. "I shall begin making inquiries into a suitable place near the sept, and find cooks willing to work during the festival — and I shall look forward to your estimates. Please: write to me, or call upon me here, when you have any news; and I shall write to you likewise… I believe this is the Mother's work, Septa Miranda, and for that reason I'm certain it shall prosper."

Miranda bows her head in formal solemnity. "May She give your heart some gladness in this, Lady Rowan. I will have word sent when I have counts. She has been very kind to me as of late and serving Her in this as well is the least I can repay in gratitude."

The Mother has not likewise been kind to Lady Rowan; but rather than speak again upon that theme she tucks her needle into its place and rises with a faint crisp rustling of linen to show her visitor personally to the door. "Thank you again. Seven blessings upon you, septa; and I hope we shall meet again very soon." And their interview is suddenly, gracefully over.

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