(123-02-10) White Flag
White Flag
Summary: A tense 'dinner' at the Rowan Door Manse. Spoiler: nothing whatsoever is resolved.
Date: 10-14/02/2016
Related: Everything with these two.
Players:
Margot..Antony..

Antony's handwriting is hardly pretty to look at, but at least he can spell. The letter is sent to the Hightower without any servants pushing their way in. The text reads:

Dear Margot,

We are both in mourning. It does not make matters easier. I do not wish to be unhappy. I do not wish you to be unhappy. I wish to be a properly married couple. Is it impossible?

I know that I repel you. But you have never told me my crime. Will you come to the manse and stay just one day to discuss matters? Eat at the table you have arranged. Sleep in your own chamber if you wish. Only come. If you will.

-Antony


His wife's answer arrives a couple of hours later, impeccably calligraphed as is her wont in black ink upon fine parchment. The capital letters are ornate almost unto unreadability, the smaller ones simpler yet still as unerringly precise. She has a fine hand and a fine eye, much admired by… well, people who admire that sort of thing. People who aren't Lord Antony Rowan.

My lord,

If you wish it I will dine with you at your manse tomorrow evening. I too have matters to discuss with you which I should not like to confide to parchment.

Margot Rowan


At the hour agreed upon in further correspondence between a servant of Lord Rowan's and another of Lady Rowan's, she arrives in state at the Rowan Door Manse, accompanied by her septa, her handmaiden, and a quartet of burly guardsmen in Hightower colours as outriders upon her carriage.

Rather than white linen she is garbed in white silk, inset with panels of fragile white Myrish lace. Modest, exquisite, expensive, as all her gowns. With her hair loose and gleaming about her shoulders and no jewellery but her seven-pointed star pendant, worn openly tonight rather than tucked away inside her neckline, she looks in the evening light hardly a day older than when she left Goldengrove — at least till one examines her eyes, still faintly pinkened by the nightly expressions of a distress which has hardly grown lesser with the passage of several weeks. She is calm and unsmiling.

Antony comes to stand in front of the door to meet her while his servants go to help with the carriage if needed. Antony mostly manages to school his expression when he sees she has come with a septa. He has made an effort. His hair is carefully combed, beard neatly trimmed. Posture straight. And he is wearing something fine: a tunic that Margot herself embroidered. Which must mean that he never threw it away or gave it to a servant, but has kept it all these years. And thanks to a life of sport and action, it still fits him as it should. "Lady Rowan," he says, extending a hand toward her.

Handed from the carriage by a Hightower man, trailed by handmaiden and septa, she comes forward to him with her eyes slightly lowered. They lift, to take in first his tunic — a mild flash of surprise crosses her lovely features — and then the hand offered to her. Her steps seem almost to slow, to give her more time to consider. But then for the first time in eight years and more — really nearer to nine — she permits her flesh to touch his. Without even a visible wavering, in front of so many curious servants. "My lord," she murmurs.

Antony takes Margot's hand gently, though he can't help that he has some callouses from sword and reins. "Please come through," he invites as politely as he can manage.

Things are prepared for Margot's arrival. Her changes have been left in place, at least mostly. Perhaps one thing has been moved back to assert some authority. And, whether Edgar suggested it or Antony thought it up out of his own head, the menu is one of those that Margot suggested, perhaps with something added that she once particularly liked. Or at least that Antony thought she liked. But the table is laid for two. "I was not expecting you to bring more guests," Anthony says carefully. "Will they dine here, or in the kitchen?" It's clear from how slowly he is speaking that he is choosing his words very deliberately to avoid a command.

Passing through the manse's eponymous door and its foyer, over that floor of gleaming cherry-wood she considered on her previous visit had been inadequately polished and left maids kneeling upon, most certainly Lady Rowan notices what is the same and what is not. She says nothing, however. This alteration in her husband's attitude is, well, on the one hand downright suspicious, but on the other a sign of hope that in her present situation she can't help but cling to — however gently and diffidently her hand rests in his. "You need not trouble yourself about my women," she murmurs; "they have already dined and will wait for me wherever it is convenient." Of course she took care of her own people, rather than leaving them to him.

"Edgar will show them to a sitting room," Antony replies decisively, and that servant materializes to lead the accessory women away to a reasonably comfortable room. That leaves the married couple alone. Antony indicates where Margot is to sit and a servant pulls out a chair for her. His seat is at the head, but he hasn't been so foolish as to put her at the foot. She has a seat on one side of the table not far away from him. Antony remembers to wait for her to be seated first.

The look between the lady and her septa as the latter is whisked away is unreadable on one side, and nakedly, sympathetically reassuring on the other.

Opposite ends, with an acre of table between them, would constitute only a microcosm of the past eight years. Sitting instead near enough to smell her lord husband is unlikely to be conducive to a hearty appetite in Lady Rowan; but she makes no complaint, and lowers herself smoothly into her appointed chair, running a hand over her spotless white skirts in a gesture absolutely familiar from four years of stilted family dinners at Goldengrove. She unfolds her white linen napkin across that expanse of white silk and doesn't speak until the servant who held her chair moves to pour her wine: "With water, please," she asks softly, flicking a glance up, holding her hand briefly over the goblet next to her plate to forestall its filling with the undiluted stuff.

The servants are obedient to that request and any others she may make with dinner. Antony drinks his wine undiluted, but he's being careful about his manners rather than quaffing as heartily as he might like. "Do you still have the same tastes in food?" he attempts as a start on smalltalk. But, after a moment, thinking that may not be a very good question, follows up with, "Have you tasted anything particularly good at the Hightower?"

The first course put before her Lady Rowan recognises from one of her menus, though that may only be a coincidence. She takes a bite for courtesy and then pushes the rest about on her plate, trying to work her way up to another. "My cousins keep a fine table," she mentions neutrally; "though of course being on an island, with so little room, much of the Hightower's meat and poultry and other necessities come from merchants in the city." She left his cook a list of the most reputable, reliable tradesmen; if he hasn't dealt with them, merely to spite her, it's his own table and account-books suffering.

Antony eats, but his gaze keeps returning to Margot. "And how do you find Oldtown?" he asks next. It isn't a terribly creative question, but at least it isn't a request or a difficult subject.

Her second mouthful, which she's been approaching for a while now, finally finds its way onto her fork and into her mouth. She chews it, in no particular hurry, swallows, and washes it down with a mouthful of her watered wine. "It is my home," she admits quietly, "and I am always pleased to have occasion to visit. Of course the smell is troubling at first. I'm sure you must have noticed it particularly after living in the countryside so long." A pause. She casts about. "The dolphins will come quite soon, I believe."

Antony makes a noncommittal gesture, loath at the moment to comment on the smell of the seat of the Hightowers. "Ah," he says. "I heard something of that. That they come to the harbor and the people here celebrate."

Lady Rowan clears her throat. "Yes. The same— herd, I believe is the term, of dolphins, visits the Whispering Sound each year at about this time. A flotilla of ships goes out to greet them; and then there is a festival throughout the city, a parade, and a tournament in honour of the Mother. The celebrations last almost two weeks, all told." She relates these cool phrases in a slightly stilted rhythm, without meeting his gaze, and again sips her watered wine.

Antony nods more seriously at this than a dolphin festival probably demands. "Do you— Have you…enjoyed this festival, in the past?" he asks, eyes moving from her hand to her face.

Her eyes tighten. "Yes, I did in the past," she concedes. For dolphin festivals in honour of the Mother can come to seem a surprisingly serious business to one who is herself a mother no more. Simply in order to leave it at that she eats a third, smaller bite of her dinner. But slowly.

Well, that was obviously the wrong line of questioning. Antony has to pause a while to regroup. He drinks from his wine. "Lady Bryony," he finally comes up with, "She's at the Hightower as well, now?"

Even at that Lady Rowan hesitates a moment before speaking. But when she does she can't hide the fondness for her sister which has kept them so much together, so much united all their lives, marriages or no marriages. Family is the one good thing, isn't it. "Yes; we came to Oldtown together, at the beginning of the twelfth month, for our cousin Lady Marsei's wedding," she explains, quietly. She leaves her knife and fork resting against the edges of her plate and her hands fall into her lap, lying still upon her napkin.

Antony sits back a little. "And she's staying on a little while as well?" he asks, probably relieved to have found a topic that doesn't make his wife miserably push food around on her plate. "Is she well?"

Black silken hair ripples about Lady Rowan's shoulders as she nods. "Yes. And yes, my sister is well. She was ill for a time after her boy Davith was born last year but she's much improved since…" She appears to be regarding a spot on the tablecloth on the farther side of her husband's plate. It may not be a spot, of course. It may only be a point in space. "We have a very pleasant suite overlooking the sound, and a portion of the docks. The children…" Again she swallows. "They like to watch the boats coming and going. From up there of course they resemble… toy boats," she explains, faintly.

Antony has a sip of wine, then clears his throat, nodding. "That's… good. I'm… pleased you came this evening." Perhaps this is him clunkily changing course.

His runaway lady sits there, so near him and yet holding herself so carefully aloof, and inclines her head in the same sort of gentle, modestly condescending nod he has often seen her give to servants, to bores, to anyone else she doesn't wish to converse with and yet finds that, in honour, she must. He hasn't seen her smile in nine years. He doesn't see her smile now. "You extended me a very civil invitation," she acknowledges softly.

To receive that nod at such a time is a little heartbreaking. But it's only a twitch of Antony's lip that makes it clear that he recognized it, and what it means about him. He soldiers on with the task of being patient. "I've never wanted to be in conflict with you," he claims. "And I still find you beautiful."

Her eyes find him for a moment only to revert to the table's floral centrepiece when he utters a compliment most women eight years older would surely appreciate. Wouldn't they…? "My curse, isn't it." She clarifies, "Male creatures finding me," and her lips twist, "beautiful… Davith is the same. Bryony's new boy. He won't sleep at night unless I sing to him. Even he, at eight months, believes that if he finds a woman beautiful she must surely be pleased to grant him whatever he wishes of her. That's how young it begins — and what am I to do? Might I have peace, do you suppose," and she seems to be asking him, meeting his eyes, again the sharp-edged creature of her last year at Goldengrove and yet speaking frankly rather than sulking in silence, "if I threw away the gods' gifts to me, and made myself ugly?"

Antony blinks at that reply, looking a little puzzled. "He's just a babe, surely," he can't help defending a little. But he frowns as she continues. "Well what is it that you do want?" he asks. "Are you asking that I release you so you can go into the sept? What do you want?"

Of course he doesn't understand. His wife shakes her head once and looks away and lifts her hand tiredly to find her goblet. "Yes, yes," she explains, "he's a babe; he has his lullabies." Having curled her fingers about the stem of it that's as far as she goes, however. She just holds it. "The same songs I'd sing for…" Little Gareth and then Olivar littler still, tucked into their cribs at night, in the old nursery at Goldengrove. "You ask what I want. I want…" Her low voice falters. "All to be as it was before that hunting trip. I don't know what else, in all the Seven Heavens, I could want."

Antony reaches a hand up to pinch his nose, eyes shutting briefly. But then he lets his hand down. "But you despised me before then," he says. "You were not happy." Perhaps he is somewhat confusing her inability to love him with impossibility for happiness.

This marks the death of Lady Rowan’s appetite; she inters it upon her plate, discreetly pushed forward and away, her knife and her fork laid together across it. Her back remains straight, stiff, independent of the chair that would support her if she wished it. She explains to him in slow, careful, measured phrases — with cold, careful, clear blue eyes — that: “For eight years until I had your raven I was, I believe, taking the bad with the good, as happy as I ever could be in this life.”

Antony looks back at his wife as she precisely informs him of her happiness without him. He stares at her for a moment while he tries to think what he can possibly reply to that. "What have I done?" he finally asks. "You didn't put me off when I proposed. You blame me for our first loss? What?"

His wife sits in silence and breathes, for a few long seconds, trying to find an answer in the frank yet courteous pitch he has chosen for their evening. "I hardly know what to…" she attempts. Her fingertips twist a fold of her napkin, out of sight beneath the edge of the table. More visibly she presses her lips together. "I wish," she tries again from another direction, "you might live one day of your life as a woman. I don't know how to explain to you otherwise. Your circumstances are so far removed from my own."

Antony starts to shoot back rapid-fire: "Well, I wish that you could live one day as a man who—" but he stops himself, presses a palm on the table, and takes a breath, looking at his plate. A silence. "There are women, surely…who do not despise their husbands?" he tries.

"There are women who have that good fortune," agrees Lady Rowan, slowly, heavily. Her own plate couldn't interest her less and yet she finds herself regarding it again. "But that is what it is. Fortune. Luck. Chance. The unknown, the unknowable whim of the gods… Do you truly believe," and she looks up at him again, her gaze full of a weary and withering distaste, "do you understand so little as to suppose — I was afforded a choice?"

Antony returns that gaze with a more tired-looking one. "So you mean it would have been better if I had never asked you?" he wants to know. "I was wrong in asking you?"

If it's in exhaustion they're competing now, rather than misery or pigheadedness, well, Lady Rowan puts on a fine showing without even trying. "I would like you to get it out of your head, once and for all, that you asked me. You chose me as though the court was a horse fair and I was the most promising young mare; and then I was called before my father and informed that I would become your wife upon a date already chosen. When you spoke to me I said 'yes' because I was not permitted to say 'no'. I don't know what illusions you've been cherishing all these years," her lips tighten once more, as though upon some other remark, "… but that is what happened."

Antony widens his eyes at that. "Did I do something strange?" he wants to know. "Did I not just ask your hand like any man does? Could I have possibly done anything else without insulting your entire family?"

"How many times have you insulted me for speaking and behaving correctly — and yet it's your own first refuge…" Lady Rowan wonders aloud. "It was the correct manner; you could not have done otherwise." This uttered drily, as she averts her eyes again. She can't seem to look at him for long without needing a rest from the sight. She speaks, then, with fractionally greater rapidity. "If you could only have taken the least hint from me — when I began to suspect that was what you wished, I did try to put you off — but you never could see anything that wasn't spelled out for you twice over…"

Antony purses his lips as he listens to all this. It's obvious it angers him, but he doesn't snap or shout this time. He keeps quiet until he can say grimly, "Then I will release you."

"Come here. Go there. Be married. Be unmarried. Orders from men — I can't tell you how weary I am of orders from men…" Her white sleeve brushes the edge of the table as she reaches again for her watered wine, and drinks the merest sip. "You know it's a sin," she remarks offhandedly. "What the gods have joined together, no man may break asunder." And then she quotes chapter and verse, several examples in fact from the sacred texts, long since committed to her memory. Of course in rare and exceptional cases the Faith does permit divorce. That they remain such rare and exceptional cases is seen to by the many who believe implicitly in such scriptures.

"It's a sin against the Mother not to lay with your spouse," Antony returns, interrupting if she goes on very long. He pushes his plate aside. "I have asked you what you want more than once. You have told me you wish to be left alone. If that is what you want, then I shall leave you alone. But you cannot expect me to remain yoked to you when you give me not the slightest hope that I will ever cease to turn your stomach. I will find a way to break the bond that makes you so very miserable. I left you alone for eight bloody years. But you may not keep me in a box at the end of a pole that you occasionally shake when you want money to fall out. I wish to be a married man in every way. I do not understand /what/ you want. But it is plainly not to be my wife."

Now he sounds more like the Antony Rowan she remembers. Lady Rowan withstands his tirade with her accustomed cold dignity, forcing even her hands to remain still in her lap to save her napkin any further distress.

"Would you prefer me to lie to you?" she inquires then, at the end of a deep breath. "Would you prefer me to make you false promises? … What I wish for is only what you take for granted: the power of making my own decisions and charting my own course, rather than being pushed and pulled and having what I love torn from me by a man who believes I am bought and paid for and owned."

Antony presses his lips together. "What have you been doing the last eight years if not making your own decisions unencumbered?" he asks. "What would you do right now if I said you have all the power to make whatever decision you like? Would you go on as you are and leave me to rot alone? What would you change?"

Let him rot…? Is that a faint stiffening of Lady Rowan's sinews? "I don't make up my mind," she reminds him, "on the spur of the moment, or when… when I know I'm not thinking clearly." Her eyelids lower. "I appreciate being asked for once, though I can hardly imagine it is a serious question."

Antony opens a hand. "I would like to hear it," he insists, "Since you cannot bear to be with me but you seem to think I am unfair to release you, too. You want a day to tell me what your solution is? A week? Take it, then. Let me hear how you would be fair to me in some way I am not to you." He picks up his glass of wine, only a tremor in his hand betraying the emotion beneath. "I have waited eight years for you to tell me what makes me so repugnant. I can wait, too, to hear what you propose we do."

His wife looks into his eyes, fully, for the first time since crossing his threshold. "You've altered," she informs him in that low voice which, in his experience, speaks in nothing but practiced pleasantries or sullen unpleasantries. "Or have you…? Is it possible?"

Antony closes his eyes briefly to take a breath, which he then lets out. "Have I?" he asks. He meets her gaze, then. As with her, the marks of grief are still discernible on his face. And perhaps what rings his eyes is a fresher pain. "It's been a long time."

“I’ve never known you display a moment’s patience with my feelings,” explains Lady Rowan, by way of elucidating the matter. Her eyes hold his for a few further deliberate, too-long seconds. Another mortification of the spirit. “Hurrying straight to me and flinging at my feet a bouquet of demands and ultimatums, whilst my heart still reeled from the first shock of losing him too — that of course is only what I’d expect of you. But this, this is unusual. Antony Rowan, waiting. It suits you,” she concludes, with a coolness somehow impersonal despite her well-known distaste for the subject of her present study. Then she looks away as she swallows a yawn, lifting a white hand from her lap to cover that brief distortion of her lovely face.

Antony sits quietly to hear all this, including the implied insults. His eyebrows lower, but he doesn't interrupt this time. "When you say that it suits me," he replies, "Do you mean that it suits you?" His gaze wanders, too. "It seems the less time I have, the more I wait."

Another taste of watered wine, which to judge by the expression which flits through Lady Rowan's averted eyes must be a vintage sour rather than sweet. "I'm sure there must be some kind of lesson in that," she remarks into her goblet before setting it down again. "Perhaps it does suit me. I don't know. I can't yet think of these things, or…" She inhales deeply, and breathes out. "No, I haven't a— solution, as you call it, my lord; I doubt there is one, when your custom is to draw such deep lines in the sand."

"I am not the one keeping us apart," Antony defends, sitting up again. "You cannot blame me for dividing us. I merely wish to understand if you expect to live all your life married to me in name only. You think I do not see your feelings, but you have never troubled to see mine, either."

His wife's white silken gown ripples with a quick and silent laugh. "Of course," she agrees drily; "you've not done a wrong thing or a cruel one, or foolish, or deserving of blame, in all your dealings with me… What must it be like," she marvels with a lift of her proud dark head, "to believe so powerfully in one's own rectitude…? I gave years of my life to your feelings, my lord; I gave all I could give. It was not enough for you. You'd eat up my soul if I let you and reject that too as insufficient; you'd pile any shame and calumny upon me in order to have your way, exactly your own, with no hint of compromise. What chivalrous man would consider—" And at her wit's end with this man, she draws her napkin from her lap and folds it twice with trembling hands before placing it next to her scarcely-touched plate. A signal as plain as any that their interview is nearing its end.

"Oh, please," Antony snaps. "You must be thinking of yourself. I am not the one who plays at sainthood." He leans forward on one forearm. "And who is spreading calumnies about whom? In what way do you suppose I want to shame you? All I want is for you to be my wife!" He watches her fold the napkin. "You have made me a monster in your mind," he says. "I do not know how you think I wish to hurt you. I do not know how you wish me to be 'chivalrous.' You will never tell me. I do not know what more to do with you."

At that Lady Rowan half-turns in her chair, gazing at him with a surprise which — she being herself — is swiftly stifled into cool, soft-voiced dignity. "Do you suppose…" she begins. And then her earlier complaint against him resurfaces. "I hardly know what to say when you— speak as you do to me. Do you accuse me of speaking of this marriage before others?" And then, in an appalled whisper, "Do you truly suppose I could endure to do so?"

Antony lifts his eyebrows at that response. Then he shakes his head a little. "I really cannot tell," he says, "Whether you have come to believe your own performance or whether you are just more skilled than ever. But if you cannot even endure to speak of me, then why do you hesitate when I say we should be dissolved?"

Regarding him still with that incredulous exhaustion, Lady Rowan rests her hand upon her folded napkin, her fingertips curving against it. She is quiet a moment or two, gathering herself, before beginning to speak in tones stripped of all feeling. Her voice seems somehow to be coming from a long way off.

"Do you enjoy humiliating me? Is that why you force me to treat of such matters? I have not spoken to others of the years I lived beneath your roof; for me it is painful enough to think that you who were there, know what you know… Tell me, my lord, have you ever met a woman whose husband broke their marriage? I don't believe you can have done; for there are no such women to be seen… When her private life becomes public property, when she is made into a scandal for every cruel tongue to exaggerate, when she is denounced and rejected by the one man sworn before all others to protect her and to uphold her honour, she is ruined. Whether or not she did anything to deserve it— to question her honour is to destroy it. She is shamed, disgraced, an untouchable amongst those who were once her friends and her kin, and she is left with no recourse but to bury herself in a motherhouse and pray to be forgotten. You play, tonight, at treating with me in good faith, when you have already uttered such threats… No chivalrous man would submit any woman to those humiliations, no matter what hatred he had for her. And you have no legitimate cause, my lord — no cause under the laws of the Faith," she insists steadily. "I have never given you such cause. What choice have I, then, but to believe that you propose speaking untruths of me."

"There is no one here but me before whom to be humiliated," Antony replies, "And you cannot possibly care what I think of you. You are perfectly happy as long as I am the one to be humiliated, but when it is a matter of your name, you blench." He opens a hand. "I do not hate you," he says, "But I am the heir to an important house. I must have a wife. You can be my wife. You can enter the sept. You can be not my wife. But you cannot leave me in this state. Most men would not invite the woman who abandoned them eight years back to make the choice. I am sorry if you find the situation impossible, but I did not create it." He leans back. "We are getting nowhere. You must have your time to think and see if you come up with anything better than I have."

"You speak as though we were equal and alike, my lord," his lady observes tiredly. She has never been much inclined to speak his name aloud, or even inscribe it in her elaborate and fiddly calligraphy. "We are not; we never can be. The world insists upon one rule for men and another for women… Every word you utter to me assumes this fact, even the words by which you deny it. Your position now is more tenable than those you would assign to me. You have every freedom but one… I live beneath restrictions you could not imagine." She has brought her goblet to her lips; she sips from it, quickly, and sets it down and folds her hands in her lap. "I will think, my lord, as much as… But before I leave, there is one other matter I hope I may set before you."

"Well what in the seven hells do you want me to do about the way of the world?" Antony demands. "I live in the world as much as you do." He snorts air through his nostrils, then finishes the wine in his glass. "What is your other matter?" he asks, when he is thus somewhat restored.

Again Lady Rowan looks at him as though she can scarcely believe what she's hearing. She bites the inside of her lip to keep from answering him as he deserves; and pursues with smooth gravity her… other matter. "The stipend I am accustomed to receiving from your house did not reach me when I expected it," she explains, "and I have heard no word on the subject from your banker or your steward. Am I to understand this is the result of a deliberate decision, and that I shall not receive any further monetary support from House Rowan?"

Antony sets his goblet down. "Indeed, I cannot go on throwing good money after bad," Antony says, "I presume that if you choose to live away from me, it is because you have some means to do so. If you wish to live under my roof, as my wife, I can support you better. But as Lord Rowan, I cannot continue to spend money where it does no benefit to the house. If you are open to negotiations, then perhaps I can find something for you."

"It would have been courteous of you," explains his wife distantly, "to have given orders that I was to be notified of your decision in advance, in order that I might not then incur financial obligations that I would find myself unable to meet. As I was not so notified I have found my affairs in considerable disorder at this— difficult time…" When she is barely sleeping, barely eating, barely capable of making her way through a world which no longer has her son in it. "It cannot be said to benefit House Rowan," she points out, "if debts are incurred in our name and not then swiftly settled."

Antony presses his lips a bit thin. "I will cover your debts now," he says, tucking his chin as he thinks this over briefly. "But it may be the last time. If you will not be as my wife, then I shall not consider it 'our' name to have debts incurred under it. I imagine you will remember this without reminder and check your spending henceforth. I know that you have a place to live and something to eat at the Hightower. And as long as we are married in name, both will be available to you here should you have need. Perhaps it will be more tolerable to you to find coin for dresses in doing piecework, or waiting upon some other lady at the Hightower. If my company is absolutely repugnant to you, I expect my money will be as well."

Live with him, or become a septa. Live with him, or become a servant. Live with him, or become a public disgrace. What sweet propositions he puts to her. Lady Rowan regards a point on the opposite wall, for green is a very soothing colour… "Thank you," she murmurs coolly. "I shall send you tomorrow morning the bills which remain to me, so that you may ascertain to your satisfaction how much I owe and where. Naturally Bryony and Adarian offered to assist me; but I did not consider it suitable to buy my mourning clothes with Tyrell coin, particularly as I am well-acquainted with their own circumstances." By which she means, of course, that Lord Adarian's father is a younger son.

"I am paying for mourning garments," Antony says grimly. "You will hear no more about those arrangements." He rubs a hand over his face. "I wish it were not as it is between us."

Then why did he make it so—? his lady refrains from asking, by once more sinking her teeth into the inside of her lip. So much more discreet than biting the lip itself. Only the merest flicker across her chin. "Will you call my women to me?" she asks. "… And you'll please send word from me to your cook," she glances down at her plate, "that there was no fault in her preparation of the fish; I simply have no appetite this evening."

Antony stands, putting his napkin on the table. "Edgar will see to it," he says. He goes to one of the room's doors to find Edgar where he is waiting nearby, and dispatch him to go and get the women from the sitting room. He comes back to the table, but does not sit. "I suppose it is not one thing that makes you hate me," he reflects, "But everything."

Lady Rowan sits in silence until she hears footsteps without; and then the feet of her chair scrape gently across the floor of dark cherry wood as she rises. Her gown has scarcely wrinkled since she put it on, she sits with such care: she is as immaculate as when she arrived, and as cool. "The one thing I might have borne," she explains tranquilly, "were it not for all the rest. Good evening, my lord." Her gaze moves past him without really taking him in, to the door opening again beneath Edgar's hand. Her composure before the staff, his and her own, is absolute. She greets her handmaiden and Septa Melarie with a small, easy pale pink smile, as though to reassure them that all the evening's talk has been perfectly civil and friendly; and then she steps forward to them hoping aloud that they haven't passed too dull a time waiting for her.

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