(123-02-17) The Loneliest Lord in Oldtown
The Loneliest Lord in Oldtown
Summary: Lord Antony Rowan is at such a loose end that he requests the company of his goodbrother of sorts to discuss… oh, wives and things. Not that that's awkward at all. Oh, no.
Date: 17/02/2016
Related: Everything about Margot and Antony.

A letter distinguished by its spot-on spelling (though certainly not by its penmanship) brings Ser Adarian Tyrell through a cool summer morning to the Rowan Door Manse. He is a fair-haired man, handsome enough after his house's fashion, the product of generations of wealth wed to beauty; his usual equable air is however moderated by his private unwillingness to be where he is and to do what he's doing. He would like to think it is not his business. Alas, he showed Lord Rowan's letter to the ladies, and they were unanimous in agreeing that it was his duty — not to Lord Rowan, but to them — to call upon that irascible and unhappy husband and see what he can do to interpret or perhaps soothe him. As though there were a secret password or something—!

Still, if one doesn't know him intimately — and, whatever the friendship between their wives, these two men have met chiefly on formal occasions or in pursuit of boar — Ser Adarian's sober attitude might be taken as an appreciation of the solemnity of the occasion. His first words, upon being shown into the library clean-shaven and attired in his house's gold-trimmed green, are: "My deepest condolences, Ser Antony, upon your loss."

Antony has stood to meet his guest. Since he's not receiving his wife, he's in his usual practical, yet subtly high-quality, clothes, and he does not appear to have foregone refreshment in anticipation of his guest's arrival, as there is already a goblet by his chair. But another is brought in swiftly for Adarian. Antony steps forward to clasp the Tyrell's arm. "Adarian," he says. "Thank you."

The younger man echoes the gesture, his grip just a touch firmer than usual in token of the sincerity present also in his gaze. "He was already a fine young man. All Highgarden looked forward to his visits," he adds quietly, stepping back again, neglecting to mention that the exigencies of his various duties kept him absent during perhaps two-thirds of those visits.

Antony tightens the corners of his mouth at the praise, unable to respond right away. But he nods briefly. "Well." That's all he can really muster in answer. He makes a gesture to a seat. "Are you well? You have so much traveling to do, it must be exhausting."

Adarian sits where he's put and accepts the goblet offered him with a negligent nod toward the rowan tree tabard just behind it. "I'm fortunate enough to enjoy it," he admits; "I always wanted to see the world, and I have." There are definite perquisites to being out of the line of succession.

Antony grunts softly and nods at that. "And your wife, she respects your work?" he finds himself asking next, eyes on Adarian.

Unflappable, unflapped, Adarian lowers the wine he wasn't behindhand in partaking of and answers, "I have never had cause to think otherwise." The elephant in the room lumbers ever nearer.

Antony drinks from his cup. "How did you match with her?" he asks next.

"The usual way, I suppose," admits Adarian. A faint smile tugs at his lips. "She wasn't on the list my father gave me of girls to look at, but she was friendly with two of them. I kept running into her — and she kept laughing at my jokes — and somehow the horse-faced heiresses lost their appeal." He shifts in his chair. "What are you getting at, Antony?" he asks frankly. "Your letter…"

Antony pulls his jaw slightly to one side at this story. He hasn't always been such a grave man, but surely the death of his son has dampened his spirit considerably. "And then you asked her father for her hand," he presumes. Then he sets his cup aside. "What am I getting at?" he echoes, eyebrows lifting. "I think you know my wife has been away from me for eight years."

Yeeees. Her best friend's husband knows something about that. Adarian sits and regards Antony for a long moment. What does one say to such a statement? "I've never felt that was my business," he says at last.

"By which you mean you don't wish to discuss it with me?" Antony wants to know, leaning his elbow on one of his chair's armrests.

Well, as it happens, no. But Adarian temporises somewhat, sipping his wine again before setting down his goblet upon a convenient table. "Shall I say, I'm not certain what it is you want with me, apart from stories about Bryony. I do know some good ones — she's so frightened of bees she walked backwards into a hedge, once — but apart from that…"

Antony drinks from his goblet, lines appearing between his brows. "I thought we could talk," he says, tone perhaps a bit disappointed. "There are not so many in Oldtown that I know well. Have you many friends here?"

Talk? Adarian blinks twice, but doesn't reject the notion. "Kin more than friends," he concedes, "though some of my kin are damn good friends. Your kin too, of course." Though how much such relationships avail him with his wife in residence at the Hightower, it would not be polite to speculate. "It's a good time of year to be in Oldtown," he adds, "with the festival on the horizon. I always try to get back for it if I can." There. That's talking, isn't it?

Antony nods a little. "I'd like to see it in a better day," he says. "I heard there are tournaments, but I've not got the stomach for one at a time like this. I don't suppose you compete?"

Adarian nods gravely to that. "Not this year, no," he is quick to point out, though he doesn't make clear his reason. "More often at home, when they need me to make up an even number. I'm liable to be knocked out pretty quickly — I haven't your skill in the lists." He does all right, but has other strengths.

"It means something to me, to compete," Antony volunteers, still watching Adarian. "But you're stronger than many, I hear." He keeps an ear out for news of tourney outcomes, it appears. "You seem a good sort."

"Not at all," insists Adarian smoothly upon the heels of those compliment; "you'd never have heard of me if I hadn't had the fortune of good early training." Any son of Highgarden grows up steeped in the tactics and etiquette of tourneys, of course. And speaking of it has bought him time to decide how to return the second half of Lord Rowan's words of praise. "And you're the man your father was, to hear tell." He being reputed to be a good sort too, a generous if high-handed overlord, and ever the first into battle.

"Well, what can any man be in the ring or on the field but the product of his training and upbringing?" Antony replies, meant to stand both for putting Adarian's deprecation of his skill aside and for similar modesty on Antony's part. "And anyway, it is bravest to fight when the outcome is uncertain." He sits up straight again. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable in asking you here. It would be nice if I had someone in the city I could talk to."

A point so well made that Adarian reclaims his goblet, raises it, and drinks, in lieu of offering his agreement aloud. "I didn't mean to sound so suspicious," he offers honestly — and that much is true, he didn't mean to sound so suspicious. "But it's about nine years since we met, Ser Antony," he's correct in addressing a man half a dozen years his senior and a great lord besides, and moreover correct in his recollections: nine years since he escorted Lady Bryony to Goldengrove in advance of the birth of Lady Margot's second son, "and it seemed fair to wonder whether writing now meant you had business with me."

Antony drinks from his glass. He considers his next words a bit carefully, though it is unlike him to hesitate. "I suspect…" he says slowly, "That you may, through your wife's association with mine, have heard unflattering things about me which dispose you less well towards me than you otherwise might feel." He tightens the corners of his mouth in an expression that means he considers this unfortunate, but that he accepts the reality of it. He certainly looks Adarian in the face when he says it. "I cannot know what you have heard nor whether it is true or false and truly I can think of no reason why you should put any trust in me in the face of that."

The elephant trumpets aloud; Adarian sips his wine again. "Margot has been a good friend to me," he mentions cautiously, "but I have seldom known her, ever, to speak of you. I don't know if that helps you at all."

Antony narrows his eyes just slightly, but it's hard to tell if he's just listening hard, or if he's a bit suspicious to hear another man call his wife by her first name. " I am trying to ask for your help man to man," he continues. "When you say it isn't your business, I take it that you hesitate to be involved, but the fact is that you probably see my wife more than I do." He drinks. "I am not asking you to betray her, but when I try to talk to her, all she does is accuse me of being a man as if it is a crime and tell me that I cannot understand her."

Adarian drinks more too. Well, wouldn't you? "I do see her, with Bryony," he stresses. "But that's who she confides in. Bryony." He shifts again, crossing ankle over knee, weighing his next words. "I don't know if she thinks it's a crime," this he offers slowly, "so much as a misfortune visited by the gods. You know," an awkward clearing of his throat, "she's not… She really doesn't. I'd stake my life she hasn't looked at a man in all this time." He speaks seriously, looking the other man straight in the eyes. He believes it.

"If it's me, it's certainly a crime in her eyes," Antony says. And perhaps it comes out sounding a little sorrier than he meant it to. He listens when Adarian assures him there is no man in her life, but it's hard to tell if he believes it. "Of course," he says quietly. "She wouldn't fail to be perfect, would she?"

The Tyrell knight is still giving him that steady look. He's slow to speak again. "She's an unusual woman," he attempts diplomatically. If she'd only been perfectly awful, it would have been… wonderful. If, if.

Antony looks puzzled by that as a reply. "Do you understand why she hates me?" he asks. "I know she finds me…dull and overly rough. But I have never struck her. Is it really such a reason to be so thoroughly disgusted? To go away and never come back and humiliate me before the whole world?"

"I only know what Bryony tells me," Adarian prevaricates, holding up a hand as though it might shield him, "and she doesn't say much, and only when…" He clears his throat and leaves that carefully unsaid.

Antony blinks when Adarian trails off, but instead of pressing, he looks off to the side. "You were good to come when the subject makes you so uncomfortable," he says, but it sounds like 'I see you won't help me.' He makes a vague gesture to Adarian, looking him over again. "Will you have something else? More wine? Something to eat?"

"You're generous with your cellar," allows Adarian, not quite asking for more, not quite agreeing to stay longer. "I'm not sure," he reiterates, "what it is you'd have of me… but a man doesn't repeat what his wife tells him in confidence." Surely Lord Rowan will see how he's fixed.

"Then if you know nothing of it for yourself, we'll say no more about it," Rowan concludes. He certainly isn't pleased, but he doesn't push Adarian further. "But please, anything in my cellars and larders is yours if you wish it. I take too many meals and drinks alone."

"Very generous," repeats the Tyrell, giving a slight inclination of his head. He doesn't look much happier than his host. "Ser Antony… I don't know," he says cautiously, "and for your sake I'm sorry the situation is as it is. I don't know what I'd do," and again he gives his host that absolutely level, absolutely sincere look-in-the-eye, "if Bryony turned from me. I do know I haven't a day's anxiety about her when Margot is with her."

Antony's lower lip firms upward, a sure sign that he is trying to contain unpleasant emotion. "But you see her, don't you," he points out. "Your wife. You don't have need for anxiety. Because she sees you."

Not a sign with which Adarian is especially familiar. He presses on with a slow, confidential revelation of his own. "I married a beautiful woman," he points out, "and she makes friends easily… she likes," he tilts his head, giving a rueful smile, "to flirt. I see her, yes, but not often. When I'm away from her it's a comfort to me to know she goes everywhere with Margot and that septa. I don't worry," he concludes. "But in eight years… I don't think either of them thrives away from the other. Whatever happened, whatever happens, between the two of you… I wouldn't think separating them would benefit anyone. In that sense, you and I have common interests."

Antony narrows his eyes slightly at that explanation. "You don't think separating them would benefit anyone," he repeats. "What is it you suppose /would/ benefit me?"

That of course is more difficult to say. Adarian is quiet for a long moment. "The last time Margot lost a child, she altered the entire pattern of her life." She left you. "If she's suffering the same this time, I wouldn't push her. I wouldn't like to guess what she might or might not do." And that, were he but to admit it, is his wife's estimation in his own words.

Antony stares back at Adarian in return for that advice for several long moments. Then he picks up his glass and drinks from it. "The last time, she left me and she never returned," he finally breaks the silence to say. "So you are advising that this time, too, I wait, while she never returns." He nods several times. "I think that is what Margot would say as well."

"Margot has always struck me," Adarian attempts again, "as a lady. Of course I haven't known her all her life." Let that be understood, though he's certainly had the pleasure of her acquaintance for a longer period than her husband. "But for as long as I have known her… I have never seen her in a lapse from the correct form." With another man, for instance. "To take a step you're within reason to regard as highly unusual for a married woman — it isn't in her normal character. I don't know what was in her mind, Ser Antony, but it has always seemed to me she must have acted upon a compelling reason." He has further recourse to his wine, and exhales heavily. This is all rather uncomfortable. "I offered, years ago," he finally says, forcing the words out against his better judgment, "to try to speak with you on her behalf. To intervene if I could. She wouldn't have it. Not at any price."

Antony drains his glass and sets it aside. "I see," he answers. He's still, and his posture subtly corrects itself. "You may think I am to blame. But if I am, she will not tell me why, and so I do not know how to rectify it. But she has her correctness and she has her charisma." He nods several times, to himself. "Will you bring your wife to the festival? You should take Margot, too. She will think it is too painful but I think it may do her good."

Adarian is too polite directly to address what Antony thinks is good for Margot: dragging a woman who has lost both her children to a festival honouring the Mother. "My wife is like a mother hen with an extra chick lately — and Margot hasn't left the Hightower, since your loss," a casual coupling of husband and wife in the same phrase, "except to come here," and he lifts a hand, indicating the manse. "I plan to see a great deal of the festival myself and I'll offer, of course… but you must understand I have no sway over where Margot goes or what she does." That would be most improper! "I don't know why she doesn't tell you whatever it is she doesn't tell you." And somehow he fails, this time, to meet Antony's eyes with the solid and reassuring look he has offered so many times already. He is instead, whether by chance or no, looking down into his goblet as he drains it likewise.

His gaze lifts. "I don't pretend I understand women," he concludes, shaking his head in something very like sympathy. "Especially the quiet ones. I thank the gods I found one who likes talking to me."

Antony looks at the ceiling. "Well, I don't mean /drag/ her, for heaven's sake," he grumbles. "I just thought—nevermind," he concludes, shutting up his mouth. He wets his lips at the final comment and nods. "Yes, you have been lucky." He rubs the space between his brow with two fingers. "I hardly go out, myself," he mentions. "But…to sit here alone with everything…" he clears his throat. "I watched him die," he finds himself saying with sudden emotion.

The younger man bows his head in respect. (And, of course, to conceal his powerful desire to be having any other conversation but this one.) When he lifts it again a cloud has fallen over his face. "Ser Antony, you have my deepest sympathy." Another slight hesitation. "I think you know we lost one as well, many years ago."

Antony turns his face away, anyway, so that does wonders to cover the discomfort of his interlocutor. He stares at the opposite wall a little while before he recovers the appearance of having his feeling…if not well in hand then at least under control. "Yes," he says, lowering his chin a little. "And I know it must still… I don't mean to bring it up, forgive me."

But it doesn't still, nearly so much as Antony in his own grief must assume: Adarian was nineteen years old, newly married, and unsure what to think or do or say. The place in his heart where that tiny girl lived has grown over with other concerns, long since. "No, no," he says awkwardly, amidst his second thoughts regarding that dodged offer of more wine. "These things… do happen. Even among people of our class."

"Yes…" Antony admits numbly. They do. "Look, I realize it was no good bringing you out here. I'm sorry. I suppose you think it's all very strange. You didn't ask to be mixed up in it, did you."

"I try not to be mixed up in it," is Adarian's honest answer, "though I can't imagine…" A weighty sigh. "What it must look like to you."

Antony massages his right hand with his left. "What what looks like?" he asks. "I don't fault you, if that's what you mean. My wife probably speaks more to you than she does to me. Besides, she's your wife's friend. And I've done nothing to earn your friendship. I just thought…I should try. She doesn't like me to ask her too many questions, but it's maddening, not knowing what it is in me that repels her so much."

Considering indeed that he's not at all at fault Adarian inclines his head in gracious appreciation of Antony's agreement. "I understand. You know Margot keeps strict boundaries," he reminds him. "When we speak it's usually about Bryony and the children… She is a friend to us all; but no man, Ser Antony, is a repository of her secrets. I no more than you."

"I hardly know how Margot is with others," Antony returns. By this time his eyes look a little duller than when he started. "Well, then. Will you have anything more to eat or to drink?" He offers for a second time.

"I have an obligation before long…" Adarian apologises. He's not un-proud of himself for hanging in as long as he did before invoking it.

Antony stands up with a grunt. "Then I'll see you out," he says, and makes for the door to the library, to open this first for his guest. "I'm sure we'll meet again some day when circumstances are better."

The other man rises with a calculated dearth of haste, straightening his doublet with a quick motion. Before the door can open, however, he clears his throat. "You understand why I can't act as an advocate for you, Ser Antony. If you had a message, however." He appears unenthused but dutiful.

"I understand," Antony replies. "No message. I think she would be gladder not to hear from me than to hear anything I could possibly say."

That in itself is a kind of message. Antony nods his head sharply, and says no more of it. "Good day, Ser Antony. Perhaps we'll meet during the festival," he suggests.

"We shall see," Antony answers. He lets Adarian out and shuts the door behind him.

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