(123-02-18) The Gods Help Those...
The Gods Help Those…
Summary: A chance meeting at the Starry Sept between Lady Rowan deep in devotion, and Lord Rowan seeking of Septa Miranda a more immediate and practical way of answering his own prayers…
Date: 18/02/2016
Related: Things to do with these characters.

Beneath the great star-pocked blue dome of the Starry Sept, the grey-robed figures of septons and septas move hither and yon; worshippers slip in and out to light boldly or furtively candles marking their repentance, or asking their heart's desire; murmured voices pray, or excuse themselves, and from a chamber somewhere nearby can be heard, when the right doors are opened in sequence, disjointed phrases of sacred music courtesy of the choir at practice.

With her kind eyes and open hands the statue of the Mother invites worship and is forever receiving it. On the altar at her feet burns a veritable forest of candles; others come and go, lighting their own, speaking a few private words with Her, but for some time now the same figure has been kneeling bowed before her. A slender woman in a gown of severe yet not unfashionable black silk, her skirts arranged modestly to cover her feet, her head and shoulders draped with a mantilla of the finest black Myrish lace which might at a distance be taken for a luxuriant mane of hair falling down her back. Head bowed, eyelids lowered, black-gloved hands clasped in her lap, she would be unrecognisable as her usual self were an observer not offered a key by the ladies waiting for her a few yards off: Septa Melarie in her holy greys, Lady Bryony Tyrell in a muted lilac, indicate as ever the presence nearby of Lady Margot Rowan.

It's Lady Bryony's wandering brown eyes which lock first with Lord Antony Rowan's: they widen and are turned quickly to the septa at her side.

The sept was always more Margot's place than Antony, but he is not an unbeliever. He is known to skip regular attendance, but also to seek advice and comfort there when he needs it. Between the death of his father and then his son, he has seen the inside of septs more often recently than usual. He arrives alone, and today he has a purpose, but he stops first to purchase a candle. It's only when he has it in hand that he turns to see the cluster near the Mother statue. And then his wife. He pauses.

Lady Rowan remains absolutely still about her devotions; she seems to feel neither a chill along her spine or a pricking of her thumbs, when her husband's gaze rests upon her. The septa and Lady Bryony are arm in arm, heads inclined together, the one murmuring to the other. Not near enough to interrupt the third member of their trio. Certainly between her and him.

There is little help for it. Antony does buy a second candle, but who better to ask for the care of a child's soul than the Mother? He takes just a moment to steel himself and then approaches that statue. He leaves as much space as he can between himself and Margot, but he can only be so far away and place the candle where it belongs. He crouches to put it in place.

Whatever reaction he fears, it doesn't follow: Lady Rowan is oblivious to his presence. When he rises, however, two other sets of feminine eyes are upon him. The septa who has set eyes upon him before only for as long as it took him to banish her, twice, from his presence, appears discreetly apprehensive — Lady Bryony's lips are pressed together and her warm brown eyes are wide with a reproach she can't hide. She has put on weight, not unbecomingly so, since last they met. A maiden turned very much into a mother.

Antony straightens up, meeting the gaze of the septa only briefly, but Lady Bryony's accusing look a little longer. He inclines his head after that moment's silence. "Lady Bryony," he says. "Lady Rowan."

His wife's shoulders tense visibly beneath her mantilla. Her eyes open; she looks up from within the folds of black lace shadowing her face and sees first her husband — as though summoned to her in baffling, unexpected answer to a prayer! — and then, as she turns to glance over her shoulder, the other women. It's to Lady Bryony that she extends her hand in a silent request to be helped up from her knees; and in a quick rustle of silk her sister obliges.

Even with both her hands tucked into Lady Bryony's, long black-gloved fingers twined with shorter bare white ones, she's slow to rise, and unsteady. Kneeling on marble is not the easiest of activities. And when she's up the two Hightower ladies link arms and the septa steps forward to shadow her lady upon her other side, Lady Rowan thus flanked by feminine support as she grants her husband a grave nod of her head and a distant murmur of, "My lord."

"I do not mean to interrupt your prayer, only offer my own," Antony says, keeping his voice quiet in respect for the contemplative atmosphere of the sept.

It's a little late to say that, when if he hadn't spoken her name he could have been and gone without her knowledge, without any question of interruption… Lady Rowan blinks once and, eyes moist with tears not quite sufficient to be shed, lowers her gaze. "Please, go on," she murmurs, ceding to him the altar before which she knelt so long and taking, arm in arm with Lady Bryony, a careful slow step toward the statue of the Crone.

Antony kneels down to light the candle and make his prayer. His left knee is still a little creaky from that old soft-tissue injury earned on a battlefield. He leaves Margot and her retinue to their business and bows his head solemnly before the statue.

The three ladies together approach Crone's altar; and from somewhere amidst her voluminous grey robes Septa Melarie produces a pair of candles. One each for Lady Rowan and Lady Bryony, who set them burning side by side, almost with a single flame, and linger not overly long, this time standing.

Then in retreat through the sept their path again crosses Lord Rowan's as he turns from the altar of the Father. At first Lady Rowan is oblivious to the coincidence in their directions, her head still somewhat bowed, her lace mantilla draped between her and the world, but Lady Bryony's hand tightens upon her arm and she glances up to find him there, again, unavoidably. Rather than walk straight in front of him she comes to a halt (her companions do likewise, half a breath later); she murmurs a low, "Pardon me."

Antony steps back to give the ladies some room to pass, though he follows in the same direction. There are only so many ways of moving in the sept, and their prayers concluded at the same time.

Which of them can show the most exaggerated courtesy to the other—? Lady Rowan hesitates before availing herself of the right of way yielded to her, and does so only with another inclination of her lace-draped head. Surrounded by her grey and grey-lilac ladies, pursued by black silken skirts which trail about her feet, she proceeds sedately through the sept, all too conscious of the masculine bootfalls just behind, the gaze she's certain must be upon her elegant and shapely back. The great seat of the Faith seems more than usually cavernous. It may be the tension of the long walk together and yet apart, or an aftermath of the prayer in which he surprised her, but she slows — she glances back to him — her lips part and then close again, on the point of speech, refraining. Several steps further on she looks back a second time, and then with her eyes forward again says something softly she knows he must hear.

"Thank you for seeing so swiftly to the delivery of my gowns." For they did come very soon after that awful dinner — and if they hadn't she wouldn't consider herself fit to be seen in public, even to pray.

Antony seems surprised that Margot addresses him rather than beating a quick escape. Even if she does it quietly and altogether without even looking at him. "I would not have delayed it," he replies. "I am glad if you have them when they are needed." He's quiet, but he does look at her and, if there is enough room, steps around to come closer to her side rather than walking behind her.

The septa being by nature a meek creature, apt to lag behind, there is room on one side of Lady Rowan. She doesn't look round, however, as she sees out of the corner of her eye her husband filling that unaccustomed place… And on her left, rather than her right. Her gaze remains humbly downcast beneath the eyes of the gods. "I don't doubt the cost struck you as extravagant," she muses, "but I shall not burn these as I did the last." Not that he'd have had any way of knowing the fate of the mourning gowns she wore for their other son, and took away with her to Highgarden. "Grief seems after all too much a fixture of life for one to risk unpreparedness."

Antony presses his lips together just a little to hear that she set fire to a bunch of perfectly good mourning frocks, as he had had no idea she'd done that, but it's only a fleeting expression. "I will not quibble about the costs of mourning our son," he says. "But it is true that mourning seems to come often, I am sorry to say. I…hope you will keep the gowns, but not have need of them again for a very long time." He does seem to be making the effort to be polite, though one can hardly know if it is because he wants to win esteem or because they are in public in a sacred space.

A fleeting expression his wife, happily, misses — for from her point of view there was nothing to be done with those tangible, wearable reminders of her agony for her baby son, but to turn them into smoke. "The gods only know," she murmurs, dully, as the doors out to Starry Street loom large before them and she assumes their ways must part upon the threshold; "what I shall wear and when. Good day, my lord."

"Good day," Antony wishes his wife. He stops there at the door rather than follow his wife and her retinue out. His next order of business is to find a septon or septa for guidance more practical than spiritual.

Miranda's about her duties, quietly moving from altar to altar as so many of the grey-robed men and women do. She is far younger than her counterparts, with garb of the same simple shade but of a far finer make. She glances up from her work - removing dried flowers from the feet of the Maiden - and blinks as she sees the somewhat familiar form of Margot trailing away.

Miranda is the first at hand, and that is where Antony aims himself now. "Excuse me, septa," he says. "I need advice. Concerning my marriage. Is there someone I can speak to?"

Miranda glances over in surprise as Antony addresses her. "Ah yes, of course," she says with a faint frown- puzzled. Her expression turns to a properly polite one as she bows her head. "I can try to counsel you, but perhaps someone who… has more wisdom to such a matter?"

"If you like," Antony says. "If such a person is available. What I wish to know may require some intimate knowledge of the rules of the sept regarding such things."

Miranda gives her wimpled head a slow shake. "Septon Ordan would be the best to ask, but he's out preparing for mid-day benedictions. What is it you needed, my… lord?" She hazards a guess with uncertainly raised eyebrows. "Rules of… marriage?"

Antony blinks once or twice, since Miranda hesitates to even call him 'lord.' "My name is Antony Rowan," he replies. "The head of House Rowan. I would like to speak in private."

Miranda ducks her head apologetically. "I thought I saw Lady Rowan, yes." She makes a more formal bow than before. "My apologies, my lord Rowan. I'm Septa Miranda. If you like we can speak in the consultation rooms, so we won't disturb anyone. And keep your matter privately held."

"Yes, thank you," Antony replies. "That would be ideal." He makes a gesture. "Will you show me the way, Septa Miranda?"

Miranda files her hands into her deep grey sleeves and bows, leading him away from the main building of the sept into the towers. She pauses between the Crone's quarters and the Father's before moving for the Crone's. The decision is weight for but a moment and she nods.

Antony follows. His matter is indeed no-nonsense, but there is not a total lack of regard for the sacredness of the space, and he did seem to pray earnestly when he came in and gave candles to both the mother and father. As they move away from the public areas of the sept, he says, "So you are familiar with my wife."

Miranda leads him to a simple office- chairs, a window of seven-points to let in the light, and privacy away from the main paths. The young septa nods as they stoll. "She knows of my work with the city's underprivledged children and asked my help in arranging a charity meal for the sake of the Festival." She pauses before offering quietly, "My condolences to your family's loss, my lord." She bows her head and motions to the room.

Antony takes his seat in one of the chairs as Miranda speaks. He nods at this report of his wife's charity work, unsurprised. Then he thins his lips at the condolences and gives a weary nod. "Thank you, septa. It is…a tremendous blow," he admits, swallowing then. "He was my heir and our only living son."

Miranda sits after he does, her hands folding neatly into her lap. "I understand how that grieves you, my lord. My father is Lord Merryweather, of Longtable. So I understand perhaps better than most of my brothers and sisters what it means for you." She offers a gentle sympathetic smile.

Antony inclines his head respectfully at that. "In a time like this I am…" He shakes his head a little. "I will not say what I feel for my son. You can imagine. I feel it deeply. But I also have duties. My father too has recently died. I am the head of my house. And I have no heir. Eight years ago, my wife left my house and never returned."

The girl gives a slow nod. "I had heard the… gossip, my lord." She flushes a little at that, but eight years ago she wasn't a septa. She looks as if she would comment but instead she just nods, for him to continue.

Antony lifts his eyebrows slightly at that, but he keeps to himself whatever thought impels that gesture. "At first I was patient. After that, I asked her nicely and I asked her sternly to reply. She insisted on my sending the boy away from his home to her time and again when she would not come and take her place in my household. I did not beat her. I did not cage her or starve her. I did not have another woman. She will not tell me even know why I am so intolerable to her. Nor will she come to stay in my house."

Miranda listens patiently. Her brow furrows slightly as she replies, "It is her duty as a wife and as a woman to obey you as her lord and husband. She strikes me as a woman of deep faith, for what little time I have spent with her. Did she feel her duties completed and any obligation met by bearing your son?"

Antony shrugs his shoulders. "I cannot say what she felt. I do not understand her," he says, looking directly at Miranda. He sits up very straight, but his right hand trembles slightly. "But there are no sons now. And though I love the boy I buried…there must be sons. And there must be…an end to this humiliation of being saddled with a wife who will not be near me. Who only ever allowed me to touch her as though it were the greatest sacrifice." He furrows his brows. "I am not a perfect man, but I have heard it said that I am not repulsive to most ladies. I have money enough and a fine home at Goldengrove. I have fought well in battles but I have no grave wounds to disgust a woman. I am not cruel out of hand, or stingy beyond reason. What is my fault?"

It takes a moment for Miranda to reply, her blue eyes studying his face as if looking for answers. "Perhaps the fault lies with her, my lord. Not all woman… are fit for the roles that are asked of them and handed to them by their fathers. Perhaps there is some kind of wound which has not healed - in her soul. A slight against her or some damage done - by you or by another perhaps…" She sighs softly as she glances to her hands in her lap.

Antony takes a breath and sighs. "I will tell you the truth," he says, taking his right hand into his left, "I loved her when I married her. I believe…now…she never loved me. From what she says now, it is as though she thinks I deliberately trapped her like a foul beast in a story. But…even now, she… If I could be properly married with her, I would. If she had a wound that I had the power of healing…I would want to heal it. If I hurt her long ago, I never intended to." He at least sounds sincere. "But…as things stand, what am I to do? She says wishes me to leave her alone, but how can I possibly?"

"Have you… told her this," the septa asks gently. "Does she know care for her, love her in your way?"

Antony snorts softly. "She would only use it to mock me and gain power over me," he says. "That woman has never cared what I feel about anything. Nor would she believe me. She would only say that I speak too much of myself and that I do not care what she feels. But I do care," Antony claims. "If she had regard for me…I would be pleased. Not only because it is right but…" He lets out another sigh. "I would be pleased."

Miranda asks another question. "And what does she feel? That you… trapped her? She resents you for your marrying her?"

"Yes," Antony says with a certain sense of betrayal. "She says she couldn't have said so at the time. She says she had no choice. But I am a good match. I never tried to be unkind. She wants…" he shakes his head. "She will not even say. But…not me. But what can I do with a wife who will not be a wife?"

"You are bound as man and wife by the laws of Gods and men, and nothing can sunder that save death," the septa replies with a sympathetic frown. "I think, perhaps… you may try to court her. She will laugh and mock you, likely, but it is a show of sincerity. To get to know her, to be patient with her and her sorrow and resentment." She offers a small shrug of her hand. "Once she sees this is not some petty game and you are not mocking her, perhaps she will begin to see you as someone who truly cares for her and her wishes, her needs." Miranda adds gently, "She is mourning as well, my lord. Do not be harsh with her now, not when she needs understanding."

Antony does not look pleased by this advice. "She does not want me to court her," he says. "I courted her in the beginning and she ran away. Why do you think she will want it, now? How many years should I spend in fruitless humiliation courting a woman who will not have me? How many insults should I swallow? Why am I to accept it when I have never failed to fulfill my role as a husband?"

Miranda does wilt a little under his rhetorical questions. "That was then, my lord. People change. Needs change. You could, if you feel it would help… have a septon counsel her on her duties? Or a septa - not myself - speak to her. I do not think I would be of much persuasion to Lady Rowan. She… does not want someone to tell her her own mind, though. All I would counsel you is to talk to her and find out what it is she truly needs and wants from you. If her answer is space- then I do not know what else I can suggest." She shakes her head, the wimple swinging.

Antony looks put out. Distinctly. "So. You will not speak to her. You think no one can persuade her. You ask me to grovel to her for an unknown period of time, and you can suggest nothing further," he sums up.

Miranda shakes her head. "You put words in my mouth, my lord. I suggested you have someone -other- than myself speak to her. I am not a good candidate to speak to a woman of her duties as a wife, my lord. I do not know… much of her pain or her sorrow. I have not experienced the loss she has or the regrets that she holds in her head." She adds, "And someone can persuade her if they know what it is she needs to hear. And my lord, to grovel and to court are two different things. Grovel is when you abase your pride at her expense. Court is when you share it to include her." She offers gently, "Perhaps your pride is what stings her, my lord."

Antony stands up. "You think me over-proud?" he asks. "When it is she who leaves me? When I chase her and pursue her and cajole her and she gives me not the slightest hope?" He seems insulted. "Why is it she who has all the pain and sorrow and I who have all the pride?"

Miranda stands slowly. "Perhaps you should ask her these things, my lord. I am sorry if I did not give you the counsel you seek. Perhaps a septon would be better versed in such things…"

"I should ask her if I am proud?" Antony asks. He shakes his head. "I do not understand you," he says. "But I wish that you would think on it more. A marriage is in shreds, here, entered into in good faith. She would leave me as a monk alone in my home while she does what she pleases. And let my family go without an heir. It is not right," he asserts firmly, pointing a finger at the floor.

"It isn't right," Miranda agrees softly, not meeting his firm gaze. "I agree, my lord. But— I do not think I can help in this issue. I-I will find a septon for you, my lord" she says in a timid voice, walking briskly past him and out into the halls with her head downcast.

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