(123-02-19) Effort
Summary: Lord Rowan makes an effort. So does Lady Rowan. Spoiler: they get nowhere.
Date: 20-21/02/2016
Related: All things concerning these characters; also, Antony's conversation with Septa Miranda.

When Lord Rowan once again requests the favour of a private conversation with his wayward lady, she doesn't deny him — but the place and time he invites her to name are, inevitably, that seventh floor parlour which was the scene several weeks past of their long-delayed reunion, and a crisp and early hour of the morning more often consecrated to business than to pleasure.

Punctuality being one of her many virtues Lady Rowan is there waiting when he is shown in, ensconced in the corner which affords her the most light for the stitching of her winter garden. Two new golden rowan trees have taken form from her needle; and her white silken snow is spreading further across the cloth… Just as when they met in the Starry Sept she is swathed in black silk and her head is veiled with black Myrish lace: the gown is different, the air every bit the same. Coolness. Severity. Brave feminine martyrdom.

Two silver goblets and a pitcher of lemon water repose upon a small table between her chair and another, matching, intended for her husband's occupation. The grey shadow of Septa Melarie occupies a corner at the opposite end of the chamber, where she too is concentrating upon needlework.

Lady Rowan's gaze lifts at the sound of the door. She doesn't speak yet.

Antony is perhaps a few minutes behind his schedule. There are an awful lot of stairs, after all. But he arrives and is allowed in, and comes to stand not far from his wife. "Margot," he says. He eyes the septa, but he doesn't say anything about that, yet. "Good morning." He thinks to add that after a pause.

Her eyes flicker down — the silver needle between her fingertips stabs again into the cloth, trailing thread-of-gold — her eyes flicker up. "Good morning, my lord," she murmurs. It's doubtful whether the sense of such soft words reaches as far as the septa in her isolation. "Will you sit?"

Antony takes the seat that's offered him without further overtures, sitting up straight in it without sinking back into the cushions. "I've been to the sept to seek counsel," he says without preamble. But then he looks at the septa again. Her presence is bothersome, after all. But it's just the position of his jaw that shows his annoyance, no voiced words. "To tell them I am at the end of my wits and ask what I should do."

The tightness of his jaw is not lost upon Lady Rowan, but she likewise says nothing of the septa. Quiet words will not be overheard, after all, and it's only quiet words she wishes to have addressed to her… She threads her needle through the edge of the fabric and shifts an inch or two forward upon her chair, to take up the pitcher in both hands and pour lemon water into the second goblet. "Am I to gather," she inquires softly, her eyes lowered to her present task, "that you wish to speak of the counsel you received?"

"Yes, I do," Antony affirms frankly. "The septa I spoke with suggested that I attempt to…to woo you. To win you over in some way. To…" He reconsiders the path of what he is saying. "I told her that I have…regard…for you." The admission, though hardly effusive, is evidently uncomfortable, so he presses on: "And she believes that it can bring you round. I think…" He tightens the corners of his mouth. "I think it will disgust you. The way I am saying this to you, I realize it is…it is at base unromantic, but I think if I do not tell you plainly you will only be put off. If I tried to clumsily…" He shakes his head slightly. "I am being frank. Out of respect, do you see?" He leans over the arm of his chair slightly, wanting that to be quite clear. "But what do you think?”

To woo her? When Lady Rowan has poured a drop more lemon water into her own goblet the pitcher leaves her hands and finds the table again more heavily than intended — so heavily indeed that behind Lord Rowan the septa looks up for an instant before burying herself again in her knitting. Blue eyes wide open and prettier than they have been of late find his, without his lady's usual reluctance to force even their gazes into union. For a time she doesn't speak: she only looks at him with that unaccustomed intensity.

"I have always supposed," she murmurs haltingly, her voice pitched well below the septa's hearing, "that one who wished to— woo a lady, would take into account her particular tastes." Her mouth feels uncomfortably dry; she reaches without looking for her goblet, finds it, and brings it to her lips. By chance it is her left hand which accomplishes this action, the hand upon which her wedding ring still gleams. "I have never wished to hear romantic words from you, my lord. But I should have liked to have felt I had your respect."

Antony is not a man given to hesitation, but when his lady's eyes meet his, he looks distinctly uncertain. Does the clunk of goblet on table mean he should be steeling himself for an astonished castigation, or does it mean there is some chance that things will go better than they always seem to go? He keeps very still, but his hand trembles a little on the arm of the chair. "I am trying," he says carefully, trying to move past the brutal honesty that she wants nothing of romantic words from him, "To say things as…plainly as I can." He does not press forward with more words, but leaves his wife a space where she might speak.

Lady Rowan's slender white fingers have tightened too. One hand into a ball in her lap, the other gripping the goblet from which she sips once more before setting it down at the very edge of the table. She looks at what she's doing, this time, her head bowed beneath her lace mantilla, avoiding meeting his eyes again till she has found something to say. "I still pray, my lord, for compassion; and I tell myself that a man of six-and-thirty may not be what he was at four-and-twenty, at eight-and-twenty." She presses her lips together and hesitates. "But you must understand it is difficult to believe…"

"Are you the same now as you were then?" Antony asks, his brows lifting. Then he shakes his head. "I cannot tell you how I am, now. I never saw exactly what it was in me that you despised. I cannot know if it is better. I cannot make it better. I cannot know if it even can change," he says. "You told me that you hate for me to tell you how it will be…but in that case it must be you who says. So how can I tell you 'believe me' or 'do not believe me?'"

Simply what he does tell her gives Lady Rowan another pause for thought. "There were many things, I think, you did not see," she acknowledges slowly, closing her eyes as she draws and releases a calming breath, and looking at him again as, reluctantly, she goes on. "And I don't know… my lord, I truly cannot be certain in my own mind… whether it would pain me more to suppose you truly didn't see, or that you ignored on purpose. That you were blind to my hurt, or that you thought it irrelevant, and unworthy of your notice."

Antony heaves out a short breath at Margot's reply, and at all the implicit criticism therein. It is not something that looks easy for him to swallow, but he doesn't fly off the handle just now. It does, however, mean that a silence stretches for longer than may be comfortable. He puts out a hand for the goblet, nearly fumbles it, but holds on to it in the end and sips the disappointingly non-alcoholic contents. "I do not know what I did to make you suffer. But I cannot change whatever is past. Neither of us can. We have only now."

The fact her husband has the temerity to sit there, after all he's done, and make sense, is similarly difficult for Lady Rowan to swallow. … Not so the lemon water, which to her is a perfectly unexceptionable beverage for this hour of the morning. "From the moment you appeared again in my life," she informs him in that same confidential contralto murmur, "my resolve strengthened… I am different now, my lord; I am not the confused girl you took to Goldengrove; and I shall not let you hurt me again." Saying this she looks steadily, determinedly into his eyes. "I do not believe the vows of marriage convey upon the husband the right to make his wife" The briefest of pauses, before she settles upon, "As unhappy as I was beneath your roof. If you have the the regard for me you spoke of, I hope you will agree with me that the mistakes of those days ought not to be repeated in the present."

Antony heaves an audible sigh when Margot reiterates her determination not to give in, coupled with further assertions that he is the architect of her unhappiness. His jaw pushes forward, but whether it is the restraining influence of the septa in the room or his own determination not to shout at any point during this meeting, he keeps quiet for another long space. After some time, he takes up in a very quiet tone. "I cannot promise not to repeat it when you do not tell me what I did that wronged you so much."

Folds of black lace shift about Lady Rowan's shoulders as she turns her head to gaze out the window and over the water. She presents to him thus only an untouchable alabaster profile. "I find it difficult to speak of such matters," she murmurs, "and difficult to believe that now, at last, you might begin to understand…" She draws a deep breath and gives a gentle shake of her head and turns to him eyes in which curiosity mingles with doubt, uncertainty, apprehension. What is it they’re doing here…? What doors is she permitting him to open…? "Would you give such a promise?" she wonders aloud. "And would you hold it to be binding upon your actions?"

Antony blinks back at his wife, setting his goblet aside. His right hand makes a fist and his left hand curls round it and they stay in his lap, but his gaze is ever on Margot. "A promise of what?" he asks again.

In an effort to control her exasperation she looks away again. "You just told me," she reminds him patiently, pulling her gaze back to his, "that you could not promise not to repeat the mistakes of the past, if you did not know what they were. Though I suppose… Your character is what it is; you could not in honour promise to alter it, only to—" And she presses her lips together and lets out a small, vexed sigh. "To moderate it; to respect me; to respect, as you have not done before, the unwritten laws of matches such as ours."

"And I still don't know what they are, so how can I promise?" Antony replies. "If you tell me I offended you by living, am I to cut my own heart out?" His eyebrows pull down, expression searching and perplexed. "I am making an effort, but I will not make a promise without knowing what I am promising. You could ask me to pull down the moon and I would break my honor in not being able to." He shakes his head slowly. "What are the unwritten laws of matches such as ours? What kind of match is ours?"

Lady Rowan at last gives in to the temptation to take up her needle and resume her slow and dainty stitching, facing slightly away from her husband, with her embroidery frame serving almost a protective barrier between. "It relieves me, I suppose," she allows softly, "to hear you offer a serious answer to my words, instead of…" Scoffing at her feminine nonsense. As usual.

She is quiet for a moment, visibly consumed by the difficulty of getting to such an indelicate point. "… My lord," she attempts, "I believed once that you had chosen me because — I was the best you could find. In a way it was a compliment to me. And I succeeded for some time in persuading myself that I was fortunate. I had been betrothed, after all, to the heir of an ancient house, a man who was neither old nor ugly, who respected the gods, whose feats of arms were well spoken of, whose station was appropriate to my own and beside whom I need not feel ashamed to stand. I believed even that in disposing of my fate as you did, you and my parents had arranged matters as well as I had a right to expect, and preserved me from the risk of a more ignoble situation. And I believed," her lips suddenly twist, "in my naivete, I believed that surely a man whose background and circumstances were so similar to my own — who arranged his marriage with an eye to securing the greatest political, social, and financial advantages — who took care to choose a bride who could fulfill every practical and public role required of the Lady of Goldengrove — would show her a certain respect, a certain consideration, in that capacity. An arranged match need not be an unhappy one — I have seen with my own eyes many satisfactory examples — I hoped that mine might be another, and that in doing my duty I might someday reap its rewards. But it was not long after we were wed that I began to think…" Another of those tiny, hesitant shifts of her mouth, as though her lips can barely be brought to frame such distasteful words. "You had no real wish for a wife."

Antony shifts his position a little as Margot shifts hers, so that he is facing more toward her as she is facing away. He looks puzzled at the direction her narrative takes. "What?" he asks. "Why would you so imagine? It was you who turned away from me. It was you who shrank from my touch and ignored me. I…" His lips snap together again. "It…was not only a wife I wanted, but you. All of you. I was proud of the public side of your good qualities, but…" He hesitates to venture to say more, though the 'but' implies that there was something else he held more valuable. Or at least thinks he did.

"I married you knowing my duty," insists Lady Rowan, in slow, heavy words, "and despite what it cost me I did it. But I don't know how you can say those things to me, and mean them. How you can say y-you wanted me," her shoulders shiver, "when you never once truly looked at me. How you can say were proud of me, when you starved to death the pride I had in myself…"

"Why do you say that I didn't?" Antony asks, leaning over the arm of his chair again. "Why do you suppose that I did not know your heart, but you knew mine?" He narrows his eyes, but the expression is searching more than it is angry. "Do you know how you hurt me?" he asks softly. "I've assumed you know very well, because you are clever and you see more than most. But am I wrong? Do you not know?"

"I hurt your pride to save myself," Lady Rowan allows, murmuring still chiefly to the golden rowan trees in her embroidered garden; "and I know very well that a man's pride is where his greatest sensitivity reposes… And now you will tell me again, I suppose, that my selfishness has cost you dearly, and that it was my duty to value your happiness high above my own…" Her silver needle glints between her fingertips as tiny stitch succeeds tiny stitch and another rowan tree sprouts a gleaming new golden branch. "Tell me, then. And tell me who would have looked to my interests, if I had not myself."

Antony lifts his fingertips to his forehead, closing his eyes for a moment. His hand trembles. "You think you are all good and I am all bad. You think a husband can read his wife's mind. But he can't." He drops his hand back to his lap and holds it with the other. "If I could, you wouldn't rout me at every turn. You hurt my pride to save yours and I hurt yours to save mine. Why does that make you the saint and me the sinner?" He shakes his head. "I can't make you any promises without knowing concretely what I promise. But if you will only look, you will see I am making an effort. I hope you will see. It is hard for me to know how to do it in a way where you will not feel yourself besieged. But this is what the effort looks like. What more can I say?"

Blue eyes feint sideways for an instant, to his face. "I met you today as you wished because I was obliged to acknowledge," without, needless to say, looking pleased to have to do so, "the difference in your manner of speaking to me when last we met — a difference which has proven still more pronounced, today." She bows her head. Her mantilla of Myrish lace begins to slip from one sloping shoulder, and she leaves her needle half-in and half-out of her work and lifts her hand in a practiced, elegant gesture of correction. "Eight years ago you only knew how to besiege me and starve me out," she says flatly. "But I think you understand, now, that such a tactic will not avail you. I'll burn down the castle before I'll surrender it to be pillaged. I'll not live again as I lived before. And as you understand that," she repeats, "so am I obliged, in the name of salvaging both our lives, to try to treat with you. You think I am not fair to you — my lord, I have struggled these many years to be fair, just as I have prayed these many years for the Mother to fill my heart with compassion for you. It would have been to my benefit as well — I give you my word I married you with the intention of being a good wife… and I did not leave you lightly, on a whim, or only as a matter of pride."

Antony hears this, and shrugs at it. "I do not know how you wish to live," he says. "I wish to live together. But it is you who will say if you will or no. I do not know what you have done or think you have done for my sake to be fair. But I am tired of being alone and getting too tired to fight for the sake of my pride. But pride I do still have. If you've any desire to reconcile, you cannot go on sitting silently up in your tower waiting for me while I send messages and invitations and bring myself here again and again. I know you have come to rely on my stubbornness, but there may come a time when it fails," he says. And he does sound genuinely weary. "I don't know if you have ever…" he begins, but leaves it with a shake of his head. "I should leave you now while we have…managed to have a conversation to some purpose."

For a little there is silence but for the barely-perceptible sounds of needlework: the septa's wooden knitting needles clicking delicately at the far end of the parlour, and the rasp of thread-of-gold drawn through the cloth over which Lady Rowan's winter garden is slowly growing.

"The same fruitless thoughts," she offers at last, "pursue me through every hour, till I can hardly sleep, or fix my mind upon my work, or follow the thread of a conversation, or tell one day from the next… One such has been, what terms — are there terms? — upon which I might live again beneath your roof. Terms I should say which would be tenable for me, but which you would not reject out of hand. I have not known you to welcome compromise, my lord," she admits, even more quietly than hitherto. "When I knew you you were accustomed to your own way — your way was usually the only way…" She lets out a small, troubled sigh. "I don't know quite what it is you hope for now, what form you suppose a reconciliation between us might take at this late date. It doesn't please me to have failed in the duty I took on, or to afford the world a reason to gossip about my life — but I will not live as you obliged me to live before. I will not turn backwards and give up all that I have gained… In your house," and she looks to him in a sudden spasm of painful honesty, "I had nothing. I had not even respect."

Antony tightens the corners of his mouth as his wife lets loose with more about how much she feels he has wronged her. "I realize you were unhappy," he says. "But I wonder if you've ever had respect for me, either. Regardless. You can think about what you want to change, what you want to do. You be the one to let me know when you next want to meet and move forward." He puts his hands on the arms of the chair, mentioning, "You know, even the septa told me she'd heard the gossip." Then he moves to stand up, but something happens to be off. He stumbles, quite noticeably. He catches himself, however, so he doesn't fall, then slowly straightens his posture again.

The unsteady movement draws Lady Rowan's eyes once again away from her needlework — but she says nothing of it. It would not be unlike him to drink in the morning, to come to meet her intoxicated. Or perhaps he's getting older and his past injuries are troubling him. In either case he surely wouldn't care to hear her remarking upon the subject. "Had she," she remarks mildly. "I wonder whether she was one of the septas of whom I have heard gossip… People like to talk, my lord, and tales grow in the telling. I know you think I talk of you, but I do not," she insists, not for the first time. "Talk of you is necessarily talk of me; I don't care to be talked of, but there is nothing I can do to discourage it but to live quietly and unexceptionably with my family. And that I have done." She hesitates. "Of course I will not keep you from your business, my lord — but before you go… Would I regret asking you to repeat the question you almost put to me a couple of minutes past?"

Antony tugs a little on one sleeve as if bringing his clothing into perfect line will bring him into line as well. Then he looks back up at Margot. "What question?" he asks, but then he thinks of what it is she might mean. He shakes his head. "No, nevermind," he says. "I think…you want to tell me how you were hurt, and very well. Listening patiently is not my strongest suit, but I have been trying. You can tell me more when next we meet."

When he says 'nevermind' of course Lady Rowan, notorious for not respecting him, lets the matter drop. She only bites the inside of her lip and looks up at him from the depths of her lace mantilla. "These conversations bring me no more joy than they bring you," she murmurs; "it is not… I was no more raised to discuss such personal matters than, I think, were you. You have been civil to me today; I would like you to know that I'd not deny you further speech with me, on such terms, if you wish it, but I am not… eager to subject myself to such difficult and delicate discussions. Now less than ever." Her hands are knitted tightly together, her knuckles uncannily white. "My lord, a woman puts on mourning not only to show her respect for the dead, but to remind others at a glance that she has not her full strength."

Antony curls both his hands into fists, but he nods several times. "But you understand, don't you," he says, "That you are not the only one mourning." He lets out a sigh. "Am I to understand, then, that I am to be the one to continue coming to you? That you will make no move in my direction in return?"

"It was you who began this, even in the midst of mourning," his lady reminds him simply. "As it seems to be your wish to continue it, I felt it would not be right for me to let you go away in the expectation of receiving at any time a message I have truly no idea in the world whether or when I might send. I am listening to you, my lord. I am struggling to find a way to give you something of what you wish from me. I will not turn you away. As you would not make promises to me, so I cannot promise you any more than… this."

Antony closes his eyes and nods. He looks tired, for morning. He never was before the type of man to tire easily. But it is not an easy time for either of them. "I'm going, then," he says. "Good day."

"Seven blessings, my lord," is Lady Rowan's sad and somber answer. "Good day."

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