(123-02-25) Only Duty Remains
Only Duty Remains
Summary: Thus, in Lady Rowan's opinion, Lord Rowan has a letter to write.
Date: 23/02/2016
Related: Everything to do with these characters.

Late in the morning ripples of sound and scent through the Rowan Door Manse begin to suggest to Lord Rowan the presence of his lady, even before a message spoken to another servant and relayed via Edgar reaches him at last to inquire whether this might be a convenient moment for them to speak privately.

It will do as well as any other.

"… Good morning, my lord," Lady Rowan murmurs as she steps into the sitting-room. Her eyes are for a change quite dry — and her hair is dressed differently, pinned up into smooth shining blue-black severity, draped to hide her ears but for their unadorned lobes, yet leaving her slender white throat starkly visible against the darkness of her Myrish lace mantilla. This is so far against her usual custom that her husband may well never have seen her hair all the way up. (It probably means something. Only she knows what.) By a glance to a servant in the corridor beyond she causes the door to be shut.

The servants have received their orders to follow commands. But some of them don't seem able to entirely conceal expressions that are curious, worried, or suspicious. After all, a new authority in the house could mean unpleasant changes, or even sackings. And what is going on, anyway?

Antony has again fortified himself behind the desk in the corner. At some point, he's had a shave and is less stubbled than before. But hardly bright and full of life. He gets up when his wife enters the room, then sits back down whether she does or not.

Today's mourning gown only rustles about her and brushes the tops of her neat black leather shoes, rather than trailing along the floor behind her as she glides nearer to his desk, composed and cool, hands clasped before her waist. "Thank you for arranging matters with the servants," she says first of all, inclining her head in acknowledgment. Reserved yet courteous. Not in the least intimate, with her husband of a dozen years. "The eastern chambers seem to be ideal for me and Bryony," she mentions, referring to the pleasantly luxurious adjoining rooms reserved by custom for a married heir and his lady, smaller than the master suite, and at the other end of the upstairs corridor. "Far enough, I think, that when Davith cries in the night he will not disturb you."

Antony has no idea who Davith is, but can certainly guess, given the context. He nods vaguely at his wife. "Then take them," he suggests.

In fact servants are even now airing the chambers in question, and when she has spoken with her husband Lady Rowan will go upstairs and direct the rearrangement of the furniture. But she inclines her head again in gracious acceptance of his permission. "Thank you." She pauses. "My lord, I wished to speak with you of…" Her lips press together in hesitation. The impression which is to be given to others," she explains delicately. "Namely, I wondered if and what you had decided to tell your mother. If she should be in touch with me in turn, I should not wish my words to appear at variance with yours."

"At variance with mine?" Antony repeats, brows pulling down. "You think I am writing to her about this?" He looks up at Margot. "I don't care what you tell her. But I don't want to read any congratulations from her on the subject. Tell her I've stopped beating you, for all I care. Tell her you just got lost on your way to Oldtown and only now found your way to the manse." Not in a splendid temper, it would appear.

Just when you might not think it's possible for Lady Rowan's temperature to fall — it does so. Frost clouds her eyes, occluding whatever sentiments may lie behind them. "Your lady mother is not without friends of her own in Oldtown," she points out tranquilly, "and if she should hear first from a third party that I am living in your manse, she will surely feel hurt that her son did not confide to her his own news. I understand your reluctance to treat of this matter with others — indeed, I share it — but Lady Rowan is not a casual acquaintance, and she is not unconcerned. If you will not write to her, I shall; but I think she would prefer to have a letter from her son."

"I see," Antony says, leaning his forearms on the desk to look up at Lady Rowan. "So what you have really come for is to instruct me to write a letter, not to ask me anything. I shall have all correspondence touching the subject of our sham copied for you so that you shall know the details of it and our lies will not be exposed. Is that acceptable?"

"I came to suggest you write a letter," the younger Lady Rowan pursues, in that same even tone, having given only the faintest hint of a flinch at the mention of lies, "for I believe that however you feel at present towards me you would not wish to do any harm to your mother's natural feelings for you." She hesitates. "There is no falsehood, my lord, in reserving to ourselves the details of what is a deeply private arrangement."

"Dear Mother," Antony proposes, "My wife, whom you may remember from eight or nine years ago, has decided I am once again worthy to share an abode with. That is all you need know. Signed, Antony."

The wife in question digs her fingernails deeper into the palm of her other hand, whilst remaining to all appearances perfectly still and unmoved. "I will write to her," she decides, with nary a quaver in her voice, "immediately, so that she will know of our intentions at the time when they come to pass. I am sorry I troubled you with this matter, my lord. If there is any other correspondence you wish me to attend to on your behalf, you need only ask."

Antony sits back in his chair. "Oh no," he tells her quietly. "I will write a letter. And I will have it copied for you, and you can read it whenever you wish. I am sorry you cannot have the original, for in my own handwriting, you might more narrowly pinpoint the moments where pride cracks. I will say to her that you are now living in my manse. I will say that we are hosting your sister in return for the kindness she has shown to you. I will say that we are in mourning together and do not know the future. But do not ask me to be pleased about it!" The last part comes through gritted teeth.

Lady Rowan's white hands tighten in their grip upon one another. She draws a silent breath and releases it before speaking. "Did I?" she asks gently.

"Did you expect me to be pleased?" Antony asks, lifting his brows. "No, probably not. But you will make me seem like a selfish oaf for being reluctant, even so. And then when I say that, you will make me seem like a madman for thinking you are making me out as a selfish oaf when you are simply doing as custom and consideration dictate. Because you," he explains, "Would never fail to do your duty in the face of misery and grief. I will write the letter. You will have the letter. You can remind yourself or tell your friends that I would have been so selfish as not to write it right away if it were left up to me but thankfully I have you to remind me of my duties." He sits back. "What else can I do for you, wife?"

His lady's level gaze finally falters during this speech, her eyes finding a point upon his desk which is much more restful to regard than Antony Rowan in the full flight of his suffered injustices. "… I have been busier than I thought, this morning," she mentions in a light and carefully nonchalant tone, "to have schemed so much against you." She breathes in, and out. "My lord, it is indeed my custom to consider my duty in difficult times — not as a reproach to you, but as a mainstay and a comfort to myself. Sometimes one's duty is all that is left to one. Make of that what you will."

Antony nods to that. "How very right you are," he concedes, but it appears he has learned something from Margot's frostiness. He is usually one for warmth, even when it is an excessively hot temper. Ordinarily, when he is angry, he is passionately angry. It is perhaps novel to hear real coldness in his voice. But here it is. He reaches for a piece of paper and his pen with a trembling hand.

It may be that novelty which makes her slow to speak again. She has an answer for her lord's incendiary tempers — but not for an iciness which matches her own… "If there is nothing you wish of me," she murmurs at last, "I will leave you. You'll take your luncheon at the usual hour—?"

"I don't feel like eating," Antony returns. He is writing already. But with slow deliberateness, rather than boldly dashing off lines. But of course, the subject is perhaps one that requires time and consideration.

It's as Bryony always remarks. Men are like children. "Of course you must do as you wish," Lady Rowan mentions, inclining her head, "but before you refuse you may wish to know the cook is preparing venison for you."

"Then give my apologies to the cook," Antony says. He plants his left elbow on the table beside his paper and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"I will do so." And, that being the end of all conceivable business between them this morning, Lady Rowan nods once more and withdraws from her husband's presence, taking with her that fragrance of white summer flowers.

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