(123-02-27) The Great Reconciliation
The Great Reconciliation
Summary: Lady Margot Rowan returns to her husband's house. He is just thrilled.
Date: 26/02/2016
Related: Everything with these characters!

Mid-morning brings a cart from the Hightower to the Rowan Door Manse, piled high with chests and boxes and baskets and a great standing harp in a finely-tooled leather case, and maids and laundresses who form also part of the household goods of Lady Margot Rowan and Lady Bryony Hightower.

These young persons, in careful and overly-courteous collaboration with the manse's manservants (under Edgar's direction still in these last few hours), see about the disposition of the ladies' belongings in the pretty pair of adjoining chambers chosen and aired for them earlier in the week — and their own up in the attics. The occupation doesn't end there. Lady Rowan's harp is placed in the most attractive downstairs sitting-room. Lady Rowan's best sheets find their way in amidst the household linen. Lady Rowan's favoured lavender tisane is given pride of place amongst the kitchen's store-cupboards, though it is understood that only her own maid may prepare it for her.

Later in the day a carriage arrives and the manse is suddenly full of women and children. Even Lady Rowan's grey mouse of a septa seems to have come, to occupy a modest bedchamber next to the children's day-nursery. The bustle along the upstairs corridor, flowing from one chamber into the next, half the doors open and little feet rushing about at top speed, seems as though it will never end — and from behind his own door, Lord Rowan may well hear for the first time in more than eight years, the sound of his lady's low sweet singing, as she soothes the aggrieved cries of her baby nephew.

Even such a numerous troupe can't keep it up forever. They decamp at length to the ground floor, one can only assume for afternoon tea; and then, perhaps, it's finally feasible for a fellow to slip out to the privy…

It's not alas so easy to slip back along to his chamber. As he steps out into the corridor again he is abruptly confronted by a pillar of black silk and lace: Lady Rowan, who came up again to fetch a book, who has it now in her hand, tucked close against herself. She's startled too — but she hesitates only an instant and then bows her head and murmurs, "My lord."

Antony stops short and straightens up in a proper posture. "I suppose you've moved the whole group in by now," he replies, glancing at her face, then her hand around the book.

The spine of the book is visible; it's an old collection of religious tales in small words for small folk. Her fingers seem very pale and tight against the dark green binding. "Yes, my lord… I hope we have not disturbed you with our noise," she adds softly, lifting her eyes again perhaps to gauge his reaction. She has her hair done up again in her new style, as severe and dignified as her garb. "The children are a little too excited to find themselves with a new place to explore; but they'll settle down soon, I trust." A pause. "Would you care to join us for afternoon tea?" she inquires civilly.

"I don't think it would improve the quality of the conversation if I were to join you at tea," Antony replies, gaze briefly moving back to Margot's face. "Adarian tells me that Lady Bryony has an idea that I hate her. One wonders where that comes from." He doesn't address the question of noise at all. He looks tired more than anything else. But there's been no resurgence of his accustomed energy since it was decided that Margot would move in.

Lady Rowan holds tighter to her book. "And Adarian has moreover an idea that you might have been… lonely," she mentions, watching him without quite meeting his eyes, "living here by yourself, when you are accustomed to being surrounded by people at Goldengrove. Of course my sister is very sensitive — she can infer whole worlds from a glance. But I hope you will join us if you wish and prove the truth of what we have told her, that it is not she whom you dislike… We must all meet at one time or another," her eyes lift to his, "and I feel that the longer it is postponed the more awkward it will be."

Antony moves his gaze in the direction of the ceiling. "You mean to say if I do not attend your lunch and tell her how happy I am about everything, that she shall consider me rude and forbidding," he replies.

"I don't direct Bryony's opinions," points out Lady Rowan, not wholly truthfully; "but I imagine any guest beneath your roof would feel more welcome if you spoke a word or two to her on the day of her arrival. Of course if you prefer not to trouble with meeting the children," she adds evenly, "perhaps I had better acquaint you with their customary routine—?"

"Tell everything to Edgar," Antony directs. "I will learn to arrange my life to the schedule. As for Lady Bryony, if my hospitality is not sufficient, I shall join you then for your tea. Is there anything else you would prefer to add to my duties for the day? Or I should say 'suggest.' You only 'suggest,' I recall. Do we convene now?"

His lady regards him levelly and affects indifference to his jibes. "We are having our afternoon tea downstairs now, which will be the children's supper — they normally go to bed at half past seven, but they've had so much excitement today we thought an earlier time would be best. I've ordered dinner for the grown-ups at nine o'clock. You are most welcome to join us for either meal, or for both, as you wish… Of course," she murmurs, "I shall speak to Edgar in greater detail of our customary arrangements. And.." Her eyes take on an aspect of distant foreboding. "My lord, if you should wish…" Another hesitation. She almost but doesn't quite nibble her lower lip. "That is, if there should be particular occasions upon which we should be an obstacle to your own plans… I hope Edgar might arrange with us what is necessary."

Antony nods vaguely to most of this, but at the last part he narrows his eyes. "I have no idea what you're talking of," he says wearily. "My plans were to be a proper heir with a real marriage. I don't /have/ any other plans." He possibly has not grasped what she meant to imply.

To one accustomed to searching Lady Rowan's cool blue gaze for evidence of all the mysteries she prefers not to utter aloud, there's a slight but discernible tension visible in that gaze as it wanders off along the corridor beyond her husband. "I mean of course that…" But she leaves him waiting still longer for comprehension, as in her mind's eye she tries several different phrases and finds them all too impossibly indelicate. "That if it is your custom to entertain here visitors whom you should not wish us to meet," she utters slowly, "you may be assured that we shall see nothing we ought not to see."

Antony takes a moment, but he gets it then. There is at least a spark of indignation there to show that some part of him is still alive. "What have you made me into these years of separation?" he asks in a low voice. "How dare you. How dare you. When I have kept my vows for all these years. You think I bring cheap women into my house? Is that what you've been telling people all along?"

Still without looking at him, without pausing to consider, Lady Rowan utters in haste the rest of the words which have been pent up in her: "I think nothing, I know nothing — I assure you I shall go on thinking nothing and knowing nothing, that you remain now as much at liberty as in these past years of…" Then her breath catches; and suddenly her eyes are fixed upon his, wider than before, and her lips parted as though in her surprise she has forgotten to close them. "Do you mean to tell me…" she attempts. "That you…"

Antony looks furious, but he's quiet and still for a long moment. It's only his eyes that burn. "Damn you," he says through gritted teeth. "You say that to me and you want me to come and take tea with women and children? You think I've been casually enjoying myself all these years? You think I brought whores into my father's house that I would be entrusted with the stewardship of? I was serious about our marriage. You were the one who wasn't," he hisses.

And Lady Rowan's face, having lost its assumed expression of gracious reserve in that flash of astonishment, passes through a quick spasm of what can only be rage before (as she draws in and lets out a shuddering breath) it hardens into beauteous cold fury. A passion the likes of which her husband could scarcely have imagined her capable. "You dare to say that, to me…" she begins, her voice lowered into not a purr but a soft growl, not smoothed with her usual care but expressive in every fast, fierce syllable exclaimed.

"You claim now that I did not enter our union with the most solemn of intentions?" she demands. She has gone unnaturally pale but for a flush of red high upon each cheek; her hand holds her book with whitened knuckles. "Only because I broke under the life you decreed for me, my lord — only because misery shattered my resolve and I sought the solace of my kin — you've no right to suppose I came to your house less than in earnest, or that I gave you less than I had. I surrendered myself — at your command I gave up my home, my life, all that I knew and loved — all for the hope of our future," her lips twist at the dreadful joke of it; "all to become a— a whore for you… And now you presume to attack me for supposing you may have done what any man would do! A man's freedom is no more than the way of the world — and what do you want me to do about the way of the world?"

An echo of the words he threw at her over the dining-table downstairs not so long ago, when she insisted that as a man and a woman they were not equal and not alike, and that he for his part enjoyed every freedom but one.

Antony watches Margot through her unaccustomed anger. It is perhaps odd that this does not seem to move him, when so many smaller things, or more typical reactions, have moved him to anger or sadness. He stands still, blinking at her once or twice, slowly, but not with astonishment or…anything particularly legible. When she punctuates with the reprise of his own words, he bows his head. "You're right," he replies, and only then lifts his chin enough to look her in the face. "I should respond to the accusation of adultery with more equanimity." The words may or may not be sarcastic, but they are not accompanied with a biting tone. "You may think that I am guilty, if you prefer. Or that I am a fool not to be guilty. Or a scoundrel for having had the opportunity to be guilty." He stands there looking at her another long moment, face expressionless. "Shall I go directly to tea, or give you time to marshall the guests?"

Whatever Lady Rowan has steeled herself for — drawn up to her full proud height, her shoulders squared, high colour in her cheeks and freezing indignation in her eyes — it doesn't come. The moment passes. Her gaze meets his unflinching and yet the rhythm of her breath becomes steadier. "… I know nothing," she repeats, mastering herself now, disciplining herself to calm as soon as she has not his anger to fuel her own, though she has still a tremour in her voice; "and I think nothing. That is a wife's part, my lord; and I assure you I am true to it. Whatever your conduct in such matters you will receive no accusation from me, for I shall never be aware of anything for which you might deserve to be accused. That is all I wished to assure you of with regard to those arrangements which are entirely your own affair and not mine. … Now," and she clears her throat, "if you have finished directing unjust accusations toward me, shall we go down to our tea?" Rather than awaiting his answer she turns to lead the way to the stairs, gathering a handful of her trailing black silken skirts to ease her progress down the sweep of them.

"Yes, I apologize," Antony replies. But she is several steps ahead of him and he does not make the attempt to catch up but follows at his own pace.

Then perhaps he may be afforded the opportunity to match her steps, for at the word 'apologise' she slows and turns upon him a sharp, questioning look over her shoulder, her face half-shielded by the dark drape of her mantilla.

Of course then she's still just ahead of him on the stairs, her head held high because of course she has counted the steps and, knowing always how many remain before her, she need not lower her gaze to peer down at them.

The lady precedes her lord to the door of the dining-room; then, perhaps, with her long elegant silken back to him, there's a hesitation in her approach.

She pauses. Her empty hand rises to her mantilla. And then, having reassured herself that it is correctly placed — having moreover applied a careful small smile to her face — and with her husband just at her heels, she opens the door already softly exclaiming to those on the other side: "Forgive me for being so long… I could not at once put my hand upon it." Which may even be true.

Arranged about the table in a composition suggestive of cosy domestic delights are Lady Bryony Tyrell, pleasantly rounded yet eternally youthful in lavender silk, with only a few dainty trifles on her plate; two small girls and one small boy, making a heartier meal; Septa Melarie, wiping crumbs from the mouth of the littlest of the girls; and a nursemaid in Tyrell green and gold, perched on the edge of the chair next to Lady Bryony's and holding little Lord Davith, who is as ever the cynosure of a great many feminine eyes. Places have been laid at the head and the foot of the table. The pot containing Lady Rowan's favourite lavender tisane is towards the foot, of course, her cup already full.

They all of course hush at Lady Rowan's entrance: they all (except the little boy) look up at her, and keep looking at Lord Rowan too as he comes in behind her. Lady Bryony gathers the napkin from her lap and tucks it onto the edge of the table next to her plate, and rises to speak to her hostess and her host.

"Mar, bless you for finding it," she says with determined brightness, nodding to the book; "and Lord Rowan… It is—" An imperceptible hesitation. "Such a pleasure to meet you again. Thank you for welcoming us all beneath your roof."

Antony is not smiling when he comes into the room behind Margot. He's very still in his movements, arms staying at his sides. His gaze quickly notes the many women and children who have been added to the household. At Bryony's address, he inclines his head. "Margot is the one to be thanked," he replies. "It is her house. My family owes you a tremendous debt, to have hosted her for so long when she was…unable to be at Goldengrove. I am honored now to be able to welcome you here and begin to repay that debt." He may not muster much brightness on his part, but the words are at least not forbidding. And perhaps a certain weariness or dullness is to be forgiven in a man who has lately lost his only remaining son when seeing his house filled with unfamiliar children.

Lady Rowan circles the table as far as Septa Melarie and bestows the book and a small smile; and then without any fuss seats herself at the foot of the table, between Lady Bryony on one side and one of the little girls on the other.

"There is no debt," insists Lady Bryony, smiling, "or— do I mean there is every debt? I think," she hastens to explain, "one is always in debt to one's kin, and they to one; and it's a debt best paid in other kindnesses amongst kin… Lord Rowan," she always used to address him as Ser Antony, when she was last a guest of his, "might I present my children?"

The request is a formality, for she then acquaints him with their names and ages, and the elder three each recite a slightly different courteous rehearsed greeting to Lord Rowan. They plainly desire to get back to their supper, but have been instructed not to do so until they're bidden.

"By all means," Antony invites, but not with his accustomed warmth. He does not keep them long over formalities but greets each one in their turn by name. "Welcome to Rowan Door Manse," he concludes.

Lady Rowan sits quietly sipping her tisane whilst all the proper words are spoken in piping young voices — and all those shining young faces exhibit an admirable lack of curiosity regarding grown-ups and their undercurrents — and then Lady Bryony, as she sits again, releases her offspring to pursue their real interests. She glances at her sister's still-empty plate and raises an eyebrow at her: "You're not hungry, Margot?" She doesn't accept that slight shake of Margot's head and immediately begins to transfer small sandwiches and slices of fruit to it from the dishes in the middle of the table, all tasty little things she knows to be Lady Rowan's favourites.

"Really, Bryony," murmurs Lady Rowan drily, but this has no effect.

"Have you been enjoying the festival, my lord?" Lady Bryony inquires then of Lord Rowan. The inevitable question no one in Oldtown can get away from at present. The inevitable resort in such moments as this.

Antony finally takes his seat. He watches Bryony's hands move in serving Margot. "I am afraid I have not attended," he replies to the question when it comes. "Lord Adarian tells me that the children have been enjoying it."

The pale clean surface of Lady Rowan's plate is soon almost entirely occluded by tokens of Lady Bryony's optimism; obliged, then, Lady Rowan takes up her fork (her table is distinguished always by the daintiest silver utensils, the prettiest flowers, the cleanest linen) and pokes uninterestedly at a slice of apple. Perhaps it will look better to her in two halves? She cuts it neatly, then forbears actually to eat either… Meanwhile, Lady Bryony is lowering her eyes, murmuring without going into detail her understanding, and telling a series of light festival anecdotes in which Oldtown itself is the star and her children are supporting players. She can talk, by the hour, upon any subject set for her; it's one of the few talents of hers to which she'd give the name, and she unleashes it now to spare Lord and Lady Rowan from speaking.

At length Lady Rowan (who has eaten that slice of apple, one bite at a time, but no more) interrupts to say, "How glad I am, Bryony, that we decided to stay on for the festival… I should not have wished the children to miss their pleasures," and she looks about the table, turning her faint smile upon them all, without her eyes quite rising as far as her husband's face.

The baby in the nursemaid's charge begins to fuss and Lady Bryony, turning to her to take hold of him and lift him into her own lap, smiles over her shoulder at her sister: "Of course you were right that we ought to… You're old enough now," this to her middle children, "aren't you?" Their uneven chorus of agreement and/or protest (of course they're old enough!) is almost drowned by little Lord Davith's complaints about his mother's handling of him.

Antony serves himself while he listens. Not a lot, but enough that it won't appear strange of him, or pointedly rude. And he eats. And he makes replies that are appropriate if not enthusiastic, so that Bryony need not feel insulted. He doesn't talk to the children. He doesn't look at Margot. He looks chiefly at his plate.

In fact the ladies glance at his plate, too, each of them separately, as though to be certain he's eating as well — though it's only the smaller persons in the chamber who have a true appetite for the feast laid out…

The increasing volume of the baby's grumblings is interfering with the conversation; Lady Bryony soon gives her sister an imploring look, and Lady Rowan sets down the knife and fork she has employed to so little purpose and extends her hands to receive him. The change in his demeanour is immediately apparent, without so much as a glance in his direction: when his aunt's embrace succeeds his mother's his tone changes to incoherent infantile pleasure. Lady Rowan's hands are gentle upon him; but her eyes, gazing straight before her over his head, are full of a misery concealed by only the thinnest veil.

Lady Bryony meanwhile is reassuring herself that the others have had enough to eat, and asking the nursemaid if she'll be so good as to take them up now. "And when you're quite ready for bed I shall come and tuck you in. Your first night in a new house… I hope you shan't be too excited to sleep, mmm?" she teases. Her other son is so bold as to assure her that this will almost certainly be the case, so really there's no point, is there, in sending them to bed so early? Lady Bryony laughs, but remains steadfast in her gentle insistence. The nursemaid rises and begins to shepherd her charges together; the septa seizes the excuse of assisting her in order to excuse herself likewise.

Antony is very quiet. He does not need to take part in the wrangling of children. Once his plate is clear of the food he took, he puts his fork down, but still looks at it as if it might do something interesting.

In answer to a hinting gesture there is a chorus of: "Goodnight, Lord Rowan." Then 'Aunt Margot' receives her goodnights individually, as each of the children's foreheads is presented to her to be kissed, around the incidentally burbling form of the baby in her arms. The nursemaid having checked them for crumbs and smears the children bestow as many kisses as they receive, each leaning in to her in turn despite the ticklishness of her mantilla against their cheeks as they touch their lips to hers. It's altogether a sweet little ceremony, and Lady Rowan's smile is a genuine one as she promises to play a song for them in the morning if they're good and go straight to sleep now.

Then the nursemaid marches them out of the dining-room, she and the septa (who has taken the book) bringing up the rear; and Lord and Lady Rowan are left alone with their principal guest, and the baby who seems to have decided to have a bit of a snooze just where he is, nuzzled into his aunt.

Lady Bryony turns to her host: "Thank you," she murmurs, "for putting up with them, Lord Rowan. I promise you we outnumber them," and she laughs softly, "and we shan't let them get up to too much trouble in your house."

"I doubt they can cause any harm," Antony replies, looking Bryony's way again. "I am not concerned for anything here."

However light-hearted her talk or courteous her manners, there's a skittishness in Lady Bryony's gaze: she hesitates to meet his eyes for long, always looking down with a small bashful smile. "You're very considerate," she assures him.

"The manse will hardly suffer for having a family live in it," agrees Lady Rowan smoothly, holding Lord Davith with one arm and reaching out for her lavender tisane with the other, "for being put to its proper uses…"

"Oh, let me — don't disturb him," insists Lady Bryony, beating her to the tea-pot and refilling her cup. "He's had such a day, you know."

Lady Rowan smiles vaguely at her sister. "Thank you," she murmurs, waiting till the cup is full again and has been nudged moreover nearer her questing hand. A sip. "My lord," she inquires, looking down the table to him, "will you dine with us this evening or do you prefer to arrange otherwise? I will give the cook what orders you wish; you need only make your wish known."

Antony closes his eyes for a long moment when Margot mentions the manse hosting a family for its proper use. As soon as another question comes his way, he clears his throat and opens his eyes. "I hope you will forgive me if I am absent," he says.

"Of course," Lady Rowan is carefully the first to say, in the gap left for the purpose by Lady Bryony's deliberate hesitation and sidelong glance.

The younger lady, still facing towards Lord Rowan and yet with her eyes still demurely averted, adds: "I didn't wish to speak in front of the children; but, Lord Rowan, I hope you will accept my sincerest condolences upon your loss. Please don't feel at all obliged to stand upon ceremony for my sake, at such a time… I hope you will not think of me as too great an intruder."

Antony firms his lips together into as thin and straight a line as he can and nods, looking aside. "Yes, thank you," he murmurs.

"My lord knows well," murmurs Lady Rowan, "that you have come for my sake, Bryony, and not your own…" Though she doesn't go so far as to suppose aloud that such knowledge could mean anything to him. Instead she changes the subject. "Davith is almost asleep; I think he must only have been waiting till he was comfortable. Shall I take him up to bed?" she suggests.

"… Oh, I'll take him," his mother insists, "if you've had enough."

"I shall have to stand up sooner or later," is Lady Rowan's apology, "and if he's settled properly while he's in the mood—"

Lady Bryony sighs, "Oh, let me." Again she tucks her napkin onto the edge of the table and stands, this time to extricate her baby son from his aunt's embrace with as little disturbance as possible. Then Lady Rowan rises too, to hold the door open before mother and child as they withdraw.

Antony stands up, too, as the ladies are on their feet. And as most likely the tea is breaking up.

Lady Rowan watches them go; and then silently shuts the door (she never leaves doors hanging open, even in summer when there isn't heat to conserve) and returns to her chair at the foot of the table and takes up her cup and sips her sweetened lavender tisane. "Thank you," she murmurs without looking at her husband, "for allaying my sister's nervousness."

Antony remains on his feet, hand on the back of his chair. "She hasn't done anything wrong," he says. "And I promised Adarian she would be welcome."

"That was good of you," acknowledges his wife in a neutral tone. She seems to have swallowed her anger, or drowned it in her cup. At any rate she's Margot Rowan again: composed, correct, and serene. "Shall I order your dinner served in your bedchamber, or in some other room, or shall you be going out?"

Antony shakes his head. "I don't know," he says, and takes a moment more to decide: "Don't order anything. If I want something, I'll send Edgar down for something cold."

"At this hour the preparations are well underway," points out Lady Rowan, for her husband is a man, and men are apt to think meals materialise by magic at the very moment when they are called for; "that is, the lamb is already roasting. I'm sure it will be no trouble to put yours aside and send it up cold whenever you wish it; I'll inform the cook that that is your plan."

"Yes, I realize that," Antony replies, brows pulling together a little. "But yes, that is what I would prefer."

"Very well, then," Lady Rowan agrees diffidently, and pauses for another sip of her tisane. "Is there anything else you wish me to see to for you, my lord?"

"No," Antony says. "I'll be going." He inclines his head to her and then finds his way out of the room by the door they came through. His right hand works a little at his side. He never did drink the tea.

"Good evening, my lord." Lady Rowan doesn't glance after him.

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