(123-05-01) The Immutability of Fruit
The Immutability of Fruit
Summary: Lady Marsei Hightower rescues Lady Margot Rowan; they discuss counsel, compassion, and… fruit.
Date: 14/05/2016
Related: Continued from Maidenday Garden Party.

Arm-in-arm, the cousins of Hightower stroll along the garden path until it winds into the lower garden proper and the festive chatter of the butterfly garden becomes a fainter din. The refined laughter of other ladies rings out, now and then, along with the freer laughter of children. The deep but gentle voice of Lady Marsei's husband reverberating beneath the noise of the party; from here he is as wordless as she is quiet, a silence that only lasts until she and Margot find peace.

"My prince husband is very fond of hugs even when the recipient may not be as enthusiastic for such bold affections," Marsei says with a smile; she's reassuring, even fond, rather than as apologetic as she might have been several months past. But Dhraegon's penchant for joyous greetings is not the reason for their little escape, at least not the sole one, and she gives Margot an empathetic little look — checking in, also — before bowing her head ever-so-slightly and watching where they walk. "I enjoy these events, especially during special times such as Maiden Day," she imparts, more thoughtful than the words themselves, "… but … sometimes there is something to be said for having quiet in-between."

Decorous silence is very much Lady Rowan's metier; she breathes comfortably in it, admiring the summer flowers in their unceasing bloom, leaving the awkwardness of that sticky embrace further behind with each step. "… His Grace is very friendly," she agrees of Prince Dhraegon, in the smooth tones of a lady trained always to find a compliment to offer. "I must apologise, Lady Marsei," she adds with a glance studiously opaque, the turn of her head stirring her mantilla, "for the confusion of my appearance. I do not know for whom I could have been mistaken; that has.. not happened to me before," she admits softly. She may not be the Flower of Oldtown; but within its walls, as far north as Highgarden, she is a memorable figure in her own right. "I hope His Grace was not troubled, and will not be so again. I should not like to think I had cast a shadow over his pleasure in the festivities — or yours."

Marsei shakes her head softly, at as much of a loss as her cousin, but not seeming terribly troubled by the case of mistaken identity. "I'm sure it was only your attire that brought about some memory or other." Only attire. She does not flippantly refer to such attire, that of mourning, of death; even in her reassurance there's an undertone of gentle respect. "And I'm just as sure that he's forgotten it already." Her small smile transforms into a beaming one, cast effortlessly — sincerely — to Margot. She does not look into her cousin's face for long, however, as if doing so might somehow overpower her with sunlight. Her gaze travels through the peaceful gardens, past the familiar yet ever-changing flowers and gradually over her own shoulder, back toward the party as though distracted despite herself.

"And my attire," the elder lady murmurs, "I'm afraid my friends must bear with a while longer…" She reflects Lady Marsei's smile with a smaller one of her own; the shoulder she glances over in turn, following the line of her cousin's gaze, is rigid with tension. "If you're worried for your other guests," she suggests, looking then straight into her cousin's eyes for the first time during their stroll, "please don't let me keep you longer than I ought… you've done your duty by me, after all," and these words, accompanied by another tiny curve of Lady Rowan's lips and a faint pressure of her fingertips upon Lady Marsei's arm, almost take the form of a jest. "I know how many responsibilities you must be carrying today," she adds, gently serious. "I hope you will speak plainly, rather than letting me add to their number."

Marsei is brought back from her distraction easily by Margot, yet a worry does linger behind her gaze. "Thank you," she says without distinguishing which part, exactly, she is thankful for; her sincere manner is a catch-all, gracious for everything. "I am not worried about them," she says softly, to clarify. "They are fine absent my company. I should return before long, though, so as not to worry Dhraegon, but…" She gives a faint purse of her rosy lips, tensing them at the very corners. "I admit I … I don't much feel up to it all of a sudden." She shifts her shoulders, a tension that transfers into her hold about Margot's arm. Even so, her reassuring smile makes another appearance; this time, perhaps, for her own sake as much as that of the other lady. "I saw someone I did not expect to see among the crowd and it gave me a start, that's all."

Those kinds of tricks — a Hightower beauty putting on her most tranquil, most soothing, most exquisite smile to promise the world that all is well with her, till her very face aches from it — why, Lady Rowan might as well be looking into the triple-paned true glass mirror on her own dressing-table…

She reflects that smile as she did the other; as they walk on, her blue eyes drift away from Lady Marsei's face to the gardens ahead. Her expression is unshakably mild and serene, as though there were no thought behind it but for what flowers might be blooming round the next bend in the path. "I'm sure I should ask you if you would like to sit for a while," she murmurs, "but the truth is that it is more difficult to overhear a conversation between two who are walking together… If it would ease your mind to speak of it, I think you know I keep my own counsel, cousin. If you would rather speak of nothing at all," and her tone turns dry, "I have a prodigious taste for that, of late."

A soft laugh touches Marsei's throat; little more than a breath over the accurate estimation of walks in the garden. How many such strolls, with how many hushed voices, have taken place through this very garden since it was built?

Marsei, too, walks looking ahead now, her view made up of flower petals and shrubbery and none of it, at once. "And you are exceptional at both," she compliments, falling into a pensive quietude for a few moments afterward. "Have you ever…" she hesitates to find the proper words, even after giving herself such a pause beforehand to theoretically do just that. Her smooth brow is steadied into resolution-the type which springs from deciding to speak even though it is difficult-though her soft voice is cautious, reticent. "Have you ever wished to seek counsel from… the same person who… caused the strife that led you to wish for counsel?" She nods her head toward Margot to add more lightly, "Of course I don't speak of yours."

Lady Rowan answers the compliment with a soft sound which acknowledges it absent pleasure or the reverse, a case in point. She's patient, her ear inclined toward her cousin beneath her trailing black lace mantilla, her gaze trained still decorously ahead no matter her curiosity… Her eyebrows lift, just a fraction; then lower again at the reassurance, which this time at any rate has a truthful ring to it. "I think that might sometimes be what one wishes least of all," she muses quietly. "It might be difficult to trust such a person, to unburden oneself… and then, such a conversation would require a very delicate touch, and great good will, if it were not to fall apart into reproaches and pained feelings. But in any life there might arise— a trouble which one might only be able to address at its source. And if there were, on both sides, a sincere desire to mend what was damaged… I think it a bitter physic, my lady; but I have taken its like." She closes her eyes a second longer than is necessary to blink. They open again still cool and dry.

Throughout the majority of Lady Rowan's counsel about counsel, Lady Marsei has a growing look of concern, perhaps not precisely feeling heartened by her cousin's words; but as she listens, and there's mention of mending, however bitter the physic, her optimism rises cautiously to the surface in the form of a widening of her eyes and a hopeful lifting of her own brows. Even then, she studies Margot, wondering over her cousin's own strife and how it mends. "It is a complicated thing, isn't it."

Another noncommittal sound from Lady Rowan. She goes on, slowly, offering the small, cautious, realistic hopes of a woman who knows well how to make do with imperfect happinesses, hard-won. "It may be that your— acquaintance?" she tests gently, to see whether that word fits. "That this person you saw today," she decides, "regrets the strife of which you speak — even caused it unwittingly? — and is only hoping you'll hold out your hand… You won't know till you try. Whether it is wise to try of course I can't say," she is careful to add. "Your own judgment of that person's character must be your guide. It is difficult… to find compassion enough, sometimes, when one is weary." She hesitates. "I'm honoured, cousin, that you've opened your heart to me a little — will you understand me if I say I think your best course is to open it to another? The Mother," she reminds Lady Marsei softly, "has compassion enough for any contingency; I'm sure She will spare you some of Hers, and help you to understand whether and how to approach the one most concerned in this matter…"

Marsei nods consideringly, welcoming the suggestion. "I believe… that the Mother would look favourably upon the situation," Marsei says with a confidence that takes a sudden turn as a thought strikes her and causes her to tip her head, wondering. "If not the Mother, then the Crone in her wisdom. Can they be at odds, do you think?" She shakes her head, setting aside the thought. "I have such compassion, dear cousin," she says, the fact of it crystal clear in her voice, the heartfelt expression of emotion that comes so readily to the sweet Hightower. "All of the time, for nearly everyone— it can be difficult to separate the mind from the heart."

"At odds…" The thought gives Lady Rowan pause — though only her words falter, and not her steps. "I can't imagine so; the Seven are One, is that not what we are taught? If a thing is good, surely the Mother will look kindly for Her own reasons, the Crone for hers, and so on… How do you go on as you do, cousin?" she asks then, more quietly still, sparing a glance from the flowers to the Flower. "How do you live with a heart so easily touched?"

"By the grace of the Seven," Marsei answers earnestly, her contemplative gaze moving purposefully from the path to Lady Rowan. "I don't know any other way to live, or what it is to feel any differently; they shaped me this way, as they shaped you in your way." Her admiring — indeed, compassionate — look upon her cousin does not fault her for seeming to have a different heart. "Every so often … I think perhaps it is my gift, and my curse." She slips her arm from her cousin's only to rest her hand upon the darkly-clad shoulder. "One that would keep your troubles as well, cousin, in close counsel."

The ladies pause as their arms unlink, Lady Rowan half a step ahead along the path and turning to her cousin. Beneath fine black silk and Myrish lace her shoulder feels more like granite than flesh; but she doesn't shrug away that hand. "In some moments it's the only comfort, isn't it?" she agrees quietly. "To believe that one was made in a certain way on purpose; that the gods have Their reasons; that if only one goes on trusting in Their divine will…" She lowers her pointed chin and then her gaze, and breathes out. "Though there is also a temptation toward stubbornness and pride, isn't there? The gods made me — They do not wish me to be altered from what I am," she suggests, framing the thought purely for the sake of argument. "Of course I don't suggest that we ever place such excuses in the way of improving ourselves by any means we can; only that…" Her shoulders shift slightly beneath her mourning draperies. "It would take the will of the gods to make an apple into an orange; and if They intended it for an orange, it would be already." She pauses, lifting a hand to touch her forehead. "I must have had a touch of the sun, to be carrying on so. Black is not altogether forgiving in an Oldtown summer, is it?"

The look Marsei focuses upon her cousin is one of an understanding so absolute, beyond empathy, that she almost appears desperate to express it. Emotion, made up of many parts and reaching out toward Margot, is a bright, glimmering shine in the lady's seawater eyes. "Only when it rains," she says instead, gently pressing her hand to her cousin's lacy shoulder in a guiding motion: toward the door back into the Hightower.

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