(123-05-27) Larks in the Garden
Larks in the Garden
Summary: A foreigner lately arrived in Oldtown discovers the Maidenday Gardens are infested with… larks.
Date: 27/05/123
Related: None

In the Maidenday Gardens are many statues of She who is honoured here. Some are dressed in garments of real cloth, changed with need and the season — and before one such statue, clad modestly in dark blue, stands a small redheaded woman in a shade of blue almost the same though her gown be subtly foreign in its cut. She is not worshipping but merely gawping, her eyes alight with curiosity, her hands clasped behind her back as she leans nearer to examine the intricacies of the statue's carving, and the painted features of its face.

Poor Mae is, as ever, trying to keep up with her charge. The soft-faced maid hurries along behind the slight Targaryen princess, who is fairly skipping down the garden path. They are lucky in that the space has not been crowded, but Aelia, dressed in one of her more ordinary gowns, stops the moment she spies someone else. She hops once, but it's hard to tell whether she's excited or consterned.

The irregular pattern of those hop-and-skip footsteps seems to draw the attention of the woman in blue: she straightens, her shoulders lower with a breezy sigh for the similarly-attired statue who is for a moment her mirror, and she turns round to— "Aren't you just as pretty as a picture!" she exclaims, delightedly. She is of middle years, and sounds foreign.

"Yes!" Aelia agrees readily with the stranger. "I'm a lark!" She adds that just to get it out of the way in case there was any confusion. Her gaze sweeps up the form of the Maiden statue, then back down to this red-haired stranger. "I like your hair," she says. "Mae also has red hair and it is almost the best color of hair. Cardinals are also red."

The redheaded woman's eyes widen. "… Thank you," she declares, her tone pleased and surprised all at once. "A lark — I think that is — a bird…?" she asks, eager to understand just what her new acquaintance is getting at. "But has it another meaning I don't know, in your tongue?"

"It is a bird," Aelia agrees, seeming pleased that this stranger is so willing to discuss birds, the best of topics. "But…I don't think I know about meanings in its tongue. Oh! Except I have heard that sometimes people eat the tongue. It is a delicacy. But it seems very small…" She runs her tongue forward a little once or twice so that just the tip pokes out. "And I don't taste anything!" Mae stands just behind her and a step to the side, looking generally worried and apologetic. Aelia looks the woman over once again. "My name is Aelia. And you sound different. But larks can memorize the songs of other birds." She seems to mean that to be reassuring.

The foreigner studies Aelia as she talks of larks and their tongues. Her own lips part an instant after the alleged lark's, but not to speak. Lines deepen between the dark red arches of her eyebrows. She's thinking. But she finishes thinking in time; there's no pause, no awkward hiccup, between Aelia's words and her answer. "I've eaten larks' tongues, in a kind of… jelly?" She makes the word a question, looking between Aelia and Mae for confirmation that she's pronounced it correctly. "They didn't taste like anything. A boring dish for a boring banquet," she laughs. "I think a lark's tongue is much better in a lark's mouth, for singing songs. I'm pleased to meet you, Aelia — I'm Ida Imaldi," she declares; and she looks expectantly, then, to Mae. "What's your name?"

Mae gives a faint, sympathetic smile over Aelia's shoulder to encourage the pronunciation of 'jelly'. And Aelia seems to heartily agree with this Ida Imaldi. "Yes, that is the best place for them," she agrees. "Very few birds sing while they are flying, but larks do!" She looks vaguely puzzled when the woman asks for her maid's name. This doesn't happen very often. She turns to look back at Mae to be sure, then looks at Ida. "Oh, her name is Mae," she supplies.

"It's lovely to meet you, too, Mae," declares Ida, smiling at her with even more warmth because the poor girl appears to be so shy and to need encouraging. "Do you live in Oldtown? Do you often come to these gardens? I was told at the Golden Maiden Inn that they were the finest in the city — I think they must be… I couldn't name half these flowers!" And she tilts her head, her blue-green gaze flickering this way and that among the blooms and the blossoms.

Mae drops her eyes and dips a brief curtsey. Aelia's attention drifts to the sky, but it does return in time to Ida. "Oh, yes, I think so," she replies, though it's not clear at all which of the questions she's replying to. "There are many flowers, but I think they are mostly usual," she says cheerfully. "My uncle could name them all very clearly. He is married to a flower."

"Married to a flower," breathes Ida, increasingly enchanted by this Westerosi custom of claiming kinship with flowers, birds… bees? Who knows? "How interesting," she laughs. She tilts her head, a strand of long red hair slipping loose onto her shoulder with the movement. "Do you think I'll meet many such flowers, and larks, in Oldtown — or only in your family…?" she asks. Her flowing blue sleeves fall away from her unjeweled hands as she reaches up to catch hold of that stray strand and secure it with a pin.

Aelia thinks this over, brow knitting delicately. "Well…my family is definitely the most special," she decides upon with a decisive nod. "And my uncle's wife also has red hair and she lives very high up. They both do."

"… Very high up? I might have expected a flower to make her home near to the ground," speculates Ida, patting her hair and then turning her hand to gesture to the rosebushes at either side of the white marble path. "Though I suppose—" Her hand lifts again, pointing. "There are flowering trees…?" She gives a quick shrug, and flicks an amused glance to Mae, by way of inviting her thoughts.

"Oh, they brought earth up," Aelia explains. "There are very beautiful gardens." She takes a step or two and turns until she spots the hightower, visible from most places in the city, and points up at it. "Up there." Mae gives Ida a shy and sympathetic smile. But she doesn't speak up.

Ida, very interested, cranes her neck and then turns all the way around, to see where Aelia is pointing: "Oh!" she exclaims. "The Hightower! I went there yesterday — or…" She narrows her gaze, concerned to relate the occurrence truthfully. "I nearly went there," she corrects herself, meeting Aelia's eyes and rolling her own. "The guards wouldn't let me go across the bridge, because I didn't have an appointment to see anyone. Are they always so strict?" She considers. "… Well," she declares, as though reaching the conclusion of a weighty line of thought, "I suppose the guards can't help the orders they're given. But sometimes orders are given without good reason."

Aelia smiles. "I don't make appointments," she says. "But the guards understand what birds look like. Larks are mostly brown," she adds. Then she looks Ida over yet again. "I don't know your family's name. Maybe that is why!"

Ida tilts her head again, and wrinkles her nose, which feature is slightly too large for her face. "I suppose in one way it's the Hightower family's home," she agrees, "and they might like to keep out people they don't know. Though as an administrative seat it really should be open to the public — how else can petitions be presented and business be conducted with officials—?" But she doesn't expect an answer; she's already moving on. "Are you one of the Hightowers, then, Aelia, or just your uncle?" she asks easily.

Aelia laughs, a bright tinkling sound in soprano. "Certainly not!" she answers. "And my Uncle is still a prince however many flowers he marries. And they will not try to make me stop being a Targaryen, which is very good. I think I would not sing as well if I were a lower bird."

"Oh! A Targaryen… it's all right," Ida hastens to assure the princess, "I'm not prejudiced." She smiles brightly; she takes a step nearer and offers a hand in friendship or something like it. She'll be pleased to have it accepted, or move on without another thought if Aelia shuns the gesture. Her attitude is interested, perhaps even warm — absent in her is anything approaching awe or deference. "I think I met a cousin of yours once — one of your princes," she adds. "He came to borrow money from us. My father—" She lets out a naughty little laugh. "Oh, but I shouldn't say anything about that, should I?" she reminds herself, sighing dreamily with a smile still playing about her lips.

Aelia presses the woman's hand, showing nothing but friendliness at the gesture. Surely if it were dangerous, Mae would stop her. "Oh," she says. "My cousins are everywhere. Only…some don't live long." That gives her the tiniest bit of concern before she brightens again. "But we are mostly cousins. And larks lay anywhere from two to six eggs at a time."

Ida Imaldi's hand is as soft as any highborn lady's, no matter the obscurity of her name in these climes; her fair skin is inksmudged, but marks which didn't come off with soap and water won't come off on a lark's feathers. "Don't they? I'm sorry to hear it, Aelia… Six, really? Are you teasing me? I've heard of two or three, but six sounds like a lot," she laughs, squeezing the princess's hand in a friendly way and then letting go only to turn to Mae. She meets the eyes of her fellow redhead and offers the same clasp of her hand as though it were the most natural thing in the world; "You didn't say your family name," she points out. "Is it because— I've been told some people in Westeros don't have two names…?" she asks, a hint of incredulity in her tone.

"It depends on the climate!" Aelia shares. Mae, meanwhile, doesn't seem to know what to do, but she opts for just taking the hand she's offered in the most polite way she possibly can. Mae, for all her diffidence, has a certain grace about her as well. Her hand is just a little more plump than Aelia's, and overall her frame has a more healthy roundedness than Aelia's slight shape. Aelia waves a hand. "Oh, she is my maid," she says. "Her family name is not important. She is Mae!" Her tone is sunny.

"Oh… I didn't understand," confesses Ida — but still she smiles her apology at Mae before Aelia. She understands that one might behave in a certain less-than-natural way when one is at work, whatever that work might be. "In Braavos most people have two names, or else they're known by a nickname, which might be anything — the Queen of Nothing, or the Daughter of the Dawn — perhaps being called just 'Mae' is a little like that…?" she suggests, with a thoughtful tilt of her head, a whimsical small smile. "My clerk has two names, of course. He's somewhere here…" She glances along the path. "He felt tired from walking so he sat down to rest… I think," she confides, looking from one woman to the other, "he has his shoes made too tight, for his vanity!"

"That sounds very confusing!" Aelia says cheerfully. "Everyone here already knows my family." She smiles placidly. "I heard a story once about a lark who was ashamed that his feet were too big. But then in the end, he wasn't."

"… Perhaps Jaqero is a lark, too," laughs Ida. "I ought to introduce you. He doesn't always like the people I like, though; I don't know why." Which particular puzzlement sits as comfortably upon her, as Targaryen fame upon Aelia. "I'm so glad we met today, Aelia; I'll never be able to walk in these gardens without thinking you ought to be here to complete the picture," she says sincerely. "Shall I see you again while I'm in the city, do you think?"

"Oh, yes," Aelia confirms, after beaming at Ida's insistence on her belonging here. "I go to all the parties, and I am going to be married, soon, and everyone will know all about that!" She looks to Mae to confirm this, then nods. Yes.

To Aelia's impending nuptials also Ida reacts with a delight the poor girl can't have seen much of amongst her acquaintance in general. "Then you're to be congratulated!" she exclaims, beaming at her and impulsively seizing both her hands at once. "Who's the lucky young man?" she demands, as though it were a subject of the greatest possible interest. "Is he very handsome?"

"His name is Jurian," Aelia answers, at least seeming excited on her own behalf. She squeezes Ida's hands back. "He is a handsome swan and I think everyone knows of him."

"A swan," sighs Ida, letting go. Her head is at that angle again. "Oh, I can see that," she sighs again, against all logic. "I don't know of him," she admits, "but I've only been in Oldtown since yesterday morning. There's so much I don't know yet. I didn't know you, till a quarter of an hour past — and what a pity that was!" Though she laughs she seems quite sincere.

Aelia hops once with pleasure. "I will see you everywhere, I am sure. My uncle Dhraegon likes to invite all the people to his parties, even if they talk strangely or do not know people's names!"

"But wouldn't they be boring parties if everyone said the same things? And how could I know all your names," asks Ida simply, "if you haven't told me yet—?"

"People just know!" Aelia exclaims, just seeming pleased as punch about all of it. "And now I think we should go and look at different flowers. I hope your clerk understands his feet soon, like the bird in the story."

"Do they," and Ida breathes out, looking intently at the little lark, as though her curiosity hasn't quite been sated. "I'll tell him you said so," she declares, smiling from Aelia to Mae and back to Aelia, "and I hope to see you both soon! If not at a party, then in a garden? Or—" She holds up a finger. "At a party in a garden," and she smiles more brightly at the thought.

Whereupon they flit away in different directions, well-pleased.

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