(123-05-31) Morning Devotions
Morning Devotions
Summary: Lady Marsei Hightower arrives early at the Starry Sept, to pray — she meets a smallfolk woman of her acquaintance who came even earlier… and in between all this prayer, the social chasm is bridged.
Date: Let's not, all right?
Related: Related Logs (Say None if there aren't any; don't leave blank. You have to use full URLs, like http://gobmush.wikidot.com/logtitle)

A warm summer's morning in Oldtown, grey with the promise of rain to come; and after a night's quiet tended only by the most devout (rather than, say, the Most Devout) the Starry Sept has come alive with the sounds and scents of worship. Septas and septons pass by upon holy errands. The choir is rehearsing a hymn in keeping with the time of the year. The altars before the seven great statues of the gods have been scraped clean of wax and scrubbed by the hands of novices: now they gleam again with little points of orange light, where the faithful coming early before their own labours begin, have stopped to light candles in prayer, seeking compassion, blessings, forgiveness.

The statue of the Stranger is neither male nor female in its form; carved from dragonglass it glitters in the shadows, lit from below at this hour by but a single candle, placed there by His (or Her) first devotee of the day. This little woman in a blue and red and yellow striped dress, her grey hair modestly covered with a blue kerchief (it doesn't match), keeps a shop on the corner of the Shambles and Oldtown Square. She calls upon all the gods in turn two or three times a month, when she can get away. Her kneeling figure is tiny, compact, unobtrusive despite the bright colours of her garb. She always takes her time. The habituees of the Sept are used to walking round her.

Her cheap tallow candle has burned down some distance when she unclasps her hands and smooths her skirts and lets out a quiet sigh, as though still distracted by some trouble on her mind. She straightens her head; her neck cracks. She plants her hands flat on the marble floor and begins, cautiously, to push herself up… The moment at which some overly solicitous young septon usually rushes up to help her, or embarrass her, or both.

The next pious visitor to the sept appears terribly small within the enormous doorway, particularly on her lonesome. Lady Marsei is no stranger to the Starry Sept; quite the opposite is true, but it is fairly rare that the noblewoman rouses out of bed and into town at this early hour unless for special occasion … but it not unheard of, as here she is, looking as though she already carries the weight of some hours' heavy thinking. A few soft petals cling to the fanciful beaded embroidery around the hem of her hooded cloak, from which her hair falls in a single, loose braid in front of her shoulder and the gathered layers of her gown are as thin and pink as a flower. The cloak itself white and lightly made; a pretty wisp of a thing to just barely fend off the rain, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the garment she wore during her accidental visit to Esme's shop.

The lady walks with her hands folded down in front of her, each step soft-footed and reverent. The kerchief draws her eye, quickly interrupting the line of sight between her and the statues of the Seven; not unpleasantly, however, as she smiles to recognize the brightly dressed shopkeeper. Her walk through the grand seven-sided dome slows as she nears Esme and the (hopefully) helpful septon, but only watches, shy to intrude incase the woman's morning worship has not yet come to an end.

The septons are hovering more anxiously than usual today, in memory of what happened the last time the little shopkeeper tried to get herself up again unaided. When the signs and portents indicate the time has come a novice, probably selected by ballot, darts forward to take his part in the awkward dance of may-I-help-you-mistress and goodness-I-didn't-see-you-there-dearie, which ends up taking much longer than if he'd just left her to herself.

Still. There are no untoward accidents, and after smoothing her skirts with unnecessary care and telling him what a nice young man he is and patting his arm, and the requisite exchange of blessings, Esme turns to go… She hasn't taken but a couple of steps before she seems to hesitate, facing Lady Marsei but eyes slightly lowered, just as uncertain of whether to speak, whether it might be an opportune moment for the one to acknowledge the other. She decides upon a quick bob of a curtsey in the general direction of the Hightower lady, and a step back out of what seems to be her path; and then she stands with her hands clasped in front of her, politely, undemandingly present.

Marsei has a respectful smile for the departing novice in passing and another for Esme, sunnier. "Blessings upon you, Mistress Esme," she greets, adding her own blessings to the mix. Their hands-clasped posture is the same, making a strange mirror of the brightly dressed old woman and the softly dressed young noblewoman. Marsei is a contradiction within a contradiction this morn: a deep and pensive thought behind her eyes, a heaviness that weighs, perhaps, on her soul but not her mood, which light and happy when she's brought so easily to smile by the familiar face. The two states of being within the sweet Hightower, so pronounced here in the clearest sight of the gods, must be natural, for they show no conflict upon her delicate features. "How do you do this morning?" she goes on; not only a good-natured politeness, but a way of offering the shopkeeper to a way to properly speak to her.

Not quite the same, perhaps. Esme is smaller and scrawnier, and stands with her feet solidly planted in plain brown leather sandals; and, now she has so gracefully been given a means of approach, her face is tilted slightly upward to look into Lady Marsei's. She doesn't stare but she does look, for a few seconds from which her creased dark eyes might well deduce a great deal. Then she lowers them again, nodding, returning the lady's smile with a more reserved curve of her own lips. "Thank you, milady, I'm very well," she says softly, careful of the echoes in here, "and I hope you are too, and that the Seven are holdin' His Grace in their hands as always… I hope I'm not interruptin' you," she adds, with another quick, inquisitive lift of her gaze.

"Don't they always?" Marsei responds; rhetorical, her tone one of faith in the hands of the Seven. Her naturally small voice is more muted than usual, in a softer hush, not solely for the dome's echo but the reverance with which she places upon the sacred space. "Oh, you don't interrupt; it's lovely to see you. I should thank you for the treats, on His Grace's behalf. I've only just come inside from the gardens; but please continue your prayer if you've more to do," she assures. She glances beyond Esme to the tallow candle left behind, but noting which statue it sits beneath, she doesn't quite formulate a comment.

The lines of Esme's face shift into puzzlement. Then it dawns. "Oh, the—" She nods twice; her demeanour loses some of its diffidence touching upon culinary matters, which are more her own ground. "You're very kind to say, milady. You're most welcome and so's he, and I'm just glad I can make somethin' he likes so much… And I reckon," her voice lowers still further, into a downright confidential whisper, "Flox sleeps easier any day His Grace has eaten a few vegetables, so there's that." Another little nod, acknowledging and approving his ceaseless care for the prince. Then she turns slightly, hands unclasping and hanging loose by her sides, to follow Lady Marsei's lifted gaze with her own; she looks back and shakes her head. "I've said what I came to say, milady, I was just goin' to sit for a minute afore I walk home."

A gentle — and certainly agreeing — little laugh springs up when Esme mentions Dhraegon and vegetables, a couple of notes rising higher than Marsei's speaking voice, sounding melodic in the spacious sept. "Do you mind company? I was going to sit a moment as well, and gather my thoughts before I pray." Or continue to gather her thoughts, as the case may be. Reminded of her purpose, she lowers the thin hood off her head; it pools prettily around her shoulders, as it's meant to.

At the lady's laughter the shopkeeper ducks her head and smooths her skirts again, as though to keep all this fraternisation between the ranks from going too far. But she's smiling, and smiling still as she concedes, "I'd be glad of that, milady, if you're sure it's all right… I usually put my thoughts in order on the way here," she admits, "or I try to. Don't seem quite right to me to come to Somebody else's house," she gestures gently toward the seven great statues surrounding them, "and go on and on about nothin' much."

Marsei gives another laugh, but this one is just a breath, just as warm but less full of whimsy. She nods to Esme and moves to neatly sit down in one of the seats facing the statues, her hands folding again just as they were before after straightening her gown and the length of the cloak around it. She looks from one carved face to the other. "Yes. I thought my walk in the Maiden Day Garden would put mine in order," she agrees by way of admitting. "Sometimes too much thinking can bring up too many questions, though, can it not?" She smiles thoughtfully forward, at no face in particular, drinking them all in. "But … perhaps the Seven know what you're trying to say even if you don't." A pause; there's a hint of wistfulness and humour in the way she adds, "I hope."

Esme follows a pace behind and perches on the edge of the seat next to Lady Marsei's, inclined inward to face her. She folds her hands in her lap, the old golden wedding ring which is her only apparent ornament gleaming softly. "Aye, well," she glances up — not really at the dome depicting the heavens, but at the true heavens beyond, "the gods have perfect knowledge, milady, and with perfect knowledge comes perfect understandin'… but still, it's a way of bein' polite, isn't it? And it's often when you come to explain somethin' to someone else who don't know it yet, that you come to understand it properly yourself."

The noblewoman follows Esme's glance up and watches her intently afterward. Not critically, not overbearingly, never those; only with open interest in the words she has to offer. "Yes," she agrees again, this time quieter, ever-so-slightly downtrodden, as if - even though she agrees - the wisdom has not quite led her on the right path as much as she wishes. She looks at her hands and back up toward the statues, this time her focus settling more distinctly on the visage of the Mother. "I suppose it is also harder to see your answer when you don't understand your questions."

Beneath so much highborn scrutiny Esme's eyes lower again, into her lap. Not however before she has noted the direction of Lady Marsei's gaze. "I'm sorry to see you're troubled, milady," she says softly. "I hope you won't mind my sayin'… whatever it is that has you worryin', you're doin' right in bringin' it to the Mother. She'll be glad you came to her — Mothers always are."

Upon a glance over, Marsei smiles gratefully — not minding Esme saying, as it were - before her gaze returns to the Mother, meeting Her jeweled eyes above. "And I am glad to come to Her," she replies sincerely, like a good daughter, her eyes touched by warmth despite her apparent troubles. She opens her mouth as though to speak more on the matter, but closes it in uncertain silence.

In Esme's lap her work-roughened hands unfold and refold themselves. She doesn't quite look at Lady Marsei, but gazes across the marble floor on which she was recently kneeling, and murmurs, "Not but what there aren't plenty of others who'd be glad to lighten your burden if they could, milady."

"You're right," Marsei agrees, again, of course, and is glad to do so — but again, her gaze shifts. She doesn't look completely away to the Mother — she's tethered, now — but slightly to the side, distant. "But there are some things that can't easily be spoken of to others and so what can one do but try to put them into prayer?" She smiles, a touch apologetic; thinking herself a bother, perhaps. "I'm sure you understand how it is," the lady says to Esme almost hopefully, because certainly someone who seems as pious as she and has lived much longer has had such a dilemma and overcome it. Right?

Discerning in Lady Marsei's tone an invitation to greater complicity, Esme turns to meet her eyes. "I do at that, milady," she agrees quietly, one corner of her mouth lifting into a wistful smile. "I don't believe there's any woman alive but has some bit of business that's just between herself and her gods, for there's nobody else she trusts with it. It's a blessin' to confide in Them, to know They understand — still, milady, I hope you won't let the promise of divine solace discourage you from seekin' a listenin' ear a bit nearer to the ground. You might find your friends surprise you, sometimes."

Esme's understanding brings, at least, some sense of comfort to Marsei, even if their troubles - past, and in her case, present - are unspoken. "I feel blessed to have such friends," she admits, going on to say delicately, "… but then … there is the matter of…" she takes a moment to decide, "… confidences; when one's problem is not entirely one's own." A dilemma she runs into more often than not, a thought punctuated by a soft sigh— upon which she gives her head a shake and smiles over to Esme. "But I should not burden you with my nameless burdens," she says, more upbeat, determined. "I do thank you for your words, Esme. It is always a comfort to hear from another one of the faithful."

"It ain't a burden, milady," Esme assures her first of all, with plain, open sincerity in every line of her ancient features; "for one thing, if you'll forgive me for sayin' so, you've not said a word to the point, so how could it be…?" The corners of her mouth lift, in an attempt to encourage the younger woman's smile to broaden in reflection. "I might say, too, that there ain't a single trouble you can have that is all your own — we're all too tangled up in one another's lives for that, aren't we? I'm speakin' generally," she gives a small apologetic shrug, "not just of you'n me in particular, milady, though goodness knows that's a fine example. If a life such as yours can touch a life such as mine, through such a lot of people we both know, that just goes to show how intertwined human lives can become, in all sorts of unlikely ways. I suppose what I mean to say is… No trouble is only your own, milady, even if you only hold it in common with those who care what's in your heart because it's your heart. If you're determined not to talk of shared troubles, well. You've a choice between never sayin' a word at all, or weighin' the one against the other and decidin'," and this she says very gently, "that your own peace of mind has value enough to be worth your pursuin' it."

As much as Marsei truly appreciates Esme's advice, a tension navigates its way into her shoulders as well as her hands, tightening their clasp; the lady's rosy lips pull, her gaze worries, and for a brief moment she appears altogether distraught, holding tight to whatever conflict she keeps in that famously warm heart of hers. "Perhaps I am making it too complicated," she says, easing. "When really the Mother only need give me a yes or no." Gazing faithfully at the statue, she leans back against the seat in a semblance of being relaxed, though she truly sits too primly to truly settle.

"… Milady, I think," Esme suggests, still in the gentle tone she adopts most often when speaking to her son, "the longer you keep your worry inside your own mind, twistin' and turnin' it this way and that, the bigger and the more complicated it'll seem to you. I think you might benefit from takin' it out of yourself and havin' a good look at it in the light of the Mother's grace."

There's a quick unsteady breath from the lady that makes it rather sound like she's about to laugh, but she only smiles, self-aware. "I must sound so hopelessly frustrating! Your words are wise ones, and I… will do my best to heed them." If not at this very moment. "I promise it will see the light of day, and hopefully the Mother's grace. I should have brought it all to my septa." At the mere thought, embarrassment crosses her cheeks, but she fends it off gracefully enough. "Thank you," she tells Esme honestly, "for straightening me out. Speaking of the Mother, I expect Edmyn is lucky to have a mother like you."

"Oh," and Esme smiles more naturally, ducking her head at the compliment; "well, I do my best, milady." She hesitates, and then places each word with care as she goes on. "I hope what I've said does turn out to've been of some help to you. I know there's a world of difference between us," she chuckles softly, "but I've been alive a long time, milady, more'n sixty years," this confided with a slight lift of her eyebrows, "and I've seen a fair bit of life, one way and another. My own and other people's. I've buried a husband and raised a son; I've been rich, and I've been poor; I've started a new life, more'n once, with nothin' but the clothes I stood up in. Sometimes I think a part of the Crone's wisdom is just in havin' seen and done it all before, so's there's nothin' much left that can come as a surprise." Another tiny hesitation. "There's a sayin' I heard once or twice when I was younger, which came to mind as I was lookin' at you just now. Pain is what we carry on our backs — love is bein' silent about the weight. I used to believe that was so. These days, though, I'm not so sure. I might speak of the weight. I reckon it wouldn't be the end of anythin', if you spoke of it too."

The bits and pieces of Esme's life that come forth as she speaks spark curiosity in Lady Marsei, her head tipping toward the side of her braid as she listens, but not so much as to distract her utterly. The words settle upon her long enough that some small barrier is broken, and she exclaims softly, "It should be a simple thing." Spoken like a confession, quietly desperate, it is yet without meaning until she gazes so zealously upon the statue of the Mother that her eyes seem strained. "Women pray to the Mother every day to be as She is."

Straight away Esme's face softens; and motherly compassion has her reaching out, unbidden, to give Lady Marsei's hand a gentle pat and then to rest her own there, the rough upon the smooth. "And new wives most of all, eh?" she says very softly. Her eyes wait patiently for the lady's to turn to her again. "It's a curious time in your life, I don't doubt, milady. Everythin' changes for a woman when she marries — but yours ain't just any marriage… I reckon I've got a better idea of that," she admits, "than most other people might have, if you'll forgive my sayin' so. Havin' a son like mine."

Though the lady's hand does not move, there is a wave of relief in her body language, inclining ever-so-slightly receptively toward the elder smallfolk woman and her warmth. She tenses when Esme "says so", uncomfortable for the fact and smiling gratefully not a second later. Contradictions, and each of them as sincere as the next. Pensively — tentatively — holds her breath only to sigh it out softly through a single word: "Yes." She lowers her head. "It is the will of the Mother for a wife to have children. I was… married— before," she says slowly, suddenly uncertain how much of her history outside of Oldtown has been circulated through the streets and studying Esme to find out. It's not long before it's her own hand she studies instead. "…but I… had no children then, when I suppose it would have been…" Marsei pauses to bite her lower lip, falling into even more of a hush. "… simpler."

Since she's so certain her hand is welcome where it is Esme leaves it there, nodding slowly, evincing not a scintilla of surprise at anything the lady confides to her. She glances up, but only to narrow her eyes forbiddingly at someone who, having had an idea that he might walk past the two women, suddenly decides he'll go the other way round. Her gaze softens in its return to meet the younger woman's. "He loves you," she murmurs, "that's as plain to see as it is beautiful to look at — and the last person in all the world he'd want to pass the troubles he's had on to, is a child of yours. And you — you don’t want my life, milady,” she says more briskly. “O’ course, a child of yours would have the best nurses, the best tutors, the best of everythin’ always, never want for love or coin or anythin’ you could give — but if it went that way you’d still have my life, in all the particulars that matter, and I promise you that ain’t what you want. Knowin’ you’ll die with your child still needin’ you, all the time… Oh, yes, I reckon I can imagine pretty well all that’s troubling your heart right now,” and she draws in a breath through her teeth, and lets it out with a slight shake of her head, “and I don’t reckon it’s a septa you ought to be talkin’ to,” she says, very seriously. “At least, not the kind of septa who’s never been married herself, who doesn’t know what it’s like… Where’s your lady mother, these days?”

Lady Marsei’s eyes widen the more Esme says, and before long that wide-eyed stare – so innocent, so open – is fixed on her. There is some surprise within, some alarm; perhaps the broader scope of which the elder woman speaks has not hit the lady fully until she hears it here and now. She opens her mouth, a breath taken in as if to protest not talking to a septa, but halts, upon consideration, her narrow shoulders slowly falling, beneath the gentle swoop of her cloak. “It is a lot… to consider, and Dhraegon… bless him, he has given me a lot to consider,” she says quietly, and even that sounds like an understatement. After a slight pause, taking a moment to follow Esme’s thought, she goes on to answer, “Mother is in the capital with Father and Alicent.” There is a casualness to her words, a simplicity, despite the serious topic; as if Father doesn’t mean the Hand of the King and Alicent isn’t the Queen of the Realm, and her parents’ grandchildren aren’t set upon a path to be kings and queens and dragon-riders. After all, mothers are mothers and children are children.

"And the grandchildren they've already got, aye," nods Esme, speaking in kind, as though heirs to the Iron Throne were two-a-copper down the Shambles. "… I'm sorry I startled you, just now, milady," she apologises softly. "Plain speakin' is a habit of mine, at least in private," which in effect is where they are, surrounded by empty chairs and empty floor and a Sept at one of its quieter hours, "but it ain't always polite, is it, and you not even havin' asked me to speak plain. That was wrong of me, and I'm sorry," she repeats. "I do see why you've not been able to talk about any o' this, even with your mind so in need of easing. Can't talk about it without talkin' about His Grace — the private side of his life, your life together — and your loyalty to him comes above all else, and that's just as it should be. Now, Flox is the natural one to talk to about anythin’ to do with His Grace, but then, there are things a woman doesn’t talk to a man about, aren’t there? … O' course," she adds delicately, as though the thought has just occurred to her, "if you were talkin' to somebody as already knew, you wouldn't have to say anythin', or betray anythin'. It might be you could just listen for a while," she suggests, "and take away any words you could use, and leave behind any that didn't suit." Her eyes linger upon Lady Marsei's face, full of grandmotherly concern; she waits; she gives the impression that she could wait all day, just like that, holding the lady's hand, for her to think it through.

She’s certainly listening now, her worried eyes keyed onto Esme’s darker, older, and she wagers wiser, set. Marsei is quick to agree, even eager, but slow to show it in more than her unwavering attention, though she does — after extending Esme’s gracious wait for a spell longer — nod. “No,” she remembers to say, then shifts her hand to hold onto the grandmotherly grip. “I mean, yes – that is, it’s all right, Mistress Esme. I don’t mind your plain speaking. I would rather consider all things than not. And there are…” The lady’s breath hiccups softly, quick as the flutter of a heart, interrupting, dislodging her steady look back down, ever-so-slightly forlorn as she admits, “It is all so unusual.”

Lady Marsei's decision is rewarded with an encouraging squeeze of her hand, and a small but steady smile from an Esme who is adopting by degrees the same privately-familiar, frankly-respectful tone in which she spoke on Master Eonn's boat. Borrowed, perhaps, from one of those old family retainers privileged to smack nobles when they're naughty little boys and girls — and in later years to tell them what's what behind closed doors.

And it's true, all the lady has to do is to listen.

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