(123-06-29) A First Taste of Whiskey
A First Taste of Whiskey
Summary: Whiskey is just one of the many things nobody has ever bothered offering Lady Olenna Roxton, at least until she makes an unexpected ally of Ser Laurent Tyrell.
Date: 29/06-01/07/2016
Related: None

'Tis the season for flowers and cakes and decorative bunting, and the kicking of distasteful tasks up and down ladders till they land in the lap of one who, whilst manifestly unsuited to them, has not the excuse of being concerned with wedding preparations. Indeed, Little Bellhorn Holdfast is an oasis of calm by comparison with the Garden Isle Manse. The gates to that holdfast stand open, their duty stood by men wearing Tyrell arms, their raucous fellows audible from within the walls. The courtyard bears none of the aesthetic pleasantry on display at the storied manse on Garden Isle. This, rather, is a spartan enterprise. The courtyard is hard packed dirt given, in places, to mud. The carousing of men-at-arms is audible from the barracks, with some even on display, playing at cards. A harried guide, young Medgar Osgrey, is on hand to lead the distinguished Lady Roxton through this chaos, solicitous and patient, friendly and deferential; in short, Lord Medgar is everything that his master is not.

That master, Ser Laurent Tyrell, slouches in a seat at the head table that overlooks the entirety of the now-empty dining hall. He has a decanter to hand, and a glass sits idle near him. Open before the Thorn is a ledger, which he leafs slowly through. Medgar's voice, however, draws Ser Laurent's attention from the neat hand displayed on the pages. His chair slides back noisily from the table, as though he might stand, though in the end he opts instead to remain seated. "Lady Roxton," he repeats his steward's introduction, his own tone bordering on skepticism. "And I am Ser Laurent Tyrell. Join me for a drink."

Whether he sits or gets up or stands on his hands makes no difference to Lady Roxton of the Ring — she is no more aware of any lack of manners in her host, than of the elegancies lacking in his abode.

She is led by the hand into his presence, by the maid who rode with her in her sedan chair hired for the afternoon, and then helped her out of it and advised in a murmur a slight lifting of skirts in crossing the courtyard. No mud, therefore, adheres to the hem of her light blue gown, which some deft hand many years ago embroidered with her house's interlinked rings about the edges of its bell-shaped sleeves and its square-cut neckline. Brown-black hair not yet touched with grey flows down her back almost to her waist, held back with a golden cord. Simple pearl earrings, a necklace of golden rings, and a signet ring engraved with the Roxton sigil complete her adornments, in their modesty more suited to a maiden of fifteen than a ruling lady in her fourth decade. She is comely enough, strong of jaw and high of cheekbone; her eyes are a grey-blue turned more blue than grey by the clear, bright hue of her gown, and though they affect to follow the sound of Ser Laurent's voice, they don't by any means focus upon his face. They seem to be under the impression that his left knee has spoken, or possibly the cold hearth behind him.

Halted by a pressure of fingertips upon fingertips, some small distance yet from where Ser Laurent sits, the lady gives a slight nod of her head. "Ser Laurent," she answers. "Thank you. I was… pleased to receive word from you."

The high table is upon a slight dais; the lady's handmaiden leads her then nearer, piloting her deftly towards the steps leading up to it: "Two more paces, your ladyship," she murmurs, "then three up…" The lady hesitates, just perceptibly, at the foot of those three steps up, and then takes them at the same slow, steady, determined pace, her maid at her heels, their hands intertwined behind her back. She's holding on more tightly than she seems to be.

"I'll be damned to seven…" Laurent's low swearing fades into a half-growl as he watches Lady Roxton and her maid, his jaw left to hang. At length, he closes it with a click of teeth, his chair sounding against the dais again as he straightens himself in it, pulling the seat toward the table as he does. "Whiskey for you, or wine," he asks, though he does not wait for an answer. "WINE!" This shouted in the direction of the kitchen. He reaches out for his own glass, taking it between his fingertips, though for the moment he does not drink. A movement at the door catches his eye instead, and he dismisses the young Osgrey lord, reproof in his voice. "Go on with you, then. We'll call if you're needed. Don't stand there gawping."

The two women having attained the dais, one of them almost steps back off it again in sheer fright at that sudden bellowing from so close at hand: one foot moves as she flinches, but the thought of not knowing where she'd end up helps her to keep a hold upon herself. (So does the hold she has upon her maid, of course.) "… Wine, thank you, ser," she manages after a moment, her head more or less held high, her sightless eyes staring just past Ser Laurent.

The handmaiden (whose eyes widened at the outburst and then abruptly discovered the floor to be of very great interest) takes the liberty of drawing out a chair and then placing her mistress's hand upon the back of it. Not within arm's reach of Ser Laurent, but not so far away as to suggest alarm at the reach of his arm, either. And Lady Roxton manoeuvres herself into it, feeling first for chair-arms to dodge, then perching herself upon the very edge; and her handmaiden, whose eyes serve for her own, stands behind.

Laurent's heavy brow draws together as he watches Olenna take her seat, his interest keen. The short glass spins in his hand, dragging the tabletop, half-filled with whiskey from the decanter. Finally he blows out a long breath, then starts again with, "You don't seem simple, though I'd heard you were." His beady eyes narrow, glancing to the maid as though she might confirm his observation, then fall back to Lady Roxton. "Blind though, aren't you, and that's a shame. Seven hells, but it might be a kinder thing to be simple, do you reckon?"

A thoughtful frown overtakes his face, features never handsome now taking on a decidedly uglier cast, as he considers this question at length. With his attention diverted toward the glass in his hand, he puts in an anecdote: "I knew a man as went blind, once. A sergeant-at-arms, he was, and a passable one. Clouted on the head, you see?" He shakes his own head at the memory, and intimates sourly, "Hanged himself." He raises the glass slightly, as though to toast the man, but still does not drink.

The maid's lips tighten. Which is some sort of answer, anyway.

And Lady Roxton listens without any change in her own expression — certainly without any flicker of feeling showing in her eyes. She lets silence well and truly fall before she speaks again. "You're quite right, Ser Laurent, I am blind. I know it is said that I am simple as well; I know who has said it, and why," she observes distantly, acknowledging all these unpalatable facts without offering any reaction of her own. "I am come to Oldtown so that it may be seen I am not." A pause. "I am sorry for what befell your sergeant-at-arms. I tried it once," she offers, in a more human tone of voice, unclasping her hands from her lap and turning them over to show old, faded, mismatched scars upon her wrists, which any woman who had bracelets would cover. "I was not very good at dying, though, so I had to make up my mind to live."

Laurent takes all of this in quietly, without even the good grace to appear chagrined. The lout even has the temerity to reach out, when Olenna puts her arms slightly off-center, and adjust them so that he might more closely examine her scars. He remains silent throughout the appearance of a servant, who brings Arbor red, as well as gold, and inquires after the lady's preference. Through all of this he watches in silence, scowling, until goblet is filled, servant is vanished, and wine left behind. Then: "He's an ass anyway, isn't he? The Father's swinging cod, but I took him for one." A snort of rough laughter, and he finally does sip at his drink, loudly. "I expect you're glad of that ineptitude now, hm? Poor at dying." That seems a fine jest to him, and draws another low laugh. "I dare say there have been men as lamented I had no skill for it, either.”

Of course Lady Roxton can't see the touch coming — she trembles once, but holds her arms steady after that, her fingertips digging into her palms. When he lets go of her she draws back and folds her hands again in her lap.

The lady's preference, uttered after a just-perceptible hesitation, is for the red. She murmurs thanks to the servant, sideways, guessing his direction well enough. Her head tilts as she hears a full goblet placed on the table in front of her — it doesn't sound the same as an empty one — and then her right hand lifts to the edge of the table, and her fingertips creep slowly over the surface of it till they find the base of the goblet and climb upward. Slowly, cautiously, without spilling a drop, she brings it to her lips.

Perhaps she drinks a little more than she ought, because what she says next is: "I have never heard anybody call my cousin Petyr an ass." She sounds thoughtful. "I have forgotten what a donkey looks like, but I know the sound of their braying, and… and… I think he can be very like, sometimes. Of course," she adds dutifully, "he does only as he believes is best."

"But not, I think, what is best for you," Laurent finishes. "You're sure you won't have whiskey? It may suit you better." This is put in as an aside, and he presses on with the main point in almost the same breath. "No, if your ass of a cousin, Stranger bugger him into eternity, had half a mind for your welfare then your concerned kin would never have stooped so low as to mention your name to me, would they?" His focus drifts from one of Olenna's eyes to the next, and back again, occasionally leaving her in favor of the maid. Always, though, they return. "I'm no one's first choice when they've a problem, and I know it well enough," he admits, his timbre at first sullen, though it perks slightly at the addition of, "Unless it's a problem as needs solved with a blade, and the Seven know those are plentiful."

Another profanity; Olenna, who grew up not in great halls but in the kitchens behind, among off-duty guardsmen and stablehands as likely as not, is less appalled than she ought to be. She merely moistens her lower lip and ignores it. It's just the way men talk sometimes, isn't it? … She hasn't all that much to compare it with. And this is his house, and not hers.

She sips her wine again and ventures, "I don't know if there is any way to solve my problem. Any honourable way. Perhaps a blade is what it might take, after all… I am not supposed to talk to you like this," she remembers, and the corners of her maid's mouth turn down. "I am supposed to remember my dignity, and hold my head high, and never give too much away, and show everyone in Oldtown that I am a great lady and I ought to have the rights of one. But I'm not very good at any of that either," she smiles faintly, apologetically, "and perhaps this will make me sound simple after all, but I don't know how to solve a problem by pretending that there is not a problem, or that it is anything less than it is."

If Laurent notices her tolerance for his coarse language, he makes no mention of it. She might hear his mouth working as he considers his responses, or their order. He begins a first one: "I'm not the," but trails off into a brief silence. His heavy brow lifting, he begins again, "Have no mind for your…" Dissatisfied with that, too, he takes a second drink. "I'm a man for coming at problems directly," he finally settles on, "Though I'm keenly aware that there are problems as take a different approach. So dignity for the public, and honesty for me, and a blade for them as question you're a great lady. How's that for a start?" The glass lingers for a moment, raised, before he coaches her: "Just raise your damned glass, and I'll find it with mine, like a proper toast."

Olenna's goblet rises in her hand, extended toward the sound of her host's voice — she's used to doing as she's told. And the one touches the other, and they drink. After a moment's silence she asks with that very honesty he requested, though in a tone all uncertainty still, "You will help me, Ser Laurent? I had not thought you would; you have no reason to," she points out.

"Damned if I know how I'll help you, though I've been asked to do," Laurent swears, returning honesty for honesty after they've toasted, "But I won't see you mistreated, Lady Roxton." His broad shoulders rise and fall in a shrug, his glass finding the tabletop again as he once again slouches into his chair. "And I reckon there may be a moment or two of genuine enjoyment, ruining the day of some jumped-up pissant as thinks to laugh at your expense." His chest rises and falls with a sigh, and he poses a question to the lady. "Have you any thoughts on how I might help your cause?"

The goblet still in Olenna's hand finds, with care, the edge of the table, and slides across it to a safe place. She leaves her hand with it, for convenience's sake, and listens impassively. "I don't know how that reason could be enough — but if you say it is, I have no other course but to believe you," she says at last. "I am a beggar, am I not? Certainly not a chooser.

"I don't know, either, how you might help me, now that you've a mind. I have never been put in the way of knowing such things as that," she admits. "We… we hoped only that House Tyrell might have an interest in seeing House Roxton's main line retain the lordship of the Ring, for precedent's sake; that it would not seem so outlandish an idea to your parents, as it did to mine; that such justice might be done more readily… if we approached you quietly. And," her lips curl into a sardonic expression, "that I must come in person, to speak for myself to as many lords of the Reach as will hear me, to show them that I am not… all that my cousin claims me to be."

Laurent looks to Lady Roxton's glass, then to the decanter of wine, before casting an expectant eye toward her maid. He's certainly not going to pour it himself. "A beggar no longer," he declares, almost combative in his delivery. "Where are you staying? I'll make room at the Garden Isle, of course. I've a suite standing empty, there." His fingers drum a slow rhythm on the tabletop, his own glass now ignored as he considers his approach. "We do wish to see your own family retain its place at the head of House Roxton," he finally declares, his own word the final one on the matter, in his mind at least. "So we begin by…" The words fade away into silence, and then a soft growl. "The Smith's sweaty smallclothes, but I've no idea where we begin. Mayhaps with a reception in your honor? Or by presenting you at court? I've no notion of how these things are done."

"Thank you, for…" Olenna hesitates. "Even just for saying it," she decides then. "The Hightowers were good enough to offer me rooms," she answers, toying with the stem of her goblet as her maid tops it up in answer to their host's suggestion; "I have been there for two nights now. It is very kind of you to offer as well — now I don't know who to offend," she concedes apologetically, "or do I mean, who to burden—? It might be best if I kept to their offer and declined yours, Ser Laurent, since I'm already there. And… and as I understand it…" Though she sounds, again, less than certain of what she does understand. "Many nobles who visit Oldtown stay at the Hightower. I might meet people, in the gardens, or the halls… I might meet," she admits reluctantly, "men. I'm," and her lips twist again, "supposed to get married. To find a husband who will safeguard my rights, as quick as I can, before my cousin can stop it. I don't know how I'm to manage that, either."

"The Hightowers are good enough for that, and for little else," Laurent scoffs, his tone genuinely unkind. "Though I'm not one to trust, in that regard — I'm told I err too heavily on the side of offending those spineless wastrels. Still, the gardens at our manse smell the better, and I should think that would be a perk in your condition." Never one to put too fine a point on it, Ser Laurent Tyrell. "Might they offer you a reception as well, or…" His knuckles rap on the table, and he shakes his head heavily. "Or whatever is the most appropriate next step?" The corners of his too-broad mouth draw down into a frown, audible in his voice. "This might prove damnably difficult, Lady Roxton. Once he finds out that you're hunting a husband, do you reckon Lord Petyr — Ser Petyr, is it? Do you reckon he might act against you in some way?"

The truth of that, Lady Roxton concedes with a real smile — which takes years of patience, of frustration, of small daily sufferings off her face.

"It is," she admits, "a… a perk, as you say. But do you really think your m— your family's manse," she corrects herself carefully, her nose having been upon these premises assaulted with the unmistakable fragrances of a) mud and b) soldier, "have more fragrant flowers than those at the Hightower? I was most of the day in their gardens yesterday, till after dark — I haven't much to compare them with," she admits, dimming a trifle, "but what they are, seemed…" She bites her lip; she concludes very softly, "Wonderful, to me. If all this comes to naught, if I have no choice but to go back to what I was, I will still feel, now, as though there was… some point, to coming here. My cousin, Ser Petyr, would certainly try to prevent any marriage I might make," she goes on, turning one subject gracefully to another. "I don't know how; but I think he is a clever man, and his interests and mine…" She gives a slight shake of her head. "They cannot be the same. As far as his people know," and she speaks more swiftly now, in a hurry to get it all out, "I came to Oldtown because the Hightowers have invited me three times and it would be discourteous to refuse any longer, and because I have not been well since my father's death and a change of air might be of benefit to my health. That is the tale my maester has told. We chose a time at which he and his lady were well on their way," she explains, "to King's Landing, when they could not speak against my journey themselves. The… arrangement has always been that I would not marry. If I am the first to break the arrangement… I don't know what he'll do," she reiterates, "but he will not… stand idle, I don't think."

Laurent shifts again in his chair, coming now to lean over the table, elbows supporting his considerable bulk so that his fists can drum with no real beat on the dark wood of the table. "Then I've two things to tell you, from my experience, as are important. First is that at times, the best counter for a clever man is cleverness, but more often bloody-mindedness will serve. I assume you've no love for your cousin, and you'll have to accept that this enterprise of yours may end poorly for him." He begins to raise a hand, as to forestall objection, but in the realization that it will do no good he begins speaking again, quickly. "The second, and more important, is that I have sampled both gardens, and there is no garden to rival my family's anywhere in Oldtown." His voice is low, rough and earnest. "The roses, the walls, the seclusion… The scent is held there in a way that it cannot be at the Hightower, with the wind across the water and the gardens so high and exposed." The feet of his chair scuff on the floor again as he pushes slightly back from the table, but he does not yet stand. "So I'll keep to your story, Lady Roxton, and if you've need of an excuse to visit me or mine you might use my squire, who I believe is some distant cousin to you. But you," he cautions, at least half-serious, "Will defer to me in matters of which garden is the finer, at least until you've experienced both."

Olenna takes her time in digesting all of this, and in sipping her wine. Then she sets down her goblet and this time withdraws her hand, to fiddle with the signet ring on the other, turning it round and round her finger.

"My cousin," she says pensively, "irritates me." Into that one word, 'irritates', she pours a profound and seething scorn. "When he was a little boy he would sneak up to me, unseen," she breathes out a soft huff, "and pull my pigtails and run away. He has only got worse since. For all that, I would rather no harm came to him — still less, though," and her head lifts, and her useless eyes are pointed at Ser Laurent as nearly-directly as she's managed yet, "would I like harm to come to myself. If I am so bad at dying, if I must live, I would rather live pleasantly — and that is not how it will be with my cousin. I have begun to gather, since my father's death, what he has in mind for me. The reins tighten little by little. The doors close. He will make me if he can a simple blind woman living on his charity and under his care and signing what papers are put before her. He will— have his cake and eat it too, Ser Laurent. He will take my home from me, all the while priding himself upon doing what is best for such as me — and earning the praise of the world, for being so solicitous to the poor blind woman who could never have managed to hold such lands on her own. I can't say if he will fail or if he will succeed — but I will not make it easy for him, Ser Laurent. He cannot expect that of me. And if you will join me in making his conquest difficult, then," she lets out a shaky breath, "I will trust you. I must… trust someone here. And,” this she adds in haste, “I will believe what you say of the garden, for I can hear such passion in your voice… You must love it very much.”

"Well," Laurent says, caught off guard at the mention of his zeal for the gardens, suddenly awkward. He leaves it at that for several long seconds, busying himself with refilling a glass that is at present only half-empty. Another loud sip of the whiskey, and he finds his tongue once more. "I'm fond of the gardens, fair to say," he allows sullenly. "And you'll not find your trust misplaced, though you may find me ill-suited to the task before us; I don't mind admitting I'm lost as to our starting point. I should think some sort of formal presentation, but…" Silk and velvet rustle as his broad shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "Mayhaps it would be better to solicit interest more quietly?" Lower, and seething with frustration, he curses foully.

With which words he has at last succeeded in taking Olenna Roxton visibly aback; she shifts slightly in her chair, crossing her ankles the other way and lowering her chin as she reaches again for her glass, to try to cover the uncertain flicker which passes over her face. It's his home.

"… I think I would rather," the lady offers diffidently a moment later, as though she isn't certain it's really her choice, "begin quietly. When many people are gathered together, the confusion of sounds is… difficult," she concedes in a very low voice. Her hand begins again its creep across the table to find the base of her goblet of wine. "Perhaps there is a better way, but neither of us know it." She hesitates. "I am… envious, now, of women whose parents choose husbands for them, when they are young. At least for them it is settled." She finds the goblet and lifts it slowly to her lips.

With which words he has at last succeeded in taking Olenna Roxton visibly aback; she shifts slightly in her chair, crossing her ankles the other way and lowering her chin as she reaches again for her wine, to try to cover the uncertain flicker which passes over her face. It's his home.

"… I think I would rather," the lady offers diffidently a moment later, as though she isn't certain it's really her choice, "begin quietly. When many people are gathered together, the confusion of sounds is… difficult," she concedes in a very low voice. Her hand's careful creep over the table ends with the discovery of her goblet. "Perhaps there is a better way, but… but if neither of us know it…" She hesitates. "I am… envious, now, of women whose parents choose husbands for them, when they are young. At least for them it is settled." And she lifts her wine, slowly; and she drinks without knocking the rim of the goblet against her teeth, which is trickier than a fellow who's never drunk blindfolded for a bet might suppose.

Laurent snorts at Olenna's sudden discomfort, shaking his head. "You ought to have had the whiskey," dark amusement invading his timbre, "Sharing my company can be difficult, I've come to know, and something stronger might fortify you against my unpleasantness." His glass slides on the worn wood of the tabletop again as he pushes it away from himself. "Right, then. We'll search out interest in private, where we can, and if it comes to a public presentation - and it likely will - then we'll see to it that you receive guests privately in a separate room, removed from the mingling and the typical social horseshit." It's a rough plan, but it doesn't lift his mood, the reason being: "Though I've no idea where to begin looking for interest, do I? Young men, well off, but of lower standing? Or older, fighting men? Mayhaps a widower with a son you might make an heir of immediately would be perfect, if such a man existed."

There is a pause. And then Olenna admits honestly, though staring off past Ser Laurent's ear rather than lowering her eyes as would any other maiden lady: "I can't begin to imagine it. Or imagine who would…" She breathes in with those words; she breathes out a defeated sigh. "If— if he is of good character, and he has coin, the rest doesn't matter. I know I cannot afford to be too particular. I am not young; I am not rich; I am not beautiful — I have something else, which I believe may help." She hesitates again. "Orphan-Maker. My Valyrian steel sword. My cousin carries it now," and her expression darkens as she invokes once again the shade of Ser Petyr Roxton, "but it isn't his. It belongs to me," she points out with a hint of resentment. "That is something men… value, is it not? … I have never had whiskey," she admits. "Your company, Ser Laurent, is— unusual for me, but I will try not to mind… anything," she concludes, in an effort at diplomacy.

"Don't say 'unusual' when you mean 'difficult', Lady Roxton," Laurent admonishes in a voice that is rough, but not unkind. "You're a great lady; make your thoughts known." His wry grin at the sound of himself giving advice on how to be a lady is so pronounced that it must be audible. "As for the rest… You're comely enough; the Maiden's flushed breast, but I'd climb atop you, wouldn't I?" Here again he looks to the maid, his heavy brow lifted, as though expecting to see agreement there. "And your Orphan-Maker does have a draw, for the right sort of man, doesn't it? Though I should think that man might need to take it from Lord Petyr's lifeless hand, which will lessen the appeal if that lying shit is any kind of a swordsman. Is he? I've not heard of him."

Far from nodding her agreement with Ser Laurent's estimation of Lady Roxton's charms, the maid gives him the horrified glance of a good, honest country girl who suddenly sees herself as the sole bulwark between her blind mistress and some appalling ravishment… Her mistress on the other hand turns pale, and puts down her wine, which does seem after all inadequate to the situation. "He… he thinks he is a fine swordsman," and she moistens her lower lip, which feels all of a sudden very dry, "but my f— my master-at-arms does not agree, I think. He doesn't say so, but his voice… I don't know," she explains awkwardly, "because that is something I cannot compare without seeing, but I would be… surprised, if he were gifted in that regard."

Laurent barks a laugh at the sudden discomfort opposite him at the table, a short-lived and unpleasant sound. "Whiskey, after all," he asks, his nod toward the open decanter for the maid's benefit. "If it comes to it, then, it might be as we can provoke him into some insult, and I'll kill the bastard myself. That would see it neatly done, wouldn't it?" Though his tone sours as another question presents itself: "Does he have sons?" There's a thought that requires another sip of his whiskey, the tail end of which he wipes away from his lower lip with the back of his free hand.

"You had another word on your lips," comes with a hint of accusation. "You said 'master-at-arms,' but it wasn't your first choice, was it?"

The maid looks from Ser Laurent to the decanter to Ser Laurent; and then down at Olenna's neatly braided dark hair. "… My lady?" she murmurs doubtfully.

Olenna hesitates, as is her habit. "… Go on," she says at last. And then, when she doesn't hear her protective shadow moving to pour anything, she lets out a frustrated little sigh and a revelation which has much to say of her character. "You— you know I don't even like wine." And the girl (her name is Sallei) edges away around the table to collect a clean cup from the sideboard beyond it, and obeys. Olenna meanwhile is nibbling her lower lip and explaining, "My father's master-at-arms. Ser Petyr has replaced him with one of his own men, because he is— older, now. I think he too, like the sword, is not Ser Petyr's but… mine." She swallows and says no more, once again holding something back behind an expression made newly impassive again.

"If he's been put out to pasture," Laurent muses, "Might it be that we could call him to your side? Though if your arseling of a cousin is no stand out with a sword, then I don't suppose it would be worth tipping our hand. If it comes to it, I should think I'd be sufficient to the task." The Thorn, slouching again in his seat now, chews at his lip as he thinks. "No, our challenge is how to do it without killing your cousin, isn't it? I should think, and you'll forgive my saying so," this delivered as an instruction rather than an invitation, "That given your blindness, and the rumors, you might want to receive potential suitors where you might control the battlefield, so to speak, rather than stumble upon them in the halls and gardens. No?"

The maid Sallei removes Olenna's half-full cup of wine and sets down the whiskey she has just poured exactly in its place, to make it that much easier to find; she is standing to a feminine sort of attention just behind her lady, by the time that Olenna speaks. "… You're right," she admits. "That is what I would prefer. Not about my cousin — I have seldom come upon any historical case in which a supplanted heir of his nature was content always to leave the matter at that — but… to receive people in a place already familiar to me, where I am less likely to trip over my own feet," she explains bitterly. "But I don't know how to— to make them come to me. There is something vulgar, I think, as well as all too obvious, dangerously so, in… letting it be too widely known, that I seek a husband," she goes on in a rush. "Don't people always value more what they seek out on their own, rather than… what is offered too cheaply?" She has meanwhile picked up the cup of whiskey and is sniffing it with cautious interest.

Laurent watches as Olenna sniffs at the glass, something that might be amusement in his dark, beady eyes. "Mayhaps you're right," he allows once she's finished, "But we're looking for a man as will value the title and what comes with it. It seems to me that this might have more in common with bartering than with love tales, don't you reckon?" It's an honest enough question, on his part; Ser Laurent isn't at all sure what this will be like.

And so, it seems, the time has come for list-making, at least in Laurent's mind. "So we'll need a man as has no title of his own. Someone as will treat you kindly enough. A man who might be drawn to Valyrian steel. Someone who can put an heir in you, or look the other way as another man does. We can't have a pauper, or a craven, nor I think any man so godly as he might balk at your marriage leading directly to Lord Petyr's death. I don't suppose you'll mind if he isn't handsome, and by the Father's swinging cod that makes it easier." At the last, he laughs uproariously, if briefly. The coarse sound echoes in the empty room, and leaves him shaking his head.

The lady's first tentative sip of whiskey — sip, not gulp, for she knows very well it is said to be strong — leaves her thoughtful. She holds it in her mouth for a long moment, swallows, and sips again more generously.

… Then of course on a proper mouthful, taken too quickly, she coughs. Her maid turns solicitous, hands instinctively reaching out to her. Her own hand she presses to her bosom as she clears her throat, but she makes no complaint of this fragrant fiery drink nobody has ever before offered her.

"That… that sounds right," she agrees. "I wouldn't know a handsome man if— if he kissed me," and she sighs the truth of that. Not a languishing sigh, or even a wistful one. She sounds, if anything, a wee bit vexed. Cheated. "The rest is right," she says again. "It will be barter. But my position is stronger if I am… careful, in beginning such a negotiation, do you not think? … If you know of the right man, or a man who seems as though he might be right, we might approach him, yes — but I think it is better for me otherwise if— they think of it on their own. Intelligent men, men of the right ambition, could think of it on their own," and she makes of this a searching question, her useless eyes gazing almost straight at Ser Laurent, "could they not? If they know I am in the city, if they become acquainted with my circumstances, if they see I am not too ugly and have a title to give. They are… useless to me, if they need too much leading and nudging, if they don't want to scheme and to fight for their gain and mine as well."

Laurent's laughter, recently faded, returns in a short burst at Olenna's cough. This, though, is somehow commiserative. "You'll develop a taste for it," he suggests, with no real force behind the words, and then back to business. "Right, and mayhaps you have a point, but how then to let it be known that you are in Oldtown, and available for the winning? Might you make some small complaint at court? Speak against some neighbor who has wronged you in the past, or even raise an imagined slight, if none spring to mind? You'd be speaking among the more ambitious folk on offer, and have their undivided attention, if briefly."

The only trouble with Olenna's taste for whiskey was that it developed faster than her throat was ready to follow along. "I like it," she admits softly, a lift of the cup in her hand indicating what she means. She sips again with a more becoming caution. "I think that is your best idea yet, Ser Laurent. Those are the very men I should wish to speak to — or at the least, the relations of such men… But would that not necessitate… traveling to Highgarden, to speak before Lord Tyrell?" she asks, a bit doubtful all of a sudden. "I know you must think I ought to have done so last year — straight away, when my father died — the truth is that I was badly upset, though not for the reasons they said, and everyone,” she breathes out a tiny huff of cynical laughter, “conspired to see that I should not be upset further… In short, Ser Petyr went to Highgarden and back again before anyone told me he had left, or that I ought to have gone instead. And then… it was done with, and I thought, what would be the use of…” Her shoulders lift and fall in resignation.

"It doesn't matter what you ought to have done," Laurent says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "We'll start fresh from here. If that were a mistake, Lady, we may find it one that my endorsement can smooth over. And if not," his knuckles now rap the table, "Then we've lost nothing, have we? It may be as you'll find it advantageous, in time, to stand before Lord Tyrell and swear yourself formally to him, rather than letting the proxy stand. But for now, I think we might make do with an appearance at Hightower court, hm?" He leaves the thought out in the air for a moment, thick fingers toying with his glass as he watches Olenna, then adds, "A carefully planned one."

The waft of air displaced by the Tyrell's hand is sufficient that a ghost of it reaches Olenna, who pictures the gesture and almost smiles. Just to be forgiven that misstep, that cowardice… It helps. "… I am not certain what I could bring before Lord Hightower— to Lord Ormund, I should say?" inquires Olenna tentatively, for in her couple of days beneath their high roof she has managed almost to get the Hightowers straight; "unless it be a complaint of one of House Hightower's vassals. The Costaynes, the Cuys, the Beesburys, the Bulwers, and the Mullendores…" A list uttered slowly not because she has any doubt of their names — but because somewhere behind those blue-grey eyes, somewhere unseen and unglimpsed even by those nearest her, she is turning over what she knows of them. "Not perhaps the Beesburys," she concludes, "unless Lord Beesbury is much less in the Hightower's good graces than I suppose. You live in Oldtown, Ser Laurent: do you know which house the Hightowers might most wish to find against? If it is not a true complaint, any will do for me," she admits without a shade of compunction; "but then, my complaint will be unlikely to succeed on its merits alone, without such bias…"

"Lord Ormund," Laurent agrees in a sub-conversational growl, and, "Not the Beesburys." But to the meat of the matter, "I haven't the vaguest notion," he admits. "I've only recently returned to Oldtown myself, and more's the pity. But Medgar, Crone love the limping ingrate, will have some thought on the matter. Once I move him beyond his objections, he will provide something to which we might reasonably object. You'll swear your complaint, and if any dare call you a liar I'll speak for you, and if need be stand for you." He says it slowly, imagining it unfolding even as he makes the plan. "That should make a splash, shouldn't it? And even if I should die in the endeavor," he suggests in a tone uncharacteristically bright, "It will have served your purpose." Then, with confidence, "But I won't. Nothing will truly come of it, I think; Medgar is a clever shit."

Across the table from him Lady Roxton nods her slow acceptance of the final version of their scheme, from the roping-in of a third party in the form of Medgar Osgrey, to the risk this new friend proposes to take on her behalf if matters should come to a head. The prospect of his death in a duel shakes her no more than the suggestion that her cousin might meet such a fate before they're done: her gaze which isn't a gaze remains steady, and her hesitations grow no more frequent. "Then that is how it shall be. And I hope what you say is true," she murmurs, "and you yourself need not… suffer, for aiding me. And if he… if Lord Medgar should object…" A pause. "Ser Laurent, I hope you will not think the less of me for speaking as I do now," she offers tentatively. "You did say you wished me to speak honestly with you. I will say now what I think is the most honest thing of all, and which perhaps might… sway your steward, if he is uncertain of the morality of what we ask."

Another pause; another lift of her cup; another sip of the whiskey she has begun to find so congenial, so supportive, so tongue-loosening. "I am poor in coin," she says flatly. "I have few friends and I know little of the world, which is already disposed to believe ill of me — as you did yourself — because of the falsehoods told to my discredit. I am a woman, without father or brother or husband. And I am blind. I am obliged to depend upon others more than you can know — I cannot so much as write a letter in my own hand! — and if Sallei were to take against me—" On which note the maid's mouth opens upon a protest which Olenna hushes by lifting a hand, reaching back to find Sallei's own, and squeezing it for a moment. More the reassurance a lady offers to a friend or a sister, than a servant. "She might make a laughingstock of me in an afternoon," she explains frankly, "by dressing me in colours which don't match and spoiling my hair, and leaving me to trip over my own feet in these places I don't know and cannot see.

"If I thought I could succeed by keeping to the same kind of honour the gods demand of an able-bodied lord with eyes in his head and a sword in his hand, I would do so. It would be my greatest wish," and she sounds sincere. "But I have against me already at least one such lord, who does not hold such honour in his heart — whilst I myself begin with such disadvantages that… that I know I can only win, if I… cheat," she apologises. "I am in the right, Ser Laurent. I seek no more than my right. The Ring is my home and I love it dearly; to me it is not only… a fine day's hunting, and a title to swagger about with in King's Landing. It is mine. I do not think it wrong to do what I must to secure it." She licks her lips. "Terrifying," she admits in a smaller voice, "but not… wrong."

Laurent watches Olenna as she speaks, his heavy brow casting beady eyes in shadow, staring over the rim of a glass which he now holds poised on the point of drinking. A sneer curls his lips when Sallei starts, aghast, but that is his only visible reaction throughout the short speech. When the lady falls silent, the glass finds its place on the tabletop again, and that recently freed hand combs through his hair, leaving it standing unruly. "Well said, Lady Roxton," is delivered almost grudgingly. "Honor and rules are beautiful things on the tourney ground, but they have no place in a shield wall or a cavalry charge, and I think that's where we find ourselves now, isn't it?" He sucks at his lower lip again, and then says decisively, "No, Lord Medgar won't object. He'll bend to our cause, always has, and our cause is your resuming your rightful place by any means necessary."

The Thorn sucks in a sharp breath, blowing it out as he slouches further, sprawled now to occupy even more space than his overlarge frame ought. For a flash, his nose wrinkles as though at something distasteful in the air, but he sets his jaw and repays Lady Roxton's honesty. "I expect that you've heard, or will hear, unsavory tales of me as well. That I'm a villain, or a liar, a philanderer, a murderer. The Crone's poxy nethers, but some of them are true," he admits nonchalantly, the rise and fall of his shoulders audible as a catch in his voice. "It could be as I'm all of those, but what I am most certainly of all is effective. When I set myself to a task, I bend my entire self to it, and no mistake. I can't swear to a result, Lady Roxton," he admits with the spreading of an unseemly, feral grin, "But I can swear that your whoreson cousin won't enjoy being put against the pair of us."

Throughout their conversation, even when speaking with what passion a lady of her timorous nature can muster, Lady Roxton has sat straight in her chair, with the posture if not the power of the head of an ancient house — and yet with her knees together, her feet together, her hands almost invariably clasped still in her lap save for when uncertainty or thirst prompt her to reach for her cup. She has the air of trying not to take up by mistake too much of the very room into which Ser Laurent so casually expands himself — as men are wont to do, men of his sort in particular. An apt illustration of a lady's place in the world versus a lord's, if only she could see it.

"I heard… well, the little I heard, seemed beyond what could be true," she ventures after a moment, "but now I think it might be. But what I know, Ser Laurent, is that you are the only one who has made me feel that I am not upon a fool's errand, that I might after all… have a hope of claiming and keeping what is mine. I'm sure I shall make a poor ally in even my own fight… I am often frightened," she explains (after another sip of whiskey), "and the sum of my knowledge of these affairs might be said to amount to a keen certainty of my own ignorance. But I have no choice — no choice that truly is a choice — and my maester tells me that is the time at which a man, or a woman, is often most capable. I doubted even whether I could… come so far, or find any allies at all. If I have done that, perhaps I shall be able to do what comes next. If you… if you will be effective, as you say, on my behalf, I will forget whatever else people may tell me of you, Ser Laurent, because it shall not matter. Not to me. You have… my deepest thanks, for whatever that is worth to you. And I… I promise to you," this with a growing unevenness in her breath, "that if, in time, you were to speak well of me to Lord Tyrell, I shall do all in my own small power to see that you are not made a liar."

"Save your gratitude." His tone surprisingly rough, given Olenna's heartfelt emotion, Laurent's voice vanishes for the span of a long drink of his whiskey. The next few words are rendered uneven by the wiping of his cuff against his mouth. "You've come far, and found an ally, but that may mean that we're simply on a fool's errand together. We've a plan now, but we're yet to test ourselves in the field, so to speak."

"Next we'll want to see you into something presentable, I should think. You're comely enough, but by the Maiden's swelling bosom, I've had kitchen help as was better dressed. I'll see someone 'round to you, if your girl will tell Lord Medgar where they might find you, and outfit you proper for our day at the Hightower. I'll not stand for you in that dress." It's all very matter-of-fact, his baritone voice rough, but not meant to offend. If there is cruelty in the words, it is born of callousness rather than a delight in spreading misery. "And we may soon wish to see into your service someone as knows names and faces here, and can give you an honest opinion of your interactions, after the fact. Apprise you of any nuances as you might have missed."

Olenna receives this sartorial judgment in a long silence, though without any perceptible surprise. Her empty hand strokes once over her skirts, slowly, considering the texture of the blue silk… to her, it's all the same; and it certainly feels fine enough. "Is it that bad?" she asks quietly. "… It must be, if you say so. We weren't sure what was being worn in Oldtown, and this seemed the best of the dresses my mother left… Ser Laurent," and her lips twist unhappily with this admission, "I have not the coin for new gowns, or new servants. Ser Petyr is the only Roxton with coin. I am well enough provided for at home, but I am here upon… very little. It will not last long if I spend it so, and I do not know yet how long it must last."

Laurent snorts, looking briefly to Sallei, but when it becomes apparent that Olenna means that earnestly he gathers himself to lean onto the table once again. "Lady Roxton, I am a Tyrell Lord. When I say I'll send someone 'round, you don't question it. Just expect that the expense shall be seen to as well," he advises her, "And it shall. A fine dress is a small enough expense; mayhaps you'll need more than one? I'll send someone as knows these things, or I hope I will. And by way of someone to observe your interactions… I've been thinking of engaging a maester, if that's not a bridge I've burned. I'd offer young Willem, of course, but if we're being honest he's not suited to it. Nor is he suited to much, is he? Damned if the lad has any great use that I've found."

Sallei avoids his glance an instant too late to hide her blush. Dreadful dresses are her fault — unknowing though she was, these few days in Oldtown have given her an uneasy feeling — and she can't take it all as much in her stride as does Olenna, for whom feminine fripperies symbolise only a series of nasty, expensive traps. Paler now, but with her composure intact, the lady… nods, unwillingly. "It is… perhaps a foolish point for me to be proud upon. I shall try not to be. Of course I don't know what I ought to wear, and I will be grateful for guidance, and for… your generosity." She bows her head slightly, and draws a breath and lets it out before venturing to go on.

"I have a maester," she mentions. "Maester Andros, without whose care and counsel I shouldn't be here today. But he remains at the Ring, for that is his post — and there, he believes he can… keep an eye, for me, upon what Ser Petyr's people may do. Better than anyone else could." She nibbles her lower lip. "It is safe for me to send word to him by raven, because of course all the ravens go to him first. If I were to have another maester, in Oldtown — if that is your wish, Ser Laurent… I should wish to consult Maester Andros, to see if he might know of a sympathetic ear at the Citadel. It would not… seem odd, I think, to Ser Petyr, if he heard I was attended by a maester, considering what he has been told of my health… and my eyes, of course."

"That's settled, then. You'll find someone through your Maester Andros, and I'll engage his services." That much is delivered as though it were already done, so when he is forced to backpedal a bit he is clearly vexed by the necessity. "If I've difficulty in arranging for a maester, we'll find someone else suitable, and Maester Luckin be damned — I should've fed that doddering codger his teeth and been done with the ordeal." The memory sees his scowl deepen, and engenders a deeper drink from the glass still at hand. "Don't concern yourself overmuch with my wish," he growls through the whiskey's aftertaste, "The Mother's pendulous teats, but you're in this as well. Would you not have a maester, or someone as has two good eyes and can be counted on to employ them to serve your interests?"

A pause. "… I would," Olenna breathes out, nodding her agreement though not her delight, "if he were chosen by Maester Andros and his friends, if I could be for that reason more certain of him. But it is by your wish that I shall have these things, and so I cannot but be concerned with it."

Folding his hands together, Laurent considers Olenna's face above his knuckles. "And what," he wonders aloud, "Might you have, if you could have it by your own influence alone? Is there aught as might be of use, and I've not considered?" That he then asks, "More whiskey?" is no more than unfortunate timing, not a guess at what she might wish. Though the Tyrell knight himself has partaken slowly, he is not a man to watch a glass dwindle, not in his own home.

The little Sallei poured for her, Olenna is but halfway through — enough to warm, and more than warm, but not quite to befuddle. She answers his second question first, with only a tiny shake of her head to indicate that what she has is sufficient unto the hour; she sips again, and puts it down, and folds her hands in their customary place whilst she considers his first.

"You have offered me already more than I thought possible," she begins, "and your ideas… are better than any I had. I understand that women are judged upon their garments, and if mine disgrace me then, yes, they ought to be replaced. A maester I could trust would offer invaluable counsel. And to appear before the public eye for the first time not merely— at a party, but being seen to act on behalf of my lands and my people… that, in a suitable gown, would surely create the best impression of all. I don't know what more I might ask of you, when you propose already to give so much. But if that is as honest a question, Ser Laurent, as the rest of our speech has been honest — I will beg leave of you to speak later, if I should think of something…?"

"You have that." Laurent's response is immediate and gruff, edging again toward dismissive of the request. "We'll need to speak over and again, I'd think, and I'll ensure that Medgar knows that he is at your service as well. It won't inconvenience him," the Thorn interjects ahead of any objection, "And he's a clever, though he'll seem addled at first; being spoken to by a woman so finely made has ever put him out of sorts. A virgin, I think, still," he intimates, bemused by the thought, "though here we sit not so far from the Bawdy Bard, and him with silver enough to spare." A pause as his mind no doubt wanders through the subject of the young Osgrey Lord's experience, and then clarity suddenly returns. "So we've a plan, then? And our next step will soon become clear?"

Olenna's smooth pale brow furrows slightly at Medgar Osgrey's romantic arrangements or lack thereof — though whatever thoughts may be running through her mind beneath, they are assuredly unlike Ser Laurent's… "We have— a plan," she agrees, sounding even now a mite uncertain of what she has or has not, "and I hope you when you convey it to Lord Medgar, you will convey also my deepest gratitude for his forming a part of it. I… ought to leave you now, and see about writing to Maester Andros. Time is not abundant, is it? … Ser Laurent, thank you," and she says this again rising from her chair, though moving not a foot without guidance, flushed as she is with whiskey and with an imperfect memory of where to find those three steps up.

Laurent's chair, too, skids backward from the table as he stands. "I don't know as we're pressed to begin," he returns, "But once we're on the path it's best we move quickly, I reckon. So I'm for bed," though he takes up the decanter as he steps away from the table, rather than the ledger, "And you're to letter-writing, and we'll speak again soon." His bootfalls are heavy as he steps down from the dais, and toward the door. As an afterthought, he adds, "And I'll make a suite ready for you on the Isle; you'll thank me for it, I think, if you chance to explore the Manse."

Behind him Sallei leads Olenna, murmuring a warning about their steps, and their number in case it has slipped her lady's mind, confirming in her next breath that they're on the flat again. Olenna's whole life is lived to an accompaniment of such diffident little whispers. Her own voice rises above them, just barely, echoing back to her from her host’s empty hall: "But I have already begun, Ser Laurent, and my time is already counting down."

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