(123-07-06) Sex, Lies, and Embroidered Slippers
Sex, Lies, and Embroidered Slippers
Summary: Princess Joyeuse Florent Martell (yes, it's a mouthful) takes her leave of Starfall — and of Lady Vynesa Manwoody…
Date: Whenever we played it.
Related: Motherly Advice, Wedding Bells.

Evening approaches. From the ramparts of Starfall the sun is still visible on the horizon, and in the lotus garden a lady garbed otherwise in flaming red sandsilk wears still a delicate veil of golden Myrish lace to shield her northern complexion from the last of its rays. These Martell colours suit the lady Joyeuse, who has lately been joined in marriage with a prince of that house, and who is taking her leave tonight of all her favourite places in the Daynes’ white marble keep before taking her new husband home and showing him off.

The lotus garden… ah, the lotus garden! Scene of at least three moonlight trysts, two with Prince Auberyn and one in the company of… well, let’s not repeat irresponsible gossip. The lotuses themselves, so sensual and exotic. The splash of the waterfall, keeping one’s private conversations from being overheard. The bathing pools beyond… It’s that way her dainty little steps are drifting, when she catches sight of— “Lady Vynesa! Why, I didn’t see you there.” She never does see people there, until she sees them. Well-known habit.

It is of course completely coincidental that Vynesa happened to be here this evening. It’s not that she saw a flash of colourful red and gold drift past her and suddenly felt an urge to be in the lotus garden. She was going to be here anyway. To… look at flowers. In the dark. Sadly Vynesa’s stealth leaves something to be desired (probably the white dress), and no sooner has she found an ‘out of the way spot’, than she’s been spotted. “Oh! Lady Ha— Princess!” comes the response, along with a radiant smile. Joyeuse remembered her name! This is the best day ever! “You look wonderful!”

Starfall has seen little enough of the newlyweds; still, during her few public appearances of recent days Princess Joyeuse has set a new standard for luminous, sensual contentment. Marriage has done wonders for her complexion, and gone some way towards smoothing away the lines about her eyes. She’s happy, that’s what it is, and it’s taken years off her. Being told over and over how wonderful she looks — well, that’s only an echo of how she feels, isn’t it? And she accepts the truth of it with a laugh and a nod, and a satisfied little smirk.

“Oh, it feels so peculiar being called ‘princess’,” she protests lightly, “only because I married a prince at this late date. And I’m certainly not a Hastwyck anymore, am I?” A prospect which patently appeals. “You ought to call me ‘Lady Joy’; everyone else does,” she decides.

“Lady Joy,” Vynesa tries out for size, rising to her feet and smoothing down the crinkles of her frock. “Oh, you look so happy! I’m so pleased for you!” And then she’s basically on Joyeuse’s heels, like some sort of puppy with abandonment issues.

“I am happy,” the princess sighs dreamily. “You know, I’ve been married three times,” she confides to Lady Vynesa, who may well not have known, “and I don’t say I was unhappy the first time or the second — I do think a marriage is what one makes of it,” she opines with a flicker of unaccustomed seriousness, “but now… oh, with Prince Auberyn I think I must be…” She closes her eyes and sighs, “The happiest woman in all the Seven Kingdoms.” Her eyes pop open again and she giggles, and begins to drift toward a lotus flower which in that moment strikes her as particularly attractive.” When people wish me well,” she confides over her shoulder to the girl at her heels, “all I can think is that I’m already as well as I could ever possibly be!”

“I admire that about you,” Vynesa admits, darting forward to see if she can’t obtain the lotus in question for her idol and present it to her. “You.. well, you say a marriage is what you make of it. And if it weren’t, you’d do something about it! If you weren’t happy, wouldn’t you do something to make sure you were?”

“Well, of course,” remarks the princess mildly, fondling a lotus petal. “I suppose that’s what I did do, the first time — I didn’t always love Dorne,” she laughs, withdrawing her hand and adjusting her veil before it can slither away; “it took me a while to find my way… Why do you ask, sweetling; have your parents someone in mind for you? … Oh, don’t pluck it!” she gasps in sudden alarm. “Oh, don’t. It looks so much prettier just where it is. And we’d never be able to look the Daynes in the eye again, would we? They’re so proud of their lotuses…”

Vynesa shrinks back as she’s reprimanded, eyes widening. “Oh, I thought… I.. I’m sorry…” You can tell she’s sorry, she tugs at her own hands. “So when you… didn’t love Dorne? What did you do? To make things better?”

The question distracts Princess Joy from the flower, and she turns to face her young inquisitor, sandsilks rippling over her opulent figure and expensive scent wafting about her. “Well,” she says slowly, “the first thing I did was have a baby. A little girl…” Her eyes soften. “P’raps you’ve seen her about Starfall lately — Lady Vanora Toland,” she explains, naming a tall and fearsome salty Dornishwoman likelier to be found in the training yard than the gardens. “When I had a Dornish child, Dorne began at last to be my home… I had no one to love here, before her. After that… I went to Sunspear, and I found my own friends and my own amusements; and my new kin respected me the more, I think, for doing as I pleased rather than just sitting at Sandstone weeping… A happy woman is easier for people to get on with, than a sad one.”

“But your husband.. The one you had then?” Vynesa presses, chewing nervously on her lip. “Were you happy with him? To have a baby with him? I just… I don’t know…” Yes. She’s so decisive.

“Well, I wasn’t really with him,” laughs the much-married Joyeuse, because she can laugh about it now; “the question more to the point was whether he was happy to have a baby with me…” Her gaze, grown briefly distant, returns to Lady Vynesa’s face. “But why do you want to hear all this old gossip? Have you heard people talking of me lately, now that I’ve married His Highness,” she guesses, “and you’d rather have the truth from me than the gossip from them…?”

Vynesa shakes her head hurriedly, knocking free a couple of coppery curls (more curled than usual, one has to wonder how long that took). “Oh, no, no! I didn’t… I haven’t been gossiping! I wouldn’t!” She doesn’t quite know what to do with her hands, settling after pulling at her frock and rubbing at her own knuckles on folding them behind her back and leaning forward a little. “I just thought… well… you know so much. About how to be happy. I haven’t been married very long, but… well… I don’t know. I thought… you might be able to offer advice..?”

Princess Joy blinks thrice with astonished eyes. “You’re married—?” she exclaims. “Why, you never said! That isn’t at all usual for ladies-in-waiting, is it? Could Princess Visenya not do without you? What does he think of the arrangement?” she inquires shrewdly, planting herself upon a bench upheld by copper mermaids and patting the empty place next to her. “And who is the lucky fellow, sweetling? Have I met him here all unknowing?”

Vynesa is torn. On the one hand there’s the option to just run away and never speak of it again. On the other hand she’s just been invited to sit down beside her hero! Like they’re friends! This could be the highlight of her entire life! There’s a moment of hesitation, then a hurried and decided flump down into the spot indicated, face turned up to view her idol. “You have to say you won’t tell anyone,” she pleads at first, hand on Joy’s arm. “There’s already trouble. He’s…” At a loss for a valid description, she falls back on facts. “He’s Ser Hathor. I don’t really know what he thinks, but Prince Torren won’t let him do anything to… well.. If he wants to complain, Prince Torren will deal with the complaints for me.”

“… I won't tell,” her friend (yes, friend) promises in the mild, bemused voice of one who doesn't quite follow the need for secrecy, but who is perfectly prepared to play along to see what happens. And then her smile dims with each word spoken by her young friend (for that's what she'd say they were, casually granting what means so much less to her), and she arrives at length in a rare silent sobriety. “I don't know a Ser Hathor; unless you mean…” Her eyes narrow. A flash of understanding passes between them. “But he might almost be your grandfather!” she exclaims, as though this manifest unsuitability were a personal insult to her. “He was beastly to his first wife, I remember that quite well — d’you mean they've really let him have another—?!” And her tone rises into indignation.

“Shh!” Vynesa urges, glancing around worriedly. “Please! I don't want everyone to stare. He's not here, but… Well, I am still married to him. What would you do?”

“Well, there's nobody here but us, is there?” exclaims Princess Joy in the same reckless tone. She glances distractedly about the lotus garden, catches the eye of an acquaintance patently awaiting an assignation of his own, and gives him a friendly wave. “… Oh, all right,” she says then to Lady Vynesa, conceding the point. She goes on rather more moderately. “What would I do?” she repeats. “Well…” And she sighs, and gives a little shake of her head. “If you're quite sure there's no hope of mending matters — and I suppose you must be, and so must Prince Torren be, and if it's Ser Hathor I do believe you; there were such stories! — well, if I were you I should petition the Sept for an annulment,” she admits. “Or have him petition. I'm sure something could be arranged. If he isn't in love with you I'm sure he'd prefer gold, wouldn't he? It's only a question of how much gold he would prefer. Surely Prince Torren and Princess Visenya would… use their influence for you. I wonder they haven't already suggested it.”

“An annulment?” Vynesa queries, voice barely more than a whisper. “Won’t people think… well… they’ll think all sorts of things. Lady Joy, I don’t know what I should do,” she admits miserably, hand flopping down into her dress. “I just want him to go away quietly, without any fuss.”

“Thinking things? What things? … I think some people,” her idol judges sagaciously, “must already be thinking things… Ser Hathor does have a reputation, you know, and here you are living apart from him, for all to see. And people do like to think things,” she sighs, “and to say things, often quite unjustly. Sometimes one really must just do what’s right and not worry about what the world may say… They do move on, you know, in time, to other tales. Why, sometimes they tire even of talking of me,” she admits, “and the Seven only know I’ve given them reason to talk, once or twice… Wouldn’t you like to be quite free of him?” she inquires softly, reaching out a soft beringed hand to take charge of her companion’s. “And never have to see him or think of him again? Or… is there something more to it, that I don’t understand?”

“More than anything,” Vynesa confesses, hands trembling beneath Joy’s. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. “Do you think gold would be enough? He’s… not rational.”

The princess gives the young lady-in-waiting’s hand a good, firm, reassuring squeeze. “Well, I don’t know,” she says promptly. “He might not want gold. He might want something else. Or there might be something he fears sufficiently that he’d let you go to keep it from coming about… What I don’t think is likely, sweetling, if he isn’t being— rational,” she gives it the lady’s own word, after an instant’s hesitation, “is that a man like that will be obedient and good and leave you alone forever when he doesn’t have the wife he was promised, or anything to compensate him for the loss of her, or the freedom to seek another wife. Seven help her if he did,” she comments, “but hope springs eternal, doesn’t it…? If I know anything about getting what one wants from a man,” and she sighs, “it’s that one must pretend to give him what he wants in return… Or persuade him that he wants what one happens to want to give.”

Vynesa shivers again, whether at the cold, the thought, or the fact that Joy has her hand. Who knows. “I think he wants a wife who’ll do what he wants,” she admits. “I don’t think I can go back. I can’t. I’m not strong enough, but I can’t just hide here forever.”

Those few hesitant and pitiful words fill in the picture of the girl’s married life; it’s no longer rough charcoal outlines to Princess Joyeuse, but fully coloured. “You can’t and you mustn’t; I quite agree,” she says firmly. “You ought to have an annulment, sweetling, and then no matter what happens nobody at all can say it’s your duty… They might say so in the north, but not in Dorne. Now… let me think,” she sighs. “There aren’t very many grounds for an annulment, are there? If the wife commits adultery, of course… have you?” She blinks inquiringly.

The young woman’s face is a picture of shocked embarrassment, mouth forming a perfect O, flanked by rapidly reddening cheeks. “Have I… no! No, I… No, I wouldn’t!” she insists in a low hiss, glancing around in case anyone sees her. “I mustn’t!”

“Whyever not?” asks the princess, quite reasonably in her own view. “… Well, if you don’t care to, sweetling, that’s your own business. But it would be a reason.”

Her eyes widen, teeth nibbling at her lip. “But it would be wrong,” she insists, then hesitates, considering. After all, this is Joyeuse, her BEST FRIEND EVER. Surely Joyeuse would never steer Vynesa wrong. “Wouldn’t it?”

“Not in every case,” her idol, preceptress, and guiding light explains, favouring her with a naughty little smirk. “… The other reasons are — let me think — barrenness, of course — you haven’t any children, have you? No? Good… Or if either of you wished to join some chaste order — if you wanted to be a septa or he decided to take the black or something like that.” She lets go of Lady Vynesa’s hand and waves her own vaguely. “Or if you’re too closely related to one another — have you any Uller blood? — or if you became a whore,” she explains. “Of course the reason you choose needn’t be true, it need only be believed. A nice little fiction everybody can agree with for the sake of freeing you from him, you see?”

Vynesa chews on her lip some more, hanging on every word as it tumbles from Joyeuse’s lips as though she were a very font of wisdom.. “I could ask the princess… the other princess,” she corrects herself, offering Joyeuse a small, secretive smile, because the fact that Joy is recently married to a prince is such a secret. “I will. I’ll put forward your ideas, and we can work out what’s best. I don’t really want to join the sept, but… well… I could. Or we could pretend..?” Yes. That’s the one she picks as the best of a bad lot. She has clearly not yet picked up all of Joyeuse’s bad habits.

“Oh, goodness,” sighs this princess, “that sounds like the hardest one to play at… You might even have to go and live in a motherhouse for a while,” she shudders daintily, “and pretend to be a novice. I might try barrenness, if I were you… or else a claim that the marriage was never properly consummated, but that would amount to saying it was his fault and not yours, and I can’t imagine a man not balking at that no matter what inducements he was given to play along… Men are like donkeys, sweetling; you’ll have to show him the carrot,” she explains, “which is— his freedom, and some other reward he desires, and then show him the stick, which is… perhaps, how House Manwoody and House Martell together might punish him for his behaviour toward you and for trying to hang on to you. You see?” she asks again, and not without cause. The girl doesn’t seem to be the brightest thread in the sewing-box. “… Well, you'll manage,” which unlikely fact she declares in a bold, encouraging manner; “and you must write and let me know how you get on.”

“Are you going away?” Vynesa asks in dismay, somewhat sharper on the uptake now it looks like her beloved crush might leave her, the callous bitch. “Everyone is leaving, it's going to be so terribly quiet here. I promise I'll write every week… if I may? You're probably very busy, aren't you? Do you have big parties all the time? Will you write back sometimes, oh do say you will!”

Laughing, Princess Joy puts up both her hands to fend off the flood of eager questions. Her favourite pearls and rubies, and other less precious gems in the other Martell colours, glint in the fading light of the evening. “Oh, you mustn’t spend all your allowance on couriers—! It would be such a dreadful waste, when you might be buying things for yourself…” This she considers any lady’s number one priority. “It probably shall go back to being rather dull here, shan’t it,” and with that recognition her exuberant certainty melts into a soft, sympathetic sigh, “when we’ve all gone away. But, you know,” she points out, “we don’t all live at Starfall — we can’t stay forever! Just think of the poor Daynes, having to host so many royal guests for weeks and weeks. They’ll be glad to be rid of us, I should think. My husband and I are going to Oldtown,” she explains belatedly, “to take care of a little business there — and so that I might show him off to my friends and relations in the Reach who have never even met him. I daresay we’ll come back to Dorne later on,” she sounds as vague as she is, “though I can’t be certain of when… I do hope we’ll find you with your affairs beautifully arranged, just as they ought to be; it seems such a shame to see you still chained to such a beast.” And, carried away by the return of her indignation, she recklessly adds: “And you’ll say, of course, if there’s anything we might do to help you — though of course Prince Torren and Princess Visenya will see to everything, I’m sure, so that you needn’t have a moment’s worry.”

“Anything you could do to help me?” Vynesa echoes, awestruck. “Oh, you’re wonderful! If you find Oldtown too dull, will you come back and visit? Do say you will!”

“Oh! Oldtown is never dull,” the princess protests, laughing at the very thought; “but I’m Dornish now, aren’t I?” And this restoration of the correct state of affairs sets her glowing anew. “I shouldn’t think we’ll ever be too long away from Dorne,” she agrees complacently.

And a moment later, when she has bestowed the airiest of farewells upon her young devotée, she trips away again through the garden in her… golden slippers embroidered in dark orange? A geometric instead of a curving pattern? Back to square one, Vynesa. Back to square one.

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