(123-07-28) Converging Paths
Converging Paths
Summary: So there's a Snow Giant in the garden. Again.
Date: 31/07/2016
Related: Paths Taken and Untaken, The Secret Anti-Desmond Club.

The Maidenday Gardens are given over at night to mysterious fragrances and covert rustlings. The coming of twilight dims the brilliance of winding white marble paths, and signals also a lessening in the faint sounds of horses and carrages from without the walls; and bowers and pavilions play host to sweet assignations, lonely vigils, and despairing drunken confidences. Some come here to arrange the course of their lives. Some to wrestle with great conundrums in a place pleasant enough and cool enough to ease their hearts.

Others, of course, come because it's been such a tedious afternoon, and won't it be a relief to get out and about and stretch one's legs—? Others have nothing better to do, and wouldn't be doing it even if they had.

A trio of Dornishmen well-dressed and well-armed after the manner of their land — spears carried with lethal nonchalance, and scale armour gleaming — escort a lady who moves like a flickering flame through the dusk, her red sandsilks gloriously bright at any hour and her hair scarcely less so, bound up with strands of the same pearls which glow about her throat. It isn't the lowering light taking years off her age, however, so much as a deep-rooted happiness which buoys her up from within and keeps a smile perpetually playing about her lips… At least, until her peregrinations lead her around one particular corner, past one fateful blossoming apple tree, and into the presence of a man whose stature and garb and pattern of scars is so far beyond mistaking that all she can do is stop short and breathe out a gasp. "You!"

Desmond Snow it is — standing beneath a tree, staring up at it. He's wearing a new cloak that he did not have when last Joyeuse Hastwyck saw him, and when he turns to face her, his scarred visage has deeper lines around the eyes, and around the mouth. He looks — not quite middle-aged, but if Joyeuse has grown younger, Desmond Snow has grown older indeed. On the huge Northman, it looks like — adulthood. Maturity, settling in at last.

"Lady Joyeuse." His voice is a low rumble, and though he seems surprised to see her, he doesn't seem displeased. For once, the man is out of his armor — though the huge Giantsblade rests at his hip, across from a long dagger. "I am — " he cuts off, exhaling, obviously searching for the right words. "I am pleased to see you, Lady. You, in particular." There is a silence from the man, and then he steps forward toward Joyeuse and her guards, eyeing the men with blatant unconcern. "I should like, Lady, to beg your forgiveness."

The three Dornishmen are somehow now holding their spears slightly differently, as though they hadn't really meant it before, but now: they do. Not one of them has anything on the Snow Giant in sheer bulk, but not one of the three seems to like the look of him coming closer to their charge.

In their midst, that plump little woman whose armour consists of righteousness and truth — and is she ever wearing it — looks up and up into his weary face, ignoring her attendants, ignoring too the narcissus which a moment ago was the cynosure of her eyes, her arms now folded over her remarkable bosom and her lips turned down into a pensive line. "Did I ever meet you," she wonders aloud after a moment, thinking over a talk long months ago with Lady Marsei Hightower, "when you hadn't some explanation to give? Did I ever meet you when there wasn't the need of it? … I thought you had gone," she says simply. "Gone north when I went south. It seemed much the best thing for both of us. Well… Go on, then," she sighs, not very graciously. "I suppose, crediting at least your good faith, I ought to listen to you."

Meeting the eye of one of the guards, Desmond raises a hand, keeping it well away from his sword. There's no fear in his gaze, only a weary passivity. "Easy, fellas. I ain't going to hurt anyone. Weren't for the Lady finding me standing here, I'd not be troubling her at'all." And the words seem to be meant for Joyeuse as well, a neutral sort of reproof. "I did go North. I needed to speak with my Father. Try to make things a'right between us."

His voice is careful, but he's steady enough, meeting her gaze with his own and, unlike in times past, he does not flinch away. Nor does he shout. "We disagreed, you and I. And you were disappointed in me." Quiet consideration for a moment. "Are still disappointed in me, seems."

Turning away from the woman, gazing up into the apple tree, he says "There were reasons I never got to see Manfryd before he left. Men tryin' to kill me, for one. A dragon near took my head off. Other things. But I ain't trying to justify that." He shrugs slightly. "No, I meant for my behavior that night. I was drunk, and I was low in spirits, but I oughtn't have behaved as I did. The rest — hate me, forgive me, whatever you choose. But I was neh knightly that night."

His imperfectly willing audience stands silent through all this, though she notably doesn't call off her hounds — it's true what he says, the last time they met in these gardens his behaviour was far from a model of chivalry, and like any woman she'd have been glad of three armed men instead of one, between herself and his outbursts of emotion…

When he has spoken, when he has given this latest explanation (drunk, low spirits) she doesn't look any happier with him, but at least she isn't running away, or picking apples to throw at him. She only presses her lips together and points out, quietly: "'Ser' Manfryd. Whatever you may think of my nephew, Ser Desmond, he swore the same vows as you did. I sometimes wonder if any of you understand those vows when you speak them," she muses, "or if you're all just repeating the words by rote and making it up as you go along every day thereafter… No, that's unkind of me, in such company," she decides, lowering her head with a penitent sigh. "I suppose I ought to make the introductions."

And, half-turning first one way and then the other, she indicates and names each of the Dornishmen who compromise her escort this evening. They range in age from middle twenties to middle thirties, and despite presently being immaculate not one really looks as though he's a stranger to hard living. They offer brief words, or none at all; they don't relax their vigilance.

"Ser Lothor Qorgyle. Ser Wyllam Dalt. Ser Mateo Sand. Three of my husband's finest knights. And this," again she faces the northman, her hand faltering in the air in a glimmer of rubies before she tucks it again beneath her opposite elbow, "this is Ser Desmond Snow, whom they call the Snow Giant, born to House Umber and lately of the service of House Targaryen. It was by his deeds, and by other deeds he left undone, that Ser Manfryd Qorgyle was obliged to leave his prince's side and return to Sandstone — take care," she laughs half-heartedly, glancing at the Qorgyle knight standing so near to her she can smell leather and steel over the fragrance of the flowers all around, "that he should not come to think ill of any of you."

That is one dark introduction, and Desmond Snow takes a step back, his features stony and closed-off as he glances from one knight to another. Indeed, in his homeland, an introduction like that might well lead to blood. And it might here, too. "There were other things afoot, m'lady. If you're of the mind to be fair." His jaw flexes absently. "Did you know there were neh less than five men who wanted him dead, had he stayed? For other offenses. I surely didn't do it to save his life, but neh-the-less, his life was saved when he left Oldtown. He had enemies."

He looks from one knight to another again, as though waiting to see which of the three shall spring at him first. "I say again that it is you who comes across me, Lady. I've no taste for trouble. I'd rather peace."

"I may well make up what it means to be a knight every day. Certainly I ask myself, daily, if I've done the right thing. I've been asked to do many things, Lady, and oft-times I must choose between duties. Between oaths. And, aye, every time, I leave someone injured." He glances toward the knights, then back to the woman. "Your.. husband's men? Then it seems I ought'a congratulate you."

The lady's chin lifts again, by degrees, till her face is tilted toward Ser Desmond's, its expression torn between hurt and pique. "… Do you still not think me at all fair, when I made an agreement you shook upon too and pledged to abide by it no matter what answer you brought me — when I listened to every word you spoke in apology and took no action against you thereafter — when I even tried to speak for you to some who had even more doubts about you than I?" she demands, sounding if anything a little bit hurt, not to mention temporarily forgetful of the fact that her present interlocutor wasn't, he couldn't have been present on the latter occasion. "I think I have shown you more fairness than you'd have had from many another lady in my situation; I said I wasn't your enemy and so I haven't been.

"Now, it's true I didn't know what to say when you apologised for that last night we saw one another," she concedes, the torrent of words only continuing to flow, airily and chattily as is her wont; "I supposed when you spoke of forgiveness you meant you were going to speak again of all the rest, and not of— of a few foolish drunken moments, which I promise you I forgot as soon as I could manage it, and should never have thought of again if you hadn't… loomed up out of the shadows at me just now," a red sandsilk sleeve flaps in the breeze as her hand makes a descriptive motion in the air. "And I was a little bit piqued that you didn't accord my nephew his proper title. Opponents, even enemies, ought to be spoken of with respect; is that not a part of the code you to which you swore yourself so keenly, before the King himself? So perhaps I was unkind about that; but you weren't calling me by my right title, and in the moment it seemed hard that you didn't give him his either. You see, you asked not for the forgiveness I've had to struggle mightily to try to accord to you, but for the forgiveness already given. I hope I'd never hold what a man says against him when he was so far into his cups; I say all kinds of things myself, when I've had a little wine," by a loose-ish interpretation of 'little', "and if we were all, every one of us, to remember all that's spoken at such times, civilisation would fall the very next day, we'd be so far at one another's throats. But we don't remember, do we? We agree to forget," she declares.

"And yes, I knew my nephew had enemies here besides yourself — but I don't think that changes anything, does it? It wasn't why. Oh, I don't mean to go over it all again now, I truly don't — it's only that I don't know that I like giving thanks for consequences you yourself grant were unintended — and if anybody had asked him, I suppose, being who and what he is, he might have preferred death before such severe, such permanent dishonour… If I were to give such thanks, I might as well credit you also with my marriage — and you weren't scheming for that, either, so far as I recall." She lifts her eyebrows at him. "I went to Dorne, you see, because there wasn't a man left in Westeros I could abide setting eyes upon — I'd rather got to thinking," she confides, "that you were all as bad as one another, and rueing each and every time I could remember placing my heart or my hopes in the hands of such men. I sought a different kind of company, and before long, well, I became the wife of Prince Auberyn Martell," she explains. And that thought, all by itself, banishes the rest; and if ever he thought her fair before, as the perpetually worried and disappointed widow Hastwyck… Any man would like to have the credit, just some small part of the credit, for that look in her eye.

None of the Dornish knights have drawn steel yet. Not even the Qorgyle.

None of the knights are trying to kill him. Desmond stands there, absorbing the various blows against his honor. When he speaks, it's slow and considering. "I wasn't raised to knighthood. As y'know, in the North, it is — unusual — for a man t'be knighted. I never thought much of them, truth is, for my Da never did." He spreads his hands slightly. "So you're right. I don't know how to be a knight. I'm a terrible one, with the words and whatnot. But I'll stake my life on this, Your Highness — that suits ye, by the way, and I wish you all the joy.."

Desmond trails off, sighing, looking a little lost, "All I know is how to die for my King, for my Prince, and for my love. And how t'lead men to war. And how to stand well — for I was knighted for courage, Lady, neh my chivalry. I try. But all of you.. All of you play by rules I never learned."

He hesitates for a moment. "I sometimes miss being a simple sellsword. I was good. I was bloody fantastic. And I'm neh a good knight. I know it." He shrugs helplessly. "But I am a knight. And you, Your Highness, have always treated me more than fair, as y'rightly point out." Another pause, a glance at the other knights. "So if y'could just .. be patient with me .. when I do somethin' wrong.. I'd love that. And I'll likely fu — foul it up again, I admit it. But on the things I know — how to defend the weak, how to stand proud — I'll never fail. Neh even my worst enemy — and I know you're a friend to me, if I may say it, Your Highness — would ever call me craven. Is that neh something?"

It may be the recollection of her absent beloved — the length of time which has passed since all this began, and how much has befallen her during it — or the sense of exhausted sincerity which seems, to her not wholly unsympathetic eyes, to roll off the northman in waves with every word he speaks.

"I thank you for your good wishes," the princess says absently, in a rather smaller voice. They can't hear her at present in every neighbouring bower and bosquet. She takes a little while to enumerate the rest of her thinking.

"… Ser Desmond, I don't believe— I don't think many people really believe, that a man must swear knightly vows in order to be a good man. Or that it is a stain upon a man's honour for following the gods of his fathers. What I don't understand," she says slowly, "what I rather think there are many in Oldtown who don't understand… is simply… Why did you do it?" she pleads, so passionately that her words bring her a step nearer to him. And the three Dornish knights likewise. "Why did you swear vows you didn't understand, in front of gods you didn't believe in? Did you suppose these were things that didn't really matter much? Here in the south, in the Reach, the home of chivalry and the home of the Seven? I don't understand — I wish I could understand, why a man who had a gift for his trade, who had a respectable place in the household of a prince, would… would…" And the rest of it's impossible; she just lets out a sigh of vexation. "Do you know what I said to my cousin about you?" she asks abruptly. "I said, perhaps it was like the first time a girl gets married. She repeats the words, just as she's supposed to, with everyone listening to hear if she falters, and she may think she knows what they mean but she hasn't truly the least idea how to be a wife for the rest of her life, or even a tenth part of what will be asked of her. I wondered if that was how it was, with you."

Desmond slowly eases himself down onto the ground, which may in itself show a lack of chivalry — she is standing, he is not. But the exhaustion seems to overwhelm him suddenly, as though the weight of his sword had abruptly become more than he could bear. "I like to think, Your Highness, that you are wrong. That at their heart, my oaths meant that I became a protector of the weak. That I became a shield for them that couldn't defend themselves. I was a bad man sometimes, before. I needed something to hold to. Something that I'd never break. And I try. I truly try, Your Highness."

He runs a hand over his face, sighing. "As for the Gods. Nobody ever believed me, and I think it's 'cos nobody ever understood. I couldn't say it right." He closes his eyes for a long moment. "Y'have to understand, Lady, that where I was born, the Old Gods were everywhere. No one even knows their numbers anymore. And they are all true, and they are all real." He dampens his lower lip. "I believe in the Seven. Wholeheartedly. A woman I love, she gave me books to read and I read them. I honor the Mother, I pray to the Crone for wisdom, to the Warrior for strength.."

His fists seize up, then relax. "But when I need the slaughterer again.. When I need the man who fought in a dozen little brush-wars between Lords.. When I need to be a savage to help them I love.. It's the Old Gods who're there, too. They're always there too. Does that.. can that make sense?"

For once Ser Desmond is obliged to gaze up at her, and she may rest her neck. What a treat. It's the higher kind of chivalry, the kind which takes into account a lady's real comfort — if only incidentally… Princess Joyeuse peers down at him, listening, concentrating, hearing him out, as she has always done despite her occasional disinclination to put herself in the way of understanding and, thereby, forgiving. "… I couldn't tell you — I'm not very religious," she admits; sandsilk ripples over her shoulders as she shrugs. "I pray sometimes, and I go to the Sept on Sundays if I haven't too bad a head," see above re: a 'little' wine, "but I'd hardly presume to know how the gods might feel about a man doing as you did — only how people might feel. And I think you have been a bitter draught to swallow, for the Faithful in Oldtown and especially for the knights of the Reach… for every man who spent nearly twenty years of his life preparing for an honour you received so abruptly, and as a stranger in their midst. You weren't a squire knighted for his deeds in battle; you weren't a believer, then; you were never on the same path, before you arrived at its summit. You did it all backwards, and people can't see how sincere you might be, can they? They can't see into your heart. They can only see a man who— who doesn't quite know how to behave himself, who shouts at ladies in gardens," a weak, almost apologetic smile, "who is always having to come back later with explanations, who is worryingly strange and worryingly strong and… and who has led a life that I think must be rather beyond their ken. I was told you didn't convert to the Faith of the Seven, to whatever degree, till after you were knighted… I do think I see some of what you're saying — but how, then, was it a shield you could never break? When you didn't yet believe? Oh, I know it's none of my business," she admits, "but you do seem to be saying that— that you look to your Old Gods and our Seven Gods for rather different blessings… I don't know if a man can do that; I don't know if a man has ever had to reconcile what you're trying to reconcile. Perhaps the only way to know if it is possible is to do it?"

"It's hard," Desmond admits. "The oaths — they weren't just about the Gods. They were about being right, Your Highness. Being good. Being like Ser Daevon — oh, I know there are them that whisper at him, too — and like Ser Rhaegor." He grins briefly, sharply, in the darkness. "Oh. I know. I fought him in a duel. But I fought him 'cos I respected him, and I wanted him to respect me, so desperately. And he did, afterwards. We were almost friends."

The man's tone is sad, almost downright mournful. "Anyway. I swore to be brave an' just. I swore to defend the weak and innocent, especially women. Can y'not see how I needed those oaths? How they've helped me? Aye. You can. Forgive me — I hear your words." Desmond gestures around, loosely, in the darkness. "I stood in front of Prince Dhraegon Targaryen when he was frightened and the Kingsguard were scattered, because I loved him for his gentleness. And then I stood beside Princess Visenya and the King himself, even when dragons came." There is a low, hard, pride in his voice — no anger, but an ironlike grasp of his words that had been lacking before. "I stood when Syrax charged and near to took off my head in flame, though I trembled. I stood when other men ran, Your Highness. Knights ran."

He pauses, then proceeds more slowly. "My father told me once that I was doomed t'be nothing more than a catamite. I've proved him wrong. I avenged a woman murdered in the hills. But even he — even he, my Father — still scorns me. I went home seeking his love, before I did a thing, with a woman. A marriage." He sighs out, very quietly. "I'd meant to go home with a gift, a relic of our House, but I angered Lady Marsei and she forbade it me."

"She wronged me because she believed I did not love her gods. She never —" the anger cuts off suddenly. He stops. He stares at his hands. "No. She had her reasons. Forgive me." The longer he speaks, the less of the North can be heard in his voice. "In any case,” he continues.. "I no longer care if these men accept me or not. I am a knight. I earned my knighthood. And I may have lost everything except my duty. I need it. I need my duty, Your Highness. Without it, what am I? No sellsword. No Northman. No Reachman, either. I'm just a knight."

"I really shouldn't talk to men," remarks Princess Joyeuse to a nearby rose-bush; "I always end up listening, and then I get into all kinds of trouble. It never fails, does it? … I've heard those tales of you," she admits, glancing back at Ser Desmond as she plays with the embroidered edging round her voluminous red silken sleeves, "and added them to what I knew of you myself, and not known what to make of the sum — you're an impossible man, you know, and so I put you from my mind where at least you could do me no more harm. For I don't believe you'd mean to; but I've no confidence, none at all, that you wouldn't do so purely by mistake. All kinds of things seem to happen by mistake, with you. The gods' will for you seems as though it's all in a tangle, instead of an orderly thread. I had a lady-in-waiting once who was the same. Whatever happened she had the sweetest, most beautiful reasons to quote through her tears; but in the end my husband decided she had to go, because the reputation I already had wouldn't withstand hers as well… Of course that was a long while ago, now," she muses.

All this is very chatty, very easy. She could go on for hours. It may be that she shall. "You swore to do right, Ser Desmond — but you swore it upon gods you didn't believe in, yet. The world will always question the validity of those vows, till you've proven them a thousand times. Perhaps even then — because they were founded upon something within this world, instead of without it. It's hard enough to trust a man who has done everything right, you know, let alone one who did it backwards. And so you're the man who can least afford mistakes, now. A man who does everything right can perhaps be forgiven a slip or two — but if you do anything at all backwards, as you do, or as I've done in my life, there'll be people in this city to hold it against you till the end of time. I'm sorry about the trouble with your father," she adds, looking about her and then just sitting herself down on the grass along the edge of the path, pale slippered feet quickly vanishing beneath her hem. "He sounds too charming for words. But not a word please against Lady Marsei; she's the sweetest creature who ever lived and to find her heart so unwilling to forgive you was a torment to her, a torment. Her own goodness has taken more of a revenge upon her than a man in your position could hope to."

"Your Highness, when I say this, I hope that you can understand the contradictions, because I cannot." He sounds like a true Southernborn knight with that properly worded phrase. The North — and the sellsword — are melting away, it seems. Or he's able to hide it better than he had been an hour ago, as if speaking with Her Highness Joyeuse Martell were some aide to his rehabilitation. "I should take a blade for Lady Marsei. I should burn for her. I have, at times, sacrificed my own reputation to protect hers. At her wedding, I made an oaf of myself to steal away rumors that she'd poisoned her last husband — false rumors, for I know her to be as you say."

He breathes out, so slowly it sounds like air hissing from a balloon. "She knew all these things. And saw me stand to shield her once. And yes — I do love a woman that swore an oath to the Seven. But we’ll soon see a Septa wed her knight, Your Highness. So was what I did very much more wrong? I did not dishonor her. And I'll never name her, even now. Though I doubt she'll forgive my absence, I still love her. May always." He shrugs faintly. "Backward, as you say. But these men were never going to love me, Your Highness. Marsei never loved me — long before this, she mistrusted me, though I could see she tried not to."

"But I know, Your Highness, that I have done my best to keep my oaths. And I know I keep them better than many a knight. I've served too many Lords to be deceived on that score. And — after this latest set-to with Da — I find that all I care about is the woman I love, the friends I love, and my duty as a knight. Though I recognize, as you say, that I'll always be hated here by the other knights.. the Smallfolk remember me. I saw a boy today that I once carried on my shoulders and he smiled at me. And I thought — I can be content with him. With a friend like him."

The princess sitting cross-legged in the grass, flanked by standing knights who aren't sure what they should be doing (yes, that was a fond eye-roll one of them gave another behind her back) but carrying their spears, listens with eyes wide and mouth occasionally agape. "Oh, but," she murmurs once, and then, "Goodness." And then she shakes her head (a hairpin sproings away and one of her husband's knights stoops to collect it and put it away in his pocket), and exclaims, "But what's this about a septa? I'd no idea — you want to marry a septa?" She repeats the words the second time with true incredulity.

And then the laughter starts — genuine, friendly, laughter. "Aye, well, I didn't know she was a Septa when I met her," he says pleasantly enough. "She was just a woman that night, I a man, and we spoke. We spoke hours. I never had a night like it." He sighs, looking up at the sky for a long moment. "I thought — from what you said, I thought Lady Marsei had told you, Your Highness. And look at me. In need of another apology." But he's grinning, mockingly, as though at himself. "I love a woman, Your Highness. And I've been true to her. And will be. And Septa Miranda becomes Lady Miranda in two days’ time, Your Highness, before Oldtown and all her kin.”

Two seconds of keeping a straight face, and that's it — Princess Joyeuse, true to name and nature, laughs with him. She catches her breath by means of a hand pressed to her generous bosom, and a determination which obviously costs her something. "Oh, but that's completely different," insists his native guide to the bizarrities of southron culture. "Let me see if I can… Oh, Seven hells, Mat, d'you still have that flask I gave you to carry yesterday? … Oh, bless you," and, receiving a shapely blown-glass receptacle half-full of firewine, passed thoughtfully over her shoulder by the one called Ser Mateo Sand, she removes the cork from it and does what comes naturally.

"I don't know much about your northern gods, but you yourself say — they're all around you, here, in this world. They're in places, aren't they? They're in — trees and so on. Forgive me if I'm mistaken." For a moment she lowers her gaze in charming apology — Joyeuse the Nemesis has been replaced, at last, by the far more natural Joyeuse the Flirt. "But our gods… Well, you understand how the world is governed. Men swear to lesser lords or princes, who swear in turn to greater, and so on till they arrive at a throne. But for us, you see… The Seven Gods are at the very top of that same hierarchy, above us all, beyond us all, governing our world from outside it. And so they are above all worldly authority. That's why oaths given before the Seven, and in their name, are absolutely binding… more binding than oaths sworn on anything that's in the world and so much further down in the hierarchy. And that's why a woman who has solemnly sworn herself to the Seven can't just turn round and renounce that vow to marry a man. He's a vassal of a vassal of a vassal of Those to whom she is already sworn, you see? She would be breaking something so high and so sacred that… that no other vow of hers could ever have any meaning, after it was shattered. She would have given up the very essence of her honour. Lady Miranda," she says softly, "never took her final vows to the gods. It was her father's wish, you know, that she not put herself beyond the hope of ever taking another husband."

The laughter fades. It is replaced with pain — not an outpouring of grief, not even a grimace, but a hard set of the jaw, a tightness around his eyes, of a wounded man ignoring a blow. A soldier on the battlefield who has been struck a telling, deadly, shot. "She was to ask the High Septon for permission. He is the Seven's representative. If he said it was right.." He trails off weakly, then spreads his hands.

"And I thought that if my father could forgive me, you see, if he'd simply acknowledge me as his son, well. She would have a shield — a flimsy one — from the words of these people. I would have teeth, in their eyes. I wouldn't be a dog no more." And there he slips again into the Northern words. "That's what Lady Marsei took away. I didn't care for me, not no more. But now — well. How could I ask a woman t'do that, and give her nothing in return? As y'say, they would tear her apart."

Princess Joyeuse shakes her head slowly. "Lady Marsei doesn't speak so freely of other people's business as you must suppose; we spoke of you in general terms, and of your vows, but nothing of your septa friend. You saw how surprised I was when you said… Nothing of any gift she'd deprived you of, either; though now that you've said I begin to see why she had such a depth of feeling for you… I mean, that there was more to it than I knew." She breathes out a gusty sigh, and sips her firewine again. "Well, I've not heard a thing of a— a schism in the Faith," and she gives a hapless little shrug of her shoulders, "so I suppose either your friend didn't ask the High Septon, or he said 'no'… That is how it would be, you know," she sighs, sitting up straighter and reaching out her arm as far as it'll go to pass him the flask, for she recognises a man in extremity when she sees him; "and I don't see how you can ask her, if you love her so. I mean, I'm very fortunate — I married for love — but we at least had neither of us any other obligations, and yet there are still a few people to speak against it, even so, because neither of us are without sin," she says plainly. "There would be many more to speak against a septa dishonouring her vows to wed… Well, anyone," she wrinkles her nose, "but especially a man whose own knightly vows are regarded as having been a little less than ideal. You could go to Essos, I suppose, or some other places where nobody knows either of you. At least then the sacrifice you made would be nearer to something equal. Of course, they don't know about knights there, do they? Or care if they do know."

"I had thought that," says Desmond, accepting the flask. "But I'd be taking her into danger in Essos. I lived in Braavos once, and I — well, you see how talented I am at making enemies, Your Highness. I refused to do a thing I could not stomach. Across the Narrow Sea, I've no idea how cheap my life is." He takes a long, slow, sip and closes his eyes. "I ruin lives with such ease," he murmurs softly. Even drowsily, sitting there, the flask held back to Joyeuse. "You're right. I can't marry her. I have to.." he pushes air away with his hand, sighing, "I don't know what I have to do, Your Highness. I'm a warrior. I've never loved a woman. I've never been.." he sighs, touching his face absently. "I could take her North again. The Starks owe me a debt for a deed I did them, once. And there are men there I've bled for, eaten of their salt and bread. Good men. But what life would I give her?" Another shake of his head. "No. What a fool I was. Am. I need a war, Your Highness. It's astonishing how violence can make everything.. simple again. They'd have to respect me if they saw me at war. And the man who said a word against her, then, I would…" And his hand cuts through the air, as though gripping a man's throat. "They have always thought me a dog. But give me half a chance, Your Highness, and I could show them what a man is." His hand drops, and he sighs. "But as things stand.. I must protect her as I can."

The princess is on the verge of stretching forward to reclaim her firewine when one of her helpful companions steps in to assist. She murmurs, "Bless you," and then sips silently, two or three times, breathing in the fumes and savouring the lovely warm burn of it… until Ser Desmond has said his piece, by which time her own is bubbling up within her. It must be free! It will be free. "I am so tired of men saying they need wars!" she exclaims, all sympathy leached from her tone, and firewine brightening her eyes. "I hear it again and again, lately, from Tyrells as well as Snows! It's nonsense, do you hear me?" she demands. "Any man who can't be a man without a war — without good men dying, villages burnt down and cities besieged, women raped and children slaughtered, just to prop up his own idea of himself and keep him from having to think about anything complicated — ought to look at himself in a glass, for a very long time, and try harder."

It is at this moment, in earlier times, that Desmond Snow might have erupted in a frustrated rage. Indeed, he seems so near to it for just a moment that another night in the Gardens might flash to mind. But there's something lacking, here — or perhaps something gained. He does not explode. He listens. And then he rises to his feet, and he bows. "As you say, Your Highness. It is selfish to dream of war. And I know its horrors too well, you are right." But he did just wish for war, didn't he. He exhales slowly, again, his chest sinking in on itself as the air leaks out. "I spoke in haste of spirits. I shall leave you, now, and find a place in the slums to rest my head. I intend to ride as a Mystery Knight — it'd not do now to be recognized." And a glance at the three Dornish knights, and their Lady. "..Again." And then a pause, and he says, more quietly, "I've very much enjoyed speaking with you, Your Highness. I hope we might do it again."

Her shoulders sag. "You can't really want it," she agrees much more quietly; "I was sure you must have had enough of it to know that. It's why my husband speaks so ardently of peace, too." Restoring cork to flask she looks up and around, at all the men standing about her; and the Dalt knight is first with his hands, both of them, to pull her up onto her feet. Not knowing what to do with the flask she gives it to whichever of them will take it.

"… I won't tell anybody," she adds. "That you're supposed to be a Mystery. I didn't tell anybody the other thing, either, though goodness knows it was tempting — I was so nearly right, d'you remember?" She gives him a rueful smile. "I don't know whether we shall or we shan't — that seems to be part of the tangle, doesn't it? But d'you really not have anywhere to sleep?" she asks him doubtfully, feeling almost visible pangs of conscience.

"This shall sound silly to you, Your Highness, but there are nights where I miss being nothing more than a sellsword. I'd go, and I'd fight over sheep in a valley, and my men and I would bleed, and their men would bleed. It wasn't war. Not really. Usually just a skirmish, and we'd be paid off and go our ways.." Desmond sighs, and scrubs at his face. "They called us savages, but we had rules. Decency. In our own way. I can assure you, my men never touched a woman as didn't come willing. They knew what'd happen to them otherwise." He hesitates, shaking his head. "I was so much better then, it seems to me just now. I knew my place. I never overreached. But then I remember — that thing. As you recall." He smiles bitterly, shaking his head.

"I .. would be honored to sleep in your home, Your Highness," he says after a moment. "I'm a small guest in fuss. Come dawn, I mean to be down in the winesinks. There are men I'd look in on, old comrades and a few old enemies. You'll not be bothered by me."

The princess grants this assurance that women were safe from his men, a very slow nod, as though she would like to believe; and 'that' thing a sad press of her full red lips; and begins nodding in earnest before he's even finished speaking — he interpreted her quite rightly.

"Well, it isn't my home, it's my husband's family's manse," she says, to be fair, "but we're only a few steps from the garden gates and I give you my word none of the men we brought from Dorne know or mind who you are," she says faithfully. "You'll give me your word, won't you, mmm?" she asks then, coaxingly, looking about at her companions.

These patient eavesdroppers contribute a nod, a chuckle and a nod, and a low, pained, 'Your Highness' and a nod.

She takes this as sufficient and turns to Ser Desmond with a nod of her own. "There, you see? … You have so many troubles already," she sighs, as they all begin to walk together through the darkened gardens, she in the midst of the protectors lent by her husband and the Snow Giant on the outside as is only to be expected, "more than one man's proper share; and I hope none of us are the kind of people who’d do anything to add to them. We can find a quiet corner for you somewhere, can't we? Where nobody will notice Ser Desmond unless he wants to be noticed?" This she inquires of the knights — giving him, as she always gives him, the title about which she has misgivings but in which she seems to preserve yet a kind of faith.

Mention is made of plenty of clean spare beds in the single men's quarters, with the manse in general so uncrowded. It was, as the princess explains, more or less shut and shuttered till she and her husband came from Starfall a few weeks past to breathe life into it again.

They haven't quite got as far as those garden gates when Princess Joyeuse, who has been walking more slowly, puts her hand over her mouth, makes a peculiar noise into her palm, and then cries out in naked desperation: "Oh, turn round! Turn round—!"

Whoever turns around, will hear her noisily emptying her stomach into the nearest flowerbed. Whoever doesn't turn around, will enjoy also that edifying sight.

Desmond does turn away as the poor Princess is ill, and ill, and ill. He waits patiently for her to finish and then, holding up his right hand to the other knights to prove he means no harm, the giant man steps closer. He's shockingly quiet out of his armor, light on his feet. "Here, Joyeuse." Perhaps he feels that this is a level of intimacy appropriate for one vomiting. Perhaps, like so often, he's simply forgotten. Or perhaps it's a strange sense of delicacy — it seems almost a mockery to afford a woman in such a state of embarrassment her full titles. Reaching into an inner pocket of his light cloak — and who does not love inner pockets? — he produces a square of cloth. With his hand gently atop the woman's shoulder now, squeezing in support, he offers it over.

When he speaks again, his voice is on a different topic. And his voice is pitched to carry over a certain ringing in anyone's ears. "I should like very much to have wine with you when we return to Your Highness's home. Though I'm afraid it goes quickly to my head." He's not looking at the Dornishmen. Not at all. It's as though he is afraid to make eye contact. "Come, Your Highness. Will you not show me about the place? I hear lovers in the bushes nearby, and we mustn't disturb a tryst." For the Northerner, every word of this is eloquence incarnate. He is really, really, trying.

The princess barely starts at his hand on her shoulder: for a moment she thinks it belongs to a Sand rather than to a Snow, and that, she'd expect. But her shiver turns into another dry heave — and of course she has to finish that before she can devote herself to manifesting an appropriate degree of panic — and his handkerchief is so welcome pressed against her mouth, so unexpectedly clean and soft — perhaps Ser Daevon provides his men with good linen? — that the panic never really has time to get off the ground. Only her feet do. She's quickly on tip-toe, slipping half-out of her slippers.

"… Oh, dear," she sighs, pressing an unspoiled corner of the hanky to each treacherously misty eye. "Oh, I'm all right now," and this is a reassurance to Ser Desmond on the one hand, and the rest of her discreetly concerned (but not at all surprised) companions on the other. She lowers herself gently into her slippers again, each foot wiggling about against the other in turn to get her own heels into the heels of them. "I think it must have been the shrimp I had for breakfast," she ponders, eyes wide with a curious mixture of longing and regret. "Or the mustard; I did put rather a lot of mustard on them… Or perhaps the shrimp simply didn't get on with all those cherries." No mention of the firewine, which was medicinal. "I'm not ill, you know," she insists, looking up into the Snow Giant's eyes, her attitude pugnacious. "I'm only having a baby, and that isn't the same thing at all."

Which rather explains why she isn't allowed out of the manse without three knights to watch over her; and why they looked at Ser Desmond Snow as though perhaps a precautionary stabbing was in order; and why the Qorgyle man is discreetly offering his arm. She rests her hand upon the crook of it, giving him a grateful look and clutching the hanky in her other jewel-bedecked paw against further need. "I suppose you're right," she agrees, sniffing as she looks back to Ser Desmond. "I don't know what the going rate is for an upset stomach in the gardens, do you? In somebody's manse one would know," and, as they resume their interrupted progress, she chatters on about the customary tip to one's host's servants, in Oldtown versus King's Landing versus the court of Sunspear, and how it has gone up since she was a girl.

Amusement reins on Desmond's features as he follows after Joyeuse, but he says very little for awhile. He just listens to her talk. And talk. And talk. Occasionally, he exchanges glances with the other knights, perhaps trying to present himself as 'one of the guys'. But he's a man apart, and he knows it. Letting the Qorgyle assist the Princess, Desmond takes a few steps to one side and simply escorts the entire group. As though all three of these knights may need rescuing at any moment, on the dangerous streets of Oldtown.

"Congratulations on your happy news, Your Highness," Desmond finally interjects. And there is some drunk impertinent enough to bumble in the way of the group. Discreetly, trying to wait until Joyeuse is looking the other way, Desmond plants a hand atop the man's head and gently pushes him back the other way. The man stumbles a few times, rights himself, and continues on. No need for these fearsome Dornish — everyone knows the Dornish reputation — to whet their spears with blood.

Quite cheerfully, looking rather amused, Desmond continues on with the group. "Do you know," he manages at another point, "I think everything has gotten more expensive than when I was a boy. Take my boots, for instance. When I was a child, they were quite cheap. Now I must lay out silvers — silvers! — for quality leather. You would think I was asking for something outrageous." His Northern accent is still present, and by the way Desmond is speaking — slow, careful, cautious — he is really having to work to sound at all like a proper chivalrous knight.

The dangerous street of… Starry Street. Yes. There be dragons here, two manses down, at least when Princess Visenya is in residence.

Ser Desmond's treatment of the drunk wins him a glance of qualified approval from the Dalt, at least, whilst the princess — burbling with chatter, if anyone doubted she was feeling better, and as oblivious as they could possibly wish of the near-interruption — discourses upon the relative merits and prices of her last six pairs of slippers (the tasseled ones, the gold on red, the red on gold, the teal green and silver, the rather fetching light green, and the pair with the embroidered goldfish on the heels), and then, as if struck by a tremendous insight, wonders: "Perhaps your feet were smaller then?"

"Why, Your Highness, I am certain that they were. I cannot believe I did not think of that." Desmond is cautious in his teasing, making his voice sound as sincere as possible, but he just can't help himself. There's that twinkle in his eye as he meets the Dalt knight's gaze, a faint tightness around his mouth that implies a budding smile.

But there are some lines even Desmond doesn't cross, and he tries not to make it obvious that he's swallowing a belly-laugh with every ounce of his strength. He finally thinks up a safe topic. "You know, Your Highness, that may be why Mammoth cost so uncommon much as well. Were it not for Ser Daevon's generosity, I'd be riding a horse where my feet dragged against the ground!"

"Oh, is that your horse's name? The poor creature… he looked as though he had enough to do carrying his own weight, without yours as well. Oh, dear, this is the wrong gate, isn't it? Don't we go out the other one?"

The Dalt clears his throat diffidently. "… This is the gate, Your Highness. Allow me." And, giving her a slight bow, he leads the way through it, spear held with lazy confidence, scouting all round with an intent dark gaze. A pair of serving-women on their way to one of the other manses before full dark comes upon them scramble a few paces back, out of the way of this foreign apparition. The Dornishman bows again, to them, and gestures for the princess and her remaining companions to Come This Way. Only across the street, as she said — a manse of shining white marble, worthy of its name, as forbidding without as it shall very shortly prove welcoming within…

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