(123-07-28) North Meets South
North Meets South
Summary: A man of House Umber experiences Dornish friendship.
Date: Whenever.
Related: Continues from Converging Paths.

There isn't really a corner of the White Stone Manse uninvaded by the sounds of merriment — a party, perhaps, to which Ser Desmond Snow, the manse's least official guest, has not been invited…

Still, he's given a decent supper by a Dornish squire charged with keeping him comfortable but out of sight (and none too charmed by this duty, we might add), and whatever he wants washed is taken away and given into the charge of Dornish laundresses, and it's not a bad bed, not at all. Well-strung.

An hour or so past midnight the squire brings the glad news that Her Royal Highness, Princess Joyeuse Florent Martell, would like a word.

He is duly conducted up back stairs which oblige him to duck, and into a spacious chamber got up to resemble the tent of a Dornish prince. Its walls and ceiling are covered in billowing silks in every colour of the rainbow and its floorboards overlaid with a multitude of priceless Myrish carpets. Several low tables carved from a pale golden hardwood stand surrounded by ample piles of silk cushions, some fringed and others tasseled, inviting the inhabitants and their guests to lounge in the Dornish style. The tent-flaps open not upon a vista of shifting sand-dunes, but a trio of balconies, gardens illuminated by a hundred coloured lanterns and populated by the laughing, shrieking, singing remnants of the party (who even knew "The Curious Mermaid" had so many verses?), and the stars shining down beneficently upon all.

"… And so I said—" And the princess breaks off in the middle of a tale (how unlike her!) and blinks up at the Snow Giant from the nest of pillows she has snuggled into with a glass of wine, a plate of sliced fruit, and a small circle of Dornish ladies selected for their lovely faces, hard heads, and comforting lack of morality. "Oh, there you are! Why don't you come and sit down? We were just having a glass of something before bed," she explains.

Desmond Snow has sent all his clothing — except for one neat, if simple, outfit that he has roused up from his rucksack. A white tunic, shockingly clean — utterly against his reputation as a barbarian — of good linen, and a pair of black breeches that look as though they were actually tailored to him. Simple, but effective. He has no weapons to don, for they were taken into the charge of his hosts. A policy whose prudence he understands, knowing well that in the North, with alcohol involved, a night might very well end with a man's ear sliced off.

He follows the squire — rather rude little git — up the stairs and into this astonishing indoors pavilion. Desmond slows, gaping around before he remembers himself, and soon enough is indeed standing before a collection of beautiful young Dornish ladies, and his hostess. He makes a rather clumsy bow — but it's deep — toward Joyeuse. "Your Highness," he manages. "I am delighted to have been invited." Again, the words are slow — he really has to think, poor lamb — but he settles down to sit amongst the lovely flowers. "Ladies," he greets them. But he doesn't introduce himself. It may be rude, but he seems genuinely nervous — and as he told the Princess, he wishes to remain incognito. As if these people cared.

Princess Joyeuse presents him to her lady companions as 'Ser Destran', a knight who has done her some small service — a far cry from how he was introduced to the men of her husband's household, a few hours past. In consequence of this wine is poured for him, and he is looked up and down consideringly, the breadth of his shoulders judged to a nicety white shirt or no white shirt, and the fit of those black trousers approved. Lest, however, every rumour he has ever heard about Dornishwomen be given credence all in the first two minutes, one of them is simply staring off into space, and another gives him only a polite nod before returning her attention to the princess and her tale of courtly intrigue at Highgarden six or seven years past. It's only the other two. The dark girl on the left, and the one across from him whose Andal heritage would allow her to blend in amongst the ladies of Oldtown if she'd only trouble to cover a bit more of her healthily-glowing skin…

That old swain of the princess's, from her days as Lady Hastwyck of Holyhill, receives his comeuppance when he's lured one night into the chamber of a famous prude; the ladies laugh uproariously, less at the story itself than at the delivery, by turns nonchalant and impish; wine circulates at such a rate that the Andal girl is obliged to get up and fetch another couple of bottles; and to the girl who's already a thousand miles away, permission is gracefully granted to: "Go on, sweetling, I suppose he won't wait all night just because I'm so amused by your card tricks." The princess giggles and, colouring slightly, the lady-in-waiting gathers a strewn deck of foreign playing cards from a low table in the middle of the group, and rises to go. "You were awfully nice to me today," the princess adds casually to 'Ser Destran'; "that's all I wanted to say, really, only it's been one thing after another, all night, and so I hadn't a moment to say it!"

'Ser Destran' is really trying to live up to all that a knight should be. He's really trying not to ogle that dark-haired woman's beautifully-fitted gown, or that Andal's long stretch of skin, so perfectly-tanned… And as the wine gets poured into his cup, again and again, he seems to be having a harder and harder time keeping his mind on the perfect, ideal, notions of chivalry. Really, storybook notions, since no one has bothered to show him the reality of it among normal human beings. The Maiden Knight is a hard man to measure up to, where these things are concerned.

He starts a bit when Joyeuse speaks to him, turning toward her and blushing just a bit. "Well, aye, Your Highness." His northern accent has grown thicker with drink — oh, dear. What a bit of rough the Princess has brought in amidst the genteel. A brute, with his scarred, ruddy face. "I — well, s'hard to believe, Your Highness, but I like t'think myself a kind man." He takes another gulp of wine, and reaches for the bottle to refill his goblet.

"And you! You were kind enough t'bring me here, to introduce me t'these wonderful people, t'offer me a place to rest my head after a long, long, road.." He seems delighted with the world in this moment, delighted with Joyeuse, and delighted with his other company. But the mention of the road — and where that road had started — does cast a brief shadow across his features. He banishes that with a hearty shake of his head. "And sure, one thing after another. I can see how that'd happen, a night like this." As though he assumes this were some special occasion.

They are wonderful people, by the gods (old and new). All of them. From the girl who was in such a hurry to leave, to the other one who slipped away not long after her whilst the princess was so distracted and probably past the ability to count, anyway, to the Andal girl who is refilling the empty goblets again, to the dark girl kneeling behind Princess Joyeuse's cushion-pile and tenderly extracting the pearl-tipped pins from her hair.

"Well, it seemed rather hard that after such a long journey you'd nowhere to sleep… I'm not very fond of you," the princess admits candidly, over the rim of her seventh or eighth cup of wine, "but you usually seem to have such a time in Oldtown, sweetling, and I don't want you to think everyone here is in league against you… Oh, is there something special going on tonight?" she asks, looking about between the few remaining faces, as her initial incomprehension shades into animated curiosity. She can't turn her head all the way because her mane of dark red curls is caught up in her lady's fingers; her movement arrested, she laughs and bats in a friendly way at those restraining hands. "Do you suppose we ought to have had a party for it?" she asks 'Ser Destran', as if she can't even hear the squeals of laughter drifting up through her open balcony windows, along with the balmy air and the scents of night-blooming flowers. "Now, that would have been an idea…"

'Ser Destran' just stares at the Princess. He blinks hard a few times, then looks at the Andal woman, as though hoping she may reaffirm his sanity. But there's no real help there, and so he just takes refuge in wine. More wine. Wine is good. "Well, t'be fair, I wasn't always too fond'a you neither, Your Highness," he remarks with a candidness that he may never have dared in the light of day, or sobriety. But it was she who said that words while in cups may be forgiven, and even forgotten, the next day. "But I begin to reckon we just simply have no common language. We've no means t'understand one another. We've only good intentions, and they bridge neh rivers, as we say in the North."

He stares around himself again, and then admits to Joyeuse, "Your Highness, t'me, this is a party and a wealth beyond m'imaginings. Where I sleep, when I am home where I belong, is in a damp little room in a basement — and I'm glad for it, as well. I've slept so many worse places that, 'til tonight, it felt like a luxury." He smiles a little shyly. "If this is neh celebration, neh party — if this is every night — I dunno what to say. I…truly don't." His eyes keep wandering toward the Andal girl, then hastily away.

"… Oh, weren't you?" the princess asks interestedly, when he makes that frank and scandalous admission regarding his lack of sympathy for her. It doesn't seem to trouble her — well, why should it, with all she has to be thankful for? It's a drop in the Summer Sea, isn't it? But she does look, perhaps, a trifle more thoughtful as she spears the last bite of fresh, juicy melon from her plate with a tiny silver fork and leans back into what is fast turning into a scalp massage. "… I suppose," she says slowly, "that this is what every day is like, now. And that it isn't so far, really, from how I lived with my second husband," a man whom rumour has it beggared his heirs to please her, "or even in some of my better days the first time I was Dornish… The carpets are a little better, perhaps; Prince Auberyn is a collector." She narrows her eyes at them (the patterns are just gorgeous, even when they're a wee bit blurred) and nods firmly, as though newly reassured of it. "But you're the son of a lord, aren't you? Even a… And you served a prince; you must know how royalty likes to pass its free hours. Is our manse… really so strange to you?" She still can't quite see through his northern bastard sellsword eyes, but she's trying, bless her.

Desmond begins to laugh — well, to snort, really. The huge Northman is nothing if not crude, particularly now, so far in his cups. "No, I really wasn't," he says to the Princess plainly. "Neither you nor any other woman that couldn't look at me without seeing an imbecile. Nor any man, neither. I wasn't fond of many people." He considers the answer to her question carefully, tilting his head. "I still serve Prince Daevon. It is my pride and my duty t'be his shield, his friend, and his protector from the.. crueler bits of the world." He seems on the verge of an indiscretion — perhaps naming the younger man as naive, even! — but he masters himself. He is not, it seems, that drunk.

"But, aye, these carpets are fine. And aye, I've seen fine and beautiful things. But when Daev — Prince Daevon — and I get drunk, it's in smaller gatherings, like. Groups'a very close friends. Mebbe the other warriors who've sworn to him directly, like." He's speaking very carefully indeed now. "It ain't as.. lively as this." And a look at that gorgeous Andal woman, a quirked brow, a big lopsided grin creasing his scarred features.

"And in the North, a party ain't complete without a brawl — or even blood." He lifts his huge hands, surprisingly gentle when they're comforting Joyeuse, but now clenched into swollen fists. "And our food is less.. delicate, see. And our manners less fancy. I grew up in a hall floored with hay, and my Da would feed me ale until I was sick."

That stony Dornish lady is for her part tipsy enough, just, to see the innocent charm in the big grins the princess’s excessively foreign visitor keeps sending her way; she laughs quietly to herself, a sound drowned by her mistress’s louder, brighter giggle.

“Oh!” Princess Joyeuse wrinkles her nose and sighs and bites her lower lip. “I had ale once,” she offers, “or… more than once, I suppose! We were travelling and we ran out of wine, though I’m not sure anymore how long it was till… I wasn’t sick,” she affirms suddenly, worrying for what Ser Desmond must be thinking of her after their stroll in the gardens; “I’m almost never sick, but I didn’t like it very much…” And then every feminine eye turns toward the great double doors to the corridor, as they open together at the touch of unseen hands.

A man strides into this princely chamber with the easy confidence of one who does, in fact, own the place. He is dressed not in the breeches or hose of a Westerosi man but in flowing Dornish robes, layers of impossibly filmy red and orange and yellow-golden sandsilk, which just barely brush the tops of his sandaled feet, and leave his muscular chest half-bare as well as shaven smooth. He is a few years shy still of his fiftieth nameday and has very few silver threads woven through his long, loose mane of shining black hair; that he has known violence as well as luxury is made plain by scars casually exposed. He has the look of House Martell about him, for anyone who knows it — and an excessively valuable jeweled belt about his waist, to which are attached the decorative sheathes of a pair of gem-encrusted daggers.

If he weren’t already so patently himself, he might be placed as Prince Auberyn Nymeros Martell by the Dornish bastard knight, Ser Mateo Sand, coming into the tent immediately upon his heels — or simply by Princess Joyeuse’s air of abject sensual appreciation as she rests back against her lady-in-waiting but stretches both hands up in mute greeting. Her eyelids lower. Her lips curve into a radiant smile. She seems hardly to have a bone left in her body.

There is a new presence in the room, and Ser Desmond Snow is a fool, if he's not aware of it. And he's no fool. He rises to his feet, glancing aside at Joyeuse — caught in her moment of abject rapture — and Mateo Sand, who must be wishing in this moment that there was no such being as a Desmond Snow.

The rough-hewn knight from the North eyes Lord Auberyn interestedly, and begins to approach — albeit sidelong, albeit polite. "Your Grace," he says — and there is no ingratiation in his voice, nor even the capacity for it, "I am honored to make your acquaintance." Before His Grace can demand to know why he's here, he continues, "My name is Ser Desmond Snow. Your Lady Wife has been kind enough to shelter me until I can present myself as a mystery knight." Blown — his entire story is blown — but by the way he eyes Auberyn, he doesn't regret a moment of it.

The discovery of a lavishly scarred and wine-sodden northman in the private chambers he shares with his wife, doesn't disconcert Prince Auberyn in the slightest. One has the feeling that nothing would, short of a barrage of wildfire. His warm dark gaze having found hers first of all (that tiny smile, just for her, promises much) they pause only to measure the quantity of ripe young flesh presently being displayed by that Andal girl, before giving Ser Desmond his own due consideration. He sees it all, in those few seconds, before the servants left outside can even shut the doors at his back.

"Ser Desmond," he drawls, giving the man a slight and courteous nod. And it's at about this point that the northern knight, coming nearer, finds himself within the royal aura… The prince's scent is not unlike the princess's, but richer and darker and more resinous; their two fragrances, mingling delicately in the air, wafted by the slight breeze from the garden beyond, prove to be perfectly complimentary. Two halves of an intoxicating whole.

"Very few mysteries," he adds mildly, "survive my princess… Of course, you are welcome here until the moment comes for all to know your name."

Does he mean… and not thereafter? Certainly not. Perish the thought. He's the soul of hospitality, eyes twinkling as though to invite Ser Desmond to share in a joke only the two of them could possibly understand. But then he looks away to take those last few steps to where the princess in question has begun to register petulance, a sentiment soon banished by a word or two murmured into her ear and a kiss for the inside of her wrist.

Desmond looks between Joyeuse and Auberyn and smiles. It's a slow, lopsided grin, full of thoughts that he doesn't voice aloud. He follows it up with a long gulp of his wine. "Well," he says after a long silence. "I really ought to be getting to my bed.." But he doesn't make an effort to depart. He's still studying Auberyn, head tilted slightly, quite obviously measuring the man's words.

"S'very kind," he says, absently reaching down with one hand to brush at the back of the Andal woman's shoulder. "You havin' me here. S'very kind." He drains his goblet and stoops, carefully, to set it down. "Thank you, Your Highness. I, uh. I'll see m'self to my quarters, 'less you require me." He's trying. He's trying so hard to be gracious. But the wine, the environment — Desmond is a fish out of water, compared to the elegant Auberyn.

Through Ser Desmond's lengthy and meditative silence the prince and his princess gaze into one another's eyes, oblivious to the tableau they can't help but present — and to anything else but the beauty of the other.

And then Princess Joy catches her lower lip between her teeth and begins to giggle, and interrupts her own giggling to turn to the northman and exclaim: "Oh, but you haven't finished your drink! He can't go till he's finished his drink, can he?" she inquires of all those here assembled. "It stands to reason, doesn't it. Sweetling, you said this is to be my house now," she's addressing Prince Auberyn, with a fluttering of her long lashes, "and in my house I simply shan't have my guests leaving wine undrunk, when it's early yet and there are companions still to share it! Malika, sweet, he hasn't finished his drink, has he?" she demands, seeking verification.

The Andal girl rises onto her knees and leans perilously near, enveloping Ser Desmond in the spicy but sweet scent of her skin and the perfumed oil upon it; she peers into his goblet and pronounces, "No, Your Highness, he hasn't." She catches the Snow Giant's eye and winks, unrepentant about informing on him.

Princess Joy's chin lifts and she makes a 'there, you see?' face.

Her husband's strong, slender fingers shift their grip upon her hand; he kisses her wrist again, and then presses his lips into the softness of her palm. "Stay as long as you will it, my love," he murmurs, "provided you never for a moment forget that I await you." He lets go of her hand only slowly, by degrees, amid last lingering caresses; the lazy promise in his smile very nearly undermines her principles and sees her attendants and her guest abandoned alike.

The Dornishmen repair to an adjoining chamber, Ser Mateo Sand holding the door for his prince (and his prince's swirling, feather-light silken robes) and then casually shutting it again with the both of them on the far side.

The luckiest woman in Westeros watches them go with a besotted, dreamy sort of look, and then she's giggling again and raising her goblet to Ser Desmond.

… So much for being in his bunk!

Desmond gazes down at the woman on her knees before him, his brutal features bemused. He reaches out, touching her beneath the chin, tilting her head up toward his. "Traitor," he mouths down at Malika. But there's no real anger in his eyes, none at all. A different emotion entirely, with that scent wafting up at him. The Northman raises his goblet in toast. "To the Martells. A house filled with noble spirits who've w'a kind heart for strays like me."

And he tilts his goblet up, and begins to drink. One swallow after another. He grabs up a jug of wine, refills it, and drinks again. If he cannot be permitted to leave until he is drunk, Desmond Snow will make himself drunk. And even more drunk. When he empties that second goblet and smiles around at the others, his features are flushed a bright red.

Malika, fierce as any other Fowler woman, only laughs.

The enormity of Ser Desmond's toast patently impresses Princess Joyeuse, who holds out her own goblet eagerly to see it replenished, "And to our friends in the north," she declares, "with whom we have such a lot more in common than— than with anyone else who lives in between!" She beams with pride in her observation, and clinks the rim of her goblet against his, the better to sanctify her rapid and gleeful consumption of its contents.

Is it any wonder, in an atmosphere so drenched in goodwill and Dornish fragrances, that toast leads to toast, and flagon to flagon—?

Or that Ser Desmond Snow, acknowledged of House Umber, the Snow Giant himself, who can't ever arrive in Oldtown without making some sort of splash, wakes up the next morning in a nest of Princess Joyeuse's cushions with his boots gone, his breeches done up all wrong, no idea how he got there or when or wherefore, and a three-quarters-naked Malika Fowler slumbering peacefully atop his great, stranded, hungover bulk—?

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