|Blessing of the Maiden|
|Summary:||In the gentle shadow of a shrine to The Maiden, Emmeline meets Lady Marsei. Upon realizing who she is, she can't help but ask about the dove.|
|Date:||October 24, 2016|
|Related:||Meandering Conversation in Dappled Shade|
Maidenday Gardens, Starry Street
The Maidenday Gardens are perhaps the loveliest of Oldtown's public gardens. The gracious footpaths are paved in white stone and lined with with flowering trees and rosebushes bearing pink and white blossoms. The beds alongside them are thickly planted with narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, trilliums and wood anemones. An occasional arbor arches over the path, supporting a clematis or wisteria, a virgin's bower or a honeysuckle. Most of the flowers are pale or blushing, but splashes of bright yellows, purples, and blues are not uncommon. True red is all that is absent. In the evenings little lamps hang from slim iron posts to light the paths.
There are benches here and there, and pavilions enshrouded with flowering vines. There are also shrines to The Maiden throughout the garden. They feature statues of stone or wood, some painted, some plain, some large, some small, some dressed in real clothing. All are beautiful and all have a little altar before them. While this is a public garden the rest of the year, on Maiden's Day it is closed to all but maidens. Those girls who feel the ritual at the Sept is not enough to express their piety may, under the watchful eyes of the Septas who maintain this place, light candles at these altars and sing more of their songs of innocence.
A light summer rain soaks deep into the flowerbeds of the Maidenday Gardens, nourishing the honeysuckle and virgin's bower. Although it is perhaps one of the few remaining rains of a summer coming to its end, few have ventured to wander the tidy footpaths.
Except one girl stands alone before one of the many little shrines to The Maiden. Beneath the hood of her light traveller's cloak, Emmeline gazes up into the statue's face, which was so lovingly carved into the wood. Hands clasped, she whispers her secret, heart-felt prayer.
A cluster of noblewomen emerge from the Starry Sept and into the garden, talking quietly and cheerfully amongst themselves. Many cover their hair with veils or the hoods of fanciful cloaks and mantles to fend off the rain. They'll all be too meager against the colder winter rains, when they come. Even the more familiar warm rain proves too much for the ladies; after a short walk past the statue of the Maiden, they can't be convinced. All but two remain behind after goodbyes and friendly kissed cheeks. The delicate-featured, redheaded lady whose pink, flower-embroidered gown is a cheerful rebellion against winter — the pious Flower of Oldtown — and a woman of a similar age with darker hair and darker skin, whose gown is well-made but simpler, not quite to the elaborate standard of the others. Locking arms with her handmaiden friend, Lady Marsei prepares for a stroll, but, smiling in admiration, she pauses to look back at the Maiden and the young woman in prayer.
Emmeline bows her head, closing her eyes. In the silence following her prayer, she catches the gentle sound of the ladies bidding each other farewell. As silence settles, the girl sneaks a peek over her shoulder to see if they have all gone. Catching the remaining lady and her trusted handmaiden watching her, the girl quickly returns to the statue. But, remembering their smiles, she slowly peeks back over her shoulder, shy yet curios.
Marsei gives the girl herself a gentle smile, encouraging as it is kind. "Seven blessings upon you," she greets, respectfully quiet; even so, her voice is cheerful. The last thing she wishes to do is interrupt prayer. The Maiden seems to call to her as well, though, and so she and her handmaiden linger, gazing on the statue - Marsei more than Siva.
The gentleness - the kindness and encouragement - reassures Emmeline as it might a skittish woodland creature in the forest. Bobbing in a curtsy, the girl murmurs, "And upon you, the blessings of The Maiden." Shifting aside, as if in deferential respect to allow Marsei to recieve the full attention of The Maiden in the shrine, Emmeline bows her head yet again in silent meditation. But soon, she sneaks another peek over at Marsei and her handmaiden. Though her devotion had been profound, she can't quite help her curiosity.
With Siva in tow, Marsei steps a bit closer to the Maiden's likeness, smiling her thanks to Emmeline. She doesn't so much pray as she does gaze adoringly at the carved wooden face, with a depth of thought behind her seawater eyes besides; although perhaps that in itself is a form of prayer. Married, widowed, and married again, the lady is less the maiden than she once was, yet… "I cannot help but be drawn to her still," she asides in friendly explanation to the blonde stranger when she seems to notice the peeking. In that moment, the kinship of worship makes them alike, despite the apparent differences in their station.
Emmeline bites her lower lip, but smiles with a little nod. "She is kind. So kind." She glances up to the statue with shy adoration. "To my prayers, she seems to listen closest. With the most patience. And… understanding."
"Yes," Marsei says, a soft, quiet syllable of agreement as she looks between Emmeline and the statue. "She never felt to me as though she judges. She only protects…" Her gaze upon the Maiden turns a bit wistful, though her smile does not fade. "As best she can."
"Her love… her aid… it comes like a gust of wind. It comes to lift us up. But her sparrows must spread their wings and make effort, I think." Emmeline pauses, gazing up at the statue. "And in a gale, the gust might reach us, but still we might get swept away by… other ones."
At first, Marsei stands in silent agreement, considering the words for a few contemplative moments. Siva seems to be silent by default. It is the lady's turn to look at Emmeline with curiosity — and admiration, not dissimilar to the way in which she looked at the Maiden. "You seem wise for someone so young," she says. "You remind me of Her."
Emmeline looks to Marsei, bewildered. She blinks, her eyes growing wider as Marsei's words settle in. "Me? Of… Her?" She glances to the statue and then back at Marsei. Shaking her head, she dips into an apologetic curtsy. "No, no, my lady. Not wise. Not me. I'm just a foolish child. Begging your pardon."
Marsei gives a little laugh, small but merry and full of good humour; the kind of sound meant to put at ease rather than make on edge. "There is a bit of the Maiden and Mother in all women," she says. She reaches into some inner pocket of her light hooded cloak — matched to her gown, gleaming embroidery and all - but finds whatever she was looking for to be absent. With a soft 'oh!' of realization, she takes it from Siva's. "Would you like this?" She offers a new white candle to Emmeline. The wax has been smoothly carved with an image of the Maiden, and it smells of roses. "I know it won't do in this rain, but … it's been anointed by a septa. I have plenty, and— I … " She shakes her head. "I oughtn't need it. Please," she insists in her gentle way.
Even her laughter is a kind, reassuring sound. Emmeline peeks over at Marsei, meek- almost bashful, until the sight of the candle ensnares her attention. It draws her closer. She hesitates, her gaze flitting to the silent handmaiden. She peeks up at Marsei with a lingering trace of caution. But the lady's gentle kindness draws out a soft smile, and thus, the girl steps closer still. Close enough to accept it. For a moment, she simply holds the candle in both hands, as if cradling a fledgling. "S'beautiful…" she murmurs in hushed awe. She peeks up at Marsei. "Truly for me? Truly?"
Marsei is delighted that Emmeline — however cautiously — takes the candle. Her smile lights up her entire face, sun through the rain. Even Siva smiles a little, although it's more toward her lady's enduring generosity than anything else. "Of course!" the lady says. Her arm unlinked from that of her handmaiden, she clasps her hands in front of her. "I'd be honoured for you to have it. I know it'll be put to good use. Oh— my name is Lady Marsei." In Oldtown, she's accustomed to people just knowing, but by her reasoning, it seems rude to not to introduce herself.
Emmeline lifts her head and gazes up at Marsei in wide-eyed awe. "You are-" The candle is hugged to her chest. "You are kind Lady Marsei?" She sinks into a deep curtsy, bowing her head. "I'm Emmeline. Pleased to meet you." She peeks back up at her. "Truly am."
Marsei's own eyes widen a little bit, as though startled by being looked upon with awe. She bows her half-hooded red head in earnest modesty. "Oh, you're too kind. Emmeline. How pretty!" As it turns out, giving compliments is easier than receiving them, and her head pops back up cheerfully, recovered. "It is good to meet you as well. Especially here in the shadow of the Maiden. I don't recall seeing you in the garden before."
Emmeline smiles, a bit pink but pleased to hear the kind lady finds her name pretty. With a light nod, she says, "I haven't been in the city for so long. And it took long for me to discover this place. And then… Mm. I don't get to come as often as I'd like. But s'a beautiful place." She pauses, watching Marsei. "Um. Begging your pardon…" She bites her lower lip. "Do you still keep and tend to the dove?"
Marsei is visibly pleased as can be to hear nice things said about her city's garden she adores so much. She's taken aback by Emmeline's query, but not unpleasantly so; her light eyebrows hop up for a moment of brief bewilderment and she tilts her head. "I do," she says through a surprised laugh. "My dove lives in my room with me high in the tower. However did you hear about it?"
Emmeline smiles with luminous delight to imagine the dove dwelling high in the tower with this kindest of ladies. "We were speaking of signs from The Maiden… he mentioned how you'd found your dove… a true sign. Your servant. Camillo." She bites her lower lip. "Now, I see well how a servant might love the family served." Her gaze flits to the silent handmaiden, smiling with appreciation for the other smallfolk's good fortune. Stepping back, she tucks away the candle beneath her cloak. "I've got to go. To work. But… it was wonderful to meet you, Lady Marsei. I hope very much to meet you again."
Mention of Camillo brings a dawning clarity to Marsei's fair face, as well as a fondness to her smile to consider that the servant was speaking of her and the dove and signs from the Seven. Of course he was. Siva offers a truer, more expressive smile than her norm, looking from Emmeline to the lady. "May the Maiden watch over you," Marsei says in parting, bouncing once upon her as she adds cheerily, "As I know She will!" She tugs her hood slightly further over her head as a breeze drifts through the raindrops, giving the Maiden one last long look before she too plans to make her way out of the garden.