|How Lovely to Be a Woman|
|Summary:||Marsei helps Aelia prepare for her wedding to Jurian in ways that go beyond the dress.|
Dragon Door Manse — Starry Street
This is a grand and enormous manse maintained by the Targaryen family for royals and their guests when they happen to wish to stay in Oldtown.
The house faces the prestigious Starry Street. The first story is protected by narrow high windows that stop people from seeing inside, but the windows on the back wall and the four upper stories are tall and wide, making the manse bright and airy over all.
The first floor's main hall is brightly lit with lamps to make up for the shortcomings of those windows, and the walls are covered in rich tapestries depicting dragons, and the acts of Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters. There's a grand dining room separated from the entry hall by a great arch formed by carved stone dragons, and another such arch leads to a smaller, though still huge by most standards, sitting room. Everything is opulent, beautifully made, and as luxurious as befits the royal family.
There are other sitting rooms up in the floors above, as well as bedchambers, game rooms, and even private baths. Like almost all of the houses in Oldtown, it shares two walls with its neighbors on either side, but the servants quarters, kitchens, and servant's stairs buffer the house proper from any noise that could possibly leak through the thick stone walls.
There's a large and gracious walled garden in the back, and wide windows open to it. Those on the upper stories have balconies.
Aelia, accompanied by her trusty red-haired servant, Mae, is currently standing in the main hall. More specifically, she is standing over a plate of corn cakes on a side table, daintily demolishing the sweet. Mae has her hands folded, but she's ready to step forward to stop the princess from wiping her hands on her dress, for instance.
Once Marsei arrives for a visit, she has a direct distance to traverse to find Aelia — or rather, be led to her by the helpful servants. Thus, she makes it to the princess with minimal conversation with any of the other regal residents of Dragon Door, although there is no doubt the sweet Hightower would have happily chatted at every given opportunity, even if she encountered Vhaerys again. She smiles brightly — and understandingly — at Mae and Aelia, going straight away to her side, though she does not interrupt the quest for corn cakes with an embrace right away. "Good day, Princess Aelia! Oh, what manner of cakes— ?" Her attire is well-suited to the cool, grey day outside she faced on the way to the manse, fitted in a soft lavender gown with a small, flower-embroidered 'v' for a neck and long, hanging sleeves like the style more commonly seen on her prince husband.
Aelia tolerates Mae wiping her hands just long enough before rushing directly at Marsei to give her a hug. "Corn!" she says in the Hightower's ears, sounding excited and high-spirited. She steps back and looks at Marsei after a long embrace. "You look like lavender today." She seems to mean the plant.
"Oh!" Marsei gives a little sound of surprise — although she isn't surprised — that blends into a delighted little laugh as she's set upon, returning the embrace warmly for its whole length. "Thank you," she replies to the plant-based statement, "You think in flowers, like Dhraegon," she says like a compliment before gesturing over the cakes. Corn cakes! "May I?"
"Well, he said you were a flower," Aelia points out. She looks at the cakes, pausing in thought before she nods decisively. "Yes," she agrees. Marsei may have a cake. She moves toward the plate, but lets Marsei eat instead of reaching for a cake. "Do you love my uncle?"
The question seems to cause Marsei's hand to pause on the way to the plate of cakes; not in hesitation, but for the curiosity of it. She gives Aelia a thoughtful look, smiling with fondness; for the subject of the question, the curious asker, or both. "I… do," she says, slowly but certainly and with a note of query lingering toward the end. One small bite of sweet corn cake later, she goes on, "Why do you wonder?"
"Well, I thought we are supposed to marry in our own family," Aelia tells Marsei honestly. "So I thought…there must be some reason. Owls don't usually marry flowers. I don't think."
"Well…" Marsei starts to answer, pausing to glance down at her half-eaten cake introspectively. She nods, as though to an answer in her own head. "It— did take some thinking. Do you want to talk about it while we look at your dresses for the wedding?" she suggests cheerily. "Perhaps, if we're careful, we can even bring the rest of the cakes." She looks to Mae for the final word, however, even if it technically belongs to Aelia.
"Yes," Aelia says quickly, orienting herself as to where the stairs are and then dashing that way in a rustle of skirts. Mae gives Marsei a kindly smile— he seems well disposed towards the lady— and picks up the plate of cakes.
Marsei gives Mae a good-humoured little smile while Aelia hurries toward the stairs before hurrying after her, keeping up with the princess's energetic pace. They ascend together in a rustle-and-bustle. "Your family is so special, Aelia. But … there are a few reasons one might marry outside of it. For Dhraegon and I, I… suppose it turned out to be all of them," she begins on the way in.
"Yes, we are very special," Aelia agrees, trundling toward her room. It seems that she and her brother keep separate rooms, at least for now. She leaves the door standing open and goes straight to her bed to flop down on her back. "I am getting married soon," she announces to the ceiling.
"You certainly are," Marsei agrees warmly, though it's paired with a small dip of her head: the floor gets an ever-so-slightly troubled look while Aelia's gaze is lofty. She walks to the bed, pausing at its side. "If two people love each other … sometimes that can be enough. It is a powerful thing, and should be embraced, when … if it can be," she says slowly. She glances to the door, checking to see if Mae has closed it. Either way, her voice is especially soft. "The King and Queen, for example! Even though there were people against it, King Viserys knew he had to be with Alicent even though she is a Hightower, like me."
"Yes, the King and Queen must be all right," Aelia acknowledges with a nod. Then she lifts up onto one elbow, looking at Marsei with round, violet eyes. "When you get married, it stays that way forever, right? Isn't that a long time?"
"It's…" Faced with trying to define forever, Marsei finds herself blinking and giving a soft little laugh, giving her head a bewildered shake. "You're right," she agrees. "All of time! It is a sacred bond, and so it never ends usually. Not unless something bad happens." Drawn in by those guileless violet eyes, the lady touches the princess's hair sweetly for a moment, reassuring. It reassures her, too; a hint of thoughtful melancholy began to form in her expression on those last words, but she smiles it all away. "You needn't worry about that, though. Are all your dresses in the wardrobe?"
Aelia sits up, tucking her legs underneath her. Mae situates the plate of cakes on a table, then goes to open the wardrobe for Marsei. Aelia looks a little puzzled, but when Marsei tells her she doesn't need to worry about bad things happening, she smiles. "Oh," she answers. "/Well/. I have several dresses but they are all very nice, so I don't know what the nicest is. But did you know that geese are as good as watchdogs?"
Quietly thanking Mae, Marsei goes to the wardrobe. She looks at the array of gowns in front of her, presented in slivers, categorizing familiar colours and shapes from others, picking and choosing with just her eye at first. "No," she replies meanwhile, sounding delighted to know the fact. "But it sounds like a good job for them. When I was little, there was a flock of geese — such giant birds — that would set upon the harbour and chase me if I ever got too close. It was for the best. I was rather frightened of falling in if I wasn't holding someone's hand." She goes about taking a few dresses from the wardrobe, carefully draping them over the back of a chair so they don't wrinkle.
"I'm glad you didn't fall in the harbor," Aelia says warmly, craning her neck to look at the dresses in the wardrobe. With her skirts poofing up and her neck arching, she does bear a certain resemblance to a goose, whether by design or accident. "Marsei," she says, "What if my brother tells me to go away?"
Marsei is smoothing out a dress and considering the design beneath her hand when Aelia asks the question. She's quiet for a moment. "He oughtn't," she says then. Were Jurian in the room, it would be chastising towards him, even though her voice never escalates past its inherent sweetness. "But…" she turns to fully face the poofy-skirted princess on the bed, carrying the dress — one of the less ostentatious designs — over her arm. "There are … different kinds of love, Aelia. And different kinds of marriages."
"He sleeps a lot, lately," Aelia says. "But he doesn't have a fever so they say it's passing." She doesn't seem totally convinced, a wrinkle in her brow. But she puts out a hand toward the dress. "This one?"
"Oh— ?" Marsei expresses concern over Jurian's state, lifting her brows. It takes her a second to look down at the dress. "I think it's a contender!" she declares. "Come, let's look at the others. I was thinking we could pick out a few, and that way you can wear the one that feels the best on the day," she says, reaching for the bride-to-be's hand to lead her over to the wardrobe. Her mind is not set absolutely on dresses, however. "Is he feeling well otherwise? Jurian…?"
Aelia hops off the bed, only briefly getting her foot tangled in her skirts. But she recovers well. "Yes, let's pick a few!" She enthuses, going with Marsei to the wardrobe. "Mm…I don't know. He's not in a mood for questions. He's been staying in his room more than usual."
Accepting this information with a thoughtful nod once they stand in front of the open wardrobe, Marsei comes to an optimistic answer: "Perhaps he is just gathering his strength for the wedding." She smiles encouragingly, though, behind her eyes, she's still thinking, wondering. "It will be a long day. And so, you must look your best!" She lays the dress down and gestures at the others she has laid out. "What do you think of these ones?" she says with a sweeping gesture, distracted halfway through to pull one out from the others and re-examine the back of it. She sets it down and rifles through the wardrobe again. "They should be ones you feel the best in. The loveliest but most comfortable too. I loved my last wedding dress, but it was so heavy by the end of the day…"
"Oh," Aelia says. She looks at the wardrobe. "If I am heavy, he should carry me." She pauses thoughtfully. "Unless he is ill…" She pokes her entire upper body into the wardrobe and begins to root around.
"Then he would be heavy too," Marsei counters with a good-natured little laugh underneath her words, only to come around to the idea, "Of course, that's one way of sharing burdens like man and wife." She peeks over Aelia's shoulder, quietly hoping the princess's choice doesn't boast too many feathers. "I'm sure he isn't ill," she assures after the fact. "He may have a poorly leg, but there is something persevering about your brother."
Aelia resurfaces with her arms wrapped around two surprisingly tasteful gowns, nothing that would embarrass a girl at sept. Mae keeps a watchful eye on the selection from over by the table. Aelia's hair is slightly disarrayed by her wardrobe dive, but she smiles. "Yes," she agrees. "He is the only boy who lived!"
The lady's eyes widen a bit at that fact. Once again, she takes the positive route. "There you have it!" she says, celebratory. "He'll be all right." With additional earnestness, looking the young woman in the eye, she adds, "And so will you." She moves right along, fixing Aelia's hair like it's the most natural thing in the world to do and smiles all over again at the choices of dresses. "These are both so lovely, aren't they! You know, I think they outshine this one," she decides, putting one of her own selections back in the wardrobe. "But what do you think of this? The silhouette can be seen from far away. That is important at a wedding." She holds up another, elegant but vivid.
Aelia bounces a little from the knees. "Should I put it on?" she asks. "We can see if it would be good for swimming and flying." Which hopefully she will only test in an imaginative sense.
Hopefully. Stranger things have happened at weddings. "That's a good idea!" Marsei encourages cheerfully, smiling bright to watch Aelia's reaction to everything. "In fact, you could try on all the best ones on." After laying out the current gown on top of the others, she perches on the very corner of the chair they're all draped on. "Do you know what Jurian is wearing? We wouldn't want to choose anything that would clash with the Targaryen colours," she points out.
"Yes," Aelia agrees, motioning Mae with a gesture, who comes over to help her out of what she's wearing now. "I think it will be black. What clashes with black? I don't have to wear red, do I? I only sometimes want to wear red."
"All black? He's not going to a funeral," Does Marsei have to have a word with Jurian about upbeat wedding attire? Turned slightly at an angle, away from Aelia's changing, she gives her head a dismissive shake. No matter! "Well, we're in luck; almost everything goes with black. I understand not wishing to wear red." For entirely different reasons than Aelia, no doubt, but all the same, Marsei has had her own struggles with the Targaryen colours. "We'll just have to make room for some jewelry with a dragon on it if your dress doesn't have any. To show how proud you are… to be a Targaryen."
"I've never been to a funeral," Aelia says while Mae unhooks her dress. "Have I?" She tilts her head. "But geese do walk over graves. Maybe it will be black with something. Maybe he will wear house colors. He's sleeping now, I can't ask him." She grins at Marsei. "But I am proud." Mae glances at Marsei, then starts to let the bodice down from Aelia's dress.
"It's all just… symbolism really." Marsei looks over long enough to continue, "Everyone will know you're proud. It's about showing who you are on the day that…" She pauses, looking down with faint consternation across her features. She has to reconfigure her logic of families combining when it comes to the insular Targaryens. "That your family becomes stronger." That's solved, but she hasn't made it over that bump in thought she hit a moment ago. Her hands clasp tight atop her crossed knee; her light brows come together.
Aelia smiles at the way Marsei puts it, and steps out of the dress she was in, then into the next one Mae has ready for her. Mae lifts it into place and starts to lace with practiced hands. "Will you be there on the day?"
"Of course!" Attuned to the familiar sounds of routine — a dress being methodically removed and another put on by a maid — she turns her thoughtful expression back on Aelia. "I wouldn't miss it! If you like, I can come early to help with anything you may need." It is with that thought that she rises; nevertheless, the move to her feet is a touch swift, sudden. She comes 'round to face the young woman, placing gentle hands on her upper arms. "Aelia…" she says, concern only halfway diminished from her earnest voice; discomfort stresses her delicate features, but she's determined, spurred by worry for the little bird of a princess. She glances briefly to Mae before looking at Aelia eye-to-eye. "Do you have anyone you can talk to… about what it is like as a woman, to be married? What your duties are … to your husband— after the wedding and the feast?"
Mae blushes, but she leaves it to Marsei for now. Aelia blinks once or twice at Marsei. "Oh," she says after a moment, and reaches out to pat Marsei's hand. "You are talking about what the horses do. Or like the stable boy and the kitchen maid."
It's Marsei's turn to blink at those particular examples, but she smiles despite herself. "Yes," she says, but wants to caution, "But— it's different when it happens to you. I don't presume to know what you expect, I only know that it might not be that, one way or the other."
Aelia smiles, just looking mildly and pleasantly puzzled. "What is different?" she asks. Then she grins. "I understand that it will not be a horse or a stable boy but a swan!" Her tone indicates that she thinks Marsei is being very silly.
Marsei opens her mouth, but words don't immediately spill forth; only an uneven, apprehensive breath as she attempts to choose the right ones. "You know that swans can get cross," she eventually says with caution — and a hint of sadness, "and they are so much stronger."
Aelia reflects on this, brow wrinkling slightly. "Well…" she says slowly in light of this information, "What should I do then?"
"W-well…" In distinct contrast to the slight tremble in Marsei's voice for traversing through this particular territory, she actually speaks with confidence. "It is your duty — in the eyes of the Seven — to go through with tradition, especially on your wedding night. And so…" She holds firm to the bride-to-be's shoulders as she advises, "Before their first time, many maidens drink until they are warm and cannot feel so much. It is better to be prepared." She smiles a little. "If it is … difficult— you can come to me after. There are other ways. To make it less taxing for the next time and the next after that." She keeps a close watch on the princess's eyes, her own wide open with sincerity. "On the other hand… if for some reason your brother doesn't— if he … can't — know that it is not your fault. Even if he gets angry."
Aelia looks like she is listening, though the roundness of her eyes may make her look a bit too vacant to inspire confidence. But then she leans forward to give Marsei a hug. "Does my uncle get angry?"
Marsei returns the hug tightly, arms all the way around. She catches sight of Mae in the process and gives her a quick look that can only be described as apologetic. "U-um," she answers Aelia under her breath. "No. Your uncle … your uncle isn't like most men. But I was married once before."
Mae's look in return insists that she hears none of this but thinks Marsei is very nice for saying it anyway. Aelia smiles at Marsei. "Good," she says. "I like him. He's so big! And he thinks of me. And you! But…" She looks thoughtful. "Well. Swans are bigger than geese, but geese can make quite a sight. They hiss, and go:" She lifts her arms up as big as the dress will allow.
Marsei gives in to a gentle peal of welcome laughter; the sound is subdued, but not the warm smile that follows. "They do! They can be watchdogs, after all, and keep on the lookout for anything bad." She reaches for one of Aelia's wrists and raises it high — again, as high as the dress will allow — as one would in the midst of a dance to inspire a twirl. "Let's have a look at this dress."
Aelia is only too happy to twirl, the momentum swinging her skirts farther than she goes. She gives an open-mouthed smile, any foreboding from the previous conversation apparently banished from her mind. "It feels beautiful!"