|Rituals, Ours and Theirs|
|Summary:||On a fall day, Camillo finds Lady Marsei not so busy, and thoughts turn to faith and the north.|
|Related:||The Good, The Bad, and the Confused; Short Pig, perhaps|
Library - The Hightower - Battle Island
This expansive room serves as the library for House Hightower and their guests. While its book collection does not compare to what the Citadel might offer, the space is entirely admirable, and well suited so socialization as well as study.
Tall shelves line the walls. The ends of the wooden bookcases are carved with the Hightower sigil, an image of the very tower that holds this room. They are painted, and the flames of the beacon-fire covered with bright gold leaf. While the carvings are largely the same, the paint-jobs are each different, some showing the tower at night, some at dawn, some in rain, and so forth.
The shelves nearest the door hold, not books, but games of various sorts, most in wooden boxes. There are several large round tables to facilitate play, surrounded by chairs plushly padded with silk, some in silver and some in red.
Further back, the bookshelves are not pressed against the walls but arranged in stacks that divide up the space into small, semi-private areas. Hidden there are more tables, these ones small, as well as single chairs and plush couches.
The room is windowless, but kept well-lit by many lamps.
It seems there ought to be a thousand one things for a lady the likes of Marsei could be doing in the middle of the day, social and productive and both. The afternoon finds her, instead, in the Hightower library, sitting by herself at a square games table half in sight of the entrance. The other three chairs are empty; only hers is taken up by her slight figure and the flowing length of her blue gown, appearing alight with stars every time the lamplight flickers upon reflective beads sewn into its flower patterns. She looks altogether too fanciful against the scholarly backdrop of shelves and shelves of tomes. A few sheets of parchment are laid out at her right — shipping manifests of some sort — but the elegant lady is occupying herself with the inane task of stacking up carved, round wooden game tokens, meant for a flat board, on top of each other. Apparently, she's attempting to see how far she can get before they fall over.
Camillo seems able to slip into almost any room without even disturbing the air, and so he lingers breifly in the doorway after his unobtrusive entrance to observe the lady at her self-imposed task. He waits until a moment in which the tension is not so high with the game tokens—at least when Marsei's hand isn't near enough the tower that a startle will cause its fall. "Lady Marsei," he says at that right moment, quietly.
The precarious tower is safe from collapse, but it's Marsei who nearly comes apart when she hears the voice. She startles over-much, curling her hands up to her collarbone to quell the little jump in her chair, having been so focused on balancing the pieces. She's gotten past ten! "Oh! Camillo," she recognizes the quiet source of the voice before turning to look. She laughs at her own surprise, though it's not without a hint of embarrassment. "You've caught me," she says, not that she'd been hiding, in plain enough sight to anyone who wants to visit the library. "How ludicrous I must look."
Camillo pauses, hesitates. This is not unusual in him. In fact it would perhaps seem false if he crossed to the lady's side with confidence. "Forgive me, my lady," he says. "I'll go if you prefer to be alone, but…is everything all right?" His eyes pass over the tower, the empty chairs, Marsei's curled hands, and then back to the lady's face.
"Oh, I've only myself to blame," Marsei replies lightly, smiling. "For this. It's a self-imposed tedium. I was waiting for my uncle, but he had to run off on some errand, and…" She leans ever-so-slightly over the table to place another piece on the stack. It wobbles threateningly but stills under her careful placement. "Well I-I suppose…" Her smile, too, threatens collapse, but stays in place. "I felt like staying in the library is all. It's all right. Is all right with you, Camillo?" She looks up, expectant to discover the reason for his appearance, as is routine between lady and servant.
"Yes, my lady," Camillo answers, as a servant probably must. His hair is on the verge between shaggy and actually long, though his beard is neatly kept. "I came to ask if there are any special changes you would like in your rooms or your corridor with the change in weather. We're planning a big clean with the season of course, my lady, and so if there is anything you think you would like besides the usual addition of blankets…" He folds his hands. "Although…I wonder if you don't have something on your mind, my lady."
"Only the change in seasons; things do shift, don't they," Marsei replies, reassuring, but clearly thoughtful. "I was wondering if I could have potted plants brought in with plants from the gardens, for my rooms… although I know Dhraegon will have thoughts on which ones will do well indoors." She moves to place another piece on the stack, but reconsiders, looking up at Camillo instead. "You look well-prepared for winter, if I may say," she says with her good humour, "Under all that hair!"
"Yes, my lady," Camillo says gravely. But he could be grave about almost anything. "Of course we can pot plants and bring them to your rooms, my lady. I will ask Prince Dhraegon and the garderners which they think will be most happy for it. Surely there are those that prefer shelter to light." Her comment makes him lift a hand to touch his hair as though he had forgotten the change. "Oh," he says. "Yes, my lady, perhaps it will keep me warmer. I hope it is not…too untidy for my position."
Marsei considers this quite seriously — though it is with a smile — whilst tipping her head to examine Camillo through the lens of propriety and fashion. "It's just different, that's all," she decides, chipper enough, adding, "Plenty of men grow hair longer still. Though with yours dark like it is, you remind me of the men who used to visit from the North long ago." With a bright smile — as if to ensure that being compared to a northman wasn't meant to be an insult in this instance, she adds, "Just a little!"
Something about that makes Camillo seem to think. His eyes dart a little as if literally reading the situation, but then that stops. "What…sort of Northmen?" he asks. "Like Starks?" Whatever history Marsei is referring to, Camillo is perhaps ignorant of.
"Most probably," Marsei answers, reading Camillo in turn, though it is only lightly, less invested; she looks back to her stack of game tokens after a moment. It's a pointless task, but it's there in front of her and she started it and can't quite seem to leave it alone. She tries to balance another piece on top, gentle as can be. "It wasn't very often that the old lords of the Northern houses would come to court, but I remember always noticing them when I was small. They stood out somehow, even when their dark beards matched those of my father and uncle and cousins. They seemed wilder. Like they brought the cold with them."
"What about the, um…the people from up there who…aren't noble?" Camillo asks. "Do you know anything about them?" He pauses, then acknowledges, "I suppose you wouldn't have ever spoken to one as a child. Or seen one."
It scarcely seems like something Marsei has considered before; the piece settled on the narrow tower, she leans back in her chair and looks curiously upon Camillo. "I suppose not," she realizes with some bewilderment. "I suppose there must be lots, with all that space. The North is terribly huge, isn't it? I think sometimes a man still comes from the Wall to recruit from the dungeons…"
"Yes, I've…heard that there are people up there," Camillo says. "But I hear different things about them. Some people say that they are wild thieves and raiders. Others say…they struggle against the elements to feed their own and…perhaps nobles like the Starks take more and leave them with less. I don't know what is true," he admits.
Marsei carefully considers this as well, but is quick to arrive at an opinion. "Maybe it is all true," she suggests. "I don't know how the Starks rule — though they have a reputation for honour — but … there are all sorts of people in the South, good and bad, and so there must be in the North. But if living is more of a hardship, surely many are sent down an unfortunate path of desperation." Pleased with her answer, she lines up another wooden piece as she thinks to say, "Especially those without the Seven to guide them."
"What do you think is the answer to that kind of desperation, my lady?" Camillo asks softly. "Among the common people. When people do not have enough to eat or to make shelter?"
The lady is not so quick to answer this time. It is clear that she dwells on it, dislikes her mind's own silent replies, and that her lack of insight disturbs her on some level. The tower of pieces has managed to rise and stay still, and so she folds her pale hands. "Where have these thoughts come from?" she wonders with some concern.
Camillo surely realizes that he has pushed beyond the bounds in his rank in requesting such answers. He shakes his head. "Nowhere, my lady," he replies, then gestures at the table. "Have you had young Thoma up here again to play at cyvasse?"
Mention of the young servant brings a new smile to Marsei's face. "Not for quite some time. Is he well? Busy? You don't suppose he's gotten into trouble for it after all— ?" She isn't quite so quick to pass by the prior conversation, however; she still looks curiously at Camillo. "You know— it's all right," she tells him quietly, certainly, subtly encouraging. "I like to hear thoughts and questions. I only know that they don't come from nowhere."
"No one's gotten into trouble," Camillo says. "No one knows about it but you and me, I should think. And…I think for a smart boy…he'll develop his mind one way or another. And mischief is the way many choose." He hesitates at her encouragements, looking aside. "Well, only I have a friend who comes from the North."
"Is your friend in some trouble?" Desperate, Northern trouble? The assumption brings concern along with it, and the noblewoman finds herself searching Camillo's turned face, as though she wishes, somehow, to help.
Camillo furrows his brow a little. "Not trouble," he says softly. "But…the people there will be hungry in the winter, he says. He's been away from them for some time and so…to come back he must bring them food." He shirts slightly on his feet, perhaps embarrassed to trouble the lady with such concerns.
"Oh, I see," Marsei says softly, truly sorry to hear that, even about a Northern stranger. "I take it… he does not have enough to bring?" Her question is cautious, gentle, aware of Camillo's potential embarrassment. "Might I ask what your friend does here in Oldtown— what he does to earn coin?"
"I'm not sure," Camillo answers, dipping his head. "I don't know how much is enough. But…he is a sailor. So to get enough to feed a whole village, even for a while is…"
"A whole village… oh, what a thing to weigh heavily on one's heart." The noblewoman's rosy lips don't quite frown, but her expression is far closer to that than her easy smile. "There are many kinds of sailors," she says. "Some must earn more than others." She places her hands on the neglected documents on one corner of the table. "If there were something I could do to help…" But her slow, trailing words do not speak of an easy solution, despite her penchant for optimism.
"Well, my lady," Camillo hazards cautiously, "If you should happen to hear from one of your family members of where they purchase grain most cheaply…perhaps that could be of some help." He looks her way to see whether the request offends.
"Oh!" Marsei's face lights up with unexpected delight rather than offense. "Perhaps it was meant to be that my uncle stalled his meeting with me today until another time. He's absolutely sure to know; he is the Master of Coin, after all," she beams. Her expression gentles afterward, dimming the shine to say more somberly, "I would be glad to. There is little I can do for those so far away, not among our people…"
Camillo looks a litle relieved to hear that Marsei is willing to help even so much, and bobs his head gratefully. "You will do a kindness, my lady. And if the hunger of the people of those parts causes them to be unruly…then you save the Starks as well from having to take losses in order to quell unrest."
"A fair point. Though it does seem…" Marsei's brows begin to inch toward one another. "As though the Starks should take care of them…" But then they've circled back to that conversation, and she shakes her head, deciding to smile and dismiss it and do what she can— preferably without getting in-between the Starks and the rest of the North. "Well. I see no harm in putting in this one small inquiry," she smiles. "I do hope it works out for your friend and his village."
Camillo looks like he might agree, but shrugs slightly, content that he at least hasn't asked Marsei to take a public action that could cause diplomatic strain. He nods a little. "Do you think our gods hear their prayers?" he wonders. "Or do you think all their prayers and ceremonies are…wasted?"
"I think…" And she does think, pausing to make sure of it. "They hear all. Even the prayers meant for the Old Gods. Perhaps they are harder to hear when they go through the wrong ceremonies… like letter from a raven, getting turned around in a storm. I like to think that… if a person is good, even when they aren't on the right path, or if they veer from it, the Seven will still look in on them from time to time and give them signs to point them the right way." She looks down, finding her hands tightly clasped. "Even if… some people never get there."
Camillo looks at Marsei's hands, then back to her face. "My…lady, is there someone you are worried for?"
"No," Marsei says, soft but decisive, with a little smile accompanying. "No, not anymore. I was only reminded of the northman we both know and— " She has looked up to address Camillo, but looks right back down upon a blink, "who I would rather I did not." A pause. "Do you worry for this friend of yours? His faith?"
Camillo has the decency to look a little embarrassed for having reminded the lady of the Northron he aided against her wishes. But he answers her question honestly. "Yes, my lady. He goes to the Godswood. But Mistress Esme thinks the Seven are gods of the world and will like goodness wherever they find it."
"Mistress Esme has much good advice. We have spoken a few times now at the Starry Sept," Marsei admits with a gentle smile, thinking on the colourful, pious shopkeeper, and further, to Camillo, toward his concern for his godswood-going friend. "I hope she is right in this."
"Do you, my lady?" Camillo asks, but his tone doesn't express doubt. He nods. "I do, too. I think…all good people should enjoy some of the favor of the Seven." He looks thoughtful. "I wonder if their rituals are recognized."
"Do you know much of their rituals? I… I recall you mentioned something about a sacrifice once," Marsei ventures, her soft brows raising as if in prompt … but not too much prompt. "I do not think they stand upon ceremony as much as we do. Their ways are simpler." Some might credit that as a good thing, but the faithful noblewoman holds the ceremony of the sept much higher. "I cannot in good faith consider that a ceremony of their ways would be considered holy and binding except by the laws of the North," she says, her voice respectful even so. "Our ways are important. Our tradition, our words, our prayer, our vows to the Seven in a holy sept." She begins to sound regretful as she finishes her thought: "Without them, it is … a person with good intentions talking to a tree. Is it not?"
"Not very much," Camillo says, bobbing his head once to acknowledge that he might have once said something about a sacrificial ritual. "Do you think their ways make the Seven angry?" he asks. "If they should do some…observance, some ceremony that we do not do, if it might…even somewhat contradict our ways, do you think They would be displeased?"
The lady makes a soft sound of thought. "I don't know," she admits with wonder. "Perhaps they only feel that way about those who have already been on their path and strayed too far off. Perhaps they pay little mind to the rituals of others until it comes time to consider the seven heavens or seven hells." She smiles gently, as though the thought of such judgment is not at all jarring. With a similarly gentle look, she studies the questioning servant.
Camillo takes a breath at that assessment and nods gravely. "It must be…difficult for Them. When…human beings make so many mistakes."
"A harder job than that of a king," Marsei agrees. "But then … They are above us and so must not struggle as we do," she says, in hopes that it may deliver some modicum of comfort or reassurance. "I only hope we do not disappoint Them too greatly." Her arms fold against the edge of the table, leaning forward so lightly the towering stack of wooden pieces remains standing tall. "Are you worried about something in particular, Camillo?"
Camillo focuses his gaze on the tower of stones while a long pause slips by as he apparently considers what his answer will be, or whether to make one at all. "I think I may join such a ritual," he says. "A small one. I do not know whether it will offend the Seven or not, but I pray that it will not. They are always in my heart."
The lady's hazel-centered eyes widen, bright with surprise. Her gaze turns downward to consider; trying to put herself in Camillo's shoes, even without knowing his motivations. In this case especially, it proves difficult. "I will pray so too," she says honestly all the same. "The Seven know your heart better than anyone." A pause. "It must be for a good cause?" She knows it must be, and it shows in her voice, but she can't help but ask.
"I don't know," Camillo answers honestly, looking away from the surprised eyes. "It may be good, it may be selfish. I suppose the truth is that I do it mainly for my own purposes. It would be better if I could tell you I was saving a life in danger or…" He can't think of another acceptable excuse, "But…the truth is that it is because…I feel like…I should. In this case. I…" He glances to Marsei. "I'm sorry, my lady, I know it must sound… I'm sorry that I can't make it sound like sense. You must be… You must disapprove. I understand that."
"I admit it is … very hard to wrap my head around," Marsei says and, by her voice, she truly sounds more concerned for Camillo than disapproving. She pushes her chair away from the table and stands, for no apparent purpose other than that, looking at him from a more level angle. "If I did not know how true and faithful you are… it would be different. You must feel the risk is worthwhile, and so… without prying— " Her smile is there, bright and benevolent as ever. "All I can do is lend you my caution and prayers." She takes the documents from the table but leaves the stack of tokens balanced right where it is for the library visitor to wonder over.
Camillo bows his head. "Yes, my lady," he says. "I hope…knowing this will not…harm your trust in me. I am… I in no way abandon the Seven. I love and honor them each day. Sincerely." He nevertheless looks apologetic.
"I know you do," Marsei responds earnestly, welcoming the sentiment. She says no more of her thoughts on the unusual matter, however; only smiles more warmly at Camillo. She does so for a long moment until she begins to drift toward the door of the library. "Do you think," she pipes up suddenly, "We ought to hang the winter curtains?…"
"Yes, my lady," Camillo replies immediately, nodding. "We can have them hung right away if it pleases you.