|Summary:||Just days before his marriage to Aelia, Jurian invites himself into the Hightower.|
Hightower Square — Oldtown
This is a broad cobblestoned square, ringed by grand buildings hewn from stone. A massive fountain, also hewn from the same strong grey stone, stands in its center. It is wrought in the form of the Hightower in miniature. A tiny flame burns at its peak, and crystal waters pour from its base, pouring down the stony pedestal into the mirror-smooth pond below.
Stone benches offer places to sit, vendors cry their many wares, merchants ply their trade, and all around one can see the finely-dressed Oldtown wealthy meandering about. There is a pleasant smell of cooking food in the air, tingeing the ever-present smell of the salt sea, and a hint of perfumes and spices.
To the west, the Hightower street leads away. To the south, the archway to the Beacon Boulevard rises. To the north, with the Watch House standing alongside, is a stretch of street leading to the Beacon Gate and out to the Roseroad beyond. The cobblestone market square is quite clean and fresh, with nary a sign of any beggars, street rats, or grimy peddlers hawking stolen goods. The buildings here are in pristine condition.
Hightower Square is busy late morning, as the mild weather encourage all sorts to attend to errands and fancies. Not all sorts; rather, those who appear wealthy and tidy enough to belong. The lovely perfumes and spices hang particularly strong in the salt air with no breeze to stir them, an interlude from the reminder that winter is on its way.
People — mostly well-dressed noblewomen — come and go from the Good Queen's Cake House. Most of them travel in pairs, if not small herds. Lady Marsei — easy to spot with her coppery hair and a gown of sapphire blue — happens to emerge alone, however, leaving a few merrily waving ladies at the door. She carries a rectangle the size of a bread-loaf wrapped in paper and twine tied as fancifully as a ribbon. Typically, someone else would have the task of carrying goods, but the Flower of Oldtown seems pleased as can be to ferry her own purchase back to the Hightower, smiling delightedly at the sweet-smelling package as she tucks it against her waist and under a silken, long-sleeved arm.
Jurian already sports a cloak done in red, black and silver against the mild chill in the autumn air. Targaryens of course are known to prefer summer. The garment only serves to make him look more imposing, or perhaps that is deliberate. Although he seems at first on an errand to one of the market stalls, he changes course on seeing Marsei in all her blue-frocked glory, and sweeps that way instead. "Lady Marsei," he says as he draws nearer, his limp suppressed as much as he can manage, "Do your servants desert you?"
Marsei seems quite lost in her own world, and happily so, following the beacon of the Hightower without much of a thought to where she steps on the familiar route, safe in the Square. Thus, although not startled to encounter Jurian, it takes her a moment to reconcile his presence. "…Prince Jurian!" she greets, slowing her step to meet him. "Oh— " She looks down at the package. "I simply did not think to plan ahead. But I don't mind. It's only cake, after all!" She smiles, dazzling (mostly toward the cake). "It is good to see you out and about."
Jurian may have gained a bit of weight in the past three months. He isn't looking quite himself. "Well," he says. "I am glad if you find it good. Shall I take your cake inside the Hightower with you? I hardly like to be out in the chill. A hearthside is much more inviting."
Marsei briefly looks from Jurian to the sky, as though expecting an imminent shift in weather to account for the Targaryen's chill. Finding the same calm clouds that were there before, she smiles. "We are blessed with a lovely fall day, lovelier than the last," she says, but the prince will find no argument with her; holding the cake out, she politely reaches for Jurian's elbow for accompaniment to the Hightower. Her touch is feather-light; she was chummy with the cake. "Certainly, of course," she adds brightly.
"I prefer summer," Jurian informs his uncle's wife, taking the cake from Marsei and giving her his arm to lead her to the tower. "But fall does have certain charms," he allows after giving the matter some thought. "Certainly it is nothing compared with winter." It sounds as if he regards winter with disgust.
"I would gladly live in eternal summer," Marsei agrees, with eternal optimism, "But the gods see fit to balance the world with the seasons. We are fortunate here in the Reach," she says, looking aside at Jurian as though to encourage or cheer him. "Our winters are milder this far south. Besides," another beaming smile, first to Jurian then to the Hightower looming across the bridge, "There is nowhere warmer in all of Oldtown than Dragon Door except perhaps the beacon fire itself."
"Then I shall have to climb up there when the winter strikes," Jurian jokes. "Until then I am content to wish for your eternal summer. Where everything would be ever-blooming." He looks toward Marsei—significantly?
Marsei meets the prince's look but does not match it: her gaze is unchanging, benevolent, wide-open. It only turns to a hint of wonder once she looks away. "It would certainly benefit our gardens!" The busy sounds of the Square are well behind them now, replaced by the relative quiet of the street. The bustle is ahead of them, where business surrounds the bridge to Hightower as ever.
Jurian's limp is always felt a bit more when one is close to him than it is seen from a distance, however much he seeks to conceal it. "I've been postponing my marriage," he says, "But at last I think we must conclude it within the week."
"Oh— " The soft exclamation is not quite defined, neither positive or negative, until Marsei colours it with a small smile directed over at Jurian. "Marriage is a sacred thing," she says, and goes on, from experience, "but it will doubtless be a relief to have the ceremony over with."
"At any rate, my aunt Vhaerys will stop needling me about it." This is Jurian's version of a silver lining. "Still, I shall miss my stag days sincerely."
Marsei smiles in understanding that is ever-so-slightly tense at the edges on mention of Vhaerys, an expression that changes little even though, as she regards Jurian, her attempt to sympathize with the life of an unmarried man seems sincere … if not absolutely successful. "It will be a change — just as the seasons change, the gods will we do as well," she says carefully.
"Has Aelia been very bored while I have been keeping to my chambers?" Jurian asks, as though Marsei ought to know better than he does, while he leads her slightly out of the way of a passing peasant who looks potentially smelly.
Marsei smiles politely at the peasant in passing as though they didn't just divert out of the way. "She worried about you," she answers, in a manner. "I assured her you were strong."
Jurian lofts his eyebrows at this news from Marsei. "Did you indeed?" he repeats, tilting his head to one side in a manner that indicates he has considered the implications of this act, and finds it satisfactory. "Then I hope she was comforted."
"I think so." Marsei's fondness for Aelia is apparent in her soft voice. "She's such a gentle creature, your sister." There is an ever-so-slightly insistent note within, as well as something almost hopeful.
Jurian snorts. "You didn't grow up with her and her sharp little nails," he says. Though his tone does not sound so bitterly disposed toward his sister. "But at least in marrying her I know that she'll be taken care of." He looks up to the tower looming close above them, leading Marsei across the bridge. "Is the cake for some special occasion?"
The thought of little Aelia with sharp little nails only furthers Marsei's fond smile and a breath of a laugh, along with a knowing enough nod. "That is a very brotherly thing to say." The first thing, that is; and the second too, in a case such the Targaryen siblings. She hopes it to be true. "Cake itself is a special occasion," she announces cheerfully. "The Good Queen Cake House has a new sugar-spice cake. I knew Dhraegon would want to try it straight away!"
"That's true," Jurian says, though the thought hadn't occurred to him yet, "Uncle is uncommonly fond of cakes. Do you always bring him the newest?"
"No," Marsei answers for one simple reason: "Dhraegon is usually the first to discover them."
Once they reach the island and traverse through, past gardens and fruit trees already seeing the effects of fall, it's not long before they're greeted by helpful servants with stoked hearths and poured drink, tucked away in a sitting room, chosen for the fact that did not take an abundance of stairs to reach. The ancient walls may be vast and cold, but the room is remarkably cozy. Residents and visitors come and go, but Jurian and Marsei are more or less alone; Marsei fills the silence by fussing over whether or not he's gotten the right drink from the serving boy.
"I find most drinks of any quality highly agreeable," Jurian says once he's settled comfortably in his chair, at an angle from which he can watch Marsei. "I've been in a very sluggish mood the last few weeks, which must be due to the changing season, and have found a good wine my most steadfast companion. What do you find the most pleasure in, Lady Marsei, when you are not at your best?"
Jurian's query is given consideration, preceded by a faint "umm" and Marsei re-adjusting her hands folded neatly upon her knee. "I suppose it depends on the reason," she decides. "Sweet mulled wine, without an abundance of spice, at times. In small amounts. Too much wine makes me feel too out of sorts." Perhaps the reason she hasn't yet touched her cup of mild, watered down vintage on the table. Besides the fact that it is yet fairly early in the day. "Mostly I tuck myself away in my rooms, as you have. Sometimes … I find quiet and sleep the best things to return me to form." Her regard of the prince is gently studying, curious, even concerned.
"Do you fear to get drunk, my lady?" Jurian queries while quaffing comfortably from his own cup, regardless of the hour. "Some people have a certain horror of it. They feel they might behave wrongly."
The prince's boldness quietly startles the lady, causing her steady regard of him to go off-kilter upon an uncomfortable flutter of her eyelashes. She presses her lips primly together and gives a hurried little shake of her red head. "I… simply… do not find it very ladylike," she says, far more meek and modest than anything resembling defiant. Despite the conversation, she reaches for her cup, because it is the thing people do, and it keeps her hands busy. "It goes to my head more quickly than others. It is better to have one's wits, anyway," she ends upon a small but determinedly uplifted smile.
"Ah, I see," Jurian replies, nodding slowly. "Of course, there are those for whom their wits have never particularly done much good, as well. I can understand why some people prefer drunkenness. Even the ladies. It does make things go more smoothly."
Marsei's response is, at first, a subtle array of reactions and indecisions. She opens her mouth, barely as if to disagree over the matter of wits, but says naught. She shifts in her chair, though she gains no more comfort. She tips her chin up as if to carry it back down again in a tentatively understanding nod, yet she settles her gaze on Jurian, re-focused, lifting her delicate eyebrows in frank query. "What sort of things, your grace?"
"Oh, all manner of things, my lady," Jurian says, with a look that is at once amused and knowing. "Conversation, for instance. In some people, it comes out hardly at all, the barest trickle, but pour a little wine in and volublity flows clear. And of course it is hardly possible for a sober man to win a woman."
"Isn't it?" Marsei counters dubiously, though she appears sincerely interested in the answer. "There is something to be said for a little bit of wine warming conversation," she agrees that far, in fact giving her cup a small lift toward Jurian and taking a sip, in demonstration of wine and good will.
Jurian laughs at Marsei's question as though he considered it quite naive. "Well, uncle cannot have maintained sobriety in the course of wooing you, can he?" he asks doubtfully. But he smiles and returns the gesture of a toast.
"He was admirably level-headed about it all." Marsei looks past the rim of her cup, past Jurian, into a memory that makes her smile warmly. "Courageous, even, I think."
Jurian sips from his glass, smiling at the idea—it's hard to tell whether kindly or unkindly. "I should expect that would /take/ some courage."
"Well," Marsei breathes out, smiling more presently, feeling in need of a change of subject; she'll smile her way right up and out of this one. She raises her cup in toast again, loftier than the last. "To marriage."
To Jurian, perhaps it seems no change in subject at all. Or at any rate, he receives it smoothly, being the better lubricated. He lifts his cup in return. "To marriage. I think we shall have it early in the morning."
"I think that's a lovely time for a wedding. A new day for a new beginning!" The poetic symbolism comes naturally to Marsei, cheering her as she takes her modest sip of wine. "I told Aelia I would be there beforehand if she wishes, to make sure it all goes smoothly… with the dress and such," she explains.
"Then I'll be sure to send you word when we are sure of the day. Perhaps two days hence. She will like to have you there, I am sure, and you are welcome." Which Jurian seems to mean without any trace of sarcasm or ill humor.
"I look forward to it," Marsei says with all sincerity. "I am glad to help. I would be glad to be there regardless. And Aelia seems to look forward to the day at last."
"I don't believe I have met your father," Marsei says, though there is a hint of uncertainty there; she met many Targaryens at King's Landing, who's to say. "Would you like any more wine? Something to eat— ?"