|Summary:||The morning after Jurian and Aelia were wed, there is a startling discovery.|
|Related:||Behaving Wrongly, Hide and Seek|
Sitting Room - Dragon Door Manse - Starry Street
This lush room is comfortably furnished with chairs and couches, all thickly upholstered in either black or red leather. There are upright reading chairs, sofas that allow people to sit side-by side, one of those 'gossip' couches that separate a seated pair with a curving arm, and lounges for lying down. Placed handily among them are end tables with polished stone tops, black veined with red. Their wooden legs are dragons, each carved and painted differently, with gilt details. A similarly carved sideboard holds wine bottles and glasses, and two matching chests contain blankets and extra throw-pillows.
The room is well lit in the day by three large arched windows that offer a view of the garden. They are framed with carved stone dragons that match those of the arch leading back into the entry hall.
Marsei finds herself giving the door of the Targaryen's manse a perplexed look. The cool late morning air ruffles the hem of her light cloak and wisps about her hair. She stands still long enough to get a chill, waiting to be greeted with usual expediency. When it becomes clear that this morning is not the norm, she tentatively makes an attempt to see herself in — she has before, when it was her common habit to visit Dhraegon in the gardens. Today, she goes forth feeling a good deal more uncertain. A servant from the Hightower waits several steps behind her, transporting a heavy wooden box in his arms, ready to follow at that precise distance.
The door appears not to be attended by any servant, at the moment, which is unusual. Normally one would be coming running by now, at least. Or even passing through the front hall. After a moment, one does scurry into the main corridor that leads back to the garden, with a bucket, and quite a lot of rags tucked under one arm.
Marsei takes everything in — including the isolation of the main floor — as though watching a stage show; watching from the outside. The lack of servants coming to greet her is disturbing, politeness well aside, but the one rushing toward the garden is easily rationalized: there's always something to clean in a manse this grand. She turns to her own servant, who is looking slightly on edge. "Rest your arms; put that down here and … and wait, I suppose; I will go and find someone," she tells him softly before venturing off down the corridor the way the rag-carrying servant scurried.
It's always hard to say in a situation like this whether one is aware that something is wrong by some quality in the echo of the foot against the floor, or if the mind in retrospect adds in reverberation. Marsei can make it as far as the entrance to the garden without being checked. And the most noticeable feature there is a great pool of red. But then the female servant with the rags has noticed she is there and rushes up, one rag still in hand. "Oh no, my lady," she says, trying to use her body to convince Lady Marsei to make a quick retreat into the house without physically pushing her there. "I'm sorry, you mustn't. We'll…we'll see to you, back inside, so sorry my lady." She's terribly flustered.
The pool of red catches her eye. Of course it catches her eye. Marsei's gaze isn't only drawn there; it's held, trapped. She finds herself stunned, wide-eyed, her footsteps slowing and easily corralled back by the servant. She is not as horrified as she expects herself to be. A stage-show. "No," she finds herself saying. She realizes she's walking backwards and takes the servant's arms - gentle, but firm — as though to reverse who's directing whom. "No," she says again, her voice taking on an out-of-place reassurance edged with quiet — yet polite — urgency. "I need to know what's going on. Tell me, please, you must. I'm here to see Princess Aelia."
Was it a body out there, or only the rags the servant had dropped? "She's…well, she's resting in her room, I think," The servant says, looking nervous to be grasped by Lady Marsei, however gently. "There's…there's been an accident, my lady, I don't know if I should say about it…"
Marsei tries to see further into the garden beyond the servant. She can't be certain what she sees, except that there is too much red even for a Targaryen garden that prides itself on a colour scheme of blood and fire. She looks away only to glance behind her, as if she could see Aelia's room from here — imaginary hide-and-seek — her expression an uncertain mixture of nervousness and relief. "It is better that I know now," she tells the servant reasonably, looking back and directly into the woman's eyes. "Whatever has happened … it is safe with me. The Targaryens are my family."
That last remark looks as if it is what convinces the servant to talk at last. "It seems, my lady… It seems Lord Jurian had a fall from a window overlooking the garden." His and Aelia's chambers are on the third floor.
"I- is— " Marsei's eyes grow wide only to flutter half-shut. Her head swims. She lets go of the poor servant and simply makes an unthinking dash for the garden, her the pale material of her light cloak flying behind her.
The servant doesn't dare physically arrest Lady Marsei Hightower, so there is nothing really to stop her from going out to the garden and seeing where they have covered Jurian's body with a blanket that blood has seeped through. Too much blood for this to have an easy ending.
As soon as the full picture hits her, Marsei comes to an abrupt halt; so quick, there's a brief moment in which she might tip all the way back on her heels. She stares as though the image of a body under a bloody sheet is inscrutable; impossible to interpret at first. There more she stares, the horrible it is, the more real it is, and so she shuts her eyes tight. The lady's lips move in a silent prayer. As the last unintelligible whisper leaves her lips, she grabs handfuls of her skirt and runs from the garden with more speed than she entered, taking an urgent path to the staircase.
She stops, hand upon the wall, steadying, to once again close her eyes. It is not prayer, this time, but another kind of fortitude. She hurries up toward Aelia's chamber, quick all the way up the stairs.
The door to the chamber is shut but not locked. Aelia is on her back on the bed above the covers, dressed in her nightgown. Mae is beside her, just wringing out a cold cloth to place on Aelia's forehead. Aelia starts to sit up when Marsei appears but Mae puts a hand on her shoulder, advising her to lie back and rest. "But it's Lady Marsei," Aelia argues.
Lingering horror remains on Marsei's face despite taking a moment to quell it at the bottom of the stairs, giving her the look of someone who was chased perilously all the way here. She looks down and takes a slow breath in as she edges the door shut behind her, composing herself before approaching the bed. She cannot dissipate her nerves entirely, however, and they show through. "You needn't get up for me," she then hurries to assure Aelia, immediately reaching for the young woman's hand. "Are you all right?" She gives a concerned — and deeply, importantly questioning — look to Mae. "Is… there anything I can do?"
"They already sent for the Maester," Aelia says, squeezing Marsei's hand. "They said I should go to bed." And so in bed she is. Mae glances at Marsei, then looks away, surrendering her spot at the bedside to retreat a bit deeper into the chamber. Away from the windows. "He did not know how to fly," Aelia points out.
Marsei sits slowly beside Aelia at an angle but anchored by her grasp over the princess's hand. "No… he, um…" Her voice lowers somberly into nothing. She looks to the window but averts her eyes quickly, lest it add more fodder to her imagination. It is, of course, too late. "What … happened?" she asks, her tone delicate despite the straightforwardness of the question.
"Oh," Aelia breathes thoughtfully, "He did not know about very ancient birds. There are birds…" She loks to Marsei's face then, tilting her head without lifting it from the pillow. "Do you think that, in time, I shall ever become an egg?"
It is approximately the kind of unfathomable response that Marsei was expecting from Aelia. Though she tries her best to interpret, she can only give a shaky smile and respond patiently, "I don't know. Do birds not begin as eggs?"
"Oh yes," Aelia agrees. "They always begin as eggs. Except perhaps the very first birds, I don't know anyone who saw them." She looks to Marsei. "What will happen now?"
Marsei nestles more toward Aelia, bringing a knee slightly up onto the bed. "… I don't know," she repeats honestly. "But I expect the maester will come in soon and make sure you are well. He will probably want you to sleep." Maesters have ways of making that happen. "I … I've come to make sure you are well, too. After I left yesterday. After you went with Jurian. Aelia…" She reaches past herself with her other hand, thoughtfully, caringly pushing a strand of the young woman's hair from her forehead. "Aelia, why did Jurian go out the window if he couldn't fly?"
Aelia looks thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Ancient birds," she says slowly, "Know about what is right and the things that have always been." She pauses again, perhaps to put together words. "Ancient birds know about coupling and marriage and what you have to do." She thinks a little more. "If you meet an ancient bird, you have to respect it."
"He … did not know about the ancient birds," Marsei parses Aelia's earlier words with a slow, sickening realization. She finds herself looking at the window again, almost against her will. She lets go of Aelia's hand only to grip it tighter. "And when he disrespected this very important bird…"
"Ancient birds are very strong," Aelia explains patiently, looking to Marsei. "And not tame. They have instincts."
"It can be very difficult to go against instinct," Marsei replies, understanding… even though her mind is a'whirl with thoughts, many of them in direct odds with one another. Concern has become a semi-permanent feature of her face, tensing all around her empathetic eyes. "Jurian … he should have given more care. I'm sorry he did not. I'm sorry he could not fly." She lets go of Aelia's hand only to wrap her arm around the Targaryen's shoulders; there is a modicum of caution as she does so that wouldn't have been there before, but the gesture settles warmly in the end. "Did— " She speaks suddenly upon a thought before she's formed words for it. "Was anyone else here when it happened?"
"Me, too," Aelia says about the unfortunate lack in Jurian's aviation abilities. And she sounds sincere, giving Marsei a hug. "No one was in the room," she says. "We were supposed to have our marriage bed."
Marsei nods with tentative relief, squeezing protectively 'round Aelia. "I think maybe… you should not tell anyone how it happened. Just… yet. We can't be certain what they will do." As visions of polar opposite reactions from Aelia's fellow Targaryens fly through her imagination, she presses a hand to her chest with rising anxiety, as though the predicament is happening to her and not the sweet, odd little creature laying next to her.
"All right," Aelia agrees quite easily. "You smell like flowers," she adds, taking a certain pleasure in that.
So innocuous. Marsei smiles a little, leaning into Aelia. She's quiet, just like that, for a short while before she calls out softly: "Mae?"
Mae was pretending so hard not to be here, but at the call she must step forward and admit to her presence. "Yes, my lady?" the servant asks.
"I left a box downstairs with a present in it," Marsei says, the calm in her voice for Mae's sake. "I think her grace would benefit from it now."
"Yes, my lady," Mae says, and slips out of the room. As she passes by, she looks as if she might be a bit red in the eyes from having shed tears. But that would not be so surprising. A few minutes later, she returns with the box. Aelia sits up curiously.
Marsei ushers Mae and the box over, pushes up a latch (even that is gilded) and lifts the lid open. She lifts a heavy, folded blanket out and, gesturing for the servant's help, spreads it out over Aelia's lap to reveal the design: red, with many intricate patterns of gold-hued fabric in the middle, all lined with detailed embroidered birds of many shapes, sizes, colours and varieties.
Aelia's eyes go wide and then wider as she sees more and more of the cloth's pattern. She puts both hands on the fabric as if to not only feel the texture but to see it more thoroughly through her fingers. "This is the most beautiful thing I have ever SEEN," she says, her voice strangling at the effort of whispering this rather than yelling it, given the circumstances. She folds forward at the waist to squish her body against it.
"Then I hope it will give you comfort." Marsei smiles despite the strangeness of the circumstance, uplifted a little by Aelia's enjoyment of the blanket that was meant to be a wedding gift. She looks again to Mae, asking quietly, "Is the maester waiting? Should I go— ?" Her immediate reluctance to leave Aelia is at odds with not wanting to be in the way.
"He's just coming up the stairs now, my lady," Mae answers. "He is old and not…terribly fast," she says, tone implying that she might have chosen a maester quicker on his feet for an emergency call. Aelia, meanwhile, twists on the bed and then actually rolls herself up in the blanket. "Marsei," she says. "Thank you."
Marsei meets Aelia with a small embrace around the blanket. "You are welcome, sweet bird."