|Behind Hidden Walls|
|Summary:||Camillo brings secretive news to Marsei; secrets of the Hightower lurk behind the corner; Marsei unveils a new skill; Camillo wonders about meaningful words.|
Lady Marsei is strolling through the spacious seventh floor that is home to her and Dhraegon's chambers. Her destination is not one of the lovely suites here, however, but the grand staircase. She has a wrought-iron set of keys on a heavy ring in her possession — Hightower keys — as she passes through the sunlight beaming through the tall tower windows on her way to the winding stairs. The lady certainly seems like she's on a mission.
Camillo has been around a bit more lately, always taking over now on Flox's night off. And when Flox was ill for a week or so, Camillo assumed all duties with Dhraegon. But that has also meant that he has been quite busy, catching up with his own duties besides the added responsibilities for the Prince. So it is that he has not had time to consult with Marsei until now, when he seems to meet her by chance in the hallway as he comes into the hall from a back staircase. "My lady," he says, and notes the keys. His hair has still not been cut.
The keys jangle, sounding her surprise. The metallic clank of the ancient iron seems harsh compared to the elegant swirl of the lady's ocean-hued skirts as she comes to a quick halt, startled out of her focus. It has also been a busy time for Marsei, between Princess Aelia coming to stay in the Hightower not so long ago, preparations for the Dolphin Festival, and every other duty a lady of her social stature is beholden to. Her startle is, as ever, brief — she breaks into an easy, even delighted smile. "Camillo! What luck. Or are you quite busy?"
"No indeed, my lady," Camillo replies, dipping his head. "In fact, I thought I might speak to you…though you seemed as if you were going somewhere. Shall I…accompany you?" he suggests, drawing somewhat nearer.
"Would you?" Marsei replies, and though there is, in fact, hope in her tone rather than demand, she is already on her way again to the grand staircase. It turns out to be an ascent rather than the more common descent toward the stone-encased lifeblood of the Hightower's lower levels. Her curiosity gets ahead of her explanation of her mission; she looks back, brows raised in expectant wonder while she smiles pleasantly. "What is it?"
Camillo seems immediately ready to do as he is asked without asking where they are going. "I have had letters on that matter you mentioned to me, my lady," he says softly. His voice never seems to carry far enough to echo off the stone surfaces that surround them. "It is, I think, as you said. The man is making inquiries into various subjects. But it seems his suspicions do not find easy purchase."
Marsei turns her gaze forward up the stairs, but the hint of a frown had already begun to form. Jingle, jangle; she wraps her other hand around the teeth of the keys so they don't shake quite so noisily with every step up. "… I suppose then… he will lose interest, and go back to his job as it was." It was meant to be her usual optimism, but there is something quiet and uncertain present instead; an uneasy distrust of the man they speak on.
"Possibly," Camillo allows, though he is never much in harmony with tones of optimism. "I have further heard it rumored that some Fossoways may visit Oldtown for the Dolphin Festival, though I am not certain if that is true, or who might appear. If…this man should join them, I wonder if he will weather the travel well. They say his health is somewhat delicate…" Camillo glances to Marsei.
As though feeling the glance more than seeing it, Marsei looks to Camillo straight in the eye. It is a quiet look, telling little except for worry, and then she simply looks ahead again. "He usually gets what he wants, one way or another." And that is, perhaps, what worries her.
"No one always gets what they want, my lady," Camillo says softly, folding his hands in front of him. "I shall keep you informed of the situation. But you should know that you are well-liked by all, and that is a heavy kind of ammunition."
Marsei turns her head again to smile with a wistful hint of nostalgia. "Most of the people at Cider Hall were kind." They know some of the exceptions. "That is … good to hear. Without purchase, I can only hope he lets it rest. let Jarvas rest." She ducks her head down low, and there is the faintest screech of iron as she holds the keys tighter. The staircase winds and winds ahead of them, one floor giving way to another, higher and higher, and they still have yet to reach their destination.
Camillo bows his head in respect of the dead man. "I am sure that in time, the man will find that there is nothing to be gained in stirring up suspicions, my lady." He continues to climb the stairs, one below the noblewomam.
Two servants descends the stairs, slipping past Camillo and Marsei, heads down, carrying a broom, a mop and a bucket of rags between them. It takes a lot of manpower to keep the mighty tower clean, even the floors that see less constant use. The lady waits until their steps fade into a distant shuffle before she speaks again. "I pray so," she agrees quietly and admits, "I have worked so hard to not dwell on the tragedies of the past." She steps onto a landing, pauses, looks both ways, and heads decisively down a west-facing hallway.
"No one should," Camillo affirms, following when she turns. "I'm afraid I may have taken up much of your time with my own matter before yours, my lady," he comments. "Was there something you wished to ask of me?"
"Not at all," Marsei answers, brightness finding its way back to her voice. "But you might help me with a task!" She smiles back at Camillo, the jingle-jangle of the keys resuming as she hurries — whilst keeping a ladylike pace — down the hallway. "Siva and I found an account of one of the Dolphin Festivals from ages and ages ago tucked away in the library," she explains quite excitedly. "It explained in beautiful detail the paintings and statuary Lord Hightower at the time had moved from up here down to the dining hall, only it did not describe any art I have ever seen. I thought perhaps it still exists. A fool's errand, I'm sure," Marsei says, except she clearly isn't sure, given that she smiles brightly as she approaches the door at the end of the hall. "Unless it isn't, in which case it's rather an adventure, isn't it? I promise it won't be all darkness and cobwebs this time."
Camillo listens with quiet interest, nodding along. "I see," he replies. "Well, if there are such things up here, I think it is a duty to find them so that they can be properly taken care of. It would be a sin to let such works fall into disrepair, I think, my lady."
Marsei counts along the ring of keys; it speaks to her familiarity with the ins and outs of the Hightower's rooms that the first one she chooses fits the lock. They likely fit every lock on this floor, and probably others. "That's what I thought," she replies approvingly, pushing the door open. "Perhaps they've been broken or long since sold, but they could just as easily been forgotten by time." The first obvious thing is, blessedly, sunlight. There is a large window without a curtain, filling the room with the pale fall day and alighting on exactly no cobwebs, ghosts, or imaginary bats. It is small and well-kept, with a narrow bed without a mattress and sparse, plain furniture, resembling many others in the tower. Rooms without a purpose until they need one. There is no art in sight, and it certainly doesn't look like a storage area. That doesn't seem to dissuade Marsei, who stands in the center, staring at the walls with a distant, calculating expression on her face. "Is that bookcase too heavy to move?" she queries Camillo, pointing at the empty wooden case pushed against a wall to the left.
Camillo's gaze scans over the room, and returns to Marsei, but he is patient in being confronted with a sight different than he expected. Marsei looks as if she knows what she is about, after all. He goes to the bookcase and pushes up underneath a shelf to see if it it is securely built in or if it will lift out. Finding it secure, he wedges his shoulder under it. "I think not, my lady." He bends his knees to lift the case and move it elsewhere in the room, in front of the unused bed.
Marsei claps her hands once together, silent but for the clang of the keys. An old, wooden door is revealed behind the case, reinforced by blackened iron. It is rather short, as doors go, especially in a building so tall and grand as the Hightower; were it open, it would scarcely clear Marsei's head. The door doesn't surprise the lady, but it certainly delights her. "It's just as I thought!" she exclaims, hurrying to it. She pulls on the handle, but it does not budge. She tries a small skeleton key in the lock, then another; when those fail to work, she tries the others, one by one. None of them fit.
Short doors and lack of grandeur are also not so surprising to one who lives in the servants' quarters—although there /are/ indications that, when not on duty, Camillo has been sleeping out many nights. He stands by to watch the work on the locks. "My lady, what was the purpose of this room?"
"I don't know for certain," Marsei admits, stepping back to look at the lock as though it's a puzzle she can solve with her mind. "Only that, according to record, it used to lead to a storage room for safekeeping incase of…" she barely dares to think it, "…attack. It seems rather inconvenient to carry heavy valuables downstairs from all the way up here, though, doesn't it?" She tips her head to one side curiously. "But I suppose it is the last place someone would think to look."
"Yes, my lady," Camillo cannot help agreeing about the inconvenience of the porting in both directions. "But I hope that means that what you are looking for is here waiting for you, safe and sound."
Marsei presses her lips together whilst staring at the door, both determined and undecided. She looks to Camillo, beginning the first breath of a question, but stops short. "I've…" she says instead, pauses, and stares once again at the stubbornly locked door. She reaches slowly upward to pluck a pearl-headed hairpin out of the elegant nest of curls and braids at the back of her head. Only it is not quite just a hairpin. "Our secret," she says in what is meant to be a playful tone but only sounds nervous as she attempts to, in fact, pick the old lock herself.
Camillo is sometimes undemonstrative and hard to read, but there is an unmistakable widening of his eyes in surprise that Marsei should reveal a lockpick from her hairstyle. He watches with great interest as the lady puts the tool to its use.
Marsei is slow and careful, even moreso with the uncertainty and caution of a relative newcomer to the unusual skill of lockpicking — tremendously more unusual, for lady — but, leaning ever-so-slightly against the door in focus, she works the pick with some aptitude. She is uncertain in her victory until she tries the handle again; this time, something gives 'way. She beams as innocently as though she's just won a round of cyvasse. "It is not something I ever want to use," she explains delicately. "Not on property that belongs to anyone else." This is technically her property, after all. "But I like the puzzle of it. I practiced mostly on locked boxes." But nevermind that; there's a door to open. It stirs outward rather than inward at the lady's tug, but still remains a stuck after half an inch, glued to the grime of years. She steps aside, making a small, sweeping gesture for Camillo to step in. "But don't worry, Camillo," she jokes kindly, "Your talents are still needed!"
"Yes, my lady," Camillo agrees politely about Marsei's unseemly skill. He moves up. "Shall I see if I can force it, my lady? If not, I can get tools to remove the hinges, perhaps." He wraps both hands around the door and pulls to see if the rust and dust will give and let him open the portal.
"Give it a try," Marsei encourages. It will only take another burst of strength before it opens.
The triumph is short-lived. Marsei, peeking around Camillo from a few steps away, eager to see what lies beyond, feels her shoulders drop in disappointment. After a cloud of grey dust clears, it becomes obvious that there is only a small space, more or less just enough room for the rusty hinges to function; what would be a doorway has been walled up. There are a few vaguely face-sized indentations in the stone wall, but it is otherwise flat, solid, and immovable.
Camillo looks curiously at the indentations, putting his hand against them. "How strange," he says softly. "Something happened. They went to some trouble to wall it off."
"In one way, that makes me all the more curious to know what lies behind it," Marsei says, reaching out to also touch an indentation, only to walk backwards away from the walled door as though it's cursed — or haunted, as she believed the room with the Crone statue to be (although that didn't ultimately stop her from going in). "But then again…" she trails off. "Another mystery," she says, reluctant to let it go but determined to set the oddity aside for the moment in the name of responsibility. "Let us not bother too much with it for now. Perhaps someone in my family knows more of this odd room than I."
"Yes, my lady," Camillo says obediently, moving out of the doorway and shutting the door once more. He looks to Marsei. "My lady… May I ask you a question? You sometimes talk in front of people, or…or if not in front of so many people, you…say important things. Noble people are like that. But…how do you decide on the words?"
Marsei is looking so thoughtfully at the old door that Camillo's words come as more of a surprise. She does not mind, however, and turns her thoughts toward his question. "The words must come from the heart," she says, quite likely giving a different answer than the majority of her Hightower family might. "No matter the circumstance. Sometimes they are easier to come by alone, in one's thoughts, before they're said to others… speak to your heart and it will speak back, and others, I think, will hear your truth." She nudges the lockpick hairpin carefully back into her hair. The curiosity she regards Camillo with is not dissimilar to that which she directed at the puzzling door. "But choosing the words and speaking them…" she smiles, "Those are two different things."
Camillo looks thoughtful in his familiar troubled way. "But…do you think that what is in your heart comes out in words?" he wonders. "What if…there were too many or…you didn't know how to translate? Or…they come out in the wrong order and that makes them mean the wrong thing? Do you write them down? Do you wait for the moment to decide?"
In this case, Camillo's troubles seem to strike a familiar chord with Marsei. "Camillo." She steps forward as though instinctively wishing to comfort his worries, though she goes no further than one step. "It sounds as though you must truly care about whomever your words are for," she ventures a guess. "If you wait for the moment to decide, I find … well, that the right words might slip you by." Not exactly assuaging his fears. Her smile gentles to sympathetic. "How hard it can be to translate the heart, but — you must try. If you can speak from the heart, they ought to hear that, even if the words do not come out how you wish." She pauses; considers, with a lighter smile. "Perhaps there is some merit in writing them down."
"Yes," Camillo replies thoughtfully, though it's unclear exactly what he is agreeing with. "Maybe choosing is not so important as saying."
"I think so," Marsei affirms. "I'd like to think that, if someone knows your heart, they know its language. What ever it is you have to say, I hope it goes well," she tells Camillo and adds, with her confident optimism, "I am certain it will!"
Camillo bows his head. "You are very kind, my lady," he says. "I…think that…I can be understood. Even if I cannot ever say everything." He squints at Marsei. "Can anyone ever say everything? When you have to say something, do you usually feel you have said all you wished?"
Marsei gives this due thought; her face falls ever-so-slightly, disappointed that it does not take her long to come to a conclusion. "Never," she admits softly.
Camillo nods at that answer. "Then perhaps that is only…being alive, being a person. Maybe to say everything is something only one of the Seven could do. If that is so then…it is wrong to worry about it overmuch, I think."
"I have a feeling that worrying about it overmuch is also part of what makes us a person." The lady's smile returns, as it always does, warmer than before. "At least we know that the Seven know our whole hearts always." What was meant to be reassuring actually gives her pause, but rather than dwell, she carries on without a true falter in her smile. "Would you move the bookcase back?"
"Yes, my lady," Camillo replies, shouldering the bookcase and putting it back in place. "What is…on the other side of this room?" he asks. His gesture indicates he means beyond the walled-in storage space.
"Another empty room; the same as this one, I thought." Marsei suddenly does not sound so sure. She glances out the window, vaguely tracking the light in the sky that tells her how far the day wears on. "Another mystery for another day," she supposes, although it is with some concerted effort that she does not rush right over there and investigate.
Camillo nods once. "Very well, my lady," he says, putting an end to the matter for now.