(124-06-13) In Pursuit of the Truth
In Pursuit of the Truth
Summary: Marsei leads Camillo and Dhraegon to try to follow Jana through the Hightower in an attempt to find out what plans are brewing against her and, perhaps, find more than they bargained for.
Date: Still not June 15th
Related: Fossoway Folly plot; follows Sorry

It is early in the day, but late enough in the morning that the Hightower is bustling with activity. The day-to-day, the business of lords, the conference of ladies, the visitors, the constant work of servants to keep it all running. It is particularly busy today, even for such a grand building that allows for so much empty space. The library is a sanctum amid it all. It is from that sanctum that Jana Fossoway emerges, carrying a prayer book, striding through the shining black corridor on her way to become just another part of the comings and goings through the grand hall.

Marsei had found a moment of calm within, as she often does. It is quiet in the library. And today, it is the eye of the storm.

She steps foot out of the sanctum several long beats after the Fossoway, her gaze immediately searching. She finds no solace in the sight of the nearby guard. There is a sudden and blossoming panic within, and the lady carries her already fine posture with a stiff back.

The work of a servant might require him to go anywhere in the tower, but it seems to require Camillo particularly to move past the locations of each of the Fossoways every now and again, and he is lucky enough to be passing by the library now, as Lady Jana steps out. He pauses as though to keep out of her way, head bowed.

Marsei needs only catch a glimpse of Camillo there; she heads straight for him, her pace out of the library quick. In a way, they are of one mind: "I— I must follow her." She is determined but breathless, as though outrunning her thoughts. Or perhaps it is the other way around; she cannot keep up wth how swiftly her mind swims. "Come with me," she says to Camillo, not pausing as she passes him. Jana has since turned the corner.

Camillo falls in with Marsei immediately, asking no wherefores. He only asks, softly, "Shall I stop her?"

Marsei does not know how to answer. She's focused on forging ahead, trying to catch up enough to Jana to lay eyes on her. The more private corridors leading to the library soon give way to the open space of the heartbeat of the lower level, the grand hall. It is full of people leaving court and council and with lingering lords and ladies, strangers and familiar faces alike. There is a glimpse of blue velvet and dark hair in the midst of it all, heading toward the staircase. Marsei slows down only so that she does not rush headlong in front of people and draw attention. "No," she manages to respond, only to follow up with, "How?"

Camillo is at a disadvantage, having no idea what is going on. "Say that you desire a word," Camillo proposes, keeping his voice barely more than a whisper. "Say that Lord Ormund desires a word. Say that wherever she is going is off-limits, say that there is a fire in the kitchens and everyone is to avoid the stairs." The series comes quickly.

The tall, lanky form of Ser Jesper separates from the crowd to meet Jana at the foot of the stairs. Marsei clutches her hands and squeezing them tightly together. "A fire… I— I wouldn't want to start a panic," she worries. "I only just saw her. I should have … I didn't realize what she meant. Perhaps I'm still wrong. Perhaps— " She watches anxiously as Jana and Jesper speak to one another in tones that are impossible to hear from all the way over here. "I must know what they are saying," she says, and cautiously starts to move through the hall as Jana and her betrothed knight start up the stairs.

One soft soled slippers, and in silks that barely whisper and blend well with much of the interior stonework, the Prince glides into step with his wife, raising an inquisitive eyebrow at the sight of the Lady and servant making their way purposefully towards the stairs.

"Will they not notice you, my lady?" Camillo asks. "Perhaps I could get closer? What…is this about?" Camillo wants to know. He glances up when Dhraegon makes his appearance.

Marsei slips her arm around Dhraegon's the moment he nears. He becomes the replacement for wringing her hands; her grip is tight, but calmer … even if her demeanour is not. "She apologized," she says as distantly as her gaze upon Jana and Jesper. "But there was something wrong." She nods, uncertainly, to Camillo. "Go on ahead. We will follow more slowly, toward our rooms," she decides. "Give us a sign if…" If what, she isn't sure. "If they stop," she fills in.

Dhraegon places a gentle hand on hers for reassurance and cocks his arm the better to lend support. "I think you are right, though I can't tell what exactly is wrong."

Camillo moves quickly ahead when he's given the word, though he doesn't do anything so conspicuous as running. He just tries to get within earshot of the noble couple.

Marsei is pained as she stares across the distance that Camillo now crosses; to her, Jana might as well be all the way across the bridge to the city from the island, so far out of her reach. "She is no snake," she says, wanting that to be clear. "I believed her when she said she was sorry. But I got the feeling that… she was not only apologizing for how she acted… but for what is to come." Thus, it is difficult for Marsei to keep her pace slow as she moves arm-and-arm with Dhraegon to the stairs.

Jana and Jesper are ascending spryly, wasting no time. In the moments when no one passes them upon the stairs, they talk amongst one another; rather, Jana speaks and Jesper listens. "… have not told you everything," she says in hushed tones that travel down to their silent tail. "If it happens to reflect poorly on me, know that… I have changed. I feel he will take me more seriously if you are at my side."

Dhraegon sighs and nods, "Are you terribly angry at me sending Flox? I had to be sure even though she does seem very contrite. If there were a way to head off whatever it is, I had to try."

Camillo slows his movement now that he is close enough to hear. He is only an aging servant climbing the endless steps about his business.

"No," Marsei reassures through a breathy little sigh, reaching across to touch the arm she holds. "It's simply that… Jana is… this is my trouble, all of it. I can't be in the dark, and I can't… I don't want anything bad to happen." She looks up at Dhraegon in the brief moment before they take to the grand staircase.

Up above, the conversation is one-sided until it has no sides at all, Jana and Jesper walking in silence until they reach the landing upon which most of the Fossoway guests are roomed. They're delayed by greeting Matthias talking to a cluster of Mullendores.

Dhraegon's gaze is so empathetic and full of understanding, "I know, My Asphodel, but your trouble is my trouble now. I will do all I can to help."

"Oh, pardon me," Camillo says as he gains the landing where the others have stopped. "Good day my lord, my lady. My lord," he adds yet again to Matthias. These greetings are perhaps meant for the signal, since he makes them quite audibly. "I was just coming to see if anything is needed on this floor?"

"Together," Marsei insists her gaze resolute yet trembling with a conflicted, anxious emotion; but she smiles. "We have to help together." Camillo's voice reaches them and she gauges their pace on the stairs, making sure to stop a fair distance from the landing.

"Good to see you up and about, uncle," Jana tells Matthias, her cheer tempered by distraction. His nose is as red as cheeks; the illness still has some grip on him, but he's a sturdy old fellow. He squints at Camillo for a good long time, blinks, and pinches the bridge of said nose. "You know, I wouldn't shake a fist at some good hot soup," he says while Jana politely extricates herself and Jesper from the gathering. They slip away, walking straight past both her quarters and his.

Dhraegon kisses the top of her head lightly, "Together always, Love." He keeps her pace to match hers and quiets to listen. He has been sending herbal teas to Matthias in the hopes of mending his health, the Prince being quite fond of the Elderly Lord.

Camillo bobs his head to Matthias, long hair swinging over his shoulders. "Very good, my lord, I shall have it brought as soon as I check in on the other rooms."

Perhaps thankfully for Camillo, Jana and Jesper pass by the chambers occupied by Lord Haemon — the finest in this hall — and stroll around a corner. The rooms lining the next hall decrease exponentially in extravagance. Jana knocks upon a closed door.

Even Marsei and Dhraegon can hear who answers. His voice has a way of travelling when he does not try to dampen it. "Visitors!" Roberd Flowers booms. "Oh, it's the two of you! To what do I owe the pleasure at last?"
Dhraegon's eyebrows fly up and he gives his wife a worried look.

Before they close the door, Camillo fills the open space. "Pardon me, my lords, lady. With illness in the house, I am asking if there is anything needed here. Lord Matthias has requested some soup, shall I bring some to this room as well?"

Marsei's eyes widen. She meets Dhraegon's worried look with one of her own, opening her mouth to speak; her lips only move tremulously, torn between thoughts. She glances up the stairs; if they arrive on the same corridor, they risk being caught in a polite web of conversation with Matthias and the Mullendores. If they whisk past, they're just drifting farther and farther away from the problem.

Roberd places a meaty hand on the door, between Camillo and the couple, who linger close by just inside. "Normally I'd say yes, there's always something, isn't there?" he says, jolly. He's wearing a rather shit-eating grin, which starts to fade the longer he looks into Camillo's face. "But I'm feeling fine. Splendid, even! If I'm not mistaken," he glances back at Jana and Jesper, "We're about to go for a little stroll. But if you're hard-up for something to do, son, my chamberpot needs emptying."

Dhraegon hesitates, clearly considering the cost benefits on checking on Lord Matthias' health as an excuse to linger, but defers to his Lady Wife, this being her battle to lead.

"I am pleased to hear you are all well," Camillo says. And he moves into the room given that Roberd has just so kindly invited him to do a task. He takes the practical piece of crockery out of its place, then bows his head to Jana and Jesper and leaves the room again, apparently about that business. He comes back in the direction of Marsei and Dhraegon, where he tells them sotto voice, "They are to go for a walk."

"A walk, to where?" Marsei replies, hushed, to herself as much as Dhraegon and Camillo as he whisks past. Its a short walk from Roberds chamber back to the stairs and perhaps to the gardens where most enjoy their strolls … but there does not appear to be anyone emerging immediately from the corridor, not even as they stand in wait.

Matthias seems to be retreating to his own room, at least, leaving the Mullendores to disperse like so many slow-flapping butterflies. Just as there is a muffled knock from above, one of the lords calls, ostensibly down the hall where Roberd, Jana and Jesper still are. "Oh, give my regards to Lord Haemon while you’re there, will you?"

If Marsei swore, it would be now; of course she does not and cursing is the farthest thing from her mind. Instead, she looks worriedly into the distance - but mingled with that heightened concern is the delicate machinations of thought, spreading across her frozen face. "I have an idea," she says, "but we must hurry."

Dhraegon gives her hand the gentlest of squeezes and bows his head, "Lead on, My Crocus. I am at your service."

Camillo takes the pot to empty it and get a quick look into the courtyard to be sure that no targets are emerging there.

Lead the way she does, walking with purpose that slows only to pass the dispersing lords and ladies on the staircase at a more casual, but still quick, pace. Polite good-days and must-be-goings are exchanged. Successfully wiling out of the trap of conversation, Marsei's path takes she and Dhraegon — perhaps illogically, it might seem, and she is too hurried to offer an explanation — further and further away from the curious combination of Fossoways and their confidants: up and up and up even more, all the way to the familiar seventh floor. She pauses at her own door, checking the corridor for passersby as well as looking back to see if they've regained their own confidant after his task, but it is clear she does not want to hesitate for long.

Dhraegon knows better than to betray any curiosity in front of strangers, giving the appropriate nods as needed and displaying a particularly vacant smile as she does her wonderful social extrication dance. After all, her ability to navigate these waters is one of the skills he admires in her. At their landing, he raises curious eyebrows, but does not ask, trusting he to place them where they best ought to be.

Marsei's door is locked at the moment, and she lets go of Dhraegon to free the way with a small key from her sleeve. Little one-eyed Thistle is there to greet them as they step in with her latest habit of winding about their ankles and trying to sneak out the door; Marsei sweeps the cat into her arms on her way through the room, depositing her gently on top of a chair in the sitting area without missing a step. She only comes to a halt in front of the furthest interior wall of her chambers — where there's nowhere left for her purposeful walk to take her. She stares at the underused bookcase — more decorations upon its old, polished shelves than books — and the tapestry beside it, a smaller, more floral rendering of one of the pieces that hang proudly in the Hightower's dining hall.

She wraps her arms briefly about herself, nervous, fighting the urge to stall; then, regaining her momentum, she stands on the tips of her toes and plucks the woven art from the wall. There is a rectangular outline in the stonework. Quietly, jaw set in determination, Marsei sets the tapestry aside and digs her small fingers in the small gap behind the bookcase and pulls hard. There is a rough scraping sound at first, and then it glides, one side of the case pulling out and one rotating into the wall. The mechanism reveals a dark entryway. "… it should go almost all the way down; there is a way straight past the room we put Haemon in," she says, sounding guilty, perhaps not for revealing her most excellent secret spot on earlier hide-and-seek expeditions.

Dhraegon closes the door quiety but firmly behind them while she is seeing to Thistle. He smiles delightedly at her, pleased on a number of levels and not at all reproachful, "I had suspected there must be such about. Your secret is safe, My Asphodel!"

Marsei can't help but smile, though it is quick and pinched at the ends. "I knew you would like it," she says, fond of that fact. "We have maps for most of the passageways in the upper parts of the tower, but the black stone at the bottom remains a mystery … except by accident." Accidents that lead to artifacts that call dragons to the tower. Thankfully, they need not travel so deep. She's already slipping into the passageway as she speaks. She takes only a step inside before there is a wall inside the wall. "It is … a bit of a tight squeeze for you… but I think you can make it if you go sideways," she says, holding a beckoning hand out of the dark.

Dhraegon takes her hand and does his best to squeeze. He doesn't particularly mind pain or dirt or damage to skin or silks, so manages well enough, "I would love to see them some time if i might be trusted so far, but I will understand, if I am not." He retains her hand, completely trusting her not to lead him into a deadfall in the dark of the passage.

The passageway turns sharply into steep, narrow stairs made of slippery stones worn down by centuries of surreptitious Hightower feet. "Mind your head, and watch the stairs," Marsei warns softly, first of all. "Of course," she answers only after. "I'd love to show you. I thought of doing so many times. I just… it has always been…" She begins to sigh, the whispery sound lost in the shuffles of silk and slippers against ancient stone. She interrupts herself by saying, "We ought to have brought something to light our way." Even so, sheseems to have little trouble navigating, even as the faint light from her room is blocked, first by Dhraegon's silhouette and then the blackness that rapidly swallows them up inside the tower. The path feels as though it repeats on itself, as if they go in circles: sharp narrow stairs, a tight corridor to squeeze through, more stairs. It's cold. Every so often there is a faint crack of light or a breeze where hidden doors lead to other rooms. Marsei guides a hand along each, finding some subtle marker in the stone to know where they are.

Dhraegon, being Dhraegon, silently counts steps and memerizes turns. As one does. "It is a family secret, and I am not blood. Everyone has Family secrets." Dhraegon really doesn't seem to mind from the lightness of tone. "I have a bit of candle, but didn't think to light it. I am sorry, My Jasmine." Dhraegon trails fingers in imitation of her, not really expecting to find the markers, but not willing to waste the chance.

With Marsei at the lead, it is a quicker trek through the dark passages than one might expect. There are rare interruptions in the wall where the passage branches off inwardly into tight-fitting corridors. After a handful of such mysteries, and a particularly difficult set of stairs that rounds a corner — the lower the level, the rougher hewn; even ancient builders must have had a learning curve — Marsei stops. She turns, careful to guide Dhraegon safely to her and along the wall. She presses against it, listening for telltale voices.

"… could go on with my simpering apologies, my lord, well-meant, all of them." It is Roberd's voice. Cracks in the wall lead to darkness, but must lead to the back of furniture or artwork, for sound travels well enough.

"Perhaps you have no reason to hold my word on high authority, but it is no longer only my word. I wanted to be certain, I had to wait for… that is, I, uh, I deigned to give Lady Jana time to come to a decision— "

"I- I thought you said it was not only on me, Roberd, that you had proof against Marsei," Jana's voice chimes in hesitantly.

"Do you falter?" Roberd replies with bluster.

"No, it is only that you should speak first if you are such an authority— "

"And suppose I hear your accusation, Roberd," Haemon says. "And suppose it is genuine. What would you want done now? If you are going to tell me something and ask me to act upon it, then you had better be dead sure of its truthfulness, because I do not intend to go scraping before /any/ more Oldtown nobles on this trip, do you understand that?"

Dhraegon makes use of his extra height to listen above her along the wall, silent in those soft slippers. In the dark, the Prince's fury is not visible, but in so close a space, his wife might feel the tension in his body as he wraps an arm draped in a wing like sleeve around her, much as he does with Princess Aelia, a promise of intent to protect, and reassurance that the fury is not for her.

Marsei presses her forehead to the cool stone. She can see little more than blackness in front of her, but she stares into it, as though envisioning the people behind the wall will help her listen harder. She is tense in Dhraegon's protective wrap, becoming as stiff as the stone and just as chilled. She hardly seems to breathe.

"Yes, and that is why I come to you now, certain," Roberd insists. "It is why I could not pass up this chance to visit the Hightower after coming upon my suspicions back at Cider Hall… for good or idiocy," he reluctantly, gruffly admits, "I had my hackles up, but this bears fruit, I'll tell you that. What you do with the information, well, that is up to you, my lord, but I would be slack in my duties if I were quiet. I knew there was something amiss upon my return home. It didn't sit right with me, no, my lord, hearing the details of how he met his end. Poison? By his own hand? And her none the wiser? I know the family was quick to exonerate her of wrongdoing, but you know how Lord Owen over there favours her. I found out by way of the stableboy that she dropped a whole bottle out the window that very night. What do you think was in it, water?"

"The stableboy? Chass?" Jana pipes up, surprised. "… he is a good, honest young man…" She accepts the fact with her own honesty, though there is a sad sort of reluctance in her voice. "And you could see the stables from her window."

"And he swears by it, terrified pissing dog that he is," Roberd adds, absent Jana's sentiment. "The whole bottle. She had someone come take away the shards in the middle of the night."

Instinctively, Marsei reaches up to squeeze Dhraegon's hand where it wraps her protectively. It is a staying gesture. She wants to hear. She has to hear.

Soft as a butterfly, the Targaryen's lips brush the top of her head. He is still and silent. He too must hear, to best know how to help her.

There is a pause as Haemon considers this testimony. "So…we have the word of a stableboy that there was a bottle. Is that all?"

Dhraegon and Marsei hear only silence for a moment. The time it takes for Lady Jana to come forward.

"I'm afraid it is partially my fault," Jana states. "If I had realized sooner … perhaps … a different conclusion would have been made about my brother's death. But I … confess I did not see it back then. I did not want to— " She halts, likely realizing Haemon is not the type to want to hear about her inner struggles. She briskly gets to the facts. "I knew for a long time that she was drugging him regularly. I saw the little bottles she kept in a locked box. She told me once when I found them and asked what they were for. She would put drops in his drink."

"Drops in his drink," Haemon repeats, and there is a brief silence. "So you too believe Lady Marsei to be a poisoner, Jana? Enough to stake your name on it? If you do, what is it that you want me to do now?"

Dhraegon holds his wife a little tighter, though with characteristic gentleness. Dhraegon can imagine how an accident might happen with Sweetsleep, if one has to use it regularly to quiet a difficult drunk. Though the Prince does not know that is what happened, it could fit as well as the other two obvious scenarios, perhaps better, knowing his wife.

Unable to speak, to explain, to do anything, lest she give away their hiding spot, Marsei is at odds with herself. Her tension grows into something new, a tremulous vibration working its way through her stiff stance. The hand that is not holding Dhraegon's clenches into a fist, pressing against the wall in front of them, and the quarters are so close that he can feel it unfurl against the stone as Jana says tautly, "Yes."

Another voice chimes in to ask uncertainly, "Are you all right, my lady?" Ser Jesper has been in over his head.

There is another pause, but Jana continues, impassioned. "I know there is nothing that can be done to bring Jarvas back. But Owen deserves to know. And the rest of the family. I do not know what to do," she admits, "But should something not be done? Is there not a right course of action?"

"Besides which," Roberd says, his voice booming and lowering a second later, "Who knows what other poison pies the good lady Marsei has her hands in? What about how she came back to Cider Hall for a visit after rediscovering her fancy old life with a new Targaryen husband to spend time with your mother and father, my lord? Now, I know how you feel about your brother… but how did it come to pass that Istor was freed from his prison long enough to attend her wedding and then promptly perish? Mayhap she is not so far removed from us now that she's back sitting pretty in this tower of hers, to whatever end."

"My brother is not the concern of this conversation," Haemon snaps at Roberd, but then there is a more thoughtful pause. "I agree that Owen ought to be informed if you both back these proofs with your reputations. Should we return to go and see him, or send him a message from here and await his reply so that we can take steps to demand justice should he wish it?"

Dhraegon is quivering himself with a carefully controlled fury against this Roberd. Still he holds his wife silently, hoping she will read this as support. He is already thinking ahead, seeing various ways things could play out and counter moves. He is regretting not loosing Camillo on his wife's foe sooner, but there being no way to take that back, other plans will have to be put in motion.

For Marsei, the normally familiar passageway is growing claustrophobic, but they have to at least wait and hear what those on the other side of the wall choose to do. Undoubtedly, that will determine their own actions, though her thoughts hardly form such solid paths. She wants to run into a room with more air where she can breathe, away from these accusing voices. Away from her past.

"I act upon your wisdom, my lord," Jana defers. Her already controlled voice is tense with an effort that is not typically present. "If there is nothing else — I should like to have Ser Jesper escort me back to my room, with your leave."

"I agree with the lady," Roberd says. "I see merit and fault in both paths. Though, you'll need no reminding, we presently stand on muddy ground in Oldtown… I can't say that brewing up a shitstorm while we sit our asses here is bound to make it any less slippery."

Dhraegon curls down to breath in the softest of whispers, "Best we talk to Lord Matthias, I think."

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