Diffuse light emanates from a half-dozen candles and lamps in these, the residential apartments of Lord Connington of Griffin’s Roost. They wage a losing battle to banish encroaching night; even so, the darkness of this muggy and shadowy summer evening hangs heavy in the air.
The tall windows are flung open as a concession to the humid warmth in order to catch the ample breezes here, high in the Guest Tower. Consequently the sounds of city and castle whisper from far below.
Not everyone here is asleep. Ser Almer Connington sits in a leather chair by a lamp, clad all in black linens and reading a sheaf of parchments by the faint light. Bustling through the chamber is the lovely maidservant that accompanied him from Dorne, the girl known as Keira Sand. All is quiet.
A distant striking at the door of the apartments is heard. Soon after a footman appears, announcing the identity of the arrival.
“It is the Lady Elanna Penrose, Ser Almer. She wishes to know if you are at home.”
Almer glances up distractedly from his papers, then furrows his brow at the tidings, and at the hour. “Show her in, will you?” he tells the servant.
He pushes aside quills, tomes and letters to make room on the table. “Keira, fetch us a bottle of Arbor Gold if you would, and a pitcher of lemon water.”
There is the steady pace of footsteps within the hallway, and soon followed by the lean, habitually black clad form of Elanna herself. The footman gestures inward, her silent escort and departs, closing the door behind him.
“Ser Almer, I hope you do not mind the intrusion?” she pushes back her widow’s veil to reveal features pale and thoughtful.
The tall knight rises in greeting, and offers the lady a puzzled smile. “Not at all. You’re always welcome here, Elanna. Please, sit down, take a little refreshment. I was just reading some letters from my brother back at the Roost.”
Almer gestures to a comfortable looking setee, and as if on cue, the maidservant Keira comes with a tray, wine, and several glasses. “Thank you, I think that will be all for the night,” he tells her when she sets the drinks down.
There is silence as Elanna regards the Dornish maid unblinkingly, and silence still until she departs. Only then does the Baratheon-born take up the offered seat.
“You may not feel that way after we speak, ser,” and her expression is troubled.
The use of his title alone enough to indicate her discomfort.
He too sits, and as he pours a glass of wine for Elanna, watches her curiously. “We have known each other for a long time,” Almer says, finishing and then pouring lemon water for himself. “There is no need to stand on ceremony.”
He takes a sip, his frosty grey eyes studying her over the rim of his cup. “But I get the feeling you aren’t here for a mere social call. Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you, Elanna?”
“I’m sorry, Almer,” Elanna looks down at her lap and at her fingers twisting there, and then up, “You have every right to tell me to mind my own damn business, and you would have the right of it. But…” she pauses awkwardly, and seems to want to look anywhere -but- her brother’s ex-squire, “Who is Keira? I know she is Dornish…but she is here now..came not with other hostages. Was not forced to bend the knee at the docks. And..” now the faintest flush comes to her fair cheek, “..and last night outside the sept.”
As the lady speaks Almer nods and listens soberly, but with every her passing word a lazy smile begins to appear. When she finishes, he sighs bemusedly. “I had forgotten how swift rumors fly in King’s Landing. What are they saying about her? Terrible things, I suspect.”
He leans forward then, all coiled muscle and intensity, but there is levity in his manner even so. “I will answer your questions about Keira, Elanna, but only if you answer a few of mine. What do you say to that?” The steel in his voice is tempered by his wry, knowing grin.
Elanna looks up at Almer, her eyes dark, “There are none. Yet. This is why I had the respect to come to you first.” She pauses them.
“Alright, ask your questions, Almer,” she leans back and watches him with a cautious gaze.
Acceptance of the challenge immediately seems to spark remorse in the young knight, for his demeanor softens. Or perhaps it is the lady’s mourning garb that spurs him to restraint. Almer sighs again. “Just this, Elanna. Why so interested? There are scores, hundreds of knights who returned with retainers and servants from Dorne. Is it so hard to believe or accept?”
And then, just for an instant, the edge returns to his voice, though it does not seem directed at the Baratheon lady in particular. “Or is it because she is lovely, and lovely maidservants are good for one thing only?”
Elanna closes her eyes briefly, holding them thus a heartbeat or two, before opening again, “Truth? You are like family. Like family to myself and Sarmion though we know little enough of one another but still, I did not expect this of you. Bringing this girl back.” She pauses.
“And of course, there is Reyna. You know that she and I have been as sisters since that tournament long ago. Also for her sake would I ask.”
“For her sake?” Almer looks puzzled once again. “What do you mean? Why would Reyna care…” His voice trails off distractedly for a moment. Then he shrugs in exasperation. “I never took her for a pious one, but perhaps things have changed since she became a wife and mother,” he muses.
The knight eyes Elanna again. “I can see it is important to you, and because we are nearly family, as you said, I suppose I can tell you a little about Keira.” He seems reluctant, but the reason for this is not readily apparent. “I brought her back here, because leaving her back at Godsgrace would have been a death sentence. You see,” he says darkly, “the Dornishmen often hang collaborators, and she is a collaborator in their eyes.”
“Hard to blame them, though,” he adds with a scowl. “I hanged more than a few of them for doing the very same thing.”
“Collaborator?” Elanna looks faintly startled, “Whatever do you mean? She is barely more than a child?” She looks at the door through which Keira had disappeared.
“What on earth could she have done to earn…” a pause. A frown.
“What did she do?” Almer echoes coolly. “What she had to do in order to survive, Elanna. No more, no less. And I daresaythere is more steel in her spine than in many of our own highborn inbred eunuchs who simper and connive their ways to high places at court, while their betters die like dogs in the goddamned desert!”
His eyes flash in the golden glow of the lamps, frozen pools of light and simmering anger. His hands, which clench the arms of his chair like vices, are white-knuckled. And his voice, normally so even and confident, fairly quivers with bottled rage.
“Almer…” Elanna begins softly, “What has war done to you…” Not quite a question. She sighs.
“What does she mean to you, this Dornish girl? Are you her protector? Or something more?” as yet she remains still.
Leaning his head back against the padded high-backed chair, Almer sighs resignedly at the lady’s persistence. “I knew Ser Jerion, he was a good man. And so I feel justified in asking you a question, since this is a night for honesty.”
He looks at Elanna intently. “Answer this, my lady. Have you ever felt lonely, or sad, or hopeless? And when you did, have you ever looked upon a man other than your husband with desire?” The question hangs in the night, oppressive as a thundercloud.
Elanna regards Almer in silence for a time, unblinking even for some of it. Until she does so and her throat seems to unstick.
“Do you remember Aethan Storm?” she turns aside her gaze and shakes her head, “Of course you do. Who can forget him?” Her smile was bittersweet.
“For a time in my youth, I thought I loved him. But I realised what a fool he was in the days before he took me,” her gaze is straightforward upon his eyes then. “Jerion was not the most handsome of men. He did not make women sigh after him as you did, Almer. Nor as you still do. But…he was…” she waves her hands helplessly,
“...he was all I wished for.” Her shoulders slump a little at this, and her gaze drops back to her lap.
“Did I look upon another man? Yes. Did I wish they were his arms? His lips? Yes.” She sighs. “Was this who this Keira was, Almer? Your…replacement for loneliness and loss?”
“What you really mean is, did she spread her legs for me?” Almer replies sharply. “Was she the Dark Griffin’s favorite little whore? The plaything of the Stormlords’ camp? Something to pass the time between the bloodletting and the burying of our friends?”
Connington slumps in his chair after a moment, dismayed at the harshness of his own words. “Keira was a comfort to me, yes. And I to her, I think. I trust her as I trust few others.”
Then he manages a smile that is both sad and apologetic. “Are you disappointed with me, Elanna? Are your girlhood illusions shattered?”
“I am a widow, Almer. Not a maid blushingly torn a virgin from mother’s breast,” Elanna’s own words where equally sharp for a moment, Baratheon eyes flickering dark sapphire, and after a moment she sighs, and raises a hand to rub her brow, “You are as kin to me, Almer, and as kin I judge you no more than I would Sarmion.” She pauses.
“But it will not be my distress you will need to contend with.”
“You mean Reyna,” Almer says tiredly, surmising the lady’s meaning. “So the rumors about Colyn have finally reached her. Jonn Lannister, was it?” Connington waves a hand dismissively. “I don’t really want to know, actually.”
He scowls then. “I suppose I should talk to her about it. I had hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, but things rarely go as we hope.”
“Rumors?” Elanna looks at Almer blankly, “What…rumors?” She pauses…and grows pale.
A woman’s greatest weapon and all…
“Oh,” she raises a hand to her lips, “Oh…Almer…not him…not…” she clutches the chair, her knuckles whitening under the grasp.
“You might as well know too,” Almer replies flatly. “And Rey’s bastard of a brother took great pride in humiliating Colyn for it. This won’t hurt her any less, Elanna… but damned good men not even half Colyn Rowan’s worth would have done the same
things he did in Dorne. I would have,” he bluntly admits.
“But Colyn never got over his guilt. He was hard on himself. And he paid his debt of honor at the Carrion Wood.”
“Don’t tell Reyna, I beg you. I want her to hear it from me. I owe her that, and I owe Colyn.”
Elanna deflates in her chair, sinking low, her features now ghostlike in their pallor. She lies her head in her right hand, closing her eyes for a long time. Her left lies as deadweight in her lap. And a longer time yet until she opens them, the orbs bleak.
“I will say nothing, but you must speak to her soon. Promise me that?” her voice rasps, thick with emotion, tears dance on the very edge of the eyelashes, “Can you tell me…did Jerion?” She gestures helplessly.
“Did he do…” she cannot finish.
“I promise,” he replies.
“And I don’t know about Jerion,” Almer says, trying to offer some semblance of reassurance. “I could be gallant, and lie, and say forcefully ‘no’. But I don’t know, Elanna.”
He reaches for her hand then, uncertain if the gesture is proper. “It was a dark, lonely time for many of us. Try not to judge too sternly. Colyn was a good friend, and your husband was a good and honorable knight. Remember them for that, for that is the least of what they deserve.”
Elanna clutches for Almer’s hand, propriety be damned, and takes a shaky breath.
“Forgive me for coming here then?” she asks of him, “It was truly none of my business and everything of yours. I do thankyou for your honesty…in everything, I had no right to ask it and you were honorable for answering so. Even when you knew not the whole truth.”
“War is a terrible thing, isn’t it?” Almer replies with a rueful smile. “Not at all like the songs, and the endings are not always happy ones.”
“I am sorry for your loss. I know it is difficult.” He seems uncomfortable. “I was not made for soft words and gentle touches, I fear. But if I can be of comfort, or bring you some cheer, Elanna, then I will do what I can.”
As an afterthought, as if he has only just remembered where his hand is, he quickly pulls it away.
“You had to learn that yourself, didn’t you, Almer?” Elanna replies quietly as she releases his hand, “About war? That it is nothing like songs and stories. I suppose your education at the hands of the Stormbreaker tempered you somewhat.” She pauses.
“Just be around, Almer, that is all I ask. Make peace with those you must, and find some happiness yourself,” she nods faintly, “Then I will be comforted and you will have no need of employing soft words and gentle touches that seem so awkward found for you.”
Almer, in turn, seems to take heart at her commission. “I will do so,” he answers simply.
Elanna stands then and regards Almer solemnly, “You are a good man, Almer.” She pauses for a moment, and reaches out as though to touch him briefly on the shoulder before dipping the smallest curtsey to depart.