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Aurana flushes slightly as she realizes she may have erred. Dropping her gaze, she allows Elanna and Sarmion a brief moment of privacy, lifting her eyes once more once the conversation has passed along. The lady’s face turns crimson at the jest though the corners of her lips quirk slightly. “He is betrothed, is he not, my lady?”
Irena lacks an appropriate answer to Sarmion’s jest, so she remains silent. Elanna’s statement gets a quiet nod, but she does not appear comfortable with the current point of conversation.
“...I’m telling you, they won’t mind. Now step aside.”
A commanding voice echoes from the entry, and a tall young knight, grey-eyed and stern, firmly pushes past an indignant footman. Ser Almer Connington. When the retainer makes a move to restrain the newcomer, a single look silences him.
Almer moves purposefully toward the gathered speakers, glancing around the manse with curiosity as he does so.
“And one would think he would remember the lady that he was betrothed too,” Elanna’s voice was harsh, she throws up her hands, and stands up, her bare feet contacting the harsh stone.
“I weary of these feckless men!” she remarks fiercely and strides to the battlement to peer over the edge, “They know not how fortunate they truly are!”
Ahh, such a conversation for the Connington knight to come upon.
A door slithers open nearby, one of the rooms opening onto the balcony. “Ella, come and tell me how you like this gown… oh, I didn’t know you had guests!” Reyna Rowan smiles self-consciously at Aurana and Irena, not noticing the men just yet. “Well, perhaps all of you can render an opinion. The dressmaker comes from Myr!”
She turns to display the pink gown that bares her shoulders, though the sleeves are long; the neckline is -very- daring, perhaps the lowest of anything the lady from the Reach owns. It fits snugly over her torso, and the skirt falls without gathers in front; behind, it is gathered to fullness with a trailing hem. “Isn’t it lovely?”
“Ser Weaksmile is the quintessential hypocrit,” Sarmion says with dark looks, “A liar and a murderer. A worse villain I could not hope to find on this side of the Marches or the other. He got the worst of both his bloodlines, I am certain.” Then, the disturbance at the door draws his eyes downstairs.
Shouting down at them, “Is that Ser Almer Connington at my door? Let him pass, unless he owes you money!”
There is the briefest of white knuckled moments as Elanna seems to visibly gather herself and paste a smile upon her bruised features. She turns upon Reyna with her own ‘weak’ smile and regards her with solemn eyes.
“You do look lovely, darling,” she speaks softly, “If I had known you were home I would have called you when we had visitors.” She gestures at the two ladies.
“And here enters Ser Almer also,” her bleak gaze rests upon the knight in question only briefly.
The arrival of Ser Almer gains Irena’s attention briefly, as she glances in the direction of the voice, but she it’s not as if she can actually see him as he enters.
She turns with a bright towards Reyna when she hears the familiar voice. Irena’s voice is somewhat cautious as she admits, “The color is really lovely on you.”
“And let us not forget the slight to the girl’s family either. A true insult to prefer one of them over-” The sudden commotion from all directions brings Aurana to sudden silence, uncertain as to which way to look first. As Reyna is right before her, however, the Buckler woman turns her eyes towards the new finery. “It is truly beautiful,” she agrees, offering up a warm smile.
On the style of the dress, merely the quirk of a brow is offered by the Penrose widow, as she adds, “It is rather..daring in front there. With such prodigious assets, such as I am jealous of, I too would want to show them off.” She winks at her friend.
Perhaps it is the obstinate footman, or perhaps it is the overheard ‘desertborn bitches’ comment; whatever the case, Ser Almer’s face is a mask of restrained irritation. It is quickly mastered, and the stormknight ascends the stairs to join the others.
“Ladies. Ser Sarmion.” He scowls back over his shoulder. “Who is that fellow? I don’t recall seeing him before.”
Almer seems uneasy, and forces a smile. “Discussing the latest fashions, eh, ser?” he asks Sarmion. “You never cease to surprise me with your versatility.”
“No doubt it’s Marsh,” Sarmion says bruskly nodding his head in greeting, “His head seems destined to grace a pike one day.”
Looking at the bodice of the Rowan widow’s dress, the Baratheon’s brow arches, “Didn’t you know, ser? I have been known to carry away many a dress.”
“Do you think it’s -too- daring?” Reyna looks down at herself, frowning. “I don’t want to be taken for a whore… perhaps she can put in some lace.” She looks up then, with an angelic smile. “Hello, Almer.”
She laughs, then, and draws a shawl from the back of her chair to cover her bosom. “So long as it’s the dress and not the lady, Ser Sarmion,” Reyna replies merrily.
“The ladies are beneath the dresses,” the Stormbreaker smiles, mirth in his eyes. After a pause, he adds with a bow, “...my lady.”
“Oh really, brother dear,” Elanna arches a matching dark brow in echo of his own expression, “This I -must- here. Ser Almer, have you tales of this dress and maid carrying, I am sure I would be -fascinated- to hear it.”
“Perhaps a little lace, darling, there must be something to catch the drool from all those chivalrous lords at court.”
“Reyna.” Almer’s reply is measured and even, but there is a look of puzzlement in his eyes. “There’s not much dress there to approve of, cousin,” he adds quietly.
He eyes Elanna then, and unlike her, does not look at all amused.
“Speaking of whores,” Connington says abruptly, apparently uneasy with the subject at hand, “you should see my new squire Rease’s horsemanship. He rides like an Oldtown slattern; cheeks puffing, face red, tits flopping every which way. It’s criminal.”
Aurana nods along with Elanna’s suggestion. “Just a little bit. That way you’re daring and demure all at once.” For the moment, the young lady seems quite content to simply listen to everyone else, amused and scandalized at the same time.
Irena says, with a slight smile, “It is much more daring then I would try, Lady Reyna.” The younger woman is just being honest, and her normal dress is rather conservative. The Connington last comment, gains him a glance, although she refrains from commenting.
Elanna returns Almer’s look, perhaps a challenge therein, or an expectation. But then gone.
“Perhaps you should give him to Ser Dagur’s horsemen, they seem to be able to stop a horse on a dime,” she quirks a wry smile, “Fortunately.”
“They can stop the horse,” Sarmion answers, glowering, “It’s the riders that keep moving.”
“Oh, I see,” Reyna banters back at Sarmion, then she listens to the suggestions of lace with all the appearance of sobriety. “Perhaps,” she says then, sliding her gaze back to Almer, “you should suggest he bind his flopping bits like a lady does.” Thus spoken, she pats her abdomen just under her bosom. “Then he’ll not inspire envy in the less well-endowed, and cease offending your sensibilities.”
“You seem quite recovered, Elanna,” Almer mentions, casting about for an empty seat and finding one next to the lady Irena, seeming vaguely pleased with himself in the process.
And as Reyna makes her remark, Connington laughs. “Not a bad idea, Rey. I’ve thought of tying him to the saddle as well, but then he wouldn’t get the benefit of being thrown. It can be a powerful lesson to the aspiring horseman.”
“Tell us, Ser Sarmion,” Reyna says then, castinga sidewise glance of impish mischief at Elanna before turning her gaze on her brother, “exactly how much does the dress have to do with wishing to carry off the girl within?”
“Mere startlement, Ser Almer,” Elanna replies easily, “I recovered well within an hour of returning home and a glass of summerwine.” She quirks her brow at his choice of seat, “The Lady Irena painted me the most charming picture as thanks, Ser. I plan to put it in my room.”
Smiling, with hooded eyes, Sarmion bows his head as Reyna graces him with her attentions, “As much as the rind does to the fruit, my lady.”
The nod given to Almer as he sits next to her is polite and accompanied by a friendly smile, but her tone of voice is very unamused as she comments, “A lesson in mortality, if something something goes wrong.” Sh1e tends to ignore the more… inappropriate comments for the older members of the group, but she is just a young maid, after all.
“Ah, then the clothing matters not at all?” Reyna raises a brow, as if terribly interested. “Girls, this is so very fascinating! And what about location, Ser? Are there places that seem more conducive to carryings-off? The Sept, perhaps?”
“Well, my lady,” Almer replies mildly to Irena, “a knight was never made hiding behind his mother’s skirts. Life is risk, and rarely moreso than in the profession of arms.”
He seems to have taken interest in the young Marbrand girl. “You are an artist?” he inquires, glancing from Irena to the lady Elanna.
Aurana doesn’t seem to know what to make of the conversation going on about her. At Reyna’s last, her forehead creases however, disapproval showing briefly on her features before smoothing out into polite disinterest. Rising to her feet, her hands smooth over her skirts and she crosses over towards the battlement.
Elanna darts a sharp glance betwixt Reyna and thus to Almer, meeting his own gaze swiftly, though for different reasons. Her hands move to clasp at her waist and she chews on her lower lip as she listens to the conversation between her brother and Reyna, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
Regarding the question suspiciously, Sarmion frowns with a shake of the head, “I do not take your meaning, lady.”
Opening a hand, he says, “The rind of the fruit conceals the sweetness that dwells within. It catches the eye and whets the appetite of he who would savor of that which lies within.” Smiling, then, he adds, “As to where to pluck the fruit… Well, you have been to beddings, surely.”
Almer says nothing to Reyna, but gives his cousin a curious look.
“An honorable answer, ser,” Reyna replies, relenting and turning to smile at Elanna. “Is there tea, dearest? And I’ve offended, er… your guest.” She waves with concern at Aurana, and in turning meets Almer’s gaze with a lifted brow.
Scoffing at Reyna’s words, looking at Aurana, Sarmion shakes his head, “Beddings are not forbidden custom in House Buckler, surely.”
“Tea, summerwine, lemon water…” Elanna lists off the choices, “Anything. Tea still to your liking, Ren dear?” She turns to look upon Aurana.
“Perhaps her own home is less lively than this,” she smiles at the Buckler girl, “There are not too many, save perhaps Casterly Rock or even Highgarden that might claim it.”
Irena answers with a slight nod, before breaking into a bit of a smile, “I am just learning, but yes, I suppose I am.” Irena appears to be very good at not hearing the parts of conversation that aren’t appropriate, or at the least very good at ignoring them.
“I’ve witnessed beddings, to be sure. Indeed, I’ve been a main participant.” Reyna makes a face, and shakes her head. “Did I know then what I know now, I’d have tried harder to remain a maiden.”
Aurana turns at the sound of her House’s name, looking to Sarmion with a moment of confusion. “Oh… I came of one, so I would have to say no. They are not forbidden within the correct circumstances. It is not something that we often discuss, I am afraid.” Her blue eyes find Reyna, a small smile curving her lips. “I am not offended, my lady. I simply have nothing to offer up regarding the subject.” Her voice is kept low and soft, hands clasped before her.
Grinning slyly at Aurana’s words, Sarmion says to no one in particular, “... ... ... ... to ... ... regarding ... ...”
He laughs to himself and his eyes fall on Irena and Almer.
Reyna glances aside at Sarmion, and seems about to speak. Apparently, she thinks better of it. “Tea would be perfect. I’ll just go and change into something more appropriate, and send this along with the sempstriss.” Reyna rises and disappears back into her room.
“Perhaps you could tell us about your latest work?” Almer says to Irena, glancing warily at the Stormbreaker as he speaks. “It might prove a welcome diversion from all these overflowing bosoms.”
Elanna covers her mouth with a hand and coughs soon after Sarmion’s little…speech. She rubs the bridge of her nose with a hand and looks utterly utterly bemused, turning then to lean upon the battlement and look over the darkening view for a moments respite from the madness.
Aurana returns Stormbreaker’s gaze, her softer expression fading into something a bit more defiant as a silvery brow arches, her head canting slightly to one side. “I beg your pardon, Ser Sarmion?” Her tone is nothing but polite though her knuckles whiten as her hands remain still.
“Nevermind him, darling,” Reyna says, emerging once more modestly clad and more herself. “It’s been a terribly long time since he’s had female company; all the men seem afflicted with crudity of wit. Come and sit again.”
A brief look of confusion passes over Irena’s face at the reactions Ser Sarmion manage to garner. She says softly, “I could, if people wished to listen. It is a subject I really do enjoy talking about.”
At Reyna’s words, Elanna’s eyes widen and she turns to stare at her friend with something skin to shock.
“Ren…” her voice is disapproving.
Almer, too, turns his gaze on Reyna, his conversation with Irena momentarily forgotten.
“What’s gotten into you, cousin?” Connington asks quietly.
Bursting into laughter, Sarmion waves a hand, but still can’t keep from laughing. Even as his laughter begins to still, looking at her arch expression on her young face renews his mirth.
Finally, he falls silent, and looks at Aurana and Reyna absently, “My pardons, ladies. What were we talking about?”
Turning from her solicitous attention to Aurana, Reyna looks from Elanna to Almer in clear confusion. She starts to speak, then bites her lip uncertainly. “I’m only trying to make her feel better,” she says finally, stepping away from Aurana. “Forgive me, Lady. I’ll just…” she gestures back toward her rooms, like a chastened child.
Elanna steps forth then, “Ren, please don’t leave…” Her voice is soft.
“What was said was in keeping,” she smiles slightly, and leans forward to whisper something softly in her ear.
Aurana is more than a bit confused at Sarmion’s response to her, her forehead creasing. Standing at the battlement near Elanna, she looks to the lady. “I am uncertain whether I should be amused or insulted. Can you translate for your brother?” Reyna’s kindness isn’t unnoticed, the fair haired woman turning her attention to the lady. “Please, Lady Reyna, remain. Your company is most welcome and your cheerful demeanor a blessing to us all.”
Irena repetes the sentiments of the other women in the room, “It would be a shame for you to leave, Lady Reyna.”
Reyna looks aghast, her eyes darting toward Sarmion as her face pales. “I didn’t mean… I was referring to the war, not… oh, Gods!” Indeed, she looks ready to burst into tears for her gaffe.
Elanna tilts a smile at Reyna, “Oh, please, do not concern yourself, dearest. His attention was upon a pretty maid, so you seemed quite right. It was I in the wrong and I should have known you would never say such a thing.”
“Now a smile perhaps? And a glass of summerwine, I think?”
“Seven hells. Reyna,” Almer says sternly, ignoring Elanna’s attempts to placate his cousin, “you of all people should know better than to jest about such a thing.” The rebuke is not harsh, but there is an edge to the grave young knight’s voice nevertheless.
A smile there might have been, had Almer not spoken. “No…” Reyna replies dully to Elanna. “I think I’ll go a walk, instead.” She grabs the shawl she had used before, and throws it around her shoulders and over her hair. Then she moves past the tea-drinkers, her face flaming, and out the front door.
Aurana shakes her head after Almer’s rebuke as she steps back towards the sitting area. “There’s not a soul in this room who hasn’t or won’t do something unintentional and regrettable in their lifetime. Please, Lady Reyna, stay.”
Looking from each woman’s face in turn, Sarmion suddenly frowns. Glowering, his brow arches, and he nods.
Holding out a hand toward Reyna, “Peace, my lady.”
Slumping in his chair, Almer scowls in exasperation. “Oh, very well.”
He stands, sends a look replete with meaning to Elanna, then turns to follow Reyna from the manse.
In the courtyard, Reyna paces, muttering words of self-deprecation under her breath. “Oh, of all the fool things!” she bursts out suddenly, dropping onto a stone bench and burying her face in her hands.
“What’s all this?”
Almer emerges from within the manse and stops short, obviously anticipating a chase, and now surprised to find the aim of his search at hand.
He takes a few hesitant steps toward Reyna. “Tell me what’s troubling you. Maybe I can help.”
“Oh, go away,” comes Reyna’s muffled voice. Then she looks up, red-eyed but not weeping. “I’m so -angry- with you, Almer! Behind the SEPT!?” She rises, agitated, and resumes pacing. “And now I’ve been almost as horrid, because I wanted to embarrass you as I’ve been.”
Slow realization spreads across Almer’s face. “Oh, that.” He seems unconcerned, other than that it seems to have upset his cousin so greatly. “Well, I suppose it was not particularly reverent… but the High Septon hasn’t chastised me.”
“I don’t understand. Why should -you- be embarrassed?” He seems genuinely puzzled. “I don’t recall you being particularly pious before. Has marriage changed you so much?”
“Oh, it’s nothing to do with piety. It was just… public!” Reyna stops, her hands hanging helplessly at her sides. “People heard you, saw you come out with her… if you had to bring her home, that’s fine, but must you be so public with your… affections?”
Almer takes a seat beside her and smiles. “I suppose it was public, though it was night…. and who hasn’t stolen a kiss or two in the dark before?”
His expression turns more serious. “If she offends you, I am sorry. What would you have me do? Turn her out into the street? Send her back to Godsgrace, where they would hang her from the nearest branch?”
“Just… I don’t know.” Reyna heaves a sigh, and looks at her hands twisting in her lap. “Be discreet. You and Colyn… oh, I know I’ve held you both to such ideals as no man could achieve, but I have such admiration for you, as I had for him, and it pains me to see you behaving so.”
“Reyna,” Almer says flatly, looking at her with a hard expression. “You are a woman grown, a mother and a wife, and I think it is time that you faced certain difficult truths.”
His jaw clenches for a moment. “I am a knight, as was Colyn, and we take vows. We follow the code of chivalry. We do our best to live up to those ideals you speak of. But knights are just men, Rey. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“War is a terrible thing, and each of us does what we must to survive, and to stay sane. Sometimes we fail, but the good ones, the true knights, do the best they can in spite of it. It is no matter for song, but there you have it.”
“I know Colyn had bedwarmers, Almer,” Reyna says in an eminently practical tone. “The Seven know he had no joy of me in the marriage bed. He never brought them -home-, though. He never carried on with them to the shame of all who know him. I don’t expect perfection, I only beg for discretion. Keep her in your rooms!” This last is sad pleadingly, her brown eyes wide. “For my sake, if not for your own?”
“Her name is Keira Sand.”
And now the tables are turned, for Almer seems angry at Reyna. “And she is not a whore, no matter what the gossip mongers, or your distinguished brother, may say.”
His eyes are cold and distant. “If you cannot bear to look upon her, then I will ask her to stay out of your sight. But she lives in my apartments, and serves me well.”
“I will not send her away, nor will I send her to her death back in Dorne. She has noone else. And I owe her too great a debt to do that, even for love of you, Reyna.”
“As you like,” Reyna says in a small voice, clearly taken aback. “I did not ask you to send her away. I’m not cruel. But if you continue as you have begun, do not presume to censure me.” She laughs then, mirthless and harsh, and when she speaks again, it is with dignity. “Do you know, I had just promised myself I would apologize to you for that thoughtless remark I made, that day in the stableyard.
“But then I heard the rumors, and all the snickering and snide remarks, and couldn’t bear to speak of it. But I have never called her a whore, Almer, nor would I ever.”
“Rumors be damned,” Almer replies, his anger cooling and a conciliatory half-smile now appearing. He looks tired now, and it shows in his voice. “Don’t you think I have heard the japes, the ribald jokes? Do you think I am so blind?”
He rubs the bridge of his nose wearily. “You have endured much from the chattering hens of King’s Landing, and I fear the worst is yet to come. But do you remember what I told you, that first day in the sept when we returned? Don’t believe everything they say, or everything you hear.”
“Things are never quite as obvious as they may seem.”
“Worst?” Reyna studies Almer’s face with knit brows. “What are you keeping from me? Whatever it is, I should far rather hear it from you than anyone else.”
“I know only what you’ve told me,” Reyna replies, bemused. “That he slept through the first call to battle, and came to it late. But that he more than redeemed his shame, which my brother did his best to heap on him, at Carrion Woods.”
“Your brother wanted to hang her, and send Colyn home in disgrace. But His Grace intervened before that little scheme could bear fruit.” He smiles sadly. “You know the rest, I suppose.”
Reyna stares at the ground, hands gripping the edge of the bench as her face pales. “I see.” Her jaw tenses as she breathes faster, her bosom heaving in her modest bodice. “Yes, I quite see. And you’ve brought her home. And introduced her to me. Very noble.”
A long silence follows, during which she doesn’t move, save to breathe. Then: “Was she with him when he died?”
The anger returns, swift as a storm. “Damn you, Reyna! Have you heard nothing I’ve said?” Almer scowls, and his eyes flash icily. “They were going to hang her! And Colyn spent the rest of his life regretting his actions, and burning with guilt for what he had done to you.” “No,” he says harshly. “She was not with him when he died; she was no longer in his service after that first morning, when Lymond was killed. She was back in the camp, in my tent, and I was there with Colyn at the end.”
“And as I said, his last words to me were to tell you he was sorry. What more do you want from me?”
“Nothing, Almer. Nothing more whatsoever.” Reyna rises, her movements mechanical and stiff, her voice flat and dull. “I thought he was referring to something else, but I see I was wrong. Quite wrong.”
She starts to walk back to the door, then turns around to raise expressionless eyes to Almer. “You said you would keep her away from me. I would appreciate it if you kept that promise.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Cold formality edges Almer’s answer like bitter frost. “I am sorry if I do not fulfill your expectations of one of your chivalrous Highgarden heroes. We all have our failings.”
He, too, moves toward the door to rejoin the group, and a hard and heavy silence settles upon him.
Meanwhile, back in the manse…
“I have told you no more than you knew already,” Sarmion says, still with his back to Elanna, “That your husband is dead, you knew. That I had failed to keep him still alive, you also knew.”
His shoulders square, his voice hard and unyeilding, he says, “Ask no more, for you need know more of war than that which you know already.”
The hall door opens once more, and Reyna leaves it so as she moves stiffly back to the balcony. She sits carefully, as if very fragile, and lifts her tea cup with an unsteady hand. “What have we missed?” she asks with a brittle smile.
Elanna rises from the chaise, her eyes red and cheeks tearstained. She turns and goes to the battlement. Silence falls between the twain, for what answer is there. She rests her forehead against the cool stone and does not move when Reyna returns.
“Nothing…” her voice is muffled, “Not a damn thing.”
Almer returns a few moments after Reyna, a dark look in his eyes. His gaze goes immediately to Elanna and Sarmion, and the shadow that weighs upon him grows heavier.
“I need a drink.”
A grim nod follows and Sarmion descends the stairs. He returns a few minutes later a lanky youth following with a tray with two flagons and two braces of goblets upon it. Stormbreaker pours out the cups and holds them out to both women and Almer whether they take it or no, before taking one himself.
“To those who never shall return,” the towering Baratheon holds up his glass with his words and then quaffs the drink before refilling the vessel.
Reyna raises her cup in a mechanical movement, then downs the contents without pausing to see what it is. That done, she holds out her cup for more.
Elanna lifts her head, and accepts the drink silently. She looks at Reyna first, then a longer look at Almer. To Sarmion? Not a single glance. She holds up her cup.
“And those who waited for them,” her voice was rasping as she took a mouthful, coughs…then another mouthful.
Grimly, Sarmion makes the round with the flagon to fill each person’s glass. Solemnly he drinks and fills his glass again.
His glowering looks do not land on any of those with whom he drinks.
Reyna drinks again, long and deep, draining her cup in a single quaff. Then she rises unsteadily. “I think I shall retire,” she says in a dull voice. But she doesn’t move to leave; instead she looks at Sarmion, as if mulling something over in her mind, then holds out her hand to him.
For Almer, once is enough, it seems. He sets his wineglass on the battlement, its contents untouched. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he says stiffly to Sarmion. “And you as well, Elanna,” he adds, his voice softening somewhat.
To Reyna, only the merest of nods, and a faint sorrowful frown.
He turns on his heel then, descends the stairs, and pushes roughly by the hapless footman who leaps to show him out. And Connington is gone into the night.
Elanna just watches Reyna and Sarmion her hands tight upon the stem of her goblet. Then as Almer leaves, the goblet is set aside with a clatter upon stone and she whirls from the balcony in a flurry of silk, her hand pressed to her mouth. No word to any present, farewell or comfort or otherwise.
“Pick those up,” Sarmion says, pointing at the abandoned gauntlets at the lanky youth.
Taking his own goblet, he descends the stairs and disappears into the night as well.
Reyna, left standing with her hand extended to no one, slowly draws it back, then turns to perch on the balcony rail and stare into the night.
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