Haze lies over King’s Landing, in the late afternoon, like a suffocating blanket, smothering the aromas of the citadel and muffling the sounds within. Tempers are shortened by the heat and unrelenting sun and it is because of this that a shout is arisen from a guardsman when a young woman enters upon her horse.
This maid was clad in grey silk, the light fabric fluttering around her legs as she rode sidesaddle toward the yard.
“Oi! Ya nearly ran down Master Lake!” the armored man strides toward Elanna Baratheon, who looks at the fellow with wide blue eyes, pulling back on the reins and turning her mount to face him.
“I did no such thing!” she protests, “I saw no one as I rode…”
The heat of the summer afternoon has ensured that Irena isn’t exactly looking energetic, especially after having just finished making her way up the rather imposing hill and into the yard. She’d paused to rest in the shade near the entrance of the large gate while her Septa has ridden into the stable yard. Wide hazel eyes turn towards the ridding lady when she hears the commotion, as she quickly drops a curtsy, which also serves as an attempt to hide her backing away from the horse and towards the wall.
“He was nearly ridden over by a big black beast like this’un!” the guardsman reaches for the bit. Elanna’s mount skitters backwards and she shouts in concern.
“Don’t!” a pause, “He is skittish and will take your fingers off!” Sure enough, the big white teeth of the horse snap for the questing digits and the guardsman withdraws his hand swiftly, holding them comically before eyes that are nearly crossed.
“‘e nearly took me fingers off!” the guard gulps.
Elanna rolls her eyes to the heavens, “Seven help me, I -said- that!” she protests, and dismounts, moving forward to take the bit in hand herself. She was not tall in comparison to the man, but her regal bearing makes her seem moreso.
“Get out of my way, I did -not- ride over whoever this Master Lake was! There are many blasted horses in this yard! Mayhap it was one of them?” she looks around the yard, her eyes searching for another, and they fall upon the form of Irena.
Not far behind Elanna, delayed by the scuffle, is a palfrey of gleaming red-brown. Voluminous skirts of deep black protect the modesty of the mare’s rider, and drape her flanks over the green and gold livery of her tack.
“Elanna, -what- have you done now?” calls the voice of Reyna Rowan as a groom rushes to take the palfreys reins, and another hands her down. She is clad, of course, all in black, but this black is gauzy and light, sheer over her arms and shoulders against the sun. She pushes back the veiling from her face, tumbling it unheeded to the ground and letting the glaring sun shine on her honeyed hair. “What drama is this now? Oh, hello, Irena. Slipped the Septa’s noose again, have you?” Reyna smiles as she draws leather gloves from her hands.
The horse’s reaction is enough to nearly send Irena running across the yard away from the animal, but the moment she spent frozen means that now she can’t without be very rude. A lot of white is showing around the edges of her eyes and normally pale skin is white as snow. Her curtsy to Reyna is a triffle stiff, but she manages to keep most of a trimmer out of her voice as she says, “My Septa is dealing with her horse, Lady
Elanna turns to rest her gaze upon her friend, “Not a blasted thing.” She gestures with a gloved hand at the guardsman, “He insists that Nightmare rode down someone called ...what was it?...” she looks at the fellow to remember, “Oh yes, Lake.” She frowns and turns back to Reyna.
“Did you see anyone like that? Or…another black steed that might have done the same?” she looks decidedly put out, and turns to their wide eyed watcher, “Did you see anything, Irena?”
The guardsman just looks from one woman to the other, his expression seeming to suggest he though them all quite quite mad, “You are all…” he shakes his head, the hand clutching his spear quite wringing it so that it might snap, “It was this one, I say…and you…” he looks from one rider to the other, gesturing with his free hand wildly, “..dressed in…black.”
“I’m in grey,” Elanna snaps in irritation. Nightmare eyes the guardsman’s gesturing fingers again with interest.
“Oh, really, Elanna. You must have done, you and that wretched beast you insist on riding,” Reyna replies, waving her gloves in Nightmare’s direction. “Just find out if he’s injured, do, and send some gold to speed his recovery from the fright if nothing else.” She speaks drily, with the ease of long acquaintance, and her eyes smile at Elanna even as she chides her friend.
She turns to her own palfrey, the delicate red-brown mare standing placidly at her shoulder. “Come, Irena, Lily is a sweet beast, and she’ll do you no harm. She’s not afraid of yon brute, either; she’s quite wanton in his presence sometimes, but she’ll not let him hurt you.”
It takes Irena a moment to gather herself together before she can reply to Elanna’s question, “I did not see anyone when we came in, but when we left this morning a man on a black horse nearly ran us off the path. He was wearing dark green though.” He actually didn’t even come within five feet of her as he passed, but seeing how Irena reacts to horses, her statement isn’t untruthful. Her eyes continue to dart towards Nightmare nervously, but at least her voice has lost it’s nervous edge as she says to Reyna, “I am sure she’s very sweet…” She seems about to add something more, but closes her mouth, thinking better of it.
The guard looks less than certain now, glancing from one girl to the next. Elanna sighs, “Fine. Here.” She tosses a coin purse at the man, and he fumbles to catch it.
“I will hear no more of this rubbish now,” she glares at the guardsman arrogantly, “Nightmare, despite his penchant for fingers, is not as evil hearted as she makes out.” She rubs his nose to demonstrate and he whickers innocently. A liveried stableboy, in the Baratheon colours comes out and uneasily takes the reins, leading Nightmare away. The guardsman, summarily dismissed, still stands there unsure. Elanna ignores him and approaches the two women.
“True enough…here,” she digs into a hidden pouch and withdraws something in her gloved fingers, “Would you like to give her something? She will be your friend for life then…like her mistress she adores sugar.” Elanna’s eyes sparkle mischievously at Reyna as she holds out a small palmful of cubes toward Irena.
“You only spoil her because your own monster would take your fingers off did you try to sugar him,” replies Reyna tartly, as Lily noses past her mistress, already on the scent of the sugar. “No, m’lady Glutton,” she says then, pushing Lily back. “Away to the stables with you. It’s far too hot for sugar just now.”
With the palfrey gone, her Tyrell groom leading her with a gentle hand, Reyna looks at last at her companions. “It is far too hot for -me- as well. Highgarden may be farther south, but I swear it is more moderate than here.”
Elanna puts away the sugar, and yawns. She withdraws her gloves and sticks them firmly into the black belt that girt her hips. Her silks are stained with travel dust but she seems not to care as her small train gets muddier yet, the dark grey turning to brown.
“Well, compared to the chill that came off the ocean in Storm’s End…” she shivers in memory, and shakes her head, “This place is like a paradise.” She looks around her in wry amusement, “If paradise is a place where people shout at you, dust lies thick in the air and horses chew your fingers off?”
“It can only get worse. When the men return…” Reyna glances uneasily seaward. “They are not far off, the ravens say. I can only hope the manse is ready by then, for I do not fancy being here in the Keep yet when they fill every hall and byway.”
She slips her arm through Elanna’s on one side, and through Irena’s on the other, drawing them toward the shade of the Traitor’s Tower without bothering to ask if they wish it. “Then shall our idyll be ended, for someone is sure to start casting about for new husbands.”
“I would think your horse would try to bit off fingers no matter what the place.” A tiny smile graces Irena’s face as she speaks. She’s mostly joking, after all. The shade of the Traitor’s Tower is welcome change, so she doesn’t resist being led in that direction. “It is already crowded here, I cannot imagine what it will be like when the knights return.” She lets the comment about husbands pass with only a wrinkle of her nose. Her family has yet to make any overtures to marrying her off, and she’s not about to encourage them.
Elanna easily links her own arm with Reyna’s. It seems a familiar gesture for both women. She chuckles a little, though it seems slightly forced, “No more husbands, thankyou, Reyna. One was enough.” She rests her hand on Reyna’s forearm, and her hands white knuckle briefly as she seems to squeeze.
“I do, however, long to hear from my brother. It has been an age and there has been many reports of his bravery.” Her eyes seem to glow with excitement at this.
“I do wish to hear his stories.” The shade does lend some relief from the unrelenting sun as they reach it.
“I should like to know that Colyn… if he died well. Almer will know, surely,” Reyna replies, with a slight catch to her voice. “But I agree. I do not wish to be tethered again. Once was quite enough. I do not believe that we shall be allowed such freedom for long, though.”
She looks sympathetically at Irena then, and smiles a bit sadly. “Poor child; I suppose you’ll not avoid it long.”
Irena flashes a brief smile at Elanna’s direction, “I am sure your brother will be happy to share them with you.” The marriage issue earns a slight shrug from Irena as she says, “I suppose not, although there is always the possibility that my grandfather would rather me not marry at all. I am heir to Ashemark after my father, and I know he would prefer for it to stay within the hands of House Marbrand.”
There is a bleak look in the Baratheon’s eyes for a time, as though some hidden memory assails her. But it lasts not overlong as she returns to the present.
“You do not wish to marry?” Elanna regards Irena with a small look of surprise, “You know it is not such a very poor state to be in…” A tiny smile.
“And your family may find you a match that is not so very displeasing. Wars have a terrible tendency to change things, but sometimes it is for the better. You may be married to some brave warrior who brought reknown to his house, rather than an old man who has returned to the state of childhood and wets his underthings as he sips the mash that is the only thing his toothless mouth can handle.” The airy remarks are spake with a returning wicked twinkle to her gaze.
“Do as the Tullys do,” replies Reyna with a slight shrug of her own. “Lady Tully wed a Vance, but kept her name and passed it to her son to keep Riverrun in Tully hands. Ashemark would be served equally well, and you should not have to surrender your name as most of us do. I should like to be yet a Tyrell, the Mother knows.”
She laughs at Elanna, smiling and shaking her head. “Besides,” she adds, eyes still mirthful, “if you do not wed, you will get no heirs, and what will become of Ashemark then?”
Irena shakes her head, “I never said I did not wish to marry, just that I am unsure wiether my grandfather wishes me to or not. My uncles have sons, and he favors them over me and my sisters.” Or at least he seems to from Irena’s point of view. She can’t help but smile a little before adding, “Although I admit, it is probably a good thing that I am here, and they are not, when the knights come home. They may not listen to my opinion, but if they intend to marry to someone returning from the way, I should be able to at least give it.”
“Pssh,” Elanna’s hands flick lightly, “Who would care to own a whole house anyway. Imagine the whining and scraping and bootlicking you would put up with. I much prefer others to do all that, which leaves me the time to actually -enjoy- my life. Besides,” she leans in confidingly, “Goodparents can be so tiresome.”
“Truly!” Reyna’s exhales explosively. “My good-mother was a terror, an utter terror. She disapproved of -everything- I did! My lady mother was far kinder to Colyn than Lady Rowan was to me.”
Then Reyna looks down at her unrelieved black, and sighs. “Even if she does insist on my wearing mourning until Colyn’s bone are laid to rest.”
“I am here to learn to deal with that, supposedly. Although, I refuse to let what I have to do get in the way of what I want to.” Irena has a deeply hidden stubborn streak, but it shows in her voice as she speaks. She has nothing to say when it comes to goodparents, as she has none herself, and she never really met those of her parents. She says softly to Reyna, “It’s the proper thing to do, and at the very least, it will keep people at bay until the mourning period for your husband is over.”
Elanna looks down at her own mourning with the slightest of smiles, “We ought to wear mourning always, Reyna…” her voice holds the faintest of arrogant drawls, “Perhaps then we might be always kept out of the eyes of avaricious potential goodmamas and papas.” she plucks at the thin skirts with a soft finger.
“But should what you wish come to pass, Irena,” the Baratheon continues softly, “Do bear him children as soon as possible, and settle that question swiftly.”
Reyna bites back what she is about to say, and seizes Elanna’s hand in her own. “It may have been him, Ella,” she says softly, sympathetically. “You don’t know.” She squeezes her friend’s hand between both of hers, then lets it go, gently.
“There is an ocean of heartache in marriage sometimes,” she says then to Irena.
A sad expression passes over Irena’s face as she looks at the ground. “There is a lot of pressure when it comes to children.” Irena has seen that first hand. Tarina Marbrand, Irena’s mother, got only three daughters and her death out of childbed. Reyna’s statement hints at a deeper issue with Elana though, but the younger women doesn’t really have much else to add, beyond a solemn nod.
“That means nothing in the eyes of my goodparents, Ren, as well you know,” Elanna’s words are soft. She turns her pale blue gaze upon Irena then, “Be not afraid to stand up for who you are in the marriage. Else you become but a part of the household, no more use than a chamber pot or warming iron for the bed.”
“I do know,” Reyna says quietly, touching her forehead to Elanna’s shoulder for a moment. “But you are free now, and you -know- you are better than that.” Her words are for Elanna alone, it is clear, but she does not ignore Irena for more than that moment. “I bore my husband two sons, but you can see that it did not improve my lot a great deal. He is still dead. But sons… yes, men place much importance on sons, though the Tullys are proof that women are of as much use.”
A shake of Irena’s head sends her braid swinging, although it’s long enough that it doesn’t go far, “I am going to learn to be a good Lady for Ashemark. I have no intention of being put aside, or ignored. I have had enough of that.” She sound very sure of herself, but much of that is her youth talking and not reality.
“I know,” Elanna rests her hand lightly on Reyna’s arm again and squeezes, “But it shall be a regret of mine.” A sad smile, before turning to Irena.
“Have no regrets, that is my advice,” Elanna nods at the young girl, “For once the time is past, you cannot have it over again. Let it not be said that Irena, Lady of Ashemark, lived like a little grey mouse.”
“When even Highgarden summer dreams end in the bitterness of winter, why should high Ashemark dreams end any warmer? You shall be a good Lady, no doubt, but will it be enough? Aye, you must be strong, with a will like iron.” Reyna smiles a bit bleakly. “It is harder than it sounds.”
Irena sighs softly as she says, “Having a will that strong sounds far from easy already. I can not fathom what actually managing it will be like.” Irena cannot help but smile as she shows both her youth and love of stories as she says, “But with my looks and my house colors, a little grey mouse is a accurate description! But I hope I can show them just what a determined little mouse can do.”
“That’s good, that is what any woman can ask for,” Elanna nods with a small smile.
“I must go, though, my dress sticks to me as I sweat in a most unladylike manner, and the aroma of horse is quite unbecoming,” she tilts her head at Reyna, “Join me later for tea, Ren?” She ducks her head in polite farewell and makes ready her departure.
“Time will be the judge,” Reyna says, patting Irena on the shoulder. “Indeed. I need to change myself, and bathe, Ella, then I will come find you.” Reyna bobs a perfunctory curtsy, more mocking then polite, then gathers her full skirts and trips lightly off toward the tower where her rooms are, sending a little wave back over her shoulder.
Irena smiles at both of the older women before saying, “I should go see what has happened to my Septa, for she still cannot be looking after her horse, even if she asked me to wait for her.”