The sept is empty, nothing left of the day’s devotions save the sweet memory of incense and the dying light of tortured candles. A relentless flapping sounds high above; a bird somehow trapped within beats at a stained-glass window, the Warrior’s sword running with her blood.
Below, a lone figure kneels before the Stranger, as still as the trapped creature is frantic. Tentative fingers of light outline his bent head and strike a spark from the pommel of the sheathed sword held upright before him.
At night, it usually is quiet here, and it is not unusual for the solitary to come for solace. The sept door opens slowly, and a woman comes in, her face grey as a ghost for all that her gown is golden. She walks up the center aisle to the feet of the Father, looking neither right nor left; there she falls first to her knees, then crumples forward into a ball, her shoulders shaking in some silent agony.
The woman’s entrance goes unnoticed—at least until she falls before the Father. There is a whisper of steel then, a flash of liquid fire.
The kneeling man, turned on a knee now, looks at the half-bared sword in his hand, then the supplicant, as if confused; his eyes are bloodshot and dazed. He shakes his head, then again, and the blade slides back into the scabbard.
“Lady…”. His voice is hoarse with thirst; he clear his throat and tries again: “Lady Reyna?”
The lady looks around, startled. “Ser Dagur,” she says, sniffing once and wiping at her face with the back of her hand, as if such primping could hide the fact that she was weeping. “Forgive me… have you been keeping vigil?” She looks at the sword, and at his eyes. “Forgive me,” she says again.
The ironman seems to find the answer obvious enough to not bother speaking it. He leans forward against the sword—upright again—with slow, stiff movements.
“The women here cry often and much,” he observes. “Another one of your greenlander games.”
He seems tired—and in a strange way, distracted—enough for his comments to lack an edge.
“Perhaps you would weep too if you were me,” Reyna replies, getting to her feet as well. “The only wonder is that I came here by the usual way, and not from the top of the highest tower in the Keep.”
“That would be…weak.”
The word twists the ironman’s mouth as if he finds it distasteful. Kneeling still, he looks up at the standing woman, his eyes narrowed against the candlelight that halos her, and a flicker of his dry humour returns, “And who is it this time. The Raven, the cub or the Kinslayer?”
Reyna just stares at him, her face dreadful in its stillness. “But I -am- weak,” she says finally, turning away and kneeling again as if the strength has gone out of her. She holds the wrist of one arm with the opposite hand, her thumb stroking the white skin there. “Are knights never weak? Are you all so strong that you cannot understand weakness?”
The ironman laughs at that, “Is the Blackbolt strong? He kills his kin because he cannot defy his captain, then weeps for it. Is Jonn Lannister strong? An aleskin and a whore can bring that one to his knees.”
He continues watching the woman, one eye gleaming in the candlelight, the other hidden behind the hilt: “No, all knights are not strong. What does an ironman care about them?”
“A pity I was not ironborn, then,” Reyna replies, the nail of her thumb worrying the skin of her wrist red. “Instead I bend with every breeze without thought for the morrow, or the storm breaking just over the hill.”
She looks up at the distant face of the Father, her eyes moving as if she is searching for answers. “There is no ruin more complete than one wholly of your own doing.” And the skin of her wrist breaks, raising tiny beads of blood.
Rising, Dagur looks up at the trapped bird; its fluttering has grown weaker now. A wedge of candlelight illuminates his face from below and for a moment he looks truly terrible, a reaver in the light of a burning village from some old woman’s tale.
“What have you done now?” His voice is hard: “If you have made a liar of me with Rurik Greyjoy, a man will have to die for it.”
“A liar… whatever do you mean?” Reyna looks around, bemused, and leaves off scoring her wrist. “No, I’ve only told Almer the truth, as he demanded, and he’s… disowned me, I suppose. Cast me out. I’ve done nothing new.”
That brings the ironman’s gaze down to the woman, his bemusement a match for hers. “What does he have to do with…what truth?”
He catches himself, shaking his head with a snort, “The list of your escapades, woman, will need a maester to set it down soon enough.”
“He asked for truth, and I gave it him. It’s nothing everyone doesn’t already know. Or -think- they know,” Reyna adds, frowning at Dagur. “As for what he has to do with me… everything once upon a time. Now, nothing. Less than nothing.”
“Not everyone,” the ironman replies drily. “I’ll leave it to others to puzzle out whose bed you’ve been in and whose you haven’t. They seem to enjoy it. As for Almer, the man has a temper. Whatever it is, he’ll come around soon enough. He seems fond enough of you.”
“Not this time,” Reyna replies brokenly. “I don’t know what he wants from me, but I’ve thrust him away as surely as if he’d caught me in a dozen beds, every one his enemy’s.” Her thumb is working again, but she seems unaware that the wound she’s made is bleeding a little more with every passing moment. “I have been to one bed that was not my own. Can you believe that, Ser Dagur? Just one. And just one has been my ruin.”
“I can believe it,” is the stark reply. “You don’t need to stray a dozen times for it to be foolishness.” There is a pause, then the ironman concedes, “Or so I would say if you had a husband.”
He rubs his temple, whether from weariness or discomfort at the unaccustomed role of confessor.
“And enough of that,” he adds mildly; the scabbarded sword reaches out to lift the woman’s hand from the other, bleeding one.
“Yes, well, I don’t, do I?” Reyna looks down then, and blinks. She mutters something under her breath, and produces a handkerchief from her sleeve, which she presses against the wound. “And that’s the trouble, I suppose. I hate being alone.”
That brings the ghost of a laugh from the ironman, “Then I’ll tell Ser Almer he’ll have to roust you out of a dozen more beds. By the Seven, woman, do you think your husband would have devoted his life to keeping your happy if he’d been here?”
He steps into the shadows beside the Stranger’s statue, stooping and rummaging in a dimly seen leather bag, “He seemed to be doing well enough on his own in Dorne!”
“No, it’s not that,” Reyna says, curling her legs under her and leaning wearily against the plinth of the Father’s statue. “It’s more just knowing someone gives a damn, whether for love or duty. No one gives a damn right now.” She makes no reply to his jab about Colyn and Dorne.
“You, my lady of Rowan…”
The ironman rises with his booty, a wineskin; he drinks deep from it, then shivers and corks it again. “You, my lady of Rowan,” he repeats, “have been smelling your roses far too long.”
He studies the dejected woman for a moment, then walks to her side and crouches on his heels, “But roses grow in shit and they have thorns. Time you realised that.”
He tips the wineskin invitingly towards her.
Reyna eyes the wineskin, then looks around the sept. “Everything grows in shit, Ser Dagur,” she says cynically, reaching for the wineskin. “I just never reckoned that roses thrived there. If you can call this thriving.”
She works the stopper out of the skin, then manages to drink from it clumsily, catching a drop off her chin before it can stain her gown. “This, Ser Dagur,” she coughs, “tastes exactly like I would imagine donkey piss does.”
Then she drinks again.
The ironman watches the woman look around the sept, then smiles, “The Seven won’t mind a little wine. Not when they stomach everything else here, shit and all.” The smile widens, lean and fierce, “Besides, faith or no, I am an ironman still.”
“And it’s Dornish. I imagine they pissed in it themselves before I took it from them.”
Reyna coughs again, this time with reluctant amusement. “Lovely,” she rasps, handing it back to him. “Gods, you must be sick to death of me. Or do the ironmen take a different view of stupid women?”
“We marry them to the northerners,” the ironman replies blandly, taking back the wineskin. A swallow, then another, and he offers, “I could find one for you. That Rickon Karstark…hairy bastard but it’ll keep you warm in that wilderness he calls home.”
He offers her the wineskin again, “Or the Ryswell woman’s nuncle.” He scratches his cheek, “Or maybe a Westerman. They might roll in dung but they can buy enough incense to make it smell good.”
“Everyone offers me Westermen,” Reyna replies, her tone as sour as the wine she takes a healthy drink of. “In fact, everyone offers to find husbands, but not be one. Ironic, that. Like Garvys, really. Give her to the first dumb slob who’ll take her!” She drinks again, and passes it back, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“You’re a dangerous woman, m’lady,” the ironman points out amusedly. “Lord Tyrell and Almer Connington to grind a man’s bones into meal if he does you wrong.”
Another swig; his balance seems steady enough as he crouches there but there is a sheen to his reddened eyes. He glances up as a feather and then another descends, “A man likes to think of pleasanter things when he is betraying his wife.”
“Not Almer, ser,” Reyna says, her eye catching the path of the feather. “He will not grind anyone’s bones for my sake any longer.”
She is silent a moment, before she takes the skin and drinks. “And who cares if a husband betrays his wife? He’s allowed, ser. It’s the wife who mustn’t stray.”
“Men are men and women are women,” the ironman shrugs. “I’ve never heard it said that they were equal in all things. But if you think a husband can betray his wife”—he taps the statue of the Father against which Reyna leans—“you listen to gossips and whoremongers more than you do the septons.”
“Besides,” he watches the woman closely, “he lies in Dornish soil. You don’t.”
“Are you so much stronger than other men that you would not betray a wife?” Reyna asks, meeting Dagur’s gaze with her own red-rimmed one. “I resigned myself to Colyn’s women early on, ser. Whether the Septons say it is right nor not, it happens. I’m not -that- stupid.”
There is a pause in which Dagur seems to afford the question serious consideration. And then: “No.”
There is nothing else; the answer seems as certain as the man is of himself.
“And if you’re not that stupid yet,” he continues with a faint smile, “you’re not drinking fast enough. Finish it, woman. You’ll curse me tomorrow but better that than weeping for yourself, yes?”
“At least you’re honest,” Reyna says with a snort before she upends the wineskin. And finish it she does, though it takes a long moment and she gasps for breath at the end. “I would ask if all ironmen are so honest, but I know that they are not.”
“Are all greenlanders as fickle as your husband?” counters the ironman. Taking the wineskin, he shakes it, then nods and puts the stopper in.
“Time to get you to your rooms, I think. Being found wine-sloshed in the Father’s lap by a septon is, I think, more than my lady of Rowan’s reputation can afford.”
“I don’t know,” Reyna says, hiccuping. “I only ever married the one.” She gets to her feet inelegantly, using the statue to steady herself. “Carrying me to my rooms again, Ser Dagur. Tsk tsk, people are going to talk. But not about you… you can just go tell Almer that he’s right.”
“Almer can do his spying himself if he’s so worried about his cousin’s virtue,” replies the ironman with a smile that has very little amusement to it.
He steps back, considering the woman with a critical eye, “And carry, is it? Take a step.”
“I’m fine, it was just a feeble joke,” Reyna replies. “So I don’t start weeping again the moment you’re turned your back.” She starts to move, then pauses. “I hope some time you’ll tell me why you were keeping vigil.”
“Perhaps. Probably not,” is the blunt reply. The ironman watches the woman a moment longer—he seems to set little store by her word—then nods: “There are goldcloaks outside if you need them. And find your own bed this time.”
The stinging words snap Reyna’s spine straight. “Thank you for listening,” she says, the red fading from her cheeks. “It was kinder than I deserve.” She looks at her wrist, and shakes her head. “Or perhaps not. Good night, ser.”
The ironman frowns at Reyna’s reaction, then shakes his head—but he says nothing. Picking up the sword, he seats himself on one of the benches before the Stranger. Chin propped against the pommel, he studies the carven face in brooding silence, guttering candles and the dying bird keeping him company.