|The Confessions of Lady Anonymous|
|Summary:||Rowan unburdens, Josse advises, plots are hatched.|
|Related Logs:||Lady Anonymous, Horse Whispering|
|Purple Room, Stonebridge|
|The rooms available at the Common House are not quite spartan but their amenities are few. Most of the focus seems to have gone towards a comfortable bed for the weary visitors. There is a small table against another wooden wall with a mirror stood behind it. A wash basin is placed by the window that looks out upon the docks and a simple rug placed on the floor to guard against the cold floors overnight.|
|27th day of Seventhmonth, 288 AL|
The Common House is not Josse's usual haunt in Stonebridge, arrangements for the sept being rather more spartan and much less private than these rooms. But upon getting a message from Rowan about wanting to talk, this was the only room he was able to find that afforded a little peace and quiet, just recently abandoned by tournament goers too incensed about the outcome of Kevan's duel to want to stay any longer. Bad for them, good for the septon.
After a quick exchange with the bartender downstairs, coins clink, a little mark made on the door to alert Rowan, and then Josse ducks into the room — and promptly stops, door creaking shut behind him. It's purple.
"Really?" mutters the septon, to no-one in particular.
It's not long before the young septon is joined by Ser Jarod's squire, the girl/would-be-boy poking her head through the door after knocking lightly.
"Wow," says Rowan, slipping into the room and getting a load of the decor. "Really?"
"Really." The familiar voice comes from a chair by the window, where Josse has found a seat, divested himself of his shoes, and now slouches comfortably with his feet stuck through the bottom horizontal slats running between two table legs. In his hands and being perused without interest, a copy of the inn's menu — with some suspicious-looking stains that he's careful not to touch. His eyes don't flicker up quite yet. "Sorry about that. When they said the 'Purple room', I was hoping they were being ironic or something."
"Yeeeeeah," says Rowan, doing a full turn to appreciate the room in all its grapeplum splendor. "I'm not sure they do irony in Stonebridge." She drops into a seat at the table and gazes at Josse, as though just looking on him brings her comfort. "Thanks for agreeing to see me. I've written Rowan about — everything… but…" she sighs, slender shoulders lifting in a shrug. "His advice is typically to loosen up and live a little." She grimaces. "Lately I've been living a lot, by that measure."
Josse gently sails the menu across the top of the table and flops his arms onto the arms of the chair, the back of his head propper between the top of the chair and the wall behind him. "I can give you the opposite advice if you want to pretend it'd do any good, but it sounds like it's too late for that." He rubs the side of his thumb under one eye. "So."
"Advice is bollocks, though, isn't it?" Rowan sighs, cautiously nudging the menu a quarter turn so she can view it properly. "People do what they do. But…" she looks up. "I feel — I want to confide in you. You already have my greatest secret, I — " Another sigh and she sits back. "I don't want to burden you with too many things you can't tell Jarod. I guess that's the thing. That would — you're his first, you know? I'm sort of an interloper."
A little air comes out through Josse's nose, curling both sides of his mouth up. Someone his age shouldn't have this many lines etched at the corners of their eyes when they smile. His eyes flicker down to the edge of the table before he starts to talk. "Trust and disclosure are not the same thing. There are many things Jarod doesn't know that I do…about me, about the world, about many things. You certainly know a few things about me that he doesn't. And there are things you don't know. Likewise, Jarod doesn't tell me every little thing of import to him. Some things I am sure he'd rather discuss with his brother. Or his father, or even some whore he'll never see again. Hardly means I think I'm less to him than someone else, just…that I have my place to him. As he has one to me. As you have one to me. So. Whatever my place is to you, that's your decision." This whole thing comes out as unweighted as if he were discussing the latest standing in the archery tournament.
Rowan tilts her head to the side, squinting as he speaks. By the end of his explanation, her ear is nearly on her shoulder in an effort to view him at an angle that makes sense. "That," she says after a moment, "was exceedingly complicated. But I think the upshot was — lay it on me. So I shall." She straightens up and nods. "I think I'm courting Jarod."
"Really." Josse's voice is at once amused and surprised in the sort of way as if she'd told him she were considering dying her hair red. "Not the smithy boy, then? Your eyes were sort of large when he came round."
The girl-squire flushes, frowning and shaking her head. "No. Definitely not him," she says, looking down at her hands. "I had more and a little wine, a few nights past and — " she sighs, raking a hand through her hair. "I put on a dress and had a night out. I did wind up with the smithy boy — got rid of the bothersome maidenhead everyone's been prodding me to lose. It was miserable and pointless and I'm not proud of it. The whole thing was just… tawdry."
The slight wrinkle of Josse's nose is fairly sympathetic. "Amazing how often women say that. There's really got to be…" He makes a distracted movement with one hand. "Anyway. So. What does this have to do with courting Jarod?"
Rowan shakes her head. "Nothing. Nothing at all to do with courting Jarod. I didn't — " She sighs and puts her elbows on the table, dropping her head into her hands, laughing ruefully. "Sweet Seven, this whole thing began so innocently. I just — " she lifts her head and makes a helpless gesture. "I just… wanted him to have a lady's favor. To take into the melee. And… I might have gotten a little carried away and expressed precisely how… fantastic and above all other men I think he is. A little. In a letter, not to his face, obviously. A letter and a favor from Lady Anonymous. That's how this all began."
Now Josse is paying a little more attention, or at least the slightly cocked brow would suggest so. "Ahh, I see. I think." His mouth drifts open a second or two before he talks again. "Has he written this mysterious Lady back?"
Rowan knots her fingers together and presses them to her lips, eyes huge with anxiety and giddy hope. "No," she replies. "Not yet. But… I think he is. As we speak."
"So." Josse scratches his lower lip with his thumbnail. The gesture does a poor job of hiding the tugged-up right side of his mouth. "I can't not ask — what exactly did you say to him?"
"Uhm," says Rowan, biting her bottom lip. "I… might have said something along the lines of… 'There is nothing in the world so green as your eyes, so bright as your smile… so full of grace as your arm, emboldened by challenge and lengthened by steel'?" Or exactly that. "In the first letter. I — " she takes a breath, going on in a rush, "When I saw he was wearing the favor — wearing it and not so much as turning an eye to other women…!" She stares at Josse. "Gods!" She laughs. "I thought I was going to faint. Or… or that my heart would break my ribs from the inside. I had to tell him how happy he'd made me. So… I wrote another letter. And said other things." She drops her face into her hands again, taking deep breaths. "And now he's writing back!"
Josse weathers her outpouring with remarkable patience and a little amusement, and something else that's subtler and much harder to define. When she finishes he glances down at his bare foot resting on the table rung and asks, succinct and gently, "Do you love him?"
"Yes!" Rowan cries, laughing and beaming and spreading her hands helplessly. "Sweet Seven, I do! I love him!" She presses her hands to her chest. "I love him, and I don't know how to stop! Or what to do! Or — " Her absolute elation crumbles suddenly, tears welling in her eyes, a hand pressed over her mouth. "Oh, Gods, Josse, what've I done?"
Josse slides his feet out from the table's crossrung and sets his bare soles on the floor, loosely folding his arms on the tabletop. "What you've done is started something," he says, quietly. The words could easily be sarcastic but they're not. "And you need to decide how you're going to finish it. Either this woman needs to be real, or she can't be at all. You have that choice, Rowenna. You do."
"Rose," Rowan sighs, smiling wryly, a bit painfully. "But what's in a name? It's my middle name, though, and… I've always liked it. Rose Rivers — since my family disowned Rowenna Nayland, I'm as much a Rivers as anyone." She looks down at the table, silent for a moment. "I'm terrified, Josse. Absolutely terrified."
"What's in a name indeed," murmurs the septon who goes without his own family name. "Rose. It suits you." Josse's thumbs and forefingers form a flat triangle on the tabletop, eyes lingering on that before flickering back to her face. "What are you terrified of?" The question may have an obvious answer, but the way he asks it begs an honest reply.
"A thousand things," Rowan admits. "At least a thousand. And I hate the taste of it — my own cowardice is bitter in my mouth." She rakes her long fingers through her hair. "That he won't return my affection. That he'll hate me for my years of deception. That he'll cast me off as his squire, his friend, out me to his family. That he loves another, and always shall…" She closes her eyes and shakes her head. "I would rather face the whole House Greyjoy in a melee than even one of those goblins."
"He loves another so long as Lady Anonymous is Lady Anonymous and you are Rowan Nayland," Josse replies softly. "You have to let one or the other go, Rose…you know this. Neither can last forever; sooner or later one or the other will become you, so which is more important to you?"
"Jarod is more important to me," Rowan says softly and with conviction. "And who I am…" She shakes her head. "I wish to be whoever serves him best. What use is Rose Rivers is she can't fight at his side, have his back, protect him?" She swallows, sitting back. "If I could be at his side in battle and in his bed, I would give him my name and my whole heart gladly…" She curves a faint, painful smile. "Actually, my name is all I have to give him. My whole heart is his already, and always shall be."
"What will you do when he turns down the hand of another woman because you give him your heart but not yourself?" Josse asks quietly. One arm bends at the elbow, closed hand resting under his cheek. "What will you say when he writes that he wishes to meet this Lady? When he confides in you that he wants what a man deserves to have with a woman? Will you let him pine for years for something that will never exist?"
Rowan closes her eyes, looking pained. "Gods, I truly have done it now, haven't I?" She smiles without mirth, heartsick, and opens her eyes to meet Josse's once more. "There's no way out of this. I have to tell him. The rest is simply in the hands of the Gods."
"You knew the day would come," Josse says, giving her a very faint half-smile. "We've spoken of this how many times…it was never a question of 'if', it was only 'how'." He exhales quietly, looking down as he rubs his nose. "If you love him and this is what you want, then we'll pray together for it." After a moment's hesitation he adds, "I will speak to him tomorrow if you like. See where his mind is on this 'Lady' and her charms."
"Please?" says Rowan, nodding, reaching for his hands in a rush of gratitude. "To both. Perhaps… you could tell him that you've heard my confession — Rose's confession — and that I'm neither an ill-favored Frey nor a noble lady whose affections would bring him ruin. Those things most concern him, I think." She laughs and shakes her head. "Or simply help him with his letter. I can only imagine his suffering, trying to write whatever he imagines is proper and courtly and romantic."
Josse looks faintly surprised — not at the touching, but at her first words. As if unsure he'd heard her right even though he's looking right at her. "You'd want me to tell him?"
Rowan shakes her head quickly. "Not — not that. Just… just that you know who Lady Anonymous is. And that I'm not… ugly. Or his ruin. Or someone making a cruel jest."
Good thing he asked. Josse nods once, and then slowly again. "I may be able to do that. Though…he'll want to know how I know such secrets." He raises an eyebrow slightly at her, looking for ideas.
"I… well… all manner of people come to the clergy and unburden their hearts, or seek advice and prayer," Rowan says, shrugging. "Of course, if a lady came to you and told you all I have, how she loves a knight of House Terrick and has given him her favor, but keeps her identity secret through letters — who else could she be but Lady Anonymous? Tell him I'm… I'm pretty, and that my affections are sincere."
Hesitancy threads through Josse's posture for a good few seconds as he considers this, his thumb tapping absently against the back of Rowan's hand. "I suppose that's not too far from the truth," he murmurs. "Not that I ought to be so concerned with truth by this point." A soft chuckle, mostly aimed at himself. "Very well. And you are very pretty. I shall pray that Jarod has the damned sense to see that once he clears his eyes."
Urk! Tackle hug! Rowan fairly lunges across the table to embrace Josse. "Oh, I love you so! I didn't think it was possible to ever have so dear a friend as my brother, but you are that, Josse. You are the best friend anyone could hope for."
They'll see if Jarod thinks so by the end of this. Josse closes his eyes as Rowan's arms wrap around him, and he hugs her back securely. "Don't expect everything to be rational, Rose. You've spent enough time around men now to know they can be anything but. But we'll do what we can." His hand squeezes her shoulder and he sits back a little from her. "I'll send you word when I've talked to Jarod, alright?"
Rowan nods, stills squeezing the stuffing out of Josse. "Alright," she agrees breathlessly. Finally releasing him and kissing both his cheeks, she nods again, looking dizzy with dread and delight. "I won't sleep or eat or have a moment's peace until I hear from you."
"You'll do no such thing. You'll be no good if you're a skeleton." Josse smirks, scooting his chair back so he can drag his sandals over with his foot. "Go and watch an event or something."
"I think I'll go whack dummies in the practice yard instead," Rowan breathes a nervous laughs. "Or see if I can get my hand to stop shaking long enough to draw a bow." She beams at Josse. "We'll pray before I go?"
"Ten times," Josse assures her. He shoves his feet carelessly into the footwear and stands up, stretching his back. "And then ten more. Goodnight, Rose." He smiles at her and once sure everyone's well-composed, is out the door back ino the din.