|Harden Your Heart|
|Summary:||Ceinlys and Katrin. Talking about men. Shock.|
|Ceinlys' Chambers - Highfield Keep|
|This private suite enjoys arguably one of the best views of the entire Keep. Upon entering, one is greeted with the illumination offered by tall windows, lining both of the outer walls. Those that overlook the garden and trees below, though, additionally have plush benches within their alcoves; an ideal spot for reading. Given the vast shelves that dominate the segments of wall in between, that is a near-constant pasttime for the Lords Steward. With the chamber cleverly designed in an L-shape, the main body of it is a fairly modest affair, with only the occasional evidence of a womans touch inherent in small details - the golds and silvers of the thick damask curtains, the finely polished oak of the grand table upon which numerous parchments lie neatly rolled and tomes properly stacked, the sweet fragrance of herbs wafting inward from a window left ever so slightly ajar. Around the corner, the sleeping alcove is separated by layers of gauzy muslin curtains, mingling together enough to become almost opaque; disguising the raised, comfortable bed beyond, without entirely diminishing the light. A servants cot rests along the foot of the platform, presumably for a Ladys attendant.|
|November 4th, 289 A.L.|
The afternoon after the festivities of the wedding, and all is gradually returning to normal within Highfield Keep. Servants are still clearing up the debris of the party, stowing away the special banners and such that had been brought out for the occasion and distributing leftovers of the banquet to the Sept in the township. It's always nice to be nice. As for the Steward? She wasn't seen for long, the previous evening, though she did make an appearance for a few dances and to congratulate the happy couple. And now it's business as usual.
Leaning over her grand table, Ceinlys scans the numerous parchments laid before her, hands braced by the knuckle on the polished wood surface. The door of her chambers is left open, as is her habit through daylight hours, to allow easy passage of couriers and their ilk. One such figure has just departed, missives in hand and makes his way down the stairs, whistling cheerfully. Of course, the ever-present shadow of Brigid lingers in the background. Though the middle-aged handmaid seems to be dozing over her needlework, seated in one of the window alcoves and nodding drowsily in the sunlight that streams through the glass.
Traveling down the hallway, escorted by one of the servants of Tanglewood, is Katrin. Shadowing her path is her Septa and maid, her constant source of companionship and vexation. Just outside of Ceinlys' door, the Haigh girl pauses to ensure she looks presentable - hair in place, dress free of all wrinkles. Once she's done, she gives a nod and the servant gives a polite knock and announces, "The Lady Katrin Haigh," and moves aside to let the girl come into view.
"Do forgive me for dropping by without invitation," Katrin says from the doorway, providing a smile. "If you are in the midst of work that cannot be detained, I can always return at a different point." Her hands clasp loosely in front of her, and from her spot, she does a quick glance of the area. See what she can, and begin placing any and all points of interest.
"Cousin." Ceinlys' smooth greeting is voiced before her glacial eyes need rise from her reading; though they do, after a beat, accompanied by a weary smile. "Not at all, it's a pleasant surprise.. and frankly a welcome distraction. Please." One hand gestures toward one of the high-backed chairs that surround her table, in invitation. "Do come in. These matters can wait a little longer." A vague nod toward the girl's Septa implies she may close the door behind her charge, if she desires, and then the Steward is gliding to a seat herself, alongside the one she indicated for Katrin.
"What can I do for you?" An assessing glance flits over her cousin's features. "If I may, you did seem a little ill at ease yesterday.." She doesn't press. If the answers are to come, there's no need.
With a smile, Katrin crosses the room and settles into the indicated seat. Her Septa does nod with the offer and closes the door to offer just a bit more privacy for the women. "Oh, no… not ill at ease. Not really anyway." Though her back is straight and rigid, she plays with her hands in her lap, nibbling on her lower lip. "Nervous, I suppose you could say. But it matters not now." She tucks back an errant strand of hair. "Does a cousin truly need a reason to visit? Especially to inquire after your health. The wedding and afterward festivities were absolutely delightful. You surely must have run yourself ragged to see everything done."
Ceinlys chuckles softly, quirking a brow in a vaguely rueful expression as they settle in their respective chairs; her knees turned a little to one side that she might better face her visitor. "I won't lie, I'm more than a little tired, today.. so I thank you for the thought. But I do expect you to tell me what has been troubling you." Her tone softens a little. "..it's my job to take care of those matters, too, after all. Not just the business of Highfield."
Her gaze wanders, sparing Katrin those piercing azure hues a moment, as she looks to her dozing handmaid. "I'd offer you tea, but.." Grinning a little, with that wolfish expression that Aleister once so adored, she flits her attention back, folding her hands in her lap, too.
Katrin's lips press together slowly as she considers, but then nods. "Growing up is difficult to do," she says quietly. "Trying to reconcile what I want to do but knowing it is childishly selfish against what I know will be with right course of action. Especially right now, when Ilaria is so close to a beneficial marriage to Alric Fenster. She'll be a Young Lady and well looked after for the rest of her life." She smiles flatly. "And I know that if I had not been such a disgrace to our family, that very well could have been me instead. Not that I have any interest in him outside of the potential political boost being in that kind of position could bring."
Her fingers absently run across one of the scars on her face. "At this point, I know that I will not make for a good wife to anyone… at least not politically. I am stained by my past actions and for any good match, I might very well be considered an insult to the other House. But I still do want to be of use to the House. I just do not know how, yet."
"The choice wasn't hers, of course." points out the elder of the two Haighs, smiling faintly as she watches Katrin's expressions and mannerisms. "I was tasked with first telling her of the proposal, then helping her to see how sensible it was. Denying it would not only be cutting off her nose to spite her face, in the name of romance, but it would also have made it far less likely my father would consider her for any equally profitable match in the future. She made the right decisions and.. I would have argued it without ever making mention of it to her, if I thought it to be a poor notion for a union." The Steward's smile tightens a little, the warmth no longer reaching her cerulean eyes. "All that being said.. nothing is certain, Katrin. For all that I do, both here and at home, my future is not set. And neither, for that matter, is yours. You speak of a political marriage as if you feel you are missing out on something wonderful. You need only to look at the fate of the former Lady Ashwood to see that is not necessarily so." Nevermind the fact that that 'fate' was mostly down to Ceinlys herself, obviously. "What you have, others will seek to take for themselves.. and what you lack, they will delight in pointing out to you. The trick is deciding what you need and going after it." As if by way of further explanation, the young lady sits back more comfortably in her chair and sweeps a palm across her expensively-tailored skirts, averting her gaze to the task briefly. It's then that the crux of the matter arrives. "..are you in love with him?" She doesn't name 'him', probably deliberately.
Katrin chuckles quietly and shakes her head. "I do not begrudge Ilaria's match. I also would have encouraged her toward it, had she felt any resistance. She will have a good life. I only regret that I could not protect her from having to marry a man she barely knows. But he and I have spoken frankly and he promises me that he will do everything in his power to see her happy. That is all I want for her." Her head bows down. "I feel that is all any of us could ever want or hope for. I… am grateful that I have not been drawn in to a match yet, but again, I know that it is less likely now that I would be sought after." The question makes her pause. "Love has no place in politics, Ceinlys. I am well aware of that."
"Nor do I." replies the ebon-tressed Ceinlys, pushing back a stray tendril of her hair from her brow. "She is likely.. the most prepared, of us all, for the burden of marriage. And the Fensters will be useful vassals, in time. Once the rough egdes have been polished off." Reclasping her hands, she props one elbow on the carved arm of her chair now, twisting further to face Katrin almost directly. "But don't be so sure of your own future. Our family's name still carries weight, moreso now with the defection of the Charltons. Given time, and careful maneuvering on your part, you would still be perfectly capable of being pivotal in forming an alliance of wealth and prosperity. At least you haven't murdered any husbands, or driven other men's wives insane, hmm?" It's a light jest, but there's a glimmer of truth in it. Katrin's mistakes have been just that - mistakes. The same cannot be said if the whispers regarding Ceinlys have any truth to them.
"I am glad to hear you say that aloud, dearheart." she continues, on the topic of romance. But her head tilts slightly askance, a knowing smirk tugging at her lips. "But it doesn't quite answer the question I asked. Speak frankly with me, cousin. Do you?"
"My first loyalty is to my House," Katrin says quietly. "If any action I might take will help better House Haigh or give us a better standing, I will do it without thinking twice of personal repercussions. The only thing I am unwilling to risk in such a moment is Ilaria." She gives a small smile. "She is the thing I treasure most, Ceinlys. My baby sister. If I could carry all of her burdens for her, so that her shoulders might remain free of the weight, then I would without thinking twice."
The continued pressuring to answer the question makes Katrin sigh, drop her head down and stare down at the grains within the wood. "Martyn Mallister is my dearest friend and confidant. In our time knowing each other, he has long held strong feelings for me, though I did not reciprocate. But his strength and goodness…" A small smile curves her lips. "I do love him, Ceinlys. And he loves me in return."
"That is a good philosophy to have, and one that I fully empathise with, Katrin." Ceinlys' voice, always soft-spoken, is laced with genuine understanding as they speak of familial loyalty. "While I may not have sisters of my own, I do understand the bond shared between siblings. My brothers, I know, care for me deeply, and I them. But life can cast us on paths beyond the reach of those who love and protect us, sometimes." She pauses, momentarily capturing her lower lip between her teeth before adding, "..I consider you and Ilaria to be the closest thing I do have to sisters. And as such, if it is in my power to help you, I shall. Always."
But back to the fairytale of romance. "You can love and appreciate someone, without allowing yourself to fall in love. I can see his affection for you.. I imagine anyone with eyes, in the Great Hall last night, would be at least vaguely aware of something there." The gentle reproach is worded kindly. "It is a compliment. But do not let yourself be swayed. You have far more to lose than he, merely due to being of the fairer sex. A sad truth of life." Smiling again, faintly, she plucks an invisible speck of fluff from her skirts and flicks it away. "..for example, if you wish a more direct comparison? Aleister has assured me of his love and devotion. But the man is so similar to me, I cannot trust in his words. And I have faltered, during my time with him, I shan't deny it. Not to you. Do I love him..?" She hesitates, considering the idea with care. "..yes, I probably do. But will it ever come to anything? I doubt it. In order to safeguard myself, I cannot believe he ever intended to ask for my hand.. nor that my father would accept that proposal anyway now."
"I have already lost more than I should have under the wild throes of love," Katrin sighs. "Or at least a childish perception of love. A fancy in the night to one who I barely knew in all truth. He was dangerous and arrogant. And I curse myself again and again for letting myself be swayed by that appeal." Her fingers twist up in her hair, tugging on one errant lock that strays against her cheek. "I love Martyn. I would have rejoiced at the idea of being his wife. But he and I both know it is a lost cause and that our duties to our Houses will one day require us to say that painful good bye."
Ceinlys listens, quietly, taking in the details of her cousin's response with a practiced eye. It's a long moment before she ventures to speak again, musing aloud this time. "You have learned the hard way, that much is certain. But the point is, you learned. Others wouldn't, or haven't. Now that you recognise a misstep for what it is, it will become easier, over time, to prepare yourself for even the most unexpected turns of the dance. I do assume, in your encounters of late, that you have remained properly chaperoned, or even better, in the public eye? People will gossip, no matter what you do.. but the fantasies are less wild when you are in their line of sight. It's closed doors that rouse the greatest conspiracies." A knowing look crosses her features, mingling with wry amusement.
"Don't despair, Katrin. There's nothing, really, that I can do or say to make this time easier upon your heart. But you still have us, your family. And for my part, I will do what I can to see you find happiness, in whichever path you eventually set yourself upon."
A light blush arises under Ceinlys' gaze. "Last night was the first time I have seen Martyn since we were forced to deny Lord Patrek's request to test, my, ah, purity before he would agree to a marriage. I tried to keep the meeting short. I have no desire for him to come under scrutiny because of me." Katrin clears her throat. But alas, full disclosure. "We… may have met later, once it was quieter and he might have visited my rooms once those around me were asleep. But he was gone before first light." She breathes out a heavy sigh, meeting Ceinlys' gaze head on with a stubborn lift of her chin. "I know it is not proper, clandestine meetings with a secret lover, and it could be downright detrimental should I ever be considered for any arrangement, but…" Her hand reaches up and grasps at a small silver pendant around her neck. "If we were not meant to have hearts, and love, why are we cursed to have these emotions?"
"Further proof that it's far harder to be a woman of noble birth, than a man." is the offered answer, carried upon a quiet chuckle from Ceinlys. No doubt she has pondered that very question many a time, before now. "And that's with relative freedom. Imagine how you'd fare in the motherhouse." The jesting tone is fading, though she still doesn't seem angry. Not really. "Katrin.." A hand passes across the Steward's brow in a gesture of long-suffering. The sigh only emphasises it. "..carrying on as you did before under cover of darkness isn't exactly an improvement. And while you are here, I am responsible for your actions. You profess to care for you family in one breath, and in the next confess to having a man in your bedchambers. Not even your bedchambers. You are a guest of Highfield, and you make this use of their inn?"
Her eyes, when her hand is lowered and they are revealed once more, are returned to their standard icy calm. But her tone, now, is merely weary. "I am sorry for your predicament, that much you know perfectly well. But surely you can see how this behaviour is.. spiteful, to those who would help you? Why have you such a weakness for this man? He can love you and leave you, with nary a scratch to his reputation.. but you could be left in ruin. In both, you might note.. you are left behind. Would you prefer with prospects, or without even your family to shelter you from the storm?"
"Why do you have a weakness for Aleister Cha-Ashwood?" Katrin counters. One hand clenches into a fist in her lap. "Perhaps we are the weaker sex to be dragged down to potential ruin for the feelings of a man that you cannot even explain. I do not know why I love him as I do. I know that if I were a wise woman, I would sever all ties and be content with what I have remaining." She shakes her head. "It is not spite, Ceinlys. It is a pitiful and admittedly pathetic attempt to grasp at the fleeting moments of happiness that we are afforded. Tell me you do not feel some measure of happiness incomparable to anything else in the Seven Kingdoms when your lord might draw you close and whisper his love. And in those seconds, nothing else seems to matter." She looks up at the Steward, tears evident in her green eyes. "Do not ask me to break from him. Do not take away the small happiness he gives me," the younger girl pleads softly. But there is an acknowledgment and resignation should it be the case.
"That's different." snaps the Steward. But the comparison has obviously struck a nerve. Rising abruptly from her chair, pushing upward with the heels of her hands on the carved arms, she sweeps across the floor, silver-grey skirts trailing, toward the nearest leaded-glass window. Bracing a shoulder there, against it's neat frame, she gazes out to the gardens below, her dark tresses, thanks to the cant of her head, obscuring her expression from her cousin. "..I have asked you to do nothing, Katrin. I have only warned you what the consequences will be, if your indiscretions are discovered, this time. The ripples will be felt by all whom you hold dear. And yet.. you are right in your insinuation. I am a hypocrite to preach against it." A lengthy pause, rather uncharacteristic for the usually verbose noblewoman. "Perhaps it is because the danger of your happiness is simply too close to my own. Having it on my doorstep. It reminds me of just how far I could fall. Have fallen."
"No, I cannot honestly say that I have been happier anywhere else. But it doesn't matter, Katrin. Not really." Turning a little, arms folded across her midsection, she leans back now, looking toward the tearshine creature at her table again. Composure is firmly back in place - for her, it takes only a few breaths. She's had more practice. "It is not my call, cousin, to forcibly take you away from him, or he from you. I can only rely upon your own good sense. Yes, I know you have some." There's a twitch of a smirk at that. "And assure you that, should I be ordered by my family to depart Highfield.. and Aleister.. then I will do so. And I hope you will be there to steady me, because no, it would not be easy."
Katrin remains passively at the table, quietly watching her verbal handywork. "For as long as we are able, should we not cherish those moments, knowing full well that they will be forced to come to an end?" she asks softly, but only after Ceinlys has regained some measure of herself. Best not to kick a dog while she's down. "I would do nothing that would jeopardize our House. Any actions with Martyn in the past have always been formal and we have done nothing wrong. Last night… last night was the first time. I would not trade that moment with him for anything." She sighs, struggling to find the right words. "I will be there for you, Ceinlys, no matter what happens. It is what family is for."