Page 173: Warriors and Mothers, Fathers and Strangers
Warriors and Mothers, Fathers and Strangers
Summary: Ser Jarod and Squire Rowan visit the sept on the eve of battle.
Date: 06/01/2012
Related Logs: The Ironborn attack logs in general.
Jarod Rowan 
Sept — Stonebridge
God has Seven faces.
Fri Jan 06, 289

The sept at Stonebridge is a far smaller affair than the one at the Roost, and it's crowded these days, with the large number of not only refugees but generally frightened people praying in the wake of the Ironborn attack. The crowd is starting to thin out a little now that the dinner hour is past, however, as evening turns into night. It's now that Jarod's chosen to come down for a visit, squire in tow. He slips into the central room, where the statues of the Seven are arrayed encircling it. All but the shadowed Stranger have people kneeled by them. Even the Stranger's been left a few candles, though his devotees haven't lingered to pray. He's still in his armor and surcoat, though that's not that unusual at the moment. Most of the men-at-arms in town are dressed for 'work' during their waking hours right now.

Rowan stands and gazes at the Seven, each in their turn, thoughts inscrutable. Finally, she says, "Always feel a little sad for the Stranger. Don't you?"

"Always felt a little afraid of Him when I was a boy," Jarod says, venturing farther in. There are candles in baskets by the entrance, and he takes a few. It's the Warrior he goes to first, though he'll have to wait some for a free space near enough to light his candle. "I never understood why anyone would pray for mystery, and the unknown. And death." He keeps his voice low. "I think I understand better now, though. We'll pay Him honors tonight, along with the others. Seems a thing one should do, on the eve of battle. How're you feeling, by the by?" A pause and he adds, "You're looking better."

"Much better," agrees Rowan, rolling her left shoulder to show the range of motion. It pulls and aches a bit, but not so that it shows on her face. "I should be ready, when we ride." She rests her hand on the pommel of her blade, taking a deep breath. "This is all… really real," she says softly, chest tight. She swallows. "Really fucking real. It still feels like I'm dreaming."

Jarod reaches out to place a hand on Rowan's shoulder after she rolls it. The touch is light, but he'll leave it there while he waits for a spot to kneel unless she moves away. His eyes remain on the statue of the Warrior. "I wish this was a dream. And I could wake up in my bed at the Roost, go down to receive the morning orders from my lord father, talk on the steps with Jace. Spar with Jaremy. I am here, though, and very much awake, and far from where I could be with them."

She doesn't move away. Instead, she clasps a hand over his. "Everything is always changing — it's… like that thing, 'You can never step in the same river twice' or something? We pretend that they aren't. We pretend they're never going to… but everything's eventual." She chuffs a soft laugh. "And it's completely fucking with my mind. Way more than Ashi's wacky tobacco."

"You smoked that stuff?" Jarod half-smiles, looking down at her in surprise. "Real kick in the balls, isn't it? Or…well, somewhere at least." He squeezes her hand briefly, just standing there like that. Until a couple of guardsmen move away to open up some room by the Warrior. Then he kneels, and starts to fiddle with a pair of candles. One is lit and placed at the foot of the statue. Then the other. "One for me. And one for you Jaremy, my fair non-lord brother. Though perhaps you're happier without the name." That half-smile remains on his face. "May you find honor on the Wall, and pour yourself into it, and make your life a better thing for yourself. Sweet Seven, I miss your fool ass…"

"It was interesting," Rowan says. But then he's kneeling and she stands by, her hand now at rest on his shoulder. Her fingers tighten in a squeeze as he says his prayer for Jaremy.

"I don't think it was a true vision, really. At least, don't feel like the stuff I saw is going to come true," Jarod says. "It did make me…I don't know. I feel like there are things I buried inside me, try not to think about, so deep I could pretend they weren't there anymore. And whatever was in that…dug them up. If that makes any sense."

"It certainly did for me," agrees Rowan. "Though I'm still chewing on some of it." She lights her own candles for the Warrior — hers number three. When she kneels to offer them, they're named silently, and anything more she beseeches of that god is likewise done in silence.

"Aye. Me, too," Jarod says, as to what he saw during his whacky quest, and what he's chewing on from it. He offers no details on it. Instead he looks up at the statue. "I did my dedication to the Warrior after I was knighted. His path always seemed…easy. Strength. Courage. Righteous victory. Those're simple things to pray for, simple to want."

"Maybe not as easy to do," Rowan murmurs, looking up at the expression of fierce determination above them. "But… yeah. As far as what to ask for… they're gimmes."

"Aye, not so easy to do," Jarod agrees soft. "He is at the Wall, you know. Jaremy. Iz confirmed it for me. She spoke not of any price her lord husband or Ser Rygar had asked for his life. Which I figure was the truth from her. She'd not lie to me about that. Though whether they'd have let her know the whole of what they worked out with Lady Evangeline, and perhaps my lord father, I do not know…"

"I doubt they'd tell her anything but what they wanted you to hear," says Rowan, soft but unequivocal. "Someone paid a price — or will." She glances at Jarod. "But I'm glad. For you, and Luci and Jack, your lord father and not-mother. For all of you. That he has this chance."

"Everything has a price, just sometimes who pays it isn't what one'd expect," Jarod mutters. More to himself than her. He clears his throat, rising. "I think I understand him a little better now. Why he did it. He lost more than he ever admitted to anyone, I figure, even if it was his own damn fault mostly. Lost it for good. I pray on the Wall he can find something to…fill up the place it was inside him. If not replace it. Nothing can, I figure. But…I can forgive him now, at least." He stands with a creak of armor, heading toward the next face he wants to visit. The Mother, it seems. Which also has a crowd around it. The sound of weeping can be heard from some of those kneeling by it.

The weeping rends Rowan's heart, visibly. She can't linger near it long, that raw and outward display of grief. She closes her eyes and turns away, looking over the faces of the other gods. Eventually, she drifts to the Stranger, where there is no crowd and no queue. "It's a wonder we don't pay more attention," she murmurs, looking up at the bent head, the cowled features. "When we fling ourselves into the jaws of death. We might pray to the warrior to fight bravely, and to the mother for protection… but we still might die. So many do, why not us? I'm surprised, I guess, that not more of us pray for a good death."

Jarod lingers by the Mother, for his part, kneeling by Her statue. Though he tries to keep a little wall of personal space around him. Which he doesn't have much trouble doing. Most in the sept are just looking for release rather than comfort. Or at least not comfort from other men and women. He glances over his shoulder once, at Rowan, but leaves her to the Stranger. He lights a single candle, placing it at the base of the Mother's statue. He says nothing, just stays there and watches it burn for a time. Finally closing his eyes and swallowing hard.

"A good death," whispers Rowan, lighting her candle for the Stranger. "A death that is not in vain." After a time, she comes back to Jarod's side, and her hand returns to his shoulder.

The touch to his shoulder brings Jarod out of whatever thoughts he'd sunk himself into. He looks up at Rowan, blinking some, and reaches his own hand up to clasp her own. "Don't die." In echoes her simple, blunt words to him before the Ironborn'd come to Stonebridge, and is filled with more feeling than he probably has words or eloquence to voice. Though he does adds, "I'm not quite sure what I'd do with myself if that happened. So…try and not, aye?"

Rowan looks up at him, lips quirking upward in what's likely meant to be a reassuring smile. It's too weak to reassure, alas, undermined with a glimmer of unshed tears. "I'll try," she says in a whisper. "I promise to try."

Jarod blinks, rapidly, as he gets to his feet, his candle and prayers left at the Mother's feet. "Best any can do." He follows where she's been next, to the shadowy Stranger. No crowd here. "Feels…good in a strange way, doesn't it? To talk to Him?"

"It does," Rowan agrees, looking up at the hooded god again. "If — you know — it happens… I sort of like to be on speaking terms with the one who'll come for me. I think… I think it can be a gentle thing. That's a gift He can give."

Jarod can't talk about dying, at least not in the context of Rowan. He snuffles, and moves to put his arm properly around her shoulder. More intimacy than he might usually attempt in public, but given the thread of emotions running through all who've come to the sept it's not so odd-looking gesture as it otherwise might seem. He clears his throat, eyes fixed on the cowled face. "Last time I came to this place was after I rode here from Riverrun. To speak on behalf on Jaremy taking the Black to Ser Rygar. I'd never prayed to the Stranger before. Never felt like I…wanted what he offered. I did that night, though."

Rowan wraps an arm around him in turn. Up around the shoulders. Keeping it manly. But the warmth — and the tenderness — is unmistakable. "A good death for Jaremy?" she asks, softly.

Jarod shakes his head, though it's awhile before he replies verbally. "Some about Jaremy. Mostly about myself, though. I met a Begging Brother here, and we talked some about the Stranger. It'd always seemed…why would anyone pray for death, and darkness, and the unknown, you know? But he said to me…the Stranger isn't just the face of death. He is the face of secrets, and He has no care for right and wrong. That He'll take the darkness and thoughts and feelings in men they don't want to think and…give them a place in His pocket to keep them. Give you a place to look at what you're afraid of, or ashamed of." He clears his throat again. "I sat here all night, alone, and emptied myself out to Him. Didn't sleep at all. Barely noticed time was passing until I realized the light of morning'd come."

The hand on his shoulder squeezes and his squire leans into his side. There's a sense she'd put her head on his shoulder, were that not pushing gender boundaries. "It's… such a huge thing to realize those things are there, isn't it? We run around repressing them and denying them. It's good He can hold onto them, until we're in a place where we can think better."

Jarod nods to that, taking a deep breath and leaning against her in turn. "I felt like…all my life I've been pretending to be something to please someone else. The good son. The good brother. The good knight. The good…man." He laughs, though it's a rueful and half-bitter sound. "And I was so…angry at Jaremy. And I resented the hell out of him, for having so much I'd wanted and throwing it all away. And he was, I figured, likely going to die, and I couldn't stop being angry. It wasn't him I was really pissed off at, though, I don't think. It was me, and the way I'd always been with him. He'd never asked me to take on the weight I thought he should've been carrying, I just did it and got knotted up inside because he never said thank-you for a thing he never even had to ask for. I think if I'd let myself be more…myself, then we might've been better for each other, him and me. Well. Maybe we've a chance now, even with him on the Wall. I'll write him again, soon as I can. Soon as this is done with, and I'm home."

"You know the funny thing," Rowan murmurs, "is you never had to pretend to be any of those things, or do anything special at all. If you just let yourself be? I think you'll find you just… are. You always have been." She gazes at the base of the statue and the candles there. "I never thought you were a good man because of anything you tried to be. You just are."

Jarod snorts at that. "What in seven hells is a good man, anyway? Fuck that. There's no such thing. It's just a picture-book ideal of something I don't think exists in truth in anyone. We've all pieces of the Stranger in us." And he sounds, oddly, glad of this. "I'd rather be…enough. For myself, at least." He clears his throat. "More myself, whatever I get from that. And be that with enough honor and care for those I love that I can live with myself at the end of the day. You spend much time studying the Seven when you were with Ser Gedeon? As it relates to the knighthood, I mean."

"Your propensity for dismissing most of what I feel and think as storybooks and mummery seems well-enough intact," says Rowan, dryly. With a sigh, "Whatever makes you happy, Jare. You're not good. You're adequate." As to her studies, she shakes her head. "I think, after my showing at the melee, we both tacitly agreed that there was time enough. I'm not precisely on the cusp."

Jarod sighs at that, squeezing her affectionately. He can't help but laugh. "I didn't mean…just saying. It would make me happy if I was seen as a bit more…complicated, I guess, than just good. By everyone." He doesn't really explain that further. Though he shakes his head a little at her reply, muttering that faint "Huh" he sometimes mutters. "Ser Gedeon and I value some things differently, I figure. I think it'd be good for you to spend time on. Can't say I gave it all that much thought as I maybe should've myself until lately. My father spent a good deal of time trying to drill the ideals of the Seven into the heads of me and my brothers when we were young but…I don't know. When I was a boy it all just seemed like more songs and stories, and I believed because it seemed like I was supposed to. When I got older…Jace and I talked on it a bit when we walked out to see the weirwood at Riverrun. Neither of us, I think, have been able to believe in quite the same way since the Trident."

Rowan nods. "That makes sense, I think. I mean, the Seven… they're aspects of life. The more you live and experience… the better you know them. Or…" she shrugs and sighs. "Maybe not better. But at least differently. They come to mean more. They're more… relevant."

Jarod nods some. "My father's always believed so deep. I never quite understood it. I think…I've come to think lately he's a man who regrets a great deal in his life. He's accounted a 'good' man, even his enemies won't deny it. And I think he's paid for it within himself in ways he'll never really talk about. The Seven, I think lately, have helped him make his peace with some of that. Given him something to pour himself into. Don't know if I'll ever quite be able to believe like that. I don't think all the stories, everything in the books, is literal true. But…I do believe in the facets. More than ever, I think. If there is a god, or gods, they must have many faces to have made men in the fucked-up way they have. We're all of us seven different sorts of people, at the least."

"I think… I believe what I experience," Rowan says, considering. "I believe in the Seven because I feel them. I… believe in the Old Gods, because I've felt them, too. But… I'm way more comfortable with the Seven. I'm not sure… I'm not sure the Old Gods are meant for men, anymore."

"I think maybe it's all one," Jarod murmurs soft. "Though I doubt a septon would agree. So keep that to yourself, as it may not be proper. The face on the weirwoods makes sense to the hearts of the Northmen. The faces here make sense to me. Miss Avinashi can make sense of what she sees in men's palms, and with her strange herbs. We're all just looking for that thing that's…bigger than ourselves. Which I do believe in, though I'm not sure what it is. But I am comfortable with the Seven. They make a sense. A man can be the Warrior, and the Stranger, and the Mother, all at the same time. That's why…" He clears his throat somewhat awkwardly, looking down at her. "…I was wrong, I think. About a lot of what I said to you, way back when you first told me…well. Truth about yourself."

Rowan bumps his shoulder gently with her own, giving him a squeeze. "You've already apologized for all that," she replies. "And I've already forgiven you. We both… did and said a lot of things. Y'know?" She turns her head a little to look at him. "I know it wasn't that long ago, but it feels like ages. I want to say we were children then." She smirks faintly. "It feels like it."

"Aye, right, but that's not quite what I mean," Jarod says, all earnest now as he looks down at her. "What I mean is…it wasn't a lie, really. I was angry because I didn't see it but…you are Rowan Nayland. You know?" He shrugs, plainly not knowing if he's making any sense or not. "Even if that's not all you are, it's a facet of you. And just because there're others you don't wear so openly, doesn't make that one less true." More shrugging. "I mean…that's what I've been thinking. Don't get mad at me, I mean it as a compliment." He half-smiles.

Rowan stares at him a few moments, speechless. She blinks rapidly, swallows, and — finally — the corner of her mouth quirks up. "I'm not mad at you," she whispers.

Jarod is plainly unsure how to take that reaction. He's a little wary of it. Finally, he claps her on the shoulder companionably. "All right, then. Good." With a little reluctance, he unwinds his arm from around her. "I'd like to put a candle at the base of the Father and Smith as well, before I go." He tends to pray mostly to the Warrior-Father-Smith trifecta, when he's given to such devotions. "Then I reckon we should head back. No need to tire yourself out. Enough of that to be done on the morrow."

She shifts on her feet, nodding. "Right. I'll…" she glances back at the Mother, still comforting the grieving masses. "I'll light a candle to the Mother in my room tonight," she finally decides. "She'll understand, I think."

"I was surprised when you chose to dedicate yourself to that particular facet," Jarod says, turning to go, though he doesn't head off to the Father just yet. It's mostly men over there, and at least they're not crying. "Seems less…simple than the Warrior. How're you doing with that?"

"Better now," says Rowan, after a beat of consideration. "I… have a kind of selfish nature, y'know? It's hard to get at the compassion and sacrifice the Mother wants from us, when you're all wrapped up in yourself."

"I think, if you don't mind me saying it…" And Jarod does hesitate to say it. "…you've not had many people in your life before maybe recently that you could actually count on to be unselfish on your part. If you want to be different, though, that's more than most manage right there. I think, at least."

Rowan hesitates, taking a slow breath, and glances around them before saying, so softly that no one but Jarod and the gods might hear, "Is it selfish to want to come to your room on the eve before battle?"

"I haven't a proper room, really, with all the wounded in Tordane Tower," Jarod replies to that. He smiles some at the question, though, cheeks flushing ever so slight. "I've been sleeping in the big common hall with those others who weren't so badly hurt. You've more privacy than me. If you don't mind the company, I'd…well, I'd like to sit by you tonight. Floor's not anymore uncomfortable than where they've got us. It'd be a comfort to me, which certainly doesn't seem selfish."

"It'd be a comfort to me, too," says Rowan softly, her smile faint and wry. She nods. "I'm… going to go now. And… I'll see you." She nods again, taking a step back.

"I'll…see you later, Rowan," Jarod says, looking a little puzzled. Which is not, admittedly, uncommon for him. He lets her go, turning his attention to the Father. He may say another prayer to the Warrior as well before he goes. The Warrior is so simple and not at all puzzling.