The music had begun again but he fully intend to sit at least one of the turns out. On the floor the silks were already beginning to spin- the golden light of the candelabras glinting off bright eyes, laughing smiles, and the best jewels that such lives could afford. All around was the blithe sound of women's laughter and the tinkling of punch glasses being set down as hands were delicately lifted, bows were made, and glee contained behind unfurled fans.
"Have the ladies tired you already, my friend?" The familiar voice sounded to his right.
Davos turned, "I will admit, the last one did leave my foot rather sore."
"Yes I saw that one," Sal's eyes glinted, "I had to look twice to make sure you hadn't picked the pig off the table like some madman."
"There's no call for cruelty," Davos said, smiling despite himself, "No one had danced with the poor thing the whole of the evening."
"And you wonder at that?" Sal scoffed as he sipped at the punch glass held almost delicately between two fingers.
Davos chose not to reply and leaned back to survey the room. The pace for this turn was lively and he was glad he'd chosen to step to the side, his boots were beginning to pinch at the toes. It had been altogether longer than he cared to recall since he'd dressed this fine. It was a relatively small affair to be sure, as far as these things went, but such events were not quite his usual habits. But this was what he'd chosen now was it not? 'The Quiet Life'- wasn't that what they called it? At the moment it was a good deal too loud to be properly considered anything other than boisterous in his humble opinion, but the tumult felt almost comforting. It had been too long since London, and the clamor of the streets, the bellowing of the public if you turned down the wrong corner. But no- he was a country man now.
Sal had scoffed to be sure- sworn that he wouldn't manage to last more than three days before he came scurrying like the rat he was back to 'proper civilization'. He'd sworn it the whole way across the channel to retrieve the goods and back again. Sworn it as Davos sold his boat and cut his ties and signed the papers for the small cottage that smelled of the sea, old stones, and good peat.
"Too young-" He'd said shaking his head in that over dramatic manner of his, "Both of us- far too young, and especially you- eight and twenty and you say you are done. I know you, Davos, retirement's too dull of a word for you."
"It's not retirement," He'd told him dozens of times, "It's adjustment- to something with less swaying nooses and gaping black gates looming with ominous persistence --"
"And dark nights- with only the moon to light the sea," Sal insisted poetically sweeping his hand before of him.
"The moon will shine all the same," Davos said- despising that part of him felt like she might not afterall.
But she did, of course, and it had been far too many years since that cold november night when he was still a small skinny boy with a crushing emptiness in his stomach who told himself it would just be once- just once, just for now, and that will be that. But it had never been once, not even twice, and he had grown sick of habitually noticing the number of red coats on any given street.
So finally enough had been enough and Sal had paid him the last of what he was due and clicked his tongue and waggled his head as he bought a small cottage by the sea, determined to live the 'quiet life' - or at least one that was not as silent by professional necessity.
"Is this your plan now, my friend?" Sal suddenly said, shaking the reminiscing from Davos' thoughts.
"What's that?" He asked, turning to glance up at him once more.
"Dancing with piglets until one with enough money steps on your toe and takes you home to her Papa Hog?"
Davos laughed as he shook his head.
"What?" Sal gestured widely, "It's all they do, or didn't you realize? Ride around and shoot things with their guns and bragging of their cushioned victories so they can find ladies with pockets too large and beds too lonely."
"I didn't 'retire' to find a wife, Sal." Davos said for what felt like the ninth time that night alone.
"And what else will you do, pray? Die alone longing for the moonlight on the sea? I know you must feel after so many years at my side that women do not notice you- but find one with enough meat on her bones and longing in her eyes and she might just settle on a face as plain as yours. See-" He said, leaning forward and pointing subtly with a flourish, "That one who's so neatly caved in your fine new boots is still staring."
"Truly?" Davos said without looking, "Your luminant presence hasn't blinded her?"
Sal laughed with one short burt so loud that several closer guests turned and stared.
"You've too much good humor to waste on this lot, Davos. But you can't hide it from me- I know where you learned to dance." He said when he had recovered.
Davos took a sip of his punch, trying not to notice that some people were still staring.
Sal had noticed and shook his head. He sat down finally in the chair beside Davos, the smell of cloves and sweet wine wafting off him in the fashionably subtle way it always did.
"Is this really what you want my friend?" He asked, voice lower now and when Davos turned to look at him his eyes were almost genuine in their concern.
"These people… they have different lives then we. They have different minds- minds full of useless things and all crowded with greed--"
"So spake the apostle who shunned all worldly goods--"
"Yes- yes, fine, fine, greed is not such terrible a vice… but you know my meaning."
"And you still wish to be part of this world?"
"I didn't think I had a choice which world I was part of," Davos said, smiling at him, "Or was I under a misapprehension that there was only one?"
Sal smiled back at him endearingly, "My poor friend- do you truly insist on making things so simple?"
"It's always served me well," He said, "Things are simple, Sal, that's the real secret. I'm not 'joining a world' I'm not taking 'the quiet life'- I merely bought a house by the sea."
Sal leaned back, "Fine- fine, but you can't tell me you don't have a plan… you're too smart for that much folly, and you bore too easily without one."
"Perhaps I wish to bore." Davos smiled, but the little knot that had hidden in his stomach tightened despite himself.
There is no plan.
He hadn't the faintest clue what he was supposed to do with himself. Yes, he wanted to peace- yes, he wanted the life without the fear of prison's black gates shutting him in forever without even the smell of the ocean to keep him company- even the gallows would be preferable to that fate. But now he was here and for the first time in his life he was utterly without inclination as to which way the winds would blow him.
Marriage. Well, of course that would be the proper and sensible path to pursue. That's what people did after all- he didn't need Sal to tell him as much as that. But that meant so much more and well- as someone who had just recently become accepting of his own path in life he doubted he would be eager to seek that manner of approval from another. And all that meant… he couldn't simply find some unsuspecting girl with a kind enough manner and a begin by lying to her face, and he couldn't exactly go about trading in perfect sincerity either- but the lies were certainly worse. Maybe Sal was right after all, and he didn't belong here, with people who might spit on him without thought to the impropriety if they learned what he really was.
No, he reminded himself viciously, not what I am- what I have been.
That was it really. He was here to make what had been a past, and what could be a future, no matter what it contained it would be new and he slept better somehow knowing it would be anything but what had come before.
Sal sighed heavily beside him, "Shall I empty more rum into that punch while these laced backs are turned? Maybe that will liven them up." He said as he stared disdainfully around him.
Davos, who was enjoying the steady, almost lazy glow of the evening, rolled his eyes, "I'm sorry that the lack of breaking glass and screaming women puts you ill at ease."
"Women can scream many ways for many reasons," Sal said, thankfully barely above a whisper, "And some of those would certainly be welcome."
"Remind me why I ask you for a visit?" Davos said with a faint smile on his lips.
"Ah," Said his friend leaning over, "But you did not- I came here in search of quarry and you have indulged me."
Davos stood with a stretch to his back and eyed him, "Only so far, mind."
Sal chuckled, "I would have thought you would be proud of me, Davos. After all I am perusing these 'clean' interests that you seem so very keen to embrace."
Davos twirled his punch as he watched the dancers, "You've always had legitimate business… it's that you've always had illegitimate to match that's made me constantly uncertain."
"It is the best way," Sal grinned widely, eyes on the bodice of one of the nearer ladies, one pretty enough that she certainly didn't need Davos to ask her to the floor and probably would have laughed if he'd tried.
"You take the best of both worlds- one feeds the other, there is a balance there. Not all of us have your dedication. And if particular endeavor comes along as I hope, who knows, maybe one world can slip quietly off into the night like some old friends of mine." Sal finished.
Davos suddenly felt uncomfortable. Perhaps this had been a bad idea in the end. Sal was here for perfectly legitimate reasons. His trading routes through India were gaining ground and this was the best chance he'd had in years to secure contracts good enough to end the illegitimacy once and for all. But despite it all the knot in his stomach persisted uncomfortably.
"It's been hours… how do you even know they'll come? Isn't this sort of thing out of their 'sphere' ."
"They'll be here." He said simply, and almost as if on cue the crowd hushed.
Davos couldn't help but roll his eyes and smile, wasn't that always how it was for Sal? If he had said they'd be here the roof probably would have caved in.
The room quieted to the muted but rather shrill sound of nearly every lady whispering behind her hand to her neighbor and the men's buttons straining as they pushed out their chests. Skirts rustled as figures pushed closer to the door in anticipation. The silence clustered so tightly around that Davos could almost hear the stepping of feet over the marble of the foyer.
All at once a booming laugh shattered through the room and somehow the spell was broken. The people began to move and titter eagerly as the group entered to the cry of the caller.
"LORD ROBERT BARATHEON, LADY CERSEI, MISTER STANNIS BARATHEON, MISTER RENLY BARATHEON, AND MISS MELISANDRE RUTILUS."
They did make a striking picture, even Davos had to admit.
The women were striking to say the least. The blonde woman held herself highly, back straight and neck tall but at the same time seeming almost relaxed in her manner. Her eyes saw everything and seemed less impressed with each new article of her attention than the last. From her posture and casual manner she seemed to be staring down her nose at nearly everything and the gold shine of her hair piled high on her head seemed more of a crown than anything else. Her gown was something Davos concluded must be the very height of fashion given how it stood out against the clothing of the other ladies inhabiting the room. She was clad in gold and red, but the red seemed dull compared to the shade adorning the woman who held her lightly about the arm.
Where Lady Cersei shone bright and proud her companion glowed deep and rich, like the light of the last fire in a dark room. Her hair was such a deep shade of auburn that it was almost red itself and her pale skin made it glow with even greater luster. She wore her gown in a cut that left her shoulders utterly free with nothing but a glowing red gem against the white of her skin. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, and he heard Sal grunt appreciatively beside him, but there was something in her eyes that he did not like. While Lady Cersei surveyed the room as if none of it was worth her attention, Miss Melisandre looked into each corner and each face in a manner that Davos had seen before in places far darker than a country dance.
The men who pushed their way into the hall entered with noise to contest the lady's silence. One- Robert, he knew almost instantly- was utterly gigantic. He seemed to fill the room as soon as he entered it and wasted no time running his eyes over almost every woman and finally resting them on the punch bowl, stampeding toward it like a loose bull and laughing lightheartedly as the 'commoners' scurried out of his path.
The other brother lingers by the ladies, and he did not have to make a show of himself to attract attention. Near every woman in the room was outright gaping at him, and Davos couldn't help but stare for a moment himself- he had never seen a man dressed so fine in all his life. His waistcoat was embroidered with silken flowers that spread upwards towards his green silk cravat pinned in place with a pearl he knew Sal would sell his teeth for. The man smiled back at the room, oozing charm and grace from every pore and indeed it seemed that within moments nearly all the occupants of the hall had fallen half in love with him.
They commanded the space utterly- the beautiful women, the giant of a man who seemed to spill good humor over his top like an overfull goblet, and the charming boy who smiled as easily as if he were born that way. Everyone was staring at them, watching them with every bit of their attention. Everyone except Davos.
He'd always been good at seeing things that didn't wish to be seen, at noticing things no one else seemed to. Perhaps it was a force of habit after years working as he had, or perhaps it was a strange gift he'd always possessed, but regardless of the source, there was a part of him that saw such things and in the face of them the world quieted and they stood out quicker and more brilliantly then anything else, and the moment the group had entered the room his eye had gone directly to the shadow amongst the light.
It was almost strange he thought, that no one seemed to so much as notice him. He was just as tall as his elder brother, and his blue eyes shone with fervor equal to the younger, he held himself as proudly as the regal blond, and surveyed the room with the quick and deliberate care of the woman in red, but there was something else about the man standing behind the others in the dark, plainly colored but sharply cut apparel, looking at the same time as if he could care little or less at yet at the same time all too much.
He was young, older than the charming boy of course but younger than Davos- that much was apparent, but he somehow felt older. There was a distain and an exhausted irritation to him that seemed to give his face far more years then it was due and when he looked on as one of his brothers sought out the punch as if it were the last floating wreckage of a sunken ship and the other smiled through his teeth at every attractive occupant in the room, Davos saw his jaw tighten and didn't think he had ever seen anyone frown so deeply in his entire life.
What reason could there possibly be for such misery?
"Come!" Sal said, tugging on his arm.
"Sal!" Davos protested, "You can't simply--"
"ROBERT!" Sal cried out to Davos' compete and utter shock.
The massive man spun with confusion written on his face that at the sight of them erupted into gleeful recognition.
"SALLADHOR!" His voice boomed as he made his way through the clearing that magically formed in the crowd before him towards where they stood.
Davos tried to swallow his surprise. Of course they would have met before- even Sal wasn't as brazen as that.
"What in god's name brings you out of London and into the country, Sallador? I didn't think you shot!" Robert Baratheon continued, laying a fat hand good naturally on Davos' friend's shoulder.
"I only shoot when I know there's no chance I can miss." Sal said, with teeth shining and a waggle of his brow that Davos thought all together inappropriate until the large lord laughed so loudly half the room turned to look at them. Davos couldn't help but notice Stannis Baratheon's eyes lingering on their group in a wholly disapproving manner.
"But no," Sal continued, "I am hear at the invitation of one of my oldest friends." His arm wrapped around Davos' wrist and pulled him forward, forcing him to look away from Stannis Baratheon' strict visage and into the rosy, almost purple glow of Robert Baratheon's beaming face.
"Lord Robert, allow me to introduce Mister Davos Seaworth." Sal said.
Davos gave a small bow, "An honor my Lord."
"Mine! Indeed the honor is mine!" Robert said, but the look of humor in his eyes told Davos he knew most certainly that it wasn't and in almost that instant his attention was gone.
"Tell me Salladhor, have you enjoyed the company of many handsome women tonight?"
Sallador laughed, "Indeed my lord I have, but all their beauty is now dulled by the image of your enchanting wife."
Robert's face twisted slightly, giving Davos the impression that "enchanting" was perhaps not the word he would have chosen, but he rallied admirably.
"Yes! Yes, Cersei of course- you must meet her and the rest, come along, come along!" He said, locking a hand around Sal's neck and turning him just as his friend caught Davos's eye and gave him a fat wink.
As they approached the group Davos couldn't help but catch the ends of a conversation.
"Stannis if you don't dance with at least one lady everyone in the room will consider you an utter ass." The boy's lifting agile voice sounded low against the hum of the crowd.
"You know very well that I could care less for the opinions of the occupants of this room and will certainly not make a fool of my self soliciting arms at a country ball." The older man said, gritting out each syllable as if he were stoically enduring some form of torture, "You've danced with enough already for the both of us, and leave it at that."
The lad sighed dramatically, "If you insist on embarrassing us again I--"
Stannis spun on him this time, "I am the last person who has embarrassed this family- in fact I seem to be the only one remaining who recalls how to behave in a civil manner."
"Civil?! Half of London thinks you despise them and the other half is sure of it. And even those who have never had the pleasure of your acquaintance know you for a rude, insufferably dreary--- "
"Come, come, Renly-" A flowing voice sounded, "You should not chastise your brother so."
The woman in red slipped between them and smiled easily up at Stannis Baratheon who returned her gaze for a moment and then snapped his attention towards their approaching group. His eyes narrowed.
"Come along, come along!" Robert ushered, "Introductions!"
"Robert--" Stannis began warily as he stared at them but his brother gave him a look and he fell into a stewing silence.
"My dear," He began, turning towards his wife as she looked at Davos and Salladhor as if she were assessing second hand rugs, "May I present Mister Sallador Saan, and Mister…." His voice trailed off but Davos picked up for him without hardly a moment's pause.
"--Seaworth, Davos Seaworth."
"Ah- yes, that's right." Robert said, and Davos was sure he'd already forgotten.
"My wife-" Robert continued, "Lady Cersei,"
The Lady's mouth smiled without the aid of her eyes.
"My brothers," Robert continued, "Renly and Stannis--" Renly bowed handsomely but Stannis hardly moved his head, "And finally Miss Rutilus, who is visiting from abroad."
"A pleasure," The woman said, he voice slinking forth smooth as silk.
"The pleasure is mine," Sal said taking her offered hand, "Do I mistake- or is that a Venetian accent I perceive?"
"You have a keen ear, Mister Saan," She smiled, teeth shining, "And if I may be so bold, I might call your own… Catalan?"
"Very good!" Sal said, still holding her hand, "I believe you are one of the first to guess on the first try."
Miss Melisandre nodded gracefully.
"Madam, I do hope it would not seem an impertinence to ask for a the honor of a dance?" Sal oozed.
Robert laughed, "Directly to it- just as in London, I knew you'd be you--"
"It would be my pleasure," Said Miss Melisandre thankfully stopping Robert before he made off with Sal's impertinence.
Sal took her arm with exceeding grace and Davos couldn't help but marvel at him. He'd never be able to summon that amount of poise in his little finger. And now he was left alone, standing awkwardly beside the Lady who didn't seem to find a worse possible evening conceivable and the dichotomous brothers.
Robert was already booming away at Renly about some manner of London diversion Sal had treated him to. So Davos turned towards the only remaining option,
"Mister Stannis, are you enjoying the country?"
The man hardly turned, looked down at him, and promptly left his company.
Davos stared. And once he realized it had truly happened after all found himself instantly having to smother a sudden burst of laughter.
"I- I must apologize for my brother's behavior." The smooth voice came from his elbow and Davos made himself turn.
"I hope I have no caused offense." He managed, still trying not to laugh at the utter absurdity of it.
Renly sighed dramatically beside him, "Not that I can perceive Mister Seaworth, but there is quite honestly no real telling with my brother. He's never been what anyone could call 'at ease' with society, or even any of it's individual members."
Davos nodded slightly, still trying to glance after the tall man but he'd vanished into the crowd.
"I'll go after him," Renly insisted shaking his head, "I'm sure he'll want to make apologies for such rude behavior."
"No," Davos said calmly, "Please, it's nothing, I insist."
Renly gave him a confused look but evenly shrugged and after a few moments of pleasantries it seemed utterly forgotten.
Sal returned from the floor only to sweep the resisting but ultimately obliging Lady Cersei into the next dance and when he returned once more he ushered Robert off to one side to discuss the business matters that had led him through this course of action in the first place. Davos managed to step away and contented himself with simpler company for the remainder of the evening.
By the time Sal found him again it was well past any decent hour and Davos was more than happy to follow him out the door after he'd begged Robert's forgiveness and made his farewells.
"Enjoyed yourself?" Davos asked as they stepped out. The cool air was shockingly refreshing after the confined heat of the hall and the breeze smelled of the sea still hardly a mile or two off, and getting closer with each step.
"Certainly," Sal smiled, "Beautiful women- drink, company of an old friend, what else could one ask for?"
"Of course business proposals to a drunken Lord would have nothing to do with your good humor?"
"Drunken? No more so than myself- the man can hold back more than I would have given him credit for."
Davos shook his head with a wry smile, "He's got room for it that much is certain."
"What didn't you enjoy yourself?" Sal called to the night in general, "You did not dance with the beautiful ladies- for shame, Mister Seaworth!"
"I'm sure they wanted little and less to do with me." He laughed.
"You should not be so hard on yourself- they are not all as insufferable as the thin one with the face like he's already seen the second coming and found it thoroughly disappointing."
"Was he as dull as he seemed?" Sal asked, arching a brow.
"What do you mean?" Davos asked.
"I saw you speaking with him, the younger one with the look of some a grecian temple boy said he offended you."
Davos smiled into the cool breeze of the night, "It's not offense to be spared a miserable man's company."
Sal laughed in that short loud manner of his, "That bad?"
Davos chuckled himself, "Yes quite that bad."
"They call him a hard man." Sal said.
"They?" Davos asked.
Sal rested his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, "He could prove a difficulty…"
"To you?" Davos asked.
Sal nodded, "As I say."
Davos kicked the stones ahead of his feet idly and watched them roll into the darkness of the trimmed grass, "It's nothing to me. Thankfully, I'll never have to lay eyes on the man ever again."
Sal grinned into the night, "Then for once I get to be the jealous one."
By the time they arrived back at the cottage the moon had almost settled over the horizon and there was a dull grey glow all around. Sal found his way inside on his own, without a doubt collapsing in the first room in his path without regard to it's intentions.
Davos let him find his own way and walked over towards the rocky face the jutted out towards the sea. Standing there he could feel the breeze the strongest. For a moment he closed his eyes and could almost imagine his feet stood on the solid boards of his ship. But that was folly and he opened them again. It wasn't dawn as of yet, but when it came he knew just how that first red light would catch against the changeable tides and clatter brilliantly into the world.
This was home now. This house. This place. The ocean was something to look at, night something to sleep through, not hide behind. He knew this was right- that he had made the correct choice and he felt the comfort of it deep in his bones. But then why did the knot still linger in the pit of his stomach?
He found himself thinking back to the evening- the way that man had looked at him with those hard blue eyes as if he was nothing or less. The way he'd turned without so much as a word and his tall frame shouldered it's way almost desperately through the crowd and away from him.
His arm panged suddenly and he looked down with surprise to find he'd been squeezing it tight enough for the buttons to dig into his skin.
It didn't matter. None of it mattered. Sal had met his quarry and it had little and less to do with his own affairs. This was his affair now, this cottage and a view of the sea: 'the quiet life'. And maybe, if he persisted at it quite patiently, one day or another he might just believe that to be the truth.