The clouds stacked high and higher in the distance, an ephemeral white twin castle of Blackhaven in the sky above the Sea of Dorne. A storm was coming, one of those rare summer storms that would rage down at the coast and bring nothing but a mild breeze to the Red Mountains. There was always a breeze up here on the battlements and this one would be no different.
It was not the storm that heralded unwelcome news. It was the familiar shape of Maester Jeon, slowly scuffling closer from the stairwell in the tower, the old man's sun-bleached robes fluttering in the wind around his scrawny body like rags of a ghost. That the maester had made the way up here could only mean one thing. A raven from the Citadel, returning with a scroll that held answers Lord Ossyn expected, but did not look forward to reading. Seeing the words, black ink on brown parchment, would do no justice to the inner turmoil they meant.
The faint clinking of the maester's chain stopped when the old man reached him, but Lord Ossyn did not look up. His gaze absently followed the bustle down in the yard and finally lingered outside the armorer's gate. He didn't need to see the scroll to know what it said. The answer had been written on Maester Jeon's face and Lord Ossyn had seen it the moment the old man had stepped through the arch.
“How long?” Lord Ossyn asked, firm and composed. Jeon didn't like being the bearer of bad news any more than other men. There was no need to dance around the subject, go through the motions of being told that a raven had come, who had sent it in response to what request.
“The scroll does not say,” Jeon replied, regret in his voice. “But Maester Ervyn confirmed the suspicions and my rough estimate of...”
“How long?” Lord Ossyn repeated, this time more demanding.
The maester hesitated briefly. “You will not see another winter,” he then said. “Three years, maybe four. I can alleviate the symptoms and ask Maester Ervyn for...”
“Good,” Lord Ossyn interrupted. “What do you need?” The maester was about to reply, but Lord Ossyn now looked to him and stopped him with a brief wave of his hand. “Just get it,” he said. “Keep anything out of the ordinary in your chambers. I would not burden anyone else with this knowledge.”
Maester Jeon nodded, though he looked doubtful. “As you wish, my lord,” he slowly gave back. “Though I cannot agree with this decision. You should let your family know. At least tell Lady Laenah. She has a right to...”
Lord Ossyn's glance fell back down to the courtyard, far below them. “I will,” he said. “I know I cannot hide my illness forever. But you know my wife. She has a gentle heart. If this is my last summer, I would not want to cast the shadow of knowing this over her mind.”
The maester nodded and his gaze followed his lord's to the yard and the young man standing outside the gates of the armory, talking to Blackhaven's armorer and his apprentice. “What about Beric?” Maester Jeon asked.
Lord Ossyn did not reply. He knew what Jeon was trying to tell him and he knew the maester was right about what had not yet been said. This was his heir, his only child, and he had to accept that a man was now standing where there had been only a boy when summer began. Beric had grown up so fast. He was almost as tall as his father now and already surpassed his skill with lance and with sword.
But when Lord Ossyn looked at him, a part of him still saw his little boy. Recalled the early days of the summer, when he watched Beric play in the courtyard, when they had all the time in the world. The summer wind caught in his hair, as gold as his mother's, his face still sprinkled with freckles, his smile as bright as the sun. Lord Ossyn could still hear the ringing of laughter when his son came home from adventures, exploring the caves and springs of the Red Mountains. Remembered when they rode down to the banks of the Wyl, days spent fishing and talking, father to son. He could still see Beric's blue eyes full of wonder when Maester Jeon sat with him by the hearth in the evenings, reading the tales of heroes and the legends of old.
Now, Beric's hair was short, he had outgrown the freckles and he sought his own adventures out in the Stormlands. Any man would have seen nothing but a young knight now, but Lord Ossyn knew his son still had the heart of a dreamer.
He sighed and stepped away from the wall, then turned back to the maester. “It has only been six months since he got knighted. There is no rush to cut the sweet life short with my burdens just yet.”
The maester thoughtfully regarded his lord. “I understand your wish to not rush matters, but what will he learn from that sweet life? It will only be harder for him if you leave him in the dark. I strongly advise you to reconsider and...”
“You have taught him for years and will continue to do so,” Lord Ossyn cut him off, now somewhat harsher in tone. “This is my only son. He has given me nothing but pride and joy. He does not deserve to have his youth cut this short.”
He paused. What did the old man know of his reasons? Jeon had left both his Northern accent and his best years in the Citadel; he had never desired or lived a 'sweet life' of his own. Maesters fathered no children either, so how could he think Jeon would understand a father's concern? Lord Ossyn took a deep breath, then continued, now softer: “My own father died when I was Beric's age. I was only thirteen when I was told I would never have the freedom my friends would have. I grew up in the shadow of a dying father while they traveled the realms and tasted the world.”
His glance drifted back to the courtyard, to the son he had to let go, no matter how heavy the thought weighed upon his heart. “If I have only this one summer left, I will let him have it,” he quietly added. “I will let him live, let him learn, let him make his own mistakes.”
The maester nodded and wanted to speak, but Lord Ossyn shook his head. “I know, I know, he will need to face the responsibilities awaiting. But not yet. There'll be a better day to tell him in those three or four years I have. Saying it now would just darken his sun.”
Maester Jeon lowered his gaze, understanding none of his words would change his lord's mind. “I've grown up by the sea,” he said with a sigh. “And I know it's never worth waiting for a change in the weather. But it is your choice and all I can do is hope the rain won't come too late.”
Lord Ossyn's gaze drifted out to the clouds as he slowly began wandering back to the stairwell. “Aye, I will tell him when the rain comes,” he absently replied. “And we both know it always does.”
﴾ _____________________________________________________________________________________ ﴿
“Don't tell me you're thinking about new armor again.”
Anguy stopped a few steps behind Beric, impatiently tapping his foot to get his friend's attention. Beric sighed, though amused, and ended the conversation with the armorer, then turned around.
“No, I don't. I was just...” He paused when he saw the wine bottles sticking out of the saddle bags of the horse Anguy held by the reins. “I take it the long ride paid out once again?” he asked, though he already knew the answer. It was rare Anguy did not win when he went to prove his skill with the bow and if someone had managed to beat him, by now Beric would know.
Anguy grinned and padded the saddle bag. “And that's just a small part of my spoils,” he confirmed. “The other spoils are probably dreaming of my return in their beds.” He regarded Beric for a moment, pretending to be serious, as if he sized him up for a fight. “Maybe I should get myself some shiny new armor and see how I measure up against you next.”
Beric laughed and shook his head. “We already know that you can beat me any day with the bow,” he gave back. “You don't need armor for that.”
Anguy raised his chin, trying to look taller and more imposing, with little success. “I'm not talking about your archery skill. We both know that leaves much to be desired. I want a real challenge and we never truly tried if you're a match for me with a sword or a lance.”
“I hate to decline the challenge.” Beric chuckled. “I have every reason to fear you...”
“I knew it!” Anguy triumphantly interrupted.
“...might not survive it,” Beric finished and smiled.
Anguy playfully frowned and wrinkled his nose. “I will pretend I did not hear that.”
“Aye, you go ahead and cherish the dream,” Beric gave back, smirking. “If you just believe long enough in it, one day it might become true.”
“I'm sure of it.” Anguy's eyes daringly sparkled. “You may become the greatest knight of the Stormlands, but the other six realms will celebrate me.”
Beric's eyes narrowed; he knew what his friend was really telling him. “Don't get your hopes up,” he said. “There'll be a tourney in Mistwood in only a few weeks and I have every intention to win.”
Anguy raised his eyebrows, now intrigued and surprised. “There goes my dream of knightly glory,” he sighed. “I never thought House Mertyns would betray me like this. For years, they quietly hide in their forest and now they strike from the shadows at the most inconvenient time.”
“Wouldn't it be a shallow victory if the only reason I hadn't won a tourney in each castle of the Stormlands was that one castle never gave me the chance?” Beric stepped closer to inspect the saddle bags and the wine that was in them.
“I suppose so.” Anguy shrugged and pulled out one of the bottles to hand it to Beric. “What will you do once you have your last victory though? Build a new castle, to be spared of long rides?”
Beric took the bottle and shot Anguy a reproachful glance from the side. “I already have a perfectly good castle,” he gave back. “And once I have that last victory still missing, I will come with you, if only to witness your efforts at becoming a hedge knight...” He peeked into the open saddle bag; bottles and more bottles. At this rate of blowing his winnings on wine, Anguy's shiny armor would be but a distant dream for a very long time.
“It's about fucking time!” Anguy grinned. “Once you escape the vigilant eyes of your father, I can finally teach you how to have fun.”
Beric raised an eyebrow and stored the bottle back in the saddle bag as best as he could in the limited space. “I think you're mistaking me for your fool,” he said. “I still have a reputation to uphold. No matter how far from home we might travel, I won't start to walk in your footsteps on the way.”
Anguy laughed and reached for the wine again, then opened the bottle to take a long swig. “You make Septon Wyeford look like a sinner,” he replied with a sneer. “It won't kill you to loosen the reins a little.” He took another swig and offered the bottle to Beric, but he still declined.
“You think Ser Barristan Selmy or Ser Arthur Dayne earned their fame by stumbling around drunk in brothels?” Beric crossed his arms, as if to further reject the offered wine.
Again, Anguy answered with a shrug and a laughter. “Probably not,” he said. “But I prefer some fun to high aspirations. If all you want from life is to be known for your virtues, that's your choice, but I take the sweet vices over that any day.”
“And I won't stop you,” Beric replied with a smile. “Just look at it this way, more wine and women for you.”
Anguy nodded and grinned, then closed the bottle to put it back in the saddle bag. “Aye, I'm not complaining,” he said when he turned to lead the horse to the stables. “All I'm saying is it's no wonder your sword arm is that strong.” Beric didn't answer and just shot him a brief angry glare, only to get another grin in return. “My father wants the horse back,” Anguy said. “And if you change your mind about this...” He padded the saddle bag, making the bottles in it clink. "...you know where to find me.”