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When the Stars Fall

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SELYSE

It had been a bloody and horrifying sight to see, especially in the early morning hours when only the light from Hightower gave the Sept any illumination beyond the torches. The elongated shadows of that hour had framed the sight of the Starry Father. Had it not been for the pool of blood and multiple stab wounds which dyed his white robes and rainbow belt red, he might have looked as though he slept in the middle of the floor of the Starry Sept. The speckled black marble from which the Sept partly earned its name hid the blood well if the robes could not, and her sisters and brothers who had gathered for early morning prayers all left the Sept that day with bloody hems from walking into a part of the puddle well hidden. The shock of finding their old and beloved Starry Father stabbed to death in the middle of the Sept proper had nearly caused a panic amongst them all. Several of her sisters not sworn to silence had fallen to their knees crying before the altars of the Father, Mother, and Warrior—begging for justice, mercy, and action against the villains responsible. Her holy brothers whispered amongst themselves that no one could have possibly entered the Starry Sept to commit such a heinous crime.

“This must be the work of a demon from the Seven Hells—it’s the only explanation.”

“Here in the midst of the Starry Sept?! Are you mad?”

“It’s a punishment from the Seven—a sign we’re on the wrong path.”

“What have we done wrong?”

“It’s the Lotharians. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Lothar and his pamphlets have poisoned the commons. We should respond in like!”

A small chorus of ayes echoed around some of her holy brethren, but just then a figure who hadn’t spoken before, the Starry Son Luceon—the Starry Father’s assistant—came forward.

“It is pointless to speculate like this. A tragedy has befallen our Starry Father, and we must see that he is honored and prepared for the Father’s judgment. Sisters, your silent services are needed,” prompted the Starry Son Luceon, and Selyse and her sisters sworn in silence took a moment before approaching the body off the Starry Father.

“Brothers and Sisters, we must speak with the commons and hold prayers out beneath the stars so our sisters sworn in silence may perform their task,” spoke the Starry Son Luceon as he ushered out many of Selyse’s brothers and sisters.

Along with her sisters sworn in silence, Selyse hauled the body of the Starry Father Hugh to their chambers where they would clean, bathe his body in oils, and dress him for services and the funeral that was likely to be held in his honor. Only after that would their true work begin of stripping his bones of his fat flesh. Selyse and her fellow sisters set to work expertly, putting aside their welling emotions as well as they could. It would do no good to think of how the Starry Father had comforted her when she had first arrived, and like the father she had never had taught her the mysteries of the Stranger that she would need to know. He had been kind and patient with her, never raising his voice in anger or punishing her for her mistakes, instead prompting her to see it as an opportunity to learn for herself.

Those memories only brought tears… and tears would ruin the oil and contaminate him, and the Starry Father Hugh deserved the best of all her treatments. Selyse dipped the sea sponge into the vat of blessed oil. She then adorned it to the Starry Father’s round bare chest, careful to avoid the jagged wounds where the dagger or daggers had killed him.

Sister Naeryssa, whom Selyse knew by her blue eyes comforted the distraught Sister Lyla whom Selyse knew by her green eyes, the two were communicating rapidly through signing, their hands flying though the different words as only two Silent Sisters could. It was the only form of direct communication permitted them with their vow of silence. Each swift movement or position of the hands held a specific meaning and was known amongst all their sisters. And it wasn’t just useful to her fellow sisters sworn in silence, but in the Sept across the Sea, when a sister who had trouble speaking the common tongue rose to prominence, she always could use signing to communicate what she wanted. Lyla and Naeryssa continued to sign.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Aye, but we must treat him.”

“It isn’t right to treat him like any other pile of bones. He was more than that.”

“Then show that he was, and help us cleanse the vile humors from his body.”

“I can’t…”

Lyla was a newer sister, only with them for three years but she had been quick to pick up on the signs, but she had yet to fully understand the full mysteries of the Stranger. The flesh were but the armor of the bones—once freed of the flesh, the bones of a man could be better judged by the Father, and be freed of this life’s corruption. Lyla had been sent by her parents to be educated by the Faith when she was but a small girl. Upon returning home she had been caught kissing in a closet with her family’s young and newly oiled Septon. Not long thereafter she had been sent to Oldtown to pursue a sudden interest in serving the Stranger—well not so sudden as Selyse could obviously determine.

Lyla’s story was not unique either, many girls who parents had thought their attention to boys or men were more than inappropriate at ages such as ten or eleven were often sent to join her sisterhood. Others, such as Naeryssa had come from humbler backgrounds such as the City in the Shadow of the Tower—Oldtown’s Flea Bottom—and had chosen the Silent Sisters for the opportunity to be something other than a whore. Only the Starry Mother Teryse seemed to have joined their order out of genuine piety—at least that was what Selyse assumed from the way she insisted upon following the strict guidelines that had been laid down for their sisters by the Stranger’s own hand.

Sister Rona, who now attended the Starry Father Hugh’s hardened groin with a good dollop of oil, had been a rich social climbing merchant’s daughter who’d joined to avoid a marriage to a poor and vile nobleman who upon meeting her had said that a wife held nearly the same social status in his house as that of his hunting dog, slightly higher to be sure—but only slightly. The old Selyse, the child that had lived all her life at her Uncle’s command would have thought the girl mad to have refused any proposal of marriage—especially one which allowed for such a rise in social standing—for such a petty reason, but Sister Selyse was more inclined to appreciate the desire to be treated well, like the Starry Father Hugh had treated them all.

Now that his body was blessed, it was time to dress it in the finest white robes available. Sister Tyanna came forth having been sent at the start of their task to gather his best robes. It was hardly a task she found stimulating—much preferring to have her nose stuck in a book she took from the Sept’s small library, but it was her role in the process. She had made easy work of them, slitting them down the back so that they could dress him with ease and not manhandle his anointed body. After all, no one but them would see his backside. First went on his alb—made of the purest white silk that Selyse had ever seen in her life. Next came the outer robe, followed by the girdle, and then they draped the wide stole which bore the banner of the Starry Sept upon it, with an onyx diadem above it to denote his station as the Starry Father. The banner of the Starry Sept was sable, with a seven pointed star argent encircled by seven smaller ones of the same. Last but not least they placed the onyx diadem atop his head.

Having finished dressing his cold and stiff body, they then moved his body onto a litter that he would be paraded upon for the funeral. Were he not the Starry Father, they would have considered him prepared for his wake—but as Selyse knew from the funeral of Sister Megya—the brothers and sisters of the faith would further adorn the body of their holy sibling or parent with accutremonts that represented their relationship with their beloved deceased holy sibling or parent. Flowers and fruits were most common, with each having developed a language all their own that only those of the Faith truly knew the meaning of.

It was mid-morn when they broke their fasts. Their other holy siblings had long since finished, leaving them to their meal. The thought of eating did not appease Selyse in the least. She looked instead upon the collection of fruits before her and after whittling the choice down to two possibilities, she weighed the options of whether an orange—patience—or an apple—knowledge—would best represent her relationship with the Starry Father. Naeryssa soon elbowed her.

“You need to eat,” Naeryssa signed by pointing to where her mouth would be beneath her veil.

“I will later,” she signed by twisting her right hand at her wrist in a circle three times.

“No, now,” signed Naeryssa by bringing her hands together palms up with her right hand striking her stationary left hand.

Selyse sighed, knowing it would be useless to argue with her sister, took an orange and slowly began to peel it. Naeryssa’s hard blue eyes continued to watch her and did not let up until she’d skinned it, broke it into smaller pieces, and then placed one of them in her mouth.

“That’s better,” signed Naeryssa with a clap and the nod of her head.

Selyse nodded and decided that the oranges were a little on the sour side. It would be better to give the sweeter apple to Hugh.

Just then the old, blind, and dark-skinned Dornishman brother named Rasul could be heard tapping his sentinel cane as he made his way to join them. Rasul had long since lost his wits but Starry Father Hugh had kept him saying that a holy family such as there’s could not afford to cast out their siblings. For a moment Selyse wondered what would happen to Rasul now that Hugh was no longer there to speak with him and advocate for him. Once she’d hear the Starry Son Luceon argue with Hugh on Rasul’s benefit to their Sept, but Hugh hadn’t budged.

Rasul after assessing through groping that he was in the company of his sisters sworn to silence, then spoke aloud—as he was often apt to do “My dear sweet silent sisters. The Seven have truly spoken this day, for up in the sky a star does bleed.”

Like most of Rasul’s mutterings they did not make sense. He often spoke of having the Stranger whisper things to him in his ear and how the Stranger had been his friend and companion since infancy—playing with him as a child and blinding him then as well. According to Hugh, Rasul had only begun to go blind seven years previously, and at that time he’d never had the habit of announcing the Stranger’s whisperings to anyone, but most especially to her and her fellow Silent Sisters.

Rasul continued, “The Seven despise the vile act that has been committed. They shall cast blood upon those guilty for all to see.”

At this Selyse saw Lyla stopped eating as she began to stare at him.

“Stars will fall like city walls, and woe be to any left inside,” finished Rasul. For once Selyse was not the source of change as the Starry Mother Teryse nodded and Sister Erelle rose and escorted old Rasul to the table, placing a bowl of fruit before him, which he managed to begin stuffing his face with and Selyse began to consider this episode over.

It wasn’t until later when she was outside looking for the missing Sister Lyla who had vanished not long after they had broken their fast Selyse noticed a streak of something red in the sky. She looked up and saw suspended above and clearly visible against the blue sky—a falling star.

Chapter Text

 

DEN

The sun was rising over Winterfell, casting a hazy pink tinge to the courtyard that he stared out onto without purpose. Den sat on a stool leaning his head against the cool window, dressed in only his shift. He’d been unable to sleep over half the night, due to a dream he both wanted and didn’t want to dream again. He had already watched as the servants had stirred earlier, gathering wood to replenish the fires so the nobles of the castle would wake to warmer rooms, while kitchen boys led by the simple-minded Turnip and Gage the cook and his assistant cooks bustled about in preparation of the morning meal. Soon the rest of the castle would awaken, though not just yet. Sighing he looked over to the bed where his fellow Snows of Winterfell slept soundly, intertwined together like the kennel dogs under the furs of their shared bed. Sharing a bed was something Den was used to, though when he’d started it had been with Jon and Robb… but as they had left Winterfell, Den found his bedmates replaced with other Snows: Edrik—Theon Greyjoy’s bastard son who had the comely looks of his father; Syarra—Raynald Westerling’s bastard daughter who only had the hair and eye color of a light brown in similarity with her father, otherwise resembling her plain-faced mother; and Ashara—Den’s half-sister, who was the closest to him in age and who tended after Edrik and Syarra like a mother hen. Ashara was rather pale, with her mother’s dark brown hair—but haunting violet eyes which almost hypnotized you to meet them. Supposedly Den had heard his aunt had had those very eyes.

As Den understood it, he had been a war orphan—his mother having died, his father unable to provide for him, but Lord Stark out of kindness for his father had taken him in. That’s at least as far as he had ever managed to figure out from the servants about his past. His father wrote regular ravens to himself and Ashara, but never once did he speak about his mother—no matter how much Den pressed him for an answer. Was she just some whore he’d fucked? That was the likely answer—after all, Jon was a Snow but being trained in the secrets of House Dayne to be the next Sword of the Morning and fostered in Winterfell. He was a noble bastard, with noble blood on both sides, while Den most decidedly did not apparently. After all, despite being the son of one of the greatest swordsmen of the age his lessons after mastering the basic of defensive maneuvers with a sword had turned to trailing after Vayon Poole, Lord Stark’s steward. The expectation being that he would likely be either Robb’s, Rickon’s or mayhaps even Jon’s steward one day with the rate Jon was being treated. When Robb, Rickon, and Brandon had learned the simplest of sword techniques they instead had been sent to Oldstones, while Jon had left for Starfall.

Wasn’t he worthy of some kind of honor? Even if only half his blood be noble—that ought to count for something more than just a stewardship, right? Why couldn’t he try for the Sword of the Morning as well as Jon? After all, his father had been the Sword of the Morning, Jon’s mother only a Dayne woman. Why couldn’t he have gone to Starfall as well with Jon?

“You’re thinking about it again, aren’t you?” interrupted his sister.

His eyes met hers, and he knew that he could not lie to her. “Mayhaps,” he admitted.

Disentangling herself from the dogpile and allowing Edrik and Syarra to snuggle close to one another, she scooted to the edge of the bed and added, “It won’t do any good, you know… brooding like this.”

He sighed and said with a smile, “If life were a song…”

“But it’s not,” she immediately corrected.

He smiled and shook his head and continued in a tone barely above a whisper so as to let Edrik and Syarra sleep, “If life were a song, we’d be some prince and princess of some far off kingdom, hidden away as bastards for our own safety until we were old enough to rule.”

Looking at him slyly Ashara then pressed, “Why would we be hidden away?”

He pretended to think hard on how to answer her, before answering, “Because our wicked uncle—no that’s too common… ah! Our wicked cousins! That’s better. Our wicked cousins told slanderous lies and deceived the nobles to overthrew our father—killing him and the rest of our family.”

Ashara frowned slightly and said, “How sad. Who did we lose?”

“Our mother, of course—they always die.”

Ashara shook her head and corrected, “How about instead she escaped with us, and helped us hide in disguise, pretending to be a servant in the strange new land we were to hide in.

“Then why hasn’t she told us the truth?” asked Den.

“Because our wicked cousins have spies everywhere, waiting to hear one little word of where we might be so that they might kill us!” explained Ashara.

“Of course! But we won’t remain here for forever. One day, our kingly father’s most trusted servant will reveal himself to mother and us, and then we’ll know that the time is right to return—that the nobles have grown tired of our philandering cousins’ selfish ways and wish for the true royal blood to rule them and set the kingdom to right.”

“In our shifts? That would hardly be appropriate,” japed Ashara, doing her best to imitate Lady Stark’s tone whenever she saw something she didn’t approve of—a common occurrence around the Snows of Winterfell.

“Our nobles will have made for use the finest clothes in all the kingdom, a rich velvet doublet for me, and a long draping silken gown for you.”

Ashara gave a little laugh that rang like chimes in the wind. But then she sighed and her beautiful smile left her lips as they settled into a near-frown as she added, “But it all is only fancy...”

“Better a fancy than reality,” mumbled Den.

Her eyes pinned him to the spot as she asked rather honestly, “Don’t you like it here in Winterfell?” asked Ashara.

Den broke eye contact and thought for a moment, back to the days that he, Jon, and Robb had been inseparable—climbing trees in the godswood, exploring the crypts and daring each other how deep they could go without getting scared. Things had been simple then… and even after Jon and Robb had eaten those seeds while there’d been some sense of that, something had changed about them. They no longer seemed to need to speak to understand each other at times, or sometimes they’d stop or go to the godswood for no apparent reason to Den’s mind. Early on he’d considered eating a weirwood seed, but when he’d came to the godswood alone he always felt someone was watching him and that he was unwelcome in Winterfell’s hallowed wood. He kept the Old Gods, the same as Robb, but he never went to pray in the godswood alone… too often a raven or a flock of them would perch themselves in a tree nearby and watch him—as if they didn’t quite know what to make of him. He hated the sight of those awful black birds—and Theon’s pet raven had been even worse, for even inside the castle walls he couldn’t escape from those penetrating black eyes that made his spine shiver in fear of what he knew not.

But that had only been the beginning of the changes that were to come as all three of them slowly approached manhood, and the differences seemed to only accumulate with age. When Robb and Jon returned to Winterfell, they were each given separate rooms—Robb had been expected as the heir to have them, but Jon’s acquisition of his own chambers had surprised all the servants—even Den. The most noticeable one being that all of Lord Stark’s children—trueborn and bastard—now had direwolves for protectors who followed them as though they were their shadows.

The differences slowly added up to the point where Den began to feel as though the boys he had known and loved as brothers were almost dead, and replaced with strangers who acted almost like Robb and Jon, but not quite.

“I guess it could be worse,” he admitted, not wishing to burden her with his thoughts. Then he recalled the dream which had kept him from sleeping—that of flying above the snow through the clouds, feeling the mists upon his wings and relishing in the freedom of the air, the clouds and earth below a veritable swirl of white and green. “It just feels like it should be different, somehow,” he added.

Ashara jumped off the bed then and hurried over to him. Standing up, she was just as tall as he was sitting down upon the stool—gods she was getting bigger. She then threw her arms about him, as was often her custom. It didn’t change anything, but it did make him feel better.

As she hugged him, Den then noticed Robb and Grey Wind walking for the godswood for their morning prayers, and Den knew if he wanted to get his own in without being alone in the godswood, he needed to get dressed and leave now. He returned the hug to Ashara, which seemed to satisfy her, and she returned to the bed to at least lay down once more before she would be called to assist her mother with her morning routine after all the fires had been lit. Den then crossed the room to his trunk where nearly all his worldly possession lay—mostly clothes—and he threw off his shift and slipped into his smallclothes, and then the rest of his clothes.

Soon Den was out and ready to attend to his prayers in the godswood. He crossed the courtyard and with only moment’s hesitation opened the gate and entered the godswood. The uneasy feeling surrounded him as he slowly walked across the soft mossy ground for the weirwood tree, but knowing that Robb was already here, he pressed forward. As he expected, Den found Robb already in prayer, with Grey Wind laying by the edge of the pool rather lazily. The direwolf’s yellow eyes met his and then darted back to the pool. Grey Wind was almost as big as a pony, but Den could still remember when Robb’s protector had been born.

One morning a heavily pregnant direwolf bitch was found circling Winterfell—running from gate to gate, pawing and scratching as if it were just an overgrown dog begging to be let in. At first the guards had tried shooting at it to scare it off, but then the oddest thing had happened, Lord Stark had come out and commanded them to stop and open the North gate, allowing the direwolf bitch to enter. The entire time he’d been quieter than normal, almost ignoring the protestations of his guards. The direwolf mother then had rushed in and began to prowl the courtyard. Den had looked to Lady Stark then, who along with the children—who had all returned for Lord Stark’s nameday, even Jon—he’d expected to withdraw or react in fear, and some like Sansa and Bran had at first, but the rest simply stood there and watched as the direwolf mother eventually pushed down the door to the kennel—upsetting all the dogs inside, who immediately began to howl, growl, and throw themselves at their kennel doors. Curious, Den had followed after and looked from a safe distance as the direwolf bitch had knocked open an empty kennel and begun to dig and rearrange the straw laid down, forming it into a nest of sorts before circling and laying down. There she stayed, with old Farlen and his daughter Palla ordered by Lord Stark to feed the bitch like any other dog. She’d not been in Winterfell’s kennels for long before she whelped a litter of pups—seven in number. She weaned her pups in record time and soon began to demand leaving Winterfell for longer and longer periods—her howls filling the Wolfswood when she did, until one day her howls were gone and her pups left behind. It had been the oddest thing Den had ever seen—but what had caused Den to really feel off about the entire thing was how calm and accepting most of the Starks had taken the entire affair—as if they were under some kind of trance. The youngest ones, especially little Sansa, had all been terrified as much as all the servants until they spoke to their parents who managed to calm the situation down. In the end it was explained to those without Stark blood that the Old Gods had gifted the children protectors for the “troubling times to come”, as Robb had put it. This seemed to ease most of the staff, and Den supposed he should have felt just as much, but there was just something off about how eerily calm they’d taken the entire thing.

 

Each Stark child had taken a pup and named one: little Sansa taking the sweetest thankfully and naming it Lady, quiet little Ned taking the only pup to have blue eyes—an oddity which inspired Edwyn’s choice of name from the history of the Stark family with his choice of “Ice Eyes”. Arya had taken the other bitch and named her Nymeria stating that if she was to live in Dorne that her pup should have a Dornish name. Bran took forever to name his pup but he eventually chose Summer after Old Nan had teased him about being a “Sweet Summer Child” as she was prone to do even if he now was beginning to show a bit of youthful lankiness. Rickon, who was easily as tall as Robb, despite being two years younger, had taken the rather wild black pup and like Bran had seemed to ponder over the name before settling on one he thought sounded intimidating to say: Black Fang. The black wolf didn’t need anything more intimidating in Den’s opinion, for of all the direwolves it was the most feral of the litter, but somehow it obeyed and followed Rickon. Den dreaded to think of how big the pup had gotten while Rickon had been at Oldstones. Robb had found Den not long after choosing his pup—the fastest of the litter, for which he named his pup Grey Wind—and promised that since Den couldn’t have a direwolf that he could share Grey Wind with him. It had been a touching thought at the time, one sign that the boy he’d known was still in there, hiding underneath the masks of Robb the heir, Robb the eldest trueborn, and Robb the good son.

 

As such Grey Wind never seemed bothered by Den’s presence and very nearly requested to play with Den as often as he did with Robb--especially if Robb was busy at the moment with some lesson or other. As Den approached the weirwood he stopped and gave the lounging direwolf his usual scratch behind his ears. Grey Wind, normally stand offish—even with Lord and Lady Stark—always replied by closing his eyes in contentment, and just as always Den heard from Robb not long thereafter a satisfied sigh from the youth in prayer. It happened each and every time without fail that Den greeted Grey Wind in this manner—almost as if Robb could sense it as well, but that was impossible.

 

Den then joined Robb in front of Winterfell’s large and ancient weirwood, his knees sinking into the damp dewy moss at the tree’s base, but he didn’t mind. He prayed for the continued health of his father and Ashara, he prayed that Summer would last yet another year—even if the summer snows now came more frequently than they used to, and he prayed that Robb and Jon would continue to fare well. After all that, he then allowed himself one request solely for himself. Each day he changed the request—sometimes he received answers and other times not.

 

“Help me to understand my dream…” he whispered close to the weirwood’s bark.

 

He heard next to him from Robb, “You should speak with Jojen when he comes.”

 

Den turned to see Robb had finished praying and now stood ned to Den. Finishing off his prayer with a nod to the weirwood’s face, Den then stood and asked, “Who?”

 

“Lord Reed’s son,” answered Robb easily, who then walked over to Grey Wind and rubbed the direwolf’s haunches as the great beast stretched itself out and then shook the damp dew that had settled on its fur off.

 

“Let me guess, he’s coming North with a sister for you to meet?” questioned Den, knowing that it was fast approaching the time when all of Winterfell would be filled with houses from the North trying to woo Robb in his choice of a future bride. Robb was to marry on the nameday he was officially a man grown—something that Lord and Lady Stark had been reluctant to agree to, but persuaded to do so nevertheless after the betrothal agreement to send Arya to marry Lord Dayne. Already several of the closer families had attempted to persuade Robb’s choice in the matter: Reylene Hornwood—Lord Halys’ niece from his deceased brother—had spent a shy and silent moon in Winterfell before returning to Hornwood without any hopes, having formed more of a friendship with Vayon Poole’s daughter Jeyne than Robb. Eddara Tallhart came frequently with her brother Benfrey, with whom Robb and Den were friendly with though more so Robb than Den, but she had preferred spending her time at Winterfell romping with Arya and Rickon when he was visiting, and Robb had thought her a little young.

 

“He’s coming North with his sister, but not for me,” admitted Robb as he sat by the pool near the weirwood tree, looking out over its still glassy surface, with only the barest hint of fog still clinging to the damp air that surrounded them.

 

Den could see that something was troubling Robb’s mind, so he continued with a jape as he sat next to him, saying, “Settling for Rickon already? Well, at least that’ll narrow your choices.”

 

With a slight groan, Robb answered, “Don’t remind me.”

 

When it became obvious that they were not yet leaving the godswood, Grey Wind circled and plopped himself down between Robb and Den.

 

“The future Lord of Winterfell is a prize match for any daughter of the North,” replied Den, parroting what he’d once heard Vayon say to his daughter Jeyne—whom Robb only saw as yet another sister.

 

“Prize match? I feel like a piece of meat at the market in Wintertown…” grumbled Robb as he picked up a stone from the mossy ground and skipped it across the pool.

 

“Ahh, but very good quality meat,” japed Den.

 

Robb shook his head and let forth a loud laugh that echoed about the otherwise silent godswood. It was good to hear him laugh, as lately he’d almost begun to imitate Jon in how serious he could be.

 

Robb then said rather quietly, “Robetta Glover is coming... along with the rest of them.”

 

Den, who had been petting Grey Wind’s head and neck stopped still upon hearing this. Since a very young age he had nursed a liking for the young Glover girl. She had her father’s long reddish-brown hair that she often kept in a braid, and. Her father had been given a Keep in the Wolfswood at the mouth of a nearly hidden vale where many tall sentinels grew. Although a cadet branch of the Deepwood Motte family, they’d grown wealthy selling lumber for ships to Lord Manderly and developing Lord Benjen Stark’s holdfast and fleet as well. Alongside the newly rising star of House Forrester, who had groves of Ironwood and a new ambitious southron wife to aide their rise, House Glover of Blackthorn Vale was beginning to attract notice in the rest of the North. Where before Den had thought they might settle for marrying their eldest daughter to a future steward, they now aimed higher… much higher it seemed. He knew it made the most sense for their family to do so, but he still secretly hoped that mayhaps he would still have a chance.

 

Robb’s blue eyes met Den’s as he said firmly but with a smile, “Don’t worry, Den, I won’t choose her.”

 

Den smiled, but he knew, deep down that a hidden prince like the one he was in his daydreams wouldn’t need to have his friend avoid the lady he loved… but then as Ashara was fond of pointing out Den’s life wasn’t a song.

Chapter Text

EDMURE

The sun had set hours ago, their training in the practice yards ended and they’d finished their evening meal not long after that, but the lads in the moon-lit barracks were still awake, cheering on and betting as Rickon Stark did one of his favorite activities: wrestling with his direwolf. When the Northern lordling, Edmure Whent’s cousin, had returned south with the black pup, most of them hadn’t believed him about Black Fang—as he called the beast—being a direwolf—but to their astonishment as the thing had grown to the size of a full grown dog in less than a year’s time and then started to get bigger, they began to take Rickon more at his word. Rickon was the most athletic of them all—and for whom Master Arthur and Ser Brynden’s training came rather easily. When he’d mastered the technique Master Arthur or Ser Brynden had asked of them he usually set his mind on trying to train his direwolf. The snappish and stubborn thing was the only thing at Oldstones that gave Rickon a challenge, even the four maesters from Oldtown who’d taken up residence in Oldstones to teach them couldn’t give Rickon the trial that that wolf could. There was only one thing that Black Fang had underestimated, was just how stubborn and snappish Rickon could be when he didn’t get his way. As such Rickon was determined to gain the upper paw on his wolf, and that was how Rickon had begun to wrestle with his wolf as a way of asserting his dominance over the beast—soon finding that he enjoyed it for the sport it gave him. In the beginning the wrestling matches had been short and quick, but as the wolf grew and attempted more frequently to test Rickon’s ability to assert his authority, they’d become longer and more entertaining. Even Edmyn Arryn, who usually rolled his eyes at the antics of their northern cousin, could be seen losing his proper dignity cheering on Rickon or sometimes even the wolf. The wolf lately had come quite close to winning, and if the beast wasn’t opposed to using its fangs and claws in a more than glancing manner—typically leaving a few scratches or a bite mark without puncturing the skin—likely would have killed Rickon many matches ago, but Rickon always seemed to find some weak point with his direwolf. This time though, Edmure thought for sure that the wolf was likely to win—it was clearly larger than Rickon, unlike last time where it’d only been slightly bigger—this time the size difference was undeniable, and yet the match persisted.

As boy and beast tangled with one another, Edmure felt one of the two Manderlys push himself forward between himself and Lewyn. Seeing that he was green of hair, Edmure knew it was Wylbert and not Wyatt—his cousin from the Western shore, who through his mother had a claim on inheriting Flint’s Finger when the old blind Lord Robin Flint at long last died—and would likely take the Flint name, leaving the cadet branch of House Manderly of Stone Harbor to be headed by his younger brother, Eddard. Wyatt and Wylbert were three years apart in age, and beyond the green hair of Wylbert the only other difference one could use to tell them apart was that Wyatt was a little shorter than his cousin and if you compared them long enough you’d notice that Wyatt was a bit stockier than his White Harbor cousin.

The four and ten lanky Wylbert held up a silver piece and proudly called out with a slight laugh, “A stag on the wolf!” Wylbert called out with a laugh.

Prince Durran took note of Wylbert’s bet with a sly grin. The heir to the throne and Prince of Claw Castle was of age with Edmure, and worked hard to appear older than his three and ten namedays—soon to be four and ten, he always was insistent upon reminding everyone. He put many hours into his training and had earned a good amount of muscle because of it—especially working with the training war hammer he was eager to master to please his father the King. Durran savored and gingerly nursed any hint of peach fuzz—with the hope that they were the beginnings of a mustache or a beard, or sideburns—he cared not what he was able to grow first, as long as he was able to grow facial hair. He laid back in his hammock interested in the wrestling match and counting the various coins he’d collected thus far. As Wylbert tossed his silver piece over, the prince caught it easily, smirked and then asked the green merman, “Which one?”

Wylbert let loose a laugh before proudly declaring, “Direwolf or no, the Manderlys of White Harbor have always been loyal to the Starks!”

The barracks was shared by all those who attended Oldstones, except for the youngest, who this year were given a separate barracks of their own due to how large a number they were—each cohort growing larger than the last. Ser Brynden had told them all upon arriving, that he considered them all his squires, and as such he “didn’t fucking care who your parents were” as in his mind they “were all starting out the same, godsdamnit.” Even his own son, Tristifer—or Tris as he preferred to be called—shared a hammock in the barracks with them. As such they were all afforded a hammock to hang in the barracks and keep their trunks in. The barracks was a large wooden building that without the hammock hanging from the many beams and posts placed evenly throughout it, would otherwise be empty. The second barracks, which housed the younger ones, was even larger.

“He’s as much a Tully as he is a Stark!” added Tris.

A small roar of approval was heard from the other hammocks.

Prince Durran then caught Edmure’s eye and asked, “And you Ed?”

Edmure thought about it for a moment before smirking and pulling out a copper—feeling he could part with that much if it came to it—and dangerously announced “Black Fang!”

“Ohhh!” called out several of the other boys who watched from their hammocks. At a distance Barristan the younger Selmy, turned over so his back faced them—obviously in an attempt to get some sleep.

“Put me down for Black Fang too,” said Lewyn Sand, with a sly wink to Edmure as he tossed two coppers to Durran.

“Me as well,” added Harwood, Durran’s Baratheon cousin from Bloodstone in the Stepstones.

“I think I’ll enjoy a nice summer ale later on all your coppers…” japed Durran to the three of them.

“The wolf’s gotta win sometime,” assured Edmure to Harwood, who seemed to regret his choice now that he thought on it.

The match grew more heated and a few of the other lads outside of the Prince’s immediate circle of friends began throwing in their own bets—Marvyn Massey, Alyn Stokeworth, Ethan Forrester, Alyn Ambrose, Jeremy Hightower, and Sandor Vikary all betting on Rickon winning. And then with a sudden yank of the direwolf’s tail Rickon seemed to pin Black Fang beneath him.

“Whimper!” demanded Rickon and after some resisting the black of fur and green of eye direwolf let out a small but short whimper. Ecstatic in victory, Rickon threw up his arms in victory to the acclaim of all the lads in the barracks. As Rickon eagerly soaked up his applause, Prince Durran divvied out the betted money. Seemingly annoyed, Black Fang knocked his snout, knocking Rickon over just a bit, giving a loud snort as he did.

“Oh, so you want a rematch?” Rickon questioned of his direwolf—as if the beast could understand him. The direwolf snorted again and shook its head and shoulders as if to limber up for the second round, and Rickon was soon tackling and wrestling the beast once again, to the entertainment of the rest of the barracks. It was an odd relationship Edmure thought as he returned to his own hammock; they almost seemed and acted like brothers—well at least like the brothers Edmure had seen here at Oldstones, as he had none of his own to compare the relationship with. Sometimes he wished he had a brother, someone to look up to and take after, someone who could have found the man who murdered mother and made him pay, like he wanted to so much.

He dreamed of it sometimes. He’d been hiding in the godswood to annoy mother who wanted him to leave the wedding feast and head to bed. Edmure recalled climbing up a tree and having to fight back from giggling as loudly as his mother exasperatedly searched the godswood for him. She had ended up on the farther side of the godswood before he’d heard shouting, and by the time he’d gotten low enough in the tree to see what was happening, the man—barely visible in the shadows—was stabbing his mother threw. He’d remained hidden in the tree for a long time thereafter—frightened that the man might try and find him.

Each time he dreamed of his mother’s death, the man appeared a little different to Edmure, to the point where he gave up trying to recall what he might have looked like. It had been too dark and too far away for him to see anything distinct properly.

“Are you all right?” nudged Lewyn, bringing Edmure back from his distorted nightmare of a memory. The second son of Prince Oberyn Martell had decided to sit at the other end of Edmure’s hammock, necessitating Edmure to have to adjust his position so that they didn’t go tumbling out of the hammock and to the wooden floor with only a bit of thrush upon it to cushion the fall.

“Aye… just thinking,” said Edmure, hoping the Dornish boy skilled with a lance would leave it at that.

But Lewyn of course never knew when to let things alone, as he prodded, “About that dream?”

“A little,” admitted Edmure, far more easily than he thought he had wanted.

“We’ll see them avenged together,” assured Lewyn darkly. Edmure sighed, knowing that the popular theory was that the same man who’d had Lewyn’s father killed had sent his agents after Edmure’s mother. It was known over all the seven kingdoms that his father had died to the Essosi spymaster’s agents—his mother had fled Pentos to escape them, as his cousin Lady Shella had told him—but they always seemed far off and so distant to Edmure. No, what he wanted was for the one man who’d killed his mother to pay and him alone—Edmure didn’t care if he’d been working for a thousand Essosi spymasters, they hadn’t brutally stabbed her.

Lewyn then took Edmure’s hand and squeezed it, their eyes meeting for just an instant, but Edmure knew without asking that Lewyn was trying to assure him that they would.

“My brother Obi has been made the new Lord Intelligence,” added Lewyn.

“How long do you think he’ll last?” snorted Edmure, knowing that since Prince Oberyn had been found murdered in his own chambers that many Lords of Intelligence had come and gone—many said the position was cursed.

“Obi’s smart, Plankytown’s grown almost to what it had been before the Ironscum burnt it to the ground, and he’s got Sunspear and Princess Rhaenys behind him.

Edmure questioned, “And how’s that going to help us avenge our parents against an Essosi madman?”

“He’ll find where he’s hiding out, and then we take a little trip across the Narrow Seas. Obi promised me that the minute he knew he’d write me…”

Edmure held his tongue on pointing out to his friend that a lance would hardly be of much use in Essos, much less one handled by a boy not yet a man grown. It was a boy’s fancy, that’s all it was—even Edmure could see that in his own wish to find and punish his mother’s killer, but it sure beat crying about it—he’d done enough of that in the months after Shella’s wedding.

Just then the door to the wooden barracks swung open and in entered Conhur Hill—the Westerlands bastard who had been the only one of his cohorts asked to spend an extra year at Oldstones—twice. Some of the boys—Sandor Vikary especially—whispered that the “rustseed” couldn’t be found a knight to squire to. Conhur was tall—nearly seven feet and likely to grow taller still—and already had the beginnings of a few dark hairs upon his chin that matched his long black hair—much to Durran’s jealousy. He’d been moved from their barracks upon the completion of the new barracks, and now supervised the youngest ones.

Conhur entered the barracks seeming ready to shout—his eyes locked with Sandor Vikary for some reason, but when he saw the Prince sit up in his hammock, the Westerlands bastard seemed to think better of it. By this point he’d gathered even the attention of Rickon and his direwolf upon him with his entrance.

“Ser Brynden is still going to expect you all ready to train come dawn,” prompted Conhur, having at last found his words.

“Thank you for the reminder… mother,” taunted Rickon.

There were a few laughs at this, but not too many to deter Conhur from saying what he did next, “Try and keep it down over here, you’re keeping the young ones up.”

With a noted look to Edmure, Rickon, and even Edmyn, Prince Durran then replied, “We were about to call it a night in fact.”

Conhur was surprised at this, as this was the first time the Prince

“Well… good,” added Conhur as he seemed to ready to leave.

“I hope so, rustseed,” prodded Durran, to which Sandor Vikary let out a noted laugh.

To the bastard’s merit, he didn’t react. Silently and with a glare to Sandor, the son of Ironscum left the barracks with a noted slam of the door.

“Will you all just keep the fuck quiet!” roared Barristan the younger, seeming to have lost his patience at long last. The fact that he’d swore, something he rarely did, meant the young Stormlander truly meant it.

“That was hardly honorable, Durran,” grumbled Edmyn as the rest of the lads began returning to their hammocks. No one wanted to deal with a cranky Barristan the younger in the morning.

Durran appealed to Edmyn’s sense of decorum—a point the lad was very keen to honor, as he said, “Oh come on, tell me you aren’t tired of him coming in here and acting like he’s above us—him a bastard!”

“Just because he’s a bastard doesn’t mean he should be treated that way,” voiced Lewyn.

“Aye lay off the bastard thing,” grunted Rickon.

Durran, seemingly caught with his words having already escaped his mouth, attempted to ease the dark-haired Dornish bastard and his Stark cousin, “Aye, but not all bastards are equal. Your brother Jon has proud noble blood on both sides, Rickon. And Lewyn--just look at you--your father was practically married to your mother in all but name and a ceremony. And one day you will be a Martell. I know because I’ll make you one.”

“Or an Uller… since my uncle has yet to marry…” admitted Lewyn rather uncomfortably.

“Or an Uller. But the fact remains, Hill’s not that. He’s Ironscum dressed up as a Westerlander, thinking he’s better than us just because we haven’t been squired out like him… yet.”

Aye, in a few weeks they’d meet with Ser Brynden and Master Arthur who’d assess them and give them a letter from the knight who either their parents had arranged for them to squire with, or as in Edmure’s case whom Ser Brynden and Master Arthur had agreed to take them on upon request. Edmure knew that if he was to do his dead Kingsguard father and his cousin Shella proud and earn Wheatland Castle—which he was promised upon earning his knighthood—he needed to have impressed Ser Brynden enough to motivate him to find a good knight to squire with. He was decent with a sword Ser Brynden had said, but not like his father had been as Master Arthur had said. Edmure didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing.

Anyway, Durran had hit the right point with Lewyn, bringing up Ironscum, and he let the issue drop.

“And he’s the worst kind of bastard… born of rape,” added Sandor—from whom all their knowledge of the Westerlands beyond what the maesters taught them had come from—all the other Westerlands lordlings being either too young or too old to be amongst Prince Durran’s cohort.

“Well, I’m going to take a piss,” announced the Prince, and Edmure recognized tonight’s signal for their weekly ritual as he walked out of the barracks. Rickon and Black Fang made a big show of getting ready for bed before the wolf whined and Rickon pretended to be annoyed that the direwolf needed to be let outside, slipping out after it. By this point most of the other lads, tired or pretending had returned to their hammocks. The goal of course was not to let Barristan the younger and a few of the others like Little Walder know that they were sneaking out. Edmyn left without any notice, sneaking out without Edmure noticing his departure yet again. The otherwise honorable little eyass had a sneaky side to him when he chose to employ it. Edmure then took his opportunity of sneaking out, stepping out into the rather chilled night air.

As he crossed the roughly laid out courtyard, he kept the newly built castle to his left as he headed east towards the old and wild godswood—which still boasted of a large and ancient weirwood tree at its center. He passed the tall and imposing Newkeep—where Ser Brynden, his family, Master Arthur, and the maesters all lived—and then skirted in between the shadows of the Great Hall and the small Sept, and finally out through the east gate that Tris arranged with the guard to have unlocked each week. After slipping through, Edmure passed then passed the ruins that remained just outside the curtain wall and then he came to the edge of the field where the trees of the wild godswood still met the open field of dragonflies where the sepulcher of Tristifer IV Mudd still sat alone as a testament to Oldstones’ past. The dragonflies were out in abundance tonight causing it to seem as if the stars were all about him, inadvertently illuminating the small gathering sat with their backs leaning against the Mudd King’s grave. Wylbert and Wyatt must have snuck out before Durran had left, for he had not seen them leave the barracks, and upon arriving seemed the most bored out of the bunch—rutting the earth around them with sticks they’d picked up. Edmure then joined Durran sitting on his right side as they waited for the others to arrive.

Edmure noticed Durran looking somewhat troubled, so he whispered to the prince, “Copper for your thoughts?”

Durran sighed but then asked, “Lewyn’s coming right?”

Before Edmure had a chance to answer, Durran continued in his frantic whisper, “Because I didn’t mean him at all. And I mean my brother Robb is great—he sends ravens all the time from Bloodstone.”

Edmure knew then that he need to assure Durran—or otherwise he’d be a weepy mess once a few drinks got into him at the tavern. This delayed conscience thing really did him little favors.

“And I meant it. When I’m King I’ll make him a Martell or an Uller or anything he wants to be.”

“Mayhaps you should tell this to him tomorrow so he knows that you mean it and won’t forget it,” suggested Edmure, picking up on the action that Durran could take.

Durran nodded his head but he still seemed troubled, looking up further into the field. There Edmure saw Rickon running through the sea of fireflies with a dark shape that could only be Black Fang.

“Rickon’s still upset?” asked Edmure.

“A little but we already talked about it.”

Of course they would have, Rickon was Durran’s brother in everything but the lady he'd popped out of.

“Have you noticed how different Rickon is though?” prompted Durran.

“What do you mean by different?”

“I mean since he got Black Fang… he talks to it as if it understood him, and sometimes speaks like he knows what it is thinking. Don’t you find that strange?”

“A little, but I’ve mostly gotten used to it by now.”

Not long after that Lewyn arrived—sidling in next to Edmure so that Durran dropped the subject of Rickon and Black Fang in exchange for trying to clumsily apologize to Lewyn. It wasn’t something that came naturally to the prince, but when he made the attempt, you knew that he truly felt bad.

When their group was made up of the Prince, Edmure, Lewyn, Wylbert, Wyatt, Rickon, Edmyn, Harwood, Tristifer, and Brandon Glover, they then departed for the nearby village for its inn. Black Fang taking the advantage of the night to hunt—most likely greeting them on their return with a hare or some other dead prey hanging from its mouth as they stumbled back to Oldstones. Several ales later their spirits had improved as Rickon was boasting about a maid in Winterfell he’d slept with, not for the first time, but in such exaggerated detail this time that Edmure was starting to wonder at how the tale had grown.

Gesturing with his hands Rickon said, “She had these enormous teats—soft as pillows… coulda taken a nap right on them if I’d wanted.”

“If you had, mayhaps then you wouldn’t be so obsessed over them,” teased Edmyn—who with a few drinks in him was much more easy-going.

“Look now, it’s not my fucking fault your father hires maids with small teats at the Eyrie—godsdamn I never knew those things could be that small!” responded Rickon in kind.

“That’s only the sign of a father who knows what he did all too well,” japed Wylbert, prompting everyone else to laugh, even Edmyn—who likely would have gone red from embarrassment had he not been six ales in already and now nursing a seventh.

“What are the women like in Dorne?” asked Rickon to Lewyn.

“The only ones my mother keeps around me are my sisters… and you are not sleeping with any of them—they’d gut you if you even tried, and then I’d have to do the same,” said Lewyn all too easily that they couldn’t help but laugh.

“As for servants, my mother prefers to have a selection of men.”

At this Rickon seemed to blush, and emptied his mug. Eagerly the serving girl returned to the table at that moment. She filled his mug with her pitcher then set to work on the rest of the table’s. When she’d come back around, Rickon reached out and gave the girl’s rear a slight pinch as he held out a few coppers for them all.

The serving girl took the coppers and then left with a rather sour look on her face.

“I think you’re losing your touch there, Rickon,” teased Wyatt

“Oh, I could sleep with her if I bloody wanted to,” dismissed

“I’d like to see you try,” challenged Edmyn

“Only so you’d know what to do,” answered Rickon in kind.

“Surely I’m not the only one at this table who has any restraint,” snorted Edmyn.

“Restraint?! I’d call that bloody madness, am I right?” prompted

Edmure, who’d only ever gotten one sloppy kiss in nodded his head, if only to not stand out as being the only one besides Edmyn who hadn’t.

“Even you Durran? With you betrothed to Princess Rhaenys?” questioned Edmyn.

“I’d hate to think what my cousin would of that,” teased Lewyn.

“Considering she was with me at the time,” announced Durran

“You didn’t!” exclaimed Rickon—almost proudly.

“I’ve been set to wed her since before I was born… seven hells, I’ve been married to her in everything but name, what does it matter if I swim her narrow sea a little before we say a few words,” admitted Durran with a laugh.

“Well done!” toasted Rickon.

Edmyn looked rather shocked, “I’m really the only one?”

Edmure noticed that everyone but Rickon wasn’t eager to answer him. In response Edmyn guzzled down the rest of his beer.

“Oh cheer up Edmyn, you’ve still got time to catch up…” and then with a devilish wink to the rest of them, “Why, you could even do it tonight?”

The lark which Rickon was starting was eagerly supported by Prince Durran—the two of them having long hoped to get Edmyn drunk enough on one of these nights to do something which they could hang over the head of the otherwise extremely honorable eyass.

“I could?”

“Aye…" snickered Rickon before getting a hold of himself and suggesting more suavely, "Now when that serving girl comes round again, why don’t you leave with her… tell her how you want to apologize for your friend’s rude behavior… woo her with your iron honor… if you can’t get under her skirts with that, then there’ll be no hope for you.” Throughout this, Durran signaled for the serving girl to return with her pitcher.


Edmyn seemed slightly dazed but nodded and did as he was bid to do. Rickon couldn’t contain himself

“That’s a rather mean trick,” muttered Wylbert as he stared into his drink.

“Oh come on, ten to one he gets slapped and we get something to hold over his overly honorable head,” protested Rickon.


"Last time you tried that tactic, that's how it went," added Brandon Glover, Rickon's other shadow besides Black Fang. Rickon gave the giggling Glover a dirty look before getting up to get a better view of where Edmyn and the serving girl were getting off to without leaving the room.

“Let’s talk about what we’re going to do about Hill,” insisted Durran.

“What about him? We leave in a few months and never have to hear about his sorry ass again,” mumbled Wyatt.

“I was thinking we could pull a prank,” announced Durran.

“Sure, pull one now and then I have to deal with him when you lot leave,” grumbled Tris before he took another swig.

“Ser Brynden caught us the last time,” countered Harwood.

“We’ll be more careful this time,” rebounded Durran.

“How so?” asked Lewyn.

“If we think he’s bad, then surely the younger ones must think he’s even worse…” suggested Durran with a sly smirk.

“They’ll crack and say it was our idea,” dismissed Edmure.

“No, if they crack, it’ll only come back on me,” assured Durran.

“You going to meet with them alone then?” asked Lewyn.

Durran then said, “Aye, all I need you to do is to catch some fish…”

“I’ll be damned… our little eyass has lost his downy feathers and is taking flight!” exclaimed Rickon with a howl of laughter from across the room. Edmure, feeling rather guilty chugged the rest of his beer to drown his conscience—all the rest at the table joining him after a long awkward shared stare.

Chapter Text

AXEL

No one knew the Red Keep as well as Axel—of that he was quite sure.

“Axel Tully! Stop where you are this instant!” called out the panting Dornish maester Davyd whom Axel was putting greater and greater distance between. Axel ducked down a hallway he knew that the servants particularly liked to use and was thankful to see a few ladies and man servants coming up its passageway from the bowels of the Red Keep carrying large awkward loads of laundry, carpets, bushels of wood, and other various assortments. At just seven namedays he was the perfect height to slip under, around, or through the servants—delaying his tutor. It wasn’t that Axel didn’t want to learn—to the contrary he enjoyed his lessons well enough, but Prince Edrick was practicing in the training yard in preparation for journeying to Oldstones, and Axel never missed the opportunity to watch that if he could—lessons could wait. His mother, Princess Elia and father, Lord Hoster, didn’t want him practicing with a wooden sword or spear.

“The future Grandmaester of the Seven Kingdoms doesn’t need to know how to swing a sword,” his father had always said when he begged to be allowed to train, even if it wasn’t with Prince Edrick—Axel would have settled for training with Prince Lyonel who was one nameday younger than him—though already taller than Axel.

As far as Axel was concerned the Seven Kingdoms already had a Grandmaester—Gormon, a man who Axel admired and thought greatly of and who as far as Axel was concerned could stay Grandmaester for all eternity. No, ever since Axel had learned to read more than a few words at a time he’d sneaked into the White Sword Tower and begun to read the book of past members of the Kingsguard when no one was around, he’d known what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be the Lord Commander of Durran’s Kingsguard. And to think he’d never have thought about such an opportunity if he hadn’t been exploring a different passageway hidden behind an old thick cloth that was draped over it. He’d immediately run down it, determined that he would know all the secrets of the Red Keep and had arrived there in the White Sword Tower completely by accident. He was about to leave when he noticed the book lay open on the table—curious he’d crossed over and read it. Apparently Lord Commander Selmy had been making a note on Ser Ulwyk’s page about how he’d defended Rhaenys and Roslin—so that Roslin could see her betrothed Lyam Margate—on the streets of Rosby from an attacker wearing the argent circle of those who believed in the Faith of the One who’d concealed a knife in a loaf of bread and pulled it out in the middle of the market, claiming vengeance for Septon Hesse.

Anything that had to do with Rhaenys was boring, Axel had decided long ago, and he turned back the pages, eventually coming to that of Ser Duncan the Tall… who had quite a lengthy couple of pages devoted to him. Axel had recalled fondly perusing the pages with great pleasure of a knight who’d risen from nothing to take to squire a Prince of the Iron Throne and become that Prince’s Lord Commander in time. He’d demanded from Alysa his Riverlands nursemaid, to hear every story she knew about Ser Duncan, and he’d been happily obliged with many folk tales of the adventures of a hedge knight named Dunk and his squire known as Egg. So much so that he too longed to be some hedge knight’s squire, traveling Westeros, righting wrongs, doing rights, helping the smallfolk as best he could, and so his dreams had begun.

Rhaenys had laughed when he told her once, saying that Westeros was much changed from what it had been. But Axel doubted that—after all, if Maester Davyd could be trusted, not much had changed about Westeros for many millennia until the dragons came.

He knew that if he wanted the best view of the training yards he’d have to climb onto a secret veranda that only he knew of, but that required being up a floor from where he was currently. Seeing one of the many fake windows in the Red Keep, Axel smiled as he climbed up the column next to it and then pushed open and slipped through the fake window into a parallel corridor that held a secret stairs. He jumped down like a cat and then scampered along the corridor At a distance he could hear Maester Davyd’s cries for him grow fainter and fainter. Up the stairs he went—round and round until he came to a real window this time that let him out onto a ledge overlooking the courtyard. Up in the sky, shimmering brightly was that bleeding star everyone made such a fuss about for days and days. Axel didn't know what was so special about it—it looked rather boring to him. The ledge was as wide as a man grown’s foot, and so was the perfect size for Axel to sit upon. It was his secret veranda as he liked to call it, and sometimes when he was mad or angry with Rhaenys he’d some here and watch the sun set behind the towers and suddenly any anger or frustration he felt didn’t matter anymore. How could it when the world was just so beautiful? After sitting upon the ledge he saw what he’d come for, Princes Edrick and Lyonel receiving their lessons while Princess Elenei—who was the same age as Axel—watched on sitting at the fence. She was scrubby looking half the time and had her black hair cut short like a boy’s but there was no mistaking the wolf and stag emblazoned upon her vest.

“Come on Lyonel you’re just as big as he is!” cheered Elenei with a whoop as Lyonel raised his wooden shield to block his brother’s attack.

Lyonel might have nearly been as big as his elder brother Prince Edrick, but Prince Edrick had more years of training on him, and the two met wooden swords rather quickly, with Ser Aron Santagar correcting their form here and there. Also watching languidly was Ser Mark of the Kingsguard, who occasionally through in his two bits as well. Axel wanted to cheer on as well, but he wasn’t sure who to cheer—and besides if he drew any attention to where he was he’d get in trouble for sure. He was three stories up after all, no one ever bothered looking up here. After watching the match for a few minutes it became clear that something was off about Lyonel today, and Edrick would win easy victories.

Boring… why must the Red Keep be so boring?

It was then that he heard music begin to strum, distracting him and Prince Edrick it seemed. With some curiosity, Axel stood up and then skillfully shimmied his way along the ledge as it made its way about the crevices of the tower until at last he came to a corner which allowed him to see that his sister, Rhaenys was out on her own veranda overlooking the courtyard with her ladies in waiting, Princess Lyarra, and Queen Anaesysa to keep her company as they drank wine and ate fruits—all of them girls either near her age or not too much younger—the youngest being Lady Olenna the younger—youngest daughter to Lord Mace Tyrell. On the edge of the veranda, always keeping a watch on Rhaenys was her sworn spear and his cousin Obara Sand. Axel instantly saw the source of the music: Lady Cassana Baratheon was playing on her high harp a lovely but sad song. She was accompanied by Lady Olenna on a flute, and his cousin Tyene Sand on a pipes. Thinking the introduction sounded hauntingly promising, Axel took a seat on the ledge to listen.

Cassana began to sing.

“There were three ravens sat on a tree,
Down a down hey down hey down.
And they were as black as they might be,
With a down.
Then one of them said to his mate:
"Where shall we our dinner take?"
With a down derry derry derry down down.


From down in the courtyard Axel heard wood clattering against the stone ground.

“Pay attention Edrick!” called out Ser Mark.

“Go for it Lyonel!” cheered Elenei.

Rhaenys, who was deep in conversation with Queen Anaesysa—they might have been sisters the way they acted—giggled to each other about something—no doubt stupid.

Seemingly oblivious to all this commotion, Cassana continued.

“Down in yonder greenfield,
Down a down hey down hey down.
There lies a knight slain under his shield;
With a down.”


“Ow!” howled Lyonel.

“His hounds they lie down at his feet,
So well they can their master keep.
With a down derry derry derry down down.”


“That’s a dirty trick Edrick! Boo!” called Elenei.

“His falcons fly so eagerly,
Down a down hey down hey down.
There is no fowl dare come him nigh
With a down.”


And then the oddest thing seemed to happen to Cassana as she stopped in the midst of the song, attracting the attention of her fellow musicians and other ladies. Princess Lyarra rose and approached Cassana. Then upon the slightest touch, Cassana continued as if nothing had happened.

“But down there comes a fallow doe,
As great with young as she might go.
With a down derry derry derry down down.”

Tyene and Olenna looked slightly confused but caught up to Cassana’s playing.

“O she lifts up his bloody head,
Down a down hey down hey down.
And kissed his wounds that were so red.
With a down.”


This song wasn’t to his liking anymore. It’d started out promising, with three ravens talking about how they’d eat a dead knight, but now it was starting to get sad, and Axel didn’t like sad songs.

“She got him up upon her back
And carried him to an earthen lake.
With a down derry derry derry down down.”


Axel hummed to himself, “And then the ravens flew down and ate him up…”

Cassana continued on, seeming to have attracted the stronger attention

“She buried him before the prime,
Down a down hey down hey down.
She was dead herself ere evensong time.
With a down—”

He couldn’t stand it anymore, it was far too sad.

“Oh play something with more cheer!” called out Axel.

The next instant he had all of the ladies’ eyes upon him, stopping the song completely.

“Axel! Get down from there!” called out Rhaenys with a scowl.

“I’ll get him,” offered his cousin Obara.

“If our lady mother could see your foolishness now!” scolded Rhaenys.

“I’m sure the little lord meant no harm,” assured Queen Anaesysa with an amused smile and silkily accented voice.

“And it’s not the first time he’s been climbing the walls, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing by now,” reminded Princess Lyarra with a sly wink to Axel. He liked her.

“Our mother’s in that chair because she fell from such a height!” continued Rhaenys.

“I’m coming,” groaned Axel as he shimmied to where the ledge hung over the veranda. Obara at this point reached up to grab him and pull him down.

“I can get down myself,” he called out to his strong almost mannish looking cousin.

“Lyonel! To the right, he’s unguarded there!” called out Elenei.

Obara stopped and pulled back her arms, crossing them as if wanting to see him do what he claimed—which he quite easily did, landing on his feet after a little jump, startling the dozing Lady Roslin.

“Beautiful playing, Cass, beautiful,” assured Roslin as if afraid she’d been neglectful.

“Thank you, Ros,” answered Cassana sweetly as she strum her harp through arpeggios—having lost track of the song, before then turning to Axel and asking, “And what didn’t you like about my song, little one?”

“I’m not that little,” complained Axel.

“Aye, of course not, why you’re almost as big as Olenna,” said Lady Aelinor with a bright smile.

Axel returned Aelinor’s smile before turning back to Cassana and saying, “A sad song is best for winter, not summer.”

“But winter is coming… we’ve had the white raven from the Citadel,” interjected Princess Lyarra.

Mayhaps he didn’t like Princess Lyarra so much after all.

“Lady Aelinor, is it cold?” appealed Axel.

“The white raven’s come, there’s no denying that the Long Summer is coming to an end,” scoffed Rhaenys.

“Nay, it is rather hot, if I say so,” assured Aelinor as she pretended to fan herself

“And what do you say, your grace?” asked Axel to the Tyroshi Queen.

“That in all my life I cannot recall a hotter day!” she laughed in response.

“What say you, cuz?” questioned Axel as he then took hold of sweet cousin Tyene.

“We wouldn’t be eating fruit and drinking chilled wine were it not so hot,” supported Tyene with a sweet smile.

“Then it is not winter. It will come,” he assured Princess Lyarra with a smile that she returned, and then he turned back to Lady Cassana, “But not today, so no more sad songs, Lady Cassana.”

“He’s so proper,” whispered Queen Anaesysa, as though he couldn’t hear what was said behind his back.

“Our mother,” whispered back Rhaenys to the Tyroshi Queen—equally assuming he was deaf simply because he didn’t face her.

“What would you have me play then?” asked Lady Cassana with an oddly serene smile.

If the Red Keep couldn’t keep him entertained, he’d make his own fun.

Axel smiled and then whispered the dance he wished her to play in her ear. Conspiratorially Cassana smirked and then began to play a quick set of scales as she caught Lady Olenna’s eye. Axel then turned to the Tyroshi Queen and with a bow asked if she would care to dance with him. Rhaenys frowned, while several of the other ladies giggled. The Tyroshi Queen, a dark haired beauty with skin a slightly darker shade than Rhaenys’, accepted, and Axel called out to the other ladies to join the dance. Lady Aelinor was quick to her feet, as was Lady Roslin, and Princess Lyarra made five for their circle. Rhaenys stubbornly sat in her chair, her arms crossed and eyes narrowed, but she often did that when Axel tried to make things fun. The flute and pipes soon joined Cassana’s harp, and Axel began the circle dance, three steps to the right, three to the left, kick front, kick back, and then a clap. Then they turned about, weaved, clapping hands with the partners you passed, then on the second person you passed you grabbed the hands of your new partner and circled around twice and stopped to reform the circle. Since Rhaenys was being stubborn—like always—they were one partner short, so Axel spun himself around, and so it went on, thrice more repeating the same steps.

It all was going so well, with the ladies all laughing and merry until Rhaenys grabbed him on the fourth go around and pulled him out of the circle and grabbing his wrist drug him off the veranda, through her compartments, and down the corridor.

“My Princess?” called Lady Aelinor after them, but Axel knew that Rhaenys wouldn’t wait for anyone now.

“Why do you have to always butt in where you’re not wanted?” grumbled Rhaenys as they rushed down the corridor, passing guards who were too used to seeing Rhaenys drag him along like this to stop her.

“You’re holding my wrist too tight!” complained Axel, knowing if she let up just a little bit he’d be able to escape. She held tighter as they turned the corner and went down another corridor, and then Axel knew exactly where they were going, and he didn’t mind so much

They came at last to the guarded door where their lady mother held business as the Lady Diplomat of the realm.

Rhaenys gave a dark look to Laerys, a dragonseed guard, “Let me pass.”

Laerys blocked their path, “My princess… the Princess dowager is in conference and gave strict orders not to be disturbed”

“In a few moons I shall be wedded and crowned Laerys, and I shall take precedent over my mother… including overseeing her household,” reminded Rhaenys, and the dragonseed guard's eyes narrowed.

Boring…

The guard frowned and then grumbled, “All right, but I didn’t let up easy.”

“Aye, you didn’t,” snapped Rhaenys as the guard stood aside and Rhaenys forced open the door.

Once the doors were open, Axel broke free from his sister’s grip and ran immediately to his mother, jumping up onto her big round lap and hugging his arms tightly about her neck.

He shocked his mother, he could tell from how she nearly jumped in her chair, but as he clung to her large round body and felt her fleshy arms then encircle him, Axel knew he was safe and that she’d protect him.

“Forgive me mother, but Axel was climbing the walls again,” began Rhaenys.

“Rhaenys is being stupid,” whispered Axel into his mother’s ear.

His mother did not respond, instead Axel heard someone rise from a chair with a little laugh, Axel turned to see a tall man who looked as if he might’ve been a dragonseed, but he was dressed all in white. He was tall, thin of face, shimmering lilac eyes, and long white-gold hair that came down to the middle of his back that had been braided into a complex series of braids that looked at once deceivingly simple and yet manly. He wore a pure white doublet and trousers, and for all Axel knew likely wore white boots to match. Rhaenys tried hard not to stare at him.

“It appears our meeting is over, Princess, for family duty calls,” teased the man with an easy smile.

“Indeed… again convey my regrets to your mother’s poor health Oraen. And I’ll be sure to send provisions to the manse”

“You are as kind as you are beautiful.”

Mother scolded him as if he were his brother, saying, “Words are wind and flattery is cheap. Do keep that in mind.”

“But when spoken truly still mean just as much my Princess,” said the Oraen man with a bow and a kiss of her free hand.

Oraen then passed Rhaenys, gave the same sweeping bow and kiss of her hand, which Rhaenys accepted with a small blush before he left the room. The doors closed behind him.

With an exasperated sigh, mother asked, “Now what is all this fuss about? I try and work for only one afternoon an already you’re at each other’s throats.”

“He escaped from his maester.”

“Did you, Axel?” questioned his mother with a discerning eye.

“Aye… but he was being boring…” explained Axel with a nuzzle to his mother’s shoulder. He knew just exactly how to ease mother’s heart.

She grabbed his wrist just like Rhaenys had and then scolded him by pointing a fat finger at him, “None of that Axel Tully! That was wrong of you. You will find and apologize to Maester Davyd after we are through here.”

Knowing that his usual trick wasn’t going to work to win the battle this time, Axel pouted and said, “Yes, mama.”

“Good. Now tell me, exactly what you did to upset your sister so.”

Well there was still room to win the war. Rhaenys groaned.

Their mother turned to face Rhaenys then and said rather testily, “Don’t think disturbing me while I’m conducting the King’s business is going to go unpunished by me, Rhaenys. You’re a woman grown, and of the blood royal—act like it for once.”

Rhaenys, embarrassed, curtsied low and held the position.

Axel began, “Well, I was only watching Prince Edrick and Prince Lyonel fight.”

His mother sighed, “Again? One would think you’d search out new persons to spy on their sparring.”

“If I could fight myself…” he proffered.

“Your father—” began his mother.

“Please mama…” begged Axel for the millionth time. He knew the likelihood was small at best, but mayhaps if he just kept trying it would work one time.

With an oddly sly smile she said, “I’ll consider it, but you would have to attend all your lessons with Maester Davyd and finish them to their completion for a moon at least, before I do.”

That was unexpected, but much more than he’d hoped. He hugged his mother’s big fat neck and placed a kiss on her cheek, promising her that he would. Rhaenys grumbled, but Axel cared not.

“Continue on, Axel…” urged his mother.

“And then Rhaenys had Lady Cassana play a sad song… far too sad.”

“What song?” asked mother to Rhaenys, who then stood and replied, “The Three Ravens, by Ravenscroft.”

Recognizing the name, Axel saw his mother roll her eyes and grumble, “The age is all mad for melancholy.”

“Exactly so!” agreed Axel, though not knowing exactly what he was agreeing to. He then added, “All I did was convince her to play a dance and I asked all the ladies to dance—I even asked Queen Anaesysa first as befitting her station.”

“That was quite proper, but did you ask your sister?”

Axel shook his head and said, “No… she never wants to dance with anyone, ever.”

“I do too dance, but you interrupted us and stole all my ladies from me! How am I ever to hold court if you always steal my ladies?!”

At this his mother let out a big belly laugh that shook her entire fat body, and Axel knew he’d won.

“Gods… sometimes you two remind me…” began his mother but she stopped herself as if whatever it was that they reminded her of, it pained her so.

“Mama?” asked Axel.

Looking at him rather sadly, his mother urged, “Go apologize to Maester Davyd, Axel, and after that continue with your lessons. You want to learn to fight do you not?”

And eagerly Axel gave his mother one more kiss before rushing out of the room. Now the only question was where to find Maester Davyd.

Chapter Text

RENLY

It was a glorious wedding to behold. He’d worried that Lady Margaery might find his new doublet that he wore a bit plain—she was well known for her fashionable taste, and he would not have her think him shabby. Ser Brandon had assured him that he was smart to go with the plain cloth of gold and not the slit golden velvet that would have shown off his black silk shirt that he’d accidentally spilled a few drops of wine on during one of Stannis’ visits. Ser Brandon said that you couldn’t see the three tiny specks of wine that stained the shirt—but Renly knew they were there. He had been tempted to throw the shirt away, but then he recalled Stannis’ frown on waste…and besides the shirt was from Volantis—or at least the cloth was.

But Ser Brandon had been right the cloth of gold had worked better, and besides he was a Lord of the Marches—a little bit of rough hewn look was to be expected. The marriage ceremony had gone quickly—very quickly, and Renly wondered if that was to assist Robert from not falling asleep through it—he’d certainly nodded off at a few points, much to the distaste of the Queen, his wife—who’d elbowed him more and a few times during the Septon’s droning in Summerhall’s Sept.

Margaery was of course lovely, dressed in a long green-gold gown with a maidencloak that interwove real yellow roses with vines tacked delicately onto a light green wool. It was an utterly elaborate choice that made Renly briefly regret the cloth of gold cape with a sable crowned stag embroidered upon it, but the smile he’d received as she’d approached the septon as they met between the statues of the maiden and the warrior, him standing on the warrior’s side, and she the maiden’s had dismissed any regrets he held. But that had not been what had drawn Renly’s attention—instead it was the man escorting her to him. When Renly had been told that Lord Mace would be unable to attend due to troubles in Oldtown requiring his attention, and that her brother Loras would be giving her to him, Renly had thought it a slight—especially with Robert and Stannis going out of their way to make a point of attending. But now Renly was rather glad to be seeing this beautiful youth escorting his equally lovely sister to him. He vaguely recalled Loras Tyrell as a child—a grubby-nosed child or so he’d thought at the time. Time had made both rather beautiful now that Lady Margaery was a woman grown and her elder brother a man… he could not take his eyes off of them they seemed so well matched. And he held his sister’s arm so proudly, and she seemed happy to be on his.

T’would be a shame to part them…

He could use a Master at Arms… Ser Brandon had been bugging him to appoint someone ever since Old Ser Taran Dondarrion—a dear friend of his Great Uncle Harbert and a war veteran who had served on many a campaign with him—had passed on not but a moon prior, having grown visibly more disheartened since news of Harbert’s death had arrived from Bloodstone only a year passed. Ser Brandon had been placated for the nonce with a promise that Renly would consider the matter when he had wed and his mind was clear from all the preparation that had gone into the wedding. It would be a fitting thing for his wife to have one of her kinsman near her. After all, the two had been inseparable when younger, Renly recalled.

The ceremony went by in a blur after that, and soon he was beside his wife feasting in his large spacious Great Hall. It was really with the Great Hall that you could admire the building. While a great deal of the walls were from the original building, the floor was entirely new, and Stannis had gone out of his way to be sure to mine stone from the same quarry that had built the first Great Hall, so as to match the old and the new sections. New additions were added with seven simple columns on either side of the hall—most framing a doorway to an antechamber or leading out to the corridor through which the rest of the rebuilt palace could be accessed.

But what Renly loved the most about Summerhall were the large windows that adorned it in an East to West manner which allowed one to watch as the sun rose and set each day. Especially in the evenings like now, the light shone through the windows in just such a way that made the otherwise drab stone give off a calming glow that didn’t actually exist, but it was still a sight to behold.

He danced several dances with his wife, all of them quite proper in nature as they weaved in and out of the lines that made up the dance. When it came time for a twelfth, his young wife was eager for another go-around, while all Renly wanted to do was sit down for a moment. Seeming to sense this, his new goodbrother swooped in and offered to be his sister’s partner, allowing Renly the opportunity to catch his breath and watch. As he did, he smiled to see his newly plucked rose smile happily as the circle split in half into an inner and outer circle and the dance steps became even more complicated as partners grabbed hands, swung each other around, or skipped around one another in an order Renly wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to completely memorize, but he watched eager to do so. As Loras lifted his sister into the air, Renly took note of Loras’ hands just above Margaery’s hips. For an instant he was fascinated by those hands—that at once seemed callused and yet delicate all the same.

For a mad instant, he wondered what it would feel to have those hands against his skin.

Robert, thankfully at that point approached him, a half-filled goblet full of wine in his hand. “Renly, I know it’s your wedding, but I was wondering if we could speak a little for a moment… in private.”

Glad of the excuse to think of anything else but those hands, Renly rose and led his eldest brother out of the great hall and into one of the side chambers. Renly pulled up a chair for his brother. Robert, while a far cry from the warrior he had been that Renly remembered, looked a little out of shape. He wasn’t fat, but Renly could tell he’d become lazy with peace, and put on a little bit of a muscle gut as Ser Brandon called it, for warriors who had let themselves go a little soft, but not completely let themselves go.

“To think this was all but rubble beneath my feet once,” said Robert as he looked around the room as the sunset lit it up.

“Stannis knew how to build well, and build fast,” offered Renly as he leaned against the cold hearth.

“Aye and all on my coin of course,” grumbled Robert as he took another sip of wine. “Tis a shame you won’t have the time to enjoy it.”

“I’m sure my new wife won’t keep me so busy…”

Robert smirked and said, “Nervous about the bedding? Why? It’s not like it isn’t something you haven’t done before.”

“Actually…” began Renly, but the words died in his mouth before he could say them. After all, his brother had four bastards himself—one of which had nearly ruined his marriage until he’d sent little Barra to be raised by their Great Uncle Harbert on Bloodstone.

Robert looked at him in disbelief, “You mean to say that you haven’t fucked a wench yet?”

Renly blushed and shook his head.

“Gods, I let Stannis have too much a free hand in raising you.” Robert then drained his goblet and placed it on the table with a decided clank.

“Mayhaps I should wait until you’re more of a man to ask you to be my Hand.”

“You want me to be Hand of the King? What of Lord Hoster?”

“He’s getting too sick and old for the job these days. For some reason I seem to run my small council members ragged… first Lord Qarlton, now Hoster…”

“Why me?”

Robert almost looked offended that Renly felt the need to ask, but he gave his reason nonetheless.

“Because you’re my brother Renly.”

Were he still a child, Renly might have been satisfied with that. But Stannis and Ser Brandon had taught him better. The world was not a place full of such simple answers as that.

“Stannis is just as much our brother and already a member of the council… and Lords Eddard and Denys are your brothers in all but blood.”

Robert frowned, and with a bit of bluster admitted, “You want to know the truth Renly? Fine. I asked them before you—yes, I even asked Stannis… none of them wanted the job. Ned said the answer was the same as it was during the war, Denys said he has enough issues in the Vale with the Mountain Clans to deal with, and Stannis… well you know how he’s been since his wife died. He’s hardly left Storm’s End since the end of the bloody war… barely even showed up to the capital to be Master of Ships. Gods, I’d have thought he’d married again by now, at least to secure his seat better than he has.”

“He has more than enough heirs,” countered Renly, happily thinking on his three nieces and the plain honest cheer of his nephew Ormund.

“One heir, and three girls, unless of course you’re aiming for Storm’s End for yourself if the time should ever come…” said Robert, his beady eyes narrowing in slight suspicion.

Robert was really drunk to even suggest that he would ever consider such a thing. True, he longed at times to see and smell the familiar sights of Storm’s End, but he’d never seize his brother or nephew’s rights. As Ser Brandon was always apt to point out he gods—both old and new—would forsake him if he ever broke his vows, and he took his vows of loyalty to Stannis and his blood quite seriously.

“That’s Ormund’s right and Cassana’s after him,” Renly said gravely with a frown.

Robert chortled, “Although there are exceptions—my she-wolf being one of them—a woman’s not really fit to hold a castle…least of all that melancholy niece of ours.”

Renly frowned, rather upset at Robert’s description of Cassana, nothing from her letters to him ever indicated that she was terribly unhappy, but in her defense he said, “She’s had more than enough in her life to be sad about.”

“Aye, with Stannis for a father it’s a wonder she doesn’t grind her teeth,” chortled Robert before saying, “Be my hand Renly,

“You do our brother disservice speaking of him so,” grumbled Renly.

“And I would remind you that you are speaking to your King,” replied Robert, just as moodily. Renly kept his stare firm and strong, not backing down to his brother in the least, and just as quickly as his foul mood had flashed before his face, like the lightning it dissipated as he said, “Gods, now you sound like Ned… I’m just talking Renly, that’s all… just a little brotherly commiseration is all.” Robert then asked, “Do you accept?”

“I don’t know am I man enough for such a position?” questioned Renly of his drunken brother.

At this Robert burst out laughing, “If you have the balls to challenge your sovereign and not back down, you’re man enough. Though… you’ll be a man soon in other ways as well…”

And suddenly Renly was uncomfortably aware of just how long Robert’s grip on his shoulder was lasting.

“I envy you Renly… such a woman… not that Lya isn’t … but such a woman that you’re getting… and you don’t know the first thing to do with her… such a shame…” lamented Robert.

Renly scowled slightly, resenting the idea that he didn’t know what to do with a woman simply because he hadn’t slept with one before. He simply just hadn’t had the inclination to sleep with a woman—that was all. And the idea of spreading his seed around after he’d seen the way Queen Lyanna had reacted to the discovering of Barra, well, that had been even more argument against the idea as far as Renly was concerned.

“Smile Renly, you’re soon to be a married man,” boomed Robert as he patted him on the back and escorted him back to the hall and held up his arms and with a wide grin called out, “No Wedding’s complete without a bedding!”

And then with a hard shove Robert pushed Renly out into the crowd with a booming laugh and said “Have at him, ladies!”

Caught completely off guard, Renly was shocked to find that he was now the center of attention for many women who began to unpin, unbuckle, strip, rub, pinch, and stroke him with their teases. Remembering Ser Brandon’s words uttered long ago about how to meet an enemy—steel for steel—and not shield for steel, Renly began responding with his own japes.

“So this fawn has finally grown his antlers then?” japed Lady Fyona Morrigen, Ser Brandon’s sister, when he rebuffed their jest about his ass being clenched tight enough to show his bones.

“Twelve points, if I do say so myself,” returned Renly with as easy a smile as he dared give them.

By this point he was down to his small clothes, and Lady Mery japed, “I’d say more like six but he’s a young one yet, and there’s plenty of time to grow!”

The other ladies howled with laughter as they then dragged him out of the Great Hall and down the great stone corridor that led to the personal wing of the newly built Summerhall. The air was cool for a late summer afternoon, making his near naked body break out in goose pimples as he was led to the bridal chamber, where he was tossed in, one lady sneaking a kiss on his cheek and another a hard slap on his ass before departing.

Renly’s smile faded once the door was closed as he breathed a sigh of relief. Gods he hadn’t known women to be so… well… forward. From what he’d seen, it always been Robert or any of the men who’d start dalliances with ladies. What if his wife was like that? That thought made him nervous, so he sat down on the bed. No that was a bad idea… his bottom was still a little sore from the slap.

Gods what am I going to do?

Just then the door opened again and the company of men who carried his wife upon their shoulders tossed a seemingly more clothed version of his wife—left with her petticoat and corset still on—into his arms. He stumbled, nearly falling to the ground catching her, but he managed to regain his balance. His answer as to why she was decidedly more dressed than he was answered when his eyes locked with those of his goodbrother, who had his hand on the hilt of his sword. The strong and fierce determination in Loras’ eyes made Renly feel he might drop to his knees after all.

“Come on, you’ve done your part, now back to the Great Hall with all of you,” barked Loras.

The easy confidence which he ordered about the men who were far older than he by at the very least a decade was undeniably alluring.

“Oh don’t be too harsh with them, Loras, they were quite the gentlemen,” cooed his wife.

“Knight or no, I’ll not be ordered around by some pipsqueak boy,” grumbled Ser Stane, one of Renly’s direct bannermen who was a giant bulking man of the mountains, pushing Loras through the door as if he were but a butterfly easily swatted away.

Renly set his wife down upon then bed and then with all the muster a man in his smallclothes could gather he called out, “You quite forget yourself, Ser Stane! That is my wife’s kin you are speaking to, show the lad a little more respect.”

Ser Stane snorted and departed, closing the door behind him.

“Thank you my lord husband, I fear Loras has always been rather protective of me that it makes him forget his limitations,” she said with a voice as sweet as honey.

Turning around and staring as his wife untied and allowed her petticoat to fall to the floor, he was treated to the sight of long almost slender legs.

Gathering a second wind of authority, though tempering it with a smile, Renly said, “Renly… we are man and wife now… and I’d have you call me by my name…”

“Of course, Renly… and you may call me Margaery. Could you help me with my laces? I’m afraid I’m a tightly wrapped gift that you must carefully unwrap,” smirked his nubile young wife as she stood, held her long flowing honey brown hair over her shoulder, turned around and exposed her backside to him which showed her straight laced corset.

Nervous, Renly gulped and stepped forward, fumbling with the laces as his hands shook. They felt like gigantic paws that were too large to be of much use for this. Slowly he began to see the pattern and very slowly began to loosen the corset.

“Is something troubling you Renly?” asked Margaery quite innocently as he approached the halfway point.

“What would bother me?” repeated Renly, although his nervousness was quite evident in his voice.

“I don’t know, mayhaps it has something to do with your conversation with the King?"

He stopped unlacing her for a brief instant—thinking that she had just given him a way out rather too neatly.

“Aye… my brother wanted to ask me something.”

“A position on his small council mayhaps?”

Either she had a very keen mind or she had been eavesdropping—and considering that he’d have heard about the latter at some point from Lady Fyona… gods a wife with a mind. What else should he have expected from marrying The Queen of Thorns’ granddaughter.

As he tried to start up unlacing her, she swatted his clumsy hands away with her small ones and turned around to face him, “I can slide out of it from here. Speak to me about what your brother said… since it’s obviously bothering you."

“I wouldn’t say it's bothering me," he countered as he reached out again for the very thin silk laces.

She took his hand with both of hers--gods it was small compared to his, and she met his eyes and said, “And I can say that from all that my mother and grandmother have told me, that a man who has something on his mind is far from able to perform well, and I would rather enjoy this night as much as I can.”

“Of… course,” said Renly, with a slight blush, and he figured sitting down would be a good place to start. As he sat on the bed the sting from the earlier slap he noticed had dissipated into a general numb feeling. As he sat down, Margaery let go of his hand and began slipping her corset down her body.

With a sigh, he admitted, “My brother wishes to make me Hand of the King."

“Hand of the King?” she asked, stopping as her corset passed her hips and fell to the floor, exposing her breasts to him.

“D--did I not speak plainly?” asked Renly, his eyes wide at seeing his wife's breasts, bare before him. Some small part of him seemed to tell him that this was wrong, while another was rather relieved to see that they were smaller than the corset had made them seem.

She stepped out of the corset and continued unlacing the thing as she said, “Nay, as clear as a summer’s day… did you accept?”

“Aye... but we can stay here at Summerhall for a little while yet, until we are... used to each other,” assured Renly.

Margaery paused for a moment, as if thinking of something before saying, "Aye... I suppose that should be the way of things."

His wife then dropped what remained of her small clothes, revealing her entire body to him completely. He simply stared at his wife, speechless.

"Let's say we begin getting used to each other sooner rather than later," she said as she straddled his lap and leaned into him for a deep long kiss. As he kissed her, he felt the invasion of her tongue into his mouth. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he felt the sharpness of stubble against his hands as he awkwardly brought them up against his lover's cheeks to run through his lover's hair.

Then the kiss was broken.

"I've always wanted to try that," she said with a little giggle, and Renly opened his eyes and was reminded that it was his wife sitting in his lap, and not another who never would--who never could. No. He was married... and it was time to put such curiosities away.

She gave him a little grin, that Renly returned though only as a mirror to her. It seemed to please her enough. She then quite lightly ran her fingers down his chest, lingering only slightly over his abs for the briefest of instances and then reached down between their legs and began to lightly knead the fabric of his smallclothes that were rapped around his sword. He growled involuntarily, and felt himself stiffen in her hands.

"These... have got to go," she purred.

"R--right..." he stuttered, his mind quickly becoming awash with sensations he hardly knew how to think through. They stood and he dropped his remaining smallclothes to the floor, unsheathing his sword. He let himself be led by her and her experimentations--no doubt the work of her mother and grandmother. Would his father have spoken to him of what to do? Mayhaps then it might be more pleasurable so that his mind wouldn't wander to places where it wasn't supposed to go.

But despite that, when he came into her castle he couldn't help but feel something was off about this entire situation.

Chapter Text


EURON

It was almost too easy. He twisted the older boy’s arm again.

“Yield it!” commanded Euron with a dark-eyed glare he’d learned could intimidate almost anybody but his mum. This time the boy’s grip loosened and Euron’s bag of coppers fell to the ground. In an instant he kneed the slightly bigger and fatter boy in the balls, swooped down to retrieve his bag of coppers and scurried down the muddy road on his ten nameday legs towards the castle. He zigged and he zagged through a few streets of the newly built Robert’s Port before he felt safe enough behind the tanner’s shop to check that all his coppers were still in the bag. Having a talent at counting things just by seeing them he saw he was missing one and thought to find the boy and twist out of him his last copper that was rightfully his until the bigger boy had swiped his bag from him. Euron then tied the bag securely and pulling back his moth eaten vest he tucked the bag of coppers under his blouse and felt it settle just above his belt. A squeal emanated from where the bag had landed and Salik, his brown seaferret pup stuck his pointed nose and tiny head out from under his blouse where he’d been sleeping. He felt Salik’s claws against his bare chest which was scratched up with plenty of red marks from Salik’s clinging—when anyone else saw them, he bragged about how they were scars from all the fights he’d gotten in and won—everyone believed him, except for mum.

“Now you show your face you ruddy coward,” grumbled Euron as if the dumb sleepy animal could understand him. In the old legends of the steps it was said that there were those who could know the mind of an animal—back before the Great Storm came and broke apart the Stepstones. Mum had said the first Trywynd had been known for the ability—but that was only his mother’s blood.

Salik growled a little and pulled his little head back inside and curled back up around Euron’s waist, allowing Euron to continue on towards home.

Supposedly it was said that he took after his father in looks, for whom his mother had named him. He’d died not long after he’d been born—fighting in the Storm of the Stag, as the war that had occurred about Euron’s birth had been called. His mother, the last of the Trywynds, had married his father as a way to firm his control over the Noble Ships of the Stepstones. Supposedly not long after marrying his mother and getting her big with him, he had sailed all the squabbling pirate houses of old into their greatest victory against the Westlands, well at least their greatest victory since the golden days. Long ago the Narrow Sea had been solely the domain of the Bloods, the Greys, the Shells, the Trywynds, the Greens, the Claws, the Donns, the Dreds, the Trymasses and all the ships of the old blood—those who had survived the Great Storm to live out their lives upon the Stepstones ever after. In the golden days the Old Noble Ships had held lands from the Stepstones all the way to the far North where it often snowed in summer, and as far east as the Basilisk Isles he’d heard. It had been a glorious age when the Narrow Sea was theirs and theirs alone. And then the Old Noble Ships had grown soft, greedy, and lazy—beginning to quarrel with one another. Younger ships who’d settled lands on the Westlands or amongst the Basilisk Isles turned traitor and joined with other Kings, abandoning the Stepstones to wars and feuding. And then had come the Ironstars—or Andals—who pillaged their holds, sunk many of their ships, and brought many an Old Noble Ship to its doom. New Noble Ships arose in the aftermath of the Storm of the Stars—the Mallys, the Dellahayes, the Skyttes, the Kidds, and Boneses all came from Ironstars who’d settled in the holds of the Old Noble Ships with whom they’d conquered or intermarried. The Old and New Ships warred with each other for many more years, none ever able to establish complete control over all the Stepstones… and then the dragons came—first from the east and later from the west. Both had tried and failed to hold the Stepstones with flame and wing—but failed. As Euron knew, only those with the blood of the Old Noble Ships could ever rule the Stepstones, though others like pears, whores, eyes, and tigers might try, they would never hold them for long. The Old Gods of the Sea and Sky always saw to the freedom of the Old and New Ships—so they would against the Stags, in time.

It was then that Euron came to the main street which led directly to the gates of the castle—without thinking he began to cross it. Just then he heard a shout and a whip snapped above his head.

“Out of the way urchin!”

And before he had had a chance to move again the whip snapped, this time coming in contact with his face, causing Euron to fall into the mud from shock. Salik stirred and scratched beneath his blouse, but soon settled.

“Stop!” called out a maiden’s voice. Euron looked up to see riding on a horse was a maiden with long hair of reddish-brown and ghost grey eyes, all dressed in red and grey. She looked ever so beautiful, and from what he could tell from the banner that flew at the head of their party she was a Bloodstone—the house which still claimed to have the blood of the Bloods who’d first settled this Stepstone all those centuries ago.

Again Euron heard the crack of the whip overhead, and he saw another rider, this one an older boy, nearly a man grown, black of hair and blue of eye ride up and glare at the man with a whip. He wore a leather doublet and trousers of sable and gold, with a little red trimming—there was noticeably more black than gold upon them. His banners were clear—that of a golden stag on a sable field with a red bend across it. On top of his short curly hair was a sable cap with a red feather sticking out of it, and behind him trailed a silk cloak with his banner upon it.

“My betrothed said for you to stop Ser Tryfare!” bellowed the stag with a glare as strong as the sea in a storm.

With pained difficulty the man said, “My pardon, Lord Goldstag, but somebody needs to teach these urchins harsh, or else they’ll never obey you.”

Lady Bloodstone by this point had dismounted her chestnut filly and approached Euron, who by now had to squint out one eye the pain on the side of his face was so bad. She bent over and taking out a red and grey silk cloth with the bleeding stone of the Bloodstones embroidered upon it wiped the side of his face that hurt so much.

“You’re bleeding, but it isn’t much,” tutted Lady Bloodstone almost affectionately. Euron felt his heartbeat quicken as he felt the lady’s touch upon his head.

“T—thank you,” mumbled Euron, as he took over holding the silken cloth against his head, their fingers briefly touching and Euron feeling his heart jumping in his throat as he did. He swallowed it back.

“Do you need help standing?” asked Lady Bloodstone kindly.

“N—no, my lady,” answered Euron as he then stood. He felt embarrassed all covered in mud and moth eaten clothes. Lady Bloodstone smiled and then returned to her horse, it was then that he recognized that she had left without her cloth. He rushed forward then with the cloth held out, but the Lady simply smiled as she saw him.

“Keep it,” called out Lady Bloodstone as she departed. Euron watched as she and the rest of the riding party continued down the street. He watched as Lord Robb Goldstag rode next to Lady Bloodstone as they crossed under the portcullis.

That Westland bastard doesn’t deserve her…

Salik, having remained hidden beneath his blouse poked his head out at this moment, curious by the smell of blood in the air. He climbed up onto Euron’s shoulders and positioned himself to lick at Euron’s wound while Euron stared at the silken cloth in his hand. He would cherish this above everything else. As he continued on his path he kept examining the cloth in an attempt to assure himself that it was truly real, accidentally knocking into a fat old man dressed in an unusually thick cloak as he did causing the man to topple over onto his back.

Salik screeched, returning to hide beneath Euron’s blouse where Euron now added the cloth to his collection of precious things as he then helped the old man up.

“Ahh… thank you my young man… I fear these old bones aren’t quite what they were.” The voice seemed rather high and wispy—even for an old man.

“It was my fault for not looking where I was going,” admitted Euron.

“Could you perhaps take me in the direction of the nearest inn? I fear my knowledge of this once sleepy little port is useless since the Westsails made landing…”

“My mum runs an inn, I could take you there.”

“Oh the Gods bless you child…”

And Euron escorted the old man with his walking stick down a series of side streets into the older section of the port by the harbor—a section of the town that he would have had to have pass in order to bump into him up near the castle—which put Euron on his guard. Under his shirt he felt Salik curl and kneaded his tiny claws on his webbed feet against Euron’s skin, as if to keep Euron aware. When they came to the door of the inn, they had to stand back as his mum kicked yet another drunken lout out. She dressed simply in a brown woolen dress with only a fisherman’s net used as a shawl to denote any hint of her Old Ship heritage. She mostly kept any talk of her Old Ship heritage quiet, with the shawl used only as a means of testing whether a patron was of Old Ship blood or not. She even had changed her name to the Widow Seas—the name which they were now calling babes born to an unmarried woman by order of the stags. She’d lost everything when father had died—a younger son of the New Ship of Syke pillaging and burning her hold and casting them out while he was still a babe at her teat to live as smallfolk.

“You got the coppers?” queried his mum upon seeing him.

“Aye, mum, and this old man is in need of a bed to sleep in.”

At this his mum’s eyes looked over the old man—widening just slightly for a moment before saying, “Come in venerable father and take a seat, your bones ‘pear ready to drop.”

The way his mum had emphasized venerable father, made him doubt she meant the term, he’d heard that tone often when addressing the new lordlings and knights which came through her inn, as if their fancy titles were but slips of old sailcloth—easily ripped and torn apart once met with a strong gale.

She led the old man to a room immediately, with Euron following hot on their heels and slipping inside before his mum could shut the door.

“Euron get out,” commanded his mum.

“No Aelysa, my business this time concerns him,” said the old man, whose voice sounded less wispy than it had before, as he pulled down his hood to reveal his grey bearded face under a bald head. The next instant the beard being removed to reveal it being a fake.

“My dealings with you do not concern him,” countered mum.

“Even if I come with gold dragons?” asked the fat man with a smirk. His mum looked torn in that instant.

“Gold dragons?” questioned Euron. He’d never seen a gold dragon before. Salik kneaded his tiny claws harder than before, scratching him, but Euron didn’t care.

The fat man pulled out a leather pouch which he then tossed at his mum’s feet. The pouch chinked upon hitting the ground, and Euron swooped to pick it up before mum could, opening it and peering inside to see a glitter of coins the color of the cloth of gold he’d seen Lord Goldstag wearing and the size of a walnut.

“You know the terms of the marriage contract and alliance I arranged between your father and your late husband, you agreed to them yourself. One of your children is to foster with Prince Daemon.”

“He is my only child!”

The fat man continued, “For which I give you the gold as a gift—not part of our agreement if you’ll recall. Is it my fault that your fool of a husband couldn’t have been more patient to give you more children? I told him to wait until Prince Daemon was old enough, but Euron had a mind of his own.”

Confused, Euron asked, “Mum?”

The old man then added, “It is not like you’ll never see the boy again, Aelysa. He’ll return to you a strong young man, able to sail a ship of his own.”

“He is all I have left…” replied his mum weakly.

“A sad fact, but this is best for him…"

"What would be best for him is staying with me!" declared his mum.

"In dirty moth-eaten clothes, and odd cuts and scrapes from god knows what? That is best for him?" challenged the fat man.

His mother looked rather distressed hearing this.

"Would you rather your son be a street urchin the rest of his life?” questioned the fat man further.

She answered, “If I could keep him, then aye.”

“Aye, you'll keep him all right... until the day he is caught stealing and he loses a hand or is hung," countered the fat man, who then added with an odd allure, "with Prince Daemon, he’ll want for nothing.”

His mum did not answer the fat man, instead she turned to Euron sighed, hugged him, and then took the bag of coins and left him in the room with the fat man, ignoring his confused calls.

Chapter Text

JUSTYN

 

Truth be told, had anyone told him what he’d live to witness occur at the turn of the century beforehand, he would not have believed them. How could that unsuspecting, trusting boy he’d been have ever known the horror that was to come?

 

Justyn had been born as the year 288 faded into memory, to his parents Mery and Jon in Oldtown. Preceding him by three years was an older sister named Besce, who like their father had a long face with high cheekbones, his watery blue eyes, and a pointed nose, but had their mother’s honey colored hair. Justyn, being the eldest son had the small round face and the tiny round nose of his mother, but with his father’s dark brown—almost black—hair and his watery blue eyes. As a young child he had grown up living just over his father’s glove shop to begin with, with his mother and sister. Those early days had been cramped and humble—but happy—Justyn still remembered them fondly.

 

Then after his nearly one nameday little sister Jeyne had returned to god and before Alys had been born, his father’s finances had suddenly and quite drastically improved. The War in the Stepstones was over and Justyn very vaguely recalled being bounced high among the crowds, cheers and celebration for the King’s victory in Oldtown—Besce remembered it better than his hazy memories gave him, and when he asked her if she remembered anything like that had told him what it had all been for. As Besce explained to him later, they had left living over the glove shop when money began flowing through the city as trade with the Free Cities was re-established with the defeat of the pirates of the Stepstones and the humbling of Tyrosh. Father had bought their second house on the High Street—which was just off the main street that led to the Hightower. It was there that later that year that Alys was born, followed not long thereafter by Aeric and Cella. But oddly enough father did not stay in their house on High Street many nights. Besce said that it was because he needed someone to look after the shop and he didn’t trust his apprentice who he thought a bit of a lazy lay-a-bout. There was one day and night he was guaranteed to be on High Street though—and that was on the Father’s Day. Each and every week on Father’s Day he came home—Justyn eagerly looking out the window from the second floor of their house to see him first, and rushing down steps and out the door to greet him when he did.

 

As he grew older he began to compare his few memories of before with the memories of the present and he began to notice other odd things—such as the odd curiosity that Mother often left the housework to Besce’s management while mother visited the shop frequently during the day. Why she should have occasion to see father so frequently wasn’t clear to Justyn, until the night before the trouble began.

 

The entire affair had been prompted by Justyn pouting on the early morn of a Mother’s Day when he begged his father to stay longer. When he’d been refused, he’d moped that he’d like to know exactly what it was that was so interesting about the shop that kept him from their family so often—claiming that he was more head of the family than him. For that rebuke Justyn had received a slap, but also a promise that if he thought himself old enough to act as head of the house while he was away, then he might be old enough to learn what exactly it was that kept him away from home so frequently. Nearly a moon passed before he was told upon his father’s arrival on Father’s day to pack a satchel with clothes and food for travel as they would be gone for a few days. Justyn wondered why he couldn’t just run home for food or clothes from the shop if need be, but he did what his father told him and kept his curiosity to himself. The following morn, Father kissed Mother goodbye as he was usual, then Besce, Alys, and Cella, followed by a fond tustling of Aeric’s golden brown hair before turning to him and telling him to follow.

 

They arrived at the shop not much later where father picked up his own satchel before locking the shop again, confusing Justyn greatly as they then continued down the road, eventually coming to the harbor. There, father paid a man for his small sailboat and together with Justyn they departed Oldtown that day, sailing up the Honeywine.Up and up the Honeywine they sailed Oldtown disappearing quicker than Justyn had thought.

 

“Where are we going?” he’d irritated his father.

 

“North,” was his father’s only reply as he manned the tiller.

 

“Do you always go North on the Honeywine then?” asked Justyn.

 

His father smirked and then answered, “No… I once went as far east as the Tolentine and as far south as the Arbor.”

 

Sometime during the day father taught him the basics of sailing—mentioning there was very little to know about how to sail beyond the points of sail and when to switch between them. It all was explained so fast and Justyn so excited for the opportunity to take the tiller and the main sail line in his hand that he nodded his head without fully understanding what his father said. Thankfully the river was wide, deep and had a lazy current to do battle with—and the wind favored them by coming from the southeast allowing them to do a broad reach as his father called it or sometimes even a run. Other times the wind came out of the northwest and they had to drop sail and use the paddles that his father had brought along to move the ship along until the wind shifted once again.

 

By the evening of the second day, Father asked him to lower the sail, which Justyn did. Rather proudly his father pointed “We’re on Beesbury land now… see that cottage way up on the hill over yonder?”

 

“Aye, father.”

 

“That’s where your mother’s family has lived for generations.”

 

Justyn had known his mother had been the daughter of a husbandman—a wealthy smallfolk farmer—but to see with his own eyes the lands on which his grandfather had tilled until he’d died and that mother still owned—though rented out to those who could better work it—was something else entirely. Suddenly his sense of where he had come from seemed far more real to him than the stories his mother had told him—even of their descent from the legendary Andal hero of Ser Walys the Wasp in the days of the conquest—and had slain a Wyvern with a sword made of a giant wasp’s sting. Seeing the fertile and gently rolling hills, the growing wheat, hearing the hiss of geese, smelling the cow pies, and being able to nearly touch it all, cemented it in his mind.

 

There was just one thing marring the nearly ideal farm landscape. An even smaller cottage that looked ill of repair and as though one good blow from a gust of wind might make it collapse. The lands around it were poorly maintained and were a drab brown compared to the lush green and honey browns of his grandfather’s fields.

 

“That cottage, the one at the foot of the green, who does it belong to?”

 

“To your Uncle Hamys, and my father before him—who tilled the land as a tenant for your mother’s father,” said his father rather darkly. Confused, Justyn asked what was wrong, to which his father recovered from staring at the rundown cottage and urged Justyn to hoist the sail once more.

 

They continued further into the heart of the Beesbury estate, passing the Honeyholt itself, a grand castle of grey stone—though not as grand or with a tower as tall as the Hightower—two sides of which faced the river—with a portcullis allowing for a private access to the river from the caste. Atop its towers flew the black and yellow banners of the Beesburys. After that the sun had set as they then drew closer to the edge of the Beesbury estates—or so his father told him. As the darkness covered the land, his father pulled out a bottle with a cork and asked him to catch some fireflies, which Justyn was eager to do as he’d never seen so many in his entire life.

 

Eventually, long after the Honeyholt was out of sight, they arrived at a small cove hidden by a bend in the river both from upstream and downstream onlookers. It was quite dark at this point, and the cove even darker as the oak trees which shaded it seemed determine to block out the light of the moon. It was here that Justyn was asked to lower the sail and they paddled until they beached their sailboat on the loamy soil of the cove, and waited. They did not wait long before Justyn heard an owl’s call—but what surprised him was that his father placed his hands up to his mouth and responded with the sound of a twittering bird that he didn’t recognize. Not long thereafter, Justyn heard something lumbering through the foliage, his heart beating faster and the gentle wind picking up slightly. Not long thereafter a small group of men carrying large rolls of wool appeared in Justyn’s adjusted night sight. Father greeted these men amicably, with a smile and a small laugh. His father told him to bring out his bottle of fireflies that were kept in with a cork, which then gave his father the light he needed to look over the rolls of wool.

 

“A Moon and a Stag per roll,” insisted one of the men—an older one who seemed to be missing more than a few of his teeth.

 

“Some of these rolls look a little mealy… A Moon and three Stars, and not a Groat more,” declared father.

 

And so the haggling began eventually the price ending up at a Moon and three Stars and a Half Groat per roll. Coins were exchanged and the rolls were loaded onto the sailboat. It was very late at night when they pushed off from the cove. His father then told him to cover the wool with a blanket that they’d been using to sleep with the night before.

 

When they were far enough downstream, Justyn asked the question that had been bothering him most of all the moment since those men had appeared with the rolls of wool.

 

“Father, why do you have so much wool?”

 

“Wool-lined gloves sell quite well, especially with winter coming soon,” tutted his father.

 

“Aye, but no one’s spun this wool,” countered Justyn

 

“For what we need, your mother does that.”

 

“Is that why she—”

 

“Aye, Justyn, aye,” answered his father before he had even had the chance to finish his question.

 

“But there’s more wool here than you’d ever use in a year on wool-lined gloves.”

 

His father smirked and looked to him and asked, “What are the clothes you’re wearing made of?”

 

“Wool,” answered Justyn, though he hadn’t the foggiest idea of what that had to do with the wool his father had just bought.

 

“And what is the shroud that we bury our dead in made of?”

 

Barely recalling a funeral he’d once attended—when the glover his father had apprenticed for had died and been paraded through the main streets as was custom in Oldtown—he recalled the shroud that had been draped over him that had been embroidered with the seven-pointed star and said, “wool,” once again.

 

His father’s smirk grew even wider as he then admitted, “It seems then that more people than I have need of so much wool.”

 

Justyn nodded his head, but then he recalled vaguely hearing the tailor his mother had taken him to, to be measured for his good clothes, complaining loudly about the Tyrell’s wool inspectors.

 

“But what about the Tyrells?” he asked suddenly.

 

“What?” asked his father, quite taken aback by the question.

 

“Don’t they have wool inspectors that report to the Lord Justice?” asked Justyn

 

His father scoffed and shook his head before answering rather quietly, “You’ll see how well I get along with Lord Justice Florent.”

 

And that Justyn did. They arrived back in Oldtown quicker, relying upon the current to help them move when the wind was against them. Above them in the sky a bleeding star appeared which fascinated them both by night and day. Upon arriving at the harbor of Oldtown, they were greeted in the early morning hours by Lord Justice Axell Florent himself. Justyn was scared for his father at first, but instead with the sailboat pulled alongside of the dock, Father stepped off and greeted the Lord Justice and hugged him as though they were brothers. It was then that Justyn recognized other men waiting not far from the harbor, whom Justyn saw as merchants he’d known for quite some time. They haggled with father over the wool and even with each other, and when they were satiated, only one roll was left for them, and by then it was nearly dawn. Just as father was helping Justyn out of the boat with their one remaining roll of wool, Lord Justice Axell and another man returned to speak with father.

 

“Forgive the suddenness of this, Jon, but do you recall when last we spoke I made mention of a peculiar Maester?”

 

His father bid the Lord Justice continue after a pause of extraordinary length had passed.

 

With an almost desperate desire for a flourish of some sort, Lord Justice Axell motioned for the second man dressed in all black robes step forward. He was severe looking and had eyes that pierced Justyn’s soul and rooted him to his spot in some sort of fear or wonder. If there was a list for people who Justyn would never forget for the rest of his life, Maester Bernar was certainly near the top of it.

 

“Allow me to introduce to you, that Maester, and a close friend of mine and Father Lothar’s, Maester Bernar.”

 

The Maester gave a tiny but respectful nod of his head to father.

 

The Lord Justice continued his introduction, adding, “He is the man behind all those woundrous pamphlets and Father Lothar’s prayer book, and he’s looking to set up another press here in Oldtown once again.”

 

“Now I see your aim, Lord Justice,” said his father rather slyly and the two of them walked a bit of the distance down the dock to speak of the matter further away from Justyn and the Maester. Nervously Justyn looked up at the Maester before quickly looking away when his eyes met the nearly black eyes of the Maester.

 

“Can you read, lad?” inquired the Maester dryly.

 

“My mother taught me my letters, aye.”

 

“Your mother?” questioned the Maester as his eyebrows raised rather high.

 

“Aye, and her father taught her hers,” insisted Justyn. Of his two parents, it was his father who struggled with his letters—preferring to make his mark with his initials JG—standing for Jon the Glover. He made up for it by knowing his figures and writing them quite well—but his own name gave him tremendous amount of trouble.

 

“She must have been quite the bride for your father then,” tutted Maester Bernar, who then added, “I should like to see how well a teacher your mother is for you, some time.”

 

Justyn did not know how to respond to this, and so chose to remain silent. It was then that father returned and offered the Maester the opportunity to sleep above his shop for a small rent that struck even Justyn as being low—that of six Stars. The Lord Justice gave father a bag of coins, and the matter was settled.

 

When Justyn returned at long last to home, already the family was up and about their chores—Justyn longed to collapse into his feather bed that he shared with Aeric and Besce, but his sister immediately had him on his chores, even with how exhausted he was. He finished them as best he could and then collapsed sometime in the mid-morning and didn’t wake up until the mid-afternoon when his mother shook him awake and told him to come with her.

 

Curious and a bit confused, Justyn did as he was bid and was surprised to find that the rest of his siblings now followed his mother out of the house and down High Street and towards the Starry Sept. It was not the Stranger’s Day, so it wasn’t like they were going for a service, Justyn reasons, but as they approached the Sept, Justyn noted that a large crowed was beginning to form along the road

 

“What’s going on?” asked Justyn to Besce as they at long last settled in a fairly decent spot in the crowd.

 

“While you and father were away, the Starry Father died,” she explained rather quickly.

 

So it was a funeral, then that brought them out. Mother had always insisted they go to the Starry Sept to pray regularly—even if father didn’t attend with them, so Justyn knew the Starry Father well enough at a distance because of that.

 

The funeral itself when it passed them on the return for the Starry Sept was magnificent—far grander than any Justyn had yet seen in his life. Septons and Septas marched alongside the dead Starry Father, who Justyn proudly noted was wrapped in a woolen shroud with plenty of fruits and flowers wreathing the Starry Father’s body.

 

And then, from somewhere out of the crowd cam a blackened tomato which hit the Holy father’s body squarely in the gut.

 

“Such an end to all blasphemers!” called out a man from somewhere deeper in the crowd than Justyn was allowed to see. It all happened so quickly after that—several people near them had begun to push forward to charge upon the body of the dead Starry Father. Greencloaks from the City Watch who escorted the Septons and Septas moved to intercept the onslaught of people, but the crowd appeared ready for this as many of them had daggers which caught the poorly trained Greencloaks by surprise. Septons and Septas dropped the litter upon which the Starry Father was laid and were sent scrambling for the open doors of the Starry Sept, that now with this commotion were beginning to close.

 

Mother grabbed his and Aeric’s hand, yelling for Besce to keep Alys and Cella with her as they tried to push back through the panicking crowd, as any who dared approach the funeral now were being met with steel. As they pressed further into the increasingly tight and smelly crowd of people, somewhere Mother lost her grip on Aeric, which Justyn just managed to notice quick enough to replace his mother’s hand in grabbing his… while losing grip of his mother’s hand as the crowds pushed her onward and past the reach of them. Aeric, frightened and quite scared grabbed onto him as Justyn maneuvered them sideways through the crowd and to the edge, fearful for mother and their sisters, and hoping that climbing the wall at the edge of the Sept’s grounds would allow him and Aeric to see them, if not escape from the crowd.

 

Once they were flat against the wall, Justyn pushed Aeric up so that he could easily reach the top and sit, leaving Justyn to jump and grab for the top and hold on by lucky chance. He settled himself soon enough, allowing Aeric to hold tightly onto him, sniveling and shaking as he buried his head into Justyn's side, as they sat upon the top of the wall which divided the Sept’s grounds from the rest of the city. Justyn searched for any sight of mother or Besce--but was unable to discern any hint of where they were in the mass of people beneath him. It was there that Justyn saw that a large number of the crowd had taken possession of the Starry Father’s body, one of the stronger ones throwing him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes—revealing for all to see the bare backside of the Starry Father.

 

It was the first time Justyn would recall that Oldtown went mad… and it would not be the last by any means.

Chapter Text

CONHUR

He had thought he’d done well by the young ones. He hadn’t been too strict on how quiet it needed to be at night and he’d made sure that none of the older boys had been too harsh with any of them—being the first to stick by them if any of them did get into trouble. Master Arthur had asked for him specifically to stay for a second year past his finishing because he had shown a willingness to help the young ones—when none of his class had been willing to do so. This year’s lot of older boys—all friends of the Prince—took to idling and lolling about, or worse, betting on who would win a match between themselves. None of them—least of all the Prince himself—seemed to take the training all that seriously. It made him all the angrier. Some of the boys came from poorer houses like that of his uncle’s—who couldn’t afford to take in a master-at-arms or pay for a well-connected knight to take their heirs—let alone younger sons—on to squire. Oldstones was a godsend to these boys, like it had been for him, and seeing how the Prince dismissed it... Worst of all was when the Prince and his friends arrived drunk for their practice or even worse still—hung over. Ser Brynden would put the fear of the Gods in them when it had been obvious the first time they’d done it. Since then they’d learned discretion instead of true valor.

These are the future rulers of Westeros? A sorry lot indeed…

They’d waste their gold on frivolous extravagances, and if it ever came to a war, they’d better hope that the men under them knew how to fight better than they did. A fact that Conhur had reminded them of one morn a fortnight before they’d departed Oldstones. They had been lying about the grass after having finished through the sword lesson and given one another a few meager attempts at practicing—just to say that they had practiced if asked, no doubt. They now entertained themselves by soaking up the sun like a flower, laughing about one another with witty quips, plucking blades of grass to place between their hands and blow a tune, or lazily weaving wildflowers and weeds alike into circlets—as if they wore skirts instead of trousers. What was worse was how they radiated indolent and obstinate behavior in Conhur’s own young ones. His charges found the Prince a perfect excuse to do nothing, prompting Conhur at long last to do something about it.

Ser Brynden and Master Arthur were too concerned with the boys who struggled to notice or had given up their previous attempts at getting them to care. His charges he’d told to rest and take some water and shade from the hot early autumn air. Conhur approached the Prince and his lay-about companions. His shadow first crossed paths with Sand, who along with the Prince had abandoned his red and yellow doublet with the heat.

“I believe a Hill has grown into a mountain if it can block out the sun so,” grumbled Sand.

Conhur refrained from rolling his eyes.

“Up Sand, I’d fancy a spar with you,” challenged Conhur. At this, Sand’s look changed from bored to slightly amused as a small wry smile stretched his lips.

“Tired of knocking swords with babes?” prodded Stark.

Conhur knew better than to reply to such baiting, especially as Sand was preparing to take his stance

“A star on Lewyn,” offered Whent.

“A star? Hardly worth all that copper! A half groat at most—Lewyn’s got an easy win,” argued the Prince.

Conhur snorted to keep himself from losing his control and making a hasty strike. He remembered what Master Arthur had told him once when his brother Sandor had first come to Oldstones and begun holding it over his head that he was an “Ironseed, born of rape”.

A warrior who loses the battle with himself will never win a war.

“Make your move already,” complained the fair-haired Manderly.

However Conhur tapped his patience yet again as Sand swung his blow, which Conhur surprised him with interrupting. As they practiced with their blunted blades, Conhur soon grasped Sand’s fighting style and weakness. He was too used to being far too close—no doubt confusing the spear training he had been getting with that of a sword. Maintaining distance was a common mistake the young ones would make with their wooden swords and soon he’d had knocked Sand’s blade from his hands. Suddenly the lazy entourage perked up with interest as the Dornish bastard swore. Conhur feeling he’d done what he’d needed to prove his point merely made mention that he should keep a better distance in the future and turned to depart when his departure was halted by Whent who challenged Conhur for Sand’s sake—as he put it. Conhur accepted the challenge and soon found that Whent had a bad habit which he had trouble mastering—before he attack he had a tendency to twitch his head in the direction he was about to swing his sword. Conhur hadn’t focused on it so much at first, thinking it to be a false flag—but the young bat’s tendency was so consistent that he quit ignoring it rather quickly and also had Whent beaten. After Whent had fallen came the Manderlys—first the younger one and then his green-haired cousin. Then there was Glover, who fell the quickest of them all, prompting Stark—Conhur’s biggest challenge—to pick up his blade, then Arryn who was too stiff, and last but not least the Prince himself. All the while a crowd of his young ones had gathered to watch as Conhur fought, many of them cheering for him, and Conhur pointing out the different faults and lazy habits that had crept into each of his opponents style, turning the competition into a lesson of sorts. Conhur was amazed through it all that he’d managed quite quickly to see and counter the mistakes he’d seen. Soon the Prince himself had fallen into the grass and Conhur was surprised to see many of the occupants of the yards had gathered around—but most notably was his younger brother—Sandor, or Vikary as he was supposed to refer to him.

“A pretty show, but I can do better,” sneered Vikary as he took the Prince’s place in challenging Conhur.

Conhur wouldn’t lie, Vikary actually took the lessons seriously and had much less obvious bad habits—but he did have them. The most obvious one was with how much anger he fueled his fighting with.

“Afraid to pull your usual cheap tricks with a trueborn hound?” jeered Vikary.

“Knowing good form is cheap tricks? Then ignorance must be ” answered Conhur

“Good form? The only form a bastard of rape can know is bad form!” spat Vikary.

It was over the top enough that Conhur realized how he could use it to his advantage.

“What benefit is it to you that you hate me so much and cause our mother so much grief?” prodded Conhur.

“The only grief she has is that you were ever born,” retorted Vikary.

“She could have drunk moontea if I was as much her grief as you claim, and not have bothered delivering me at all,” parried Conhur—recalling one letter he’d received from his mother when he’d written to Lymera about how Sandor made things difficult for him. He hadn’t expected it, but it was one of his treasures when he had read it. His mother had been distant with him when he’d first seen her at Boarshead Hall all those years ago, but with time more and more letters arrived—especially as Conhur kept contact with Lymera.

Finally he added, “How much does it bother you, brother that we’ve known the same womb and nursed at the same breasts?”

Vikary’s response was predictable a wide and angry cut which put too much force into the blow so that he over swung—leaving himself open and the match over.

“A good demonstration for the young’ns to be sure,” snorted Ser Brynden, who Conhur hadn’t realized had been watching. With a smirk he turned to the Prince’s entourage and Vikary and added, “Thank you squires for helping Hill in showing the young’ns just how important it is to have control of one’s self.”

Conhur had felt elated—as though he had won a tourney and crowned his lady love. Master Arthur had pulled him aside and challenged him on his act, warning him that he’d reached too far that day. Conhur knew that Master Arthur had a point, but he was still too happy with himself to acknowledge as such properly.

He was reminded later when he’d returned to find his hammock in the second barracks filled with what smelled like rotting fish. The Prince and his entourage’s handiwork no doubt—it had their largest mark upon it: extravagance. With this much fish nearly half a village could eat well. That angered him… but what really got him was when he opened his trunk later and found ground fish guts smeared and stained all over his clothes… and permeating them with their rotting odor, and ruining his best doublet that Aunt Helena had sewn and embroidered. This was too much… far too much. But what was worse had been the half-stifled giggles the young ones had had while delaying him in making these discoveries upon retiring to the second barracks for the night. He untied and lugged his hammock out of the barracks and dumped the fish right outside of the first barracks, blocking the door and then taking his hammock and clothes down to the Blue Fork to wash the smell from them at least. It was night but he cared not, it wasn’t like he was going to get much sleep anyway.

As he was rubbing the doublet his aunt had given him at his last nameday, the anger swelling in his breast that the stains would not come out, he heard singing.

“From here to there and everywhere… the Bear the bear and the maiden fair!”

It was the Prince and his ale soaked crew—returning drunk from the tavern.

Upon reflection it might have been said that he was in no fit state to endure them, and should have retreated when he heard their voices until he was of a calmer disposition. On the other hand he was angry enough that he just didn’t give a fuck for the nonce. Had they been less drunk mayhaps they would have been of better mind not to rub horrible fish puns at him. He recalled himself enough to know that hitting the Prince outside of the practice yard or tourney field could cost him his hand, so he instead wrestled them challenging the Prince to admit who had ruined his clothes—but this he lied and denied any knowledge of, though he’d learned that the young ones had been given the fish.

Vaguely he recalled being knocked off of the Prince when their match had rolled them into the blue fork by the dark shadow that was Stark’s direwolf which pinned him down until the rest of the Prince’s entourage as led by an irate Arryn could collect him—he fighting against them to continue the fight.

The following morning he met with Master Arthur and Ser Brynden in Ser Brynden’s solar. He was bruised, a bit bloodied, and sore as all hell, but most of all he was embarrassed. He was to return to Clegane Keep and take up a squiring that Ser Brynden was to arrange with his Uncle Sandor’s blessing.

“Mayhaps this will be a good thing in disguise,” assured Master Arthur after Ser Brynden had had his curt say and departed.

“How so?” asked Conhur bitterly.

“We’ve kept you here too long at your expense, to be sure you’ve learned much—your skill against the Prince shows that.”

Conhur had his own opinion of the Prince’s skills, especially with his tendency to want to swing a sword as if it needed as much force as a warhammer, but wisely kept his tongue to himself.

“But it’s long past the time you did more than help us to instruct the young ones,” and then he paused before sighing to say, “You have the makings of a fine knight in you one day if that’s what you want.”

He held on to that memory as he returned back to Clegane Keep. He arrived at mid-morning and was surprised to find that Vikary flags flew alongside those of House Clegane’s. He came through the wooden gates of the new stone walls as his cousin Arthur was training with his Uncle. Upon sight of him his seven nameday cousin rushed to greet him as he dismounted from the old palfrey that he had been given by his Uncle and taken with him to Oldstones for training and now brought back to Clegane Keep.

“Lift me up!” insisted his young cousin, to which Conhur was eager to oblige, whirling about the boy as he liked once around in a circle before placing him on the ground and greeting his discerning uncle with more deference.

“I got a raven from Ser Brynden saying you got into a fight with one of the other boys,”

Conhur nodded, though he wondered at how Ser Brynden hadn’t been more forthright about his match with the Prince.

“Fucker deserve it?” asked Sandor

Conhur once again nodded.

“The fucker take your tongue while he was at it?”

“No, uncle,” answered Conhur.

“Good, because you’ll need it if you’re squiring for Lord Lannister. The bloody fucker never shuts his mouth they say,” snorted his uncle.

Before Conhur could wonder at how Ser Brynden had arranged for him to be a squire to Lord Lannister, his glance was surprised to meet his half-sister, Lymera, emerge from the Keep dressed in red, white and gold. She had grown quite a bit—not as tall as he was, but she was certainly taller than most women ever would be. She still kept her Clegane brown hair in a long braid that she kept down to her waist.

She rushed out to greet Conhur, hugging him before whispering in his ear, “Gods you’re so tall...”

“Your father let you come?!” he exclaimed with surprise, returning the hug, not wishing to let her go.

 

She pushed herself back in his grasp and with a pointed glance and raising of her head into the perfectly preening position of a courtier, she smirked.

“I am a woman grown now, Conhur, and I need instruction from my Aunt Helena in the finer arts of being a Lady,” answered Lymera with a sly wink before admitting, “It was mostly mother’s idea. She wishes she could be here, but Lewyll takes up most of her time, and she wished to have some of our family to greet you when you returned.”

Lewyll was his newest half-brother who had just celebrated his second nameday before the end of the year, giving Conhur a total of five half-siblings altogether.

Arthur and his uncle returned to their sword practice as now Aunt Helena emerged from the keep with his cousins Calena and Reynar following in her footsteps—Calena just six namedays old and Reynar due to celebrate his fourth nameday with the coming moon. Calena, though named for his mother, bore her no resemblance except for having the Clegane brown eyes, otherwise appearing to be a miniature of her mother. Reynar was large for a nearly four nameday boy and unlike all the rest of the family had very pale blond hair along with his Clegane brown eyes—which along with his height were his only recognizable feature which indicated he belonged to the family—otherwise neither Uncle Sandor nor Aunt Helena could justify from where his young cousin garnered his looks from—but then who knew of the history of the Cleganes before his great-grandfather and his three dogs? Supposedly some in the village whispered of the Others having given them a changeling child but Conhur doubted that when he heard it.

His Aunt seemed much smaller to him, as he towered over her, but he greeted her with a kiss to her hand followed by a warm hug afterwards. Reynar, who did not seem to recognize him, hid behind his mother’s skirts and shook his head when prompted to greet Conhur.

 

After having greeted his family Conhur then walked his old grey palfrey to the stables where he found the horse a stall and unsaddled the horse, brushed him down and gave him a well-deserved bag of oats. He then left the stables and noticed a new wooden hut that had been built not too far from the West Gate. Approaching it with curiosity, Conhur pressed on the door only to find its hinges groan with movement.

 

In the following instant he thought he heard something fall over, followed by an adamant young voice declare “Papa!”

Curious, Conhur opened the door further to see Murchadh trying to collect himself as his nearly nine namedays old bastard born from a now dead whore in the village, Loron Hill, tried to assist his father up. Conhur looked around to see that tacked to the wall were furs from many hunts that Murchadh and his uncle had no doubt been on. Murchadh had noticeably been in the midst of treating a treecat skin which now was on the floor. Further in, Conhur saw a bed, a fireplace, a table, and a stool—everything Murchadh could need. But what struck Conhur the most was how for an extended moment Conhur saw fear in Murchadh’s wide black eyes, and his sweat slick black hair, damp from the heat stuck to his face.

 

“I didn’t mean to scare you, Murchadh,” apologized Conhur.

 

Murchadh seemed rather nervous, but was slowly gaining control of himself as he continue, “Ahh… Conhur… no… no, of course you didn’t.”

 

“Are you all right?”

 

“He’s fine… he just doesn’t like it when people come in unannounced,” explained Loron.

 

“I can speak for myself, Loron. But, aye, I just was recalling some memories—nothing to do with you Conhur.”

 

Conhur nodded, recalling what Murchadh had once told him of his life before coming to Clegane Keep. He’d been a young oarsman whose ship had sank an all aboard but him had perished.

 

“We had been so far out to sea that I couldn’t see land no matter where I looked. I had given up all bloody hope at that point… and then a voice from below told me to begin swimming and to follow it. It was a long tiring swim, I think I might have drowned halfway there, but when I reached land the voice told me to travel East until…” but Murchadh always paused there.

 

“Until what?” he’d once asked.

 

And Murchadh always gave him an especially odd look and said, “Until I found what I was looking for, Conhur.”

 

“And you found it here?”

 

“Aye… that I did.”

 

Conhur was brought back to the present when Murchadh noted, “You’re in need of a shave.”

 

“Aye… I thought to try for a goatee to distinguish myself from my uncle.”

 

“Don’t!” insisted Murchadh immediately, his eyes going wide once again.

 

“Whyever not?” questioned Conhur.

 

“You’re… you’re too young yet—and what you can grow is mottled and patchy at best. Better to wait a few years when you can grow a full beard.”

 

“It doesn’t look so patchy to me,” contradicted Loron as he gave Conhur another well noted look.

 

“There are places where the hairs are thinner than others…” added Conhur before saying, “You have a point.”

 

Murchadh looked visibly relieved.

 

Just then Lymera came rushing into the wooden hut, saying that Arthur wanted to show him the movements he’d practiced. Conhur gave his leave of Murchadh, but before he did, the man grabbed Conhur’s arm and said, “I hear you’re to go to Casterly Rock to squire?”

 

Conhur nodded.

 

“When you do, listen to the sea.”

 

“Why? Will I hear a voice,” japed Conhur.

 

“I know you will,” reiterated Murchadh oddly, before Lymera pulled on Conhur’s other arm and they left Murchadh’s hut.

 

Once they were far enough away from Murchadh’s hut but not yet returned to Arthur and his uncle, Lymera leaned in and confided to him.

 

“I don’t like him… he won’t ever say where he comes from.”

 

“Mayhaps the memories are too much for him?” offered Conhur.

 

“Or he has something to hide,” countered Lymera.

 

“Lym, everyone has something to hide about themselves.”

 

“Not you—you’re an open book,” she teased.

 

Thinking on the secret that Ser Brynden had by omission had bound him to, he ruefully thought that even he had things to hide.

Chapter Text

JON

 

Their party was fast approaching Oldstones on its journey north, and Ned was growing increasingly distressed. He’d taken to asking Jon as much as he could about his siblings. About Robb and Rickon, Jon could talk for hours. But Jon knew his cousin’s interest was primarily in Arya, and in that Jon could only give the most basic of answers. It wasn’t that he didn’t know his sister, but they’d not been close. She’d been only four when he’d left for Starfall to foster. While he had come to know her a great deal when the Raven had told him to come home for his father’s nameday when Ghost’s mother had come to Winterfell, even finding her somewhat endearing, there was a distance between them Jon never seemed able to overcome despite his many attempts. It was something that Jon looked forward to amending when she came south with them.

 

“There’s Oldstones on the mount ahead,” pointed Jon for his Dayne cousin and Lord Dondarrion—another cousin by marriage. The last time he’d come North, he’d joined Robb and Rickon on their journey North. Oldstones was a much smaller castle than it likely had been in its former days—as there were yet ruins outside of its new fortifications—but it was an impressive sight nonetheless at their distance. Two tall keeps stood tall and proud over the fortifications and array of smaller buildings within those fortifications. The tallest and most impressive being the one that Robb and Rickon had called “New Keep”. The other which was called Blackfish Keep was connected to New Keep via a wooden bridge and housed the monumental armory that had amazed Jon the first time he’d visited, in addition to the chambers which the Maesters taught their charges and the rookery at the very top.

 

“And to think all of that was built in two years’ time,” clucked Lord Beric.

 

“Quite hard to believe,” added Ned, his lordly Dayne cousin. His face stretched thin in seriousness—the only emotion he seemed to express these days since leaving Starfall. It was as though he had to wear a mask as the Lord of Starfall, one which hid his cousin’s cheer for an all-too-serious countenance.

 

Recalling what Robb had told him when he’d said the very same thing Jon answered his cousins’ inquiries. “Well, some of it had already been built—Blackfish Keep for instance was mostly complete as was the inner curtain wall. Everything else was provided by the King.”

 

“Not nearly as impressive,” returned Lord Beric.

 

“But far more probable,” added Ned with his lordly face firmly in place.

 

Seeing Ned don his lordly countenance when it wasn’t necessary saddened Jon at times, though it hadn’t always been that way. When Jon had arrived at Starfall, the barely five namedays Ned had been energetic, cheerful, and laughing. Jon had found such behavior annoying in its consistency. It hadn’t helped that Uncle Aster had looked on Ned fondly and once told Jon that his mother had much the same personality. Jon had imagined his mother a million different ways, but annoyingly cheerful was the last way he’d ever have imagined her. His Aunt Allyria—well truth be told it was hard to think of her as an aunt in Jon’s opinion, she being only four namedays older than he—had thought Ned’s attitude to be irritating and in the early days had served to bind Allyria and Jon in each other’s good graces. He thought fondly of those days, when he and Allyria had run down ahead of their guards and escorts—even with little Ned not far behind on his short little legs—and had danced in the sand where the Tolentine met the Summer Sea on their private little island where Starfall . It had been a paradise of sunsets, sand, sea, and adventure—when the whole world underneath snow had seemed new and exciting to Jon. He had missed Den and Robb—most especially Robb—but knowing his mother’s family beyond the tales he’d heard from Lady Catelyn or meeting Uncle Arthur had brought with it a new sense of himself that he’d hardly conceived of before. Seeing Dawn had been an inspiration. He’d known of the sword, but to be in its presence and seek its pale milky-white glow made him feel a part of the legend, and not just the listener.

 

And then the dark cloud blocked out the sunset lit days of his youth. He’d only been at Starfall for a little over a year, having started his training to put forth his name as a contender for Dawn when a trader from Seaguard had brought with him the black pox—a new disease that plagued Seaguard and his Uncle Benjen’s port far in the North. It came from across the sea they said from a new land, and it brought death in its wake. It was noticeable first in the little hamlet port near the castle as smallfolk began to fall ill with strange little black spots never before seen in Westeros upon man or woman. Then they grew emaciated—looking as if they were thin walking bones, their skin growing pale underneath the black freckles until at long last they died. It had been commanded by the King that wherever the black pox came for the sufferers to be shut up in quarantine for over a moon, and if they still lived at the end of seven weeks to be let loose and considered cured—per the maesters’ instructions. In this way had Westeros been spared from the black pox spreading all across the continent, and kept the disease confined only to its western ports—though occasionally there were a few outbreaks here and there that cropped up on a slow march west, but this too was dealt with through quarantine.

 

Uncle Aster had wanted to send them away from Starfall when the first of the smallfolk had died of it at the port, but that night had found upon himself the first of several black poxes. He’d then shut himself up in seclusion from them. For over a moon Jon and Allyria had had to comfort the tearful crying Ned, who didn’t understand why his father didn’t want to see him anymore. Jon remembered being scared that he might have caught the pox himself and wondering what it might be to die. He recalled sitting beneath the giant old weirwood that had been the old center of Starfall’s garden-like godswood before it had been expanded by the Dayne Kings of old after the Andal invasion, and prayed to the old gods that all those he loved might be safe. He still remembered the words that the raven had given him as he prayed.

 

“All men must die… but not this day…”

 

Some had said it was the gods’ judgment upon them all for crossing the Sunset Sea, but when a year had passed, the quarantines had lifted, and not as many had died as it had been thought would die, this idea faded from the mind—though its survivors forever had those black freckles upon their skin. Uncle Aster was not one of them, having died the day before quarantine was to have been lifted on him. With Uncle Aster’s death had come the dreadful burden of the Lordship of Starfall to Ned’s young shoulders. It had been how Ned had first learned what death meant and he’d hardly laughed since. When another seven weeks had passed and the children, as they were called, were not seen with any signs of the pox Great Uncle Davys, their Manwoody relative and castellan, sent them all with trusted servants that had served House Dayne since Tiama Manwoody had married Allem Dayne, and had them on their way to the seat of Allyria’s betrothed under the cover of night. Only Allyria knew why, and she shared the answer only when they had come to an abandoned tower in the middle of nowhere to camp for the night.

 

He still recalled the five and ten nameday Allyria telling him across a fire, “Our Dayne cousins from High Hermitage will try and take advantage of Aster’s death. They’ll want to foster us until he’s of age.”

 

She stroked the sleeping Ned, whose head lay in her lap.

 

“But they’re our cousins, aren’t they?” asked Jon, too naïve then to understand what it was that Allyria was telling him. Gods she’d been so young to understand it herself.

 

Allyria had sighed and added, “The Daynes of High Hermitage have long wanted the glory of Starfall and Dawn for their own. Ned and I are as good as dead if they take us… and then nothing will prevent them from having Starfall.”

 

And so Jon had been plunged into the realm of Southron politics for the first time. They eventually made their way the long way around to Lord Dondarrion’s castle—he was a man not much older than Allyria. He had still been gangly and boyish looking, and he had only just received his knighthood before their arrival but he had pledged to guard them in safety and much to Jon’s surprise—Dawn as well, which Allyria has smuggled out of Starfall under her skirts. Allyria was wed to Lord Beric a year later, although it wasn’t until this year that Allyria had grown big with Beric’s child—a boy they’d named Aster. Ned and Jon were officially made his page and squire respectfully. They were then inquired to travel to the Water Gardens where the matter with the High Hermitage Daynes was settled by Prince Doran once and for all. When Jon at long last wrote to his father of all that had happened, he begged to still remain with his cousin and aunt—for he felt that they needed him, and that Lord Beric would do his best to protect them. His father had been reluctant to agree, but had said the matter would be settled if he came home for a visit for his nameday to be sure of the matter—and that had been when Jon had met the wolf pup he’d named Ghost.

 

Ned had taken all this rather hard. He rarely laughed as he was used to and had thrown himself completely into being the perfect lord, the perfect page and then squire to Lord Beric, and the perfect warrior. In an odd way it made Jon wonder if his father had felt much the same after grandfather and Uncle Brandon had died—and so when he’d gone north for his father’s nameday, he’d seen him with different eyes. No longer was his father simply the silent mysterious figure he’d been in his early childhood, but he saw him like he saw his cousin Ned—sad, and feeling he must be perfect to fill the role of those who had gone before their time.

 

His cousin also longed to swing Dawn Jon knew—he saw it in his eyes. Occasionally they’d jape about it between themselves.

 

“I’ll carry Dawn one day,” Jon would say.

“Only until I’m strong enough to beat you,” Ned would add on shortly afterwards, with a serious face twisted with a slight smile.

 

It was a jape, but even Jon could see that Ned was serious—he too would try for Dawn one day, and as such Jon had taken his training with Lord Beric and his sword master trained in the secrets from Starfall ever the more seriously. He would not be easy competition for Ned, nor would Ned he could already see be so for him. He loved Ned almost as much as he did Robb or Den, but even so Dawn was one sphere where their love for each other was put to the side. Wielding Dawn was an honor and tradition and had little to do with what they otherwise might feel for one another, and Jon respected his cousin all the more for the desire to wield Dawn like a true Dayne.

 

Jon was brought out of his thoughts then as a black mass leaped out from the underbrush along the road and tackled Ghost. Their party’s horses spooked by the sudden action, but Jon felt alarmingly calm throughout it—for after a moment’s fear he’d recognized the creature as Ghost’s pack brother—Blackfang. The two direwolves nipped, sniffed, and wrestled each other in delight at seeing each other again while Jon looked around for any sign of his brother. It was then that an auburn-haired blur came swinging down from a branch above their wooded path spooking Jon as well as his horse once again.

 

When he had at last calmed his mount he returned his gaze to his smugly smiling brother who looked ridiculous as he hung upside down from a tree branch as he said, “Not so fun is it?”

 

“You’ve waited how many years to pull something like that?” asked Jon to his irascible little brother.

 

“Too many,” answered Rickon glibly before swinging himself up onto the branch and jumping down.

 

By this point Lord Beric and Ned had recovered from their shock and surprise, as the former asked, “Young lord Rickon, I presume?”

 

“My brother Robb’s t’be the lord someday, thank the gods, not I, but you have me otherwise,” answered Rickon as he went over and with his bare hands pulled Blackfang and Ghost apart—the large black wolf acting almost like a pup in his arms, only whining that his fun had been ended so soon—much to everyone’s amazement.

 

After the customary introductions were made, Jon offered to share his mount with Rickon as they made the final length of their journey to Oldstones. Rickon dismissed the idea saying he had his own mount waiting not far off and that he’d catch up with them not long thereafter, before disappearing once again into the woods.

 

“Your brother’s rather frank,” admitted Ned once they were once again underway.

 

“Aye, just as much as Arya is. They were inseparable when they were younger,” added Jon, knowing that Ned would be keen to take the opportunity to find out as much as he could about Arya.

 

Rickon kept to his word, for before they’d made beyond the forested section of the road and down a hill on the approach to Oldstones, Rickon came galloping out of the woods with another boy not far behind him. Blackfang kept a pace with Rickon as though they were on a great hunt and the game were within sight.

 

“He’s a confirmed rascal!” laughed Lord Beric and for an instance Jon couldn’t help but admire as man and beast raced across the field towards them.

 

Ghost and his mount grew a bit skittish as Rickon drew near, but it wasn’t until they were about to be trampled by the oncoming riders that Rickon pulled hard on his mount’s reigns causing the horse to rear and send Ghost scurrying out of the way and his own mount to back up in surprise.

 

Damn him, he does nothing in a small way.

 

And Jon couldn’t stay mad at his brother long… there was just something incurably forgivable about the way he went about things.

 

Rickon’s companion slowed to more of a trot and then to a walk, easing his approach in a considerate manner to which the horses were more keen on him and his mount than Rickon’s wild black stallion. The boy was introduced as Brandon Glover, Robetta’s younger brother. Almost upon saying so, Jon nearly knocked himself in the head for failing to see the similarities between the sister he knew and the younger brother before him—which went beyond their shared reddish-brown hair, but also something in the shape of the face as well.

 

“So are we going to ride to Oldstones or crawl?” challenged Rickon with an easygoing grin.

 

“Some of us have been journeying since dawn, brother,” scolded Jon. If Lady Catelyn wasn’t here to do so, then the least he could do for her was that—even if he couldn’t stay mad at Rickon for forever.

 

“Well, I could do with a little change of pace,” interjected Ned with a sly look to Jon and Lord Beric. Jon immediately recognized that look—it was the same look that his lordly cousin had when they took to the practice yard and each dreamed for Dawn.

 

Lord Beric, recognizing what was about to occur, called up one of his men and ordered, “we’re about to ride ahead, see that the rest of our party makes it to Oldstones before dark without incident.”

 

Arras, the man in the forked lightning surcoat nodded his head and answered, “Of course my lord.”

 

“Ready?” asked Rickon eagerly—seemingly itching for a race, but by the time he’d asked as much Ned and Jon had already spurred their mounts into a cantor before Rickon could react. Once again Jon and his younger cousin were contesting for who the better rider was. Ghost, Jon could sense, had chosen a more leisurely pace guarding their train as it made its journey to Oldstones. Behind them were Lord Beric, Rickon, and Bradon, who were late to the race, but not the important ones to beat in Jon’s mind.

 

Then suddenly Jon felt a dull tingle in his head—as though something were scratching or pecking on the inside of his head. The raven’s messages always came like this when he hadn’t prayed in front of a weirwood for a while. That was how it had been on the journey south to Starfall the first time, and when he’d fled from Starfall through the Red Mountains. He’d asked the raven what it meant once, to which he’d answered that without renewing prayer in front of a weirwood, the connection would be broken, to which the raven had told him to never allow to happen ever. Jon had last prayed in front of a weirwood in a hidden grove of them that he’d found tucked away in a forgotten mountain pass that Ghost had found that led west, and he knew there was one at Oldstones, but apparently the connection had had enough time to fade to this dull ache accompanied by a faint whisper.

 

The field…

 

Almost involuntarily, Jon pulled his horse off the road and into the neighboring field, trampling over tall grasss as he did, but being spurred on by that dull pecking, until at long last he heard it whisper stop, and stop he did. There laying in the middle of the field lay a young buck—with only the beginnings of antlers atop its head. It had been shot with an arrow in three spots—once in its hip, another in its neck, and a third through its eye. The animal was bloated, its gut split open and its eyes and intestines eaten out by maggots which crawled all over the stinking mass before him. Jon could barely withstand the smell. Soon Rickon, Ned, and Lord Beric had joined him.

 

“Ashamed of losing, Snow?” dared Ned before he saw the dead stag.

 

“There’s where that buck went!” proclaimed Rickon upon sight.

 

“I told you it went into the field,” joined Brandon.

 

“This is your kill?” asked Jon.

 

Rickon nodded and said, “Aye… I was hunting it for Uncle Brynden’s larder when a storm came out of nowhere and I said we return to Oldstones.”

 

“You wanted to keep hunting, I said we should return,” corrected Brandon.

 

“I sent Blackfang out to find the beast, but he never came back with it,” to which Rickon looked at his direwolf with a glare, but the wolf only panted to recover its breath.

 

But Jon knew why the wolf hadn’t returned with the deer… the raven had wanted him to see this sight… but why?

 

That question bothered Jon for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

SELYSE

She couldn’t stand to watch, but she couldn’t take her eyes away as she watched from atop the high walls which separated the grounds of the Starry Sept from the rest of Oldtown. The Greencloaks with assistance from the Tyrell men that had arrived in the city were tossing the stinking bodies of the dead upon a fire. Somewhere in the flames was the Starry Father Hugh, burning she had no doubt, because Brother Luceon, their new Starry Father, had chosen to keep the gates locked shut for their safety while they spent the rest of their time in grief for the Starry Father Hugh's death. The seeming delight in his eyes as he had announced it angered Selyse to no end—for which she prayed to the mother to teach her to know mercy more. Now the Starry Father Hugh would never be laid to rest alongside his fore bearers. There would be no rest for his soul—forever doomed to wander the earth as his ashes would for all eternity. A sentence worse than the Seven Hells as far as Selyse was concerned—one which he did not deserve.

For solace she thought to find solace from the stern Starry Mother Teryse. The woman was ancient, what was seen of her face was as knotted and lined as an old tree. The few visible strands of her famous red hair that peaked out from underneath her cowl had long since turned pure white, and her eyes which were said to have been blue as the rainwater they collected for their garden, had faded to a blue-grey color. She was hard, pious, and as demanding a Starry Mother as the Stranger were a father. She was all that Selyse had left for comfort, though.

As she turned to depart the high walls of the Sept grounds, she saw in the square down below what looked to be a meeting of men, trying most desperately to appear inconspicuous and failing to do so. She recognized the one beneath his hood most notably—it was her Uncle Axell from her old life beyond the Sept. He met with a man older than he but much less worn down with age. They walked along the wall beneath Selyse, as if trying to appear unobtrusive travelers.

“This is madness talking—a council of town folk?!” proclaimed the elder man.

“I believe it the only way to keep another outbreak like this one from occurring, my Lord.”

“Nonsense—I’d be seen capitulating to villains who are so low as to strike a protest during a man’s funeral. If I give in to this, then that will only encourage them to protest if they think it will work."

“You need not actually give them too much power, my Lord… say you appoint half the council yourself of men loyal to you—nobles and merchants who can be bought to ensure the status quo—while you give the town folk the rest of the seats to deliberate on. Your men counter the town folk’s and overrule them—and they have the appearance of a say in how they govern things. You appear to capitulate, but in truth…”

The elder man suddenly realized, “I give them nothing but a distraction to focus all their anger and attention to when things go wrong … clever Ser Axell… very clever.”

Her former Uncle answered slyly, “The crest of my house is a fox for a reason, my Lord.”

The old man then took her former Uncle by the shoulder and squeezed, emphasizing, “Indeed, but play me like your foremother did her husbands and you’ll find my dagger where your heart was, Ser Axell.”

Clearly discomforted, Ser Axell answered tersely, “I am here but to assist you and Lord Justice Arryn, my Lord. And if it would ease your mind, I could bog down such a council by having it assist me in my own matters—especially in examining all the arrests you’ve made.”

And with that, her past Uncle and his companion had left the hearing range of Selyse.

For an instant she was angry with her Uncle—such a scheme would—but then she remembered her vows… not to interfere with the affairs and concerns of the world beyond the Sept and put it to rest, though it grieved her to hear such plotting. But one day, she knew, she would tend to the bodies their scheme would mount up—or smell them as they burned. How many souls would walk with the Stranger before this scheme was complete?

She climbed down the steep and narrow steps from atop the wall and came into the garden. It was nearly time for the afternoon prayers, and to refresh her mind she thought to take a walk in the garden, then after her evening commitments had been seen to she would speak with the Starry Mother. She walked amongst the ripening vegetables, fruits and herbs—each for their own purpose. The aromas and vibrant colors pleased her to see them. And then she came to a back corner of the garden near the shed where they kept their tools. The garden had been left unattended since the Starry Father’s demise—as part of the ritual of mourning for his death—where all work would be put aside for contemplation and prayer for seven days straight. As such she saw a few budding weeds that would need to be pulled, a few branches needing pruning, and a piece of cloth—a piece of cloth?

Yes, in a patch of soil Selyse herself recalled tilling before Starry Father Hugh’s demise, a small patch of white cloth, muddied from the dirt, stuck out. Selyse bent over and pulled at it, but found it hard to pull up from her angle, and so she knelt before it and pulled harder, eventually disturbing the newly set earth and revealing a part of a Silent Sister’s robe—a cowl.

What is this doing buried here?

She pulled examined it, but beyond simply being muddied, it was otherwise in perfect condition—no rips, no tears, no blood stains… nothing to suggest discarding it—so then why bury it? Selyse peered deeper into the ground to find other pieces of a sister’s robes and was about to pull them out when the bells for afternoon prayers rang out. Startled, Selyse realized she had tarried too long in the garden, and would have to hurry to make it in time for the prayer. Planning on returning after her evening commitments, she reburied the cowl and replaced the earth as best she could. She then stood brushed her hands clean and hurried for the Sept proper.

But as she entered the passage that would lead her to the Sept’s side door, her shoulder was grabbed, startling her. She turned to see Rasul standing there, his glazed over eyes staring straight through her.

“Digging will bring you pain my sweet sister,” rasped the old man as he squeezed her shoulder before smirking and hobbling off down the corridor for the Sept, with Selyse following—quite perturbed thereafter.

She managed to reach the side door just as the end of the line of her sisters were entering the side door. Standing next to the door was the Starry Mother Teryse—Selyse could tell from how her eyes gave Selyse a once over before closing the door behind her.

After prayers had finished, the new Starry Father Luceon, dressed in full ceremonial attire with the red onyx crown came down the line of kneeling sisters to bless them before sending them on their way. When it was Selyse’s turn the weasel-faced man blessed her and asked for her to stand, which she did.

“You haven’t broken your grief yet, have you sister?” questioned the Starry Father.

She signed in response, Of course not. I wish that the Starry Father Hugh may walk side by side with the Stranger to the Seventh Heaven itself.

“How strange then that you honor his memory with dirty knees, my sister,” commented the Starry Father.

Selyse was confused until she looked down to see her white robes stained with some dirt where she had knelt in the garden.

I knelt in the garden to appreciate its beauty. The Seven who are One forgive me.

“May the Seven do so,” sneered the weasel-faced father before continuing on.

It was then time for evening meal, where Selyse looked once again at the empty chair that had been Sister Lyla’s spot. No one had been able to find her, and now it was thought she had hidden and then left the Sept during the commotion from the Starry Father’s funeral.

Mayhaps those robes might be hers? It would make the most sense, but why abandon them?

After the evening meal, Selyse returned to her room to gather a lantern before returning to the garden. It was there she found the ground once again disturbed and the robes gone. Shocked, Selyse searched through more of the earth only to find nothing---not one trace that there had ever been robes here at all.

Someone had come for them before her. But who? She then heard what sounded like a grate slamming shut. He heart jumped, she looked around and standing between her and she looked up to see a man approaching her. Every inch of her body told her to get up and run, and she was trying, but her feet floundered beneath her. And then the man’s face came into the light and she knew who he was.

“I thought I said that you were not to be breaking your grief, my sister,” said the man she now recognized as Luceon.

Before she could sign anything, the Starry Father grabbed her wrist and pulled her into a standing position. He was rough and his fingers clenched her wrist as though he might break her.

“We shall see what the Starry Mother has to say about you breaking your vows,” grumbled Luceon—and Selyse was brought out of the garden, much confused by this action.

She was brought before the Starry Mother Teryse at her cell--which besides the statues of the seven were devoid and bare of any decoration.

"I caught her breaking her grief in the garden, as you suspected my holy sister" announced the Starry Father Luceon as he directed Selyse into the Starry Mother's cell.

The Starry Mother's eyes narrowed and instantly began commanding her to kneel and beg forgiveness to the Stranger and the Starry Father Hugh's soul.

Selyse was forced by the Starry Father to prostrate herself before the private statue of the Stranger that the Starry Mother kept in her cell. The small candle that had been lit in front of it flickered making it seem as though the Stranger's stone carved cloak billowed in some imagined wind. She begged for forgiveness.

And then after a long time of remaining in such a position, the Starry Mother had her brought to her feet and told the Starry Father that she would be best dealt with to be locked up for seven weeks in atonement for her lack of respect for the Starry Father Hugh and the Stranger.

Luceon himself escorted her to her cell and much to her surprise entered as well. He locked her door and pressed her against a wall. She tried to fight him but he was stronger than her.

“My new pet has run off… but you will do for a nice replacement…” muttered the new Starry Father as he pressed himself against her body and then bit at her neck like she'd seen men do a common whore. She gasped as if to scream—but he pressed his hand over where her mouth would be, trapping the hot air that threatened to escape.

“Now, now… to scream would break your vows and damn your soul to the deepest of the Seven Hells. Accept it, girl… it’ll be all the easier for you... in both this life and the next,” he croaked as he tore at her dirtied robes, exposing her body to him—though he left her cowl over her head.

And then the pain began, feeling as though something had torn her legs apart and broken something inside of her. The pain was horrible... mind numbing and all consuming.

That was the first of many nights he came and had her. She felt unclean, dirty, and disgusting—even on the nights he skipped. She gave herself as many sponge baths until she felt raw. She could barely sleep for fear he would come and… have her. She vomited in fear, hardly able to keep anything down, and feeling all the weaker. She prayed to the mother for mercy, the father for justice, the maiden for the return of her purity that had been so violated, the crone for wisdom, and at one point she prayed for the Stranger to come and walk with her from this wretched life, but the Seven who were one ignored her prayers. When the end of seven weeks came, she emerged from her seclusion, weak, pale, frightened, and sick. She said nothing of the robes in the garden, she did nothing that was not asked of her, and she spent all of her time of contemplation in her cell, crying.

Chapter Text

RHAENYS

“I don’t know if I want a cloth dragon in the procession or not. It might rain,” said Rhaenys, as she looked over rolls that detailed past Targaryen marriages that Grandmaester Gormon had pulled out of his archive for her perusal. Ever since she’d been five namedays old she had known who she was to marry and as she had grown older and the discussions of the Royal Wedding had begun to take precedence over other matters concerning the Seven Kingdoms, she’d asked her mother to have more of a say in her own wedding planning. She had, after all, taken over her duties as Lady Paramount of the Narrow Sea upon reaching six and ten with little difficulty. Why not be involved in planning her own wedding at nine and ten?

 

The Queen had wanted to delay yet another year until Durran was five and ten, but Rhaenys had spoken against this—she was after all, supposed to give birth to a long desired heir that would be the last of the balm in the healing of the Rebellion that had marked her earliest memories and nightmares. Sometimes at night she awoke screaming for her mother’s name and feeling she couldn’t breathe due to sinking beneath water. Deep water frightened her still, and she avoided the ocean at all costs. She still hadn’t visited Dragonstone beyond what her earliest memories told her. She administered her lands well enough from King’s Landing and had little desire to cross the ocean to see that castle again.

 

“Oh, but the dragon is a favorite of the smallfolk! At least that’s what my uncle says,” lamented Roslin.

 

“And father’s insisting on there being a cloth stag—it would look odd not to have a cloth dragon as well,” chimed in Lyarra.

 

“Of course,” conceded Rhaenys.

 

Just then Lady Olenna the younger called out, “The Prince is facing the Lyseni diplomat’s son!”

 

All wedding plans were put to the side as Rhaenys and her ladies rose to lean over the banister of her balcony so as to get the best view possible of the match between Prince Durran and Oraen.

 

Oraen was older than Prince Durran, nearly of age to Rhaenys truth be told, but Prince Durran was far from intimidated by such a difference in age or experience. This match was performed with blunted steel and the ringing of the steel through the courtyard made Rhaenys grow excited and shudder—from her head to her intact maidenhood she saved for the marriage night—to which now she looked forward to losing more than before.


Durran had grown quite handsome while he was away. He was just as tall as she was now and his coltish leanness that he had had on his last visit to King’s Landing was beginning to suggest the development of his muscles. His black hair was cut long and pulled back in a ponytail, with just a few strands set free to frame his long face, widening jaw, and stone grey eyes. He looked more six and ten and a man grown than four and ten. He practiced often with his brother Edrick and his friends Lewyn Sand and Edmure Whent in the practice yard determination to accept any and all challengers multiple times for hours each day even the squires of the Red Keep would fight with him. But today was a more interesting a match. Durran was shirtless, dripping with sweat, his hair plastered to his forehead, and the way that he threw himself into this particular fight with such zeal was admirable. He had a dedication to be the best warrior he could, anyone could plainly see that.

 

Then Durran was caught off guard by the Lyseni’s blade getting a bit too close to his shoulder. Rhaenys held her breath. He wasn’t practicing with a practice warhammer today—most days he seemed to prefer a wooden warhammer in his hand. To be honest, he did not always win—sometimes he lost. But each time he got up and asked for more—inspiring Rhaenys’ heart to flutter faster. Here was a future King worthy of the Iron Throne… she was proud to say that he would be her husband. He might have been born small, but he was quickly catching up to her, and she was happy to see his development.

 

The match was seeming to come to a close with Durran possibly likely to win. Rhaenys held her breath and then the unluckiest thing occurred, Axel with Princess Elenei and Prince Lyonel not far behind came running to the edge of the practice yard and cheered—distracting Durran just enough for Oraen to trip him and bring his sword to Durran’s throat.

 

Axel always ruined everything.

Since their mother had given him permission, Axel was often down in the practice yards himself—all covered in padding so that if he fell over he might not even touch the ground Rhaenys liked to jape. He was often in a side section of the practice yard. He often practiced with Princess Elenei, who desired to take up a sword herself, much to Rhaenys’ interest. At his first practice when he learned he would be training with Prince Lyonel and Princess Elenei. Axel upon learning this had complained that he didn’t want to practice with Elenei—to which Rhaenys scolded him quite severely.

“You shame the very Rhoynish blood that runs in your veins! Dorne was conquered by a woman,” she’d reminded him.

“Aye and I’m just as much a Tully as I am a Martell,” he’d pouted.

“And the Tully words are?” she asked, laying her trap quite carefully for him to fall into.

Rather proudly Axel stated, “Family Duty Honor!”

“Well then, you should do your duty and be more honorable when listening to your family,” she said, feeling quite clever about herself at the time.

Axel protested, “I am too honorable!”

“You dismissed our mother’s blood in you, and scoffed at me when I said it was perfectly fine for Princess Elenei to practice with you.”

“I didn’t mean that…” he’d said while scuffing his boot in the dirt.

“But that is what you said, nonetheless little brother.” To which she’d only earned a glare in response. Exasperatedly she asked, “What did you mean?”

“She’s bigger than me… why doesn’t she practice with someone her own size?” he whined.

Despite being the same age as Axel, well a few moons younger to be precise, Princess Elenei took after her brothers Durran and Lyonel in being rather bigger for her age, while Axel seemed destined to be thin and wiry for some time to come. Rolling her eyes Rhaenys had pushed her brother towards the practice yard and said, “She won’t be bigger than you for forever, so learn to overcome that.”

Brought back to the present Oraen held his hand out for Durran to rise. Rhaenys heard a bit of clapping and turned to see Queen Anaesysa smiling as the Lyseni diplomat’s son bowed before the Tyroshi Queen. Rhaenys didn’t like the implications—after all, Anaesysa was to marry Harwood Baratheon, Durran’s cousin and the eldest son from Harbert Baratheon’s second marriage to Sylvia Fell, and brother to the current Lord Protector of the Stepstones, Lord Harmon—who was old enough to be Harwood’s father. It would be a marriage to secure Tyrosh’s alliance with Westeros, and Rhaenys didn’t like the idea of the dragonseed-looking Oraen ruining plans which her mother had been careful to arrange out.

 

She would simply have to intervene… somehow. Something which Rhaenys couldn’t say she would regret doing, as her eyes lingered over the thin but well developed form of Oraen as he and Durran laughed and gave each other pointers on their fighting.

 

The practice yard was then taken over by Axel and Princess Elenei. Princess Elenei and Axel practiced almost as frequently as Durran and his challengers did. After Oraen had taken his leave, and Cassana had begun to strum another haunting song, Rhaenys noticed Durran had turned to watch his sister meet wooden swords together with Axel in the practice steps that Ser Aron Santagar had choreographed for them.

“Don’t just stand still as statues,” called out Durran, distracting Elenei so that Axel’s tip of his wooden sword brushed her shoulder. That only served to intensify the mock battle between the two young ones.

Not only was Durran a good swordsman, but he looked after the young ones as well… he would make a good father when the time came. Oh why did the marriage have to wait for a few moons yet? Why couldn’t she marry him now? Why couldn’t she have him in her now?

Feeling a slight shudder, Rhaenys decided she needed to speak to Durran now. Deciding upon an excuse to draw him away from the practice spar, Rhaenys purposely dropped her handkerchief so that it fell to the ground with a flutter.

“Oh no!” she called out rather loudly—with Prince Durran failing to hear her, so she called out he plea yet again—only to be shouted over by Durran himself as he challenged Edrick to bet on whether their sister or Axel would win this match. Rhaenys gave one more shout and was about to give up when scurrying from another part of the practice yard came Prince Lyonel who quickly scooped up the handkerchief and then held it up.

“I think you dropped this,” called out Lyonel in his young childish manner which at once was endearing but hardly what Rhaenys had been hoping to catch.

“I must have,” answered Rhaenys, feeling as though she were drenched by a cold bucket of water, and unsure of how to respond. Her indecisiveness showed through in the tone of her voice. He however was a year younger than Axel, and so took no notice of any shift in her voice. Eager to please, Lyonel then took to a nearby trellis and began to climb it until he had reached a level equal with the balcony upon which Rhaenys and her ladies sat upon. Gallantly he held out the handkerchief and said, “For you, cousin.”

At this Lady Olenna giggled with Lady Roslin about seeing one so young act so chivalrous. Rhaenys had to admit it was a rather humorous sight, but held her tongue from joining Olenna and Roslin—even discreetly catching their eyes before elegantly stretching out and taking her handkerchief from Lyonel.

Axel could use to spend more time with Lyonel.

Rhaenys took the return of her handkerchief in stride and decided to try and stage a scene out of it by saying, “Oh, I thank you Ser Lyonel, for your brave dare-doing. A reward for your troubles,” said Rhaenys as she then leaned in and kissed Durran’s younger brother and her future Kingsguard on the cheek. The young Prince blushed furiously before climbing back down. During the exchange Prince Durran had left the practice yard, leaving her to only have Axel and Princess Elenei to watch, which Rhaenys certainly did not want to see.

 

It’s Axel’s fault! If he hadn’t commanded the Prince’s attentions…

 

“What is the matter, my Princess?” asked cousin Obara, her grip on her spear tightening.

 

Deciding it best to try and find Durran, Rhaenys excused herself by saying, “I fear the sun’s too hot for me this afternoon. I need a bit of shade. I’ll return anon.”

 

“I shall come with you then, cousin,” offered Obara.

 

“That is all right, Obara. I doubt there’s any daggers in the Keep aimed at me,” japed Rhaenys, who saw Roslin meet her eyes. For a brief instant Rhaenys recalled how a dagger once aimed at her had glistened like a jewel in the sunlight before tearing her dress. Ser Ulwyk and Obara had skewered the fanatic not long thereafter, but the memory of the shock made Rhaenys feel the need to retreat from the balcony all the more, which she did with a sudden haste.

 

She left her compartments and hurried for the stairs, footsteps nipping at her heels behind her.

 

As she turned into the corridor that led to the courtyard she found Prince Durran dressing himself once again. Composing herself, Rhaenys slowed down her pace as she approached. When she had arrived Durran was struggling to find his sleeve for his doublet. Just as a servant was about to help him into it, Rhaenys brushed him away and helped Durran herself. Durran then turned and saw who his helper was and stopped suddenly, blushing furiously as his confidence and ease of mind that he had had but a moment ago left him. It was rather adorable how nervous he seemed about her. He acknowledged her and Tyene—who must have followed her after her departure.

 

“You did well in the practice yard, my Prince,” cooed Rhaenys.

 

“T—thank you, my Princess, though I fear Master Rogare deserves your congratulations,” answered Durran, assuming a much more formal

 

“Aye, he won, but you’ve displayed much skill. Why, before Oldstones you were barely better than my little brother, but now you’re a knight in all but name.”

 

“I have much yet to learn,” grunted Durran sourly.

 

“Aye, like how to take a compliment,” snapped Rhaenys a bit too harshly, upset that her kind words weren’t being received as well as she’d wanted them to be. Feeling rather uncomfortable with her outburst she strode down the corridor and out into the courtyard, Tyene following as she did.

 

As they turned away from the practice yard to sit upon a small bench in a shaded alcove, Tyene chastised, “You expect too much from your fawn.”

 

Rhaenys sighed, “He hardly looks a fawn to me. His antlers have begun to grow.”

 

“But he has yet to lose his spots,” reminded Tyene. It was then that Durran himself appeared, and bowed before her as he apologized, “Forgive me, Rhaenys, but I have had something else pressing on my mind since I left Oldstones.”

 

“Nothing too serious, I hope?” asked Rhaenys.

 

“Aye and no, Princess, but I should not have let it affect our conversation. We’ve had such little time to know each other again since I left for Oldstones, and I would like to correct that.”

 

Rhaenys couldn’t help but smile then, and she shifted over on the bench so that Durran could join her, which he did.

 

“Are you fond of music?” asked Rhaenys, when it became obvious she would have to lead him in the dance of conversation.

 

“Aye but none of this morose nonsense that’s liked about the court. One would think the whole of King’s Landing were in mourning the way some people play their harps,” answered Durran.

 

“Won’t your cousin like to hear that,” teased Rhaenys.

 

“Oh Cassana’s the worst of them all—I mean she’s my cousin and I love her and all, but she is far too serious for her own good. And while black is a Baratheon color, she dresses in far too much of it.”

 

Tyene coughed and Rhaenys was reminded with just how close they were to her balcony where the depressing chords of Cassana’s harp could still be easily heard.

 

“What think you of riding?” asked Durran.

 

“There’s nothing more exhilarating in the entire world than a good ride on the back of a horse, and the wind through one’s hair.”

 

Durran smiled and then said, “When we go to Claw Castle, I’ll be sure to arrange rides every day!”

 

“The poor horses,” added Rhaenys with a smile.

 

“They’ll be so tired out from exploring my mother’s lands we might need spares!”

 

“And when are we to go to Claw Castle?” asked Rhaenys, knowing that the Queen had often traveled there for Durran to visit her while he was away at Oldstones.

 

Durran assured her, “After the marriage, of course. We’re to take a boat directly to Dragonstone, spend three weeks there and then go directly to Claw Castle for a moon afterwards.”

 

“A boat?” asked Rhaenys.

 

“Aye, how else are we to get to Dragonstone?”

 

“We need not go to Dragonstone,” offered Rhaenys, and they could very well ride all the way to Claw Castle—even if it was near the Whispers. She’d rather ride all the way than brave the ocean.

 

“Don’t you want to show me off to your people?” teased Durran, who had become much more comfortable since the beginning of their conversation.

 

Rhaenys replied, “Aye, but… I mean, there’s no rush to go there immediately after our wedding… besides I’d like to see what your mother has done to improve the Point and have enough time to admire the architecture. They say it’s built in the style of the First Men, but with more modern fortifications.”

 

“If that is what you want,” said Durran, with a tiny bit of confusion.

 

Taking his hand, she said quite forwardly, “What I want, Durran, is for us to be alone together in a place you obviously wish to show me.”

 

His face seemed to welcome the attention, but his hand was stiff as though he were afraid to return her grasp. Mayhaps she might be so bold as to kiss him? Aye she might like seeing his reaction to that.

 

But before she could get too close, Axel then came rushing up to them and interrupted them, with Princess Elenei right on his heels.

 

“Did you see that Durran, Rhaenys? I beat Elenei!”

 

“You cheated! That wasn’t part of Ser Aron’s steps at all!” whined Elenei.

 

“No, I used what Durran told me to do, and it worked!” exclaimed Axel.

 

“No fair!”

 

“I could tell you how to counter that move, Elenei, if you really want,” offered Durran, whose attention now shifted from Rhaenys to the children.

 

“But then she’ll win!”

 

Durran suddenly became quite serious and said, “That’s why you have to keep practicing… if you don’t, then you get soft, and who knows who can beat you then.”

 

“Can you show it now?” begged Elenei.

 

“The sun is getting rather low,” noted Durran.

 

“Please, and show me too!” added Axel, who then adopted the face that always won him whatever he wanted from mother and the servants. This time was no exception.

 

“Forgive me, Rhaenys. Mayhaps, later?” said Durran gallantly as he stood and without waiting for her to respond was dragged back to the practice yard by her brother and his sister.

 

To say that she was angry with her brother would be an understatement. He always was ruining everything she wanted to do. Angrily she huffed back into the castle, Tyene following her as her shadow would.

 

“I told you, that he’d yet to lose his spots,” clucked Tyene.

 

“I just wish he’d disappear!” raged Rhaenys.

 

“Prince Durran?” asked Tyene with much confusion.

 

“No, my stupid brother!” vented Rhaenys.

 

It was at that moment they turned a corner and almost ran immediately into Oraen Rogare, who appeared to have changed his clothes and dressed well in a purple silk doublet and trousers that matched his eyes—the naked love goddess of Lys embroidered over where his heart would be.

 

“My Princess has someone upset you?” questioned Oraen.

 

“Aye, my brother! May the gods see him gone from the Red Keep!” snapped Rhaenys, to which Oraen’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.

 

Oraen began by saying, “I think you speak with too much haste, the young Tully is a charming young boy—”

 

“He’s charming to everyone who isn’t his sister,” grumbled Rhaenys, who then spoke the fear she was worried about but dare not say, “He’ll likely find some way to ruin my wedding.”

 

“I doubt that,” snorted Tyene.

 

Rhaenys countered, “He’ll find some way—of that I can be sure! First he ruins mother’s health, then he takes away nearly all her attention… now he even steals my betrothed from me! He’ll never stop! Gods I just wish he were gone!”

 

“Princess Rhaenys!” called out a voice from further down the corridor, accompanied by the sound of running. She recognized it a moment later as her younger aunt, the Lady Aelinor Hasty. Not a moment later did the girl appear.

 

“What is it, Aelinor?” asked Tyene for Rhaenys.

 

The girl caught her breath, curtsied and then was on about her business, saying, “There were some men come from the Princess Dowager… she needs to see you immediately!”

 

Rhaenys thanked Aelinor for her attentiveness, sighed, and apologized to Oraen for troubling him with her concerns.

 

“Not at all, my princess, anything to make you happy,” answered Oraen with an odd look to his glance that Rhaenys promptly dismissed from her mind.

 

She and Tyene arrived at her mother’s compartments and were promptly let in. Her mother, who had never lost the weight she’d gained from having Axel was large not just in fat but also in water. Gods did she hate that cursed element at times. When it wasn’t trying to drown her, it was collecting inside her mother and blowing her up like a puff fish—occasionally weeping through the skin. Their mother was just something else that Axel had ruined.

 

Her mother was crying when Rhaenys entered, which caught her off guard immediately.

 

“Mother?”

 

Her mother immediately attempted to compose herself, as she said, “Rhaenys, my dear daughter… Hoster is dying.”

 

Rhaenys went pale at that moment. Although he wasn’t her father, he had been as much a father as she had known in her childhood. He'd taught her her sums, he'd danced with her when she'd been bored, and comforted her when the Goldstags had left for Bloodstone.

 

“Dying? Is Gormon sure?” asked Rhaenys, hardly able to believe it.

 

“Aye… he’s well sure of it. Now Edmure must be written to, and Brynden, and Catelyn, and Lysa… and where’s your brother?” asked her mother.

 

“In the practice yard…” and then suddenly she saw it. Her mother nodded dumbly.

 

“Will he last long enough for the rest of the family to arrive?” asked Rhaenys.

 

“Catelyn and Lysa? Most likely not… but if Brynden and Edmure were to ride here as soon as they received their letters… mayhaps?”

 

Picking up from her mother's tear-filled silence, Rhaenys supposed, “They’ll want him buried in the Riverlands fashion then?”

 

Her mother nodded dumbly again before saying, “Aye… which will mean a boat will need to be built for him.”

 

She could just see it now, Hoster laid out in his finest upon a boat, ready to be sent downriver and burned… with Axel likely to ruin it all by jumping aboard the boat and refusing to let go.

 

“And what are we to do with Axel?” asked Rhaenys.

 

“What do you mean?” questioned her mother.

 

Rhaenys tread carefully, “A funeral is no place for a boy his age.”

 

“He’s a Tully and deserves to be at his father’s funeral!” insisted her mother.

 

“Aye, but he’s also barely seven namedays old--you know how he can hardly sit still or keep quiet. And you know how impressionable he is. If he sees everyone crying—he’s likely to bawl his eyes out worse than everyone else.”

 

Her mother didn’t disagree with her, but simply countered, “Still, it would look odd him not being there.”

 

“Not if he were to go to Riverrun it wouldn’t. He’s a Tully, he should know Riverrun—and it’s not like Edmure would bring his entire family with him if he came now.”

 

“His father always wanted to show him Riverrun… but being hand he never had the time,” admitted her mother absentmindedly, as though caught in a memory.

 

And suddenly Rhaenys saw the solution to her problem. Not just for keeping Axel from ruining the funeral, but from ruining her wedding as well.

 

“In fact, he should know all his family, shouldn’t he? Why not have him meet his sisters and uncle while he’s at it. A grand tour of Westeros would be an adventure for him, and it would keep him from becoming all somber like Lady Cassana.”

 

Her mother begrudgingly agreed, “I wouldn’t have him as morose as that girl.”

 

She then knelt and took her mother’s hands in her own and squeezed reassuringly, knowing she needed to phrase it carefully as she said, “And you’ll need time to mourn Hoster, and I’ll need your help after the funeral with the wedding. It’ll be some time until anyone could pay him enough attention as he needs, and he would only suffer for it.”

 

“Would you have your brother gone for so long?” asked her mother with much shock.

 

Rhaenys defended herself, “I’m only thinking of what’s best for everyone, but most of all him. Axel would be bored and depressed staying in King’s Landing. Better to send him to know his Tully relations. He could even be of comfort to his other sisters as they’ll miss the funeral, as you say.”

 

A flurry of conflicting emotions passed over her mother’s face.

 

“We’ll talk more of this later… Right now, I only want to be by Hoster’s side,” lamented her mother. Taking pity upon her, Rhaenys offered to wheel her herself into his sick room and his bedside. There her mother took hold of her husband’s thin, bony, and pale hand. Rhaenys cried as she witnessed how they interacted, slightly jealous of how easily love came to them.

 

“Our time was short…” wheezed Hoster.

 

“We still have some time left... but they have been good years, my love,” said her mother as she kissed his hand.

 

“Aye… gods know whether I deserved them.”

 

“Don’t say that!” cried her mother.

 

Hoster replied fervently, squeezing her hand as much as he could, “You deserved them though, and so much more than I could give you.”

 

Her mother answered in a whisper that almost sounded like a fervent prayer, "I never wanted for anything more..."

 

It was then announced that Axel had arrived, to which her mother said for him to come in. As Rhaenys knew would happen, when Axel was summoned to see his father, he rushed over and jumped onto his bed and clung to him. Her little brother begged his father not to die, and caused Hoster to break into a coughing fit, which was soon joined by a screaming fit from Axel himself, as he thought his father dying presently. Rhaenys caught her mother’s eye as a servant had to wrestle him from his father and out of the room. Her mother looked worriedly at her before returning her attentions to calming Hoster’s cough.

 

Along with the ravens announcing Hoster’s slow creep towards death, plans for sending Axel to his Tully relations were included.

Chapter Text

ARYA

“Sansa!” called out Arya, tired of chasing her younger sister all over the castle. Her nearly five nameday old sister would be the death of her. While Sansa had a habit of avoiding anywhere where she might get dirty, she was far too often distracted by the sight of new or shiny things to make the likelihood of her wandering off and getting lost a high probability. As the eldest daughter it was Arya’s responsibility to look after her younger sister, to ensure that she was safe and keep an eye on her—or so her mother kept drilling into her head. Just like it was her responsibility to marry a boy two namedays her elder from across the bloody continent because her father had shamed that boy’s father by getting her brother Jon off of that boy’s aunt—at least that’s what Turnip, Gage the cook’s son had told her. When she’d asked her father about it he hadn’t denied it and had looked troubled. She’d been angry then. After all, she hardly knew her half-brother Jon, but for his existence she was to be traded off in marriage to a boy she’d hardly knew in a land as far from Winterfell as she could imagine. It was all because of Jon. To say she was inclined to dislike her half-brother would be how mother would phrase it. She bloody well resented him and was determined to hold onto that feeling. In her mind’s eye, when she’d imagined her future she’d always imagined herself in charge of some northern keep or castle—like her father was, or like Uncle Benjen. Nothing big like Winterfell, but with a few men to call her own, a few smallfolk to look after, and the right to do as she pleased whenever she pleased. Able to ride a horse whenever she wanted without having to learn side saddle as her mother wanted, fight whenever she wanted, learn whatever weapons she desired, and not have to be a good example of a lady for Sansa. Sansa though didn’t need anyone to set an example for her, as far as Arya was concerned. Despite her tendency to wander off after shiny or new things, she was everything that their mother desired in a daughter—her mother in miniature form. It was a bit of a relief to be honest, to see mother focus all her lady-like attention on her younger sister and likely consider her beyond being too much a lady.

After all, Arya had always loved to watch her brothers training with swords—even asking not long after Bran had taken up a wooden sword when it would be her turn. After all, her brothers all had done so before her, and Greyham Cassel was too soon after, why not she as well? Her mother had frowned at that, while her father had smiled ruefully and said nothing. So she had been left to her studies and lessons—most of them focused on the history of Dorne and House Dayne in preparation for her marriage, in addition to a strong emphasis on the North and Riverlands for sake of family ties. It was from Maester Luwin she’d learned that women in Dorne were often trained and expected to fight just as well as any man. That had been the one brilliant thing that her marriage to Edric Dayne would allow her, the excuse with which to nag her parents into letting her learn to wield a weapon. Thus when it came time for Ser Rodrik to teach Greyham—who was of age with her, Arya joined him in his lessons. Mother hadn’t been happy about that.

“Not all Dornish traits are desirable in a southern lady, Arya,” her mother had said.

“But if I’m to be a Lady of Starfall, what if my husband is called away on some business of Lord Martell—”

“Prince Martell” corrected her mother.

“Prince Martell, and one of my neighbors seeks to attack Starfall? I’d have to defend it wouldn’t I?”

“Not by yourself, you would have guards, a master at arms, a—”

“But I would be expected to take part nonetheless,” she’d pressed.

Her mother had sighed in aggravation.

It was here that Father interjected himself in their conversation and said, “You’ve made your point, Arya.” He was then quiet for a moment before saying, “You can join Bran in his lessons if you can satisfy Lady Nynien Lake and your mother with your other lessons.”

She had hugged her father quite firmly for that, and for once felt less upset to be marrying Edric Dayne. From that day forward she decided to learn more about Dorne—surely a place that let their women be fighters and had such great fighters as Nymeria couldn’t be all bad. And when she read that women had just as much right to hold a title as a man, Arya had decided that mayhaps Dorne might not be so bad a place after all—though she never let her parents know that. She did however look forward to the excuse it currently afforded her to keep from entertaining the she-demons who hounded her as though she were the key to winning Robb. From dawn until he was time to crawl under her furs she did her best to try and avoid their guests while not outright offending them. After all, she would have to be seen with all of them once, if only to weed out the truly bad ones for Robb, even if she hated how most them began their acquaintance with her with how they sympathized with how she was to be shipped off to Dorne without any concern on her own behalf. Mopsa Woolfield had been the first to mention it along with a quick turn around with how her own family had sent her to try and court Robb—so it was of course the same thing she added.

 

It was not the same thing! Not at all. Her betrothal to Edric Dayne had been agreed upon when she was but four namedays old and both Edric and herself had grown up knowing it to be the case. There was no need to curry favor with him or her attempted by either of them. They would simply have to accept each other as they were or break off the proposal. He’d written to her once on her nameday each year since he’d been old enough to write, and she’d been obliged to write to him likewise. At least from those letters she knew something of Edric Dayne—who wished like Jon to wield the legendary House Dayne sword Dawn. He was named in honor of her father for his actions he’d taken in securing and awakening Starfall after it had been drugged and left open for any thief or robber to take advantage of the castle. And he had a fondness for horses like she had. It wasn’t much to know of a person, and subsequent letters exchanged on their namedays had too often been about the other people in their lives—Edric writing quite a great deal of his aunt Allyria and her betrothed and later husband, Lord Beric Dondarrion, or describing their respective homes. Starfall she knew would be on an island at the mouth of the river and the beginning of a fertile river valley that the Daynes had ruled as Kings at one time. What did someone like Mopsa Woolfield know of Robb beyond what her parents told her? Nothing she bet. So in Arya’s mind it was hardly the same thing at all, and it angered her to hear of their situations to be compared so.

 

Sansa was free from all these messes of course, by her age and her birth order—free to gander at all the visitors and play with Edwyn to her heart’s content. Gods, what she wouldn’t give to have been born the younger sister and live a life where she didn’t have to think about these things at all.

 

It was then that Arya began to cross the bridge connecting the Great Keep and the armory, and provided a splendid view of the main courtyard and practice yards. Nymeria, her large and growing direwolf was lumbering after her, the old wooden bridge groaning beneath the wolf’s weight. Down in the practice yards were Lyanna Umber, Lyra Mormont, and Meera Reed all attempting to no doubt prove how worthy they were of Robb by showing off their martial abilities—or they might simply be attempting to practice themselves, but Arya had begun to doubt that anything any girl or woman did wasn’t carefully calculated by them or their parents in an attempt to woo Robb. Meera sparred with Bran with whom she was five namedays the elder and yet looked of age with him from her height. She poked at Bran with her chosen weapon of a frog sticker and Bran laughed it off. Lyra and Lyanna meanwhile fought one another—Lyra with her chosen weapon of a cudgel and Lyanna with a mace. The two seemed eager to beat one another and were swinging to try and do some damage to the other—even if the weapons were only of tourney quality, they could easily injure themselves. In Arya’s opinion it was a sickening display of stupidity. Might this have been how it would have been for her if she hadn’t been betrothed? Might all the brothers of these daughters of the North then have put themselves forward in attempt to woo her? The very thought revolted her because she could hardly stand the false favors the girls adopted—to think of their brothers in that same way? She guessed that might be a reason to be glad of a quiet betrothal agreement made without much fanfare.

 

Just then she heard coming from the elder part of the castle a fit of giggling Arya easily recognized from the Cassel twins. She hurried to the other side of the bridge and looked down to see the twins who had often been paired with her since her earliest memories. Beth whom Lady Nynien Lake favored for her simple obedience, Arya knew as always willing to lend a hand in any sort of prank that she or Rickon might come up with. Greyham, who otherwise attempted to look the little knight, used his reputation as a way to cover the pranks the three of them enjoyed pulling, using his clever mind to get them out of dodge many times. Rickon had organized their grouping originally before he’d gone to Oldstones, mayhaps since he was returning it would be again? Greyham after all didn’t have much time until he too would go to Oldstones and

 

“What’s so funny?” Arya called down to the twins.

 

After being startled by Arya’s call, Greyham signaled for her to come down and Beth silently jerked her head in the direction of the Old Courtyard which contained the lichyard and entrance to the crypts. Unfortunately the bridge was at a height that made it nearly impossible to see the entirety of the old courtyard, with the roof of the guard hall and the First Keep being in the way, so Arya had to hurry to the armory, down its steps and out its door to join their master at arms’ twins and see what she saw. Looking between the armory and the guard hall, she got a good view of the lichfield where she saw a few of the different girls vying for Robb’s attention having slipped and fallen themselves into mud and were arguing amongst one another, much to the amusement of Sansa and Edwyn who were nearby and had obviously from the stick in Edwyn's hand had been playing their favorite game of Aemon and Naerys—where Edwyn pretended to be Aemon the Dragonknight and he rescued his Naerys—played by Sansa—from some monster. Usually Sansa and Edwyn begged Arya to play the role of monster or one of the Snows if she were busy—Den often indulging her. Apparently she had been replaced this day by some of Robb’s suitors. Arya watched with Beth and Greyham as Mopsa Woolfield tackled Lynessa Dustin, landing her right in a particularly mud puddle. On the fringe of the puddle—but not immune to being covered in the stuff was Mira Forrester and Robetta Glover who were engaged in what seemed to be good-natured mudslinging. Arya smiled to herself… it might have been bad of her, but in this moment she didn’t care. It made her rather happy to see the idiots Mopsa and Lynessa go at each other.

 

“It was Greyham’s idea… we figured your mother wouldn’t like them showing up to Rickon’s arrival all covered in mud,” whispered Beth conspiratorially to Arya.

 

“You’re the one who came up with it, I just made it into a workable plan,” conceded Greyham with a soft smile that Arya knew he used on the adults.

 

Arya punched his arm and told him to quit boasting, causing Beth to burst out in a louder laugh than she’d meant. She covered her mouth as Greyham gave his sister a slight glare. But Beth’s laughter had luckily been well-timed as Robb’s suitors had turned to screaming at one another as they wrestled—well at least Lynessa and Mopsa had.

 

Greyham and Beth then laid out how Beth and Jeyne Poole had talked rather loudly about how Robb was sad that with all these visitors that no one was giving his baby sister any attention. Greyham had merely suggested to Sansa and Edwyn that they take their game to the muddy old courtyard for a change in scenery. And then when Rickon arrived, the girls would show up in the courtyard caked in mud, embarrassing themselves in front of Arya’s mother.

 

Arya conceded, “It would be a good plan… if Rickon were to arrive today.”

 

“But he will,” stated Greyham confidently.

 

“I doubt it… we’d have heard the first horn if they were arriving at all today—they’d have been visible on the horizon this morning.”

 

“But they were spotted, and I blew the first horn,” stated Greyham proudly, as though it had been a knighthood’s title bestowed upon him.

 

“What were you doing blowing the first horn?” questioned Arya.

 

“Cousin Jory said I could,” defended Greyham.

 

Jory Cassel was father’s captain of the guard, the head of House Cassel, and after his father, Greyham’s most revered idol.

 

“You mustn’t have blown it very hard if it didn’t wake anyone,” added Beth suddenly had found her voice again.

 

For extra measure Arya threw in, “And I’m easy to wake.”

 

At Arya’s comment Greyham blushed found his feet rather interesting and pouted, “Jory said I did well.”

 

“He’s family! Of course he’s going to say that stupid!” taunted Beth.

 

“I’m not stupid!” protested Greyham.

 

Arya knew where this argument was heading and headed it off by admitting, “No, but you’re too clever for your own good. Sometimes you miss the simple stuff.”

 

This had the intended effect of stopping him from continuing the argument.

 

“You think I’m clever?” asked Greyham.

 

Arya rolled her eyes, punched his other arm and said, “Of course, stupid.”

 

Then the horn sounded from atop the walls—and if Greyham were to be trusted for the second time, meaning that the party was only five miles out. They’d be at their gates in no time. And it was then that she suddenly remembered the reason her mother had sent her looking for Sansa in the first place—to see if the alterations to the dress that Jeyne, Arya, and Beth had worked together on, fit her better for Rickon’s return to Winterfell. She knew then that she’d have to bring an end to all the fun and games. But then a stray bit of mud flew past its target, it hit Sansa on the side of her face and caused her to step back and trip. Sansa stopped everything and began to cry, and yet the mud. Almost immediately Arya felt the tug to her gut she felt whenever Edwyn scraped himself or Sansa’s feelings were hurt, and instantly Arya entered the old courtyard and headed straight for the lichyard. Edwyn was already trying to calm the tearful Sansa down—with some success it seemed—for her cries weren’t echoing off the walls of Winterfell yet, like they usually did.

 

“You protest when I call you stupid, but not when she does?” Arya heard Beth challenge her broth—no doubt with a hard push.

 

“It doesn’t mean the same thing from her,” she heard Greyham justify just before she was out of listening range of them.

 

Arya trudged across the shallow puddle, without even lifting her ankle length skirt. She didn’t care if it got muddy, all that mattered was soothing Sansa down. She was at her little sister’s side the next instant where Edwyn was trying to wipe away the mud from Sansa’s face, but she wouldn’t let him touch her, claiming that some of it had gotten into her eyes and she couldn’t see.

 

Arya grappled with her baby sister and pulled her up into her arms and held her close, hushing her, and comforting her baby sister. In response Sansa clung tightly to her, wrapping her legs around Arya’s waist and clutching tightly to her neck with her arms. Arya felt the cool mud of autumn against her cheek, but she didn’t care. Arya then turned around and glowered at the four suitors of Robb and with a tone that almost reminded her of her mother, she growled, “You lot hurt my baby sister.” Nymeria, who’d followed her into the courtyard put herself between Arya and the would-be suitors and gave a small snarl, scaring the four girls. For a brief moment Arya wondered where Lady and Ice Eyes were—before whimpers at the godswood’s iron gate made that obvious. Edwyn torn between the two scenes, with a nod from Arya scurried off to set their wolves free.

 

To say that it was obvious that Mopsa Woolfield and Lynessa Dustin wished they were small enough to hide in the mud they’d been wrestling in would have been an understatement. Likewise, Mira Forrester and Robetta Glover looked shame faced. Lady then joined her pack sister in snarling at the four suitors, giving Arya the opportunity to leave. Edwyn and Ice Eyes were headed towards the Great Keep. As Arya herself headed for the new courtyard she glared at Robb’s would-be suitors from behind their wolves.

 

“Can you see?” asked Arya to her baby sister, once they were out of the old courtyard.

 

Sansa shook her head, her eyes were no doubt slammed shut… there needed to be a way to wash out her eyes and then Arya saw it---a filled water trough for the horses. It would be just the thing. Bringing Sansa to the water trough she guided her through the process of dunking her head in water. There were a few times where Sansa delayed on fear that it might hurt worse, to which Arya had very little patience for Sansa’s self-doubt. Soon though the drying mud was off of Sansa’s face—with Lady licking any that remained off and causing Sansa to giggle some as her gentle direwolf’s tongue tickled her. Arya then took the opportunity to wipe her own cheek off from the mud that Sansa had smeared on it. Nymeria, bored lumbered off to investigate something that interested her more.

 

It was as she was finishing cleaning her own stains on her shoulder and neck, that Arya took note that water had run down onto Sansa’s dress. For a brief instant she considered dragging Sansa up to the nursery to change dresses, but then, intending to bring Sansa inside to clean up and prepare for trying on the dress that she was to wear when Rickon, the third horn sounded. It was now only a mile until the group arrived.

 

Already? What are they doing, galloping home?!

 

Well… Rickon would.

 

“Who’s coming?” asked Sansa as Arya quickened her pace for the Great Keep as she let go of Edwyn’s hand and urged him to hurry to his room and prepare himself.

 

Arya held off on answering until they were inside the Great Keep and rushing up the steps to find a water basin.

 

“Our brother, Rickon, remember?” prodded Arya.

 

In truth Sansa didn’t know Rickon that well at all outside of his visit from last year which she vaguely recalled, but only because that was where she’d met Lady for the first time. People soon began assembling in the courtyard then in preparation for greeting the new travelers. Notably shocked at the gathering were the four mud-covered suitors that were attempted with as much discretion as they could muster to sneak around into the Guest House without being seen, of course failing.

 

The party entered with Rickon’s black direwolf—a gigantic beast larger than any of his pack, followed not far behind by Rickon himself. He laughed as he pulled his horse to a stop and leapt down from his horse. He grew slightly constrained in front of father—who said he wished to speak with him and Robb quite soon. Rickon then embraced mother more warmly than she’d expected, and greeted them all. But for Arya, her larger and stronger brother lifted her up and swung her around in a hug most fierce, which caused Arya to laugh, happy to have Rickon home at last.

 

“Gods, little sister… you’re getting big… soon you’ll be a woman.”

 

Arya punched him for that, and the two were soon laughing as she was put back down on the ground and he continued on to Edwyn and Sansa.

 

It was then, at a respectable and much easier cantor that three men came in to Winterfell at the head of a wagon train behind them. Arya instantly recognized Jon—he looked quite like father and Edwyn, and riding ahead of him was a lord with a forked purple lightning bolt… which Arya recalled was the banner of House Dondarrion—meaning that this was to be her good uncle, Lord Beric, when she married Edric Dayne. The third person was only a few years her elder, lean but not too tall. He had pale blond hair and a set of alarming violet eyes which caught Arya’s attention the minute she connected with them, and she simply knew it was Edric.

 

He’s smaller than I thought he’d be.

 

And now the real test of the betrothal was to begin.

Chapter Text

LYANNA

 

“For the last bloody time, Robert, you made me Lady of Cracklaw Point! I will oversee it how I see fit!”

 

Lyanna was tired of this old argument, but along with discussions of what Durran and Rhaenys’ post-wedding activities would be came the surprise that Rhaenys wished to spend the majority of it in Claw Castle, and less time on Dragonstone. Along with this revelation came of course the re-emergence of the old argument over her choice as Claw Castle’s castellan, Claryce Crabb, who lived there with her young son, Clarence Waters.

 

“She was a whore, Lyanna.”

 

“The key word is was. And since when has a whore ever been too low for your cock?”

 

His blue eyes had raged like the ocean at that, and she’d frozen it with her icy steel glare. After the birth of his youngest natural daughter, Barra, Lyanna had been furious. In the time that she had spent in Winterfell, she’d come to miss and even grow fond of Robert… even consider that what they had might be the beginning of love. And then the whore had arrived in the midst of the court like the previous two had, proudly carrying the black of hair and blue of eye babe, who smiled just like he did. She called her Barra, and Lyanna had felt her heart stop in that instant, and shatter when Robert had let forth a smile at the sight of his bastard girl. He’d broken his vow to her, after swearing to put all aside , to try and be better, he’d given up. She couldn’t have been more disgusted with him than at any other moment. The instant he’d taken the girl into his arms, Lyanna had stood and exited the court without ceremony—to the commotion of all. She left immediately for Claw Castle, which at that point had been nearly finished, leaving Robert’s excuses of how he hadn’t been with her for nigh three years

 

He’d whimpered, “What with your being big with Edrick, your bloody trip North, the Stepstones War, the Siege of Tyrosh, your brother’s wedding, and the murder of the bloody High Septon. I had missed you so much... it hurt.”

 

“Then why the hell couldn’t you have waited?!” she had yelled at him.

 

“I drank it hurt so much to miss you… and once I was sodden I… I made a mistake, Lya.”

 

“You only realize that now you godsdamned louse!” she’d raged, throwing a goblet of wine at him with the full fury of her arm.

What had hurt though, more than the bloody bastard, was that he’d not told her a bit of it. He had simply acted as if nothing had happened, and allowed her to think as much. She could have forgiven almost immediately at the time if he’d told her. But his damn foolish pride had let him lie to her, and that was the worst insult of all.

 

She had retreated to Claw Castle, claiming the need to oversee the final stages of its completion and spending time with Lyarra and Edrick—whom she’d taken with her in her self-imposed exile from the court. Durran she had left in King’s Landing not by her choice, but because he was his father’s choice fawn, something which became clearer to her with each passing day. He had Robert’s stubbornness, his insistence to have his own way in everything, his tendency to retreat and pout when he didn’t get his way, and occasionally Robert’s knack for selfishness. She hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself, but she’d been happy leaving the little fawn with the stag, taking only her two little wolves.

 

On the early mornings, as the sun was rising, she awoke and took them down to wade on the rocky beach near Claw Castle—the rocks well smoothed over from the waves that rolled upon the shore. She’d taught them how to swim, how to ride (well, in Edrick’s case how to sit a saddle while she rode), how to read and how to write their letters—both of them modeling their hands after her own distinctive style. Her little wolves were hers and hers alone. A few visitors came in those days, her lords bannermen: both Brunes, Boggs, Pynes, Hardys, Caves, and Dick Crabb—the last of the Crabbs, who’d come with a sad story to tell of his once noble house’s fortunes, and his sister’s condition in King’s Landing. He was her first choice as castellan at the time seeing as he had very little else for him beyond the life of a hedge knight with the utter collapse of the Whispers. He was yet a young knight, recently made a Ser in the Stepstones, and had arrived begging to be of some use to her. When she had done so, she reflected on how it had felt really good to do something truly charitable for someone desperately in need of it, and resolved to do more of such ventures in the future.

 

Lyanna even had a visit from Arthur, who’d come when he heard she was to have a castle of her own built in the style of the First Men’s ringed fortresses that he had a wish to see for himself. Truth be told she knew the true reason was that word had reached him at Oldstones—which was still under a hurried construction then—that she had fled Robert’s court when the bastard girl had been presented to the king by her whore mother.

 

They’d talked then, and one night watched as he’d helped her put Edrick and Lyanna to bed. He’d put her babes to bed very caringly and lovingly—lingering for a time with Lyarra and then Edrick. For an instant she pretended in her mind that Arthur was her children’s father that she was Lady Lyanna Dayne of Starfall, and living a different and happier life… one she knew was destined for her niece. But as easily as she had imagined it, did that life flit from her sight and the bare reality stretched forth.

 

“It won’t be good for the realm to see you and the King publicly in disagreement with each other,” he’d begun, quietly after departing the nursery with her.

 

“Why not? He’s broken his word to me. He knew the consequences! Let the whole realm know of it!” she’d roared.

 

He’d sighed and answered, “If the court sees that the King cannot keep his own Queen from contradicting his will, then why should they follow it?”

 

“So I’m to endure the presence of that girl? Is that what you’re saying? How hard a thing to say when you have a bastard of your own hidden in the snows of the North!” she challenged as she grabbed his elbow and had him stop in the middle of the corridor.

 

Arthur’s eyes narrowed as he retorted, “No. You need not endure her if you do not wish it, but you needn’t make your disagreement over the matter public. The realm is still recovering from the war, and needs stability and peace now, more than ever. Whatever his faults, you need to put them aside for the good of the realm.”

 

“We both know where doing things for the good of the realm lead, Arthur, or have you forgotten?!” she snapped.

 

Arthur had remained silent then—his dark blue, almost violet, eyes staring straight at her, as if waiting for her to say more—steeling himself against whatever else she had to say.

 

“Gods, why do you let me say such things to you?” she asked with a trembling sigh, regretting what she’d allowed out of her mouth as the moments passed by in silence.

 

His answer was sad, but true, “We’ve always been honest with each other, your grace… mayhaps the only ones who ever truly have.”

 

“And of your girl? What will you do for her?” she’d asked.

 

His voice had croaked then as he’d answered, “I’d like to bring her to Oldstones one day… if she would know me.”

 

“Of course she’ll want to know you,” Lyanna assured, thinking fondly of the dark haired girl with laughing violet eyes that had been learning to walk when she’d departed from Winterfell. She took Arthur’s hand and squeezed, partially to beg his pardon, and partially to find some forgiveness for her own thoughtlessness.

 

Most of all, Lyanna realized that she pitied him, and all other forbidden thoughts of the fallen star she had contemplated during his stay she bid farewell from her mind, as she turned to comforting and counseling him like his sister might have, had she lived. He left to return to Oldstones a stronger man in spirit than he’d arrived. As she saw him ride off, she wondered what Robert might have been like if he’d had as much self-awareness as Arthur had if then they might be happy. Soon enough Edrick had distracted her and pulled her from her thoughts to focusing on his favorite subject: himself, and Lyarra had dazzled her with a desire to ride her pony all by herself—without any help from Lyanna holding the reigns.

 
And then it all was ruined the day she’d begun to swell with Elenei. Robert’s gift to her before the arrival of Barra at the court had divided them. For some time she considered drinking moontea to flush what was surely another fawn out of her. She tossed and turned on the idea, Elenei being a restless babe—even from her earliest months—until at last she’d came to the realization one morning as she stared at Edrick and Lyarra just what might have been if she’d drunk moontea while being big with them. All thoughts of drinking moontea ever after were banished from her mind forever more and she began to speak of giving Edrick and Lyarra another member of their pack that day forward. When she was near eight moons big, she sent word of her pregnancy to King’s Landing, finally deciding to answer the multitude of ravens that came to her unanswered from Robert’s own hand. Robert had ridden out to Claw Castle himself that night, arriving three days later on a nearly dead horse, himself weary from not having stopped for food, water, or sleep. He’d collapsed in her unfinished courtyard causing Lyanna to fear he’d knocked his head from his foolhardy ride.

 

After tending to him, he eventually woke and they began speaking to one another once again. They came to a new agreement. She would publicly acknowledge Barra’s existence as she had for the other Goldstags, and then the girl would be sent away to be raised at Robert’s Port by Harbert’s branch of the Baratheon line. She’d also added that if he ever so much as thought of whoring again that she’d make a eunuch of him. He’d laughed then, but Lyanna considered actually doing it.

 

How Claryce Crabb then came to be her castellan came after her reuniting with Robert. Having heard of how his sister—a woman of noble birth—was forced to turn to whoring due to their house’s poverty, Lyanna resolved after Lyonel’s birth to set things to right for poor Dick, and had personally investigated where Claryce had taken up residence. To say that she had been appalled by the sights and conditions of the whorehouses she investigated—under a discrete hood and veil would of course be only stating the obvious. The fact that the Lords of the realm could visit these places and see nothing but what their hard cocks desired only increased her negative opinion of those associated with such institutions.

 

She found Claryce in one of the whorehouses run by a Summer Islander woman who was noted for her house being pricy and higher class than most other bawds. Just for talking with one she found she had to pay the bawd—but after doing so she had been left alone with Claryce. The girl had been given six moons rest at that time to dedicate herself to her son, who she’d named Clarence. Lyanna left with Claryce that night and sent her immediately to Claw Castle, promising her that she’d never again have to resort to such measures.

 

To think that the Targaryens had allowed the bannermen who’d sworn to obey them for all eternity to simply rot like the Crabbs had was inexcusable to Lyanna, and she set about turning the fortunes of the Point around. She had the road between the Whispers and Maidenpool refurnished. It would be something required for the future in any respect—she couldn’t expect her future descendants to all sail straight to Claw Castle like the building materials had for its construction. She also had the beacon tower rebuilt at the Whispers, arguing with Qarlton Chelsted himself that such was necessary for ships rounding the point, and that a presence at the Whispers would cut down on the smuggling occurring between the capital and Gulltown. A few years passed but now Cracklaw point was the better for it, in her mind--even if it had cost Lord Qarlton his sanity it seemed. When the beacon tower at the Whispers was rebuilt, Dick took up a household there once again, vowing to find by some marriage to rebuild the old castle. Claryce meanwhile Lyanna kept on as her new castellan, which proved to be of immense assistance as she had a very shrewd mind in seeing that every cost that went into Claw Castle was accounted for, and even saving money where Lyanna had begun to fill up some coffers of her own to assist in other endeavors--where she aimed to find positions for whores seeking to leave their trade or forced by situation into it. Some, like the Summer Islander woman would of course always be attracted to such a position, but as Claryce whispered in Lyanna's ear, there were more than enough girls who were forced or who owed so many debts so as to be considered slaves in all but name, and it was those situations Lyanna found fault with and attacked.

 

Robert hadn't liked it, of course, but he apparently could only imagine whores having only one function, and not see the woman beyond what lay between her legs. But what had been most odd about this circumstance was when the High Septon requested an audience of her.

 

Guarded by the ever loyal and northern Ser Mark Ryswell, Lyanna received him at the Red Keep. She met him dressed in a fine white silk gown, trimmed with grey wolf fur around the edges, with a gold and black striped underskirt beneath it and puffed out where her white silk gown was tied together. She kept her hair in the simple northern fashion of her choice but donned a white gold veil, pinned in place with opal and pearl decorated pins. None would dare say she met the leader of the southron faith with less dignity, even if she found the courtly dress tedious for a private meeting.

 

The fat man caused the chair she had given him to sit upon to groan, and he clucked, "Your grace has chosen for yourself such an odd charity in addition to the orphan homes under your protection."

 

"It has come to my attention that many women are forced into the practice without consent or with little other choice. I seek merely to bring an end to such arrangements."

 

"But leave those willing alone, I presume."

 

"Leave them to choose for themselves, if an alternative is truly what they desire," remarked Lyanna, who recalled all too well the warning she'd received from Claryce about many whores not looking kindly upon the idea of banning the trade altogether. Better to make it one of choice she'd eventually convinced her, with the foregone conclusion in Lyanna's mind that if she made the alternative more attractive completely that then there'd be only the obvious choice to take.

 

"And where exactly would you find for these women you liberate to do?" questioned the High Septon with an odd perceptiveness, which made Lyanna question how much of the corpulent and dumb witted nature he gave at the court was an act hiding a more cunning mind beneath.

 

"Anywhere where there is decent and honest employment. Many of these women could more easily live for an honest trade if given the chance."

 

"A few of my order would not disagree with you, your grace. No indeed, they would not..." commented the High Septon with an odd smile upon his lips.

 

"It pleases me to hear that not all adherents to the Faith have lost sight of the problems of this world in favor of such trivial disagreements of doctrine," tested Lyanna, wondering just where his true thoughts stood.

 

"There seem to be but a few of them left, but you are quite right your grace--they have not died out altogether. In fact, I should arrange for them to meet with you. They have long pushed me on this matter, and since you have taken it upon yourself, I believe it would be better for the realm to see members of the Old and New faith working together on an issue which troubles them both--do you not?"

 

To this Lyanna could not disagree and soon she was made the acquaintance of Septon Angyl and Septa Isobel, who were representatives of a larger collection in the faith who wished as she did to bring an end to whoring on a greater scale than had been done before. Septon Angyl was a rather stern man, pious to a fault, and believed that all men should be held to a strict and high moral standard which he himself apparently tried to live up to. His solution was to punish the men more severely to save the women. Septa Isobel, his compatriot was a bit more understanding--her own sister having lived and died a whore when tossed out of her home by her husband, she saw a bit more nuance to the matter, and thus came more into her private councils than Septon Angyl did.

 

Robert, like Septon Angyl however, did not see any of the nuances and claimed she was trying to shut down the entire business of whoring as retribution for Barra. The matter of course had nothing to do with Barra or her mother, as far as Lyanna was concerned. After all, Barra's mother had already found her alternative to whoring by joining her daughter on Bloodstone. Seen in the proper light, Lyanna could see that many of the bastards that were gotten in the realm were due to whores hoping to find favoritism and patronage from their noble clients as an alternative to having to whore, and in that regards Barra's mother had already found her own way out of a whorehouse. And it was in that regard she wondered if mayhaps she'd found the tipping point on the scale to gather the noble lords of the realm behind her cause.

 

She had pleaded her case before the court this very morn, stepping down from the dais after the announcement of a visit from a Prince and Princess from across the Sunset Sea. She had promised an end to the majority of bastardy and threats to inheritance altogether. Take away the problems a majority of whores faced that forced them to make such moves, and more stability and peace could be brought to the realm. But the nobles had simply stared at her in utter shock as she had argued her point. It had taken the public announcement of Queen Anaesysa's betrothal to Harwood Baratheon, Robert's young cousin, to end the stifling silence which had descended upon the court. It was only then that the court was once again merry and supportive, while she walked out of the court miffed and angry to say the least.

 

Robert had left her compartments in one of his rages--no doubt he'd take it out to the practice yard where he'd smash things with his warhammer, and then she'd be forced to attend a silent dinner with him and the children, which she was simply not up to. What she needed was a good ride, and someone to talk to her who wasn't of her blood. The ride could easily be had now, but where would she go? She couldn't flee to Claw Castle--there would not be enough time to return in preparation for the arrival of her goodbrother, Renly.

 

It was then that a knock was heard on her door. With a frustrated sigh she bid the guards let whomever it was in. She was surprised to see Princess Rhaenys glide through the door. After the proper courtesies were curtly made, Lyanna asked for Rhaenys to sit down--hoping to get through whatever the girl wished to speak with her about as quickly as possible.

 

"Your grace, I've come on behalf of my betrothed, your son."

 

This surprised her.

 

"What about Durran?"

 

"It's come to my attention that despite welcoming him home from Oldstones that you have not given him much of your time."

 

"What has he been saying?" queried Lyanna.

 

The young dragon blushed and admitted, "Nothing... it is merely my own observations, your grace."

 

"He is nearly a man grown--surely he doesn't need or want his mother fussing about him. Before he left for Oldstones was when he last had need of me. A boy his age has more need of a father than his mother," dismissed Lyanna, knowing the last thing she wanted to do was hear any of Robert's arguments coming from Durran's voice.

 

The young dragon protested, "But he still does, your grace. I've seen the way he looks at you, and it is much like my younger brother is apt to do when our lady mother hasn't much time for him. The looks are one and the same."

 

"He knows where I am, if he ever desires my opinion," answered Lyanna lightly, giving a fleeting look to the sky outside to see how much daylight she had left for a ride before the evening meal.

 

Rhaenys blinked and with some shock answered bluntly, "I don't think that is enough, your grace."

 

That was it. Lyanna had had it.

 

"And who are you to tell me what is or isn't enough for my children?! You may soon be my gooddaughter, but do not presume before you've swelled with your own babe to know how best it is to be a mother!" snapped Lyanna.

 

"I merely thought you should know your grace... I see now that was a mistake. Good day."

 

The young Princess gave a curt curtsy and departed the room in a peeved mood.

 

Blast it all, now she really needed a ride. She pounded a fist upon the table she sat next to and was surprised to find with the moisture on her skin to find one letter stick to her. She pried it off and gave a look at it to find it was an older one from a few moons past from the Queen Dowager at her home at Blackwater Keep. The letter had been as formal as the Queen Dowager ever was.

 

It then suddenly occurred to Lyanna that Blackwater Keep was about a half a day's ride away from King's landing--an easy ride to make with a small party. She could leave now and arrive just in time for the evening meal--and mayhaps speak with the Queen Dowager about how to better handle the court on these matters.

 

She had the guards send word to Lyarra, Edrick, and the stables to prepare for the three of them to ride out almost at once, accompanied of course by Ser Mark and three or four guards--all of them cloaked to obscure their identity--she didn't want Robert knowing until the letter she'd write for him was delivered to him at the evening meal. It would be an adventure of sorts--to shake up the monotony of life at court, and the very thought made her rather excited to be under way as soon as possible, for once they were out of the city all they need to do was ride alongside the Blackwater until they came to the keep erected by Daemon Blackfyre himself.

 

Ser Mark was used to her frequent flights of fancy like this, and so sighed when she told him of her intent to travel to Blackwater Keep with Lyarra and Edrick. Lyarra--ever her little she-wolf--was also excited by the prospect.

 

"And Father, Durran and Rhaenys will come as well?!"

 

"Nay, Lyarra, they need the time to know one another better without us bothering them. Besides, this shall be our own special treat--just like when we went to Claw Castle, remember?"

 

"So father isn't coming?" questioned Lyarra with a sad look growing upon her face.

 

"No sweetling, the crown is a heavy burden upon his head I am afraid... but you shall get to meet Lady Aelinor's sister, wouldn't you like that? And Edrick can play with Lady Aelinor's little brother."

 

Lyarra had nodded and gave a ghost of a smile, but it was clear that a large part of the trip's attraction to her had dissipated.

 

Edrick was himself reluctant to go, still eager to press Durran for more information about Oldstones--as he was to depart for the castle soon. But the promise of a new boy to try his wooden sword against, easily won him to her cause. She spoke with the servants about seeing to Elenei, Lyonel, and Orys' needs for the night, promising to bring back each a treasure she found on her ride. The letter for Robert's concern was penned last and was given to Lady Betha Brune, her most trusted Lady in Waiting in King's Landing, to be given to the King only upon the start of the evening meal. A raven was sent ahead to Blackwater Keep, warning the Queen Dowager of her intent to visit.

 

They set off as soon as Lyanna had changed into her riding clothes, the afternoon sun high in the sky as they left the Red Keep and descended into the bustling city. Flea's Bottom was a much smaller portion of the city, thanks to the wealth which had trickled in to the capital after the resumption of trade from the east, the taxes , the outer edges of it having been bought up and demolished for middling homes that were withdrawn from the street and gated with iron to prevent thievery. Some of the new owners of these middling sort of homes were traders who saw the convenience of location Flea Bottom had to the port and were seeking to push out the beggars one street at a time, many simply finding new scattered sections of the city to live in, while others left to go to who knew where. A few of these homes were home to Lyanna's collection of orphans whom war had made that she financed the care of. She sought to keep the next generation of children from ending up thieves and whores by providing better opportunity, which the new merchants were eager to provide in the form of apprenticeships and other forms of employment.

 

And then as they turned onto a less busy street of the stinking city she saw something odd written upon the wall.

Down with the Queen of Whores!

 

The Queen of whores? Was there such a woman to so boldly proclaim such a title--even if informally?

 

Ser Mark seemed rather disgruntled by the sight and urged them to continue--remarking that the light of day would wane if they tarried much longer, and so they continued on their way, but even after leaving the city through the Mud Gate and beginning their gallop along the Blackwater, Lyanna couldn't help but wonder exactly who was the Queen of Whores.

Chapter Text

RICKON

 

In truth Rickon rather liked all the lively activity that overtaken the castle. Normally the castle was as quiet and contemplative as its godswood. With many of the important houses of the North as guests, there was hardly a moment’s rest, and there was always someone doing something. Gods he envied his brother—to have the choice of so many northern ladies, a few of which were actual beauties that had caught Rickon’s eye a plenty. Lady Reylene was a shy sort in terms of personality, but she was doe-eyed and had the figure fine and slender enough to be called “the Doe of the Hornwoods”—and out of favor with Robb it seemed, as he did not pay any special attention to her.

 

“Lady Reylene is her uncle’s finest jewel,” Brandon Glover had whispered to him as they feasted in the Great Hall both Rickon’s return, and Lord Dayne’s arrival. It was Brandon’s way of telling her that his attention to the Hornwood lady was being taken notice of by others, and Rickon promptly moved his attention to other ladies who were also well worthy of his gaze.

 

The direwolves all gnawed on their own bones at the fringe of the hall, Black Fang growling as Nymeria eyed his bone. Wylbert’s sister Wynafryd was present, and were he not such a friend, Rickon might have actually tried to woo the fair-haired Manderly girl, but there were some lines that Rickon would not cross—wooing a sister of a friend was one of them. Robetta Glover, Brandon’s older sister was also off limits, even if she was developing rather nicely—though to tease Brandon over the idea he let his glance at her linger a little too long until he had felt his foot stomped upon by Brandon’s slightly oversized boot of his father’s that Brandon needed to stuff the toes of to fit right. In response Rickon had laughed and gave Brandon a bit of a shove. Arya and Lord Dayne sat next to one another each trying to start what looked to be an awkward conversation between each other and not getting far. His eyes passed over Jon and went straight to Mormont, Umber, and Reed—all of which were far from having the assets Rickon had come to value at the inn near Oldstones—they were boyish in appearance, gods help the man saddled with such a bride. Passing over his Father’s empty seat, Rickon felt rather upset—he had been there at the start of the feast, but then Maester Luwin had come and whispered something in his ear and he was off and away. Mother was busy fussing over Sansa and Edwyn. Then there was Lady Gwyn Whitehill, who stirred her food about her plate with her fork as though wholly uninterested in it, looking quite sad and forlorn—as though she wished for anything but to be here. Mopsa Woolfield was a buxom girl, especially for her age, whose dress seemed ready to fall to the floor at the merest tug of a woolen cord. Robb was currently sitting next to and whispering with Alys Karstark, who when she thought his brother wasn’t looking stole an odd glance to Jon. Rickon frowned at that—any of these girls would be lucky to be chosen to be the next Lady Stark and she was stealing glances at his half-brother. Deciding to put his mind off of it, Rickon continued his looking. Mira Forrester was deep in conversation with Jeyne Poole—the two girls apparently enjoying one another’s company. His brother Bran was busy chatting with Eddara Tallhart. And then there was pretty Lynessa Dustin, sitting next to her mother, Lady Dustin. Lynessa seemed to be her mother in miniature, but without the suspicious strain around her mouth and eyes which detracted from an otherwise pretty face. She would be a good lady to practice on this eve, and as such he leaned over to Brandon and with his eyes indicated him to look over at Lynessa.

 

“She is a pretty thing…” agreed Brandon as he chewed with his mouth full.

 

“Bet I can steal a kiss from her before midnight,” challenged Rickon. Robb wouldn't mind. Besides it'd do him a favor as it would be one less girl to choose from, and he wasn't paying her any mind as it was.

 

“That would be a record compared to the others,” snorted Brandon before his mouth twisted into a sly smile.

 

It was now Rickon’s turn to grind his heel into Brandon’s foot.

 

“And what are you two fighting about?” asked Den’s voice from behind them both. Rickon turned to see his brother in all but name standing there with a suspicious look upon his face.

 

“Nothing!” said Rickon a little too quickly.

 

Den rolled his eyes but inquired no further, saying with a sigh, “Your lord father wishes to speak with you in his solar.”

 

“Now? I thought whatever it was could wait until morning?” questioned Rickon.

 

“Apparently not,” countered Den.

 

Rickon sighed and stood.

 

“I guess that means I win the bet then,” smirked Brandon, to which grasped his friend’s shoulder and leaned in close to his friend’s ear.

 

“No, but it will make things a bit more interesting,” whispered Rickon with an air of easy confidence.

 

He gave his excuse to mother, Robb, and Edric before following Den to the edge of the Great Hall. Black Fang stood as he passed, leaving his bone open to be swiped by Nymeria, but Black Fang didn’t care.

 

“To me,” urged Rickon as he caught eyes with his wolf, and soon Black Fang was lumbering next to him, his great big black shadow. Black Fang, Rickon was proud to say was bigger than all the other wolves—well except for Grey Wind, who was quite obviously the alpha of their pack. Soon they reached where the cloaks hung.

 

“What’s this about?” asked Rickon as he clasped his cloak with a silver direwolf pin.

 

“I know about as much as you do,” countered Den obstinately as he wrapped his cloak about his shoulder, and they then left the Great Hall. It had begun to snow quite lightly outside, a few flurries and a slight wind.

 

“And just before the pudding was to be served,” said Rickon a bit regretfully—he’d missed Gage’s puddings while in Oldstones.

 

“There’ll be plenty of time for pudding later, Gage knows how much you like them,” assured Den with an easy smile.

 

Rickon arrived at his father’s solar without further incident, his father looked weary as though he hadn’t slept, and were tired of all the commotion about Winterfell. He also had a grave look to his normally stoic lord’s face—as Bran was oft to call it. Maester Luwin and Vayon Poole flanked him on either side of his seat, making Rickon feel rather nervous about stepping before his father.

 

“Den, if you could, could you fetch Ashara and knock when you’ve returned?” asked his father to the Snowwolf—a term Arya had coined for all the bastards, after the reputed Sandsnakes of Dorne. As she had put it, if Sunspear was good enough to have snakes of sand, then Winterfell was more than good enough to have wolves of snow. Thinking of Arya’s words helped ease Rickon’s mind and put his thoughts at rest. Den, silently obeyed and left the room. Black Fang settled himself before his father’s roaring hearth after giving the room a sniff.

 

“Why is he getting Ashara?” asked Rickon.

 

Vayon Poole said simply, “Her mother has been of help in these matters, and will yet prove of more assistance yet, your lord father believes.”

 

“What matters?” asked Rickon.

 

His father sighed and with a knowing looked asked, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me that occurred nearly a year ago Rickon?”

 

Rickon was at a loss for words, “Not that I know of, father.”

 

“Are you sure?” asked his father, “Not even of a certain maid of your mother’s?” asked his father, his knowing look growing sharper. Rickon knew what that look meant. There’d be no hiding anything from him.

 

Rickon blushed. He recalled a maid dark of hair and brown of eye during his last visit—she was a few years his elder—buxom and pert—and he’d just gotten a few hairs about his cock. She’d walked in on him stroking his sword as he waited for more water for a bath. At first he’d been embarrassed, sitting upon his hands and ducking in as far as the water would allow to hide his erection. She’d japed that he didn’t know what to truly do with it. He’d stood and protested that he had, and she’d challenged him—gods had she challenged him. Teasing him as she had taken his hands and pressed them to her bosom and said to stand behind his words, and that had been only the beginning of their tryst.

 

In truth he’d learned much from that maid about pleasing a woman, and decided he’d liked the act well enough to take up wooing wenches in the Riverlands. She said he had a face to tempt the purest of Septas—even if he was rather young.

 

Rickon crossed his arms and admitted, “If you’re asking if I learned how to be with a woman with one of our maids, then aye, I did.”

 

“So you admit that you and this maid did—” began his father.

 

“Did as much as you and Jon’s mother did together? Aye, what of her?” interrupted Rickon, not wishing to dwell on the subject any longer with his father than he had to. There was just something off about speaking about it with his father… it felt like telling a good secret he and Arya had kept for many years.

 

His father stared at him, his eyes were a frozen blast of the Northern winds, making Rickon feel as though he’d definitely done something wrong.

 

It was Maester Luwin who spoke next, “The maid in question has just brought a boy into this world—blue of eyes, and red of hair, and she says that you’re the father.”

 

Rickon stood shocked, not knowing what to say.

 

When he found his voice he managed to squeak out, “I… I’m a father?”

 

His father sighed, “Aye, and this babe could not have come at a worse time.”

 

“Your grandson, he’s your grandson,” said Rickon his mind trying to wrap around the thought of having a babe of his own.

 

“The boy is of my blood, aye. And that will not be forgotten. But it will also be noted by all the visiting lords of the North, and how do you think they’ll react?” asked his father.

 

Rickon was at a loss for what to say, the thought that anyone beyond the family should care about his son, hadn’t occurred to him.

 

His father’s icy gaze continued to hold fast as he continued, “They’ll see, and they won’t care who the father is said to be. He has more of Robb’s face than yours truth be told. You’ve put your brother into a rather precarious position with your recklessness, Rickon.”

 

Rickon cast his eyes down. He’d never thought of it in those terms.

 

His father continued when it seemed obvious Rickon wasn’t going to say anything, “The maid and the child will have to be sent from Winterfell until your brother chooses a bride.”

 

“Tonight?!” questioned Rickon.

 

“No, but soon enough before there’s any cause for whispers to spread amongst the castle.”

 

Rickon nodded, that felt acceptable, he then asked, “Can I see them?”

 

His father looked torn for a moment before saying, “The maid will go to live with Ashara’s maternal relations in Wintertown—when she’s settled in there, then you may see them as you like, before we head North.”

 

“North?! What for? What about the Royal Wedding?” asked Rickon. He thought for a moment of Durran, who was expecting him to come south with his family. Black Fang who’d been lying before the hearth all this while pricked his ears up, as if he understood what was said.

 

“A letter from the Wall arrived just before the feast,” said Maester Luwin.

 

His father continued, “It was from Lord Commander Mormont, he requests our aid most urgently, and you and I will be going North to assist him. You can understand how important it is then that nothing happens to upset our bannermen. We can’t afford to be slighting each other if the Wall has need of us.”

 

Beginning to understand his father's concern for the matter, Rickon acknowledged, “I understand. But what about Durran?”

 

"Your brother will represent House Stark along with his betrothed... when he chooses one," stated his father solemnly, and Rickon knew there'd be no arguing the matter. He'd have to write a letter to Durran at once.

 

Just then a knock was heard at the door—Den, no doubt having returned with Ashara.

 

“Good, now back to the feast.”

 

Rickon nodded his head and departed, Black Fang following after him.

 

As he crossed the courtyard he heard the trumpets sounding from the eastern gate—the first blow of a horn. Curious, Rickon hurried up to the guard tower above. When asked why the horn was blown at this time of night, Varly, the head guardsman of the eastern gate handed over his Myrish eye to Rickon.

 

“See for yerself, m’lord,” said Varly as he pointed off in the direction of a far off twinkling light.

 

Rickon looked into the Myrish eye to see a campfire many miles off—an in the glow he saw a banner flapping in the wind, it looked like the flayed man.

 

Lord Bolton? What would he want?

Chapter Text

NAERYS

 

Mother was furious. Her lessons with Septa Mordane had been interrupted with the arrival of a raven. The Queen was to dine with them this very evening and Basyl, the cook, needed help to begin the preparations for the stuffed geese—as there would hardly be enough venison steaks left for a royal visit. And so Naerys had been told to put down the Seven Pointed Star and take up a knife, as Taena, one of the maids was missing and Basyl the cook needed as many hands as he could get.

 

Naerys scurried down to the foot of Blackwater Keep and across the yard as quickly as she could. The afternoon had taken a chill and was wet with moisture from a slight misting of rain. Naerys always hated the cold—and to think that it would only grow colder than this, made her wish to journey to the Summer Isles. When she entered the heat from the kitchen hit her like a wave rolling over her, causing her loose beige dress to cling comfortably to her as it would on a hot summer day.

 

Basyl was a tall man with a bit of a belly and burns on hands from putting his hands into the hot furnaces to check his meals—he claimed that fire didn’t bother him, though Naerys looked at his scarred but still dexterous hands and thought to weep, but Basyl use for her tears, only her hands. He handed her several dozen leeks, onions, green and red peppers, carrots, and celery to chop until they were tiny. Then came time for the old ends of bread loaves—half hard and mayhaps a bit stale that she was to either cut or break into smaller pieces—all of this was for the stuffing that they were to fill the geese with. The last of the ingredients she was set to work on was the mincing of rosemary, sage, and other herbs that she could only half recall the name of.

 

When at last she was finished she was then shooed away by Basyl to assist Ros and Nell with carrying more water for the cauldron. She grabbed two buckets and a yoke and followed the maids out once again into the cold damp autumn air, past the seven-sided fortified walls and down to the steady flowing Blackwater River that was swelled with the rains they had received recently. Walking to the river’s edge, Naerys dipped both buckets into the water and filled them both—not too high that they would slosh and spill on the walk back to the castle, but high enough that the trip would be well worth it. As she did, Ros splashed water at her, sprinkling her with water. Returning the favor, Naerys dipped her long fingers into the brackish water and sent a larger spray of water at the maid, with a little laugh besides. It was good to be out of the kitchen and away from Basyl’s yells sitting by the riverbank.

 

Nell, who always the practical maid to Naerys’ recollection, tutted her tongue at Ros and said, “We tarry here much longer, and we’ll be on the other end of a wooden spoon.”

 

“What’s the harm, Nell? ‘Tis an impossible task to have so much cooked in so little time. Why hurry when the ending is foregone?”

 

Nell exclaimed, “And make it worse?! I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have a beatin’ from Basyl.”

 

Ros and Naerys looked between one another and with a hint of mischief Ros sent a good wave of water directly at Nell, who stumbled and let go of the yoke holding up the buckets of water by ropes, causing them to spill and soak Nell. Naerys covered her mouth half in shock while Ros burst out further in laughing. Feeling pity for Nell Naerys rose from the bank to assist Nell, but Nell defiantly walked a little further upstream to where a flowering bush grew along the bank and draped its long tendrils down into the water like a waterfall of flowers and leaves—which had begun to turn a brilliant red color with the season, and the pale cream flowers had begun to lose their petals which fell into the river.

 

“Lazy no good layabout—” but whatever she was to say next was cut off as she dipped her bucket into the water turned her head and then dropped it into the stream as she screamed. Immediately Naerys rushed to where Nell had stationed herself, Ros following not far behind. Nell pointed into the bushes and there pushed down under the brackish water appeared a ghostly looking figure that could have been Naerys’ reflection tangled in the tendrils of the flowering bush. They had found Taena the dragonseed maid, drowned in the river. Ros was instantly by Nell’s side, whispering for her to calm down while Naerys rushed back to the castle for assistance. She ran faster than she had ever before. She didn’t know why but a certain fear had gripped her heart—and though it were the middle of the day she suddenly were aware that she was very much alone and out in the open where who knew what could arrive. The wind picked up and Naerys ran even faster not slowing down until she was through the portcullis and nearly running into her royal mother, who had been arguing with the stableboys about mucking the stalls faster in preparation for the arrival of the Queen. Naerys grabbed onto her mother to keep from falling to the ground and tried to catch her breath.

 

“Naerys, my dear daughter… what is it?” questioned her mother with a tint of worry to her eyes.

 

Panting, Naerys tried to explain as best she could, but it was all a jumbled mess, “Taena… river… caught… drow…ned!”

 

Her mother seemed to fit everything together somehow, yelling at the stable boys to hurry down to the river at once. She then took Naerys and, clutching her close led her into the keep, hushing her. Naerys was brought back to her bed chambers which felt lonely and half empty with Aelinor’s absence.

 

“Rest here,” whispered her mother to her as she brought her to the bed and then kissed her head before rising and taking leave of the room, closing the door rather suddenly and footsteps hurrying away.

 

Naerys laid down, trying to obey her mother’s words, but the troubling thoughts would not leave her. The scene of Taena dead in the stream almost looked beautiful—her hair stretched out with the current and tangled amongst the branched tendrils of the flowering bush. In her memory the bush seemed to be cradling and rocking Taena to a sleep she’d never wake from. The flower petals from the bush falling and strewn about her pale lifeless face which looked up at her with brown eyes—her own dark amber ones replacing Taena’s muddy brown ones—as if she were looking into a Myrish glass. Shivers went down her spine.

 

She heard a slight groan from her door and sat up and upon the edge of her bed to see it open slightly. Nervous she reached for the unlit candle stick on the table beside her bed, grasping it firmly in her fingers so much that she couldn’t feel the dragon patterns decorating the twisted iron piece. And then the door opened more quickly and firmly and a head full of long, slightly wavy silver-blond hair that came down to his chin, the same shade as hers and eyes as shining as amethysts, like Aelinor’s did in the glow of evening. He looked in and met her face. With a sudden relief her grip on the candlestick loosened and she felt the blood return to it.

 

“Baelor!” she shouted, half in anger and half in relief.

 

“Are you all right?” asked her nearly two and ten nameday younger brother. He stepped more firmly into the room, dressed in the colors of the Hastys—purple and silver, which only served to compliment the colors of his hair and eyes all the more, and his skin seem as pale as that of dead Taena. She saw Taena once again, skin and hair as pale as moonbeams, and thought for a moment of Baelor in Taena’s place and gasped on her own imagination and let forth a few tears. A few moments later she heard the door close and felt Baelor at her side, his arms about her in the calm, assuring, and accepting way he’d always held her in times of trouble. She threw her arms about him and held him close to her—his skinny and smaller frame feeling easy to control and overpower. He did not practice with swords or lance. Father would not hear of it.

 

“The future High Septon has no need of wielding a sword or lance,” father would always say when Baelor had begged to learn. Mother would frown and scold and shame him into fulfilling the path their father had laid out for him. Neither truly seemed to understand him, truthfully Naerys didn't either, but she recognized that she didn't and didn't try to force him to be other than what he was. Aelinor had been the one to make Baelor laugh and smile and seem the boy he was. He only seemed older and more serious about Naerys, almost as much as he was about their parents.

 

Quietly, Baelor accepted their parents' decrees, though she’d once come upon him in the small godswood bandying about a stick as though it were a sword. He’d dropped the stick as soon as he’d known she were there and pretended that he’d been hitting something off the tree. She didn’t talk to him of it at all, but then she said not a word to mother or father either, figuring that if Baelor held silly childish dreams of being Aemon the Dragonknight come again, but continued his studies to don the white robes of a Septon, that he could have them. The sibling that worried her was Aelinor, who long ago confessed to Naerys that she would not live her life ‘neath a Septa’s robes, if it meant she’d never have children of her own. Her twin was determined in that one goal, even if it disobeyed their parents’ plans for them.

 

“Naerys, you’re not answering me,” prodded Baelor as he adjusted himself to have his amethyst eyes meet her dark amber ones.

 

“I saw… I saw my death,” stammered Naerys, feeling unable to lie to him.

 

“No you haven’t,” corrected Baelor.

 

“But I did! I saw myself in Taena’s place!”

 

He shook his head and calmly stated, “Taena’s death is not your own, Naerys.”

 

“You sound so sure,” she noted.

 

He spoke assuredly, “I know it.”

 

“How?” she questioned.

 

To this, Baelor was silent, and looked down and away from her.

 

She grabbed his shoulders and met his eyes this time and asked again, “How?”

 

He finally admitted, “I dreamed it.”

 

“Dreams are dreams,” she dismissed, wishing for it to be so simply because she stated it.

 

“You just thought you’d seen a sign from the gods,” he countered.

 

“I didn’t say that,” she back pedaled, only to have his glance narrow at her denial.

 

He shook his head sadly and spoke, at first as though he weren't speaking to her at all, but then as though he were calling straight to her soul. “See… dream, ‘tis all the same, Naerys. We live lives woven together in a great tapestry. Sometimes we can catch brief glimpses of the pattern as it forms, but we can never know the whole pattern, only bits and pieces… and never our own thread, unless someone else tells us. So you can’t know your own death, the gods don’t reveal things in that way.”

 

She smirked, and added as she hugged him, “You sound so wise sometimes.”

 

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

 

She held onto him tighter, and he had his answer.

 

Naerys wondered if the Queen was as wise, she and her companions arrived on lathered horses, disheveled hair, and clothes that were damp from the ride through the mists of day, to arrive in the darkening eve. Mother she knew hated such world-worn attire, but surprisingly said nothing and greeted the Queen calmly, if not with a slight bit of affection.

 

To her surprise, the Queen had brought her second son and her eldest daughter with her for the visit. Naerys and Baelor were introduced to Prince Edrick and Princess Lyarra. Edrick was near two namedays younger than Baelor, but already as tall, if not a little taller than her slim brother. He asked at first if Baelor might spar with him, but was disappointed when father interrupted to say that Baelor had never trained with even a wooden sword. Prince Edrick seemed to have lost all interest in Baelor then--but that hadn't mattered to him, as Baelor's amethyst eyes were locked upon sweet Lyarra, who was exactly his age. Lyarra was her mother in miniature, but a bit more delicate it seemed--not that she was a weak flower, but the Queen seemed at home in her riding clothes, while Lyarra seemed to simply endure what her mother reveled in--well capable of enduring it, but clearly the exercise she'd been force to with this ride was not her ideal by a longshot. Lyarra was blind to Baelor's eyes, as she spent her time admiring Naerys' pretty white, lavender, and silver trimmed dress that mother had forced her to change into before the Queen had arrived. It matched Baelor's doublet and trousers quite well, and Aelinor had a matching dress.

 

"Did you make it?" asked Lyarra.

 

"I sewed the trim, but mother sewed the majority of it," replied Naerys.

 

Mother had embraced the simple life of a bannerman's wife, while the servants still referred to her as the Queen Dowager and several other honorifics, Mother was simply a knight's wife, and she enjoyed it.

 

"It shimmers in the light... is that sandsilk?" asked Lyarra.

 

Baelor approached but spoke not, his eyes still latched on to Lyarra.

 

Naerys smiled, "Aye, with other silks underneath it to catch the light."

 

It was to be the fanciest dress she'd ever own before she donned the white robes of a Septa, and despite Septa Mordane's sermons on not putting too much value on these earthly things, Naerys enjoyed how smoothly and comfortably she fit into the dress, how it clung to her developing body, and how the cloth felt against her skin all at once like sheets of water.

 

Ser Mark Ryswell, dressed in his resplendent Kingsguard white armor caught Naerys' eye, and she could not help but noticing how the knight was still rather handsome, even if he was beginning to show a bit of grey at his temples and in a few strands of his bushy brown Northern beard.

 

Baelor continued stealing his glances at Lyarra Baratheon through the meal as Mother and the Queen spoke rather openly. Mother seemed to know that the Queen prefered blunt speech, and so she altered her manner of speaking to suit the Queen's taste, which seemed to surprise and delight the northern Queen.

 

"Did you have much trouble settling in here?" asked the Queen.

 

"Well, the keep had been abandoned for nigh a century, your grace, but the Keep, the Great Hall, the Kitchens, the Sept, and the defenses are up to snuff at least for now," commented Father from the Head of the table, with mother to his right and Baelor on his left. The Queen sat at the other end from him, flanked on either side by the Prince and Princess.

 

"We are almost finished with the guest house, but I am afraid that it isn't quite ready and arrangements inside the keep will have to be made for tonight."

 

The Queen assured, "You needn't trouble yourselves, I was thinking of sleeping out under the stars."

 

"Your grace, I must insist that it would be an honor and no trouble to us in the least," stated Father.

 

"It does look as though it might rain," added Ser Mark quite quickly.

 

The Queen looked hesitant before a wide smile stretched across her face and she said "We shall accept your gracious hospitality then."

 

Her smile though did not last long, as she then turned to talking about the journey from King's Landing.

 

"On the way here, we came across a gaggle of minstrels, who had gathered about them a flock of smallfolk to listen to them sing and speak the strangest of verses."

 

"Your grace," began Ser Mark, but the Queen waved him off with a hand as she continued.

 

"They sing of the most depressing things, of children without food, nobles without a heart, stars falling from the sky, the Stranger's arrival. Utter madness."

 

Mother paused in cutting her slice of goose, and looked up quite calmly, "Ever since Master Clodos was taken by the King for his court, it's become the fashion for lesser houses to hire Essosi-trained musicians for their advanced techniques in music and composition. I'm afraid they've brought many a minstrel to live without pay beyond what they can beg from the smallfolk. I for one cannot blame them."

 

The Queen looked confused. "The smallfolk want to hear all that?"

 

"Things are changing quickly for the smallfolk. Children move away from their family lands to work as merchants, visitors from lands across the Sunset Sea are coming, this long summer is waning and will likely prove a long winter, the Faith is splitting with many Septs like the Stoney Sept choosing their own doctrine, the Starry Father in Oldtown was murdered in his own Sept, and worst of all that bleeding star... many fear things are changing far too quickly, and that all of this change will summon the Stranger... and the end days. If the minstrels sing of such things, it only reflects on what their listeners care to hear."

 

Naerys nearly dropped her fork to hear her mother speak so bluntly. She had heard whispers of why she had been delayed from going to Oldtown to study and take her vows... but outright murder?! From her brief glance to the Prince and Princess--they too looked rather shocked to hear this. Baelor however lowered his eyes and tried to cut his food without being observed.

 

What does he know?

 

"The end days?" questioned the Queen.

 

"It's from the Stranger's book. One day, it is written, the Stranger shall set foot once again amongst us and then the end days of the world shall begin."

 

"You speak as though that would be the end of the world."

 

Her mother's stern look "It would be."

 

"Of course," said the Queen with a tone that gave away what she thought of the matter. But then, she prayed to trees... and what did they know of the future?

 

After the evening meal was through, Naerys was obliged to share her bed with Baelor while the Prince and Princess took Aelinor's bed and the Queen took to Baelor's bed. Their guards and Ser Mark slept in the gatehouse with their own household guards. Naerys shared an old shift of hers with the Princess, and Baelor did the same for the Prince.

 

Once they were inside with the door closed, the young Prince threw off his clothes without hesitation, which Baelor did as well until he noticed that the Princess was staring at him, and he stopped before lifting his shirt--which was large enough to cover him like a dress. Naerys however beckoned Lyarra to a corner of her room where they could change behind a folding screen. This seemed to ease her quite a bit. In quiet they helped each other out of their gowns.

 

"Is your brother always so open?" asked Naerys after having worked up the courage to speak as she slipped easily into her shift, having had an easier time with her petticoats and chemise.

 

"I wouldn't know... I have my own compartments in the Red Keep," admitted the Princess as she fumbled untying her petticoats to get out of her chemise. Naerys sighed and helped the girl with the laces to her petticoat and then of the loose-fitting chemise which was a shade too big for her. Soon she too was in a shift and their clothes placed atop the screen for the servants--who were currently seeing to the fire in the Baelor's room.

 

Baelor was already sitting on the edge of her bed, cross-legged. He seemed happy, but upon the appearance of Lyarra in her shift, his pale face turned a noticeable shade of pink.

 

"In the morn we could try our hands at swords!" exclaimed the Prince excitedly, oblivious to Baelor's change in tone. Baelor smiled and the Prince and nodded his head, something which Naerys wondered if he'd regret in the morning. The young prince, though the younger, was clearly the more athletic. Baelor's old shift only just barely fit him, and was almost short enough to leave little to the imagination--were he a few years older, the arrangement would be wholly inappropriate.

 

"You would think about nothing but swords," clucked the Princess as she settled in under the covers of Aelinor's bed.

 

Edrick protested to his sister, "I think of other things!"

 

"Like what?" challenged Lyarra.

 

Edrick turned and asked Baelor, "Is your mother very religious?"

 

Naerys spoke up when it became quite obvious that Baelor wasn't going to say much in front of Lyarra, "Aye and father is as well. We're to take holy vows one day."

 

The Prince, who hadn't seemed to have taken notice of her at all until now did, gave her an odd look.

 

"Pity..." said Edrick, and Naerys blew out the candelabra by her bedside. The fire now the only internal source of light in the entire room, with the moon lit windows the other.

 

Naerys asked quite plainly, "Why a pity? It is something I've known I would do all my life."

 

"You're rather pretty," answered Edrick honestly--as blunt as his mother.

 

Naerys didn't know quite how to respond to the Prince's sudden declaration. Thankfully his sister smacked his arm.

 

"Edrick!" complained Lyarra.

 

A smirk then came upon the young Prince's face and he turned to his elder sister and said, "Not as pretty as Lyarra, but pretty enough."

 

"You're impossible," groaned Lyarra as she buried her face into a hand.

 

They spent a few more minutes where the Prince tried to prove to his sister that he did too think of other things than swords. He spoke of his admiration for his elder brother, Durran, which it seemed to Naerys he wanted to be exactly like.

 

Edrick exclaimed rather ecstatically, "Since he's been to Oldstones, he's gotten so good at sword fighting! When I go, I'm going to be even better when I come back!"

 

"Swords!" hissed Lyarra, to which Naerys saw a dark shape move through the partially lit shadows, heard a thud, and what suspiciously sounded like a pillow being thrown at Lyarra.

 

Edrick ducked another smack, catching her arm before it made contact and holding it for ransom. The Princess lost all sense of dignity at that moment and began pushing to free her arm with her feet against her brother's body. This eventually turned into the two tumbling about the furs.

 

As the two fawns then wrestled a bit, it reminded Naerys of younger days, when she and Aelinor were still living in the Red Keep. She smiled fondly at the memories of her and her sister tumbling about and pulling each other’s hair. They had seemed very young then.

 

When Edrick had proven his victory with a whoop, he then with a slight pant added in a more serious tone, "He's changed in other ways too... he's actually spending time with Princess Rhaenys now."

 

"Didn't he before?" asked Naerys, concerned for her niece and future Queen. It was odd to think of the elder woman as her niece, but mother had drilled that into her at a very young age.

 

Edrick admitted, "Aye, but he never seemed to enjoy it that much... but now he's saying..."

 

"Saying what?" asked Naerys.

 

Princess Lyarra butted in at that moment saying, "He's eager to walk the Princess through the gardens, and sit and talk with her. I know they talk about the music and they like. Rhaenys is even teaching him how to dance."

 

"'Tis good that they're coming to know one another," commented Naerys, wishing Rhaenys every happiness. She still remembered that horrid day when the guards had forced father to come and drag her mother away. She deserved some happiness.

 

"I wish he'd have come," said Edrick rather sadly.

 

"Why?" asked Baelor, speaking for the first time.

 

The Prince didn't answer Baelor, seeming instead to prefer to settle down under the furs of Aelinor's bed.

 

Exhaustion seemed to have claimed their guests not long after that, and Naerys settled in her bed, turning towards the window to look out where the moon shone through, turning half the room a pale blue color, as the fire had turned the other half a deep red. It was the first time since that afternoon since she'd been left alone with her thoughts, and after imagining the strong tall older brother that Edrick described, Naerys wondered what might have been if he had come to visit as well. Her mind though suddenly imagined an older Edrick easing the tensions between the Queen and Mother with a hearty laugh, sneaking off with, his shirt discarded, the slight muscles of his younger brother more fully developed on Durran and glistening with... and suddenly she caught her thoughts slipping deeper into realms they had seldom ever gone. Sure she'd once seen a stable boy without a shirt and starred, but imagining Rhaenys' betrothed, her future King--whom she'd never seen in this manner? Maiden preserve her. She tried thinking of other things--her brother was in the bed with her, Lyarra breathing heavily and regularly, and Edrick snoring in Aelinor's bed. Now was not the time, and these were not the thoughts she should be having of her future nephew--a nephew who was nearer her own age than Rhaenys.

 

And then suddenly it felt as though her thoughts were becoming reality as she felt arms about her waist. It took her a moment to realize that they were the meaty arms she imagined of Prince Durran, but the skinny twigs of her brothers. Unconsciously she let a sigh of relief go.

 

He leaned his head upon her shoulder and whispered to her, "Thank you..."

 

Naerys knew not why he was thanking her, but she nodded quietly.

 

She then turned around and asked, "Bae... what do you know of the minstrels?"

 

Baelor looked rather sad and then said, "There was one who came by with a song for Taena. A song for a meal, he'd ask her for, and she'd give him. Mother didn't like it... told him to leave."

 

"How'd you know?" she asked.

 

"I was cleaning off the trees in the godswood...Mother was loud," answered Baelor.

 

Sword fighting... Lyarra had a point: Is that all boys thought of?

 

"How did you know I wasn't asleep?" she whispered.

 

She could almost feel him smirking behind her as he said, "I just did."

 

He then rearranged himself so his back was against hers, and Naerys spent the rest of the night thinking on poor Taena, whose body had been fished out of the river taken to the maester to examine just before the arrival of the Queen. In her mind's eye she focused on the pale skin, the loose hair floating about her, the brown eyes so gently open, and the flowered tendrils she was caught and framed by, and wondered how it was that death could look so beautiful, calm, and peaceful. That she found could lull herself to sleep with an easier mind than any treacherous thoughts of the Prince, and somewhere in the back of her mind she worried what would come of her when it was time to attend the wedding.

Chapter Text


JUSTYN

After he and Aeric had managed to return to their home—running along the wall until they came to an empty alleyway and hurrying home through several side streets, he had been grateful to find Mother, Besce, Alys, and Cella all there, but Alys now walked with a limp, needing Besce’s help. Mother was crying as she hugged them, thankful that they were alive. And then father came in. He was drunk—Justyn could smell it on him the moment he walked into the door.

“It’s settled, Mery!” Father had announced, stumbling to mother and picking her up and twirling her about.

“Jon…” she’d started, but was interrupted by a sloppy kiss.

“It’s settled… Florent’s going to speak to Hightower about the council! And I know just the way to celebrate…”

“Jon!” protested mother as he began to kiss down her neck, she pushed out of his grasp then and composed herself.

“What is it Mery?”

“Children, to bed,” announced mother.

“But I want to know what’s happened,” whined Aeric.

“I’ve said my say, and that is all. To bed, now!” demanded mother. Unceremoniously they climbed the Andal ladder steps to the second floor—but none of them actually prepared for bed—they all huddled around the entrance. They all waited with baited breath for father and mother to continue talking, but after arguing Father to have a seat in his chair, mother stormed up the Andal ladder steps and yelled at them to get to bed—standing upon the Andal ladder steps as she watched them all strip down to their shifts and crawl into the two beds they all shared. When she was satisfied, she stalked back down to the ground floor. Eager to listen in, Justyn had fought with Besce for who would be closest to the Andal ladder steps—with Besce winning in the end.

“Do you know what happened by the Sept, Jon?” they heard their mother ask Mother.

Aeric interrupted to say in a voice barely above a whisper, “I have to use the bucket.”

Groaning, Justyn scooched back until he was sitting up in the bed to let Aeric step over him, obscuring more of what their parents said with the ruffle of blankets. His little brother’s small feet padded across the floor as he hurried over to the slosh bucket by the window, pulling up his shift so he could pass his water.

“Seven Hells Mery, what were you doing there?”

“Seeing the Starry Father off—he was a good man, how was I supposed to know there was going to be a revolt?”

Aeric plodded back to bed, obscuring their parents voices once again.

When he’d settled down, he heard his mother faintly say, “Don’t tell me that you knew.”

“How else do you think we’re going to pry Oldtown from the Hightowers’ fingers?” asked Father.

There was a smacking sound that caused Justyn to coil upon hearing it. “Your sons could have died or gotten injured out there today!”

It was then that a scuffle was heard downstairs, Aeric looking straight at Justyn in worry. Besce got up and motioned for Alys and Cella to remain in their beds while she tip toed over to where the ladder steps were. Just as she reached it they heard the bar on the door rise, fall to the floor and the door open and slam shut. Justyn and the rest of his siblings looked up then with worry. Besce scurried back to bed as heavy footsteps were heard coming up the ladder steps. She slipped back into bed and scolded them to lay down not a moment before Justyn heard his father’s feet set foot on the floor. Justyn closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep as his father’s footsteps came closer. He stopped by Alys and Cella’s bed first, then a few moments passed before he heard the footsteps move once again, followed by his father’s hand stroking his head gently, the he leaned over and stroke Aeric and Besce.

His father then stumbled over towards the bed he and mother shared, he heard him plop onto it and for the first and only time in his life, Justyn thought he heard his father cry.

Mother was there in the morning, still dressed in the clothes she’d worn yesterday, and the skin around the right of her blue-green eye was swollen and bruised. Cella asked about it, but mother pretended it wasn’t there.

If asked about father, mother simply said, “I’ve said my say, and that is all.” They were her usual words that said nothing would change her mind.

“Justyn, you’re to go to the shop and help your father today,” his mother said as he finished his bit of dried beef and biscuit. It was a plain meal, nothing special and very easy to prepare for not having spent the night at home.

Hearing the tone that he wouldn’t win any argument with her, Justyn nodded his head, and scurried off after gulping down his cup of water.

Father was busy yelling at his apprentice, Gryff, when he rushed in, and Justyn was told to fetch some samite, which was upstairs. Justyn scurried to do as his father wanted. Once upstairs he stopped to notice two straw mattresses had been pulled out, with one of them currently occupied. A quick glance and Justyn recalled that the man was Master Bernar who’d come from Brightwater Keep recently. In the center of the room was an odd device similar and yet different to what Justyn had seen before. It was a mess of wood and metal parts, seeming to fit together so that like a wine press, it would squish something between two heavy looking pieces of wood. On the one piece of wood appears to be small wooden blocks that could be taken out or put back in again with backwards letters on them. A bucket of black ink—larger than he’d ever seen before—sat next to the mess of wood and metal with a brush sticking out of it.

His curiosity was running wild in that instant—but a loud swear from his father down below directed at Gryff reminded Justyn he wasn’t up here to satisfy his curiosity first and foremost. So instead he checked his inquisitive mind and focused on walking quietly past the sleeping Master Bernar and across the length of the room to where bolts of different fabrics, wool, a spinning wheel, and leather all sat. Justyn sorted through the bolts as quietly as he could without disturbing the deeply breathing man. He eventually found the bolt he was looking for and then set the rest back in the order he’d found them in before crossing the room.

As he did, he took notice of a pile of neatly folded pamphlets he’d failed to notice before that had been hidden by the contraption. He’d seen a few pamphlets on the streets before—having been stopped and asked to read one aloud for an old man and several laborers besides a few times. He knew that they mostly contained quotes from the Seven Pointed star, or little notes on how to live one’s life in accordance with the Seven, but this pamphlet looked a little different.

His curiosity getting the better of him, Justyn set down the bolt so it leaned against him and picked up one of the pamphlets and began to read.

“Before Hugor of the Hill’s death he laid down a law governing how his sons were to live and organize themselves ever after his departure. They were to come together and agree amongst themselves a council of the righteous, wysest, and most able-bodied men. As the family grew and we came to our promised land of Westeros though—barbarian ideas of hierarchy were slowly adopted. The One who is Seven created everything to be shared amongst his sons equally, but in Westeros greedy brothers and sisters adopted barbarian traditions and ways of thinking, until now, as we look upon ourselves, we can hardly call ourselves true Andals anymore. We may have conquered Westeros, but like the Queen of Whores, the First Men spread their legs and seduced our family to their barbaric ways. We Andals settled down, until all brother Andals had forgotten Hugor’s law to his sons, and for a long while we forgot the truth of our past. No more shall this be so. In Oldtown we are trying to bring back the Andal way—the way the One who is Seven would have us live, for only those who live as Hugor wanted us to can claim to be blessed in the true light of the Faith. Come and help us bring Hugor’s—”

“Are you reading or simply admiring the pamphlet?” interrupted a voice, and Justyn looked up to see Master Bernar—bleary-eyed and seemingly exhausted sitting up upon his straw mattress.

Irritated that he still doubted his ability to read, Justyn asked, “Do you think they will actually come?”

Master Bernar’s eyebrows raised, and he said, “You can read.”

“Aye… and you misspelled wisest—you used a Y instead of an I.”

“They spell Wyse with a Y where I come from,” countered Master Bernar as he stood and stretched his body.

To that Justyn knew not how to respond. “Oh… you didn’t answer my question.”

“What question?”

Justyn frowned slightly and repeated himself, saying, “Do you truly think anyone will come?”

“Aye… slowly, but they will. Like a little trickle. The Westerlands, Riverlands, and Reach are full of smallfolk eager to grab an opportunity when it presents itself. Tell them that a better life waits, tell them that the One who is Seven demands it, and they will come. Tell them that they have been wronged but it is within their power to change things… and they’ll change things.”

“And what will they do once they get here?”

“Turn it over,” answered Master Bernar.

Justyn did as he was told, turning the pamphlet over and seeing an old segment he’d read before, talking over how Andals gathered everything they owned together after a conquest and then divided things up evenly.

“Justyn! Where is that samite!” called out his father from below.

“Go on to your father, lad… I still have much pressing to be done.

But one thing nagged Justyn as he gathered up the bolt of samite. So he turned and asked, “What do you call that thing?”

Master Bernar smiled and simply said, “A word press.”

Father did not return home again—not even on the next Father’s Day. Mother still went to the shop when she was sure Father was away—no doubt ferrying more wool—but Justyn was not invited to come. Instead he was expected to do his chores, mind his lessons, and he helped his father when he was in the shop as he’d dismissed his apprentice Gryff for his poor work, and so Justyn was expected to assist his father with Gryff’s work until a new apprentice could be found. On his off time he talked with Master Bernar who continued pressing his words into pamphlets. Sometimes, Justyn was even asked to take a pile of them to the port to a specific man who always seemed eager to take them out of the city. If father wasn’t busy with a glove or off on a wool collection trip, he was busy talking with other merchants about things that Justyn could only catch on a whisper. With words such as “town council” and “election” buzzing about in hushed tones.

And then one evening as Justyn was returning from delivering a rather large stack of pamphlets he saw a woman in ill-fitting clothes that looks as though they had been pilfered off of wash lines and carrying something in her arms which upon closer inspection Justyn saw to be an infant babe. She stood by a baker’s shop window where the sweet aroma of baking bread wafted through the air. Beggars were quite common on the streets of Oldtown, but what marked this one as different was the fact she was so close to High Street. Just then the baker came out of his shop with a broom in hand. He tried to provoke her into speaking, to answer for why she was loitering about his shop, but she remained silent. He then whacked her with his broom, causing the babe in her arms to scream, and the woman onto her back. The shop’s door then slammed shut with the baker returning to his work.

Justyn stared for a moment as the woman shushed her infant, others in the street passing by without any notice. He felt guilty and as though he ought to do something while also feeling somewhat apprehensive. What could he do though? He had no spare coins and both Father and Mother would object to bringing her home or to the shop. Then the woman’s green eyes met his and Justyn panicked and hurried away. However the image of her desperate green eyes and weasel-faced babe remained with him until sleep blotted the thought from his mind.

Chapter Text

LYARRA

 

She wasn't blind to Baelor's stares, but she was rather uncomfortable with them. What did they mean? Mother had pulled her aside after dinner and asked if she was comfortable sleeping in the same room with "the boy" as she called him, saying that she could share her bed if it truly did bother her. Lyarra however thought it worse to leave Edrick alone with the Hasty siblings, and Baelor's sister Naerys was nice enough that she didn't want to embarrass her by seeming to refuse her generosity in sharing her room, so Lyarra spent the night being kicked by her over energetic brother and having to put up with his loud snoring.

 

The following morn, after dressing and breaking their fast, Lyarra assumed that they were to ready for their immediate return to the Red Keep, but Edrick complained about not having the chance to spar with Baelor, and as always mother could hardly ever refuse Edrick anything. A small obstacle was first encountered when the Queen Dowager apologized for Baelor's lack of practice, given his training to be a Septon.

 

"It doesn't take much skill to knock sticks against each other," mother pointed out. Baleor also proved just as eager for the experience as Edrick was, and the matter was settled that the two would spar for a time—though how long was left uncertain.

 

Edrick was not the best with swords, Lyarra knew this--he wasn't horrible, but he was nothing great either, despite all his boasting and ambitions. However when matched against Baelor, who clearly was far less skilled than himself, Edrick shone like a newly minted golden stag against a tarnished copper star. They fought each other with wooden swords that were kept for Ser Bonifer's squires. First they began by testing each other like Orys and Lyonel might by seeing whether one or the other would flinch first if they brought their sword directly at each other, testing how well their reflexes were with games of chicken—never making actual contact, but having a lot of fun nonetheless. It wasn’t until Edrick grew bored with this that the actual fights began. Edrick was quite clearly the winner of each match. With each victory Edrick earned he became increasingly cockier. And yet, despite being consistently beaten to the ground, young Baelor picked himself up and moved to try his own hand once again at swordplay. Baelor's parents, Lyarra could see were clearly split in their reactions. Baelor's father watched for a round or two before shaking his head and departing from the courtyard, muttering under his breath as he did. The Queen Dowager on the other hand watched each and every match with a kind of stoic grandeur that Lyarra thought quite regal—far more regal than mother ever appeared. Naerys sat next to Lyarra and looked especially worried as Edrick knocked Baelor into the ground repeatedly--each time standing up, ready to rush to Baelor's aid, and sitting down when Baelor picked himself up.

 

On one level, Lyarra had to admire Baelor's determination--despite being the far inferior swordsman. In fact, Lyarra didn't know when it happened but at some point she began to truly feel sorry and hope that mayhaps this time Edrick would make a mistake and Baelor would win at least once. It likely didn't help that mother's devoted cheers for Edrick were a tad too enthusiastic for Lyarra's liking. They were after all, guests in Ser Bonifer and the Queen Dowager's keep, they shouldn't beat the son and heir to it so badly. Something had to be said.

 

"Edrick, that's enough!" declared Lyarra.

 

Edrick however ignored her as he instead turned to Baelor and asked, "You want one more round?" with a smug grin to the skinny Baelor. Baelor was at a point beyond words having any meaning--his skin painted with bruises and brush burns along with the dirt and sweat that darkened his silver blonde hair. Baelor nodded and grunted something which Edrick took to be a yes as he raised his sword into his starting position. Baelor raised his to match, his grasp on the wooden sword trembling along with his hand. Lyarra couldn't stand for it anymore. Just as the first thrust and parry began, Lyarra rose from the bench that they sat at the edge of the muddy practice yard and marched straight for the two of them. Edrick stopped and Baelor’s grip on his sword slipped as Lyarra interjected herself between the two of them.

 

"I can't believe you! You know better than this!" chastised Lyarra as she pushed her younger brother to the ground. Before he had a chance to reply she continued to lay in on him, "Can't you see he's barely keeping that sword in his hand as it is? What honor is there in beating up one of father's bannermen like this?"

 

She saw her brother's eyes go wide and then look at Baelor once again. Edrick then backed off, not too happy about it, but he did back off. When Lyarra turned to Baelor he at once looked relieved and angry--his amethyst eyes almost seeming to blaze. Naerys took the moment to collect Baelor and dragged him off to the Maester’s Keep. Mother looked on as though she'd seen a ghost and was quiet until she was reminded by Ser Mark that it was nearly midday, and well past time to depart to return to the city.

 

As she prepared her mare for the departure, the Queen Dowager approached her.

 

The Queen Dowager had a serene countenance as she spoke, but her dark lavender eyes betrayed something more forceful behind such a mask as she said quite calmly, "I would like to have a word in private with you, Princess."

 

"Aye, your grace?" questioned Lyarra as she gave Ser Trymont a friendly smile and he gave a bow and departed leaving the Princess and the Queen Dowager as alone as they were like to be, given the circumstances.

 

The Queen Dowager gave a thin smile "I know why you tried to spare my son your brother's blows."

 

Lyarra took it for granted that she truly did, and replied with a "You’re welcome."

 

The elder woman's face furrowed into a frown for an instant before easing up as she continued, "Baelor doesn't need any Princess fighting his own battles for him, and as such I should hope you keep that in mind, should your paths ever cross again."

 

Lyarra was caught off guard by such a reaction. The elder woman seemed upset about something--her facial expressions almost mirroring Aelinor's when she tried to hide how upset she was about something.

 

But without further word, the Queen Dowager turned and smoothly stalked off as if she hadn't just threatened Lyarra. Having never been in such a situation before, Lyarra didn’t know how to respond and simply returned to her horse confused.

 

She was silent for a good portion of the journey, her thoughts revolving around what the Queen Dowager had told her, thinking clever responses to them now—that the Seven surly would protect their future High Septon and all the like to be delivered with a coy curtsy and a saucy smile, but it was now too late to think of such things. Edrick was sour with her as well—ruminating on the fight and claiming he hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

 

“He’s the one who kept getting back up!” protested Edrick.

 

Mother, who was usually supportive of Edrick most things, surprised Lyarra by interjecting, “Aye, but not everyone knows what’s good for them. A true prince recognizes and knows what is best for others, and acts for them in their interest.”

 

"I understand," dismissed Edrick, trying to use the same trick he used on mother and father--who thought his saying he understood meant he agreed with whatever it was , when in his mind the two couldn't be more far from each other.

 

She rounded on him before he had a chance to urge his horse off on a faster pace, insisting, “No, I mean it! It’s moments like that Edrick that you have to step up and be a better man and act in the manner that’s for the best interest of the willingly blind, deaf, and dumb. That’s what a prince should do."

 

“I’m a prince all right, and I should be able to do whatever I feel like!” countered Edrick, who seemed just as put off by mother’s sudden decision to contradict Edrick as Lyarra was herself. Edrick’s words though had an entirely different effect, serving as fuel for her anger which came out of her as quick as a whip lash against an animal’s hide.

 

“Pity you pay so little attention to Grandmaester Gormon then. Only the cruel, the mad and the unworthy do as they please—and look how they all ended up.”

 

With a slight huff she spurred her horse forward and left him to stew on that. As predictable as ever mother was soon riding by her side, no doubt to defend Edrick—as she was always doing.

 

“You shouldn’t be so hard on him.”

 

“How else is anything going to get through his thick skull?”

 

Mother snorted at that, which caught Lyarra by surprise

 

“He may do or say stupid shit from time to time, but he’s still your brother.”

 

“He was being an ass, and he knows it,” retorted Lyarra rather defiantly.

 

Her mother burst out laughing then, truly causing Lyarra to look askance to see if her mother hadn’t be replaced by someone else in disguise.

 

Mother caught her look and with a slight smirk added, “Sometimes I can hear my grandmother in you…”

 

All smiles died then, and they continued to ride in silence for some time.

 

The sun was getting rather low in the sky when Lyarra saw riders emerging from a grove which clung close to the Blackwater Rush in these parts and marked the boundary between two minor lords’ lands—the Colebrookes and someone else whom for the life of her, Lyarra could not recall in the slightest. It wasn’t long though, before she could distinguish the banners with which the riders rode, and she could distinguish the royal standard of the stag and direwolf combatant with each other rather than simply quartered as Durran’s personal banner was. The standard fluttered ahead proudly of a rider she recognized as he approached to be her father accompanied by his guard. Overjoyed to see him, Lyarra called out to him and spurred her mount into a gallop. She meant to meet him halfway, but he already had a good head start on her. As she neared him, she svlowed her horse so as to avoid spooking his mount and in that instant was overtaken by Edrick who charged straight to their father causing the black mount of her father’s to grow skittish and leap a few yards out of Edrick’s path.

 

“Seven Hells boy! You ride as though the Stranger himself were at your heels!” laughed father with a merry grin.

 

“Only to see you!” called out Edrick with a whoop.

 

It was then that Lyarra had joined them, unable to keep her grin off her face, even while father’s dipped and drooped at its corners ever so slightly. He then asked her, “Arra, girl, I take it your mother comes?” All the mirth that he’d shared with Edrick—his miniature in looks—had left upon her arrival. She hardly had time to confirm his suspicions before he urged his horse into a cantor away from both of them as the rest of his guard split about them. Ser Richard Horpe and Ser G Hightower flanking father as he rode. Ser Ulwyk Uller and a few other guards that had joined them from father’s company stayed behind with Edrick and herself with only a look and a nod to order as such before father left to meet with mother. By this point, Ser Trymont had caught up with her and Edrick and joined father’s guards.

 

Father met mother, Ser Mark Ryswell, and the rest of the guard they’d been travelling with before they had caught up to where Lyarra and Edrick had met him. As she watched and listened as father and mother fell into one of their rows, Lyarra felt rather despondent, the feeling only intensifying as their voices turned to shouting.

 

“Gods be good, Lya! Do you have always have to run off without any warning?!”

 

“I needed some godsdamned space to think!”

 

“You had more fucking space in the Red Keep than the entire rest of the accursed court!”

 

“For gods’ sake, do they have to be so loud?” lamented Lyarra. She hated hearing them shout like this, it made her feel as though she were torn between the two, and question if whether she actually should be alive... if she wasn’t some kind of accident that happened when her parents weren’t thinking clearly. It was about to get worse.

 

Ser Ulwyk sighed and shook his head before dismounting, and then he said, “The way those two go at each other we’re likely to be hear a while. Might as well be comfortable my Prince and Princess.”

 

The rest of the guards and Edrick followed Ser Ulwyk’s lead, dismounting and giving both their legs and their mounts a break. Lyarra stayed upon her mare’s back though.

 

Ser Trymont smiled at her and approached after allowing his own horse to graze lazily amongst the grass about them. He urged her with, “Come down Princess, they don’t look like they’re about to stop any time soon.”

 

“And if they keep at it into the night, who wants to bet there’ll be another Prince or Princess in nine moons?” laughed one of the guards.

 

“Have a care Ser,” retorted Ser Ulwyk with a cautious glance

 

“What do you mean by that, Ser?” asked Lyarra as the guards began to walk off their aching legs while their horses either congregated grazing or made their way to the river’s edge to drink.

 

An older stormlander knight, who wasn’t the first to have spoken, answered, “It doesn’t take a blind man to see that your little brothers were gotten on nights that began like this. They’ll argue and then in a few hours they’ll be tearing each other’s clothes off.”

 

“Ser,” growled Ser Ulwyk, with a narrow glare.

 

The knight, Ser Mertyn Mistwood if she recalled his name correctly, replied to Ser Ulwyk with, “She asked, and I answered honestly. Besides she’s nearly bled, or will soon anyway.”

 

“So fighting with a lady makes a baby?” asked Edrick, who had been aptly listening through the entire thing.

 

Ser Mertyn burst out laughing, along with a few of the other guards before he managed to say, “That’s one way, aye.”

 

“That’s not how it works at all!” interjected Lyarra, recalling a conversation she’d had with mother about the subject.

 

“See, Ser, she’ll not be a fawn for much longer,” retorted Ser Mertyn with a jerk of his head towards her and a knowing glance to Ser Ulwyk.

 

Edrick who was confused with what was truly going on then turned to Lyarra and asked, “Then how does it work?”

 

Ser Mertyn for once kept quiet, turning to better see Lyarra, an eyebrow and a smirk accompanying his gaze. Other guards followed suit and Lyarra suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

 

“I… I don’t feel like talking about it now, Ed!” she stumbled to say. This was met with a large burst of laughter from the rest of the guards. Embarrassed and upset, Lyarra turned her horse to journey further down the river and rode away with a kick of her heels. More than anything she just wanted away from the laughter which seemed to echo in her ears along with the shouts of mother and father.

 

“Princess!” called out Ser Ulwyk and Ser Trymont, but their shouts blended into her parents’ the further away she rode. Lyarra ignored the shouts, instead urging her horse into a decent cantor. She just wanted to ride to forget things, like the angry amethysts gazing at her, Edrick’s idiocy, Ser Mertyn’s laughter, and father’s fleeting smile that vanished as soon as his eyes met hers. She wanted to be away from it all. She didn’t truly pay any conscious attention to where she was riding and eventually, when her horse was too tired to continue at the fast pace she’d been on and slowed to a walk, Lyarra realized she’d been urging her mount to dodge trees for some time. She’d ridden into the overgrown grove and was now in the midst of it, and out of sight from the guards. She knew she shouldn’t be far from the guards—father had always told her that, but she’d only be gone for a little while, and then she’d be right back. Hearing her horse pant and knowing it could use a bit of a rest and likely a drink she dismounted and walked with her mare through the underbrush of the forest and two the edge of the river that wasn’t so far off.

 

They emerged in a small cove where a shallow stream ran right into the river. A large rock was near the water’s edge and covered in a light green moss. Her mare didn’t wait for her, jerking her reigns out of Lyarra’s grasp so she could bend down for a drink of cool water. The water was tempting to Lyarra herself, and her feet ached from the stirrups and her boots. On what felt like a whim, she sat down upon the mossy rock—which felt damp, but Lyarra didn’t care. Soon her boots were off, and then her stockings, allowing her to stretch her toes and flex her feet in angles they hadn’t been in for a few hours. She then pulled up her petticoat and gown slightly so she could stick her feet into the water, and she almost drew out her feet from how cold the water was, but she eventually grew brave enough to submerge her feet in the crisply cold water. She sat there for a moment allowing the current to wash over her feet.

 

Lyarra then heard something splash in the river a little further downstream from her cove. Through the trees she could see what looked to be people in the midst of the river, but what exactly they were doing was hard to tell from where she was. Curiosity getting the better of her, Lyarra decided to see what it was. So she hiked her skirt and petticoats to one side and tied them in a loose overhand knot to keep them from getting completely soaked, and gave her mare a pat before trudging through the silky river bottom to the edge of the cove, looking around the rest of the bend to where she’d heard the splash. As she made her way to the edge of the cove, she thought she heard her name being called for at a distance. She then heard another splash—this time a bit more frantic sounding than before, and her moment of pause passed as she looked out.

 

Further downstream were three men. One was holding another down in the water while he flailed about trying to escape, but unable to do so. The man holding the other down was big, well-muscled, and struck Lyarra as being very handsome looking, the kind of man that Roslin, Anaesysa, and Rhaenys might speak about in hushed tones and giggles. The third man was dressed in black robes, was deathly thin and gaunt of face, with a long beard and an intimidating glare.

 

“Let him up Janys,” urged the nightmare-inducing looking man.

 

Janys, the handsome and brawny looking man did as he was told and a slender, boyish looking man with smooth skin and sandy hair was allowed up to gasp for air.

 

“Who paid you to spread those lies to the smallfolk?” demanded the man in black robes.

 

The boyish looking man was too busy trying to catch his breath at first to answer but when he did he managed to pant out, “I told you… can’t find… work. Nobles don’t want… a minstrel anymore.”

 

It was Janys who spoke this time, grabbing the young man’s sandy hair and twisting it as he said, “And yet you stick at it, despite being young enough to learn a different trade. Clearly there’s still gold to be made.”

 

“It’s all I know how to do, honest!”

 

“So lying to the smallfolk about the Stranger’s arrival and confusing Septon Melcor’s preaching is all you know how to do? Well, at least you’re honest,” scoffed Janys before the minstrel was once again submerged, though this time for a far shorter time, as the black robed man gave Janys a knowing glare when to stop.

 

“The truth is all that matters, Marillion. Had you sung the One’s true message, you wouldn’t be in this situation at all. Now, will you continue to spread nasty lies to the smallfolk?”

 

“I play only what the smallfolk want to hear, nothing more. I have no fucking clue who this Septon Melcor is!” insisted Marillion.

 

Janys tsked his tongue and tutted, “Backsliding, such a horrible thing—almost as bad as being caught under a strong current.”

 

Marillion the minstrel was once again pushed under, this time for an extended period when a shout was hear.

 

“Jonothor! Janys! In the name of the One who is Seven, what are you doing?!” shouted a man’s voice from just out of Lyarra’s view. She was too scared to move, afraid that she might be seen if she did, so she only listened as Jonothor—the man she assumed was in the black robes, and Janys turned to look towards shore. Marillion was let go in that instant and the minstrel floundered and kicked his way away from the two men, being pushed more by the current than actually swimming. Eventually he made it to the far shore and half ran and stumbled his way away from the river.

 

Jonothor knelt in the river where he was, a look of utter devotion overtaking him as he did, Janys kneeling as well—the current swirling about them. He then said, “Septon, that minstrel was spreading filthy lies about your preaching to the smallfolk. He’s the reason that wench upstream spat upon you when we passed the Keep.”

 

“So you thought to punish him?” questioned the unseen Septon Melcor.

 

It was Janys who replied with a quite silky reply, “We only sought to maintain the purity of your holy message.”

 

“By nearly drowning the poor boy?! What do you think he’ll say now? This isn’t the way to spread the One’s message my brothers.” The Septon then sighed and said, “The Stranger will come and all we can do is prepare for that day when he’ll descend from the Heavens to the Sept of Baelor and take the faithful from this world into the Seven Heavens. Until then we speak of his coming and await his arrival peaceably. Do you understand?”

 

“We understand,” said Jonothor bluntly, in the same way that Lyarra knew Edrick would say he understood something and then promptly ignore it—saying that understanding and agreeing to something were two entirely different things. Lyarra could see that Jonothor and Janys had much the same opinion as her little brother. The men then rose and joined the Septon on the shore. Lyarra stood waiting until she could no longer hear their voices before she turned around to see Sers Ulwyk and Trymont waiting by her horse with a knowing look.

 

Ser Ulwyk answered with a smirk, “Well, you got what you wanted in the end, Princess. Your parents aren’t arguing anymore.”

Chapter Text

RENLY

When they left Summerhall Renly had been surprised that Margaery hadn’t insisted upon traveling by wheelhouse. She had said that she often enjoyed and was accustomed to hunting and hawking with her family and that it would be ridiculous to drag a wheelhouse across the narrow winding roads of the marches and forests that made up the Stormlands, arguments that Renly had been dreading making if she had insisted upon it. To his great relief, Loras had agreed to be his sister’s sworn shield, and Renly was glad of it and at the same time confused with how to continue. Neither his brother Stannis nor Ser Brandon had prepared him for this situation. He wanted to come out and say something, and yet another part of him, reminded him that he had made his choice in marriage and should stick to it. And yet the thoughts of seeing his goodbrother in his wife’s place continued to plague him—to the point where actually sleeping with Margaery was becoming rather difficult. He had to summon his force of will each time, which became a little harder. Thank the gods Margaery had stopped bleeding after two moons of her insistent attempts at coming in her castle as Ser Brandon would put it. He now had the excuse of not wanting to harm their child to hide behind, for explaining to his wife why he avoided their bed. Better that than admit that he found her brother’s thin but muscled frame more alluring than her curves. A voice much like Stannis chastised him for not appreciating his wife as she deserved. Stannis had never been overly affectionate in public, but his goodsister had never been in doubt of Stannis’ affections.

Quite quickly Renly was coming to believe he was a bad husband, especially in comparison to how Stannis had been with Lorra, and yet Margaery did not seem to complain at the lack of his disinterest in performing his husbandly duties now, and he found other ways of ensuring she were well considered. Flowers, conversation, and other little gifts might possibly make up for the lack of passion in bed he’d been told existed between a man and his wife. She had quite the wit about her, and knew more than she let on, seeming to fumble with trying to hide her perception at times, which endeared her to him. Mayhaps carnally he could not be satisfied and she neither, but in other aspects of a relationship they could find comfort and consolation. He couldn’t be Stannis as a husband—still mourning the death of Lorra years later he had such a love and devotion to his wife—but he could be a decent companion, and Margaery appreciated that if nothing else.

Their party had made excellent time on the Rose Road, only stopping once to satisfy Margaery’s curiosity as they came to where the King’s Road and the Rose Road intersected. She had wanted to see the “Ruby Grove” as the section where the Battle of the Kingswood occurred was being called. Some said for the rubies that flew from the Prince’s chest when Robert pierced his armor and caved in Rhaegar’s chest with his warhammer, others said for the blood stains that had painted the trees red from the slaughter of the Bloody Wolf. Neither was to be found now—one for like of looting, and the second the bark of the trees had reddish cracks in their barks but were hardly painted red with blood completely. Margaery however was silent and respectful as she walked through the trees—actions which Renly took notice of made the old veterans of that war accompanying them look at her with a certain pride.

Of all the ways to arrive in King’s Landing, to find his goodsister departed and his brother on the verge of riding out after her was not the way he’d imagined it. In his brother’s stead, his nephew and future King was left to watch over the city, with the expectation that after a long journey Renly would simply step up immediately into the role as Hand while his brother chased his wife around the country. The worst of it of course was the affect it had on the roughly dressed Durran himself, who looked quite nervous when he realized that he might have to sit the Iron Throne for an afternoon. He assured his princely nephew that an afternoon could pass without someone sitting upon the throne for now, but in his mind he thought of how ill done this entire situation was.

It was time for the evening meal and there were no signs of the royal standard to be seen, so Renly and Margaery sat down to eat with his remaining nephews and nieces, and his soon to be goodniece and her entourage. Princess Elia had taken to having her meals brought to Hoster’s room in a constant vigil that reminded Renly far too much of the vigil cousin Morna had held over Lorra as she died. He dreaded the thought of revisiting a sickroom, but he’d eventually have to visit the Lady Diplomat and his predecessor, but that would thankfully wait until morning.

After dismissing his nephew he went immediately to the Tower of Hand, eager for a hot bath and a change out of the leathers which stank of his sweat and into finer silks and linen. He had hardly given the command to have a bath drawn before Saren, a handsome young guard of his, announced that he had a visitor. For a moment Renly was caught off guard as to who might wish to see him all sweated and dirty fresh off the road, when he realized exactly who and bad for Saren to let her in.

His suspicion was proven right when he saw Cassana dressed in black and gold—though noticeably more black than gold—entered and after the dismissal of Saren through her arms about him in a fierce hug.

“It’s good to see you too, Cass,” laughed Renly, before adding, “Even if I have the stench of a whore from Fleabottom.”

“I missed seeing you,” she said partly into his sweat stained leathers that he really wanted to get out of, but he’d leave on for the time being.

“And I you, but there’s something else, isn’t there?” he asked.

She pulled away from the hug in that moment giving Renly a second to look at how she had grown. She was now a woman of four and ten, and could have been considered by many to have just acquired her first bloom. Her skin was a paler color than his own darker complexion due to riding in the sun the past few weeks, but it had a bit of a pinkish tinge to it to keep it from being called “ivory”. In looks she was beginning to truly remind Renly of her dead mother, but with Baratheon color—having Stannis’ same eyes and same tinge of dark almost raven hair. Her hair was kept in a somewhat fancy styling which seemed more practical than ornamental. To pull hair back from her face a braid started on either temple and wove its way to the back of her head where the two braids were woven together into one braid which then somehow hid its end from view. This conjoined braid seemed like a coronet that rested on the rest of her hair, which despite being parted down the middle atop her head was left untouched and running down her back.

“Aye… there is,” she said with a suddenly sad smile.

“Then get on with it, if it bothers you so much,” he urged peaceably.

Speaking with the same eerie calm certainty she had as a young girl when she’d spoken to him of black dragons swallowing him whole, she said, “You need to convince them to call off the wedding.”

“A wedding that’s been the bedrock of the peace we’ve had for nearly a score years?” he asked incredulously.

Eerily she said with a rather straight face, “Stars are falling and blood will run.”

Renly sighed. “How much have you been listening to these Stoney Septons?” he asked. The Sept had become rather infamous for its Septons that came out of its doors these days for being reformers.

“I saw it myself... in a dream,” she proclaimed, almost tenuously.

“Again?” he asked, to which Cassana looked rather confused.

Hoping to prompt her memory he said, “Before I left for the Stepstones you came to my bed saying you’d had a bad dream and begged me to promise to not set foot in Essos. While I had little choice in the matter, I did go to Essos without any black dragon emerging and swallowing me whole. We might have a drop of Targaryen blood in us, Cass, but you’re not Daenys the Dreamer.”

Rather amazed she admitted, “I don’t remember any of that.”

“Well I do. It had scared me half to death on the entire voyage. Do you have anything else besides this dream that you can give me as a reason?”

She shook her head.

“Then I’m afraid the wedding is still on. Will your father be coming or will you be his representative?"

Cassana looked and acted rather disheartened, but they were not children anymore, and he couldn’t just overturn these plans on a whim. Stannis had always said that unless you had good reason, to never change your minds on an agreed upon plan that involved the actions of others.

At long last she admitted sadly, “I don’t know… he hasn’t mentioned anything to me about doing so in his letters.”

Renly sighed, he’d hoped his brother might have felt the need to support his appointment as Hand—but then as Robert had drunkenly admitted if the promise of being Hand himself hadn’t drawn him from their ancestral home, then . It hurt, but there were more important things to be worried about, such as that wedding which was drawing ever closer.

He tried to leave Cassana on a better note, but a lot of her enthusiasm had left her after having her dream be so easily dismissed, but still he persevered.

“What’s with looking nearly like a Goldstag?”

She answered rather stiffly, “It’s in honor of my mother.”

Well there went his intended joke that she needn’t be such a literal black doe.”

“Cass, that was nearly a decade ago.”

She sighed and complained, “Not you too. I’d thought you’d know…”

He reeled in that moment, taken aback by her presumption before saying, “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t honor the memory of your mother, but you mustn’t let it dictate your life nearly ten years on.”

It was then that Cassana looked up and gave him a stare that froze Renly right to the spot. It was a stare he well recognized having grown up on its receiving end many a time. She said not a word further before storming out rather darkly, not even waiting for the guard to open the door before she left, allowing Renly to feel rather confused, sad, and disheartened at how his first meeting with Cassana went.

Later that evening, at the meal, Renly attempted to strike up a conversation with Cassana, only to be ignored, which only upset him at this point, as she was proving to be just as stubborn as Stannis could be at times.

It was a surprise then that Margaery leaned over to him and said as dryly as the wine they were drinking, “This is the loving niece which you wished me to know then?”

“She’s being a little stubborn over… something,” grumbled Renly. Honestly he was trying to distract his mind with the occasional look over to Loras, who had finished eating his small portions a while ago and was now laughing with Durran and Rhaenys—well, laughing with Rhaenys and the diplomat of Lys’ son Oraen Rogare whom Loras had taken a noticeable interest in which hurt Renly all the more. But as for Durran, he was just as sulky as Cass. What was it with his nephews and nieces?

“Something you said?” Margaery fished.

“Aye,” he admitted, before moving to pick up and finish his wine, however a light hand rested atop of the glass.

“And what do you plan to do about it?” she asked quietly.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his slightly wine-addled mind confused.

“Saving your image,” she whispered before turning to Cassana and prompting her with a cheery smile into a conversation about music.

She began by saying, “My little sister says that you are quite skilled upon the high harp.”

Olenna Tyrell the younger, who had sat between Loras and Margaery looked confused at Margaery for an instant before she too turned her face into a smile and the two girls were prodding the sulky Cass into vivid conversation about various songs—most of which beyond the Bear and the Maiden Fair, The Dornishman’s Wife, Jenny of Oldstones, and the Bloody Wolf—the big four songs everyone knew well.

So it surprised him to hear Cass mention, “I like the Rains of Castamere.”

Margaery looked confused before Olenna whispered, “The old Lannister song.”

His wife exclaimed in a nearly over exaggerated manner, “Oh! Whatever for?”

“Well, I think it’s rather tragic. That the man who brought the downfall of such houses in seeking to save his own managed to bring his own family down.”

Renly felt the need to interject here, “I wouldn’t say that House Lannister has fallen, Cass. Lord Tyrion has managed quite well since Callen’s Rebellion, and the Westerlands have known peace and increasing prosperity since then.”

Cass continued, seeming to have forgiven him or forgotten their earlier disagreements enough to engage him on this topic, “Aye, but under Lord Tywin the House was almost a second star next to the Targaryens… now they are but yet another Lord Paramount, far from anything special.”

“It’s easy to seem that way when the Targaryen star is falling,” he muttered—thinking Stannis might have been proud of that comment—only to be elbowed by Margaery and he recalled that at the other end of the table was the last of the Targaryens, very much in earshot. Thank the Seven that Rhaenys and

“But he brought his house to such prominence so quickly… and had it all fall apart so quickly in his hands… like a rope he’d made out of sand.”

“What a morose interpretation,” laughed Margaery though Renly could tell she felt incredibly awkward.

“Aye, best see we keep our house from having the same happen to us,” added Renly.

Cass nodded sadly, but instead of continuing her warning from earlier she leaned in close to himself, Margaery, and even little Olenna and said, “Father wrote and said that it was time for me to be betrothed.” He could smell the wine on her breath quite heavily.

“To whom?” asked Renly with some interest.

“Cousin Morla wants me for her eldest son… she’s been pushing us together for years, or one of the three Morrigen brothers, but I think father’s more inclined for Lady Errol’s half-brother, the way he writes about him.”

It was then that Rhaenys’ loud laughter drew the attention of the entire table, which caused Durran to rise rather suddenly and stalk off, to the surprise of Loras, Oraen, and Rhaenys. Rhaenys after calming down rose and went after him, and Renly felt he should as well. Making his excuse to Margaery and Cass, he rose and followed after the two betrotheds out onto the patio connected to the dining room that looked out over Blackwater Bay. They were at the far end, quite a distance from the archway where the table was closest, making it harder to hear them until he drew closer.

“I’m sorry Durran, but it is funny, you have to admit that there is some truth to it,” cooed Rhaenys as Renly approached. They faced away looking out over the bay, with Rhaenys trying to weave her fingers around him, while Durran tried to wriggle out of her touch.

“You don’t see me joking about how your father stole my mother do you?” snapped Durran defensively.

Taken aback Rhaenys retorted, “That isn’t what happened! Even she admitted to running away with him of her own free choice to my mother and grandmother.” She then added, “She has a history of doing it, it’s a wonder that she stays in any place long enough to be missed when she’s gone.”

“Stop it,” he said, turning around suddenly and then noticing Renly’s presence in that moment. Durran stiffened then and he nodded and said, “Uncle.”

“My Prince… Princess,” returned Renly.

Clearly wishing to say more, but deciding not to in front of Renly, Rhaenys stormed off in a slight huff back inside, leaving Renly with his nephew.

“Do you two fight often?” he asked.

Durran shook his head.

Renly continued, “But your mother is apparently an issue.”

“She’s right,” interrupted Durran then.

Figuring he meant Rhaenys, Renly asked, “How is she right?”

“Mother’s… well, she’s always away. Whether it’s out for an afternoon ride or off for a moon or so to Claw Castle, Winterfell, Stone Harbor, or some other visit. She’s away.”

“Your mother does have duties as the Lady of the Point,” defended Renly.

“Duties which I will inherit from her. I should be going with her and learning about them—not Edrick and Lyarra.”

Renly then sighed and said, “Parents have favorites, it isn’t fair, but.

“Weren’t you one?” asked Durran.

“No… I don’t remember my parents. I was a babe when they died, but from what I heard from your Uncle… they clearly thought your father was the epitome of House Baratheon. The Laughing Storm come again, while you’re Uncle Stannis, well, he wasn’t appreciated as much.

“I’m to be King though…” whined Durran.

“Mayhaps, she thought that that would be more than enough for you.”

“The gods damn her if she did,” muttered Durran, before turning and looking North, oddly enough and stating “I miss Oldstones… I miss my friends I had there.”

Renly didn’t know what to say to this, having had a traditional squiring he had no experience with this new attempt of preparing squires.

Just then Renly heard trumpets echoing from the gates. He vaguely recalled being told that the particular trumpet call was for when the Royal Standard was approaching the gate.

Renly patted his nephew on his back and said, “You have the opportunity to ask her yourself it would seem.”

Come morning Renly broke his fast alone and early so he could spend the majority of the morn before his first small council meeting with Princess Elia. He was permitted entrance to Lord Hoster’s sickroom—in which she’d ensconced herself most of the day usually from two guards dressed in Tully colors with the silver leaping trout boldly emblazed upon their uniforms. The room itself was dark and smelled of something foul and sour. The Old Trout lay on his bed breathing heavily from his mouth with his eyes partly closed. He was dressed in a shift that clung to him with his perspiration, and the equally damp looking sheets were parted to try and cool his body it would seem.

The room was dark with only a single window permitted to allow sunlight in, which was regulated by a tightly drawn curtain—except for a tiny sliver of a crack which somehow gave enough light to see. Princess Elia was in her wheeled chair by Hoster’s bedside, dabbing a wetted cloth upon his forehead and rubbing water upon his chapped looking lips.

After taking several moments of just staring, the fat Princess responded by saying without looking up from her task, “So, you’ve found me Lord Renly.”

“Gods! No one said that… I mean that your lord husband was in such—”

“He’s dying. Some people take longer than others to do so. And it usually isn’t pretty or poetic like in the songs when it happens.”

Just then Hoster’s eyes began to flicker and his body began to jerk slightly. As he did his lips parted and a word—no, a name—escaped his lips and hung in the air: “Minisa.”

“Surely there ought to be a more merciful end than this one?” asked Renly, still in shock at the sight. He’d seen men die before—of battle wounds and scars. But to see a man waste away reminded him of another sickroom he’d entered all those years ago in Storm’s End, and caused his heart to beat faster.

This comment seemed to amuse the Princess for some reason for with a wry smile she looked up and said rather sadly, “My brother might have said much the same about certain poisons, had he not been senselessly murdered.”

“It would have more dignity,” answered Renly.

To this the Princess scoffed and said, “Men and their dignity.”

“I am assembling the small council this afternoon, my Princess. I would like to have you join it.”

“Whatever for?” asked the Princess.

“We’re expecting the arrival of the Prince and Princess from Evenos within the moon. As Lady Diplomat, I would like to know your thoughts on the matter,” he tempted.

“And what of the Commander of Ships, the Lord Justice, and the Commander of Arms and Men? Well they be in attendance. Or mayhaps the King?”

Renly dodged the trap he’d noticed she’d set for him by challenging him to defend the absentee lords on the small council. He wouldn’t fall for that. “No, but that doesn’t mean that your thoughts aren’t needed for this issue.”

The Princess once again looked up at him with curious eyes before saying, “I’ll be in attendance, my Lord Hand. If you excuse me, I’ll need some time to prepare.”

“Of course,” replied Renly as he saw that her dress was sweated itself and looked dingy and rather grimy from wear.

She called out just as he was about to leave, “Oh, and Lord Renly.”

Renly turned around before he could open the door to leave.

“Be wary of my nephew. He is hot-headed and impatient—though his hiss is worse than his bite. He was appointed as a good will gesture for my daughter who insisted upon the appointment. I think he’s her first attempt at ensuring she has a political ally. He is thus rather overeager to prove himself. Don’t let him bully you into something you’d rather not do.”

“Do I seem the type to give in?” asked Renly stoutly.

“You are younger than him… but we’ll see,” tutted the Princess and Renly took his leave of her.

Renly arrived in the small council hall to find that he was the last to arrive, though the agreed upon meeting time wasn’t for several minutes from now. The majority of those members present in the city had already gathered and split off into two discussions. The Queen was also in attendance, as was Prince Durran and Princess Rhaenys, who seemed to have made up with one another as Durran paid all his attention to his betrothed and very little to his mother, which she seemed to resent slightly. They were in fast discussion of the wedding plans and procession. The appointed council members meanwhile were busy discussing some matter that Lord Lycus Langward, the Lord Treasurer seemed rather passionate about. After a brief acknowledgement of his arrival, the conversations continued on unabated.

“King Aerys once had a thought to build a gigantic aqueduct to make settling the deserts of Dorne a possibility before he went mad,” commented Ser Barriston.

“That’s an impossible project to accomplish,” tutted Elia dismissively.

“I don’t want to build an aqueduct across the Dornish desert. One right through the Crownlands could increase our crop yield to match that of the southern half of the Riverlands,” argued the young Lord Treasurer, Lycus Langward. Renly took his seat and to catch up to this conversation he looked over the map that Langward had laid out upon the table to catch up to the discussion.

“You’re supposed to manage the coin, not think of new ways to spend it,” lectured Gormon stoutly.

“Odd how this new proposed aqueduct runs right through Langward lands, isn’t it?” interjected Renly slyly as he pointed out the route over the map that Lycus had laid out on the weirwood table. He quickly drew attention of most people but this was quickly lost as a fist was then slammed down upon the map, and everyone’s attention turned towards Oberyn Sandsnake.

“There’s something far more pressing that’s come to my attention than building aqueducts!” interjected Oberyn.

Hot tempered and impatient were the perfect words to describe the now goateed Sandsnake. He looked almost like his father come again, except that he still continued to dye his hair violet—and his face was perhaps a slight bit longer than his father’s had been.

“If you feel it is such an important matter, then surely you are prepared to address it then?” asked Renly, attempting to make it clear that the only reason Oberyn Sandsnake was continuing to talk was because he, as Hand was allowing him to do so. Princess Elia watched seeming to scrutinize him as he allowed this to happen.

The Dornish bastard knight seemed to recall his manners then, nodded his head, and continued, “My spies have heard word in Rosby that one of these Stoney Septons who’ve been preaching the Whytclyffian interpretation has proclaimed that on a certain date that the “One who is Seven” shall return to the Earth and in the Stranger’s garb bring about a “glorious rebirth” in Andal traditions.”

“I fail to see how that’s more pressing than aqueducts!” insisted Lycus, but Renly was glad to be off of that business altogether.

“Lord Lycus, you shall have your turn,” replied Renly.

This seemed to ease Ser Sandsnake even more and he continued, “It’s pressing because the Stoney Septon has said the “One who is Seven” said it would be so, that he would appear at the Sept of Baelor on a certain day. A day already which certainly concerns my sweet cousin and the crowned prince to be sure,” said Oberyn, giving a noticeable glance toward Prince Durran and Princess Rhaenys who had kept quiet all through the debate over the aqueduct, but now had had their attentions brought to the forefront.

“The bastard went and said the end of the world will be our marriage day?!” exclaimed Durran.

“If the “One who is Seven” does show up I’m afraid he’d have to stand outside, as there’ll be very little room to spare inside the Sept for his arrival,” said the Princess with a roll of her eyes.

Ser Sandsnake continued, “It’s not divine intervention I fear so much, as the pilgrimage of smallfolk from about the Crownlands who plan to be in attendance and expect to see their God appear.”

“They can wait outside and watch the procession like the rest of the smallfolk,” replied Rhaenys sharply.

“But that would make the planned procession through the street rather difficult,” commented Renly, seeing the obvious flaw in that idea—the streets packed with even more smallfolk than to be expected, wasn’t a good thing for a royal wedding.

“You see my point then before I’ve come to it, Lord Hand?” asked Oberyn silkily.

Flattery? Two could play that game, “Partly, but I’m afraid our mutual cousin does not.”

Rhaenys scoffed, but Renly wasn’t in the mood to cater to her humor, especially with the way she’s spoken last night to Durran.

“Uncle,” warned Durran, now the good little husband to his betrothed.

Ser Sandsnake spoke rather rationally as he continued, “You may be royalty, but the Lord Hand has a point. What do you think will happen when we a large crowd of radical smallfolk are brought together expecting the end of the world to occur, and it doesn’t happen? Do you think they’re all going to leave quietly and go on their merry way? No, we’re looking at a potential riot, like what happened in Oldtown when the Starry Father died.”

“Oldtown has always done its own thing,” commented Grandmaester Gormon.

“It’s a rather extreme example,” contradicted Renly with his brow furrowed.

“The radicals in Oldtown follow a different Stoney Septon than the ones in Rosby—it’s ludicrous to expect them to behave the same way!” countered Princess Elia.

“There’s a simple solution. We’ll move the wedding date,” sighed the Queen, seeming to be rather bored by the entire discussion. To this no one said anything in disagreement at first. Then the follies of youth reared their heads.

“No!” screamed Rhaenys in a manner most unlike a Princess.

Princess Elia gave her daughter a glare and then with a deep breath added “If it must be moved, it must be moved—there’s nothing to be done about it.”


“But we’re the future ruling family! We should not change our plans just because a bunch of rebel smallfolk believe it’ll be the end of the world! Besides all the preparations that are underway for it and the lords traveling to the capital—it would be a nightmare to move the date at this point!”

Renly had to admit, even if she phrased it badly, she did have a point.

The Queen continued, “It would be the matter of a few days. That will not upset anyone’s plans.”

Durran interjected at this moment, “We all know how well you keep to plans, mother.”

To this it seemed as though the Queen were about to say something, which Renly cut the dangerous conversation off before it fester into anything further.

Renly argued, “In the grand scheme of things, she has a point. We wait three or four days later, and no one’s travel plans are disrupted, and there’s enough of a delay that the feast preparations will be ready.”

“But if we give on this point, what’s to say that these Stoney Septons might not try something else?” questioned Oberyn. He then continued, “You give in on the wedding date, they push a little further next time—mayhaps taking over the Sept of Baelor when the next Prince is to be given his naming ceremony? How long will it be until they’re denouncing the crown as unworthy to sit the Iron Throne? Let’s not be blind, these are nothing but a bunch of rebels masking themselves behind the claim of piety in order to overthrow the Iron Throne.”

“What is this mad rabble?” asked Grandmaester Gormon.

“I would not say that an expression of faith is an act of rebellion,” contradicted Elia.

“But when that expression of faith as you so well put it, Aunt, conflicts with their other duties? Will they not be abandoning the lands of their lords that they need to tend and harvest with the approach of what’s surely to be a long winter? It’s truly that simple. If they abandon their feudal dues for this expression of faith then they are in fact not doing what their lords require of them, which is the very definition of rebellion is it not?”

Elia commented, “Careful, nephew, your definition is rather loose.”

Oberyn countered, “If they are rebelling by doing what they will instead of what their lord require, then why not treat them like the rebels they are, and slaughter them like Ser Jaime did with the smallfolk rebels in the Westerlands a few years ago?”

Ser Jaime who had been silently standing guard at the edge of the room interjected at this, “That was an entirely different situation! They actually attacked their liege lord!”

“What you’re suggesting has no honor!” roared Ser Barristan.

“Do you fools want riots and blood in the streets? Do you want another Starry Father funeral? Get enough of these radicals together and upset them, and you’re sure to get that!” hissed Oberyn.

Renly spoke at last, having made up his mind on the issue. “The actual solution is simpler than that, Ser Oberyn. Why expend all those knights and men rounding up smallfolk who may or may not be believers when we can even more easily lock the gates and have the gold cloaks interrogate those who request entrance a sennight or so leading up to the wedding.”

“A moon would be safer,” interjected Elia with a smile, to which the Grandmaester, Ser Barristan, Lycus, the Queen, and even Rhaenys and Durran gave their approvals. The wedding date would not be moved, but they would lock the gates and restrict access into the city. All that remained was Lord Arryn’s approval and his orders to the gold cloaks on the matter.

Oberyn sighed and sat back in his chair defeated. “And when they try to break down one of the gates, it’ll be too little too late.”

Renly wasn’t about to let Oberyn have the last word, and so he said, “If they manage to break down one of the gates, then, Ser Sandsnake, we never were safe to begin with.”

Chapter Text

CONHUR

 

He had known that Lord Tyrion Lannister was a deformed dwarf, he even vaguely recalled meeting him near the end of Callen’s Rebellion, but somehow he had forgotten the exact twisted shape of the man’s face—the black streaks of hair mixed with pale blond, and the unsettling combination of green and black eyes. It all added up to an image that was thoroughly grotesque to see, but gods if it weren’t deceiving to the matter within Lord Lannister. He was a quick-witted and jovial fellow with a keen mind, and a great sense of prudency and tact.

 

Not long after Conhur had arrived at the Rock he learned just how much the measure of the man was. Lord Tyrion had been settling a suite between two wool merchants. The one was a local merchant from Lannisport and had complaint that the other, a man who hailed from Oldtown, was cutting into his profits by undercutting his profits and underselling his wares as was the agreed upon price established jointly by House Tyrell and Lannister where it concerned trade between their two realms.

 

The one accused of underselling had rebuffed, “I resent the implication, you western dog! I sell nothing but good Oldtown wool!” His skin was darker than normal, nearly black and likely due to a Summer Islander for a parent, Conhur guessed.

 

The golden-haired Lannisport merchant spat at that and answered, “That’s what I think o’your ‘good’ Oldtown wool.”

 

“Gentlemen! Master Lannys has a point Master Tower. The agreement that I made with House Tyrell states that wool trade in the Westerlands that comes from the Reach must be sold first to our local merchants or be sold directly from one of theirs. Since you are neither—”

 

“I bloody well am permitted to sell in the name of the Tyrells—I even have the papers to prove so!”

 

“Truly? May I see the letters patent then?” asked Lord Tyrion with amusement.

 

“Of course!” exclaimed the man, though his actions seemed to take as long as he could, before he pulled out a rolled up parchment which he unfurled, allowing the ribbon with a green wax seal stamped upon its end to dangle from the document. Tyrion reached out from his chair that commanded the hall and examined it. After a few moments and a wry smirk passed upon his lips, Tyrion declared it to be legal and handed it back to Master Tower. As he did so, he asked Master Tower step outside the hall while he spoke with Master Lannys. Once Master Tower had withdrawn with a noted sour look upon his face, Tyrion rose from his seat and congratulated Master Lannys.

 

“You’ve done my work for me, it seems. The man’s letter is the most exquisite forgery that I’ve ever seen in my life, but what gives the matter away is the seal—the folds in the rose are all wrong to have come from Highgarden. You needn’t worry, master, I’ll be sure that he gets what he deserves—as long as our little agreement stands of course?”

 

Conhur was confused by this mention but Master Lannys assured Tyrion that it would, and departed with his chest puffed out.

 

Master Tower was brought back in then and Lord Lannister had something entirely different to say. The guards were not called and Conhur was left at the fringe of the room to observe still.

 

“Truth be told, Master Tower, that brassy man works for my sister, and the more I can aggravate him, the better—that is, as long as our agreement stands of course?”

 

Master Tower looked shrewdly at Tyrion and then said, “And my letters patent?”

 

“They of course depend upon your answer.”

 

Master Tower’s eyebrow twitched before he answered, “I want a crown more per bushel of wool.”

 

“A crown more?! Master Tower, would you have me pay full price?!”

 

“If that lowborn cousin of yours catches on to the game you’re playing what’s to keep him from hiring a sellsword to slit my throat? I need the money to protect myself.”

 

“I can assure you that the blood shared between myself and Master Lannys is so diluted as to be of little consequence… but your concern is… reasonable… a star.”

 

“Four stars.”

 

“Two stars.”

 

“Three, and not a copper less!”

 

“It’s a steep price for Oldtown wool.”

 

“You live within a mountain of gold. I’m sure you’ll survive.” The man then turned around and began to walk out, stating “I’ll expect my payment in the usual way.”

 

When Master Tower had left in as disrespectful a way one could imagine, Lord Lannister called out to one of his guards, saying, “Allow Master Tower to reach the Lion’s Mouth, but don’t let him pass. Throw him in with the lions for a night, and we’ll see if he still holds to his price.”

 

With a nod the guard departed, leaving Conhur speechless as to what he’d seen. Lord Lannister then called over his cupbearer, Jodric Peckledon, who was a cousin of his wife’s for a glass of wine.

 

“None of the dry stuff I hope, Jod?” asked Tyrion.

 

“No ser,” answered the nearly nine namedays old Jodric as he poured

 

Conhur could hardly believe what had happened, and he continued to stare at Lord Lannister.

 

“You’re giving me a look, squire,” said Tyrion with a smirk before taking a long sip of wine.

 

“I mean no offense, my lord,” answered Conhur stiffly.

 

“Tell me truly, do you think me false?”

 

Conhur answered too quickly, knowing that true honesty while preferable served no one, “No, my lord.”

 

“Be honest with me Conhur, or your face will.”

 

Tempted he started despite himself, “It’s just…”

“What I said to both of them is the complete truth. Master Lannys is in league with my sister—though she hardly hides the fact considering she’s his largest client besides myself. Master Tower likewise has a forged letters patent and he sells me his wool at near half his price—though it’s probably time to out his little black market ring now that I think on it. But to get to the point, Conhur, people expect me as a dwarf who’s been captured in rebellion to be as weak and stupid as my grandfather had been. They think my brother Jaime got all my father’s strength and leadership and I was left with nothing but a dry husk of my father’s capabilities. My father spent his entire life fighting such a reputation and look what it got him—he overreached and everything he built died with him. But it won’t with me… of that I can assure you.”

 

“How is being known as a lackwit of any benefit?” questioned Conhur.

 

“A lackwit! Well now, how your family’s use of words has developed… and to think you’re but the bastard son of the house.”

 

Conhur lowered his head and bit his tongue. His half-brother’s taunts echoing in his ears.

 

“I mean no disrespect, squire. You’d do best to accept your situation as it is. Nothing you can do can change you were born a bastard, just like nothing I can do can change that I’m a horribly misshapen dwarf who waddles when he walks,” stated Tyrion before finishing off his wine and then holding out his chalice to be filled once again as he added, “But that’s, not all we are.”

 

“The world will judge us, Conhur based on what they think we are, and what we cannot change—but that obscures their view of what else we are beyond being a dwarf or a bastard, and so when some other part of ourselves comes out that they were not expecting… most people are caught off guard, to say the least.”

 

Recalling a trunk full of slimy dead fish, Conhur felt he knew all too well what it was like to be caught offguard, and said “You may win for the nonce, but a man cannot be fooled twice, nor will he love you for it… my lord.”

 

“Aye, that is true, which is why you must develop other talents and alliances if you are to survive—for the first thing to dissipate in a battle is the plans that went into preparing it. Speak from experience then?” prompted Tyrion.

 

Conhur realized all too late that he’d let his tongue wag a bit too much.

 

“Oh don’t blush so red, boy, it gives you away immediately.”

 

“I… spoke out of turn, my lord.”

 

“And don’t try and hide behind that excuse either! I had hopes that you had some of your uncle’s blunt honesty about you, and I see you do underneath all that squirely pretension, but gods boy! Do you have to make me work for it so much?”

 

“My lord… I—” protested Conhur.

 

Lord Tyrion swallowed quickly and put down his goblet, saying as soon as he’d emptied his mouth, “Don’t finish that sentence! I have a habit of speaking impetuously—it’s why many call me the Lord Imp, though my imposing stature certainly doesn’t help matters either… and besides, it’s how I came to owe a favor to your Uncle.”

 

Owed a favor to Uncle Sandor?!

 

Lord Lannister continued talking without losing any steam, “And when I heard that Ser Sandor Clegane’s nephew, a lad I remember being bold, bright and fun, needed to squire for a knight, I saw no better way to pay my debt to House Clegane. In return, Conhur, I ask that in private you speak honestly with me and listen to what I tell you. I may have to rely on Ser Broom to teach you to improve your swordplay, but you will be getting just as rigorous a training in the mind, politics, and other such manners as I see fit.”

 

Conhur was flabbergasted and asked, “Why my lord? I am only a bastard.”

 

“And your great-grandfather was only a kennel master until his three prized dogs saved my grandfather’s arse. If you are to survive in the world, you must know how to play the game as well as—if not better than—any trueborn son. Your bastardy will win you little favors, but the lesson of Ser Duncan the Tall, if it teaches us anything, shows us that a man may climb high despite his birth, if his mantle is worth his merit.”

 

Conhur’s mornings persisted of the practice yard, and his afternoons observing Lord Tyrion as he went about the business of ruling Casterly Rock—settling disputes and involving himself in a web of merchants that Conhur had trouble keeping track of.

 

“They’re the future of Westeros—especially with this new continent to the West. Our merchants are rather furious that Seaguard has managed to beat the Westerlands to acquiring a letters patent on trade there, but I have a different idea. Seaguard can trade with the existing peoples as much as they like—but I bet that nowhere does it say in that letters patent that it forbids anyone from trading with an established Westerosi outpost… and if that outpost should just so happen to be settled by Westerlanders, so much the better.”

 

It was little things like that which really made Conhur appreciate the clever mind behind the twisted features of his lord’s face.

 

As for swordplay, the moment it was discovered that Conhur not only knew how to instruct children but could do so with more gusto than the elder Ser Broom could muster after an exhausting series of rounds with Conhur, Conhur was made the two brothers’ instructor, much to their enthusiastic glee. Gerion and Tybalt looked so alike one might have thought that they were identical twins, it was only when you took into account that their sister Joanna, who was born the youngest of the three of them in a birth that had nearly brought Lady Felesa her death, that the subtle differences in the two golden-haired sons were emphasized by their unity in their honey-haired sister. None of them were born with their father’s deformity or stature, and all three were taller than their father. The boys were getting to be close to an age to send to Oldstones—both would equally benefit from the tutelage of Master Arthur & Ser Brynden, and Conhur made the suggestion of it, but Lord Lannister thought that only Gerion would go, while Tybalt would remain home at the Rock.

 

Lord Tyrion argued, “I assume you know Cyvasse? Well, it is never a wise thing to put all of your hopes upon one piece in that game. What would happen if a plague broke out in the Riverlands or here in the Westerlands? As much as it pains me to separate them… it’s something that must be done. Besides, Lord Westerling has need of a page, and eventually a squire, and I have need of his influence on the Northern Westerlands as a bulwark against my sister’s plots. And he’s recently widowed… mayhaps I should speak to him of cousin Myrielle?”

 

And so it was decided that Gerion would go to Oldstones, while Tybalt would serve as page and then squire to Lord Raynald Westerling, whose lands included the Crag and Castamere. The two brothers surprisingly took the news of their impending separation rather badly, the two clinging to one another as though they were about to be pulled apart that instant. It was their sister Joanna who took the news best of all, even reminding her two brothers that they weren’t babes to cry anymore, a prompting which sobered the boys almost immediately. Joanna was the most serious of the three—very much like her mother in attitude. She saw the practicality in everything, and often scolded her brothers more like a mother would, and rarely smiled outside of her brothers’ presence.

 

One particularly windy afternoon Conhur was finishing up Gerion and Tybalt’s drills when their lady mother appeared at the edge of the practice yard. Lady Felesa was a tall woman with long brown hair kept back in a ruby and emerald studded hairnet. Her eyes were a honey-brown color which were sharp and piercing. She wore a dress which matched the Lannister scarlet well with her Garner green and paired gold and white trim together rather intricately in weaves around the base of the dress. She was a woman not too fond of Conhur, but she was past the point of making it obvious beyond referring to him by his bastard name.

 

“Hill, I would speak with you,” she commanded. It was not a request by any means, and Conhur dismissed Gerion and Tybalt to their own devices to comply with his lord’s lady wife. If there was one thing he had learned rather quickly, it was that she was just as much the power of Casterly Rock as Lord Lannister. Every morning the two discussed matters with bannermen like his uncle might talk of repairs Clegane Keep needed. There were private and public conversations—with the public Conhur soon realizing that were designed as elaborate mummers’ farces should any “unwanted ears” be eavesdropping. The private conversations, few of which Conhur actually was permitted to listen in, revealed different intentions often, allowing Conhur to begin recognizing when the Lannisters were playing the game, as Lord Tyrion was apt to say.

 

Returning to the present, Conhur could tell that Lady Lannister most certainly wasn’t interested in game strategy in this instant—her face allowed to rest in a neutral manner and a weariness he hadn’t known her to possess overtake her ambiance. They walked atop the rock along a well carved path that led to a lookout point atop where the lion’s head was supposed to be. Below the sea swelled and hit roughly against the rock, as if trying to knock it over and into the depths of the bay. Sometimes he thought he heard a strange whisper on the waves or when the sea spray reached him when he was out of the Rock. When he did he was reminded of Murchadh’s words and wondered what it meant that the sea of all things should call to him. Sometimes he even awoke at the beach, walking out into the sea without any reason to explain it, except a sweet and sad song playing on a sea pipe amongst the waves that he could never quite find its origin.

 

Again he was brought back to the present after they’d walked a little way away from the practice yards by Lady Lannister’s voice, “Tell me about my sons. What have you noticed about them?”

 

“You mean their potential as warriors?” asked Conhur as he cleared his mind of the alluring rhythmic beating of the waves against the rock.

 

Lady Lannister shook her head and clucked, “If I wanted to know how their minds were developing I’d speak with the master—of course as warriors!”

 

“Well…” he began, but trailed off as he noticed a bird swoop towards the waves far below.

 

How to say this delicately?

 

“Be honest,” she interjected.

 

That was the second time a Lannister had asked him to be honest, and this time he complied easily.

 

“Gerion is prone to flights of fancy, often getting lost in his own thoughts, sometimes even mumbling things to himself for no apparent reason.”

 

She was dismissive of this, “I know his personality, but how does that affect his skill as a potential warrior?”

 

Conhur continued, “With time and patience he could become an adequate fighter, capable of being all right—but he lacks the focus and the finesse to be a great. A great warrior should have great attention to everything around him so he can respond and correct his action in the fraction of a second. That fraction of a second could be the difference between life and death in a battle.”

 

Lady Lannister paled at that, but nodded, prompting him to continue.

 

“Tybalt while he’s very open-hearted and generous—often purposely throwing his matches against Gerion so that he wins, has far more attention and picks up new ideas relatively quickly.”

 

“And what makes you think that he purposely throws his matches against Gerion?” inquired Lady Lannister sharply.

 

Conhur spoke bluntly, “He loves his brother and hates to see him lose. I tried pairing him off with one of Ser Broom’s youngest squires and they were well matched. Tybalt put far more effort into the fight as well. Truth be told Tybalt should be the one to attend Oldstones—he clearly has the better potential as a warrior.”

 

“But life is not so simple. Sending him to Oldstones while the other great houses send their heirs would be unwise. Not to mention all the relationships that Gerion could develop there with other lord’s sons and the royal princes. Gods, why couldn’t Tybalt have left my womb first?”

 

“My Lady?” asked Conhur.

 

She spoke rather worried and aloud unlike anything Conhur had seen from her before, “The Westerlands needs a strong lord… a martial lord. It’s the best thing for House Lannister, what with Lady Clifton and her golden-haired sons, the best thing to secure the peace in the West.”

 

It was a constant fear of Lady Lannister’s that Lord Tyrion’s sister would try a second time to take the Rock from them all—that the alliance forged with her marriage of the southern and eastern lords of the Westerlands would fracture if Lord Tyrion didn’t show his strength as often as he could, and renew its ties constantly. Playing nicely with the merchants was upsetting the lords and the alliance she often argued. She’d also argued against Ser Jaime’s return to King’s Landing, but it was necessary with the upcoming wedding. It was why when he’d first been taken in as one of Lord Tyrion’s squires—a bastard of a poor bannerman’s sister, that she’d been furious with her husband—but when Conhur had begun to train the boys with a wooden sword she began to tolerate his presence.

 

“Gerion should have his brother’s loyalty though,” offered Conhur with some hope.

 

“A brother’s loyalty is an uncertain thing at best. Who knows what the future might bring?” dismissed Lady Lannister and then she told him that she would ensure Gerion would pay attention in his lessons from now on, in a tone which suggested that she didn’t want to speak with him anymore, as she wrapped her shawl about herself and looked out to the west and the Sunset Sea. Conhur left after a moment of silence, realizing it was near time for the midday meal and then the afternoon of politics.

 

Lord Tyrion however had news for Conhur at the midday meal, explaining, “You’ll be happy to know that we’ll be attending the royal wedding, Conhur. You’ll be reunited with your old friend—the crown prince.” Conhur did his best to hid his displeasure at such a revelation, but he cut the piece of honeyed ham slantwise, cutting it short.

 

“Do I need to cut my own meat?” snorted Lord Tyrion.

 

“No, my lord,” apologized Conhur immediately as he set to the task once again.

 

“Do you think that wise leaving the Rock?” asked Lady Felesa as she cut the food on her own plate neatly into small pieces.

 

“If you’re worried about my sister swooping in on the Rock in my absence, my dear Felesa, you needn’t be—for I am comanding her to come with.”

 

“We’ll get to see cousin Tommen and Myrcella?” asked Gerion rather excitedly, perking up from the cloud of his own thoughts he’d been previously engulfed in.

 

“Don’t forget Joffrey,” added Tybalt.

 

“He’s too young,” dismissed Gerion.

 

Tyrion smiled at his son and said, “Oh I have no doubt that you’ll meet all your cousins. Your aunt Cersei wouldn’t miss the opportunity to try and outshine me at court even if she lacked a pulse.”

 

Lady Felesa slipped while cutting her meat, causing the knife to grate against the plate.

 

“You needn’t worry, my love, if I keep her close, she cannot take the Rock while I’m away, and if I attend the wedding with her, she’ll be reminded of her place, as I plan to announce something very important regarding Joanna’s future in the capital,” smirked Lord Lannister rather smugly.

 

“What is it?” asked Lady Felesa suspiciously.

 

“Joanna, my love, how would you like to marry a prince?” asked Lord Lannister with a sweet look to his daughter.

 

“Am I?” asked the girl.

 

Continuing to smile, Lord Tyrion said, “Your Uncle Jaime assures me that Prince Edrick would be a fine match for you.”

 

Conhur saw the normally serious-minded girl suddenly light up, no doubt seeing crowns in her future.

 

“What is Prince Edrick like, papa?” asked Joanna excitedly.

 

“You’ll get to see for yourself when we go to the capital, as we’re all going,” offered Lord Tyrion. Lady Felesa seemed to begin to say something, but then apparently thought better of it and closed her mouth.

 

The boys cheered about seeing more of the kingdom—they’d never left the confines of Casterly Rock and were eager to see the world beyond it.

 

“And who will hold the Rock, while we’re away?” asked Lady Felesa at long last.

 

“Your cousin, Lewyn,” answered Tyrion, which seemed to satisfy Lady Felesa well enough.

 

That night Conhur fretted about traveling to the capital to see Prince Durran’s marriage. He didn’t want to see him again, and the thoughts of what he would like to do to the Prince kept him tossing and turning in his place in the barracks. He was too hot—far too hot. He got up and still dressed in nothing but his shift pulled on his boots and walked trying to find somewhere to cool off. He was knee high before he realized he was once again out of the Rock and on the small strip of beach that was at one end of Casterly Rock-near where the tail of the lion was. But the sea felt so cooling—and that sea pipe was calling in the waves once again to him and he continued to walk right on into the sea until he couldn’t walk anymore—and the heat was gone. Shapes and colors flew before his eyes, and suddenly, Conhur knew not how he had arrived there, but an old wrinkled and hooded man walked out of the sea who held a sea pipe in his hands which dissolved into sea foam the moment it touched the waves. He placed his gnarled hands upon his face and examined him with a hard glare that seemed to nail Conhur into the kneeling position he found himself in this shallow cove he’d wandered into.

 

The hooded man then at long last croaked, “You are not the one… but you will help him.”

 

A twisted grin stretched across his face as he then felt himself pushed under the water to where he couldn’t breathe he tried to fight it, but the more he fought the deeper he found himself sinking, and then nothing but the comforting cold of the sea embracing him.

 

Come morning when he washed back ashore he felt renewed and cleansed, although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, nor remember how he got there.

Chapter Text

LYSA

 

The brisk cold wind whipped about her body causing her dress to flap in its force—which along with her hair pointed in the southerly direction she gazed, seeing the Vale beneath her feet as though she were a giant. She stood with a cloak that she did not move to clutch about her like she would have upon her first arrival at the Eyrie. Many years in the Eyrie had brought her to admire the chill crisp air of the Vale. Looking further south she saw in the distance how the southerly Mountains of the Moon were developing. Even from the Eyrie she could see how the southern Mountain Clans which had taken Denys’ deal had begun to settle themselves. Herding and grazing goats and sheep were becoming quite common—with Lysa barely able to distinguish a large herd of goats that were left grazing upon a meadow on a visible mountain off in the distance. It was quite the clear day and the late afternoon sun brought out the earthy colors of the Vale in all its glory. The goats were tiny moving specks hardly distinguishable from the side of the mountain until they moved. That had begun a veritable transformation of life in the southern half of the Vale. When Gulltown had heard of these vast flocks which the mountain clans had kept hidden and to themselves all these years, merchants had begun trading with clansmen for the opportunity to sell goat cheeses, wool, and goatskin hide to the tanners. Mutton became more readily available in the streets of Gulltown and considered fine cuisine. That wasn’t to say that these things had not existed before, but never in such abundance. In return Clansmen were given silks, bread, and even weapons of very fine steel to protect their flocks. A few clansmen had even taken up residence in the empty towers that Denys had also given to the clansmen for there to be a meeting place with a representative where he could negotiate with each clan—even if the clan had migrated elsewhere for the season and the benefit of their flock. Bride stealing was something only tolerated between clans now, and attacks on neighboring lords reduced to nothing but the misfits of both clansmen and Valemen. It was far from perfect—the southern lords especially disliking how close the upstart merchants were getting with the clans, and bringing every small complaint to the Eyrie in likely hopes that Denys would grow tired with such issues, but they were wrong—as it only strengthened his stubborn resolve to his plan.

 

Robert, her sickly second born and second son, let go of her hand and wandered closer to the edge of the parapet they were standing on.

 

“Careful, you don’t want to fall,” cautioned Lysa as he leaned over and looked straight down with an odd fascination. She had promised him that when he was grown enough she would take him out here on the parapets, and today on his first and tenth nameday she was keeping her word. He was small for his age—looking more like he was celebrating nine namedays and was closer in age to her twin daughters, than his one and ten age, but he was her boy nonetheless. He was sinewy and a flaxen complexion which contrasted with his dark brown hair. There were some signs of Denys in his nose and chin, but beyond that, Robert was an oddity, her only dark-haired child. Lysa’s mother had been dark of hair it was said—and Rowena Arryn, Denys’ aunt and Jon Arryn’s first wife had been a rare raven-haired Arryn beauty that occasionally appeared in the family and many attributed Robert’s darker hair to that, but he was not raven-haired, nor did he possess any Whent features that had laid dormant in her entirely, it was only his hair which suggested such a heritage.

 

Edmyn had bright copper hair that seemed to mix her own auburn hair with Denys’ shining fair hair. In build and appearance he was quickly coming to resemble his father, save his hair. Minisa, her poor ill-fated babe, had had her father’s deep red hair, and a Tully face. Rowena and Annalys, the twins, had Denys’ fair-hair and constantly were devising all manners of things with odds and ends they found about the castle—tinkering as Lysa liked to put it, which Lysa thought an ill-suited pastime of any nobleman—let alone ladies. But Denys was charmed by the myriad of devices they thought up and upon his return always brought something for them to toy with in including whatever new device they were secretly toying with. Their younger brother, Jonnel also had the Arryn blond hair and many older servants said he was aptly named as he was said to look like he was Jon Arryn come again, and thus was the most Arryn-looking of all her children—and the most polite, even to herself. There was an odd distance she had with Jonnel—not that she meant to have it, but she never could quite connect with him entirely. He kept her at a distance, always calling her “Lady Mother” and so forth. Many commented on how he seemed to be a gallant knight trapped in the body of a boy and would be an exemplar of chivalry. Lysa thought his behavior a damn nuisance and frustrating to endure as his mother. Her youngest, Lorra, resembled Cat and was already stealing the attentions of many who looked and fawned over her even at the young age of four namedays. Many a knight offered Lorra a flower he claimed to have picked climbing this mountain or other, and Lorra blushed and spoke quite easily and wittily at an age Lysa remembered stumbling over her words. In truth with the exception of Robert, Lysa felt inadequate when compared to her children, and sometimes wondered how the Gods had seen fit to give her such exceptional children when she herself was less-so. Only Robert was like her, and truly understood her, even resembling her features save his nose and chin, and for that reason she favored him and kept him close of all her children. He also needed her the most of all her children. The others were independent-minded and resourceful, while Robert clung and kept a firm grip of her hand even at an age when most boys would reject a mother’s care for fear of looking too much like a babe—Edmyn had done so about this age, and Lysa still recalled how hurt she’d felt at his doing so. She understood why, and Denys had comforted her through it, but the pain had been there nonetheless, she could neither forget nor ignore it if she tried.

 

“You can look straight down to the ground!” proclaimed Robert excitedly.

 

“Yes, and look right there. See that?”

 

“The small stone square?” questioned Robert.

 

“Aye, that’s the Gates of the Moon, and we’ll soon have to journey down the mountain to stay there for winter.”

 

“Is the Gates of the Moon very grand, mother?” asked Robert.

 

“Not as grand as the Eyrie, no, but dignified nonetheless.” The truth was it was a very martially oriented seat. While the Eyrie was a castle whose design had been with defense, true, there was a sense of grandeur in the height of its halls and windows. The seven tall towers and pristine white stone all had its own splendor to it unique to itself. Like the Arryns, the Eyrie was proud, straight, and tall.

 

The Gates of the Moon on the other hand was stout and square—militarily sound and utterly practical, with none of the Eyrie’s sky topped grandeur.

 

“I want to see if Father’s coming!” proclaimed Robert, and Lysa gently took her son’s hand and led around the parapets and a few towers until at long last they came to the side of the Eyrie which faced the wild untamed northern parts of the Vale. Down below a forest of pine blanketed the mountains and their passes for as far as the eye could see. Denys would be down there somewhere amongst the pines returning to them.

 

The Mountain Clans to the north of the Bloody Gate had seen how their southerly cousins had settled down and reacted by clinging tighter to their ways—making more raids, stealing more women, and being notably more vicious when they rode down from the mountains. Some villages had disappeared entirely either from smallfolk running away, being killed, or stolen. A lot of Denys’ time when he wasn’t in King’s Landing or with her and their children in the Eyrie was spent riding to the northern reaches of the Vale to settle disputes between jumpy lords who mistook their own enlarged party of knights for roaming clansmen. The Stone Crows and the Howlers were especially active raiders—though they otherwise seemed to leave the people alone leaving the Moon Brothers and Black Ears gaining the fiercest reputations as destroyers of villages under her husband’s command. The Vale it seemed was split in two—to the South was a new world beginning to emerge, and the North a harsh reminder of the past that had shaped the Vale’s character.

 

“There! I think I see him, I think I see him! Can I blow the horn mother?” called out Robert excitedly as he jumped up and down upon seeing what looked to be a small group of ants emerge from the pines.

 

Lysa produced a Myrish Eye from underneath her cloak that she’d brought with them and urged Robert to be sure before he set the castle bustling. Robert fumbled opening the Eye but once he had he pressed it close to his own blue eye and aimed it straight at the ground.

 

“It is, it is! Look mother!” proclaimed Robert and he handed the Eye back to Lysa, who looked and saw Denys riding armored and at the head of his band of knights like knight from a chivalrous song would. Also riding with him were a few of his Clan Warriors led by Cedrik Mists, who had grown into a fine example of a man and was now the Mist of the Mists, and Denys’ trusted advisor when dealing with clansmen—riding out to meet with any clan north or south of the Bloody Gate along with Denys. But there was one amongst their number which Lysa took note of—a girl who hardly looked older than Edmyn, with long raven hair that trailed behind her as she rode. She was dressed in what appeared to be furs with battle axes crossed upon her back and ready to be withdrawn at a moment’s notice. Denys had not told her that he was to ride out with a woman warrior, such things existed amongst the backwards clansmen she knew but to see one seemed absurd to her.

 

Robert was eager to blow the horn, but Lysa advised him to wait.

 

“He’ll likely spend the night in the Gates of the Moon and begin the climb to the Eyrie come the morn—we should wait until then to blow the horn.”

 

Robert was disappointed, but understood that she wasn’t saying no to his request, only saying that it wasn’t the appropriate time.

 

Lysa and Robert descended down into the heart of the castle, returning to ready for the evening meal. She found Lorra and Jonnel dancing in a passageway with young Domeric Bolton sitting in a window seat strumming his high harp. Domeric was a Northern lordling who had fostered with Lord Redfort and upon meeting Denys had been invited to the Eyrie specifically to discuss how arrangements between Northern lords and Northern clansmen occurred. Denys had liked the quiet lordling so much he had invited Domeric to stay as long as he felt comfortable and took an unwitting friendship with the young lordling as Denys had taken him for a squire when attending tourneys held at Runestone and Gulltown. Domeric would have ridden out with Denys had he not been deathly ill when Denys had departed. Denys found the young man’s companionship agreeable and likely a replacement for what he had likely had with Stark and the King in his youth. Lysa for her part liked Domeric’s unassuming manners and his nimble skill at the high harp which he was currently playing likely at Lorra’s request. It was a merry song she’d once heard upon her travels between the Eyrie and Gulltown being played by a minstrel. Lorra and Jonnel were now spinning around wildly only stopping when Domeric ended the tune abruptly upon noticing Lysa and Robert’s presence. Jonnel upon seeing her adopted his armor of curtesy and Lorra’s smile diminished.

 

Am I truly so dour?

 

“The evening meal will be soon—enjoy yourselves but make sure you have enough time to prepare,” reminded Lysa firmly before continuing onwards, feeling upset that even her presence seemed to bring an end to most joy and mirth. She could be as happy and merry as anyone else. The evening meal was all abuzz with Robert’s announcement that Father was due to arrive on the morrow—an announcement she hadn’t the heart to take away from her boy.

 

Rowena and Annalys immediately began chittering about some clever idea they’d created and how they wished to show their father. Some pieces of glass that they’d taken out of old Myrish Eyes and strung together with tin in a primitive sort of Myrish Eye that made close things appear larger. Why on the gods’ green earth anyone would want to see what was already visible in even larger detail, Lysa knew not.

 

“I wouldn’t hound your father upon his immediate arrival, girls. He’ll be tired from the ride and the climb. Best save your… invention for when he has a clearer mind to see it,” said Lysa as

 

“Of course mother,” answered Rowena to her sister’s dissatisfaction.

 

She added for the benefit of them all, “Never forget the pains others take to do what they do, children, and be grateful for what you are given. You all have been blessed to have been born where you are as Arryns of the Eyrie. Each of you.”

 

There was a sigh followed by a chorus of “Aye, mother,” which they were apt to say whenever she emphasized a lesson to them all,

 

They didn’t believe her, of course not. What did they know of the world outside of the Eyrie? But she would tell them, and if they did not listen, then they would remember that she did warn them when they made their mistakes, and rue that they did not listen to her. Though Lysa noticed that Edmyn wasn’t part of the chorus this time. He’d been acting oddly since having returned from Oldstones, and it had nothing to do with her Uncle Blackfish or his son Tristifer was all she was able to weasel out of him when she inquired as to what troubled him. But then she’d caught him giving a particular serving girl a blushed look which Lysa knew all too well. Yes, far too well indeed. That needed to be nipped in the bud.

 

When dinner was over she asked Edmyn to walk with her to the garden. There they tread upon the path until they came upon the statue of the weeping woman in the failed attempt to plant a godswood here atop the Giant’s Lance.

 

She came right out with it, as there was no use beating around the bush, “I saw you giving eyes to that girl.”

 

Edmyn blushed and looked down at his boots.

 

“Do you deny it?”

 

“No, mother,” answered Edmyn without looking at her.

 

“Have you gone beyond looking?” she pressed. She had to know. She found her right hand resting upon her belly, recalling the first swell of her body, his brother or sister who’d withered and died in her womb long ago. Thinking back on it, it had been a dangerous game she’d played… was Edmyn putting some other girl in such a position, now?

 

Edmyn looked up at her—well truly he lifted his head and looked down upon her—he was already a few inches taller than her, tall for a boy of three and ten, and he said, “No, mother, I have not.”

 

She saw in his sky blue eyes that he was lying instantly.

 

“Do you think if you lie to me that I won’t know?” she asked.

 

His eyes were hurt in an instance, but guilt also racked them instantly.

 

“I am not lying! I have done no more than look at Ryda,” he insisted.

 

Lysa resisted the urge to question how friendly he’d become with the serving girl and instead challenged what he had not said, “So it was another girl then?”

 

His face went as red as her father’s whenever she’d caught him in a lie or an omission, and he protested much like her father did whenever his designs were discovered, by deflecting with a question, “Other boys my age have had their first girl, why should I be any different?”

 

She took his hand in hers and held it tightly, “What are our words?”

 

He scoffed slightly and said, “Family, Duty, Honor.”

 

She squeezed his hand tightly causing him to wince, but he did not try to pull his hand from hers. Even from her children, she was made to feel different… an outsider in her own family.

 

Were he not her son, she would have slapped him for such impudence, but instead she took a deep breath and reiterated, “Your father’s words.”

 

“As High as Honor,” he added sullenly.

 

“As High as Honor… you are not other boys, Edmyn. Winter will not come for you, fury is not yours, none shall hear you roar, and so forth. You are the heir to the Eyrie, the future lord of the Vale, the next in a long line of honorable lineage going back to the arrival of the Andals. And you are my son. I expect more from you. You should be as the falcon, flying above the rest—!”

 

His eyes met hers again and as his eyebrows furrowed he challenged, “And yet you lectured us barely an hour past on being humble and knowing the pains of others. Tell me, how am I to fly above the rest and remain humble and knowing, if I know nothing?”

 

Gods, he’s almost as bad as Uncle.

 

“And is that how you learn then? By sticking your…” she struggled with herself to say the word, but in the end she did, “…cock in it? If only the maester would have known that at four namedays, it would have made learning your letters all the easier.”

 

Edmyn had no clever words for that, of that she was sure, instead his mouth pulled tight into a thin frown, his face blushed as red as the setting sun and he pulled from her grasp.

 

“May I leave, my lady mother?” he asked formally.

 

“You may go,” and instantly her son turned heel and began striding for the door to leave the garden. As he went she called out, “And you are to stay in your room until either I or your father speak with you!”

 

The door slammed shut behind him, echoing throughout the garden. She’d have the girl sent away first thing in the morning. It would be for the best. The girl had no ability to hide a child, and Edmyn fathering a Stone was not something she would force upon either the girl or Denys. Mayhaps Petyr could find the girl a position with a good house in Gulltown… or Ser Edwyle Royce might be in need of a servant for his young daughter Jocelyn—named after his aging grandmother. But for now she was tired… far far too tired.

 

Lysa walked across the moonlit garden where the few plants that could cling to the rocky soil of the Giant’s Lance—mostly flowering bushes—blew in the autumnal breeze shaking their leaves in a calm steady pattern that seemed to lull her out of the rage Edmyn had put her in.

 

She soon found herself laying in her bed with the accounts from Gulltown that Ser Edwyle Royce had sent to the Eyrie. He had sent it to Denys with a letter confiding his suspicions of Petyr’s good fortune to have increased his wealth. Denys let her have a look over such accounts as she had a far stronger grasp of her numbers than he did—the one thing he was unwilling to submit himself to the rigors of attentive study. For Lysa’s part she found looking over account books far easier than any other task she did as Lady of the Eyrie. Numbers were perfect—even the decimals. There was an answer for every problem, and numbers most certainly did not lie or only appear to be perfect while she was looking. Though she had to admit that Ser Edwyle was on to something… for she had hardly put down the account book because something did seem off. The numbers didn’t lie, they were adding up accordingly, but something was off about the accounts nonetheless.

 

Her door opened and she did not look up, expecting it to be the maid with more wood for the fire. So when she heard his voice say, “My love,” she nearly dropped the account book.

 

There Denys stood, exhausted and ragged-looking, but grateful for her being there. Immediately she rose and hurried to him, embracing him and holding on to him tightly. He was still as lean and tall as ever—but with a slight smattering of facial hair he’d grown out in his absence from her. The bristles were soft and gentle, so he’d been growing them out for some time—and they would be shaved off again come morning. For a man of nearly one and forty namedays

 

She whispered to him, “I did not expect you tonight…”

 

“You think I’d spend a night away from you more than I had to?” asked Denys sweetly. She kissed him for that and squeezed her arms about him tightly. He winced, buckling at his abdomen and clutching his side.

 

“Careful, my love… I’m still tender.”

 

“What happened?” asked Lysa.

 

“A Stone Crow pricked me in the side, that’s all,” he said a bit too dismissively. Curious she pulled at his dingy shirt and lifted it to reveal his side wrapped with a bandage underneath his grasp.

 

“My love…” she whimpered.

 

“’Tis nothing Lysa… the maester at the Gates of the Moon has already seen to me.”

 

“And you then journeyed by donkey up to Snow. Did you take the basket or the steps up the rest of the way?” inquired Lysa.

 

When Denys did not answer her, she knew he’d done the fool thing and climbed the steps rather than take the basket. She sighed, what was she to do with him?

 

“I’d rather you’d have rested a night before tiring yourself out so foolishly!” she clucked as she drug him to bed. He did not fight her for his part and after pulling off his his boots, shirt and trousers she pulled a shift over him like one of the handmaids might her child and told him to lay down and sleep.

 

“Only with you by my side, he told her, to which she obliged him, curling up next to him as he wrapped his arms about her. She put the account book to the side and snuggled warmly in Denys’ grasp—careful to avoid touching his side. They lay there in a hazy existence between awake and asleep for some time, breathing deeply of each other’s scents. His own smell of pine and the winds of the Vale were intoxicating to her.

 

And then in a half sleepy voice he said, “I have some news, my love.”

 

“What is it?” she asked almost as languidly.

 

“You recall the promise I made to the clans I bound to us?” he began.

 

“Which promise?” she asked. He’d made many as far as she was concerned—far too many to keep track.

 

“Concerning Edmyn…”

 

She opened her eyes wide at that.

 

“You can’t mean…”

 

“Aye… a betrothal.”

 

“He’s too young,” she countered, trying to ignore the truth she’d learned this evening of her eldest son’s activities.

 

“For a betrothal? I won’t see him married yet. He’s only three and ten, a few years more until he should marry, but it is more than old enough for a betrothal.”

 

She groaned—but a promise was still a promise—no matter how she felt about it. “What clanswoman have you?” she asked.

 

“A daughter from the Sons of the Tree… Ysolt, daughter of Rowyn—the Tree of Trees.”

 

“The Sons of the Tree?”

 

She did not recall the Sons of the Tree being part of the previous clans he dealt with to the south of the Bloody Gate.”

 

“Aye… she will bring half the Northern Clans

 

“And will you still marry Rowena to a Southern Clansman?” she asked, slightly irritated.

 

“Aye… to whichever clan leader or their son can defeat the others in a tourney,” he reconfirmed.

 

Leaving her daughter’s betrothal up to the victor of a tourney sat all wrong with Lysa, but Denys had said it was the only way to keep the clansmen from trying to steal her from her bed and retain a sense of dignity.

 

“Besides which, if they can start participating in Tourneys, then that will forge a bond between Vale lords and Clansmen from which we can have a lasting peace,” he’d argued with her before.

 

Lysa still did not like it, she did not like it one bit, but she had to admit he’d done an admirable job in bringing peace to the Southern half of the Vale where clansmen were concerned.

 

“A letter came for you from King’s Landing,” she added, wishing to change the subject.

 

“Oh?” he asked.

 

“About the Royal Wedding and the goldcloaks,” she sighed.

 

“What about?” he asked.

 

She answered, “Faith of One nonsense again… apparently some Stoney Septon has got it in his head that the Stranger shall return on the day of the wedding, and they’re questioning the assignments of the goldcloaks for shutting down the city in preparation for it.”

 

Denys looked at her in disbelief for a moment before responding, “That’s the worst decision to make…”

 

He sat up then, seemingly lost in thought, and Lysa cursed herself for being honest before adding, “Does this mean you’ll be leaving me again so soon?” she asked.

 

Denys looked to her then and said, “When it’s time for the wedding we’ll both leave for the capital… but right now? A letter will suffice,” he answered her.

 

Lysa smiled and they went to sleep.

Chapter Text

DURRAN

 

The festival celebrating the arrival of the Starg Princess and Prince of Evenos—as the new land was being called—was a glorious occasion. Newly sewn banners of direwolves running against a rising sun fluttered in the wind in their honor. Music, dance, wine, and food were all widely available and heavily indulged in. Most notable though was the display in the throne room where the Starg Prince Arynack and Princess Nadee had stood greeting the King with foods and animals from their land for all the court to see. The Stargs themselves were tall people, lean, athletic looking, with copper skin. The Prince had curls of light blond hair which made his skin appear darker, while the princesses’ long black hair was wavy. They had been dressed into Westerosi clothes fit for any courtier—and looked quite uncomfortable walking around in them, the princess sometimes stepping on the hem of her gown, and the prince finding the long doublet too tight for his comfort—at least that was the reason he supposed that it was unbuttoned. There were a small collection of their own people who had traveled with them—Durran assumed them to be guards or attendants—and they still dressed in their native clothes of skins and furs, painted and adorned with symbols that looked exotic to Durran’s eye, similar paints decorated the copper skin of the people. These Evenosi walked directly up to courtiers and sniffed them or pulled at another’s dress to rub the velvet against their cheek. It made for an entertaining display. Some stared in awe at the Iron Throne, while others walked around with obsidian knives making marks on sticks for some reason. The only thing which was noted as being remotely First Men about the Prince and Princess were their grey eyes, the rest of their people all had golden, amber or even orange eyes—all the colors of the setting sun in all its splendor. Also joining them was a silent man, who was named as Chogyn, still dressed in what appeared to be Evenosi traditional dress of skins and furs. The upper half of his face was painted as black as his hair was—giving the illusion from afar that his hair began at his nose—while the lower half was given lines and symbols which Durran vaguely recognized as rune-like but somehow different, as these runes were less straight lines and more curved. The man did not speak a word, instead glowering at all that came near him and starring with his yellow-orange eyes as if he were taking it all in. Lyonel and Elenei were especially captivated by this dark and quiet stranger, and attempted to provoke him into doing something other than glowering by pulling at his black furs and skins before their mother had one of her ladies in waiting take them from the court. The Princess herself seemed to speak the most common tongue, stating that Sawane Botley had taught her some so that she might be a voice for her people. Her brother spoke a few words at best, and often tried to speak with his sister in their own tongue which seemed to flow between them like a river.

 

They were the youngest two of many brothers and sisters—some of whom had married other tribes of the wolf to bring about a peace and alliance sorely needed against the blue eyed tribe—as they were called.

 

Princess Nadee spoke, “Story say blue eyed tribe ruled land and us in night, until the day a wolf from the sea howled and woke sun Then he left and said to return. He did return, only this time the wolf walk on four and two legs. He stayed, took a woman, and joined our people. Many are of his blood.”

 

“And are those grey eyes a sign of that bloodline?” asked mother, quite curiously.

 

For the first time Durran noticed Princess Nadee smiled, saying, “Aye… my people’s eyes are the colors of the sun, except for those who have the blood of the wolf.”

 

Lyarra had been pressured to know their supposedly distant relatives from across the Sunset Sea, especially Prince Arynack whom Durran took to be about his age. Father had been excited by the prospect of their arrival as a chance to extol the virtues and trappings of First Men culture he’d adopted and as such ceremonial knives and weapons in bronze were made and given to himself and prepared for the Stargs’ arrival and were exchanged for curious weapons made of sharp obsidian. Cracklaw men from mother’s lands were brought to court as representatives as were several younger sons of families who could trace lineage back to the First Men. Everything had been prepared for the greeting ceremony. It was agreed upon that the Prince and Princess would stay for the winter before returning to Evenos—so as to not chance the rough seas in Winter. And since they were younger in their bloodline it was generally hoped that mayhaps they might even marry and settle down in Westeros. Mother had been especially interested in the age of Princess Nadee—who was five and ten—with an eye for Edrick to counter father’s proposed match to the Lannister girl who was three namedays Edrick’s junior. Durran didn’t like the idea of wedding Edrick to the Starg Princess, and he had to admit he saw the good sense in tying the Lannister lions to the Iron Throne more closely as they recovered from a long period of instability within the West. Besides, Durran couldn’t quite take his eyes off of Princess Nadee herself. She was close to his age and far easier to talk to than Rhaenys was at times. He, Rhaenys, Lyarra, and Edrick upon mother’s insistence were to show the Prince and Princess around the Red Keep the morning after the greeting ceremony.

 

When asked if the wolves or stags had built this “great stone house” as they went from room to room on the tour, Rhaenys spoke of her Targaryen heritage the last of the great dragon riders of Valyria who’d built the Red Keep. Their visitors seemed to doubt the existence of ‘flying lizards’ as they were told, until upon hearing the challenge Rhaenys had taken them to where the dragon skulls were being stored since the signs and decorations of both the First Men and the Evenosi had taken over the throne room. The skulls terrified the Starg Princess who took to the arm of her brother when Rhaenys shown a light upon the skull of Balerion. And as Rhaenys walked with a torch in her hand, Durran couldn’t help but notice a new energy emerge from Rhaenys. It was a side he had never seen from her before—as though being among so many dragon skulls brought forth a kind of delicious mania from her blood—like Orys or Lyonel got after they had eaten too much cake. She eagerly went from skull to skull and touched and petted them reverently. She once even stuck a torch inside one of the skulls which lit it up and cast shadows upon them all that made them feel as if the skull were considering incinerating them. When the Starg Princess had shrieked out in fear after the tension had greatly mounted her brother knocked the torch from Rhaenys’ hand and to the damp stone floor, from which Durran picked it up and suggested that they take a walk of the gardens.

 

“What were you doing in there?” challenged Durran in a quiet whisper as he and Rhaenys took the lead of the group.

 

“I… I don’t know,” admitted Rhaenys who looked pale and as though she had gone as white as a sheet.

 

“Were you trying to scare our visitors?” questioned Durran.

 

“No… but when I saw the skulls it was like…” she trailed off, as she saw Edrick come a little too close behind them. Durran and Rhaenys then hastened their steps and put some distance between them as they climbed the steps.

“Like?” he prodded when he felt they were out of range of his brother’s ear.

 

“Like something had awakened from inside of me,” she admitted, trembling as she did so.

 

“You’ve been in the same room as the skulls before,” he pointed out, recalling when the most impressive skulls had adorned the throne room.

 

“Aye… but with fire in my hand and the skulls all around me… it was different.”

 

This revelation was not exactly a welcome one to Durran, but he could see it was troubling his wife to be. What to do?

 

“What if… what if that was my grandfather’s taint?” she whispered, fear caught in her voice.

 

“Then I must find some way to keep the sun in you shining,” suggested Durran as he took her hand. It felt like the right thing to do, and father had always said to go with what you felt was right.

 

She gave a little smile, but it didn’t seem to ease her spirit any. She didn’t however let go of his hand, her fingers interlocking with his as he deposited the torch in its sconce and they headed for the gardens. They spent a lot of time in the gardens, which seemed to put their visitors at greater ease than touring the great chambers built by the dragon kings. There was something about seeing the Princess and Prince amongst the shaded walk ways and flowering bushes that seemed so natural and serene. To see them appreciate and ask after all the different plants and their uses; was a wonder unto itself. Rhaenys seemed to recover some out in the gardens, or at least she pretended to for him as he often stopped to see if she was feeling all right as they continued their walk. It was as they came to the fountain, which seemed to amaze their Evenosi visitors tremendously that Ser Garth of the Kingsguard came for him, saying that the King wished to speak with him alone. Durran cast a worried glance to Rhaenys, but she waved him off leaving Durran to follow Ser Garth to his father’s solar, where he was bid to wait by Ser Richard, who stood guard outside of it, giving Ser Garth a nod before his departure.

 

Durran stood outside the King’s solar waiting to speak with his father, worried about what he had to say. His father rarely called to speak with him in his solar—most often seeking him out himself. No doubt this would be a serious discussion—or mayhaps a scolding? He hadn’t done anything too wrong at least he didn’t think he had. He’d been wrong to provoke Hill like he had—a lesson he’d learned with the beating he’d received, although in his defense he’d been drunk off his ass at the time—and he regretted it some. Edmyn had laid in on him harshly, asking if he had any sense of honor. He’d only meant to annoy the yellow hound, not ruin what he owned. Clearly some of the younger boys had taken it farther than he’d expected they would. That was something he wouldn’t forget all too soon—that if the younger ones didn’t understand what you were trying to say, they were likely to overdo anything you told them to do. It’s something he kept in mind when his sister and young Axel had pestered him for advice in fighting, and it seemed to work rather well. Mayhaps Hill hadn’t stayed at Oldstones because he couldn’t get a squireship—the word that he was now Lord Lannister’s squire proved that false enough—but instead had rather liked seeing the younger boys learn from what he had to say. While Durran wouldn’t want to do as much for all his life, he had to admit seeing Axel and Elenei take his advice seriously and put it into practice was gratifying. Not as gratifying as when it would be when he’d finally beat Oraen Rogare, but gratifying in a small manner nonetheless. But all of this had been weeks and weeks ago, and since the Stargs had come he had tried to be on his best behavior… hadn’t he?

 

Just then Ser Richard cleared his throat and Durran looked up to meet the Kingsguard in the eye. The pimple-faced knight looked expectantly at him, and it was a second before Durran realized that the door into his father’s solar was slightly ajar. When he did, he moved quickly to enter it, leaving behind Ser Richard.

 

“Sit down,” called his father, who was up and about as Durran entered. His father was busy filling a pitcher of ale. Durran noticed that his father’s Stormlander squire—and distant cousin through the Starks—Benedict Rogers, who was but a nameday Durran’s elder, was absent.

 

Definitely a serious conversation.

 

“Drink,” said his father as he nearly shoved a stein of beer into Durran’s hand.

 

Durran obeyed his father, and gagged at the watered down ale his father chose to drink—no doubt mother’s choice to keep Father from getting too round a pouch for a gut.

 

“First taste?” asked his father.

 

“Aye” answered Durran, nervous of what his father might say if he told the truth.

 

“It’s not so bad after you get used to it… drink some more,” urged his father, who had barely had a sip of his own drink.

 

Durran found himself obliged to drink more of the pisswater.

 

In the midst of ignoring the wretched taste he heard his father clear his throat and say, “I’ve heard word that you’ve swum the Narrow Seas.”

 

Durran almost spat out his drink in that instant. Instead he swallowed and forever regretted doing so as his eyes watered and he shook a little from the small desire he had for the first few seconds to vomit the ale that tasted so bad.

 

How’d he hear of that?

 

“Did you say that Durran?” asked his father almost meekly.

 

Confused and embarrassed, Durran admitted it. Mother had always said that admitting something was easier than dragging it out for forever.

 

“And did you?” rounded his father rather quickly, his pretended meekness gone in a flash of lightning.

 

Embarrassed, Durran shifted his eyes to the floor.

 

“Well did you?” he demanded, slamming his own partially drunk ale onto the table.

 

“No, your grace,” answered Durran.

 

There was a stretch of silence then which lasted longer than either Durran or his father obviously felt comfortable with.

 

“Why did you say you had then?” questioned his father, still quite serious.

 

Durran croaked, “Which time?”

 

His father’s eyes narrowed as he asked, “You’ve said this more than once?”

 

Durran blushed and admitted he had. He hadn’t meant for his father to hear of it.

 

His father seemed about to say something but then decided against it by asking, “Tell me about the first, and then the second.”

 

Durran gulped as he said, “W—well, the first was to get Edmyn Arryn to…”

 

His father impatiently prompted, “Go on. To get Edmyn to do what?”

 

“To get him to sleep with a woman… and…” continued Durran.

 

“And what?” rebounded his father, who seemed almost uninterested at the revelation of Edmyn.

 

Durran continued with, “And to not disappoint cousin Rickon. The second time was because I made a fool of myself in front of Princess Rhaenys and Lewyn Sand wouldn’t stop teasing me about it in front of Edrick.”

 

At this his father seemed to grow rather red in the face as he then exclaimed, “Bugger that to hell, boy! You’re my son and the heir to the gods damn Iron Throne! You have no fucking need to boast, or feel ashamed of anything!”

 

Durran set down his drink, nodded and added, “No, your grace.”

 

“Who else heard this?” demanded his father.

 

“Which time?” asked Durran.

 

“Both times,” grumbled his father.

 

Still wanting to vomit from the pisswater, he choked back his urge and with a strained voice answered, “Edmyn Arryn, cousin Rickon, Brandon Glover, Wylbert and Wyatt Manderly, Tristifer Tully, Lewyn Sand, and Edmure Whent. And the second time it was just Lewyn, Edmure, and Edrick.”

 

“Gods, that many?!” exclaimed his father.

 

“Aye.”

 

His father rounded, “Do you know what you did?!”

 

Durran guessed, “Spoke of my betrothed out of turn?”

 

With a slam of his fist to the table he shouted, “Aye, to nearly half the bloody realm! You’ve got to be careful of what you say Durran. You never know when someone’s bloody ears are listening to catch just what you didn’t want them to hear…” said his father with an exhausted sigh, as though he knew too well that lesson.

 

Durran nodded dumbly, and then asked, “Do you want me to speak to the others and tell them the truth of it?”

 

After a long drawn out silence his father sighed and said almost with a light chortle, “That would be a worse mistake than the one you’ve made. Do you want to be known as Durran the Liar? No… you’re stuck with this lie… and now you have to live with it. But it won’t be a lie for forever—will it? After all, she won’t keep her maidenhood for much longer. What harm could be done? Just don’t speak of it any further, let others think what they will.”

 

Durran sighed a deep breath of relief it could have gone much worse than it had.

 

“Now no more of this business about swimming up Narrow Seas until you actually do so—understand me?”

 

“Aye, Father.”

 

His father gave him a smile, slapped his shoulder and added, “Good. If your mother were to find out about this… gods! I don’t want to think of how angry she’d be.”

 

Recalling how distant she’d been since his return from Oldstones, Durran snorted “You think she’d truly care?”

 

His father gave him an incredulous look and boomed, “She’s your mother of course she’d care!”

 

Durran however did not stand down with his own piercing glance, doubting his father’s words. He recalled all too painfully how after returning from Winterfell she’d run off to Claw Castle with Edrick and Lyarra. Father had spent the time playing with him, but Edrick could still recall crying when he’d rushed to his mother’s compartments only to find them empty—much like the night she’d upset Rhaenys when she’d gone off headstrong to Blackwater Keep without a word. He knew just how little his mother cared for him, even if father blinded himself to it.

 

And like the crack of lighting in the midst of a storm his father laughed and added, “Gods you have her look about you when you do that!” and then he sighed, “You’re mother is a willful woman—always has been. It’s what I love about her, godsdammit, but it hasn’t made her the best of mothers, admittedly. But she does care… in her own way. I’ve seen it Durran. You’re her blood as much as I am.”

 

With some bitterness he couldn’t keep out of his voice he added, “And yet she prefers Edrick over me.”

 

With a scoff his father dismissed it, like he always did, confident in mother’s appreciation for all her children. “You’re to be married soon, she’ll know you’ll have need of her in preparation for it, and Edrick will soon be off for Oldstones and out of her mind.”

 

“He’ll be gone, but he’ll never be out of her mind,” contradicted Durran.

 

That did not please his father, and with a gruffer tone, his father said, “Return to your lessons, I’ve got a message and a parcel from the Wall I have to look over. Hand delivered by a man of the Night’s Watch—said he had to be with me when I opened it. I said, I’d open it whenever the blood hell I felt like it,” his father said as he patted the box on his desk.

 

“From the Wall?” asked Durran with some confusion.

 

What would they send to the King?

 

His father sighed and said, “Aye… the bloody fuckers likely want more men and think giving me some dagger their blacksmith’s forged will convince me—trying to buy me off, no doubt. Your mother will be on me about sending more people there when she hears about it.”

 

“If they truly wanted your help, they’d ask—there’d be no need for a gift,” challenged Durran.

 

“Aye, your uncle Ned sent me a letter not long ago saying the Wall was asking for his help, he’d be on me about how honorable the Night’s Watch is. Bet he’d be tongue-tied to learn they’re just like all the other bloody houses I have to manage,” laughed his father, and then with a jerk of his head, his father said “Get to your lessons.”

 

Durran was reluctant to leave the room, curious about the parcel from the Wall but just as he was exiting he heard his father exclaim “Seven Hells!” followed by the sound of choking. Durran turned around, the door only slightly open to see a hand at his father’s throat—but that was it… it was a severed hand that was black and putrid with dried blood crusted upon it and nothing else attached to it.

 

Before Durran could rush to his father’s side, Ser Richard charged into the room and pulled at the hand and rescued his father’s breath. The hand immediately wriggled out of Ser Richard’s grasp and began to come straight for Durran. In an instant it was all over as Durran came out of a haze as he realized he’d drawn his knife and stabbed the hand straight through the back of it. The hand continued to writhe until Durran not knowing what else to do with it trapped it back inside the trunk it had come from and securely locked it.

 

“M—magic!” coughed his father.

 

“Assassins!” spat Ser Richard.

 

“From the Wall?” questioned Durran.

 

His father tore at the unopened envelope, but before he could open it, Ser Richard took it from his father and said, “It could be poisoned your grace.”

 

His father then waved for Ser Richard to open it and read it aloud, asking for Durran to close the door.

 

Ser Richard spoke, “The letter purports to be from Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Wall, saying that he was attacked by two dead men, straight out of the legends our nursemaids told us, and would have died if it weren’t for the actions of a newly joined recruit by the name of Satin Flowers. The letter then says he cut off a part of the dead men for your grace to bear witness.”

 

“Dead men coming alive?” questioned Robert.

 

Recalling once when he’d listened as mother had tucked Edrick in, he added, “In the stories mother told Edrick from the North… dead men rise to serve the Others.”

 

“That’s the hand of an Other?!” exclaimed his father.

 

Durran answered honestly, “I don’t know.”

 

“Then I best go north to learn the truth…” grumbled the King with an odd glean to his eye, as though he were excited at the prospect.

 

“Go North? But who will rule in King’s Landing?” asked Ser Richard.

 

With that glean still in his eye his father turned to him and said, “You will, Durran. You’re nearly a man grown, and your mother and the small council will help you. Besides, you need a little practice before you’re crowned King. I’ll take Ser Barristan and a small army of men with me and we’ll meet up with your uncle Ned. And then I’ll learn what’s truly going on at the Wall.”

 

Durran wasn’t sure how much his mother would actually help him but he wouldn’t let his father down and so with a determined nod he said, “I will hold the throne until you return, father.”

 

“That’s my boy!” his father grinned and gave him a firm hug, which Durran cherished for the rest of his days.

Chapter Text

ROBB

The godswood was as still and silent as it ever was. He waited by the weirwood tree shifting and looking worriedly between Father and Rickon, Mother and Arya, Bran, Edwyn and Sansa, Lord Westerling at the front of the crowd, and deep in the crowd: Jon and Den. His bride to be was due any moment to come walking silently through the gates of the godswood—all dressed in black with the white sunburst of her house. Robb knew what had made him choose Alys Karstark to be his wife—and it wasn’t for any political reasons, but simply because she was the girl who hadn’t tried to woo him. He was a Northman at heart, not some bloody Southron lady to be fought over and won.

Den had smirked when he’d told him that, before adding, “But you look as pretty as one.”

Robb had boxed Den’s ears for that, and Den had retaliated himself so that for a moment the strange distance that seemed to have appeared between them had melted away.

The ceremony had begun to snow lightly as the wait continued—and then the gate was heard swinging open in the utter silence of the godswood covered in snow. He had watched as Alys emerged from the trees on her father’s arm. Her grey bearded father stood proud in his black clothing with a white sunburst upon it—puffing out his chest rather proudly as he did. Behind them came her three brothers: Harrion, Torrhen, and Eddard, as well as the solemn looking Lady Karstark. All three of Alys’ brothers, his soon to be goodbrothers looked like they were at different stages of the other. Harrion, the eldest, had a full beard and looked as though he were a younger version of his father. Torrhen was the middle brother. His beard wasn’t full, but instead just whiskers upon his chin. Eddard, who was the closest to Robb’s age, save Alys, didn’t even have a shadow of a shave upon his face. They all had the Stark look, being brown of hair, long of face, and grey-eyed, and for an instant Robb wondered if the Tully looks he’d inherited from mother would still be as strong in his own children. He wouldn’t mind his heir looking like his father, but Robb did wish for at least a daughter that looked as beautiful as mother did or even just as pretty as Sansa. The raven said he would have three children and no more, which set Robb on edge as to what the “no more” meant. Did that mean he would die or that Alys would die? The raven had said many things were needed and important, but his marriage had been a subject the old bird had remained silent on, only answering how many children Robb would father, and nothing else about whatever future he would have with them or his future wife, but he put his trust in the raven, and so he would have to take comfort in the fact that he would have three children to secure Winterfell for the dark times which he felt stirring.

The ceremony was short and simple. They exchanged their vows, he’d given her his cloak, and he’d kissed her. All the while Alys had looked on with an unreadable face that looked nearer a mask than an actual emotion.

At the feast, they sat with their parents upon the dais as the rest of the castle enjoyed itself at the lower tables in the great hall. Robb spent a small amount of time looking for each of his siblings. His eyes first caught Jon who sat with his Dayne cousin and their sister. Arya was pretending to be interested in what the young Dornish lord had to say, but not very convincing about it. Jon however was more eager to try and serve as a bridge between the two from what Robb could tell.

Robb reached out with his mind, like he had as a child with Jon and asked, “She’s not interested in him?”

Jon’s response was difficult to hear, sounding quiet and faded, but he heard it nonetheless: “Edric’s too nervous. She likely thinks he’s an idiot.”

Pleased that the communication that had died when his half-brother had gone to Dorne was once again working, Robb added, “That would only put him amongst the rest of us, in her opinion.”

Robb’s attention was distracted from watching Jon, Edric, and Arya interact as a squeal came out from across the Hall, and Robb turned to see his youngest brother Edwyn and Greyham Cassel running away from an irritated Jeyne Poole who looked slightly soaked. Rickon was guffawing about it with Bran over in the corner of the Hall, but seemed to catch their mother’s eye. Not too long after, Rickon was looking around, spotted him and then a realization dawned on his younger brother’s face.

It’s your job now, little brother.

Rickon’s face took on a sour look as he then rose and made his way for Edwyn and Greyham who were laughing with Beth. Rickon took Edwyn by the shoulders and started to drag their brother out of the Hall for the nonce.

“Lady Jeyne’s embarrassment amuses you?” questioned Robb in his fourth attempt to gain Alys’ attention. She’d spent the rest of the meal in a cool silence, with him wondering if he had to attempt seven times for the Seven gods of his grandfather before she’d respond.

“Your brothers remind me of mine,” answered Alys simply.

“Brothers are brothers. You will miss them.”

“Aye, I will miss them, but I will do my duty all the same.”

“You speak as if you’re a warrior about to do battle.”

“The marriage bed is as much a battle, as a field is for a warrior. At least, that is what my mother once told me.”

This was the longest a conversation had ever been between them, and Robb was eager not to see it end so quickly.

“Well, I’m hardly in any position to confirm your mother’s words,” he said jovially enough, hoping to see her smile.

Alys then turned and looked at him oddly, opening her mouth to say something before turning to look at her food and

Fuck, what did I say now?

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a few of his rejected suits who hadn’t left, notable amongst them was Lady Lynessa Dustin and her mother, who looked particularly interested in how he interacted with Alys—with an almost smug look on her face.

“Have you heard ill things said of me?” he questioned.

Alys spoke rather quickly and unconvincingly said, “No.”

“Whatever you’ve heard—” he began.

She interrupted, “It is nothing.”

“So you have heard something?” questioned Robb.

Alys looked as though she were about to say something when Lord Halys and Lady Donella Hornwood came to give their congratulations to them. Robb wished to speak more to Alys then but a call for a bedding rang out among the guests which separated them as many of the girls he’d refused came rushing forward for him, and plenty of men for Alys, pulling them from the table rather roughly.

A clattering bang rang out upon the great table and Robb turned to see his father had slammed his fist upon it before announcing, “There will be no bedding.”

Robb was let go of in that instant, his cloak falling to the floor of the chamber and luckily nothing else. In an instant Robb could see why there was to be no bedding, what with his younger siblings having not been returned to their chambers yet. Instead Robb was left with Alys to escort her to their new chambers. They were silent the entire walk, Robb from the shock of the near bedding, and Alys from whatever bothered her.

After reaching their chambers, Alys began to undress with a distinct deliberateness. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t provocative, it was frank and straightforward.

“What did Lady Dustin tell you?” he asked as he looked straight at her. She however kept her back to him.

“Nothing that I didn’t already know,” sighed Alys exasperatedly.

“You have me at a loss then,” responded Robb.

Alys said nothing at first, beginning to work her hands at one of the black ties which knotted her gown over the white petticoat.

When at last the gown came loose she turned and looked surprised that he hadn’t touched his own attire, and asked with a suspicious eye, “Are we going to consummate this marriage or are we going to talk?”

She was cold and rather formal about the entire affair, as though she simply wanted to get the entire thing over with, and Robb began to truly have doubts that he had made the right choice in choosing Alys, and then it clicked. It was actually rather clever, and two could play at that game.

“I want to know what Lady Dustin told you,” he pressed as he tore at the buttons on his doublet rather hastily and almost clumsily. Normally he could manage himself, but his mind was half distracted wondering what exactly Lady Dustin had told Alys that she thought so obvious as if it didn’t need saying—enough to upset Alys. One thing was sure, Robb knew the first thing he’d ask of Lady Dustin would be a companion for Arya—her daughter Lynessa was close enough

After a few moments of fumbling with his doublet, Alys snorted and moved his hands aside, unbuttoning his doublet for him. Theon had once told him there was no sweeter way to begin a coupling—but Robb found it less than pleasing. So when his doublet had been stripped from him he stopped her hands from moving to his trousers, and he began untying them himself. This left them soon in nothing but their smallclothes, which came off the most hesitantly for them both, and Robb was beginning to wonder if all this awkwardness might have been avoided if he’d just gone through with the damn bedding ceremony in the first place.

They stared at each other’s nakedness for what felt like an hour. Finally they took to the bed and began the deed. His first thrust into her looked painful from her reaction, but she implored him to continue with her eyes, if only to be done about it. She bled a little onto the sheets after he’d pulled out and just lay there silently as he breathed deeply from having spent himself.

The second time he grew bored with her just lying there and so he recalled something that Raynald had once told him and lightly began to stroke her breast with his sword hand while his left braced his weight on the bed. As his fingers grew closer to her nipple, this caused Alys some alarm but when she moaned in spite of herself, Robb felt the need within himself to continue. He found the pleasure of Alys fuelled his own desire to continue, causing his own blood to rise. The second time was much better than the first.

Robb blacked out after the second time and found himself once again in that plain of never ending darkness which engulfed him. And then the darkness broke as he heard bells in the distance, chiming slow and solemnly, as though for the death of a King. Far away in one direction he saw Jon fighting a blurred man with a sword, but the closer he approached Jon, the more distant and blurred he became until there were only two blurs fighting and Robb couldn’t tell one from the other. Then there was another bell, and in a new direction he saw Theon he wading into the sea with some person obscured from Robb’s view by how blurred they appeared trying to pull him out. Unlike Jon, Theon did not fade from view but instead transformed into a raven which took flight and vanished into the darkness. The bell tolled once more and in yet another direction Jon saw Raynald standing as tall as an oak in summer and he took out his sword and began to fight as well, as more and more blurred people came upon him.

The bell tolled again and a new sight appeared before his eyes as though he were standing atop the wall over a field of the dead that lay within a few feet of the walls. He saw the dead clearly, but those alive were blurred from his vision. One on horseback called for a charge forward into the forest after the retreating Wildlings.

The bell tolled yet again and this time it did not pause, but continued as the top of the Wall transformed into the top of a castle high above a city. The bells ringing endlessly now, and growing louder, and then a gigantic flame appeared from somewhere down below and out of that emerged three flaming shadows that flew into the sky and vanished.

He awoke to the dawn, as he was accustomed to doing so. Alys still slept, and the dream still on his mind, he rose feeling the need for prayer once again. It wasn’t the first time he’d dreamt of these things, and he’d constantly asked the Raven for an answer, but he never received it. He knew he had to go to the godswood, but he looked over at Alys and felt wrong simply leaving her like this on the morning of their wedding night, and so after donning his shirt, which hung to just above his hips, he padded over to Alys’ side of the bloodied bed they now shared and stirred her.

“What o’clock is it?” she mumbled as her eyes stirred and she blinked a few times before moving to sit up.

“The sun has risen, and I am for the godswood for prayer. You can join me if you wish,” he offered.

“Aye, I suppose I should join you in praying for a son,” she grumbled, thinking that his reasoning. Now, when she was half-asleep was not the time to dissuade her of that notion, so Robb simply went to the door and asked for the guards to send in a handmaid to help the quite groggy Alys dress herself.

The godswood seemed colder than it had been the day before. The snow was deeper as well, the autumn storm they had had the night before having left snow nearly up to their knees. Servants were already at work at clearing the courtyard, but that left Robb and his wife to trudge through the godswood, which already had marks from someone else leading to the heart tree. There he found Theon, Raynald, and Jon already in silent prayer before the heart tree—trying as much as he to understand the Raven. There was an empty spot between Theon and Jon as there always had been when they had prayed as boys, but now the gap was wider, having expected Alys’ arrival no doubt.

Without thinking, Robb knelt before the heart tree aside his three brothers in the sight of Gods, but before he could begin his prayers he saw Alys standing slightly in shock at seeing his brothers. She was his wife now, and as much their sister in the sight of Gods as Theon and Raynald’s deceased wives were before her. In the back of his mind, Robb wondered if there mayhaps might be some curiosity that both Theon and Raynald had married girls of their own lands only to lose them in childbirth. He didn’t want the same for Alys, but was that what the Raven had planned?

No. He shouldn’t doubt—he’d receive no answer if he doubted. Instead he held out he hand to Alys, inviting her to kneel beside him and between Jon and himself. Alys did, seemingly nervous, but she knelt with him. And as she prayed there was a sense of completeness that Robb felt. An understanding that she was as much a part of their circle as he was her husband, and acceptance of her would go unquestioned by his brothers in the sight of Gods. He then took to prayer.

He hadn’t been long at praying when the wind picked up and at a distant whisper Robb heard what he thought was an answer.

Beware the bells… leave before they toll for you.

Chapter Text

ELIA

It was good that Axel had been sent away. She told herself that repeatedly, but it didn’t make the pain go away. Elia felt numb to the world in truth, as though she were floating on a sea. Sometimes the waves would bring her close to an island of activity and she’d see people fretting and acting about, only to turn away and return to drifting about the sea. Rhaenys thus had been the one to organize the funeral. The Sept had been turned red, blue and silver from all the Tully banners and flowers that Rhaenys had used to decorate. Hoster had laid in turn with his sword upon his chest clutched by his right hand and a scroll in his left. Rhaenys greeted everyone for her, and made the most of the event, accepting everyone’s sympathies rather graciously as Elia continued to float in her sea. Bits and pieces of many different conversations she heard briefly. Rhaenys spoke to each of them as if they were all speaking genuinely, when over half of them Elia was certain Hoster had barely spoken more than a handful of words to in his life.

Lady Tanda Stokeworth appeared with her late-in-life son and heir to Stokeworth Castle, young Alyn. He looked to be thin and lanky—nearly a man grown with Ser Manly’s plain features and brown hair and luckily had avoided his mother’s sagging fish like appearance. The boy’s mother tutted, clutched her lamb’s wool lined green cloak tighter to her body while leaning on a cane as her five and ten year old son, who stood tall by her side assisted her in approaching Rhaenys and herself. Then, in a tremoring old voice she croaked to Elia, “My Princess, I am so sorry for your loss. Lord Hoster was a true and noble lord.”

Elia was silent. For an instant she wanted to say that Lady Tanda had little idea about loss. So many things at once wanted to arise from her mouth… and then a moment passed and she realized that nothing good would come of speaking her mind, and so she let herself begin to drift off once again, rather than spit at Lady Tanda’s empty gratitude. Rhaenys spoke for her instead.

“I thank you, Lady Tanda. My mother has taken his death quite hard… as have I. He was a father to me, in every sense of the word that it mattered,” she heard Rhaenys admit, before drifting off again to wonder if that was quite true. Had she done Rhaegar a disservice? True, he had run away with Queen Lyanna and shamed her publicly. It was one thing to take a paramour in private—what a man did in his own chambers she would not judge—but it was quite another to shame her and their children in front of all the Seven Kingdoms. And yet whatever else his faults may have been, he had been a kind man… a sweet man… and he made up half of their little girl, now a woman grown.

Others though that held more loyalty to Hoster did arrive. A few of the common folk who’d fought for Lord Hoster in his wars—greybeards who’d fought in the Ninepenny War, full beards who had followed him in the Rebellion, and young fathers with their sons at their heels who’d fought in the Stepstones, all good Riverlander men who had come to pay their respects. Rhaenys had at first wanted to turn them away, but Elia had heard and contradicted her in the next instance. These were men who had traveled far enough to give their liege honor at a cost to themselves. They would be welcome, and after Elia had made it clear that these men had nothing to gain from being at the funeral, Rhaenys gave a smile as sweet as honey and allowed them passage. From what she recalled, it was a beautiful affair, if a funeral could be called beautiful. Of that Elia had to admit, when she was wheeled about the Sept where Hoster had laid in state, the eye stones were painted blue, but they were the wrong shade of blue for Hoster’s eyes—a tad too dark and stormy. Hoster’s had been bright and clear like the fountains of the Water Gardens.

The Water Gardens… she wanted to return there. She could close her eyes and imagine herself a girl again running about the pools half naked with Oberyn running behind her—both of them barefoot with half a dozen other children—some of common and others noble birth, all playing and splashing from pool to pool. At a detached distance she saw Doran walking alongside their aged mother, Princess Loreza, who had taken to using a cane after Oberyn’s birth had strained her body. Likewise Elia had strained her body with Axel…

Axel should see the Water Gardens. Aye she would take him… when Durran and Rhaenys had settled into their marriage and everything in King’s Landing was secure, she would take him. In the meanwhile Axel would come to know his brother and sisters by Hoster—that would be necessary if whatever threat that lay beyond the Wall that called the King was to be quelled to help keep the realm knitted together. She’d heard some exaggerated rumor about a severed hand coming to life and nearly killing the King. Such were the exaggerations and whispers of the Red Keep. Elia paid little mind to such gossip.

Then his body had been carried down in procession through the streets to the docks. Obi had expected a riot to break out, like in Oldtown over the Starry Father, but the streets instead were quiet as the procession—those Riverlander men later being said to have likely made the difference. In any case, all dressed in black, she had been wheeled to the harbor. There his boat had been prepared and he was laid in it, a few words had been said. Elia breaking up with sobs before she could finish her few words that she had thought to say. The rest of the service continued with the Blackfish and now Lord Edmure being there. Ironically enough, Edmure had arrived not long after she had sent Axel to Riverrun—the two just missing each other on the road. He was courteous to her though not much more, and Elia could hardly expect more from Edmure. The man might just be young enough to have possibly been a son of hers, but she felt far closer in age to him than she had to Hoster, which made talking with him slightly awkward. They had had little interaction, with Edmure only visiting his father sporadically or to present the newest grandchild he had for Hoster. His eldest, Brynden, was but a few moons younger than Axel, even if those few moons contained a year’s turn. Then came Alannys if Elia remembered correctly, who was three namedays younger than her brother. Both Hoster and Elia had seen these babes when they had reached their first namedays, with Brynden being a good natured boy with dark auburn hair that almost looked brown, and Alannys, a fussy babe always moving about with her mother’s dark eyes that seemed to nail you to the spot. And then just as Hoster had begun to fall ill, there’d been a raven saying that Brynden and Alannys now had a little brother named Halmon, who Edmure was rather proud to say was the spitting image of Hoster, he was convinced. Axel would find comfort there in Riverrun amongst his nephews and niece, young though Alannys and Halmon may be, at least Brynden ought to be good for him.

And then she thought for a moment of having Axel at her side, crying worse than she, when she could barely handle her own grief, mayhaps Rhaenys had been right after all. And yet it still had felt wrong.

She was brought out of her melancholy by the laughter of children heard echoing up to her window. Suddenly aware that she was in her room, several days after the funeral, and yet it felt as though she had just come from it all the same. Time had become slippery to her, but the sound of children laughing continued, grounding her once more to the world around her. It was a sunny day for King’s Landing, and from what Elia could see out from her window—trapped as she was in her chair—the youngest Baratheons were out and running amongst the gardens of the Red Keep, almost like she and Oberyn had at the Water Gardens. And then she knew she wanted to be outside.

“Faerys,” called Elia to her dragonseed guard.

The with long silver-blonde hair appeared not long thereafter as he asked, “Aye, my Princess?” In the light, one could almost mistake him for Rhaegar, especially with how proud he stood in the armor which combined the speared sun and the jumping trout as one as a relief.

She smiled and then declared, “I want to go out into the gardens.”

“In this autumn heat?” questioned Faerys with some disbelief.

She scoffed slightly. “This is nothing but a cool spring day in Dorne. But if the heat is worrying to you, you need not stay with me long. I can wheel myself if needs be amongst the garden paths for an hour or so, and then you can return.”

He returned, “And leave you alone, my Princess? That is impossible.”

“You think there might be assassins hidden amongst the bushes? Why certainly—if they run barefoot and laugh like it’s a summer’s day, there might be some.”

“No, I meant to say.”

“What did you mean to say?”

She saw him speak, but his voice did not come from his body. Instead she heard Rhaegar, whispering to her on the night they’d reconciled after Harrenhal, “I will never leave you.”

The words were out of her mouth before she realized that time was beginning to feel slippery again, “But you did.”

The next thing she knew she was out in the gardens, Faerys wheeling her across the pebbles and dirt path. She looked about her, for the first time in a long while actually enjoying the sights of the gardens around her. The autumn foliage had begun to turn from the conformist green they’d all been to many different colors. They found a slightly shaded spot along the bushes and Elia let Faerys know she wished to stop. Her man took the opportunity to sit down and take off his boots to allow his feet to breathe, while Elia closed her eyes. She closed her eyes and allowed time and space to once again change about her in the blink of an eye.

Ahhh… out here in the gardens she could close her eyes and imagine herself in the Water Gardens once again. The sun bathed her in its replenishing warmth and she relished how caressing it felt to be in its rays again—as though it were a paramour she had abstained from embracing until now.

It had been a cool, cloudy and misty day when Hoster’s burning boat had been sent out to the Blackwater, and before that she’d hardly been in any fit state to leave Hoster’s bedside for far too long. So Elia soaked up the sun’s warm embrace like a man who’d wandered the Dornish sands might water. She stretched her arms and sighed contentedly and wished she could do as she had done as a child and lay out completely in the warmth of the sun without any clothes on so she could dry and feel warm everywhere.

Now, even if she was able to do that she’d be unable to dry completely. Her legs had swollen with water. The skin on them first growing bumpy and then beginning to flake off allowing a disgusting smelling water to trickle out of her—mixed with a little blood sometimes. So she kept her legs wrapped and bandaged, the wraps needing to be changed at least thrice a day. Grandmaester Gormon said she was lucky she was paralyzed in her legs, for otherwise the pain would be unbearable.

She could recall his words as though it were yesterday, “I’ve seen cases of this in many women when their bellies grow big with children, but never to this extent and never for this long. After the child is gone, so too does the water leave.”

And later, "Little pain? Thank the gods you were paralyzed then--for elsewise you'd be in unending pain."

But not hers—no, she had swollen when she’d become pregnant with Axel, but the condition, along with the weight she’d gained from Axel, had only worsened as time passed. She’d tried everything from eating less to drinking less water—which only made her all the more thirsty when she was permitted to drink. It was an unquenchable thirsty that had driven her mad in those years, until the Grandmaester suggested they try the bandages to try and squeeze the water out. They worked to some extent—poorly and inefficiently, but some sort of stasis had been reached with the bandages than self-denial had ever achieved her.

For an instant she saw Oberyn before her, both as the boy he’d been, and the man he’ become. The man looked at her and wept, kneeling beside her chair and kissing the hand he took tightly in his grasp. The boy looked at her and smirked as he said, “This is what comes of marrying a trout. You grow scales and weep water.”

And then the world around the boy that had been her brother seemed to grow more real. The man her brother had become vanishing as she was back in the Water Gardens again, Oberyn pushing her into one of the fountains when she’d been dressed up in a fine gown of sand silk to meet Lady Manwoody—one of mother’s dearest friends. Last she had heard Lady Manwoody still lived—old and ancient though she was now. Over eighty namedays now, mayhaps? Aye she’d be that old, she was five namedays mother’s elder after all. She still recalled being brought before Lady Naomi Manwoody drenched from head to toe, with Oberyn—his round belly of early childhood still noticeable under his shirt and vest that were equally as soaked & clung to him as her dress did her.

“She has your look, Loree,” Lady Manwoody had said with a fond smile, all the while Elia had fretted about being drenched and having ruined her best sand silk—having not yet realized that the water would do nothing to the dress.

“If you mean she’s knobby kneed and as thin as a rail, I couldn’t agree more, Naomi,” clucked her mother.

Ahh to be that girl once more…

Oberyn had whispered to her after they had left, their damp leather sandals cutting into their feet as they walked, “I don’t want to get old, Elia.”

She recalled saying idly, “Of course you’re going to get old. You’ll get old and have eight children—all of them daughters—and twenty granddaughters between them.”

Small Oberyn stoutly and confidently shook his head before dropping a rock into the fountain and saying, “You’re the one who’ll have children, Elia. Lots of them.”

She teased back, “I hope not too many of them, I’d rather like to be known for doing more than bearing lots of children.”

“You’ll do both, easily.”

She shook her head, “You think too much like a boy, Obi.”

And then in all seriousness he turned to her and said, “Never grow old, Elia.”

Elia remembered at first being caught off guard by such a bold statement. When she had recovered, she then said, “Lady Manwoody isn’t old.”


“She’s going grey in her hair. She’s old. But you must never become like her.”

“What makes you think that I don’t want to grow old?” she recalled asking.

“You don’t want to,” he answered fervently before turning away to look back at the pool.

And then he began to fade away from her memory as Oberyn’s adult voice came to the fore and she was now in the gardens of the Red Keep once again. Faerys sitting by her side upon the ground having fallen asleep in the lazy warmth of the afternoon. But now she felt a chill enter the garden, which banished the sun behind a cloud as the wind picked up.

“Arryn may be absent, but he isn’t a fool,” she heard Oberyn’s voice say from behind a bush, but it didn’t sound exactly like her brother all the same.

The reason why became obvious when she realized Oraen Rogare was speaking with him, asking, “Does this change your plans then?”

Elia then realized she was overhearing a conversation between Rogare and her nephew.

“No. Lord Rosby’s… honored presence in the wedding party will change things, but only for the better… if you don’t ruin things with the way you’ve been carrying on with my whore of a cousin.”

She vaguely recalled Lord Denys had sent the suggestion that rather than antagonized the Faiths they could attempt to show neutrality by inviting Lord Rosby—a strong sympathizer and supporter of the Faith of One—to be a personal and honored guest at the wedding would ease any potential issues that may arise.

“And yet all the people in the Seven Kingdoms expects her to make love to that overgrown mewling boy!”

“Durran is not just a boy and Rhaenys is not just a girl—”

Oraen interrupted, “No… she’s a woman grown… and well-ripened for the plucking.”

Obi finished, “They are fluctuating sources of power! As long as they feel as they do for each other, the Iron Throne will be secure.”

“I keep forgetting that to you Westerners, the marriage bed is the most powerful diplomatic instrument of all.” Oraen Rogare

“Forget Rhaenys and satisfy yourself with the Tyroshi.”

“Mayhaps I will, but what she chooses is up to her. I for one have rarely refused a lady’s desires.”

She heard one pair of footsteps leave in that instant, leaving Elia to have to guess or gamble if it was Rogare or her nephew. Either way the same thing must be done, she would have to speak to Rhaenys, immediately. Her mind suddenly felt as though it had had water thrown in her face. She was shocked back to being awake and alert by what she had hear. Rogare was actively pursuing her daughter and he must be stopped. Not that his mother hadn’t been trying since the day they’d arrived in the Red Keep, but still she would need to send to Lys about acquiring a new diplomat, considering the Lady Rogare’s health. As to what plan he and her nephew seemed to be speaking of, she would have to unravel that as best she could. Mayhaps Oraen’s tongue would wag if he realized just how precarious his position in court actually was?

All while her mind worked through this, Faerys had wheeled her back to her chambers only to find Obi in there waiting for her. He was in the midst of pouring a glass of wine, and upon seeing her, he grabbed a second cup.

“Ahh, aunt, I was hoping you would return soon.”

She stared at the wine, nervous as to how at ease he was with her chambers, “Nephew. I have no thirst at the moment.”

“Not even after taking the air of the garden?” he asked her as he paused pouring the wine.

He knew. But would he say anything?

“That red is rather dry and would only worsen the effects of the sun,” she responded. It would be best to come around obliquely for now.

“Fair enough.” He then picked up the one cup and took a sip himself, before saying “I have a request of you, if you are able enough to perform it that is.”

Curious, she declared, “Name it.”

Smirking like his father had always done, he said, “I’d like to know how difficult it would be to receive a new envoy from Lys. Considering that Oraen’s mother has been sick for so long, an envoy unable to perform her duties is hardly an envoy at all.”

“Oraen’s plans disagree with yours then?” she asked, looking at Faerys and her Tully guards at the door. Yes, she was safe, for now.

Obi smiled. “I knew you were quite intuitive, aunt.”

“As a matter of fact the thought had crossed my own mind. It’s been needed to be attended to for some time. I’ve been busy with Hoster for so long that the issue just didn’t come to my mind immediately… but now that he’s been put to rest, it is time I took my Small Council activities more seriously.”

Obi finished his cup of wine and then said, “Good, and you have my prayers,” before departing. Once he had gone, Elia let go a sigh of relief she hadn’t known she’d been holding in.

What was Obi planning with Oraen? And have they truly fallen out?

Her thoughts at once jumped all about questioning things, but one figure seemed to be important to them—Rhaenys. Whatever this plan was involved Rhaenys, her daughter. Her little dragon needed her to protect her. But how? Trapped inside this rotting body that clung to life despite the desire it had for the grave, how could she protect Rhaenys?

She would have to talk with Rhaenys, of course. Her little dragon was no longer little, and the future Queen of the Seven Kingdoms would not take it well to be treated as though she were a small child in these regards. Yes she’d speak to Rhaenys and then—

“Don’t move,” warned Faerys, who had taken up a defensive position wielding his knife while staring at the ground between them.

It was then Elia heard a hiss at her feet. She looked down to see a viper on the floor. From where it had come she knew not, but it stared at her and arched its neck as if ready to reach out and strike. She called for her Tully guards, the door burst open, Faerys lurched forward only to be bitten as the sound startling and frightening the viper, which then tried to slither away as Faerys let out a hiss of pain himself. Elia tried to roll her wheeled chair out of the way. She instead underestimated the viper’s speed and got the end of its tail which caused it to hiss and lash out at her bandaged leg, but she felt nothing.

The guards came and killed the beast, followed not long thereafter by Obi who came rushing in calling her aunt and playing the part of the concerned nephew. She saw through him now—he was no son of Oberyn. Calls for Grandmaester Gormon were given while the world began to grow hazy once again, until everything was dark and cold.

Chapter Text

AXEL

 

He hated Riverrun. It didn’t matter that it was father’s castle or that his brother was now the ruler of it, he hated it because it wasn’t where mother was. He was angry, sad, and confused all at once. Father dying, but mother and Rhaenys didn’t want him so they sent him to Riverrun. What had he done wrong to be sent away?

 

Riverrun was a tiny castle compared to the Red Keep he’d spent many years wandering and exploring, full of so few secrets he’d managed to discover them all at the end of a week. It was a boring triangle of a castle with boring rivers on either side of it.

When news of father came, Lady Asha told him by sitting him down as though he were a babe—apt to cry at the slightest provocation. Axel knew better than that, though, as he’d already cried and accepted that father was going. He wasn’t a babe, like Rhaenys had thought and he knew what would be expected of him as nearly a man grown. He would have to look after and protect mother and Rhaenys. With father gone and uncle Oberyn dead before Axel was born, who would protect mother? That he became a knight and learned how to fight properly became more important than ever before. He had to be not only just a knight, but the best knight that there ever was. Better than the Dragonknight and Ser Duncan the Tall combined. Maester Vyman, Riverrun’s maester, just didn’t understand.

 

He also didn’t understand why his brother would marry a woman with two children already. Axel could easily see young Halmon being his nephew—he looked rather like father did. Axel was proud to call the babe in arms his nephew, and looked forward to one day teaching him everything he knew. But Brynden and Alannys? Brynden’s hair was too dark to be a Tully, and his face was shaped oddly—not like father at all had been. Besides, Axel had always been told that he was the only dark-haired Tully, and that was because of his Martell blood—even his Stark and Arryn nephews and nieces more oft than naught had Tully hair, so of course Brynden must have been Asha’s from a prior marriage. Alannys most definitely wasn’t Edmure’s daughter as she had Lady Asha’s eyes and wailed and moaned like a tempest, demanding her mother’s attention with an iron fist.

 

Lady Asha herself was an odd fish—she dressed with not just the Tully colors, but on her own insignia split them with the golden Kraken of House Greyjoy and most notably refused to wear skirts like a proper lady should. Mother was sick and bandaged and still she wore finer clothes than Lady Asha ever did. Yet Lady Asha was always out and about in the practice yard or in the godswood—she seemed to make the rounds like she were an animal penned in a cage and pacing trying to find some way to escape.

 

“Are you a hostage here too?” he asked her once as a distraction when she’d caught him trying to climb up the side of the maester’s turret.

 

“You’re not a hostage, my little goodbrother,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

 

“But you are,” he said.

 

“What makes you say that little grandmaester?” she snorted.

 

“You circle like a penned dog in a kennel that wants out,” declared Axel.

 

She scooped him up from under his arms and set him down on the ground, “And you a bird that flaps its wings at its cage bars, expecting them to vanish.”

 

“So I am a hostage,” retorted Axel defiantly.

 

She said before shooing him off, “No, but you act like one.”

 

Initially, he’d been excited when he’d heard that he was going to meet his brother Edmure. He’d imagined fighting, climbing, and getting into all sorts of trouble as they explored things together. He had imagined someone just a bit younger than Rhaenys. Older to be sure, as father had been married before, but Edmure was his youngest child before he married mother. So not so old that he wouldn’t be able to play or fight with him. He imagined his brother being of six or seven and ten namedays, just on the cusp of manhood and needing to marry, but young enough to still be fun.


And then the old man who came from King’s Landing calling himself “Edmure” arrived. Brothers were supposed to be like Prince Edrick was with Lyonel—close and great fun to be around. So when Axel was introduced to the man grown with a full red beard who claimed to be his brother, Axel wanted to shout that he was lying. His brother couldn’t be so… so… old. But one look into his eyes was confirmation enough—they shared the same eyes that Axel couldn’t deny. And so instead of yelling and screaming like he felt he wanted to do Axel had nodded and remained silent and sullen. Edmure wasn’t a brother—not in the ways that counted.

 

With the acceptance of the old man as Edmure, Axel was forced to accept all of Lady Asha’s children as his nephews and niece. Brynden preferred to be called Bryn and was but a few moons younger than he, and Axel was convinced he was mad. Axel had always liked to explore and climb, but Bryn preferred to sit and read. Oh, if Axel was in the mood for a swim, Bryn would put down his books and dive right in to the Red Fork itself without a second thought, but climb or fight with swords? Bryn would simply look at him oddly and say the tower was too high or that his father had said he wasn’t ready to learn to spar. Often when Axel wished to climb he went to the godswood, where he climbed every tree—including the skinny weirwood whose sticky sap and tiny seeds he’d licked off his hands when he was finished climbing.

Whatever Edmure said was held as the law of gods and men by Bryn, who looked up to his father as if he were the Father come again, and it was this most especially this that Axel could not comprehend. How could Bryn look up to that old man? Axel apparently was not alone on the matter as sometimes Axel would see his goodsister, Lady Asha, shook her head or roll her eyes at her eldest son’s invocation of his father, though she said nothing to disabuse Bryn of his thoughts in front of him. In this way Axel found himself bonding with Lady Asha, as when Bryn had hurried off to tell Edmure about some fact he’d learned from an old dusty book he’d pulled out of the castle’s library.

 

She muttered under her breath as Bryn ran from the room, “By the drowned god, does he have to simper for what he wants?”

 

Axel had laughed at that and added “Like a hound begging for a scrap from the table,” which took her by surprise.

 

“Why my little goodbrother, you should not abuse your nephew so. For one day he will be the Lord of Riverrun,” retorted Lady Asha rather quickly.

 

“One day, aye. And still all he’ll be is lord of its library, if he doesn’t learn how to hold a sword.”

 

Lady Asha smirked and then she retorted, “A position, you should be usurping from him, if I recall, future Grandmaester.”

 

Axel scowled at that, he hated his lessons here at Riverrun worse than at the Red Keep. Maester Vyman was old and strict, and believed in the rod whenever Axel said he had spent his time on better things than his lessons. The first time he’d threatened to write to his mother about any mistreatment, to which the Maester said that he would gladly tell mother all about how he’d flat out denied the slightest interest in his lessons and what she might suggest he do in the future. Axel, outwitted by the old man had replied that he ought to try the rod on himself before testing his mother like that. He had trouble walking after that, a new experience for him and Axel was already devising a way to get back at the maester—all he needed to do was get into his tower without being seen.

 

He began to dream of fog, with shapes and people hidden behind its edge that he couldn’t get to or see properly. In one direction he’d hear his mother’s voice, another his father’s, still another his sister, and lastly his brother’s. And no matter how quickly or fervently he ran into the fog, still the voices and the figures remained at a distance.

 

The day he planned to climb the maester’s turret early in the morning he was instead greeted to Maester Vyman in his room, and a sad look upon his face. Mother was gone. A snake bite… some Lyseni—Axel thought of Oraen oddly enough—had released a viper imported from Lys into her room, and Grandmaester Gormon had given her the antidote, but the venom had interacted badly with all her other health problems so that the antidote was too little, too late.

 

The rest of his Tully kin walked around him as though they were afraid that he too were a viper, ready and eager to lash out at any of them. Maester Vyman even let up on how much of the rod he used and assigned a lesson in learning the different kinds of snakes that lived in Westeros. Bryn tried quoting at him all the various kinds of antidotes to snake’s venom. Axel snapped at Bryn for that one. It hadn’t mattered what antidotes had been used for Mother had died anyway. What good was books when all the knowledge in them did mother no bit of good?

 

He found some comfort in taking his wooden sword and hacking it at a straw dummy in the practice yard. Axel liked how hitting the dummy made him feel—as though he were hurting that dumb Oraen who’d killed mother. Lady Asha often joined him, he found, with little Alannys trailing behind her on chubby legs. Lady Asha came to throw axes and shoot arrows—which Axel had to admit she was quite good at. She was teaching little Alannys how to throw sticks like they were throwing knives. Sometimes she’d leave Alannys to throw her sticks into a circle that Lady Asha drew on the ground and came over to Axel and asked if she could take a few whacks at the dummy herself. From the way she knocked it about, Axel could see that Lady Asha felt the same. She might be an odd fish, but he liked her all the more for it now.

 

Old Edmure and Lady Asha argued about what to do with him. They thought him outside in the practice yard when they did, and Lady Asha’s absence had him worried and brought him in search of her.

 

“The longer you wait Edmure, the worse it’ll get,” chastised Lady Asha.

“Cat would know what to do.”

 

“She’ll have him in her turn, but until then it’s up to us.”

 

“He’s just so young… how am I to treat him? And that’s without me thinking of how to deal with how often the Stranger has visited our family of late.”

 

“I had two brothers who were more men grown than boys by the time I was old enough to be out of my swaddling—any time you spend with him will be enough.”

 

Axel hid away after that. He didn’t want to spend time with Old Edmure, and Asha shouldn’t have suggested that he should! If he was just going to be sent off to Catelyn anyway like he’d been sent away from the Red Keep, then they should have done so and done it long ago!

 

In his dreams out of the fog stepped Old Edmure and Asha who would toss him from the tallest tower of Riverrun and into the swollen rivers below, which seemed to call to him, embracing him in their cool and wet embrace before a trout came before him and shook fins with his hand.

 

And so began a week’s worth of hiding. The only times he saw Old Edmure, Lady Asha, or Bryn was when he was forced to break his fasts and had lessons. Otherwise he took to practicing in the godswood or running about the less travelled corridors of the castle. More than once he wondered if there were any secret chambers or hidden compartments to hideaway in. And then he had come across it. He had been scurrying down the passage with the alcove with the fish statue and heard another’s footsteps coming. In an instant Axel climbed up to hide behind the statue, grabbing its fin as he did. The sound of stone sliding and grinding could be heard as Axel slipped behind the statue—only to see a part of the wall behind the leaping fish open up revealing a black and dark opening.

Without thought, Axel jumped into the darkness and rolled into the dirt, his heart pounding—worrying that he’d be discovered in an instant, but then the footsteps passed and faded, and Axel felt his breathing lessen until he was breathing normally. All the while his eyes looked about wildly as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the secret passage he was in. This was more like the Red Keep, more fun—it meant that Riverrun had its secrets, if only he looked harder for them. And then his eyes fell upon it—a chest, dusty and looking as though it had been there for years. What was in the chest? And what would a Tully want to hide in here? Was it some kind of secret Tully sword or treasure that he’d discovered? Curiosity getting the better of him, Axel rose and hurried to examine the box, the wooden chest was locked with a lock that seemed untouched. Upon closer examination the bottom was saturated with water and looked half rotted—probably likely to break off if the chest were picked up and moved. But what was curious was that no source of water to rot the wood was obviously present—there wasn’t even a trickle of water anywhere near the chest—the earth bone dry except directly underneath the chest. But mayhaps there was a leak somewhere in this corridor when it rained—but then why would the chest still be wet? What did it matter how the chest was rotting—what truly concerned Axel was figuring out what could be inside. Mayhaps that was a way to open the chest without picking the lock, but when he moved to push the chest up, he found one side of it far too heavy for him to pick up—even with his focus being on one handle and one side.

 

The chest would not give up its secrets so easily, and Axel frowned at the thought of having to tell the matter to Old Edmure or Lady Asha, if not to speak to them, but also lose the credit of the discovery of the long lost Tully treasure he was sure was in the chest. But mayhaps he could find some other way to open the chest. If he took an axe he might be able to pry open the rotted wood.

 
He put back the fish’s fin and the secret passaged closed with the sound of stone grinding against stone until it looked like once again a solid brick wall in place. Axel wondered at how such a door could work before his mind turned once again to figuring a way to open the strange chest, but were soon interrupted by the echoing sound of the horn at the gate, signaling the approach of riders. Curious, Axel rushed out into the courtyard without thinking. It was only when Old Edmure and Lady Asha appeared did he remember that he would have the chance to run into them. Quickly, Axel took note of Ser Desmond and Ser Utherydes’ presence in the yard—though each look distracted. Ser Desmond with locking the armory, and Ser Utherydes yelling up to a guard for more information. Careful not to be noticed immediately, Axel walked along the side of the courtyard, creeping ever closer to see just who had arrived. He was about to scamper off when Ser Utherydes and Ser Desmond took him by the shoulder and the young master-at-arms said, “Your brother’s been wondering where you got off to.” Axel attempted to wrench his shoulder from Ser Utherydes, thinking it the weaker of the two, however the ancient man had a strong grip, with his fingers digging into Axel’s shoulder. He thought about slipping away, but Old Edmure caught sight of them and Axel knew there would be no easy immediate escape—and besides he was curious as to who was arriving—which Lady Asha inquired as Ser Utherydes, Ser Desmond, and Axel approached.

 

“Krackens and Seashells, my lady!” called down the guard who’d blown the horn from the parapets.

 

“Gods be damned, what the bloody hell is my brother doing here?!” exclaimed Lady Asha before turning and ordering one of the servants to gather the household in the courtyard.

 

“Wasn’t he to make the return trip by Seaguard?” asked Old Edmure.

 

“Aye and only Lord Westerling begged the chance for a second meeting.”

 

“It seems your brother wishes to pay us yet another family visit,” commented Old Edmure just as Bryn and Alannys approached with Maester Vyman.

 

“You assume him too affectionate for that. He and Lord Westerling nearly finished off a whole casket of wine when they were here last—likely they mean to finish it,” dismissed Lady Asha with a snort.

 

Old Edmure reproached her, “Whatever his reasons, he’s still your brother.”

 

“Uncle Theon is coming!” declared Bryn rather excitedly, interjecting himself into his parents’ conversation rather unexpectedly.

 

“Aye the wastrel, foolhardy, self-indulgent—” began Lady Asha.

 

Old Edmure interrupted, “Asha…”

 

She rounded without missing a beat, “As you say, he’s my godsdamned brother. I’ll call him the bloody hell I want.”

 

“Mother!” exclaimed Bryn rather abashedly, blushing for her sake.

 

“Bloody!” added Alannys, repeating the word, as if testing it out, and then repeating it once more, to see if she could get further attention from using the word.

 

Asha grinned at her daughter’s display of swearing. Axel expected Old Edmure to scold his daughter, but he instead only rolled his eyes and smirked—which caught Axel offguard. It was instead Bryn who turned to his babe of a sister and scolded, “You shouldn’t say such things, Lanny!”

 

“Bloody!” she spat right back at her brother with a challenging stare.

 

“Oh leave her be, Bryn—she doesn’t even know what she’s saying,” dismissed Old Edmure with a wink to Lady Asha.

 

“She does too!” insisted Bryn, but neither of his parents paid him any mind, while Alannys looked rather pleased with herself and leaned in quite close to Bryn to say “Bloody” once more and laugh once again.

 

Axel listened on rather shocked to see them act in such a way. Before now they’d always gone rather out of their way to try and include him or engage him in conversation. Every discussion had seemed an attempt to lure him like a trout to bait, but being the sunfish he was, Axel had resisted. But now he saw his brother’s family in a light he hadn’t before—as a family. Old Edmure and Lady Asha as father and mother, Bryn and Alannys as their children, and Axel seeing as much of the parents as the children, as though he were staring at them all through a window from the outside, and suddenly Axel began to wonder if this was what they were like when he hid himself away... and suddenly the thought of hiding from them didn’t seem as fun as it had been a few minutes ago.

 

But as quickly as he’d born witness to this, they turned their attentions to him and like a light being extinguished, what Axel had liked about his brother’s family dissipated.

 

“Maester Vyman says—” began Bryn.

 

“I am right here, I can speak for myself,” interjected Maester Vyman.

 

“Leave Axel be, he has every right to seek solace on his own if he needs it. He’ll do his lessons when he’s ready, Maester.”

 

“It’s been a sennight since I’ve received any sort of decent work from the boy on his lessons.”

 

Axel felt the desire to run rise up again in him, but Ser Utherydes’ grip remained firm despite Axel’s attempt to free his shoulder.

 

“The riders approach, my lord!” hallooed one of the guards as horns once again sounded—but this time from outside the walls of the castle. Not long thereafter the sound of horses’ hooves upon the lowered drawbridge sounded.

 

“We would speak of this with you later, my lord,” grumbled Maester Vyman sternly as he positioned himself amongst the gathering household.                                      

 

Old Edmure looked as though he were about to shout something to Maester Vyman but the sound of hooves trotting through the gate distracted him. Axel’s attention was then brought to the visitors. First entered some outriders, one carrying the Greyjoy golden kraken on black, and another white seashells on a sandy field. Then came the lords themselves, followed by what looked to be a small contingent of knights wearing the livery of either seashells or krakens, while their shields indicated other houses, most of which Axel did not recognize: a silver scythe on black, a grey seal on a sea at sunset, green and black vair, a white roundel on blue and gold chevrons, and a white tree growing from a golden mountain with orange and green diamonds behind it. A large raven, bigger than most of the birds he’d seen in both King’s Landing and Riverrun flew in and soared about the courtyard.

 

As the two lords approached Axel approximated that the seashell lord was either the better horseman or, well as Lady Asha swore under her breath as the two lords approached, “Godsdamn him! He came here in his cups.”

 

The kraken swayed sided to side as the horse trotted in behind Lord seashells. In an instant Axel had decided that a lord who either was such a poor horseman or drank so much wine he might as well have been. His dismount however was done rather expertly with him then lifting his helm from his head and giving a whistle to which the flutter of wings could be heard. The raven, which had apparently taken perch briefly on a parapet immediately flew to Lord kraken and landed upon his arm like a well-trained hawk or falcon might, before sidling up to Lord kraken’s shoulder as he and Lord seashells approached them.

 

Axel could tell in an instant, even without the golden kraken to guide him, that Lord kraken—or Lord Greyjoy as he was officially called—was Lady Asha’s brother. They resembled one another quite well, though to Axel’s astonishment, Lord Greyjoy had the prettier face, especially when he smirked, compared to Lady Asha’s sterner features that she had for the nonce.

 

Old Edmure began as any old man might, saying “Goodbrother, Lord Westerling, it is a… pleasure to once again provide hospi—”

 

“Oh nothing so formal, Edmure,” dismissed Lord Greyjoy, and in that moment, Axel knew that whatever else would happen he would always like Lord Greyjoy.

Later that evening, after a meal that he had enjoyed for the first time since the Red Keep, Axel followed Old Edmure and their guests to the hearth. Lady Asha had excused herself to put Alannys to bed. Old Edmure seemed surprised but hid it well by asking him to act as cupbearer while he dismissed Ruymon to the cook’s charge. In truth, Axel cared not why he was allowed to remain by the hearth, all he cared was listening to the two lords speak of the things they had seen at Seaguard.

“It’s overgrown its old walls twice fold—were I of the reaping mind—I’d see it as a ripe plumb ready for the taking!” said Lord Greyjoy.

“You and your fruits,” grumbled Lord Westerling with a roll of his eyes.

“Forgive me, it’s not every day you see something that’s survived the voyage across the Sunset Sea!” chortled Lord Greyjoy.

“What did they bring back?” asked Axel.

Lord Greyjoy smirked and leaned in close to Axel as he said, "Copper-skinned people with eyes the color of the sun and tiny black spots on their skin, who dress in furs and skins of animals not seen in Westeros. An orange and green fruit with skin as hard as stone and insides as sweet as a baked apple.”

“If it had truly had skin as hard as stone, how did they get the godsforesaken fruit open without ruining the insides?” grumbled Lord Westerling.

“All right, it was at least as hard as wood!” protested Lord Greyjoy.

“Wood, stone, it’s all the same to you krakens, isn’t it? Just things you need to import to build your halls and ships.”

“And I guess that sword you have at your side just came straight from the forge, the iron ore just magically appearing at your smithy?”

Axel looked back and forth between Lord Westerling and Lord Greyjoy, who glared at his Westerlander companion. Axel half expected either to begin yelling in an instant, but instead Lord Greyjoy broke up into a snigger, which Lord Westerling also joined in. At first Axel was confused, but then he remembered once seeing Prince Durran and Edrick doing the same. Despite being of no blood whatsoever, they were brothers in spirit, and it amazed Axel.


Asha, who had remained silent through all of this finally spoke, challenging, “For fucks sake, do you let your bannermen hear you talked to like that? Or does nuncle sit the Seastone chair for you?”

Lord Greyjoy suddenly grew very serious, “I am a completely different on Pyke."

“By the drowned god, I hope so, your sodden ass wouldn’t be tolerated on the Seastone chair for long the way you’re acting now!”

“I’m not always drunk!”

 

“So you’re pissed only when you visit Riverrun, then? What a way to honor your kin! Gods be damned—if you were standing on Old Wyk as you are now…”

“But I wouldn’t do that!”

 

“I can only speak from what I’ve seen of you, brother!” snapped Lady Asha. She rose and she punched him hard in his arm before leaving the Hall in a huff. Old Edmure rose not long and followed after her, like a loyal lapdog.

 

As they departed the hall, Lord Greyjoy’s mood had obviously soured like a bad Arbor wine, and he muttered bitterly as they left, saying “There, I have to be Theon Ironwill… allow me a respite from such a role, sweet sister.”

 

Lord Westerling’s hand found its way to the flagon that Axel had abandoned and refilled Lord Greyjoy’s horn, and then his own before holding up his horn and saying, “To the best mummers in Westeros.”

 

Lord Greyjoy accepted the toast and the two drank their fill before Old Edmure returned, looking older than when he’d left.

 

“You dug yourself into that hole,” quipped Old Edmure as he took his seat once again, at this point Axel had recovered his postion as cupbearer and was refilling all their cups.

 

“Fat lot of good you were,” retorted Lord Greyjoy.

 

Old Edmure only continued to look on Lord Greyjoy sadly, “Speak truly, you aren’t sodden off your ass just for fun.”

 

“If you’re trying to get me to speak of Ysolde—!” began Lord Greyjoy

 

Old Edmure cut him off, saying, “I said nothing of her. But since you mention her…”

 

Lord Greyjoy snapped, slamming his horn down and nearly shouting, “Godsdamn you Edmure Tully… godsdamn you!”

 

It was then that Old Edmure gave an odd look to Axel, and said, “I know something of loss, and the depths it can push a person to, if they’re not careful.”

 

Lord Greyjoy was silent for a long moment, staring into the flames of the hearth as they crackled and popped in the absence of speech.

 

“You know, I rather liked what I was like with her. She saw through the mummer’s farce I give my bannermen and saw just how my time in the North…” it was there that Lord Greyjoy paused once more, an odd look overcoming him for a moment as the raven cawed from its perch far across the room. Just as quickly as the moment had arrived, it passed, and Lord Greyjoy continued speaking, saying, “Well… she saw me. Sure she thought most of my words were wind, and she had a mean right fist, but on the whole, I didn’t need to wear a mummer’s mask with her.”

 

Lord Westerling groaned and then said, “Gods, you’ve got him going now!”

 

“I don’t see you the perfect image of sobriety,” retorted Lord Greyjoy.

 

“Thinking of your dear wife?” nudged Old Edmure.

 

“What’s there to think on? I squired for Lord Brax, and I married his Marbrand cousin, and gave his son my sister. We married, she got with child, and she died giving birth to our daughter. Besides Eleyna, what more is there to say? Truth be told, we were hardly married long enough to know each other. She spent most of her days in the old Sept or dictating to the men who I put to work repairing the Crag.”

 

“And what will you tell your daughter?” asked Old Edmure.

 

“The same sweet lie I told Jeyne about our mother and father whenever she asked. No child should bear the burden of the entire truth of their parents—it’s far too heavy a load… besides, I mean to take another wife soon. Eleyna will never know another mother than the next lady I marry.”

 

Lord Greyjoy, who had seemed lost in his thoughts, now smirked and added, “And when do you intend to ask the Glovers for her hand?”

 

Lord Westerling snorted in his relatively still full horn.

 

“Come on. I may have been drunk off my ass at Robb’s wedding reception, but seven dances with Robetta Glover made it plain to everyone what your intentions were. Fuck, you’re lucky her father didn’t announce the betrothal that night without your consent”

 

“At first I was just paying her mind as a way to ease negotiations with her father for all the lumber I require… and then…”

 

At this point, Axel yawned and his eyelids began to droop.

 

“Mayhaps Axel, you should retire for the night?” suggested

 

Axel, whose interest had begun to wane in the conversation nodded almost dumbly. A moment later he felt he was being picked up from right under his arms, which only caused him to jerk about in surprise.

 

“Put me down! I can walk!” insisted Axel.

 

“All right, little brother,” spoke Old Edmure, and a moment later Axel was put on his feet.

 

Those words, they were said so casually, but to Axel he’d imagined hearing them said so warmly with… with something. He couldn’t describe what it was he’d imagined with those words, it was more than an action, it was a feeling as well—something to show that they didn’t just float in the air until the wind blew them apart and away for forever.

 

As they left the hall and journeyed down the corridor, Axel stared at Old Edmure, trying to see where these words had come from.

 

“What?” asked Old Edmure.

 

And a gale was blown.

 

“Nothing,” mumbled Axel, figuring the time had passed.

 

“It isn’t nothing… you wouldn’t avoid me over nothing for a week on end,” contradicted Old Edmure.

 

“How do you know that I wouldn’t?” challenged Axel.

 

“Because I know something of the world,” retorted Old Edmure.

 

“And yet, when you do nothing, I avoid you,” answered Axel, feeling rather contrary.

 

“Is that a trick answer?” rounded Old Edmure.

 

“Is that a trick question?” parrated Axel.

 

“I try to talk about your mother or our father, and you say nothing—”


Axel snapped all too quickly in response, “But I don’t want to talk about them!”

 

Old Edmure snorted and answered, “Neither did my goodbrother wish to talk about his dead wife, dead off the pox they say, but I venture it was good for him nonetheless.”

 

“But that’s all you want to talk about with me!” protested Axel.

 

Old Edmure looked at him sideways and then said, “No, it isn’t.”

 

“It seems like it!”

 

There was a long moment of silence as they continued down the corridor, with Old Edmure finally asking, “What do you want to talk about then?”

 

“What brothers talk about. Lord Greyjoy and Lord Westerling talk like brothers… like them.”

 

Old Edmure began to say something, but then paused for a long while before saying, “It’s easy for Lord Westerling and Lord Greyjoy to act as brothers, they grew up together, they see the world alike, they—understand each other without pause.”

 

“That! I… I want that,” admitted Axel.

 

Old Edmure looked at Axel seriously for a moment before smirking and saying “If only…”

 

The rest of the sentence hung in the air, unfinished, but the meaning apparent, even for Axel.

 

He’ll never be my brother… not really.

 

Old Edmure then said something that surprised Axel, “Asha says you like training in the practice yard?”

 

“Aye…”

 

“Mayhaps I could meet you there to help you with your training? I may be old enough to be, well… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something… as brothers.”

 

However Axel’s hope was already stamped out—for Old Edmure only made a promise, a promise he’d likely forget or break because of some lordly duty he’d forgotten about until it was time. Just like father.

 

“What was that?” asked Old Edmure.

 

It took Axel a moment to realize that he’d said some of his thoughts out loud to himself, and not regretting any of them he repeated, “Just like father.”

 

A sudden look overcame Old Edmure, who seemed greatly affected by what Axel had said. A suddenly spark lit in his eyes as he then turned to Axel and said, “We shall see, little brothers… we shall see. Be ready tomorrow, not long after dawn to fight—not just practice. We’ll meet before we break our fast.”

 

That look in his brother’s eyes, Axel had imagined something like that in the Edmure he’d dreamt of knowing, and he wondered if his Edmure was simply hidden underneath the mask of Old Edmure.

 

That night Axel dreamed again of the odd mist, but this time out of it came his brother Edmure, at first looking like Old Edmure, with two swords ready for a match. Old Edmure tossed Axel a sword which he caught, feeling slightly disoriented as he did, and noticing that though the sword was normal sized for a man grown, that he could hold it without it feeling too heavy for him to hold. He then looked over at Old Edmure, only to see he wasn’t so old anymore, and instead there stood the young Edmure of seven and ten namedays he’d imagined for so long.

 

“What good’s a fight, if everything is uneven?” asked his brother.

 

“What do you mean?” asked Axel, but he raised his hand to his throat in the next moment, for a voice so unlike his own had come out of it, and he looked at himself to see he’d grown—no longer was he a child young enough to be Old Edmure’s son, but now he seemed near equal in age to his brother, mayhaps a year or two younger, but old enough to wield a bladed weapon without any worry, with hair appearing in all the odd places on his body, and the ground so far far away from his new height.

 

Edmure took up a stance and challenged, “Now that the field’s level, prepare for a real challenge, little brother!”

 

Instinctively Axel mirrored Edmure and then adjusted his stance to counter his brother. The next moment steel met steel and the dance of swords had begun—it was everything he’d always imagined, and he won drenched in sweat and stink, but he’d won against his brother!

 

Just as his brother seemed ready to laugh, suddenly his eyes glowed red for an instant and he instead frowned deeply. Axel dismissed it as nothing.

 

“You cheated!” protested his brother.

 

“Mayhaps you’re just getting a little old, brother.”

 

“I’ll take those years back,” growled Edmure and suddenly Axel felt as though he were falling with the sword in his arm growing heavier by the instant until he couldn’t lift the tip off the ground without stumbling about. And in that same moment Old Edmure returned.

 

“It was a fair fight!” insisted Axel.

 

“I don’t want to speak to you!” growled Old Edmure.

 

“But… we were having fun!” insisted Axel.

 

“Give it up, Axel, you’ll never impress him,” commented a silky smooth voice, and Axel turned to see Rhaenys standing there, dressed all in black and red, with no hint of orange.

 

“I will!” insisted Axel.


And it was in that moment Axel saw more of the mist part to reveal the chest he’d found in the hidden passage. That would be it. He’d open the chest—surely some secret Tully treasure lost for centuries was inside, and Edmure would talk to him again. As Axel approached the chest, he noticed something odd, on either side of it was a raging waters, which he instinctively knew to be the Red Fork and the Tumblestone having flooded over their banks. The only dry land that remained not consumed by the rivers was the narrow strip between him and the chest—with the strip being overrun the moment he’d put part of it behind him. All the while Axel heard the chest urging him to break its lock and let it free. It rocked from side to side, but Axel was with each step all the more determined to break open the chest—an ax appearing before him, which he grabbed.

 

The Red Fork, which sounded like mother, and the Tumblestone, which sounded like father then spoke telling him to open the chest and bring honor to his house once more.

 

“It is your duty, as a Tully!” bubbled the Tumblestone.

 

“Be the brother you want from Edmure, and show him the treasure!” murmured the Red Fork.

 

Axel swung the ax and the chest hissed and rattled.

 

“Swing again!” the rivers urged as one.

 

The ax hit again and this time a crack began to be seen in the wood. The chest rattled more violently, almost tipping over, as if whatever wished to escape would burst through in any instant.

 

“Again! You’ve almost done it!” gurgled his parents’ voices which coagulated into one deep unrecognizable voice.

 

He swung one last time and the chest splintered further with water pouring forth from it, but it wasn’t open quite yet.

 

It was on his seventh swing the chest burst open, the water pouring from it mixing with the two rivers and flooding the entire passageway, but as the water level rose increasingly quickly, Axel no longer cared, for his eyes saw only the treasure which was there inside the chest, a beautiful sight to behold. Old Edmure appeared then, seemingly unaffected by the water, which parted wherever he walked. He took one look at the treasure and then looked at Axel.

 

“You’ve done well, little brother…” said Edmure who ruffled Axel’s hair and suddenly began shifting once again into his brother, with Axel growing to be able to look him in the eye without looking up. They hugged and laughed as the waters raged and submerged them, but Axel didn’t care anymore, for he had his brother. They might drown in the surging water, but they’d die together.

 

Axel woke with the sun drenched in his own sweat, confused as to why he was once again little and his brother gone, his mind clouded slightly by fog. Then he remembered… he had to open the chest and show the treasure to Edmure! Aye, then everything would be right with the world. He needed an ax though, he knew that, and he needed to do it now. It had to happen now, there was no time to waste! And so Axel slipped on his boots, and dressed only in his shift, he ran out of his chambers and down the corridors.

 

The castle was abuzz with servants and more than once Axel had to jump behind the armor of Lord Elmo Tully or the well-stitched tapestry done by his great-aunt Celia that she had been meant to give to a man who’d spurned her for another. It was exciting work and more than once he thought himself caught, but he eventually managed to get out into the yard. All he had to do now was open the armory, but by luck the door was still unlocked! The more Axel thought on it, the more he thought Ser Desmond must have forgotten to finish the job when he’d gone to collect him for the arrival of Lords Greyjoy and Westerling.

 

Axel snuck into the armor and grabbed the closest ax he could reach standing on his tip toes, then he hurried out of the armory, nearly dragging the unwieldy thing behind him

 

The statue alcove of the leaping trout wasn’t far from the entrance to the courtyard. His heart was pounding furiously now—the treasure was within reach now, and so would his true brother! Axel shook fins with the trout and the stone passage opened with a grinding sound of stone sliding on stone. He then jumped down from the statue and into the dark stone passageway.

 

It took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust, but the chest was still there, and still as rotting as when he’d last seen it. All he had to do now was swing. As he did, he could hardly hear the cracking sound of the ax against the wood—unable to hear anything beyond the steady thumping in his ears which went wild. For a fleeting instant, Axel thought that they my burst.

 

And then the chest—and not his ears—split open and something immediately came rolling out of it and settled by his feet. Axel dropped the ax and stared at the treasure.

 

It was an egg… likely a dragon’s egg from what he recalled of his lessons. He stood and stared at the smooth and moist looking egg. Hesitatingly he bent down to touch it, feeling that it was slippery and weeping water like his mother’s legs used to.

 

Just then Axel felt a hand on his back which stopped the thumping and caused him to have to blink and shake his head many times before the sudden fog that had cast itself over his mind dissipated. It was then that it registered to him that Lord Greyjoy, who had slept in the Hall it seemed by the state of his clothes, was there.

 

“And what secret have you buried away?” asked the lord of krakens. Before Lord Greyjoy had finished his sentence his eyes caught the egg at Axel’s feet. Oddly, Lord Greyjoy’s eyes went wide untilt here hardly looked as though there were any color to them at all. Somewhere a crow cawed as Lord Greyjoy spoke, “My egg.”

 

Without thinking Axel picked up the egg and handed it to Lord Greyjoy As he did so, the fog in his mind lifted and he suddenly wondered why he was in here with Lord Greyjoy who was holding some strange egg.

 

In an oddly affected voice, Lord Greyjoy said, “You best get back to bed,”

 

Confused and suddenly conscious of how exhausted he was, Axel nodded and left the secret passageway, which suddenly didn’t feel so secret anymore.

 

Outside, Axel racked his mind to try and find a reason he would return to the passageway—there’d been nothing in there before, and there was nothing in there now. Axel was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t look where he was going and he knocked right into Edmure and suddenly the promise of meeting his brother early in the morning before breaking their fast to fight in the practice yard came flooding back.

 

His brother gave him a look over and then said, “Odd attire to wear to the practice yard,” said Edmure with a smirk

 

“I…”

 

“I suppose it means you’ll be rather easy to beat this morn.”

 

Axel perked up at this challenge, and replied, “I’ll be right back and I promise you, I’ll win!”

 

Axel forgot about the secret passageway not long after that as he spent his days at Riverrun training swords with his brother, learning proper aim from his goodsister, bugging his nephew with help on the Maester’s lessons for no other reason than to irritate Maester Vyman. He’d never be Grandmaester, he swore. He played with his niece, who he taught to climb trees in the godswood. The more time passed, the more Axel came to love Riverrun than he had before. So when Edmure promised to take him in after he visited Cat, Lysa, and his Dornish cousins, with the promise that he wouldn’t go to Oldtown if he didn’t want to, Axel was excited.

 

And so as Axel left for Oldstones and then Winterfell after that, he looked forward to returning to Riverrun, something he unfortunately wouldn’t do for many many years to come, but at the time he’d hardly known that.

Chapter Text

JUSTYN

As days turned into weeks, slowly mother came to tolerate father’s presence again. They did not sleep together in their bed at the same time anymore, but beyond that, it appeared as though everything had returned to normal, for their family. The next thing he knew, his father was hardly seen again for what was at least a moon. It was far too long a time to have gone up the Honeywine, Justyn thought. Besides he would have gone with father, right?

And then one evening he came bursting into their home just as Mother had finished getting them to bed. He was uproariously drunk and singing “The Shepherd and his Sheep” so loudly that Justyn and Besce hopped out of bed and scurried to where the step ladder led down from the loft without being heard. Aeric had wanted to get up as well and whined about wanting to see father as well, but Justyn hushed his little brother and watched as Father took Mother in his arms and danced with her as he sang.

“For the shepherd knows where to prod his sheep, right ‘neath the bottom fleece!”

“Jon! Please! Please… you’ll wake the children!” scolded Mother.

“Oh, let them be wakened, I’ve got news for us Mery!” A then loud banging was heard as Father took Mother’s wooden spoon and began banging it against her cauldron in the hearth. As he did so he said, “I’ve got news for all of us! Children! Besce, Justyn, Alys, Aeric, Cella get down here!”

Not a moment later were all his siblings jumping up from bed to hear this wondrous news and pushing at Justyn to scramble down the step ladder. Besce had already started down with Justyn hurrying after her, but having to jump off of the ladder only a few rungs down from the loft in order to not be trampled over by his more impatient younger siblings. He landed less than gracefully, toppling onto his side and landing with an oof! escaping from his mouth.

Mother was immediately on top of him, “Justyn!”

“I’m fine Mother,” groaned Justyn as he flexed his legs and feet just to be sure that nothing more serious than a bruise would develop on them.

With a sigh of relief his mother then turned to scolding, “Don’t do that! You could hurt yourself and then where would we be?”


Besce helped him up and he leaned for a short while on her until he could get his footing without feeling how sore his legs were now.

It was then Father proudly announced to them all, “I have been elected to the Town Council!”

He seemed to expect them to be as overjoyed as he was. Justyn vaguely recalled his father explaining what a Town Council might be, but Cella spoke for them all when she asked rather blankly, “What’s a Town Council?” from her perch at the top of the steps where she’d settled herself.

Father seemed affronted and responded, “Haven’t you been listening to me the past moon or so?”

“You’ve hardly been home this past moon, or else we’d know,” stated Mother bitterly.

Father seemed to blush at mother’s words before saying “Well, having a Town Council means we who live in Oldtown get to decide how to rule the Town for ourselves.”

“Over Lord Hightower?” asked Besce suspiciously.

“He has a representative of his own when he’s not in attendance—” answered Father.

Mother grumbled, “Hightower still rules then, like that bloody tower of his, he’ll dominate the city.”

Father continued, clearly perturbed, “Would you not interrupt me before I’m finished? But most members of the Council are voted for by every landowning person. Hightower is but one member among many others.”

“Do we own land father?” asked Aeric curiously.

“Aye, we own the land ‘neath this house and my shop. And… we have a bit of property up the Honeywine from your mother’s father.”

“We?” asked mother rather confusedly.

“Don’t trouble with the semantics of it, Mery,” whispered Father rather quickly, though not so quietly as he’d imagined.

“Did you vote for father, mother?” asked Alys.

Mother sighed and said, “Think I have the time to waste voting and looking after everything around here? It’s a bloody waste of time and… wait a minute. Jon, how did you vote? You don’t own any land. We put the shop and this house in my name since the farm was mine from my father and we needed surety in order to… Gods no!”

“Not now, Mery. We’re celebrating tonight.”

“Oh gods, you did!” wailed Mother and suddenly she looked distraught.

“Mama?” questioned Aeric

“How could you?”

“We’re married, you and yours are mine, and me and mine are yours, now it’s just officially recognized is all.”

“The moneylender!”

“The moneylender has reconsidered what we owe him considering the looks at my revenues from the shop far outweigh the income we receive from your father’s farm. Besides, I fail to see how this is that big of an issue, Justyn will inherit it as he always was meant to.”

Before he knew what he was saying, Justyn replied, “I’ll inherit it?!”

“Of course, why else did you think I took you up the Honeywine with me other than to see the lands?” asked Father with a smirk.

“You shouldn’t have done that without speaking to me Jon!”

“It’s a mere technicality. I only did it so I’d have a better chance at winning the election to the Town Council. And besides, it all still goes to Justyn in the end, what harm is done?”

“What harm is done?!” shouted mother, and suddenly Besce started shooing Cella, Aeric, and Alys up the ladder, while Justyn stood there unable to take his eyes off as his mother suddenly went over to a chest, unlocked it, and began to root through it.

“Mery!”

“I bet you had such a lark calling yourself a country husbandman with my father’s lands to your name!” screeched mother back at him.

“I did no such thing!” retorted Father, but Justyn could see rather plainly from the way his lips quivered, that he was lying about that.

“I should have listened to my stepmother! Vile woman that she was, but she at least had one thing right about you! Marry him and you’ll be marrying his father’s prized boar! Did I take heed of her? No. I was fed up with her money pinching and wanted to leave the farm. You talked of Oldtown and merchants and riches beyond my imagination, and like a bloody fool I lapped it all up!”

It was then that she found what she was looking for in the chest and Justyn in the next instant heard the jangling of keys before mother slammed the chest lid shut, locked it again and handed Father a ring of keys and a few papers and said, “Here, milord, the keys to your castle. Long may you reign!”

And without further word she was rushing up the step ladder and likely for bed. Justyn continued to stand there, unsure of how to react to all that he’d seen occur between his parents.

His father was quite visibly upset, shaking slightly where he stood, before taking a deep breath and looking up at Justyn and saying, “You’re mother is just overreacting. You’ll still inherit the land as is your right, and I’ll be one of the fourteen members of the council.”

“Is it really worth it?” Justyn croaked as his father seemed to absentmindedly fumble his way to the door.

His father smirked and then said, “Come and see for yourself, our meetings will be open to all people of the Town who wish to come.”

It was nearly a moon before Justyn had gathered his wits enough to take his father on. He’d spent most of that moon helping Besce cover for mother, who had begun dozing off in her mind from whatever task she was doing, to the point where calling out her name did nothing. Mother still did the best she could, but her best was far less than what she used to do. Father did not return home, as if ashamed to show his face, which only made mother’s tears worse. Finally at the end of a moon, Besce, having entrenched herself as a temporary stand in for mother, shooed him off to find father and tell him to come home and help mother.

Justyn did not find Father at his shop, instead Maester Bernar—disguised with a shave, fresh clothes, and a smile, played the part of merchant in father’s stead, and by his side was a woman whom Justyn swore he recognized but he couldn’t place her face. When a brief enough pause came between customers, Bernar told him that the Council was meeting that day at the back of the Quill and Tankard.

Justyn knew approximately where the Quill and Tankard was—on an island in the middle of the Honeywine, just north of the harbor. He recalled faintly paddling so that their sailboat could travel underneath the bridge which connect to the island, and so he scampered off.

He arrived at a rather packed tavern, with hardly room to squeeze through it, and a general buzz that could only be shouted over.

“Rosey! Over here, Pate has need of another tankard!” called out a dark-skinned Summer Island looking young man.

“Why bother with Spotted Pate, Rosey? When I need another horn right here?” asked a thin young man with pale ash-blonde hair that he’d flipped so it partially covered his one eye. He wore satin striped green and gold cloth with a jade pin attached to keep his black half-cloak on.

“So you can dip your quill in me with your Lazy Longthorn? I’ll pass,” harrumphed the serving girl as she made her way over to the Summer Island looking young man and the pale, soft, freckled, pasty-faced Spotted Pate. As Justyn passed them aiming to move deeper into the tavern he took notice that while the serving girl filled Pate’s tankard, her eyes stared longingly at the Summer Islander.

But as soon as he’d passed them he moved all thoughts of them aside and began to hear new shouts from a room at the back of the tavern with the thumping of tankards against the tables.

“And how would you have us pay for this junior Citadel?” questioned a man’s booming voice. Justyn then managed to squeeze himself between to rather large men who stank of sweat and ale. The remaining part of the room was largely devoid of people except along the wall. At a table made twice as long by a second of its kind having been brought in line with it, several men sat and stood as called for. It was here that Justyn found his father, and this group of men at the table must be the newly elected Town Council.

Another voice proclaimed, “If the parents want their son to be educated, then they can be the ones to take the cost.”

There was discussion after this, half of it sounding favorable to Justyn’s ears and then he saw his father stand up.

“Gentlemen. We’ve been arguing this point for nearly half the day over such petty details”

“Cost is petty to you? Pray tell me how you make a profit in your business!” retorted the man with a booming voice, whom Justyn recognized as Lord Hightower’s heir, Ser Baelor, that Justyn had seen before moving about the streets on horseback and accompanied by knights or guards.

There were some laughs at father’s expense at that.

However Father held himself poised and said “We can elect a man to lead the project and work out the details and return at a later time for us to debate them. That would work for the nonce, and in the meanwhile we can address other matters that are just as pressing, if not more so, like the tariff rate?”

“Aye, the glover has the right idea!” commented another man from the council who Justyn didn’t recognize. More poundings of tankards against the tables were heard.

It was about this time though that Justyn heard some commotion behind him as the crowd was being forced apart and the sound of boots against the floor approached. Justyn turned to see the stinky and fat men he’d squeezed between part ways to allow a man dressed in Hightower livery step forward. For a brief moment Justyn was frozen himself until he recovered his senses enough to dash to the side.

This would be bad. The feeling permeated his mind.

“Ser Aron, what is the meaning of this?” demanded Ser Baelor, who looked confused as to the other man’s presence.

“My apologies Ser Baelor, but your father gave his orders.”

“Since when? I thought he and Malora had locked themselves away for the day,” snorted Ser Baelor.

“Since this afternoon. Which of you is Jon the Glover?” asked Ser Aron.

Justyn felt the lump in his throat jump up and nearly stop his breathing.

Father stood and answered that he was.

“By order of Lord Hightower you are to come with me immediately.”

The crowd erupted into fitful and discontent whispers at this.

“For what reason? Lord Hightower has no right to simply break in to one of our meetings and take one of our own.”

“I simply do as I am commanded,” retorted Ser Aron.

To this hisses and jeers went out through the crowd—which Justyn noticed Ser Baelor wasn’t too pleased to hear.

“I have a right to know why I am being summoned,” insisted father.


“For selling wool illegally to a Lannisport merchant named Lannys, and cutting the Tyrells out of their due as is the law.”

“I would like to see your proof of my guilt for this… blatant lie!” snapped Father.

“The Tyrells have no power here!” called out a voice from another section of the crowd.

“They are our liege lords. Highgarden looks to the business of the realm so that Oldtown is free to concern itself with its own affairs,” countered Ser Baelor disagreeably.

“Will you come willingly or will I have to resort to men at arms?” questioned Ser Aron and in the next moment two soldiers also dressed in Hightower livery stepped forward from further back in the crowd where they’d remained inconspicuous before.

“This is an affront to the Council!” proclaimed another older man dressed in fine velvets who sat in the middle of the long table the council sat at.

“Lord Hightower gave his word as a lord!” shouted the man to the other’s right.

Ser Baelor looked uncomfortable and caught between the council and Ser Aron, choosing instead to back away from the table, as if preparing for what he thought was inevitable.

“Down with all treachery!” shouted someone from the crowd and in the next moment a tankard came in contact with one of Ser Aron's guards.

So much happened in so quick a time that Justyn could hardly comprehend it all as the crowd seemed to convulse before his eyes. Before the guards and Ser Aron could reach for weapons to defend themselves, the crowd came at them with chairs, tables, tankards, anything they could grab and either throw or pound with. A table was used to pin the guards against the wall—trapping them along with a few bystanders who’d been unfortunate to have been caught by the move. Members of the crowd were now flocking on top of their pinned prey and doing whatever it was that caused the men to scream and yell. Memories of the riot at the Starry Father’s funeral froze Justyn to his place.

It was then Justyn felt a hand grab him by the shoulder, and he turned and looked up to see father.

“What in the Seven Hells are you doing here?” demanded father over the roar of the crowd.

And in that moment Justyn spoke quickly and rather incomprehensibly about home and apologizing to mother.

Through this, Ser Baelor edged his way along to the Wall, which had been abandoned during all this commotion as he made a dash to escape.

“Bar the door!” shouted one of the council members, who looked just as confused as Justyn felt, but saw what Ser Baelor was doing and likely shouted in response to that.

At the far end of the tavern, where several people were rushing out the door, the rest of the crowd scrambled into action at the command.

“Go, now!” shouted Father, who pushed him towards the closing exit and through the crowd. Justyn, being thin and still rather small, found ways to squeeze between people, stinky, sweaty, dirty people in his rush to leave the tavern.

The thick wooden doors of the tavern slammed shut just as Justyn squeeze out of the tavern, only to be greeted by the sight of a line of armed guards dressed in Hightower livery who were charging on the building with their swords out. Justyn dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball, frightened that he might have escaped one death for another.

Chapter Text

RHAENYS

 

The air was chilly for the time of year, Cassana’s melancholy song wafted in the air, the sunlight that streamed into her compartments was a bright goldenrod color of the mid-afternoon, and the gown she was pinned into was a rich black velvet with red silk underneath. There was so much velvet that Rhaenys felt at least several pounds heavier when simply standing still, and as though she were dragging a large chain which trailed behind her for quite a bit whenever she walked and she felt almost as if she would trip if it caught on something. She was assured however that nothing of the sort would happen.

 

“Such fears are mere trifles! This is the latest fashion from Myr and it’s too late to have another made,” tutted the Seamstress as she poked Rhaenys with yet another pin and apologized though how much that was an accident or not seemed less likely to be believed.


“Mayhaps the velvet train might be shortened?” suggested Rhaenys, looking for any way to avoid dragging this much fabric behind her down the steps and across the Sept of Baelor to the altar betwixt the Mother and Father to solemnize her marriage.

 

“Mayhaps we should look into finding someone to carry your train?” suggested the seamstress almost mockingly.

 

“Aye, some girls would be darling sweet,” laughed Anaesysa from her cushioned seat as she languidly watched.

“I have sisters and nieces enough to suit your purposes, my princess,” offered Roslin mayhaps a bit too eagerly.

 

“That is kind, but I would not trouble your dear father on such a trivial matter. Mayhaps two orphaned girls would suit the purpose?” suggested Rhaenys. And orphaned girls would honor her Dornish heritage—where children of all stripes played together in the Water Gardens. The idea of honoring her Dornish blood appealed to Rhaenys quite a bit of late. The mania that had taken her over amongst the dragon skulls—no it would not do to dwell on that, not in the least. She was not her grandfather, and she would show the world she was as much the shining sun that she looked.

 

“A novel idea, but wouldn’t the other houses take offense? Surely if there must be someone carrying all that velvet must have the appropriate blood—” began Lady Aelinor Hasty, her half-aunt from her grandmother’s second marriage who was a few namedays her junior.

 

“Either two orphan girls or no girls at all,” decreed Rhaenys and the rest of her ladies sighed and took note of her desires for the time being—no doubt plotting to insert a sister, niece, aunt, or a cousin when Rhaenys was thought to be in a better mood. But Rhaenys would have none of that, “Besides, my mother would have tutted at the amount of fabric used…” commented Rhaenys hollowly as she hefted the velvet train up to spare her back the pull of the fabric. She was soon scolded and told to drop the train by the seamstress to which Rhaenys glared at the woman as she stuck more pins into the gown to correct how the fabric hung in certain places, but Rhaenys was convinced the woman was purposely trying to prick her, and Rhaenys’ temper was growing quite taxed in the process.

 

“Just hack the bloody thing off and be done with this talk of girls, the wedding is lavish enough as it is,” groaned cousin Obara who leaned against her staff near the entrance with boredom at the entire affair.


“And ruin the line of the fabric! To do such a thing would be a scandal your grace!” protested the seamstress.

 

Thankfully a guard disturbed their cabal and in a gruff voice announced that Lord Baratheon had arrived and would like to speak with them. Eager for the respite from the wicked seamstress, Rhaenys bade the guard allow Lord Baratheon entrance. She expected to see Lord Renly, come to press her on either releasing or trying her cousin Obi. He had been the last to speak with mother and be in her room before the viper had bit her. He maintained his innocence on the matter, but Rhaenys’ anger was not held in check on this subject in the least.

 

To her shock however, it was not Lord Renly who had come to pay her a visit, but instead she was greeted by a man who stood straight and firm as a rod of iron, with balding black hair, steely blue eyes, and a clenched jaw decked out in the traditional Baratheon colors of gold and black, though she noticed he favored the black more than the gold. Without another moment, Rhaenys recognized the man as Cassana’s father, the missing Baratheon brother who rarely if ever attended council meetings since the death of his wife. She had met him as a child, but since then had known more of his daughter than he himself. And he was soon to be her gooduncle.

 

Lord Stannis gave her a curt but polite bow, which Rhaenys made sure to receive with all elegance and poise she’d had her Septas drill into her. Behind him Rhaenys took notice of three children, who stood in a line of descending height, and behind them a pair of servants carried a trunk, which seemed to draw her attention more than it ought. Thankfully she was able to return her gaze to her future gooduncle when he rose again


“My Princess, allow me to introduce my other daughters, Shireen and Annalys, and my son Ormund.”

 

Shireen was a dark-haired girl in a green, black, and gold dress that looked incredibly like Cassana a few namedays past—all awkwardly grown as any girl beginning the transition into being a woman might look—but instead of Cassana’s woeful countenance, this girl was all merriment in her eyes and smiles—she would have been pretty but for the greyscale which marred her face from cheek to collar bone in its twisty flaky manner—reminding Rhaenys far too much of mother’s legs. Next to Shireen was her younger sister Annalys, who was shy and blushed furiously as she was acknowledged. Annalys seemed ready to find skirts to hide behind, if only they were present for her. Annalys shared the common dark Baratheon hair and blue eyes that she saw they all shared, but Rhaenys would predict that in a decade or so, the name of Annalys Baratheon would be on the tongues of all the young men of Westeros, bards, knights, and squires alike. Annalys’ twin brother—for Rhaenys recalled that Lord Baratheon’s wife had died giving birth to twins—was hardly shy like his sister. Where she seemed all modesty and endearment, young Ormund was most like his sister Shireen in manner, though he seemed apt to try and hide it, as though not comfortable with expressing himself as such. Ormund was his father in miniature but for the eyes, which were a lighter shade of blue than his father’s and no doubt came from his long dead mother. They all curtseyed or bowed upon their name being mentioned with Ormund’s eyes quickly searching about the room once his father’s attention had removed itself from him.

 

“A pleasure it is to meet you all. Cassana is as dear as a sister to me,” said Rhaenys, though she had hardly found Cassana’s company so until most recently when the girl’s solemn airs and woebegotten voice had begun to entrance Rhaenys for hours on end. No longer did she listen politely, but began to feel along with the music what it meant—to understand what Cassana must have felt all these years to be so morose. She wanted to banish the dismissive girl she’d been away when she thought back to the cruel japes she’d spoken of Cassana behind her back. Nevertheless, there was time to make it up to Cassana, moving forward.

 

Cassana, who had stopped playing at the arrival of her family and simply stood in the corner of the chamber she was accustomed to call her own, betrayed nothing of Rhaenys’ declaration.

With the introductions finished, Lord Baratheon silently nodded to his children who immediately scurried off to that corner where Cassana had secluded herself. Ormund beating out both his sisters—though Annalys was the only one trying to beat him—as though it were a race and Cassana the prize. For a slight moment Rhaenys observed Lord Baratheon smirking slightly as he observed his children reunited. Even Cassana seemed genuinely happy to see her siblings. It was gone a moment later, and his stoic expression that he shared with Cassana returned at once.

 

“I have brought your wedding gift,” he said motioning for the trunk to be brought forward.

 

“Have you, Lord Baratheon? Why I thank you, I’ll take a look at it later with Durran,” she said rather quickly, which seemed to bother Lord Stannis somewhat. She motioned for the trunk to be set down at the edge of the room along with a few of the other gifts she’d already collected from those who’d decided to give them early.

 

“Is something the matter, Lord Baratheon?” asked Rhaenys pointedly.

 

For a moment Lord Stannis was quiet.

 

“Might we… speak alone?” he asked almost awkwardly as though he were a squire begging a handmaiden for a kiss. Rhaenys resisted the urge to laugh at such a thought and reveled at the excuse to escape the torturer disguised as a seamstress by motioning to the balcony and bidding the seamstress take a drink.

 

Lord Baratheon’s eyes met the servants carrying the trunk and the servants nodded back in reply as they set it down where Rhaenys had pointed them to do so near the couch that Tyene had claimed for her own. Rhaenys hefted the heavy train, exposing her feet as she walked. Lord Baratheon once they were out on the balcony turned to her and began simply.

 

“I am a direct and simple man, my Princess, so I will get right down to matters. I have come to discuss the futures of my daughter and my nephew, both of which concern you.”

 

“Do you mean Cassana’s upcoming betrothal?” queried Rhaenys.

 

“Aye. After the wedding I intend to see Cassana married to Lady Shyra Errol’s half-brother, Sebastion.”

 

The Errols were important bannermen in the Stormlands, if Rhaenys recalled her lessons well enough, not as great as the Swanns, but still important in their own right. But that was not what bothered Rhaenys the most, it was the thought that Cassana would be gone not long after she was wed

 

“Must Cassana marry so soon? She’s only four and ten,” said Rhaenys lightly, though she felt her stomach sinking further with each passing second.

“No, but she’ll be five and ten by the time you’re wedded, and I would have her home for a few moons at least before she is to be wed,” answered Lord Baratheon honestly.

 

Rhaenys saw his gaze once again travel to his children.

 

Rhaenys swallowed and wondered what her mother would do. Part of her wanted to say that she was the Princess Rhaenys, and she would keep her ladies-in-waiting as long as she pleased, but another part—the one that had secretly cried with Cassana since Mother’s death—saw the odd smile stretch across her lips as she interacted with her sisters and little brother, and knew what she had to say.

 

“I thank you for…” what could she thank him for? “For speaking to me about this matter. Cassana’s happiness is a great concern of mine…” stated Rhaenys for the first time. The words came out of her mouth before she knew what she had said, but the more she thought on them, yes, they were the right words to describe the feelings she felt as she looked upon the reunited Baratheon clan.

 

Lord Baratheon did not answer this, but she saw him looking at his four children proudly, and Rhaenys felt far surer of her own decision.


Rhaenys recovered her sense of self as Ormund clumsily tripped over his twin’s skirts and fell right into young Lady Olenna the younger’s lap, much to Olenna’s embarrassment and Ormund’s shame. Anaesysa was already laughing about it and teasing both Ormund and Olenna until the two were blushing furiously as Rhaenys recalled where else this private conversation was leading to.

 

“You spoke of your nephew being your other concern. I presume you mean my betrothed?” questioned Rhaenys.

 

“Aye. I did not just travel to the capital so soon after my brother’s leave just for this wedding.”

 

“I take it then that you intend to return to your position on the council?” rounded Rhaenys, a sudden plan formulating in her mind on how to keep both Cassana and make her happy.

 

Lord Baratheon almost seemed taken aback by the suggestion. “I trust my brother Renly in the matters of bread, coin, and other concerns which need not trouble the Master of Ships. I’ve raised him to be a good man, and I have my faith that he will do the same for our nephew.”

“Then what troubles you about Durran? Something must.”

“Words have reached me regarding your relationship with my nephew, of matters which…” Lord Baratheon seemed a loss for words for a moment before asking quite frankly, “Have you and my nephew shared a bed together?”

 

Rhaenys felt as though he’d slapped her.

Suddenly a fire she hadn’t known was within her was lit.

 

“What are you implying my Lord?” questioned Rhaenys hotly.

 

“I’m not implying anything, I’m outright stating it. When my bannermen come to me bringing a minstrel who sings songs of the Stag who swam up the Narrow Sea that he’s heard from the Riverlands, I grow concerned.”

 

Rhaenys was offended, not that she wouldn’t have wanted to have done something more than touch or chastely kiss Durran, but to hear this?

 

“And what did you do with this minstrel who is spreading such lies?”

 

He answered simply enough, “I let him go.”

 

“You let him go?!” she exclaimed.

 

Lord Baratheon snorted, “If I’d taken his tongue or his fingers then I’d be seen confirming the bloody rumor.”


The fire flared inside her, and yet something he said made sense to her…

 

He continued, “I shouldn’t have had to have faced the minstrel at all.”

The fire wouldn’t hold back now, bursting forth to say, “It’s not like I told the man the filthy lie! What do you take me for? A whore? I may be part Dornish, but that is no reason—”

 

“Whether you are Dornish or not doesn’t matter. And I don’t take you for a whore. It may be hard to believe but I can understand a couple set to be betrothed having ideas of one another,” answered Lord Baratheon awkwardly.

Rhaenys was stunned, the fire within her quenched almost in an instant. He wasn’t some bloody moralist like half the city seemed to have become. She replied almost with a laugh with what few embers remained, “I hate to disappoint you, Lord Baratheon, but I am as untouched as the Maiden herself,” snorted Rhaenys.

 

“I’m glad to hear that, but do you know what could have caused such a rumor to have started?” asked Lord Baratheon with his still stoic face—though his eyes betrayed a certain relief.

 

“I know not,” she answered honestly.

 

“Uncle?” questioned Durran’s voice, and Rhaenys turned to see that Durran had come to her chamber with Ser Jaime Lannister at his heels. The knight hung back allowing Prince Durran to join them quietly.

“Nephew,” answered Lord Baratheon formally with a slight bow.

 

“What rumor were you speaking of?” asked Durran.

 

Knowing that Lord Baratheon would be difficult with the matter, Rhaenys blurted out, “That you and I have been having private… swimming lessons in the Narrow Sea.”

 

She noticed that cousin Tyene, who had been quietly and somewhat indolently listening to Anaesysa and Roslin chatter on suddenly perked up when she heard Rhaenys speak. So Rhaenys had spoken in code, the same code the rumor was being spread in.

 

Much to Rhaenys’ surprise, Durran seized up where he was. He didn’t have to blush or go white for Rhaenys to know—his eyes said everything that his mouth didn’t. He recognized the code.

 

“Don’t tell me…” she began, half surprised.

 

With a look between his uncle and her, Durran sighed and then admitted, “Aye.”

 

The fire flared up within her once again. She wanted to slap him suddenly, the urge became rather overpowering.

 

Lord Baratheon intercepted her before she did anything rash, daring his nephew, “What possessed you?”

 

“I only told a few of my friends,” admitted Durran abashedly.

 

“Where?”

 

“At a tavern near Oldstones.”

 

“Right in the middle of a tavern? No doubt drunk off cheap ale,” grumbled Lord Stannis disapprovingly.

 

“Rhaenys, I’m sorry… I only said it to not look the fool in front of my friends.”

 

“And what of me? Did you not care how much a fool I’d look?” she asked.

 

“I said I was sorry,” rounded Durran.

 

“This is serious business, Durran!” interjected Lord Baratheon. You are the future King, I’d hope that you would have learned that rumor is a dangerous weapon to go unchecked.”

 

“What rumor do you mean?” questioned Durran.

 

“Minstrels sing of your swim,” retorted Lord Stannis who then continued, “No one will take you seriously if you give them cause to do so. And if anything should happen to your father while he’s away, this little rumor will put you and Rhaenys in a lot of danger.”

 

“And how is that?” bristled Durran.

 

“Say that you get Rhaenys with child on her wedding night,” offered Lord Stannis, who then fleshed out his example with, “all that child’s life there’ll be whispers that it was conceived out of wedlock.” At the mere mention of having a child of hers slandered in such a way stoked the fire in her.

 

His answer was almost brazen, “So? Rhaenys and I will have married by then, and it would be as trueborn as any other child of ours.”

 

“That may be, but say your father dies and suddenly you’re king. With such a rumor it could be thought that you are led by your wife, and are hardly a true King. Or say you die leaving your heir a younger brother who resents him and attempts to split the Kingdom in half all based on the rumor that his elder brother was conceived outside of marriage—hell that he might not even be his rightful brother at all. Or you die with only that child to be your heir, what’s to prevent one of your brothers from proclaiming

 

“Edrick, Lyonel and Orys would never—” began Durran

 

“A lot can happen in a day, let alone a moon or a year. Who knows how your brothers will feel about you when you’re dead and buried.”

 

“Your point uncle?” challenged Durran, who crossed his arms in an attempt to seem bigger than he was, and Rhaenys wondered at just how much of a boy he was.

 

“This rumor of yours is poison waiting to be used against you at any convenience. Learn to hold your tongue next time, so you don’t poison the well any further.”

 

Lord Baratheon then took his leave of them with a bow, joining his happy children.

 

Rhaenys was left with Durran, who at the moment she didn’t want to be near.

 

“Well, are you going to answer me, or just stand there dumb?” she prodded.

 

“What do you want me to say? I said I was sorry,” answered Durran.

 

Suddenly Rhaenys began wondering just what she’d seen in this boy to have been so crazy for him not so long ago.

 

She retorted, “Words are wind if they have no actions tied to them.”

 

Durran was taken aback by this, seeming to truly take note of those words.

 

“What is it that you came here for?” she nearly hissed, wanting nothing more for him to do or say what he’d wished and to leave.

 

“It’s about your cousin…” began Durran.

 

“Obi? Let him rot.”

 

“I can’t just let him sit in captivity without charging him of anything,” retorted Durran.

 

“Then bloody try him!” she snapped.

 

“He wants to talk to you.”

 

“Me?” she questioned.

 

“Aye.”

 

“Then let him wait.”

 

“He says he won’t plea for a trial without speaking to you first,” retorted Durran.

 

Inwardly Rhaenys groaned, but she wanted Durran gone from her sight now, so she appeased him saying, “Fine, I’ll speak with him…”

 

“This afternoon. I don’t want our wedding disturbed with this,” insisted Durran, to which Rhaenys gave Durran a look that was hard not to roll her eyes with.

 

“Fine,” she agreed before asking him to leave.

 

“But—" he started.

 

“Now! Leave now! All of you!” she shouted, the fire no longer wishing to be contained any further.

 

Everyone in her chamber looked at her in slight surprise, but all bade her wishes. As soon as they all left Rhaenys sat down, forgetting her dress was full of pins and stabbing herself with them as she did. Mother would know what to make of all this… mother had always known what to do. Out of habit, Rhaenys turned to Cassana’s corner, wishing to hear her mother’s favorite song from Cassana’s harp, only to find Cassana gone as well. Rhaenys let out a sigh and figured it was just her luck.

 

When she’d changed and made her way to the relatively comfortable room that her bastard knight of a cousin was held in, Rhaenys was accompanied by Obara, Tyene, and Ser Ulwyk. Ser Ulwyk gave a knowing look to the guards at the chamber door when they arrived, and they moved to unlock the chamber door. The chamber was hardly a black cell, but it wasn’t the lavish rooms that Obi had been accustomed to either. It was simply furnished, and reserved for those prisoners of higher birth in the older days of the Red Keep. Obi was playing with tiles with his youngest children, Deryn and Cayena. Deryn’s hair was dyed a deep burgundy. He was just two namedays old and apparently had just realized that the tiles weren’t for putting in his mouth. Cayena had hair dyed to be as red as an apple and was helping her brother put his piece down against their father’s tile—the two obviously playing on some sort of team. The object of the game was originally devised by Mors Martell as a way to teach the different house sigils and their strengths to Nymeria, as the two had had a language barrier to overcome at first, but had since developed into a game played by all those with Martell blood in them. Tyene examined the tile they’d played against their father with apt attention. Obi looked up as Tyene did so and then turned to his children.

“Go back to your sister,” urged Obi fondly.

Cayena nodded grabbed her brother’s pudgy wrist and pulled him up and out of the room just as the guards were about to close the door.

Tyene broke the ice by picking up the piece that Cayena had helped Deryn place down, saying “Good thing we came when we did, for the star beats the huntsman.”

Obi genially replied with a smirk, “Especially since the last Lord Tarly died. I hear his only son isn’t even a shadow of his father.”

“You wanted to talk?” interjected Rhaenys, not wishing to be in the same room with him for longer than was necessary.

“Aye, I feel that I’ve been unlawfully arrested.”

“You know the way out, cousin.”

Upon hearing this, Obi sighed and grew almost solemn, before returning his eyes to meet Rhaenys’, and while looking her directly in the face said without flinching, “I had nothing to do with Aunt Elia’s death.”

“Is it Aunt Elia now?”

Before, she was only Princess Tully to you.

His eyes narrowed as he said, “She was as much my blood as she was yours.”

Rhaenys clenched her fists in anger at that.

“Your affirmation of kinship does little to change the fact that you were the last person known to have been in her chambers before the viper appeared,” interjected Tyene as she sat down in the chair Cayena had vacated and laid down a tile piece as if offering to talk over tiles, treating this interview as though it were a simple conversation and not an interrogation.

Obi’s glare lessened as he looked at Tyene’s move and then laid down a piece to counter it while asking, “Do you really think that if I were to have killed her that I’d be so foolish as to use my own house sigil?”

“You didn’t earn that symbol!” huffed Obara.

“No, it was to honor Father, or don’t you remember that?” challenged Obi.

Tyene added, “Still it is suspicious, Obi.”

“And on that suspicion I’ve been held, with nothing further suggesting I did it at all. You’re ignoring the question: Why would I even want to kill Aunt Elia?”

None of them had an answer to this, in fact Rhaenys fought to dismiss the treacherous voice inside her head which made her doubt what she’d heard the guards tell her that he’d come out of mother’s chambers almost giddy. Almost.

“What did you and our Aunt speak of before she died?” asked Tyene.

Obi weighed his words carefully before answering, “About replacing a certain envoy from Lys, who I believe is the key to all of this.”

“The Rogares have already left the city of their own accord,” added Rhaenys, who had been rather upset when she’d learned of Oraen’s departure, especially now since Durran had proven himself… lacking.

To his record he picked up right where she had left off rather quickly, “Aye, and don’t you find it rather odd that Oraen and his mother fled the city so soon after your mother’s death?”

Rhaenys admitted, “Oraen didn’t even send word to the small council of his departure.”

She had thought it strange at the time, but with the thought that Obi was a kinslayer had come as such a shock, such a revulsion that she'd hardly paid much attention to much else beyond the thoughts which ended in his death, she chided herself for taking such pleasures in such dreams, but nonetheless they came and she reveled in them.

“And why would the diplomat from Lys’ son want to frame you for Aunt Elia’s murder?” challenged Tyene as she pushed forward a forked purpure lightning bolt.

The Oak leaves tile was placed down, as he began, “Because that very afternoon I got into an argument with him. He and I quarreled over…”

“Go on,” urged Rhaenys.

“Over whether he should leave you alone or not. Oraen had gotten it into his head that he could woo and wed you, cousin, and besides isn’t Lys and Myr and Westeros due to meet and renegotiate the tariffs through the Stepstones not too long from now? Aunt Elia had negotiated well in the last round, mayhaps someone didn’t want her negotiating such good terms for Westeros a second time?”

“How noble of you… and the truth?” Rhaenys asked as she pushed out a tile with an iron portcullis on sand for Tyene.

“Why the suspicion?” he asked as he pushed out the speared sun and golden hand in unison.

Obara, who had seemed to have grown as impatient as Rhaenys felt, slammed the shaft of her spear down upon Obi’s arm that was stretched out to place the pieces. Obi hissed with pain. Tyene looked as though she wanted to object, but said nothing. Rhaenys was ashamed to think it, but seeing Obi retch in pain was satisfying.

Obara smirked and said, “I’ve given you worse when you were my squire! You’ve grown soft.”

“Gods damn you Obara!” seared Obi as he cradled his arm, then another thwack came, this time at the back of his head.

“Obara!” chided Tyene who then rose from her spot and crossed to their brother’s side, cooing at him before turning back to Obara, and saying, “You could have drawn blood.”

“What’s healthier than a little bleeding?” proffered Obara as she kept her eyes on Obi.

Rhaenys watched, nearly glaring at Tyene as she examined Obi’s head and then offered him wine.

Obi still reeling from Obara’s hit nodded before Tyene rose and went over to the door asking the guards for a flagon to be brought in. In an unbelievably quick turnaround, Rhaenys saw the guards but a minute or so later enter with a flagon of wine and a few horns to drink it from. Tyene thanked the guard, who then departed and closed the door behind him as she made for the wine and began to pour out the horns. She offered some to Rhaenys and Obara. Rhaenys declined while Obara accepted and drank a horn fully before slamming her horn down on the table in the center of the tiles. It was only after this the curious look from Obi which had appeared the moment the wine had, had dissipated and he allowed Tyene to give him the wine. When he was finished, Tyene withdrew to place the horn down, after which Obara took the moment to strike, landing the shaft of her spear across his lap unsuspectingly.

“Now, no more evasion!”

Obi hissed in response, “Gods be good Obara, if you hit me one more time,” he threatened, to which Obara replied by placing the edge of her spear against his throat and leaning in close and grabbing his shirt with her fist.

“Well there’s always the pointy end.”

“I hope Lord Rosby’s men get you good,” growled Obi as his neck was pressed against the spearhead.

“Lord Rosby?” questioned Rhaenys, taken aback by the mention of him.

Obi looked stunned for a moment, as if he hadn’t meant to say anything, but then made a big show of sighing and a pleading look to Tyene where he indicated with his eyes that he wouldn’t talk until Obara removed her spear.

“Obara, if you press your spear any closer you’ll slit his throat,” cautioned Tyene, to which Obara begrudgingly backed off.

Obi rubbed one of his thin hands against his neck, as if checking to see if any pinprick had been made. Finding none, he continued, “Just before I was wrongly arrested for a death I had nothing to do with, one of my spies discovered a juicy little secret about Lord Rosby. Since Lord Arryn wrote forcing you to consider inviting him to your wedding, cousin, he’s made plans…”

“And?” implored Rhaenys, when the silence grew too long. She’d hear these plans, though she doubted that the uncle of Roslin would consider a move against the royal family.

Obi explained, “I would say more, but having been wrongfully imprisoned… and beaten by my family, I’m not so sure. Does blood mean so little to you? Or is it the fact that I was nearly a man grown by the time I first met you?”

“More of these games?” sighed Rhaenys with some annoyance. Rhaenys nodded to Obara who went to hit him, only for Obi to dart out of the way at the last second, though it meant falling rather ungracefully to the floor.

“Obara, you’re not helping in the least,” groaned Tyene, who then continued to Obi, “It’s a rather convenient time, to have heard such a rumor… why not say anything before now?”

“I know how these things work, sweet sister. It’s my chance to be freed from this shameful imprisonment, would you in my place say so much without any assurance to your release?”

Rhaenys countered, “If you truly cared for my safety, you’d offer the information readily, and be rewarded thusly, as I—as Durran and I would see fit.”

To this Obi smirked and added, “Oh, Rosby doesn’t mean to threaten you at all. It’s the Faith he seeks retribution against—well the Faith of Seven as he’d call it.”

“Why would an old and sickly man such as Lord Rosby consider such a thing?”

“Nothing more, beyond assurance of my release.”

“Done, now speak,” said Rhaenys hastily, to which Tyene gave Rhaenys a look before rolling her eyes.

Obi looked at Rhaenys suspiciously for a moment before continuing, “When your wedding is finished, and the Royal Family giving procession through the streets back to the Red Keep, Rosby means to sneak some men in to the Sept of Baelor and kill the upper tier of the Faith, including the High Septon. He has hardly spent his time in Rosby being idle since his humiliation… inviting all those Stoney Septons to Rosby, and the swell of smallfolk who come there for work—Rosby had grown from the sleepy little town at the crossroads into another Maidenpool.”

“He was also arrested and humiliated publicly through trial under High Septon Bones,” added Tyene thoughtfully, as if working everything out in her head

“My grandmother set right that man’s crimes,” insisted Rhaenys stiffly.

“The Stoney Septons that Rosby has gathered round him are of a radical brand. Septon Melcor especially claims that the Seven who are One will arrive on the day of your wedding and take the faithful straight into the Seventh Heaven, and he has been convinced to make Septon Melcor the High Septon.”

“And why should we concern ourselves with the plans against a High Septon?” scoffed Obara.

Rhaenys looked at her Dornish cousin with incredulity, stating, “It matters. The High Septon would have just married Durran and myself, and an attack on him would discredit all his actions, and thereby my marriage to Durran.”

“Lord Rosby would never risk such a measure, not while his heir is Rhaenys’ lady-in-waiting,” proffered Tyene.

“To that I cannot answer without speaking with my spy further,” answered Obi.

“That can be done without needing to trouble you,” stated Rhaenys.

“I’m afraid not as all my spies are—” but he never finished that sentence as Obara jabbed him in the stomach without warning.

“The name,” growled Obara.

“Deryn” choked out Obi spitefully.

“Your son?” scoffed Rhaenys.

“No, I know who he means...” answered Tyene, who then gave a quick glance to the door to indicate it was time to go.

Rhaenys indicated to her cousins that it was time to leave Obi.

“Cousin, I would leave this room,” he groaned as he forced himself to sit up, despite his pain.

“I will bring the matter before my betrothed,” Rhaenys answered glibly before the three of them left him, Rhaenys with little intention of doing so. He was guilty in her mind more than ever. He played with the truth far too much and prompted distractions instead of answers—only a man truly guilty would do such a thing. To think of him hanging for the murder of mother, satisfied her anger.

“Rhaenys!” he called as the door closed behind them.

“You didn’t have to be so motherly to him,” scolded Obara as they left a screaming Obi behind the locked door, rejoining with Ser Ulwyk as they continued down the corridor.

Tyene countered, “How else was I going to get him to drink the wine?”

“I got him to drink the wine more than any of your mothering did,” retorted Obara, and then she asked, “How much did you use this time?”

“Enough to make a thief a Septon through confession,” giggled Tyene.

“That was the truth?!” scoffed Obara, and then something dawned on her face and she exclaimed, “Fuck!”

“Every word. It’d be near impossible to lie under the influence of that.”

“Any man can lie with wine,” dismissed Rhaenys.

Tyene shook her head and added, “That wasn’t the only thing he drank to loosen his tongue, cousin.”

Rhaenys paused and looked at her two cousins for a moment, Obara mumbling to herself and Tyene eyeing Rhaenys purposely.

“A truth serum? Have you become Wisdom Tyene then?” asked Rhaenys incredulously after a moment.

Tyene clucked, “They used to rival the Maesters for a reason, cousin.”

And he had just denied killing mother while under its influence. No, that can’t be...

She defended to both herself and Tyene, Obi’s guilt with, “Impossible, he had to have done it.”

“And yet he denied doing so under the influence of the serum,” responded Tyene purposely.

Rhaenys shook her head. This was not what she wanted to hear and she stalked off towards her chambers, Ser Ulwyk soon at her heels.

 

Ser Ulwyk followed her into her chambers, no doubt meaning well, but Rhaenys didn’t need his looming presence at this moment.

 

Before she could dismiss him however, he requested, “Give me leave to speak my mind, Princess.”

 

Hoping that it would see him gone from the room more soon than late once having indulged him, Rhaenys sighed and nodded, settling herself upon her chair.

 

He spoke with a passionate rate she had never seen from him, even when he’d been attacked in Rosby once, spewing forth with a dark bile to his words, “Have that kinslaying bastard tried and executed now, not after your wedding. The gods are giving you a test. If you allow this kinslayer to live another day longer, they will surely curse your wedding bed.”

 

She smiled, he was assured of it all—to him everything was so simple, and so she asked, “And how are you so sure he is a kinslayer?”

 

“You heard the bastard himself and yet you ask me? My Princess when he threatens his own sister’s life, the sister with whom he’s trained and squired with—what true brother would wish such things?”

 

“I’ve often wished my little brother would meet horrible ends at times,” she countered, almost missing Axel—until she thought of his ruining the wedding or being uncontrollable after his father’s death, and promptly pushed aside those treacherous thoughts. It was best that Axel continue his tour of his Tully kin, and after that… she could send him to Dorne, and then to Oldtown where she wouldn’t have to see him again until he’d become a man grown, and mayhaps be a man worth knowing, with all his childish ways put behind him.

 

Ser Ulwyk snorted, “Aye, we are all apt to wish ill of our kin when they vex us. Gods be good, I once wished Harmen would fall into the Brimstone and be boiled to death, but we hardly mean it then—but to say such things in anger, in the heat of such fury and passion… passion never lies. It may overexaggerate a bit to be sure, but the core of a passion is always the truth—no matter how much we try to hide it from ourselves. The man who wished his sister dead at the hands of such blasphemous men, can only mean he holds kin in little regard—such a man is not worth the lickspittle of all the smallfolk in the world.”

 

She was at once taken with his manner of speaking. Ser Ulwyk spoke little, but when he did he had a way of doing so which captivated a room. He was an older man, well past forty namedays and likely nearing half a century of them, but he was still well-figured for a man, with lines that added to his appeal in a rough and rugged manner. Rhaenys was surprised, that she had never looked at Ser Ulwyk as a man before, but as he stood here in the growing twilight of the evening, dressed in his white armor adorned with flames, his dark hair with streaks of silver flowing through it here and there, and his steady light brown eyes, he appeared rather… well, alluring was one word for it. Hearing him talk of passion and truth, with certainty in their existence, simply added to the picture. It took her by surprise, but she felt an aching she had never known before, stir in her bosom and groin. It was almost enough…

 

Gods! No. She couldn’t think of these things. No. He was her knight and protector—not her lover. He likely looked at her and saw the little girl he’d been assigned to guard when he’d won his white cloak after the tourney at the end of the war. He had grandnieces closer to her age, and likely saw himself as a father to her. No, it wouldn’t do. She couldn’t think of him in such a way, lest she actually succumb to a new whisper of her “Narrow Sea” being “sailed by many men”.

 

She had to say something to distract her thoughts, change the subject, anything. “You… you heard quite a bit for being on the other side of a door.”

Ser Ulwyk smirked—and she had to say it only made his slightly lined face all the more—no! He then said, “I wasn’t the only one. You would do well to not speak so loudly the next time. Your guards hide it well, but they heard just as much as I. You cannot allow that vile viper to live much longer.”

 

She blushed, no doubt he thought it from his rebuke of her, but in truth it was at the embarrassment she felt of these unleashed and unwelcomed thoughts, that might not have meant anything if they were in Dorne, but in King’s Landing, with his vows and her betrothal—no.

 

“Tis unfortunate that I am not Queen, Ser Ulwyk, or else I would do as you say,” she said. Had the war gone a different way, she might have ended up Queen on the Iron Throne, and been free to choose whomever she liked.

 

“You have the ear and the groin of the Prince, I’d say that power is already yours.”

 

“The groin?” she asked.

 

Now it was Ser Ulwyk’s opportunity to look flushed—though you could hardly tell in the dimming light as he admitted, “What boy spreads tales of women he doesn’t wish to sleep with?”

 

The thought of having Durran increasingly seemed far less attractive to her the more she thought of it. He seemed more boy than man to her. Ser Ulwyk was a man, with scars and lines and aged like a good wine, and Durran was not even plucked from the vine yet. Sure, Durran was growing muscle and height, but

 

She shook her head clear of these thoughts, best to deflect them, if she could not suppress them.

 

“And what women did you speak of?” she asked. If it was someone else being spoken in such a way it felt different than it being just about her, she told herself.

 

He was caught off guard for an instant, and then tried to ease things with another smirk, “I? Princess, I wouldn’t wish to bore you with tales of… well a beamish, irreverent, and brazen youth.”

 

He looked almost uncomfortable as she had felt. He quickly tried to hide it behind that Uller smirk she’d seen from half her younger cousins, but his eyes looked worried as she asked, “Do I look bored?”

 

And then they hardened as he became more reproachful, “Now is not the time or place for this, Princess.”

 

He’d dropped the “my” from my Princess. Definitely a sign he was perturbed.

 

“You must turn all your attentions to the Prince, and how to get rid of this kinslayer before the wedding. Any other… distractions are of no good to you.

 

She wanted to argue with him, to say that she could decide for herself what distractions were good or not for her on her own, but that look he gave her made her feel a girl half her age, and think better of what she was about to say—it sounded so much like the girl he made her feel.

 

“Turn all your attentions to the Prince, look past the hurt he’s cause you, and start anew. That is the most important thing you can do now. He may be a bragging boy now, but he will not remain that way—anymore than the stupid irascible and senseless creature I was remains in me. The older he becomes the more rigid he will grow. Consider yourself lucky to have him before the clay has set and he is still moldable.”

 

“Are you saying I should control him?”

 

“Control? No. No one can ever truly control another, but influence him? That is in your power. Use it to your advantage and press for that kinslayer to be killed before the wedding!”

 

“And what if I don’t want to influence him? Or have anything to do with him after what he’s done?” she asked contrarily.

 

“Then you’re madder than your grandfather ever was. Besides, do you truly want to go through the rest of your days hating your husband?”

 

No… I want what mother had with Lord Tully…

 

“I… I will speak with Durran. Now leave me be. I wish to be alone.”

 

“My Princess, after your mother…” he began, but let the words hang in the air, unsaid, but they didn’t need to be spoken.

 

“Then stay in my outer chambers if it so pleases you, but I will be alone in my bedchamber at the very least… unless…” she paused wishing she had the courage to say “unless you wish to join me,” but thinking better on it and not wishing to receive another of his iron-willed stares, she retired to her bedchamber, without Ser Ulwyk following.

 

It was then she realized how late the hour had become—it was the time for the evening meal, but she knew that that would mean . Calling Ser Ulwyk would mean facing him again, and she wasn’t in the mood to do so after that last enlightening encounter. No, she needed something to distract her thoughts from Durran, Obi, Ser Ulwyk—everything.

 

Her eyes caught the attention of the chest her soon to be uncle-in-law had brought to her as a wedding gift. It had been in the outer chambers before—likely her ladies had brought it in here after she’d prepared to meet with Obi. Silently she thanked them for giving her something to look and think of that wasn’t her problems.

 

It was curious that Lord Baratheon had brought the gift to her alone, instead of to them both. Kneeling before the chest she now took a closer look than she had before. The chest was made of a dense red-gold elder wood with carvings of dragons on the panels.

 

A gift fit for a Targaryen…

 

Rhaenys ran her hands over the carved dragons and once again felt something stir inside of her that she hadn’t felt since the day she’d seen the skulls with the torch in her hands. An intense coiling in her gut which felt like a snake drawing tight and preparing to strike. She quickly withdrew her hand, as though the carvings had burned her themselves and she repeated to herself that the dragons were dead and gone for over a century. The feeling dissipated slowly as though the snake within her settled and eased itself to sleep. She became more at ease with herself and able to look at the carved dragons without feeling her blood rush and churn within her and the world grow warm and still. She almost dreaded opening it now, but she knew she would have to sometime later, and it wouldn’t do to have this reaction in front of Durran or the court—no need to remind them of her grandfather more than she needed to, and so she worked her hands at the black iron clasp.

 

She lifted the lid only to gasp. Inside the chest, laying in soft black velvet beds were three dragon eggs. She almost dropped the lid on them, but something within her took over and told her to touch the eggs. One was black with blue lightning bolts upon its scales. Another was white with green spirals. And the last was silver and gold.

 

Slowly and carefully she caressed the eggs—expecting them to be as cold as stone, but no… they felt warm and alive to her hands. The snake within her eased itself and knew that she would have to take care of these eggs—these precious eggs… no, her precious eggs. And they were far too cold to be in a box like this, especially with the onset of autumn. Almost instinctively she knew they needed to be warmed. Almost frantically she picked up the eggs and carried them to her bed, and wrapped them in the blankets. What she really needed was a larger fire. She would have to tell the servants to light a larger fire—the eggs would need it.

 

She left her bedchamber with that intention in mind, only to be surprised at the amount of light when she exited her bedchamber. Candles had been lit all about the room and it was now filled with foods and servants. At the center of this was Durran who looked to be ordering things about in a manner that seemed almost comical—a boy who barely filled out his cape sending old servants scurrying about as if he were in his prime. When he turned and noticed her, that boy became more of a boy in her eyes, looking as though she had caught him in the act.

 

She said as if coming out of a trance, “Fire… I need a fire in my room.”

 

A servant was sent, and the matter felt settled, with the concern that had plagued her disappearing like the morning fog on the bay.

 

It was then that Durran spoke.

 

“You weren’t at dinner… so I thought to… bring it to you,” he stumbled about his words.

 

She was touched by the act, it was the first time she noted that she’d ever received anything from him. Always before gifts had been given on her nameday that she had known to have been chosen by Lord Tully on behalf of the King on behalf of his son, but this… this was the first time he had thought to do so himself. And yet it felt wrong, was she only to be noticed and appeased when angry?

 

She asked, “Why are you doing this?”

 

“I just said why--” began Durran.

 

“The truth,” she reproached as she interrupted him.

 

“I thought, well... Ser Ulwyk said you wished to speak to me, and I had thought that since you had missed dinner that we could speak over the meal,” he over explained, reminding her of how Ser Ulwyk had nearly tripped over his own words not that long ago in this very room.

 

Wait a minute, it hadn’t been that long ago, had it? But the risen moon and black sky of night said differently to what she had thought had been the passage of time. She must have spent more time with those eggs than she’d thought, and ignored all the sounds and scrapes of people entering her chamber to have missed all this. For an instant she almost felt afraid of the eggs, but that fear passed—swallowed by the snake within her. They were her eggs and they needed all the time and attention they deserved.

 

She pulled him to a corner away from all the hustle and bustle of servants finishing setting out their meal for them, saying, “I thank you, my Prince, but you cannot do this every time you make a mistake.”

 

“Do what?” he asked, quite clearly confused.

 

“Make such a show of your apology,” she answered.

 

“I apologized before but you didn’t want to hear it,” he countered looking rather perturbed.

 

She challenged him, “Did you truly mean it before, or did you only wish to placate me?”

 

He said much more honestly, “I didn’t know what saying that could mean… I know better now, and I wish I hadn’t said it at all.”

 

The way he’d admitted that in that moment, with a kind of firmness she’d hardly seen in him before, she felt a kind of draw to that raw honest admission—that intimacy, and before she knew what she was doing she had pulled him in to a kiss. It was rough, wet, and starved—but it was their kiss. She broke away when she had felt the time to do so, only to find Durran unconsciously still wishing to continue the kiss. A hand to his chest brought him back around, and she leaned in close to his head to whisper.

 

“We must eat if we are to survive the night, Durran,” she teased in his ear before saying, “We will talk…” she said thinking of Obi before adding, “And then I must show you something.”

 

“What?” he asked, as if coming out of a dazed enchantment.

 

She saw the servant sent to fetch firewood for a bigger fire enter her bedchamber enter the room, and she knew it would have to be this way.

 

“Our future,” she answered with a smile, pulling him down to their meal, and she smiled at the thought of them both handling and loving the eggs and hatching in their hands to the song of dragons in the moonlight.

 

Chapter Text

ALLERAS

Any longer and a wet set of robes would announce to the world the answer to the Sphinx’s riddle.

If only I were able to swipe a pot from the kitchen to stick beneath my robes and ‘tween my legs—then I could go without anyone noticing…

It had been a mistake to take the offer of free cider that the merchants-led Town Council had bought from the Quill & Tankard—but what else was a sphinx to do? Die of thirst?

“Gods damn this fugging Town Council…” groaned Lazy Leo, who had run out of coppers for drinking more than his daily share of free cider, and was left now in that irritable state of an unending headache that the Sphinx had trained to avoid through nursing the cider instead of guzzling it down all at once like the wilting Rose was apt to do. Well, at least the one consolation was that he wasn’t nearly as horrible a jerk while drunk as he was sober. Lazy Leo had proclaimed Alleras to be a sphinx and to the Tyrell’s chagrin Alleras took ownership of the nickname he’d given—somehow gaining the blond rose’s respect in doing so, something Alleras wasn’t sure a sphinx needed.


“Try thinking of something else,” proffered Alleras, taking a slight bit of pity.

Lazy Leo’s head popped up from his nest of arms and said, “I’ve tried thinking of some bloody other thing and it doesn’t fugging work. I can't stop... all I see is--" He stopped himself mid-sentence, as if saying anything more would be too much, and shook his head and continued by saying harshly, "I’m just too slow witted right now to think of anything while my head is pounding… but I do know what might work.”

Lazy Leo's look had then perked up a small bit as a pleading look entered his eyes. It was rather satisfying to Alleras to see the wilting rose beg as he did. Mayhaps that was why the sphinx had yet to move from his seat—well that and the turns Mollander and Roone were taking with looking after Pate.

Alleras smirked, “You’ve already gotten off as much of me as you’ll get. Any more and you’ll be pawning your clothes. Which might not be so bad...”

Lazy Leo scoffed and sourly retorted, "I am not my cousin... besides a sphinx wouldn't know what to do with a rose."

He would touch the sphinx. "Roses, like any flower are meant to be plucked, even wilted ones."

Lazy Leo's sour look faded as it turned back to a pleading one, his red-rimmed eyes from lack of a good night’s sleep watering as he spoke, “It’s only a bit of coin, sphinx, just a bit. I need to forget... plea—”

“No. Try your hand at the dice and see if you make back what you already owe me,” scoffed Alleras with irritation. The wilted rose was better when he was angry, this false pretense of needing to be drunk--a habit as old as the Starry Father Riot, Alleras had noticed, was hardly a need at all, as far as the sphinx was concerned.

Lazy Leo drooped his eyes, sighed, and buried his face back into his arms folded on the table before him, no doubt thinking he might be able to ignore the sound and smell of the discontented holed up here in the Quill and Tankard and find some sleep. Truth was it stank worse from the slop buckets that’d been brought out to take a piss in and everyone was beginning to reek much worse than usual.

There was no leaving the Quill and Tankard now—not until the Town Council stepped down or Lord Hightower’s men outside backed away. Gods,

And the sphinx needed to go badly now.

Mayhaps if I slip to the bucket at the far end and squat but leave my cloak on everyone will think I’m just leaving a log… or I could check on Pate.

And that plan was the best a sphinx could hope for, better to piss in a slop bucket in the room full of the sick and injured rather than out in front of the rest of them.

With a brief explanation of where the sphinx was slinking off to, and a grunt from Lazy Leo, Alleras hurried off to the stairs that led to the second floor, stepping over the people who were trying to sleep or simply laying down. Upon entering the room she found Mollander having fallen asleep besides Pate, a quick nudge of the boot awoke the acolyte and they talked as he came to his senses.

“How’s Pate?” asked Alleras as Mollander rose and stretch.


Mollander shook his head and confided, “He’s fading in and out, and bleeding through his bandages… if we don’t get him outta here soon.”

Alleras nodded and said, “Tell Roone, he’s down there with the wilting rose.”

That would have to be another situation to solve—how to get out of the Quill and Tankard before it was too late for Pate. Mollander left with a nod.

Pate wasn’t on some bed, but instead was laid out on the ground like the rest of the wounded were, a rough bandage having been tied to his head by Rosey that he’d soaked through and would need changing—but Pate wouldn’t hear of it, no doubt wanting to save Rosey’s handiwork. It was only after promising to get Rosey to change his bandage that Pate conceded to having his bandage checked. Alleras’ stomach dropped, realizing that if the standoff didn’t end soon, that Pate might just die. Already his memory was fuzzier than it had been, with Pate insisting on Alleras explaining what was going on again for what felt like the hundredth time.

“I must look bad, don’t I?” asked Pate after Alleras stood up from the bucket.

Sighing, Alleras answered, “It’ll only be bad if we don’t leave soon.”

“Why can’t we?” asked Pate dully.

The answer to the question was always the same each time Alleras visited Pate, “Lord Hightower’s men are outside and they want the Town Council to surrender his heir, head of guards, and the man they came for.”

“But we’ve got nothing to do with that!” Pate always insisted.

“Aye, and you tried explaining that to Lord Hightower’s men, and got this for your troubles,” said Alleras as the sphinx’s fingers lightly brushed over his bandaged forehead before adding, “While others received the Stranger’s gift.”

“Why?” he asked almost innocently.

“Because how do they know that the man they want isn’t disguising himself for an escape?” the Sphinx riddled, and Pate seemed to actually ponder this question this time instead of just dully nodding his head, yawning, and falling back to sleep.

This time Pate’s face scrunched up as he answered, “Fuck them all…” and now his face slackened, his eyes drooped and he was asleep not a moment later, his breath steady and punctuated.

Alleras went and found Rosey scrubbing a stairwell and using what charm the sphinx had available, was able to convince the girl to look in on Pate when she was finished. Alleras wanted to return to Pate then, feeling that the boy who’d yet to forge a link for his chain should have someone near him who cared rather than remaining with Roone and Lazy Leo down below, but the sounds of raised voices caught the attention of the sphinx. At the sight of the sphinx, Roone hurried up to take his post by Pate. Alleras was at the foot of the stairs soon just to witness a large burly fisherman and Lazy Leo himself both shouting and riling up the rest of the tavern with a call that the Town Council. Lazy Leo put on a good front, Alleras thought, if he was able to shout and jeer with the crowd like he was—though he stumbled a bit here and there and grasped a table or another poor wretched soul to keep himself standing. Well, he definitely wasn’t getting any coin after this little display. The Town Council itself was disheveled as much as the rest of them and were ignoring or trying to shout over with their own protests. However it was all of little use as the majority of the Quill and Tankard joined in their cry of “Trial!”

It was only Baelor Hightower himself who ended the chants, standing up from his position at the Town Council seat.

“In my father’s stead, I can try the man,” offered the heir to the Hightower.

To this the Town Council around Baelor erupted in a roar.

Someone amongst their rank shouted, “Absurd!”

“I have done nothing wrong that no one else would have done!” insisted the man as he moved his head about jerkily and suspiciously, scared any man might rush him in a heartbeat.

"He is one of the council, no matter his crimes, and we will try him." announced a gray bearded merchant of the council, who had sweated so much his fine clothes were stained with sweat and stuck to him as much as what little hair was left to him upon his head did.

Ser Baelor sighed and rejoined with, "Then as my father's heir, I request that I question him."

There was some discontent among the crowd upon hearing that, not much that couldn't be put to rest with a few yells from a councilman whose lips were as pursed as his stare was striking. He was the only man on the council besides the graybeard to still be fully dressed, and a constant chill seemed to hover about him. The fact that he had spoken one word, let along that that had been a call for silence, had been enough to hush the clamor of the crowd.

The graybeard gave the staring man a polite nod of acknowledgement before continuing to speak with Ser Baelor, "You may question him all you like Councilman Baelor—”

Again there was an uproar, but this was settled as the graybeard strained his wispy voice to shout over the crowd to say, "But as a member of this council alone, and nothing else! Whomever your father is outside of this council meeting should have little bearing on weighing the alleged crimes of our fellow councilman."
At once, two men shouted, with Alleras straining to catch both at once.

"I've committed no crimes!" snapped the accused councilman.
"Have you forgotten that you're speaking to a Hightower, Ser?!" exclaimed Ser Aron.

The graybeard, who seemed to have found his wind at this challenge banged his fist against the table and held it there, having clearly hurt his hand in the action, but not wishing to show it to everyone before them as he scolded, "Councilman Jon! I would advise you to think on your words before speaking--your very life may depend upon it. And as for my memory, Ser Aron, I have not forgotten the family from which Councilman Baelor hails, but I fail to see what importance it has concerning the crimes of Councilman Jon."

"Aron," warned Ser Baelor, but the knight had been set off, and would not heed his Lord's heir's advice.

"Fail to see the importance of the Hightowers? The Hightowers? Without the Hightowers there wouldn't be an Oldtown for you feeble-minded, obstinate, ill-bred--"

"Councilman Baelor, you will see that Ser Aron is able to control his tongue or the matter of this trial will be at an end!" proclaimed the graybeard rather calmly.

To which reply, Ser Baelor nodded, and gave his father's man a glare. When that didn’t seem to suffice, Ser Baelor whispered something in Ser Aron’s ear. This convinced the knight who backed out of the situation with a bow and backed away to his own detriment. For he failed to take account of how crowded the room was and soon tripped over some limb one of the small folk had extended to stretch. In an instant Ser Aron knocked his head on the side of a table as he fell. In an instant Ser Baelor was helping Ser Aron and had him brought to the side of the room while several others scurried up from their spots they had laid claim to in order to make room for the fallen knight. Ser Baelor then caught the eye of Lazy Leo and beckoned him to come over and to attend to the unconscious knight. Lazy Leo however was far too dull-witted at this point, to be of much good so Alleras hurried over as soon as Lazy Leo was left alone to stare at the knight.

Lazy Leo seemed dazed and confused by everything that was going on around him, he was clearly playacting the part of the sick man once again, and so the sphinx set about examining the man.
"He'll have a bruise, but not much more," stated Alleras, which seemed to bring Lazy Leo out of his stupor.
"Right... of course..." mumbled Lazy Leo, the color having gone out of his face.

Is he truly playing at a mummer's farce?

It was then that Alleras was able to pay more attention to what was being said among the Council.
Ser Baelor spoke with an almost sly look to his face, "My fellow... councilmen. May we not at least conduct this meeting outside so that my—the guards holding us here may witness and see the justice of the Council and know it to be done?"
A laugh, sour and crusty traveled through the rest of the people gathered in the tavern. The Council objected to being open up to arrows, while others wished to escape the stench of the rooms which they currently occupied. Ultimately it was put to a vote with the balcony winning just a bit, but with the understanding that Ser Baelor announce to the men what was to occur, which he gladly strode forward to do, with the accompaniment of a rather burly man whom the graybeard of the council had slipped a few coins to discretely to see that Ser Baelor didn't get any ideas of diving off the isle that the Quill and Tankard stood on and into the bay.
When an all clear was signaled the Council proceeded up the stairs and out onto the balcony. Unfortunately it was at this time that Ser Aron decided to come around and Alleras had Lazy Leo fetch a cup of water for the knight to sip as he recovered his senses. Some of the people found ambling up the stairs to be too much of a hassle and so tentatively exited the front door to get as good of a sight as they could from the small bit of ground around the alehouse. It would be the first time witnessing a Town Council holding a trial, and everyone present seemed interested in some degree—even it if was only to cheer on the man's demise which Alleras assumed to be the case for most of them.

As the room emptied, Lazy Leo came back to his senses and Alleras offered, “I’ll see to him,” in hopes that the wilted rose would depart and abandon whatever charade he was at. This offer however seemed to only steel Lazy Leo who in that instant tried to reassert himself in adjusting Ser Aron so that his head wasn’t resting on the developing bruise.

He insisted, “I can handle it.”

“Is that how it is, then?” challenged Alleras after a momentary pause to take in the change in his features.

The wilting rose was caught off guard, asking, “What?”

“Tell me, what are you now? One moment you’re as sick as a dog, the next you’re up shouting and hollering for there to be a trial. Pray stick to one, else-wise some might believe your sickness feigned,” hissed Alleras.

Lazy Leo took a moment to process what had been said, but when his ash-blonde eyebrows furrowed and his tight mouth drooped into a frown, Ser Aron had just the perfect timing to arouse himself. A blessing that came far too late.

Ser Aron’s eyes looked widely about and he tried moving until Alleras met his eyes and hushed in low soothing tones. “Relax…”

“Water…” croaked Ser Aron as he settled himself.

Alleras gave Lazy Leo a glance, and the rose stood up and fetched a cup of it from a barrel that Gwynda had been set to guard when the rest of the girls were busy, but now was left unattended. He was back relatively quickly, only spilling a few drops as he kneeled next to Ser Aron to hand him the cup full of water. The knight took the cup and began to drink, but Alleras urged him to sip it to start, to which the knight spat out some of the water back into his cup and with a perturbed look at Alleras took a few small sips. His eyes then met Lazy Leo’s and seemed to widen with recognition.

“You’re… you’re Moryn Tyrell’s boy… aren’t you?” asked Ser Aron.

Lazy Leo dropped his eyes and nodded without saying a word.

After another sip was swallowed, Ser Aron said, almost as if his thoughts were just coming back to him, “Such a shame what happened to him.”

“Thank you for your condolences,” replied Lazy Leo automatically and without much feeling, but by this point Ser Aron had finished his cup and pushed it back into Lazy Leo’s hands and began to move to get up, paying little heed to what Lazy Leo was saying as suddenly he began mumbling about finding Ser Baelor. The knight rose not without too much trouble, but enough that Alleras felt the urge to caution him. But Ser Aron was stubborn and began to stumble off to the stairs, taking comfort in gripping the bannister as he climbed up the stairs.


The Sphinx was left slightly confused, and Lazy Leo’s next comment only added to that, “When Mollander came and said that Pate needed to leave, what else was I to do? Sit back and let him die in this rat’s nest?”

Alleras’ confusion now gave way to suspicion, “I thought you hated Pate.”

Lazy Leo smirked as the sphinx was more accustomed to seeing him, “Hate? No. Do I detest his lazy, slothful stupidity? Aye, but I’d hardly wish him dead for all that.”


“And how did your shouting help Pate?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone soft Alleras. We’re all in here because of that one man. Get rid of him, and we can all leave.”

For a brief moment Alleras felt the fool, a rarity of moments, but aye it had come nonetheless.

So the sphinx thanked the gods that Mollander came tumbling down the stairs the next moment.

“The balcony’s full, but there’s room out front!” he called before hurrying out the front door. For lack of desire to continue the awkward confrontation, Alleras and Lazy Leo followed him out the door.

The men of the Hightower guard had backed away a good distance from the bridge connecting the alehouse to shore, leaving room for several of the patrons of the Quill and Tankard in all their dirty to attire to crane their necks looking up at the balcony where the trial was being held by the Town Council. Alleras couldn’t get a good view of what was going on, and so decided it best to squeeze through the crowd to the far side near the edge of the isle where a knobby tree grew out of the ground. The thin and green fungus covered tree groaned under the weight of the sphinx, but Alleras kept close to the base of the branch. Up above on the balcony several tables had been pushed together to form a long one at which all the councilmen saving the offending member sat. The offending member sat before them. Not far from Ser Baelor, Ser Aron stood taking everything in with confusion and shock.

“What can you see?” asked Mollander when he’d finally caught up with the sphinx at the base of the tree.

“Quiet!” scolded Alleras, straining to hear from their distance.

“Again, I’d be happy to answer any specific case you might bring forth on my ‘dealings’ in the wool trade,” answered the accused Councilman rather self-satisfied.

“It seems that the only evidence of wrong doing is that you are called for summons before Lord Hightower,” commented another Councilman with a hooked nose.

“Then until we can know what Lord Hightower does, we will simply have to delay the matter until more information can be gathered,” finished the graybeard Councilman with a wheezy voice. Shouts and groans from the rest of the patrons

“Until such information could be gathered, may I suggest that the council seize all property held in his name as an insurance that our fellow Councilman will not just vanish between this meeting of the council and the next?” suggested Ser Baelor, a rather sly grin appearing on his face.

“And disrespect his property!” piped up the hooked nose Councilman as though Ser Baelor had suggested he

“It seems a reasonable enough deterrent,” conceded the graybearded Councilman.

“Think of the precedent!” argued the fat Councilman.

“And if he runs?!” countered a greasy looking Councilman.

“We will put it to a vote!” interrupted the Old Councilman.

It was then that Alleras heard a snap, and not two seconds later was water all around the sphinx. For an instant Alleras was still from shock as the sphinx took note of the situation, but then the lack of air began to ache the lungs and the growing cold darkness of the river became more apparent. This wasn’t going to happen. The sphinx swam better than all the snakes ever did! The sphinx kicked, recalling what felt like a dream, an infancy when the sphinx had been a girl, a girl named Sarella Sand, and tossed into the sea by a woman… her mother.

The ebony skinned sea captain whispered to her daughter, “Kick my little one…”

And then she was in a fountain playing with a girl about her age who was black of hair and blue of eye, laughing as they splashed, but still her mother was there whispering “Kick my little one… kick…”

The more the sphinx kicked the more tired she became. The grey robe was weighing her down, the soaked wool feeling as though she were being held down by twice as much weight. She’d have to slither out of it like the snake she was.

“Kick my little one… kick… kick!”

But just as she was to slither out from underneath her robe, her feet touched a rough rock and sandy bottom.

A plan came to her mind then, and Sarella began to fumble with the rope which was tied about her waist, her lungs and throat aching for air so much that they felt like they were about to burst. The knot though was tricky and the water growing even darker, colder, and her hands beginning to fade from view.

Sarella then felt arms about her waist, and a push from off the bottom. As the rock and cold deep of the river began to disappear Sarella could see the evening sun above the water growing brighter.

And then she could breathe.

“Grab my hand!” called another person who vaguely sounded like a friend.

She was brought back up to the ground, feeling the sudden drop of the isle as she was secured to shore. There was much commotion and shouting, but Sarella was far too light-headed to think clearly. It wasn’t until another figure climbed out of the water, dressed only in a shirt and green and gold striped trousers, but still recognizable from his ash-blonde hair, all of which was soaked.

Godsdamit.

Chapter Text

RENLY

 

As he and the small council met he wondered if having Lord Denys and his brother absent for most of the time wasn't truly a benefit for him than a detriment.

 

“Some kind of appeasement must be given to the Faith of the One if you wish to claim you govern without favor to either interpretation of the Faith,” pressed Lord Arryn, who seemed burlier since the last Renly had seen of him and his hair a paler shade of blond than it had been before—more likely to turn white before ever streaking with gray. He’d arrived a little early with his wife for the wedding.

 

“Lord Gyles is already set to arrive for the marriage. As one of the King’s closest bannermen, and uncle to a lady-in-waiting of the Princess, he was always slated to attend,” stated the Queen.

 

“Aye, but giving him a bit more prestige as a lord who’s well known to support their cause would be a gesture of good will that would likely kill most of this Stranger’s return nonsense.”

 

“And what did you have in mind?” questioned a nervous Durran, who was so preoccupied with not looking nervous that he gave away that he was feeling so before a room full of men who were all far older and more experienced than he. To some extent, Renly sympathized with his nephew.

 

“There are fewer members of the Small Council. Perhaps he might be offered a position?”


“As what? Lord Intelligence or Lord Diplomat?” asked Renly, genuinely interested in what Arryn had to suggest for the coughing old man.

Rhaenys however responded immediately with a firm, “No.”

 

Denys, to his detriment, ignored Rhaenys’ proclamation and added without letting her get a word more in edgewise, “Lord Diplomat might be a position to trust him in.”

 

“I said no!” insisted Rhaenys, standing up to make her point.

 

Ever polite, but now a bit less deferential in his tone, Denys added, “Excuse me, Princess, but while I value your advice, your personal dislikes have little relevance to such decisions.”

 

“You’re not giving her a chance to explain herself,” interjected Durran moodily.

 

Rhaenys smiled at Durran before answering to the rest of the council, “I have received a report stating that Lord Rosby plans to murder the High Septon.”

 

“From who?” asked Renly automatically.

 

“Our Lord Intelligence.”

 

“Our former Lord Intelligence, you mean?” asked Denys.

 

“Unless the Princess has appointed someone without the consent of the council?” proffered Renly. The downcast eyes said otherwise.

 

After a brief moment of silence, the Princess clarified, “I don’t know how well to trust the information, but as long as it is a possibility, I would not give him any more opportunity to carry out such a heinous act.”

 

Confused, Durran asked, “But why would he wish to kill the High Septon? He’s the Seven’s chosen on earth—even the Stoney Septons recognize that.”

 

Grandmaester Gormon spoke up at this, suggesting, “Vengeance for what he had to endure years ago, no doubt when he was humiliated publicly through trial by the High Septon.”

 

“But why now? He’s had years and many opportunities before now,” questioned the Queen.

 

Stannis stated bluntly “This is why we need a new Lord Intelligence.”

 

“The wedding is only a fortnight hence, it’s too late for a new Lord Intelligence to get a grasp on the issue,” countered Rhaenys rather dejectedly.

 

“That’s more than enough time, if the person’s worth their spittle!” pronounced Denys.

 

“And do you have someone worth their spittle, my Lord Arryn?” questioned Renly, wanting to try his hand at letting the often absent Lord of the Vale stick his neck too far out.

 

“I have. Ser Edwyle Royce of Gulltown would be more than equal to the position. For the past few years he’s served quite well as the Lord Justice of Gulltown and managed to uncover and keep any and all deceptions to a minimum.”

 

“One of your own men,” noted Durran.

 

“And kin to you, my Prince—through the Queen.”

 

Queen Lyanna, who had begun to drum her fingers as they’d drifted the conversation away from Oberyn Sandsnake now looked pensieve for a moment until a sudden realization occurred to her and she said, “Great Aunt Jocelyn.”

 

“She’s still alive, and wishes to be remembered well by her kin. Ser Edwyle is her grandson and heir, and as I said, has proven himself more than capable for the position.”

 

Renly was astounded, he’d expected Lord Denys to have floundered in suggesting someone, as he would have had Lord Denys rebounded the question. He shouldn’t have doubted the falcon—such birds didn’t swoop until they were sure the prey was within their grasp, and Lord Denys was surely living up to his house’s sigil.

 

“My only qualm, Lord Arryn, is that cousin Edwyle mayhaps be a bit too honorable for the position? The Lord Intelligence deals with people less clean than perhaps Ser Edwyle is used to handling as Lord Justice of Gulltown—a certain deviousness about the mind is required,” said the Princess with the full presumption that she knew Ser Edwyle’s character.

 

Lord Denys, ever quick to respond, answered, “In my time as Lord Justice, we’ve had three men sit in the position of Lord Intelligence who had a certain deviousness about the mind—as you say is a requirement of office. Two of them betrayed the crown, one by the attempted the kidnapping of yourself when you were little more than a babe, my princess, and the other the murder of your own dear mother, and your Uncle was killed by agents of his predecessor he’d failed to eliminate. If you ask me, it’s long past time to try an honorable man at the post, for the usual candidates never seem to last very long it would seem.”

 

“And what of my other uncle, Prince Doran? He worked quite closely with my uncle,” suggested Rhaenys.

 

“But with three Lords Paramount already as members of the Small Council—I’d worry that mayhaps the realm would suffer neglect if any further Lords Paramount were called upon.”

 

“Agreed, the council is quite small with Lord Stark, Lord Stannis and yourself away from the capital for most of the year,” commented Lord Lycus, finally chirping out of the silence.

 

Rhaenys seemed determined to speak further until Durran interjected, “We shall take the council’s suggestions into full consideration, along with any other proposals that may be made for the position.” With a nervous look, Durran met Renly’s eyes and suddenly Renly knew he had to agree with his princely nephew.

 

“Of course, nephew, but I agree that we shouldn’t take Prince Doran away from his duties or be overeager to promote Ser Edwyle beyond his position unduly. After all, is there a man equal to his ability to replace him in Gulltown?” asked Renly.

 

“I believe that’s Lord Denys’ concern more than ours,” stated Stannis gruffly, and Renly knew better than to take the conversation any further, though he felt rather sore at being chided as though he were still his brother’s squire.

 

“Indeed, but as to the matter to this threat to the High Septon’s life?” asked Renly, hoping to regain some semblance of control as Hand.

 

“Perhaps it would be best to have some gold cloaks dispersed on the wedding day near the Great Sept—so that should the notice anything untoward occurring that they could best respond to it?” suggested Lord Denys.

 

“We should also warn the High Septon,” added Stannis.

 

Plans were agreed upon, it was decided that Lord Rosby would be given special prominence in the promenade out of the Great Sept after the wedding ceremony to keep him well occupied and under guard—if any man wished to harm the High Septon they’d have Lord Rosby within a moment’s notice to discourage any further action—and if no plan at all was put in place, then the Stoney Faith could be satisfied with the gesture of honor given to Lord Gyles. Ser Edwyle would be summoned to King’s Landing to see if he were equal to the position, but would likely fail to arrive before the wedding, and thus they remained without a Lord Intelligence. As for the position of Diplomat, the choice was of little need to be rushed—there was time yet to argue over potential candidates—though Lord Denys wished if Lord Gyles proved his innocence in the rumored assassination attempt of the High Septon to be given the post, Renly had decided he would find another candidate himself to show just how good of a Hand he was to his brother and Lord Denys.

 

For the matter of what was to be done with Ser Oberyn, the plan of taking his children into the custody of their aunts and cousins for the nonce so to be sure the future Knights and Ladies of Plankytown remained loyal was discussed and agreed upon, with Rhaenys eagerly asking to look after the youngest herself. The trial was agreed to take place after the wedding had commenced, since the Princess was insistent that it not interfere with the wedding plans already underway. The matter for Ser Oberyn’s Pentoshi wife was to be settled with Prince Doran, who would likely host her in Sunspear to be sure she was not of the same mind as her husband.

 

As Renly left the small council chamber he dwelled on these thoughts eventually coming to a courtyard where he heard laughter in a hidden nook. Curious, Renly approached and saw a couple kissing quite heavily in a quiet nook of the courtyard obscured from view of the majority of the courtyard unless you approached it directly. The girl had long brown hair which she kept in a style reflecting Princess Rhaenys’ own style of knots and braids. The boy whom she was kissing seemed about her age, the two seeming recently on the edge of man and womanhood. And then he saw sewn over the heart of the boy’s chest the ermine and chevronel sigil of House Rosby, he had little time to wonder at who the boy was before the eyes of the young man—a watery grey-blue mixture—met his, and the lad disentangled himself from his love, who turned out to be Lady Roslin Frey, one of Rhaenys’ ladies in waiting.

“Lord Renly!” exclaimed Roslin as she attempted to recover herself.

 

With a smirk Renly tipped his head as he took in the sight of the Lady Roslin and what must surely be a boy in Lord Rosby’s service assigned to her.

 

“I would like for you to meet my betrothed, Ser Lyam Margate,” explained

 

“Ser Lyam?” asked Renly, who wondered why Roslin’s known betrothed and , was doing wearing such simple livery of his house so as to be mistaken for an ordinary

 

“Aye,” answered the boy, whose lips and tongue were likely swollen from use.

 

“I did not think you likely to arrive before Lord Gyles.”

 

Nor do I recall you presenting yourself before my nephew.

 

“I came on my own before our uncle to see that

 

“In secret, and without acknowledging yourself before the Prince?” questioned Renly.

 

“I…that is…” started the boy, who then fumbled with his words until Roslin spoke for him.

 

“He came to see me, without our Uncle’s permission.”

 

“I see, Lady Roslin. And yet we have had no raven from your concerned Uncle asking where his nephew and ward has disappeared to.”

 

“I told him I was to spend a week hunting… but in truth I simply wished to see Roslin.”

 

“Right, and you couldn’t wait a few days more for your Uncle’s arrival then?” questioned Renly.

 

At this even Roslin seemed distressed, so much so she began to cry.

 

“There’s no need to cry, my girl.”

 

The boy bristled, “She wouldn’t cry if you didn’t upset her.”

 

Well at least the boy feels something for his lady.

 

Renly excused himself then, saying that he wouldn’t speak of this matter with their uncle, which didn’t seem to concern either of them tremendously as the boy had now begun to comfort Roslin. Renly sighed as he left the courtyard to return to the Tower of the Hand, she wouldn’t be the first girl to be wed to a man whom she did not care for, but Renly wondered. From all that he had heard, Lyam Margate and Roslin Frey had known each other for several years and were said to be quite fond of each other—now to see that Lady Roslin was giving attentions to one of her household was suspicious.

 

The curiosities of the arrangement however were dismissed by Renly when he returned to the Hand of the Tower to find an overjoyed Margaery celebrating with her handsome brother. Ser Loras was jumping up and down, as giddy as his wife. Clearly whatever the news was, had sparked a tremendous and easily expressed joy for them, one which Renly was almost jealous of.

 

“You are to be a father, Renly,” stated Margaery with a smirk.

 

At once Renly felt as though a great relief were taken from his mind. A child meant that the practice of sharing a bed with Margaery would soon be at an end for some time. In truth Renly had found their couplings to be rather hard to endure with how frequently Margaery had pressed the issue. He had understood it—she had wished to prove her fertility of course, lest rumors of there being bad blood in the marriage or impotency surface, but that had not meant he’d been able to take comfort in that knowledge as she had ridden him. If anything it made their couplings that much more of a burden to bear as his mind’s eye turned her into her brother in his imagination—a thought which made him fret at how easy it was to imagine.

 

“Does the news not please you, my love?” asked Margaery, and suddenly Renly was brought back to the present. He adopted an easy smile and assured her that nothing could please him better. A special Arbor Gold was ordered that night and drunk in excess by them all.

 

When she had dismissed the servants for the night and thought him drunk enough, Margaery asked, “And what of the position of Lady Diplomat, have you settled upon someone for the position?”

 

“The council is considering the absence of a Lord Intelligence to be more pressing matters,” answered Renly as he took another sip of the Arbor Gold.

 

“Grandmother would make a fine Lady Diplomat, wouldn’t she, Loras?” prodded Margaery to her brother.

 

“She would,” coughed Ser Loras who had been taken aback by Margaery’s call to him.

 

“Your grandmother?” asked Renly, and then his mind placed who they were speaking of, “Lady Olenna? Doesn’t she have her hands full with keeping your father on a short rope?”

 

Margaery laughed, but he could see from the slight change in her demeanor that he might have taken the joke a bit too far.

 

Margaery continued, “She’s always been hard on father, true, but that’s from having such little to do. If she were given a position to occupy her time and great intellect, why not only could the realm benefit, but so could she.”

 

“I’ll consider it, my love,” said Renly.

 

“Of course if you have other proposals worth pursuing, that’s understandable. Grandmother is rather old and if this winter is to last as long as the Maesters say, will likely not see the end of it,” said Margaery.

 

“The council and I shall consider it, my love,” said Renly.

 

Seeing that this would be the best answer she was likely to get from him, Margaery yawned, and rose claiming to be rather tired and that she and the baby needed to sleep, imploring that her departure should not impede the celebration of the child.

 

“It is up to us women to bear what we must to bring babes into the word, while you men may celebrate with each other as you please,” stated Margaery as she kissed Renly on the cheek—though she faced Loras as she spoke, who stiffened as she took her leave of them.

 

“What was that about?” asked Renly when she had left the chamber, leaving no one but him and Loras sitting beside the hearth.

 

“Nothing. I fear my sister has gotten some notion into her head…” dismissed Loras rather uncomfortably.

 

“What kind of notion?” asked Renly concernedly.

 

“A woman’s fancy, nothing more,” stated Loras with a nervous laugh.

 

“If it’s only a woman’s fancy, then surely it would mean nothing to say?” asked Renly.

 

“She thinks you might better consider giving our grandmother for Lady Diplomat if you and I shared a bed,” stated Loras uncomfortably.

 

She knows…

 

Ser Loras continued blithely, “I know you fancy men… I’ve seen how you look at your guardsman, Saren, and at… me. I fancy men as well, but I couldn’t possibly consider bedding you.”

 

“W—why not?” asked Renly, too drunk to keep his guard up.

 

“And defile my sister’s bed? It would be one thing if you weren’t married to her… but if we were to be found out, what’s to keep rumors from saying that her child wasn’t fathered by some guardsman or other like Princess Rhaenyra’s were?”

 

“But if I wasn’t married?” pressed Renly as he sat up and leaned closer to Loras, feeling he desperately needed to know the answer.

 

“Mayhaps... or mayhaps not…” answered Loras before rising and leaving Renly to sit alone as the fire began to dwindle and die. It was there that Saren, handsome kissable Saren found him not an hour later and helped him to bed.

Chapter Text

 

RICKON

Castle Black was fucking freezing. In all his life he’d never known such fucking cold. Father simply shrugged when he saw him shivering under his furs and said it was only an Autumn Chill. In that moment Rickon came the closest to thinking his father had a sense of humor, it was just extremely understated, and fuck that it was too cold to laugh as far as he was concerned. They were waiting for the King to arrive with his levies from the south, and the only thing to do at the Wall was train, freeze or sneak off to Moletown to fuck, and Rickon wasn’t going to return to a whorehouse again—not after what he and Bran had been greeted to upon visiting his child’s mother in Wintertown.

 

He’d decided to sneak Bran out of Winterfell, promising his young brother the chance to drink as much ale as their father wouldn’t allow under his roof—not that father didn’t deny them drink, he simply put a limit to the quantity allowed. It was to be one great romp before the brothers departed. Robb was busy with Alys—or at least that’s why Rickon said they couldn’t invite him. In truth, Rickon wanted to have Bran to be his cover if they were caught upon returning. Getting punished for sneaking out for a drink would be just the thing to distract his parents. In truth, father hadn’t allowed him to see his babe after promising he would, with father growing uncomfortably solemn whenever Rickon asked about it. The babe was his son, and he wanted to see him, and so he would.

 

He first had to get Bran settled and well on the way to getting drunk however—nothing too difficult as far as Rickon was concerned. His little brother was beginning his third while Rickon pretended to be still nursing his second when the opportunity to say he was going outside for a piss arrived in the form of a wench with black hair and blue eyes who looked quite new to the tavern was able to distract Bran’s attention.

 

As Rickon hurried out of Wintertown’s tavern he comforted himself in the thought that Bran would enjoy himself for the nonce. He came to Ashara Snow’s maternal grandmother’s hut easily enough from the description he’d begged of the Snow wolf. A surly old woman answered the door and spat at him demanding to know who he was and what he wanted.

 

“The girl left her babe and went elsewhere, leaving me with the task of raising her whelp. Have you come to take the blasted thing to Winterfell then?” queried the old woman, whose milky grey eyes glared at him as though they could still see.

 

“Where, elsewhere?” asked Rickon, his eyes meeting her blind ones in a futile attempt to stare her down.

 

“She’s been gone for a few days, where I care not. Wait a moment and you can have the irritable babe.”

 

The old woman disappeared for but a moment before appearing again carrying a wailing infant in her arms. He was rather thin.

 

“Has he eaten anything?” questioned Rickon upon taking his bastard son in his arms.

 

“I’ve given him a little of my goat’s milk, but he should be put back on a breast soon, lest he starve.

 

“And didn’t you think to tell Winterfell of what happened?” asked Rickon.

 

“I am no whoremonger young man. If the chit wished to leave it was none of my business. I was simply told to keep them until it was convenient to have the Starks recognize their whelp. The Starks and their guests fuck as many of our girls as they like and claim their bastards as it pleases them. It isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. Go back to your masters young man and tell them that,” spat the old woman, completely ignorant to Rickon’s identity, slamming the door in his face.

 

He swore after she’d slammed the door and sending his red of hair son into another round of screaming fits.

 

Rickon tried bouncing his son to see if it would calm the boy, but it didn’t, and they were beginning to collect snow on them.

 

Well, he’d wanted to see his son, and now he was going to be sure of his son being taken care of. He went back to the tavern and practically dragged a sodden Bran away from the table. So the mother had abandoned his son? Well he’d be all the parents his son would need. Rickon didn’t know how, but he knew he would. And fuck the maid—no fucking the maid had gotten him into this mess in the first place. Better yet to swear off the whores, if this was how they treated their offspring. He’d have this bastard son, and no other.

 

Bran went wide-eyed upon seeing his son, saying “He looks like Robb.”

 

Rickon tossed his son over his shoulder like he’d seen women sometimes do, this seemed to calm him enough for Rickon to say, “So what? He’s my son, not Robb’s.”

 

Bran was overly drunk, for this was the first time he’d even heard of there being a new Snow wolf, but he reacted as though it were all a joke that Rickon were pulling on him, like the many times Rickon had pulled some trick or other over on him.

 

“If he’s your son, then what’s his name?” challenged Bran as they approached the gate where Rickon had paid off the guard. They’d have to be quick about it if they were going to get into Winterfell. If he could get in without drawing the attention of most the guard, all he'd have to worry about was crossing the courtyard.

 

“I don’t know… Brynden mayhaps? After our great-uncle?” tested Rickon, and he pulled his son, who squealed slightly at the ride forward so that Rickon could look at him. Yes, there was something of Robb in the babe, if you didn’t look close, but there was much of Rickon too.

 

“No, I think Bryn would be better, still in honor of Uncle Brynden, but something of his own,” decreed Rickon before slinging Bryn back over his shoulder like a sack. The babe squealed again, followed by much babbling. Remembering it all now, Rickon couldn’t help but smile, his son would be a talker—that he was sure of.

 

The guard let them in without much fanfare, now all they had to do was get into Rickon’s bed chamber and then he’d confront father about it. However as soon as they’d begun to cross the courtyard, Bryn had begun to grow fussy once again.

 

And that’s when they’d been caught, by Winterfell’s newest wards.

 

“Is that a babe?” questioned a young voice that didn’t sound much older than a babe herself. Rickon and Bran turned around to find Rodyna Bolton and Bethany Dustin standing under an archway nearby. They were being fostered in Winterfell, Rickon had no doubt, in an effort to catch Bran and Edwyn for husbands by “growing up together” as far as Rickon could tell—oh officialy they were here to be companions for Sansa when Arya left, but Rickon was suspicious. They could cause trouble if they got to father before Rickon did. The two girls had looks which denoted their Ryswell blood more than their family names. The only difference was in small things, the shade of hair for Bethany, and the pale eyes of Rodyna. Those pale eyes which she inherited from her father and sent chills down Rickon’s spine.

 

“Aye, one of the maid’s whelps. I’m helping her by taking it to its room,” grunted Rickon. It wasn’t completely a lie, but it wasn’t his best one.

 

“That’s not what you told me—” blurted out Bran before Rickon elbowed him to be quiet.

 

Gods why did drink have to loosen the tongue?

 

He then turned around, hoping to make a dash of it in the increasingly twilight hour.

 

“Can I see the babe? I do so love babes,” pleaded Bethany.

 

“Where’s Sansa? I thought you and Roddy here were to spend time with her,” redirected Rickon with a shortened form.

 

“Ro-dee-na!” protested the little Bolton girl with a stamp of her foot—her pale eyes glaring up at Rickon as she did.

 

“We were playing with her and Edwyn, but they’ve been hiding for such a long time and we can’t find them that we’ve given up,” answered Bethany.

 

“Bran… you know where little Ned and Sansa’s best hiding places are, why don’t you take Bethany and Roddy to them.”

 

“But that would be cheating,” state Bran bluntly.

 

“You don’t have to show them exactly, just get ‘em close,” prodded Rickon who shoved his brother in the direction of the two girls, Bethany more than willing to accept Bran’s company and assistance while forgetting the babe. Rodyna Bolton however continued to stare at Rickon so that he felt a cold shiver trickle down his spine, before a smirk came across her face and she hurried after Bethany and Bran as they walked off in the direction of the Old Keep.

After putting little Bryn down in his chambers—the boy already asleep—Rickon stormed to his father’s solar to confront him, only to find little Rodyna Bolton was speaking with him. As far as Rickon was concerned it would only be over his dead body that the Bolton girl would ever marry one of his family.

 

He hadn’t spoken with father ever since he’d confronted him about Bryn. Instead an icy silence had settled between them, which Rickon was perfectly fine to maintain as long as he felt. Father went on about how Alys would feel about Bryn. Bryn had absolutely nothing to do with Alys. Alys was Robb’s wife, and Bryn was his son. If she thought Bryn was truly Robb’s bastard—that was her own problem, not his, and most especially not Bryn’s as far as Rickon was concerned.

 

They had journeyed North in that same silence, though occasional words of civility passed between them before bannermen and such, they avoided all talk of the personal. Bryn was for now safe and secure back at Winterfell, being looked after by Ashara Snow and her mother. Rickon had thought of bringing Bryn with him, but thought better of it when he’d been forced to change Bryn’s soiled swaddling clothes one evening. No, Bryn would be better off at Winterfell.

 

Black Fang had only growled once at Bryn, when he’d pulled at the wolf’s ear, but afterwards the wolf had begrudgingly agreed to share the bed with Bryn and allow him to crawl over him with a certainly annoyed look, but nothing that Rickon’s equally ferocious glares wouldn’t match. Black Fang would accept him as part of his pack, or Rickon would force him. Either way would accomplish what he needed.

 

Black Fang had enjoyed the trip North and being out of the manrock. He’d hunt the little prey all night, return with it and the fresh blood of the kill in his mouth, and sleep with his boy skin when he felt like it.

 

Rickon thought it odd that he knew these thoughts from Black Fang, and normally he would have asked Father about it, but Rickon wasn’t in the mood to ask Father about anything, and likely as far as Rickon was concerned they were just dreams that held little meaning.

 

They arrived at the Wall to find that the Lord Commander had gone North with a hundred men from Castle Black (with another hundred to join them from Shadow Tower) to scout for the missing rangers and discover why the Wildlings were leaving their villages. As such, Father established his bannermen in the castles neighboring Castle Black and were a relatively short ride from Castle Black. Lord Rickard Karstark had command of the men camped at Oakenshield while Lord Jorah Mormont had command of the men at Queensgate.

 

Instead of meeting with Lord Commander Mormont—Lord Jorah’s father who had taken the black years before—Father was invited to speak with the old and aging maester of the castle. Father insisted that Rickon sit in with him on the meeting, and Rickon with a heavy sigh, did so. The old Maester seemed to Rickon’s eyes to be about as old, if not older, than Old Nan. He was clearly blind as he rarely looked directly at anyone when he spoke, and when he did you saw how his eyes had dulled with a milky white glaze.

 

“The Night’s Watch has ever counted on the support and friendship of the Starks," wheezed the Old Man.

 

“It was written to me that the Wildlings are disappearing from their villages—rumors of Mance Rayder gathering them in the far North fly down to Winterfell as well.”

 

“That alone is not the only thing to worry the men of the Night’s Watch, my lord.”

 

His father snorted and smirked, “This nonsense of dead men living again with eyes of blue? Spare me the tales my nursemaid told me at her breast.”

 

“Would you dismiss the attempt made on the Lord Commander’s life?”

 

“Nay, but you needn’t pepper your tale with monsters meant to keep babes in their beds.”

 

“Bodies were found one morning at the base of the Wall that hadn’t been there the night before. They were men who’d been under Ser Mallador Locke’s command, gone in search of Ser Waymar Royce.”

 

“Bronze Yohn’s son has disappeared?” asked Father, his smirk falling from his face almost immediately. The mention of Bronze Yohn’s name sparked a memory in Rickon’s mind of a southron who’d come dressed in the finest black clothes along with a stern greybeard for a father who’d talking of the tourneys he’d competed in over the years.

 

“Aye, his first ranging and all that returned was his horse and a scared brother speaking tales we also had only heard from our nurse maids, Lord Stark. The men laughed at Gared’s ramblings of men made of ice, mayhaps that’s why he fled further south.”

 

Father nodded and after a short pause, the old maester continued in his wheezy voice, “So when we found the men from Ser Mallador’s companions we thought the Wildlings were getting bolder—but the brothers who brought their bodies inside noticed curiously odd things about their brothers. They’d known the men, some said that though they looked long dead—there was hardly the smell of death upon them—and odd as it might sound their eyes had both gone the oddest shade of blue they said. You can ask them yourself, they swore that their brothers’ eyes had been other colors, but here they were dead and with eyes as blue as the sea about Tarth. I was busy at the time tending to some brothers who’d caught that blasted black pox so the bodies were put in the ice cells for me to examine at my leisure. The next day I awake to discover that the brothers we thought to be dead had risen in the night and broken into the Lord Commander’s chambers. One of the new recruits from the Reach… Satin I believe his name is, as green as your own lad here, had been late for his shift atop the Wall and stopped them.”

 

Rickon resented being compared green southron from the Reach, especially one which had a name such as Satin, but he held his tongue because there was something about the man that even made his japes and jibes seem not all that offensive somehow.

 

“How?” asked his father with a chilliness to his voice that seemed appropriate for the freezing air about them.

 

“You can speak with him for yourself—he likely can explain his actions better than I. Though, I’d advise you do it quickly as Ser Alliser might not leave much of the young man for you to question,” said the old maester with a wry smile of his own.

 

Father frowned at that as well and then rose, but as he did the maester added, “I have a boon that I would ask of you, Lord Stark.”

 

“Go on,” grunted Father gruffly.

 

“Perchance you have any knowledge of my great niece and her granddaughter?”

 

Yep he was definitely as old as Old Nan if he had a great niece who had a granddaughter.

 

After a moment of uneasy silence, Father added, “It would help, Maester, if I knew your family name.”

 

“Targaryen, Lord Stark.”

 

“Targaryen?” questioned Father.

 

“Aye, Aemon Targaryen.”

 

For some reason that name sounded familiar to Rickon as he recalled Maester Luwin rattling off facts about some Great Council or other.

 

Father was silent for a long moment, his unreadable lord’s face firmly put on before he asked, “What do you know already?”

 

Maester Aemon answered, “That they live and nothing more. It’s likely they think me dead—and why I haven’t heard any word from them. I used to write letters when I could see, now I need the stewards to write my messages for me.”

 

Father said rather simply, “The Queen Dowager has remarried Ser Bonifer Hasty and had three more children with him. They live quietly at Blackwater Keep.”

 

“It would seem that Aerys was the real problem all along then. Do you know their names?” pressed Maester Aemon.

 

“Aelinor, Naerys, and Baelor,” said Rickon, recalling Durran speaking of them a few times… as well as the one time he’d met Aelinor when he’d visited Aunt Lyanna at court and stolen a kiss from the dark haired girl who was a companion of the Princess Rhaenys. Father looked at him briefly for a moment, but said nothing.

 

Maester Aemon smirked and said, “And so the young pup speaks! I was beginning to wonder if he was as silent as the wind. And… Rhaegar’s daughter?”

 

Father added, “The Princess Rhaenys is set to be married to Prince Durran soon,” pausing and then saying, “if you wish to know more of the Prince’s character you may ask my son here as he is quite close with the young Prince.”

 

“Later to be sure, I must check on my sick brothers anon,” said the Maester.

 

They began to leave when Maester Aemon called out behind them “Thank you, Lord Stark, and young master Rickon.”

 

His curiosity getting the better of him, Rickon broke his silence with his father and asked, “Father, I remember Maester Aemon somewhat from something Septon Luwin told me about a Great Council.”

 

His father snorted, “I’m happy to hear that some of Maester Luwin’s lessons are remembered by you, even if only vaguely.”

 

“Why is that?” asked Rickon.

 

“That’s because Maester Aemon, Rickon, could have been our King. The Great Council wanted him to put aside his Maester’s chain and take up the throne for himself when his father died, but he decided it would be better for his little brother and his family to take the crown… and what a different world it would have been if he had.”

 

“He’d still be king today,” pointed out Rickon.

 

“Mayhaps… if he’d survived the capital that long,” conceded Father, and that was the closest thing to a normal conversation they had had for a long while. Rickon was surprised with himself to find that he had missed this. Father had always taken greater interest in Robb as the heir, and Jon as the son of the woman he had loved, often leaving Rickon to look after his younger siblings and have Bran as a tag-along in his schemes before he went south to Oldstones. Father had sometimes given him attention, but he’d never had him solely to himself like in this moment. It made Rickon consider ending the silence between them more permanently as they journeyed down flights of steps on the raised walkway to the courtyard below.

 

“Father—” began Rickon, but at that moment the recruits practicing under the watchful and critical eye of Ser Alliser Thorne came into view, and Rickon’s attentions were drawn to how Ser Alliser had cornered a group of them and was chewing them out for some problem or other.

 

“When I say you give the perfumed bastard a real challenge, you do so!” roared the man to a homely looking boy as big as an aurochs.

 

“Ser Alliser!” called out father, and the man turned and his temperament cooled a bit as he saw it was father who had hailed him, though it seemed to drop down to icy stares shared between the two men.

 

“Aye, Lord Stark?” Ser Alliser said nearly spitting out the name.

 

“I have need to speak to one of your recruits that goes by the name of Satin?”

 

The man scowled and with a shrug of his shoulders said, “The perfumed bastard? Take him and question him all you like, mayhaps I might get the rest of these green boys to do something other than pretend they’re poking a pig.”

 

It was then that a boy with curly black hair in ringlets and dark eyes, one of which was surrounded by an even darker black eye, came forward nervously, looking at Ser Alliser as though he truly had permission to leave before being all too ready to do so a moment later when Ser Alliser gave him no confirmation in return.

 

Were it not for the bruises, a few cuts, and black eye, Rickon thought that Satin Flowers—as he introduced himself—would’ve been a rather pretty boy. Not handsome, definitely pretty, Rickon thought.

 

Father had them sit down at the far end of the courtyard amongst a few barrels and distanced from others by being on the other side of the archery range and dummies.

 

“I’ve been told, Satin, that you saved the Lord Commander’s life from dead men,” began father neutrally.

 

Satin grew pale at this and nodded his head before his sweet voice nervously answered, “Aye, milord.”

 

“Are you sure that the men were truly dead? Mayhaps they were only nearly so, and in their recovery were confused—“

 

“No, milord—beg my pardon, but their bodies were as cold as… well, the Wall, and their limbs as stiff as any dead man—which caused them to lumber hand have a bit of trouble moving…and gods help me their hands were black and filled with blood.”

 

“You’ve been around dead bodies before then, have you?” asked Father disbelievingly.

 

Satin gave a small laugh, before saying, “More things happen in a brothel in Oldtown than just the pleasure of the lords and ladies with coin, milord.”

 

“You were at a brothel before—ahh… aye, I see,” said Father with a sudden understanding that Rickon was without.

 

Satin continued his story, “The one nearly choked me to death… but I was near enough to a lantern I’d brought with me to grab it. I… I smashed it on the head of the one that was choking me. He caught fire as easily as dry kindling in a draught and was nothing but ashes faster than any man would take to burn. Seeing that I grabbed a torch and scared the other one that had been trying to bang down the door into the Lord Commander’s bed chamber with it until others came up. The second one did not burn as easily as the first had cause of the furs he still had on. The Lord Commander chopped off a hand from him before the fire took him completely.”

 

Father was silent for quite a long while, leaving Rickon to say “That’s quite a tale.”

 

“It’s no tale, it’s the truth,” corrected the boy, his eyes meeting Rickon’s with a fierceness that Rickon hadn’t expected to see.

 

“There’s always some truth in tales,” offered Rickon, not wanting to upset Satin falsely.

 

Satin softened slightly and said, “That’s what the Lord Commander said…”

 

Father said rather uncomfortably, “Thank you, Satin… you can return to your training.”

 

Satin got up, frowning slightly before returning to Ser Alliser’s command.

 

Rickon was then told by Father to join the recruits in practicing saying, “You need to keep up your practice… and see what more about this Satin boy if you can,” before he left Rickon to the yard. On one hand Rickon had wanted to buck the way Father had simply commanded him to practice, and yet on the other hand with Black Fang hunting small prey outside the manrock—Castle Black’s walls, Rickon decided it wasn’t half a bad idea, and besides he was half curious about Satin himself. He returned to his chamber that he shared with Father, dressed for fighting and asked Ser Alliser to join his group, which still included the mysterious Satin Flowers, who’d defended the Lord Commander rather easily for one who wasn’t quite so skilled with a sword from what Rickon could see as he approached.

 

Ser Alliser acerbically said, “Do what you like, little lordling, just so long as you don’t interfere with those who actually need the training.”

 

Rickon was paired at first with the boy who was as large as an aurochs, who thought he could get by with standing still as he swung his sword rather haphazardly like a battleax. Rickon had him on his back rather quickly and saw a grimace he recalled seeing on some of the young ones at Oldstones. Doing so he recalled how the young ones had liked Conhur Hill when he gave advice on how to fight. That might be a way to get to know more about Satin, he thought. And so, awkwardly Rickon gave each recruit some little tidbit he’d heard given to him at some point when he recognized one of his own previous errors from youth at work in the recruits.

 

“Try moving with your feet more, don’t just stand still,” suggested Rickon as he helped the aurochs up, almost to be pulled down by the strength of the recruit’s grasp. The aurochs grunted and tried a few steps awkwardly, which proved to his benefit that he began taking a few more, but overextended the range of fighting.

 

“Keep within sword’s distance Aurochs!” called out Ser Alliser before returning to another pair that was fighting.

 

On Rickon went through partners, giving awkward hints of what he’d learned from his Uncle and Ser Arthur as he did, which the recruits begrudgingly at first took to heart before figuring out he was actually trying to help them. And then came Satin Flowers. The boy was a hopeless mess with a sword—waving around the dulled edge weapon wildly and with a surprising ferocity which Rickon took note of.

 

Ser Alliser, who had had nothing but complaints of Satin’s sword work at one point goaded, “Come on you perfumed bastard! Hit the little lordling!”

 

There were a few times though that Rickon was caught off guard with Satin, much to his surprise. The Reachboy was rather skilled in feigning attacks with his sword, only to try and kick Rickon with his foot or push at him with his practice shield. For all of the skill the boy lacked with a sword, he clearly had a rather cunning mind. When Rickon had caught Satin on the ground, kneeling to retrieve his knocked away sword with his own at the boy’s soft throat, Ser Alliser scowled and dismissed his recruits sourly.

 

“Try imagining your blade going through your target… don’t just wave at it like you’re swinging a club,” said Rickon as he helped Satin up.

 

“Thank you, milord,” grumbled Satin.

 

“My father’s the lord, not me,” corrected Rickon automatically, before adding “And my brother after him.”

 

“Is that why you’re here then? To see if you might want to join the Night’s Watch one day?” asked Satin distantly as they retreated to the armory to free themselves of the practice armor.

 

“I came to help my father,” explained Rickon.

 

“And is getting to know me part of helping your father?” asked Satin directly as he shirked his practice armor over his head. Rickon was stunned for a moment and said nothing.

 

Satin scoffed, “Save your blank stares for someone else, milord. I grew up in a brothel… intrigue and deception were my mother’s milk.”

 

Now what?

 

Rickon finally decided the truth, or at least a half-truth was the best policy, “Well, truth be told, I was rather curious of you. I mean you claim to have killed two men and yet you swing your sword like a pole.” He had tried to make the last part sound as easy as a jape, but from the frown that formed on Satin’s face, it seemed he had failed.

 

“As I told you before, I told the truth,” grumbled Satin as he stole out of his pocket a small bottle of what looked to be perfume which he then sprinkled onto his hair.

 

“Why do you do that?” questioned Rickon.

 

Satin clipped, “I told you, I grew up in a brothel. Patrons don’t like the smell of stinking flesh like a practice yard makes.”

 

Rickon snorted, thinking the Reachboy odd, but thought nothing more of it, before realizing he had to do something fast or approaching the Reachboy again would prove rather harder.

 

“Tell you what, Satin. Since my father won’t let up on me if I don’t look like I’m finding out more about you, and you need the sword practice from someone who doesn’t spit poison every time he talks—” began Rickon, to which he was interrupted by a rather odd giggle from the Reachboy before he tried to train his face back to a firm mask worthy of Father’s lord’s mask. Rickon continued when Satin had controlled himself, suggesting, “Mayhaps we help each other out. You don’t need to tell me anything more about yourself than you want, and I help you learn how to actually use a sword."

 

Satin looked at Rickon then, suspicion etched in his face at first before it passed. The Reachboy nodded and accepted before closing his perfume bottle and tucking it away into his clothes rather seamlessly and departing.

 

And that was how Rickon passed his days as Father sat waiting for either word from Lord Commander from North of the Wall or from Eastwatch of the King’s arrival by ship. When news did come, it came from the North first, with a hastily and poorly writ answer scribbled onto a sheet of parchment.

 

The Fist has fallen. Mance Rayder on the move. Lord Commander’s dead… Others walk again.

Chapter Text

CONHUR

 

The tent flaps fluttered with the wind, allowing the chilly autumn air inside. Lord Tyrion unconsciously clutched his red wool cloak tighter before sighing, “And what happened after he called you ‘Iron droppings?’”

 

Lady Clifton, who sat next to her dwarf of a brother faced Conhur and glared directly at him as he answered honestly, “I… I punched him, my lord.” In truth he hadn’t meant to punch the loudmouth squire of Lord Clifton’s that was attending Lady Clifton and her eldest two children to King’s Landing. He’d wanted to knock him down, sure with a push or a shove, but the punch to the jaw had risen up within him from some unknown dark place that made him think he heard the sea crashing against the land—even this far inland. Odd. In any case, the squire himself was some bastard son of the late Lord Farman’s son, who the Cliftons had replaced as the Lords of Fair Isle due to the Farmans’ extinction in the latest Ironborn rebellion.

 

“There, brother, the bastard admits it!” proclaimed Lady Clifton smugly.

 

“Aye, and he’s proved to me that your Squire Willem has much yet to learn from you sweet sister on the finer points of chivalry.”

 

“All bastards lie, and all liars should be flogged,” scoffed Lady Clifton while she gave Conhur what he could only describe as the “evil” eye.

 

There was an odd sensation upon hearing this—like something was scratching him at the back of his head, and yet he could feel nothing there.

 

“If that is so, mayhaps we should flog both our bastard squires and put an end to this fruitless affair?”

 

“Do what you will, my lord,” answered Lady Clifton coquettishly.

 

Squire Willem at this protested, “But, my lady. I was only defending myself from his attacks!”

 

"And yet you didn't respond to my squire's base response with more civility. Had you shown yourself worthy of knightly honor Willem, this entire mess could have been solved reasonably, but instead you make matters worse by running to your lady like a scared pup that’s been slapped too hard on his wet nose."

"I warn you Tyrion," grumbled Lady Clifton.

"Spare me your growls, sweet sister,” sighed Lord Tyrion with a roll of his eyes.

 

“Mayhaps we should have them whipped each to first blood--see which's blood is the more Lannister crimson and thus the most loyal?” suggested Lady Clifton. Conhur and Willem both equally stunned by the suggestion—Willem it seemed most of all, who looked as though he were betrayed.

 

The scratch once again bothered him at the back of his mind.

 

Conhur had no idea where this feeling was coming from, and yet they felt important for some strange unexplainable reason.

 

“Would that satisfy you?" quipped Lord Tyrion with a smirk that made Conhur’s blood run cold.

"As long as they're both equally whipped... it would settle the matter," stated Lady Cersei coldly.

Lord Tyrion did not look Conhur in the eye as he announced, "Then it shall be done! Ser Aurys, see that Conhur and Willem receive a thorough whipping with whatever green branches you may find. Go to first blood and for the sake of my sister, compare the color. Make sure they receive equal punishment. Let it not be said that a Lannister tolerates their squires brawling like one of the smallfolk!”

 

Both Willem and Conhur were unceremoniously shoved along to two close trees where they were told to take off their doublets and shirts and to grab the rough bark firmly with both hands by Ser Aurys. A green sapling branch was cut off with a knife as they stripped the top half of their bodies. There was the whistle of a whip that hit neither of them to start, and was likely Ser Aurys testing out the whip before beginning.

As the switch ate into him, Conhur thought of his Uncle Sandor's keep and his half-sister Lymera, to keep his mind off the pain. Lord Tyrion had stopped there along the way and little Lady Joanna had so enjoyed the company of Lymera that Lord Tyrion had told him in private that he meant to request Lord Vikary for Lymera's presence at Casterly Rock for a companion for his daughter. Conhur smiled at the memory as he clutched the tree. He even thought on Murchadh, who'd greeted him as though he were his own son returned to him.

"Did you see the sea, boy?" he'd asked.

"Aye," answered Conhur easily enough.

"And?!" demanded Murchadh

Conhur, whose eager eyes with Lymera had prompted thought of little else than speaking with her caused him to break off from the trapper and dismissively say, "And what? Its waves crash against Casterly Rock as e'er they have."

A great look of disappointment crossed Murchadh's face then.


"Gods be damned... the years... the years I've spent..." he muttered as he departed Conhur rather oddly.

That was the last Conhur saw of the trapper, for he left on a hunt that very eve, leaving only Loron behind him, the boy confused as to where his father had disappeared to without a word. Thank the gods that Aunt Helena was there to soothe the worried boy with hair as black as Conhur’s. Oh how that boy of nine namedays had cried.

 

And then the whipping was done—a chilly breeze blowing across his back—sending chills up it. It took Conhur a moment to realize that the crying he had thought to be Loron’s morning the unexpected disappearance of his father was actually Willem’s sobbing from what he could see. Tired and in a tremendous amount of pain, Conhur slowly took in his environment. Conhur’s grasp of the tree loosened and he felt his skin clinging to the bark as he slowly slid down the trunk until he landed close to face down in the mud. Beside him, Conhur saw Willem collapse much the same.

 

What felt like an hour later, but was likely only a few moments, Conhur was greeted to the sight of Lord Tyrion’s boot.

 

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”

 

That voice came again, louder and strengthened from before: And what lesson was that? That pain hurts? Mayhaps you should learn such a lesson.

 

Conhur however stammered out, “Aye… my… lord.”

 

Dismissively of the pain, Lord Tyrion said, “Good. You’ll attend me in my tent then, as I have urgent need of you, squire that simply cannot wait for anything.”

 

Conhur groaned to acknowledge that he’d heard his lord.

 

Before Lord Tyrion departed however, he turned to Ser Aurys and asked, “And what was the result? My sister is sure to ask.”

 

“Him,” grunted Ser Aurys as he pointed a thick finger at Conhur.

 

“Do you hear that, Conhur? Now if anyone troubles you about having a little drop of iron in your blood, all you need to say is that your blood is as scarlet as any Lannister’s.”

 

With a small little laugh, Tyrion departed.

 

Conhur rested for a moment before attempting to pull himself up using the tree as a crutch. When he had managed to rise then stumbled towards Lord Tyrion’s tent, holding his breath as the pain from the switch still ached with each movement. When he entered the tent, the pain became too much, and Conhur allowed himself to fall. He nearly would have fallen into the muddied ground were it not for a pair of arms which caught him.

 

Lord Tyrion spoke with an odd affection to his voice, “Bring him over here and have him lay down. The maester will be here soon and it won’t do him any good to have Conhur still bloodied.”

 

A guard, who had caught him, half dragged him to Lord Tyrion’s own cot and flopped him onto his belly, causing the stretching and crinkling of the skin on his back to sear with pain for an instant that faded as Lord Tyrion swore at the guard before dismissing him outside.

 

“My apologies, Conhur. My sister can get the oddest notions in her head, but she wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less.”

 

“Why does what she care matter?”

 

“This is another lesson, sometimes if you are to fool enough people, you need to make them think that they can have their way a tiny bit,” he said dismissively.

 

Lies, hissed the faint whisper.

“I sent Jod off to the nearest keep to get you a maester as soon as you left my presence.

“Now as to how you should conduct yourself for the wedding. I’ll expect you to conduct yourself henceforth with the utmost respect and dignity. What you do will reflect on me and House Lannister. Try and not get into anymore brawls, will you?”

 

Again that voice returned to his mind to say: I’ll do what I like…

 

Go away! Conhur hissed back.

 

Conhur shook his head slightly and said, “No, my lord, I won’t.”

 

For the rest of the trip down the Gold Road Conhur was put in charge of keeping an eye on Gerion, Tybalt and Joanna. On a few occasions they were permitted to play with their Clifton cousins and then Conhur would have to endure the company of Willem again. It was for this reason that Conhur took towards dissuading his charges when he could of playing with their cousins. Tommen seemed a good enough boy, clearly beginning to grow out of a fatter stage of life as his body began preparing for the tremendous growth to come. He had his father’s coloring, but his mother’s beautiful looks in a pudgy proportion.

 

Myrcella, the eldest of the Cliftons was her mother in miniature and in beauty she far outshone little Joanna who in comparison looked less a lion and more a lion colored owl when side by side with her cousin. Myrcella, who was ten namedays old found her seven namedays cousin Joanna’s constant questions and inexhaustible energy to be irritating when taken in more than small doses. She instead took more of an interest in starring at certain squires who were fair of face, like Willem, than playing with her cousins. Occasionally Myrcella would give him the odd eye as well and ask such questions that Conhur knew well enough than to respond to or repeat elsewhere. But gods if he had to hear how his gloves were rather large again with false amazement, Conhur was seriously considering ripping off one of his own ears. Worse came when she asked questions of her own as “a test of chivalry” inquiring things such as “a maiden and child are trapped beneath an avalanche—who would you rescue first?” Questions designed to have no correct answer as far as Conhur could see, for if one rescued the child, than he would be condemning the potential babes to come from the maiden to never being born, and were the child to be rescued, only a monster would ignore the screams of a child, and both were likely impossible.

 

The one time he did answer her question honestly saying “Whichever was in the most danger or injured, and the other after.”

 

Myrcella became very quiet and then said rather oddly, “I never thought of it that way.” The answer however brought more questions, not fewer.

 

The one cousin that did not interact often with Lord Tyrion’s children was the youngest boy, Joffrey, who did not leave his mother’s side for anything, mother and son clinging to one another rather possessively.

 

They arrived at the Lion’s Gate of King’s Landing just in time to save his wits. The Lion’s Gate was a strongly fortified gate with stone lions on either side of the drawbridge. The statues were so life-like that little Joanna clung close to her mother, while Gerion and Tybalt each puffed themselves up, called their sister a babe and roared and mocked the lions. Conhur had no doubt the twins shared their sister’s fear, simply choosing to hide it behind boasts and japes than clinging to Lady Felesa’s skirt. This behavior was soon scolded by their mother and the boys quieted down as they entered the city, passing the goldcloak guards who were arguing with a few of the smallfolk on entering the city. Conhur noticed more than a few tagged themselves on into the back of Lord Tyrion’s train to enter the city without being noticed by the goldcloak. Conhur made mention of it to Lord Tyrion who dismissed it as likely a meaningless action.

 

The procession through the smelly streets and squares around Visenya’s Hill and up Aegon’s into the Red Keep gave Conhur at once a sense of grandeur and grime married together most peculiarly. Unlike Lannisport which was for the large part built in a newer style of high-reaching, light and airy architecture in much of the city, one gained a sense of the old in King’s Landing with its heavy and thick columns and walls that seemed more appropriate for the older portions of Lannisport that had been left untouched in the last rebellion.

 

Once inside the castle, Lord Tyrion and his family were called to meet with the Queen, Prince Durran and Princess Rhaenys immediately. Conhur was tasked with insuring their belongings found their way to the correct chambers assigned to them. Thus Conhur found himself meeting with a fussy old woman by the name of Naerysa who was blind in one eye and had brittle but brilliant white hair done up in a loose bun. She was in charge of all the Red Keep’s maids and manservants and began rattling off instructions even before entering the courtyard that Conhur was seeing the trunks and bundles unloaded from the cumbersome carts that had been a plague with all the mud in the mountain pass near Silverhill.

 

Old Naerysa didn’t break her instruction giving upon being introduced to Conhur, simply believing him to be listening as she continued to prattle on complaining of how the castle was bursting at the seams as it was with all the other Lord Paramounts and their representatives in residence.

 

“The men at arms and squires are to sleep in the barracks—if they can find room enough—and any private maids or manservants are to share with Willas Tyrell’s retinue,” was but only a small part of the orders Old Naerysa rattled off.

 

He was taken up a series of backstairs and passageways with trunks following in tow to where the Lord and Lady would share chambers, to which Lady Felesa’s favorite maid pursed her lips but said nothing, complaining in a whisper that it was a slight upon their master and mistress that they should share accommodations. When Conhur returned to fetch the children’s things, he found Lady Clifton and her party waiting upon their own luggage rather testily.

 

“Willem, fetch the Ironpup here,” snapped Lady Clifton despite the fact that Conhur was close enough to hear her on her own. Willem approached and without greeting said “My Lady wishes to speak with you.”

 

Conhur donned as neutral an expression as he approached Lady Clifton and bowed, the scabbed over wounds on his back hurting as he stretched.

 

“Has the woman said where our chambers are?” demanded Lady Clifton huffily.

 

“She has not, my lady…” he answered.

 

“Then you had best see that she does!” snapped Lady Clifton.

 

“I will speak with her and tell her that Willem requires the information my lady.”

 

“You might be my brother’s squire, but that doesn’t give you the right to contradict your betters, Ironpup.”

 

His right arm shook with the desire to lash out… do something, but the twinge from his back proved too great a deterrent, and so he smiled, bowed once more and departed, hoping by the gods he’d fail to find Old Naerysa. She however was easily found however yelling at some handmaiden who’d dropped Lady Felesa’s chest of jewels, scattering a good number of them on the floor of the corridor. Lord Tyrion’s book collection had simultaneously been upended as well for the manservant carrying the trunk with the selections of books from Casterly Rock had tripped over the maid as she’d attempted to gather the jewels. Instinctively, Conhur bent over to assist with the collection of jewels and books—both precious to his Lord and Lady in equal measure. Other servants were called for, some with the Clifton badge sewn on their livery.

 

Old Naerysa was barking at anyone whether they were in her employ or not, to assist with cleaning up the mess. By the time it was cleared, Conhur had just enough time to tell Old Naerysa that Lady Clifton wished to speak with her about her chambers that he got an earful.

 

“Lady Clifton?! And by the blessed mother, what makes her think I have any chamber for her!”

 

“She is one of Lord Lannister’s party.”

 

“His mistress, then?” asked Old Naerys.

 

On Lord Tyrion’s behalf, Conhur bristled and said, “His sister.”

 

Old Naerysa scowled and blustered half under her breath obscenities as she motioned for him to follow her up an ever increasing amount of steps to the airy top of a tower. The room was furnished, but dusty and overly warm from the afternoon sun. The old threshes were dry and brittle.

 

“I can have it ready for her bloody ladyship by this evening to move in.”

 

She then looked at him expectantly and Conhur acknowledged he’d heard her and she departed rather huffily, screeching down the stairs the entire way to her workers to hurry and clean the tower room better than their arses.

 

Seeing the maids scurry and flutter in response was almost worth seeing Lady Clifton boil and rage over the slight, especially when the performance was interrupted by Lord Tyrion who was accompanied by the Prince and his younger brother, Edrick. Edrick was quickly shuffled off with Joanna, much to his displeasure.

All of a sudden that urge to punch something grew tenfold. He hoped that the Prince would pass him over, but recognition in the Prince’s eyes surely meant some acknowledgement would occur, but what did follow was nothing like what Conhur imagined.

 

“Why if it isn’t Hill,” began the Prince.

 

Conhur nodded in response.

 

“He is my squire, my Prince, and a sword master for my young sons.”

 

A smile stretched across Prince Durran’s face as he said, “You couldn’t find a better man for such a position. At Oldstones he managed to beat me at swords and was well relied by Ser Brynden and Ser Arthur to instruct the young ones. You should consider yourself lucky to have such a skilled young man in your service.”

 

Conhur was in complete disbelief from what he heard from the Prince’s own lips.

 

This must be some kind of cruel jape, like the fish.

 

In fact the next words from the Prince confirmed it, “Lord Tyrion, I am lacking a member of my personal honor guard for the wedding—while the Kingsguard will be present of course, I intend to honor the Seven with a special guard of knights or squires from each of the seven kingdoms of my choosing. They shall satisfy those who hold to the Seven by representing each of the Seven faces of God, and I have need of a Westerner.”

 

It would be a farce, a set up to embarrass him—of that Conhur was sure. In the distance Conhur caught a glance of Prince Edrick and Joanna’s time alone being disturbed by cousin Myrcella, no doubt at her mother’s prompting.

 

Lord Tyrion answered, “The honor you give my squire is quite great, my Prince, but I wish you had mentioned something of it sooner, so that I could have asked a knight—”

 

“That is precisely why I did not speak of it in my letters, my lord, as I wished to make the choice myself, and to be rather honest, I had Hill here in mind when I thought of the position. He has more than proven his merit to me, Lord Lannister, and I will have him!” declared Prince Durran with a slight laugh that made Conhur wonder at how the Prince would have his revenge upon him for beating him in the stream.

 

Gods help me.

 

Then do not scorn me. Answered that quiet whisper, causing Conhur to freeze upon hearing it.

 

Later that evening, Lord Tyrion and Lady Felesa required his assistance in accounting and organizing the mess of their books and jewels respectively. In this task, Conhur had the assistance of Lady Felesa’s favorite handmaiden, a pretty girl by the name of Gwyl, who blushed upon the slightest attention. Conhur thought her rather pretty when her cheeks flushed with red and so aimed to make her laugh by commenting on all the jewels she was to count by calling them “bloody big colored rocks.” The delight of her company almost made him forget the whisper in his head that he’d heard respond to him that afternoon.

 

Lord Tyrion however soon broke apart their conversation by requesting Conhur to speak with him quietly, “What was your relationship with the Prince like at Oldstones?”

 

“A complicated one,” answered Conhur after a long moment.

 

“Was he the one that Ser Brynden spoke of in his ravens?” asked Lord Tyrion gravely.

 

Conhur nodded and Tyrion grimaced slightly.

 

“He seems quite forgiving of past transgressions, though keenly attached to you, Conhur.”

 

“I fear that…” began Conhur, though the words could hardly come out now.

 

“Fear what?”

 

“Before I left Oldstones the Prince managed to ruin my possessions by filling my trunk and hammock with rotting fish. We quarreled not long thereafter and I fear he may wish to settle the matter.”

 

“Damn. And the Queen was just about to come around to the idea of betrothing Joanna and Edrick!” lamented Lord Tyrion disgruntledly, who sighed before saying, “If that is his goal, gods help the realm for the kind of King he’d be.”

 

A moment of silence passed before Lord Tyrion picked up another book which caught his eye and he said, “For the nonce, you will act as if nothing out of the ordinary is expected. Mayhaps the past is dead and buried. And even if it hasn't been, then for the betrothal's sake, I wouldn't want anything to upset the Prince. Is that understood?”

 

Conhur agreed solemnly, though he felt that scratching once again.

 

“And when this entire mess is over, when we return to Lannisport, remind me to dismiss my librarian, for he’s packed Coleman’s History and Care of Dragons that I specifically didn’t want to bring with me,” grumbled Lord Tyrion who then slammed the book forcefully on the table before Conhur made his excuses.

 

Conhur was dragged around by the Prince at many hours of the day for various excuses—to try himself against the rest of the Prince’s honor guard, most of which were knights—though they were near as young as Conhur himself. Were he not suspicious of being one of only two squires in attendance—the other being a Hugh of the Vale—Conhur thought that the entire set up might have been designed by the Prince to surround himself with younger men than his aging Kingsguard were. Conhur proved himself against two of the knights and Hugh—but was defeated by the other three, much to the delight of the Prince.

 

The Prince heaped upon him praise, all the while Conhur waited for the hammer to drop each and every day.

 

“Well done, Hill, well done! Were I a knight myself, I’d knight you here and now for your prowess alone,” was followed by an hour’s worth of worries. Had he just made whatever the Prince was planning worse?

 

Other times the Prince invited Conhur to be fitted for his ceremonial cloak that he was to have attached as a sign of being a favorite of the Prince, or to fend off the ladies-in-waiting for Princess Rhaenys while Durran spoke with his betrothed. Conhur could not believe that a cloak would need to be fit and yet measurements of his shoulders and an odd measurement from the nape of his neck to the floor were taken.

 

Conhur was kept quite busy by the Prince—which was encouraged by Lord Tyrion—in addition to his duties to Lord Tyrion that it was late one evening when Conhur returned to the barracks to find Tybalt and Gerion having snuck into a stall secretly and were looking over amazed at the drawings of dragons in a book they had snuck away with to read. They gazed amazedly at the different sketches commenting occasionally as Gerion turned the page—occasionally whetting his fingers to get a better grip on the pages. Conhur listened to them quietly for a moment, amused by their wonder.

“His wings are massive!” said Gerion

 

Tybalt rather confidently declared, “I bet he could have picked the Rock up out of the sea and set it down on the highest peak in the Westerlands without being winded!”

“He’s not that big, but with teeth like that he could’ve swallowed an entire aurochs whole!” exclaimed Gerion as he traced his one finger over the drawing in particular.

 

“If I had him, I’d fly him across the Sunset Sea to explore the new world!” declared Tybalt

 

“You could do that without a dragon,” dismissed Gerion.

 

“Aye, but it wouldn’t be as fast,” countered Tybalt.

 

“Wouldn’t you miss the Rock?” asked Gerion quietly.

 

“Sure, but I’d have him carry the Rock wherever we went! Then you could be Lord of the Rock and explore with me!” declared Tybalt confidently.

 

Gerion smiled at his twin and turned the page. It was here that Tybalt on a wild chance broke his glance from the book and saw Conhur standing at the door to the stall, leaning against the doorway. Tybalt lightly hit his twin in the shoulder to get him to look up.

 

Gerion was the first to speak, saying, “Oh… hullo, Conhur.”

 

“What are you two doing out of your chambers at this hour?” questioned Conhur.

 

“We just wanted to look at the book!” defended Tybalt immediately stepping between his twin and Conhur and crossing his arms rather defiantly.

 

Gerion explained, “Father never lets us look at his dragon books at home, and it was just lying out on his table, begging to be read.”

 

“Regardless, you should both be in your chambers—you never know who might be walking about the castle at these hours.”

 

“But it’s not like there’s a man with a knife ready to pop out from behind every wall,” dismissed Gerion.

 

“I hear there’s plenty of secret passageways that nobody knows completely—so you never know,” teased Conhur, to which Gerion scoffed and rolled his eyes.

 

“Anyone who wanted to mess with Gerion would have to deal with me first!” proclaimed Tybalt a little too loudly—most likely on purpose, no doubt.

 

“And me before you, now come on,” urged Conhur, and the two little lordlings groaned but got up, brush the straw off their clothes and followed Conhur out of the stalls and back to their chamber. Conhur then took the dragon book, which he recognized as the offensive book Lord Tyrion’s librarian had packed away by mistake. Come morning he would return it to Lord Tyrion’s collection and ensure that this time it was locked away.

One afternoon, as Conhur followed Prince Durran along with the other members of the "honor guard" with the intention that they spend as much time together to "know" one another, the Prince asked "Would you like to be knighted by one of the Kingsguard, Hill?"

That was too much.

"My pardons, my prince, but what is your concern for myself about?" challenged Conhur.

Prince Durran who had been leisurely leading them down the corridor looked at Conhur oddly before motioning for Conhur to come closer so that they might speak better over the echoes of their boots upon the dirt and stone beneath them. Conhur waited for the rest of the honor guard to get a few steps ahead before initiating a conversation.

"Is something the matter?" asked Prince Durran seemingly genuine--but that might be just what he wanted Conhur to think.

"Could you drop the pretense, my Prince?"

Prince Durran continued to look at Conhur oddly.

"Why should a prince ever pretend to be something he's not?!"

"The last I recall seeing you, my Prince, we exchanged a few blows over a trunk filled with rotting fish."

Realization dawned on the Prince's face suddenly as he blushed.

It's all a part of some ruse.

Rather quietly and with an air of embarrassment, the Prince admitted, "You'll forgive me, Hill, I didn't realize quite how far the young ones would take the jape… and I was in the wrong besides."

He seems contrite enough.

The Prince continued, finally meeting Conhur’s eyes and saying, "In any case, you got me thinking, and looking back on it, I was a bit of an arse, I realize. I’d just like to make good where I can is all.”

 

The Prince gave a smile then, which Conhur felt obliged to return—although he did so rather weakly. This seemed to allay the Prince’s concerns enough that they continued on in silence.

 

Where had this changed Prince coming from? Conhur could barely believe his ears and was just about to declare as much when one of the honor guard asked if they’d bloody well walked enough, after having walked the ring of the castle that enclosed Maegor’s holdfast at least a few times.

In any case something had changed about the Prince since he’d left Oldstones—and Conhur couldn’t quite tell whether any of it was genuine or not, though he dropped his questioning of it for the nonce. He’d watch and observe to see for himself, and only then would he know the absolute truth.

 

However the Prince’s behavior remained consistent moving forward, and on the day when the Lannisters were summoned to court to make an official announcement to the betrothal of Joanna and Edrick, Conhur was found after the announcement and pomp were through by the Prince who leaned in and whispered, “My brother may hate the match now, but he will sing a different tune in a few namedays’ time.”

 

Joanna seemed delighted by the announcement that she would be a Princess one day, while Edrick skulked near the Queen who was ignoring all attempts at conversation in favor of appeasing her unhappy little boy. The young prince was not the only unhappy person in the room—Lady Clifton, who kept eyeing Lord Tyrion oddly, had what seemed a frown etched onto her face when she thought no one was looking.

 

“Aye, my Prince, he might,” answered Conhur, caught off-guard with how casual Prince Durran was being with him at the moment—and further at how it seemed very few people of the court seemed to concern themselves with the matter.

 

“Have you kept in any contact with Oldstones?” asked the Prince.

 

Conhur wondered at the question for a moment before answering, “No, but I have been considering writing Master Arthur.”

 

The Prince then asked as he pointed in the direction of the lanky heir to Stokeworth Castle escorting a woman on his arm who looked old enough to be his grandmother, “You should. What say you of Alyn? Do you think he might stand a chance against Hugh?”

 

“He has a good reach, or at least he did at Oldstones,” said Conhur politely.

 

“And Hugh doesn’t?” countered Prince Durran.

 

“A sword sits uncomfortably in his hands—he’s more at home on a horse with a lance,” said Conhur, forgetting for an instant any sense of awkwardness and simply enjoying the conversation.

 

But it was not to last, as a woman screamed that next instant. Conhur’s eyes were immediately drawn to Lord Tyrion and his family only to see that it had been Lady Felesa who’d screamed. For a moment, before a crowd obstructed Conhur’s view he saw Gerion, who’d been complaining all morning of being rather cold, having fallen to the marble floor and looking rather sickly was being collected up by Ser Jaime.

Chapter Text

ROBB

 

He wondered if it had been a mistake to come to King’s Landing. Grey Wind had caused a stir upon entering the city, frightening more than just children but many of the adults as well. Merchants had closed shops as news of his arrival through the streets had occurred. It had certainly made an impression, to say the least. Alys, who herself wasn’t as keen of Grey Wind as others had actually softened up to his wolf upon seeing how relatively frightened they were.

 

“Not that I blame them, but they haven’t seen him return all bloodied from a hunt yet. Gods help them when they do,” she had said half under her breath.

 

“I’m more worried about what Nymeria will do than Grey Wind,” Robb had admitted to Alys. She smiled but kept quiet in response. Gods, what was he doing wrong? He had tried speaking with her, spending near most every night with her, but still she felt a stranger to him, and he to her. He had hoped that by now they’d at least come to some affection, but Alys preferred speaking with Marna—her bastard cousin and handmaid she had brought from Karhold. Most mornings he’d rise to find Alys risen and would find her and Marna returning from the woods and Alys looking sickly. Travelling it seemed, didn’t agree with her, or she’d mayhaps caught something. But then they’d be off and she’d recover her spirits through the day, happily chatting with Marna when she could sneak away from him. And when the two women of Karhold weren’t speaking, Robb noticed Marna had eyes for Jon, who was doing his best to ignore them, for he seemed to feel that until he’d earned the right to wield Dawn that little else mattered. When Alys turned to Marna, Robb spent more of his time with his siblings and future goodbrother. Jon and Arya had taken to arguing over the smallest of things, with Arya eager to make any mishap automatically Jon’s fault. He would miss them and the company they were giving him on the journey North.

 

Arya, who after the wedding would continue further south with Jon and Edric for Lord Dondarrion’s seat for another marriage and eventually Starfall after that, had insisted on bringing Nymeria with her on the journey. Along the way she was constantly having the direwolf—who only seemed to obey her and Grey Wind’s snaps—test Edric, occasionally the beast snapped at the Dornish boy and growled at him too as part of Arya’s attempts to discern his reactions. To his credit, young Lord Edric was a brave lad for his age and patient as well, for he didn’t seem scared or angry after each attempt. There had been one time she’d nipped at Edric and Ghost had silently tackled his pack mate and rolled around with her in an attempt to assert dominance with Robb sending Grey Wind in to break the two direwolves up when they began scaring the horses of their caravan. Grey Wind had proudly led the shamefaced Nymeria and Ghost back to the caravan, who trailed behind him and snapped at one another when they thought Grey Wind wasn’t looking. Robb worried what the two wolves would do when they were further south.

 

They had spent the remainder of the day settling into their chambers. Later that night, the Prince and the Queen had called along with Princess Rhaenys and two of her ladies-in-waiting, Lady Roslin Frey, and Lady Aelinor Hasty. Jon had been visiting them when they had arrived.

 

“Rickon didn’t come?” asked Durran rather crestfallenly once they had broken off from the gaggle of women.

 

“My father thought it best for him to journey with him to the Wall for some experience,” said Robb. Durran agreed that that was likely for the best, but Robb could tell the boy had been hoping for Rickon. There would be more than enough time after the Wildlings were dealt with, for Rickon and Durran to see one another again.

 

“My father’s gone North as well… damn,” was all that Durran said further while Aunt Lyanna and Princess Rhaenys cornered Alys. Instead Durran turned to speak with Jon in that instant who had been off on his own brushing out the dirt and briars that had accumulated in Ghost’s fur. Robb turned his attention about the room for the moment, appreciating not being involved in any conversation for the nonce.

 

It was then that Robb noticed that Lady Roslin and Lady Aelinor had taken an interest in Grey Wind, who was laying upon a cushin he’d established as his the moment he’d entered the chambers. Lady Aelinor especially fussed over his direwolf’s coat, and surprisingly Grey Wind was not in a snappish mood, but lapped up the attention of the ladies almost as well as a dog would, only growling when their fingers drifted far too close to his belly. This prompted a deep growl that Robb felt obliged to intervene upon.

 

“My thanks, Lord Robb,” said Lady Aelinor in the next instant as Lady Roslin retreated to Princess Rhaenys. Roslin had been the closest to being bit.

 

“I am not a lord,” he corrected, feeling awkward at receiving his father’s title in that instant.

 

“Forgive me, Ser—” she began.

 

“I am no knight either,” answered Robb.

 

“Then Lord Robb you shall be to me,” she said almost exasperatedly.

 

“Did I not make myself plain, Lady Aelinor?”

 

An odd gleam appearing in her purple eyes, Lady Aelinor smiled and asked, “Why call me Lady Aelinor when I have no lands to my name nor ring on my finger?”

 

He retorted, “It is your title and respectful besides to both you and your absent kin.”

 

“Aye, and when your father is gone are you not acting as a Lord yourself?”

 

“Aye, but that’s different—”

 

“Nay, it isn’t. And if you can afford me such courtesies as calling me a Lady, then I ought to afford you the same honor of the title you represent in absence of its holder. And besides there is something majestic to Lord Robb, is there not?”

 

“You’re having a jape with me,” said Robb with a slight frown.

 

With a bright grin that seemed to light up the room as far as Robb was concerned, she added, “And what if I am? Would you prefer to be addressed as Master Robb? There is just something so demeaning to your name to lash it behind a Master. Master Robb might be the son of the butcher, but Lord Robb… aye that suits you well.”

 

Despite himself Robb couldn’t help himself but snort and give a slight smile, which only made Lady Aelinor’s all the larger.

 

“Aelinor,” interjected Princess Rhaenys in that moment, calling her lady in waiting back to her. Alys was looking at him funny.

 

Aunt Lyanna took up where Rhaenys had called and asked, “What was the name of that farce you said your sister saw?”

 

“I saw the farce. My sister wouldn’t be caught dead with a troupe of mummers. And its name is Veissclyff, your grace” she answered clearly.

 

“Veissclyff! I hear it’s a nasty and pernicious farce of mummery!” exclaimed Lady Roslin in that next instant.

 

“I’ve heard that there are riots wherever it is performed in the city,” added Aelinor conspiratorially.

 

“As it should, it’s a farce filled with nothing but lies that the High Septon wishes…” but Lady Roslin seemed to recall herself in that instant and held her tongue.

 

“You were saying something Lady Roslin?” asked Aunt Lyanna with a bemused curiosity.

 

Rather proudly she admitted, “I thought better of it.”

 

“Roslin, may I speak with you, outside?” questioned Princess Rhaenys rising before she had finished asking the question and adding for good effort, “You as well, Aelinor.”

 

The Princess and her ladies in waiting departed for the corridors. Robb was half tempted to listen at the door, were Aunt Lyanna and Durran not present.

 

This left Aunt Lyanna searching about the room when she happened to see Jon and asked, “Jon, I do believe you’re about as tall as your father was at his age.”

 

Without looking up from his task brushing the dirt from Ghost’s fur, he answered, “Thank you, your grace.”

 

“Oh bother that grace nonsense! How has Starfall treated you?” continued Aunt Lyanna, but Robb was more attentive to Alys who with the departure of the Princess and her entourage, had taken the opportunity to retreat further into their chambers. He followed her.

 

“He’s been in Blackhaven squiring for Lord Dondarrion, mother,” corrected Durran as Robb gave his excuses.

 

“Lucky…” Jon whispered to him in his mind.

 

“And how have you liked it thus far?” questioned Aunt Lyanna as Robb withdrew from the room.

 

He found his young wife staring out a window, sitting in a chair she had pulled up to it.

 

“Is something wrong?” he asked

 

She said nothing, instead preferring to stare out the window.

 

When enough time had passed to aggravate him, he sardonically said, “Is this to be our marriage then? You forever silent, while I wonder what it is I’ve done wrong?”

 

She gave a little snort then.

 

“I fail to see the humor,” grumbled Robb.

 

She sighed exasperatedly before collecting herself, turning to face him and saying, “Forgive me, husband, but I had thought you’d more honest than you’ve shown this night.”

 

“You question my honesty? For what!” demanded Robb.

 

She continued, speaking hesitantly but honestly, “In truth, I care not how many Snows you have. But I’d hope you’d have enough sense to woo their mothers out of my sight.”

 

Robb was confused for a moment before saying, “You think that I have an interest in Lady Aelinor?”

 

“What else am I to think with the way you look at her?” she asked proudly.

 

All at once Robb felt relief and offense swell within him. He was offended by her implications, but oddly relieved to hear that it mattered to her with whom he went to bed, should he have the inclination. It gave him some small hope that things might improve one day, when there weren’t a court full of the nobles of Westeros to distract them.

 

He began planting the seeds for that future with the hopes that they’d take root by saying, “I have no desire for Aelinor Hasty.”

 

Alys snorted, crossed her arms but said nothing.

 

“No matter what you might think, that’s the truth of it,” he insisted.

 

“As you say,” she replied, and Robb felt it best to leave matters there, with a brief excuse he bowed out to say goodnight to their guests. When they were gone, he’d prove just how much the truth of what he said to her.

 

As he left her room he nearly ran into Marna Snow, Alys’ cousin and personal handmaid that she’d brought from Karhold and often conferred with. Had Marna’s name not been Snow, Robb thought that they might have been sisters instead of cousins. Marna being a bit stockier of the two, but nevertheless quite like.

 

“Is Lady Alys preparing for bed?” asked Marna as she recovered herself after their near collision.

 

Before he answered her he felt Grey Wind arrive at his side and give a slight head butt which seemed to send a calming sensation through his body. He answered as he felt the wave overtake him, “She’s upset… and we will settle the matter when our guests have departed.”

 

Marna nodded and added, “If I may be so bold, she needs time. She hardly expected to be chosen by you and having to deal with that and the babe—”

 

“He is not mine!” Robb interjected.

 

“Of course it is!” contradicted Marna.

 

“How many times do I have to explain that my bastard nephew is indeed my nephew?” he asked exasperatedly.

 

Suddenly comprehension dawned upon Marna’s face. She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped herself before taking a breath and saying, “Forgive me… Robb, but it was not your brother’s son I was speaking of.”

 

“Then what babe do you—?” but he didn’t finish the question, for before he had finished it a sneaking suspicion took his mind.

 

“She didn’t tell you, then? Gods help me and my big mouth. She swore me to secrecy. Said she wanted to tell you when she’d thought the time right and...” but his hearing trailed off after that as his thoughts halted in shock.

 

And then the first thought came to his mind. He’d gone and ruined all her planning by talking to Lady Aelinor—at least she must think so.

 

“I’ll feign surprise. Alys needn’t know anything,” he offered, still slightly in shock at the announcement. Of course they had been trying—regularly. It was what was expected of them to secure the line. But that didn’t explain how jumpy Robb felt at contemplating when his own son or daughter would be old enough to toddle down the corridors of Winterfell.

 

Marna gave the harsh reply, “Don’t ever think of doing that.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Marna continued, “Alys hates it when someone isn’t forthright with her. You’ll dig yourself in deeper that way than if you just ask outright.”

 

She then seemed to recall who she was speaking to and blushed a bit.

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied, still rather caught up in himself to care for Marna’s suddenly abrasive scolding.

 

It was then he heard his aunt, the Queen, call “Robb, come here!” Robb gave Marna leave to attend to Alys as she would. At her dismissal he felt a rapid flurry of emotions—giddy that they had conceived, ashamed for his causing their argument, disgruntled that she wouldn’t believe him, and confused as to what to do next. Grey Wind rubbed up against him as he moved past him to rejoin his pack brother and Robb felt calm once again.

 

He returned to find his aunt already speaking to him as he approached, “Robb, I was just telling Jon that I was so amused to hear of Lady Aelinor and Lady Roslin discussing that mummer’s farce as I’ve ordered to have Veissclyff performed tomorrow for a select audience. I’ve been told often enough that it is suspect of treasonable thoughts and I thought of no better way to determine the truth of the matter than to see a performance of it myself, since the post of the Lord of Intelligence is vacant until our Vale cousin will arrive. Would you not agree?”

 

Robb gave Durran, who looked slightly embarrassed a look before asking, “Do you think it wise?”

 

His aunt replied with the utmost confidence, “In the current situation? Aye. Your Uncle would have done as much, and besides, I hardly expect any actual treasonable thoughts are in it anyway. Just a few allusions to beliefs to ruffle the feathers of the Faiths.”

 

A mummer’s farce might just be the thing to cheer Alys…

 

But there was something gnawing at him.

 

Jon then spoke, “What sort of treasonable thoughts does it have?”

 

“From what I’ve heard it’s a farce about a Stoney Septon named Veissclyff. Supposedly he makes a deal with a demon from the Seven Hells to make whatever he wishes come true.”

 

“I wouldn’t have it performed in front of the court then,” answered Jon calmly.

 

“Thank you, finally someone who agrees with me,” exclaimed Prince Durran with relief.

 

“It won’t be performed for the entire court. Those who complain about it, the small council and their retainers, and a few invited guests, but not the entire court. Besides, what’s there to fear? It’s a farce and nothing more. Most likely Veissclyff will wish to see the High Septon fart the Bear and the Maiden Fair, and the mummer playing the High Septon will do so, and other such frivolous farcical things,” dismissed the Queen.

 

“But the fact that it’s a Stoney Septon and the High Septon would cause a lot of controversy, in such a scene,” retorted Durran.

 

“A lot of squawking over nothing. Robb, you won’t disappoint me and leave me to sit alone with these two to frown at all the laughs, will you?” questioned his Aunt Lyanna as she indicated Jon and Durran.

 

“Have no fear, Alys and I shall be there,” assured Robb with a grin. Jon and Durran scowled, but said nothing, and with that the rest of the guests left their chambers.

 

Robb returned to their chamber when he’d finished undressing. Marna was in the midst of brushing Alys’ hair out with the two of them deep in conversation. He let them to it, and sat on the bed thinking of how to broach the subject of their child with Alys. Marna did not take long to finish and soon left them alone.

 

“Alys… I know.” Gods it wasn’t the best way to say it, but it was simple and to the point.

 

“Marna said as much,” proffered Alys with a slight sourness to her voice as she took a spot on the other side of the bed.

 

Of course.

 

“Our first babe…” he started with a smile, but she said nothing.

 

After a silence where he waited for her to say something, she replied, “Truth be told, I had thought that mayhaps having a babe would change something… make it easier to speak… or to think… but all it means is I feel sick more often than not, and my dresses feel tighter than normal.”

 

“I will buy you new dresses,” he offered. But this didn’t seem to bring them any closer to bridging the gap of the bed between them.

 

“That is not what I want…they’d be of help of course, but…” she answered.

 

“Tell me then.”

 

Hesitantly she leaned over the spread of the bed and kissed him. It was a warm kiss, but hardly passionate. And yet it was the first time he felt as though she wanted him. And that small, that tentative want felt as though it were a drop of water in a desert. He returned her kiss and tried to deepen it, but to this, Alys pulled away.

 

He grabbed her wrist—though not tightly—to try and keep her from retreating, but doing so he felt her pulse quickening as he held her wrist. He let go in that moment and then it passed.

 

“Let me hold you. If nothing else, I would do that this night.”

 

Mayhaps then she might not pull away from him. Awkwardly she settled closer to the middle of the bed and laid down facing away from him, leaving him plenty of room to approach and take her in his arms. She fit rather well in his grasp and at once he felt at ease and secure, and he could tell from how her heartbeat had lessoned that she had too.

 

In barely above a whisper, Robb added, “Goodnight,” and soon allowed himself to sleep.

 

He stirred awake to find himself still trapped in this red manrock. He stretched his limbs and longed to be out among the forest he’d seen before they’d entered the manrock, finding little prey to catch and eat. As he stood his boy’s girl quietly approached and cautiously reached to touch him. She was afraid of him, as she stank of fear, but still she put her hand upon his head and began to scratch and rub—perhaps a bit too roughly, but the contact was well-meaning at least. It was then that he smelled a new scent in the air. The manrock had been full of scents and smells upon arrival that he’d been half distracted, but this one was different from the ones he’d grown accustomed to. It was then the girl cousin to his boy’s girl appeared to tell her that some boy had arrived to speak with her and his boy. Feeling protective of his pack, he followed the new scent that wafted in the air until he came to another chamber within these sets of rooms where a boy-man stood. He was tall with long light brown hair and two pale blue eyes. The most distinctive part of his person however was the outstretched man lacking his skin upon the woven skins he wore. Part of his fur rose up at the sight of that evil image of the outstretched man lacking his skin, while another part sniffed the boy-man and was confused why he wore such an evil sign upon his woven skin. So he settled for a slight growl.

 

He was disturbed from this dream, like all other dreams he had had since journeying south, by the ringing of bells. They sounded closer in the dreams of late, as though he were but underneath them, and the ringing would cause him to go deaf and his ears to bleed.

 

Robb awoke from the wolf dream to find the bed empty save for himself and the bells of the Great Sept ringing in the distance. His confusion was diffused when he heard laughter from elsewhere within the chambers as Ethan Forrester, his squire, opened the chamber door and appeared in that instant.

 

Looking to see the sunlight streaming in through the window, Robb growled at Ethan, “Why wasn’t I woken up before now?”

 

“Lady Alys said you were to keep sleeping for the nonce,” explained Ethan as he brought Robb his clothes and began to help him first into his smallclothes.

 

Robb still felt a bit agitated and so he snapped at Ethan to hurry and stop fumbling with the buttons. In what felt like an hour thereafter, Robb joined Alys, Grey Wind who sat protectively at her feet, and a new guest he recognized both by the sigil sewn onto his doublet and the look of his face as being Lord Bolton’s son and heir. Alys was sitting down to break her fast with the Bolton heir, and the two seemed to be enjoying each other’s company rather well.

 

“Robb, this is Domeric Bolton, Lord Roose’s son,” introduced Alys rather merrily.

 

Domeric rose from his seat and walked over to shake his hand. He was slightly taller than Robb, and older as well.

 

“I wanted to meet you in person to give you my congratulations on your wedding,” he explained as he approached to shake hands, which Robb met at first with a hesitation and then a smile. There was a friendliness to Domeric, and yet he seemed withdrawn to some degree.

 

“Domeric and I were just speaking of a tiny village on the border between our two lands, with a very fine heart tree at its center. I played there with my brothers when I traveled once with my father about our lands.”

 

“Just within Bolton lines,” corrected Domeric with a smile.

 

“Excuse me?” question Alys.

 

“The Village of the Lonely Heart Tree, as I believe it called by the smallfolk, falls just within the Bolton line,” expounded Domeric easily enough and without offense.

 

Alys smiled, but Robb couldn’t help but notice it “I believe you are mistaken as the land belongs to the Watermans and is just within Karstark confines.”

 

“Within Bolton lines under the control of House Moss. I distinctly recall praying in front of the heart tree while Lord Elwood and my father discussed what was to be done about some robbers under the command of a Waterman,” retorted Domeric calmly and evenly as though it were a fact known to everyone.

 

Alys, whose good mood seemed to be irritated with each passing second, added, “My father has often said that Lord Moss presumes too much and has infringed on Waterman territory for too long.”

 

“Alys, it is a village—it should be on a map, and whomever owns it should be marked upon such a map, which we can look upon, when we return to the North,” calmed Robb, half worried that the conversation might escalate if he didn’t say something.

 

“In any case, it is a fine heart tree, you’ll agree?” offered Domeric.

 

She nodded her head and said, “That it is, with a solemn and stark face.”

 

Robb interrupted here, coughing and asking “Domeric, I believe you squired for Lord Redfort, did you not?” He signaled to Ethan to refill his drink.

 

“Aye, for three years, after which I was invited by Lord Denys to stay in the Vale to advise him on matters concerning his mountain clans.”

 

“Odd that he should ask you,” commented Alys coolly.

 

“Not at all, my father has had to deal a few times with Norreys and Flints who wander onto the Whitehill lands from time to time. Whitehill is always complaining about ruddy clansmen coming down out of the mountains and confusing his land for being part of the mountains. He’s constantly asking my father for more men.”

 

Ethan, who had been in the midst of pouring fumbled in that instant with the spiced wine, spilling it slightly.

 

Robb shot Ethan a look.

 

“Careful there, lad. Be glad though that the tablecloth is so near the color of the wine,” teased Domeric.

 

“Lord Denys found you useful though?” asked Robb.

 

“I looked over a signing of a treaty of sorts between him and a few clans… and proved my skill with a high harp to your aunt. Your cousin Robert especially loved my playing.”

 

Robb nodded, and then asked, “Did you have opportunity to visit Gulltown?”

 

“Aye, on my arrival in the Vale and departure from it for here, not much else. Not as big as the capital, but bigger than White Harbor and Barrowton.”

 

Their conversation continued on in this fashion until the meal was finished at which point Alys rose from the table and said she was to join Lady Lannister for the rest of the morning, possibly longer if need be.

 

“Pray do not tarry too long with Lady Felesa, we’ve been invited by my aunt to attend a private performance of a mummer’s farce.”

 

Robb noticed Alys froze for a moment before responding with a small smile and said, “I will try, but I cannot assure it. Pray give my apologies to the Queen if my absence is noted.”

 

And with nary a further thought Alys departed.

 

“I’m to attend the farce as well,” commented Domeric as he wiped his mouth clean. Robb gave a slight suspicious look which obviously prompted the young heir to the Dredfort to add: “Lord Denys asked if I might weigh upon the material with him.”

 

“Does Lord Denys always find your insights so valuable?” questioned Robb.

 

“I cannot speak for Lord Denys or his thoughts,” stated Domeric simply, but to Robb, he suddenly felt rather nervous about how much influence Domeric Bolton might or might not have with his Uncle, and at the same time wondered if his merits were so worthy that father might not find use for Domeric.

 

Then again, he is a Bolton.

 

Grey Wind was left in a courtyard so he might have the chance to stretch his legs and play with Nymeria and Ghost. On some level, Robb envied his direwolf as he scampered off to play with his pack. As Robb and Domeric walked down corridors to the Queen’s Ballroom, surrounded by Robb’s guards and his squire, Ethan, Domeric in hushed tones asked, “I’m curious how my sister Rodina has taken to Winterfell?”

 

“Very well. She and Bethany Dustin dote on Sansa,” said Robb, though in truth he only could guess if that was so, as there was something that sent a chill down his spine to be in the same room as Rodina Bolton. It had something to do with her eyes. Even Grey Wind didn’t like to get too close to her. There was something wrong about her. They all played maidens and monsters with Bran and Edwyn often enough.

 

“She, Sansa, and Bethany get on well then? I’m glad to hear that. Bethany is sweet, and hopefully she’ll rub off on Rodina.”

 

“What?” asked Robb.

 

Domeric however was nonplussed by Robb’s confusion until enough of a silence had passed with Robb staring at the Bolton heir that Domeric sighed and admitted, “Truth be told, my father was eager to have Rodina away from the Dredfort after my mother’s passing as soon as it could be possible. He has been having some trouble with my bastard brother.”

 

“What kind of trouble?” questioned Robb.

 

Domeric was silent, as though he were choosing his words carefully, which was apparent when he said, “Nothing that need concern Winterfell, but that was why he was so eager to have Rodina away from the Dredfort for the nonce.”

 

“Anything that concerns one of my father’s wards concerns Winterfell, Domeric. If there is ever any trouble, I hope your father knows that Winterfell will support him if need be.”

 

Even with the long history of feuding between our families.

 

The thought was unstated, but on some level, Robb knew it didn’t need to be stated forthrightly.

 

Upon arriving in the Queen’s Ballroom, Robb took note that it had been half filled with benches facing an empty half presumably left for the mummers to perform. Behind the rows of benches was the dais, upon which Robb saw his Aunt, dressed in a simple but still resplendent white gown with silver over dress. Her hair was styled so that yellow and black ribbons were woven into her hair which was done in a style which allowed it to rest in a curve upon her shoulders. Next to her sat his cousin, Prince Durran, who was dressed mostly in Baratheon colors with a golden doublet and black silk trousers. Upon his chest were the royal standard of the black stag and sliver direwolf combatant. Next to him, and doing her best to appear as pleased and pleasant as possible, was Princess Rhaenys dressed in a fine red Dornish silk gown with orange trimmings and black linings. Her hair was more elegantly done than Aunt Lyanna’s, with her long dark hair crowning her head with an array of braids that looked as though they had taken her handmaids hours to perform. Robb felt extremely underdressed for the occasion, with his scruffy hair and unshaven face—he was attempting to grow a beard, emphasis on the attempting part—and simple white and grey doublet. Looking at Domeric, Robb felt a certain level of ease as he compared himself to Domeric’s likewise simple pale pink doublet with red droplets embroidered upon it as its pattern. He hoped that the empty seats near his Aunt and cousin upon the dais were reserved for someone else than him and that he might be permitted to blend into the crowd upon the lower benches than be put up to be judged by all for grossly under dressing for a “private” performance of a mummer’s farce.

 

“Ethan, next time we’re to attend a private anything here in the capital, dress me in my finest doublet,” he whispered conspiratorially to the boy who couldn’t seem to wipe the smirk off his face.

 

“Whatever you say,” said Ethan smugly.

 

Just for the attitude Robb gave the Forrester a firm slap on the back as a kind of promise that Robb would find some task long and tedious for him to perform later.

 

He looked around the benches and spotted mainly lords of Cracklaw Point and a few Crownlands Houses in addition to members of the council, and at least one representative from each great house it seemed. Some, like Lord Denys and Aunt Lysa were in complete show, while others, like the Lannisters, had only sent Lady Cersei Clifton, who was dressed elegantly in gold and scarlet and a hairdo that looked ridiculously like someone had stuck a paper fan on top of her head and strung her hair over it. There seemed to be someone from each of the Seven Kingdoms in attendance of some sort—saving the Iron Islands for understandable reasons.

 

Robb’s worst fears were realized when he was summoned by his Aunt to take a seat in one of the open spots next to the Prince and Princess. He gave his excuses to Domeric and did as he was bid.

 

After giving Alys’ apologies to the Queen Robb took his seat next to Durran and Rhaenys and leaned over and asked in an undertone, “not the entire court?”

 

“You have no idea,” groaned Durran with an exasperated sigh.

 

“The council had to sit in on the matter, and the Crownlands houses are the ones who brought the issue to our attention in the first place. That’s why Lord Rosby is here with his cough. I don’t know why the Cracklaw men are here…” grumbled and defended Rhaenys.

 

“They’re mother’s bannermen, and she’s always eager to see them treated just as importantly as the other Crownlanders,” argued Durran.

 

“So in the end not the entire court means…?” began Robb.

 

“Anyone else who isn’t here,” answered Rhaenys.

 

Not that private after all.

 

Ned Dayne was one of the few Dornish representatives beyond Princess Rhaenys and her cousin Quentyn whom Robb had the pleasure of sitting near upon the dais. Quentyn Martell was far thicker in frame than his cousin, but there was a distinct sameness to their appearances that announced to the world that they were relatives. He was also far more quiet than Robb expected, keeping his tongue to himself as Robb, Durran, and Rhaenys continued to converse.

 

Durran said, “Mother it would seem means to have all the Kingdoms witness our decision. In truth, she’s turning the farce into a bloody spectacle.”

 

“You’ve been quiet long enough cousin, what think you of all this mummery?” asked Rhaenys to Quentyn with a warm smile.

 

“I have nothing to add, that you have not already said or thought. Wise men say when there is nothing left to be said, it is best not to add idle chatter” replied Quentyn meekly.

 

“Which wise men? The maesters of Oldtown?” pressed Rhaenys with a smirk.

 

“It is said by wise men,” repeated Quentyn hollowly.

 

“They must be wise to say what every woman thinks,” japed Rhaenys, with a grin as devious as a cat.

 

While this was going on, Robb’s eye found Domeric sitting near Lord Denys and his Aunt, and for an instant, Robb wished he weren’t related to the Queen so that he might have the excuse to hide in the crowd below—but he didn’t let his feelings be known as he gave the friendliest smiles to everyone who greeted him as they came to pay respect to the Queen, crown Prince, and Princess Rhaenys—but also to gawk at the foreign Evenosi Prince and Princess who were the only ones upon the dais besides Robb dressed even more savagely than him. They also came to give their best wishes to the Queen of Tyrosh, whose final appearance in court this was to be before she departed for Robert’s Port to marry Harwood Baratheon, Durran’s cousin, and then return to Tyrosh with her young husband.

 

Trumpets then sounded and a mummer came before them all, appearing from an antechamber that must have been given to the mummers for this performance. The mummer thanked the Queen, Prince, and Princess, and explained to the rest assembled the nature of the performance as a task to be done to determine the merit of the piece. The mummer was most apologetic and asked that judgment be held until the end of the piece so that then entire work might be weighed for both the good and the bad, and not just one or the other. Without a further word the mummer gave a bow and returned to the antechamber and the farce began.

 

Another mummer walked upon the stage, and began in a booming but clear voice:

“Imagine now, if you may, a most bloody scene,

Women, children, soldiers, dead all around,

Where not a spot is clean,

Nor bare upon the ground.

See it in your eye what a monster’s done,

Bodies bloated, rotting, and so stiff;

To such a sight enters our septon,

Horrified and despairing is our Veissclyff.

So he questions what he sees,

As a fate arranged by holy divinities;

Such a spark will set aflame,

A Faith; to his eternal blame.”

 

And then the mummer was gone, and in entered a horrified looking old man with a white beard dressed in a poor approximation of a Septon’s robes and rainbow belt looking terrified and disgusted all around him. Robb saw nothing else upon the stage, but the mummer playing this Veissclyff proclaimed and acted as though there were dead bodies were piled all about him. As the mummer began to speak he began to curse and damn the Seven for allowing such an event from occurring. At this Robb saw Lord Denys grip his chair.

 

And then two men entered carrying a body between them of a child—another mummer who did not move—tossing him carelessly onto the ground of the center stage as they japed horribly before exiting once again—their japes bringing the servants amongst the hall to some laughter. Once they had exited the mummer Septon approached the child mummer and began to weep and mourn.

 

“Alas, what face hath this poor soul?”

 

The mummer Septon turned over the child, and then his eyes went wide, for a moment Robb saw not the mummer child but another body that made him tense for an instant.

 

“What sort of f—farce is this?!” coughed Lord Rosby, but still the mummer continued, though Robb saw the lead mummer grow nervous upon hearing such a declaration.

 

“Ahh… gods no… I know this face. He came oft to the Sept and was like a son to us all. If there be but a drop of life… only a trace. Move, stir… lift up thine eye and acknowledge my call.”

 

The mummer Septon then broke out into the most convincing tears Robb had ever seen cried.

 

“Alas, he does not breathe… Curse the man who killed you boy! Curse the monster who led him here! Curse the gods for unleashing that fiend, that—”

 

But the end of Veissclyff’s speech was cut off by the sound of some metal clanging to the side—Robb turned to see just off to the right a mummer hitting a breastplate with a wooden mallet. And after he had done so, a black cloaked figure walked upon the stage.

 

“So easily do you forsake your gods, good Septon? I thought men of faith had stronger convictions,” croaked the mummer playing what Robb took to be the Stranger.

 

“S’robe!” exclaimed Veissclyff.

 

“And now a blasphemer as well? My, what devotion you holy of holies are,” and to this the Stranger received a few laughs from the squires and other assembled staff.

 

Veissclyff retorted, holding out the dead mummer boy in his arms, “How can a man have devotion to gods which allow such things as this?”

 

“Your place is not to question, but to obey and believe, septon. To do otherwise invites demons.”

 

“Then I shall bid them welcome!” retorted Veissclyff.

 

The Stranger said nothing to this. He instead approached Veissclyff and reached out a boney hand and touched the dead boy on his shoulder and saying: “Come lad, and take thy deserved place amongst the heavens.”

 

And then suddenly the mummer boy, who had been limp the entire time bestirred himself, fluttered his eyes lifted his head, turned to Veissclyff and said, “Mourn me not good Septon, for I go to play and sleep amongst the stars, dreaming forevermore with the gods.”

 

“I cannot help but mourn you child, for the things you will never know and the man you could have been. The sons you could have had and their sons to come after—all gone with your cruel death,” retorted Veissclyff despairingly.

 

And the Stranger beckoned the mummer child to follow him. Robb took the moment to look between Lord Denys and Lord Rosby—who looked equal parts disturbed and interested in the story. The play, which Aunt Lyanna had requested, seemed to enthrall her immensely, and so Robb figured it was doing something right despite the controversial nature of its first scene. At least he thought it controversial simply by the way Lord Denys looked.

 

The second scene opened up with Veissclyff within the space joined by another mummer in Septon’s robes, and a book stand with a lit candle upon it. Robb supposed this to mean they were now to imagine themselves within the Sept where Veissclyff lived. The other mummer Septon was older and fatter, and held a loaf of bread in his hands which he ate as he spoke, asking why Veissclyff took to solitude from his holy brethren. The other mummer Septon was soon revealed as the Holy Father of the Sept which Veissclyff lived at, which Robb noted that the mummers took great care not to mention which Sept it was. Eventually the Holy Father departed wishing that Veissclyff consult the Seven Pointed Star more.

 

“I do more than consult the book, Father, I critique it.”

 

It was then that a great amount of smoke appeared on the stage by some sort of powder and out of it stepped a mummer dressed as a demon—pale face and white haired and dressed all in a shimmering blue silk cloth.

 

“By the Gods! What sorcery is this?!” exclaimed Veissclyff

 

“You have bid me and my brethren welcome Veissclyff, or do you not remember your own words?” questioned the demon.

 

Veissclyff attempted to regain command of himself as he said, “I recall them well enough, but doubt you are as you say. Your hair might be a wig, your face painted with paste, and a blue doublet is the same as any other for all I know. You might be some ill-willed jape set upon me by my robed brothers.”

 

“Does this satisfy you?” questioned the demon as he grabbed ahold of Veissclyff’s arm and squeezed.

 

“The cold! The cold! It burns!” screamed Veissclyff. He howled as if in the greatest of agony, sinking to his knees and startling all who saw him.

 

The demon let Veissclyff go, and with a great pain, Veissclyff cradled the arm that the demon had grabbed—which somehow seemed paler than before by some mummer’s trick.

 

“Think not that I, who’ve seen the Seven Heavens in all their blessed glory and live in the cursed Seven Hells would deign to feign my own likeness. Pray tell me for why you bid me welcome,” demanded the demon.

 

“Oh damnable demon what brought ye from the Seven Hells?!”

 

“You Veissclyff, you! You bid me welcome, and I will have an answer to my question—or is another touch of my hand needed?” demanded the demon, who strode forth to grab the other arm, but Veissclyff ducked and hurried himself out of the demon’s grasp.

 

“Aye I… must have bid you welcome.”

 

The demon prompted, “What is it that you wish?”

 

“What do ye mean?” questioned Veissclyff.

 

“If you welcome me, you must desire something so great that even the Seven Heavens cannot satisfy you alone. So tell me Veissclyff, what is it that you wish?”

 

“What is it that I wish?”

 

“Aye… tell me what you desire… and I shall make it so with all the powers of damnation!”

 

“I would wish that all men should know the Truth, but that I doubt even the Seven Hells could make possible.”

 

“The truth? Veissclyff. The truth is apparent and blatant, or has my touch addled your mind? But if it is the propagation of your words that matters to you, then by all means, I can make such desires a reality.”

 

And the demon clapped his hands together three times and slowly.

 

Then three dwarfs dressed in similar attire to the demon came forth carrying a large scroll with a quill for Veissclyff to sign.

 

The Demon urged, "Give unto me your soul and I promise you that I shall be your slave. Anything you desire will be yours. The most beautiful maidens, the stoutest ale, gold more than you could e’er imagine, all yours Veissclyff, all yours if you will but pledge your soul to me, with a signature, in blood.”

 

“I want not for such things, I am too old to make such wishes. I shall write my critique of the Seven Pointed Star and die in peace.”

 

“You will not live long enough to finish such an undertaking… but I could give you the time, again.”

“What mean you by this? Can time be given and taken as easy as a trifle?” asked Veissclyff

 

“Aye, for time is the biggest trifle of them all. It has no meaning to those in either the Heavens or Hells’ service, and thus can be granted to those who are slaves to it reprieve or further punishment. All you need do is sign,” urged the demon, and the dwarfs shoved the heavy scroll at Veissclyff another time.

 

But Veissclyff was crafty and wished to haggle further, eventually working down that unless he found a single thing worth the bargain, his soul on condition would not belong to the Seven Hells.

 

Suddenly from up above upon the balcony where musicians usually played entered a figure obviously dressed as the Mother accompanied by another woman in clothes of a fashion that looked rather old to Robb’s eyes—a century old at the very least.

 

“Veissclyff, my son, heed your mother’s plea, and do not sign the wretched scroll!” called the old woman standing next to the Mother.

 

“Turn back from this vile contract now, Veissclyff and mercy shall be yours, ever eternal mercy,” implored the Mother.


“Turn back now and ever be a little man, shaking his fists to the heavens and wondering why the gods spurn you at every turn,” hissed the demon in Veissclyff’s ears.

 

The Mother declared, “He whispers lies in your ears like the foul shaking branch of a tree.”

 

“Lies pour from her mouth, like babes from her womb,” hissed the demon back.

 

“Son, you know not what you do with such a demon!” implored Veisclyff’s mother.

 

“Am I not a man enough to make my own choices? Must you from the lichfield plague my thoughts so?” retorted Veissclyff harshly.

 

“Y…you break my heart with your words,” whimpered the old woman.

 

A long tense moment of silence passed, causing Robb to sit forward with interest. Finally, Veissclyff took up the quill, stabbed himself in the arm and with his own blood, said, “I… will… sign.”

Veissclyff’s deceased mother wailed in that instant, falling to her knees, and the Mother herself silently picked up the wailing woman, comforted her and quietly departed from the balcony.

The demon rolled up the scroll and stuffed it up the sleeve of his doublet, and then the farce took a turn for the fantastic. Veissclyff, concerned that he was too old to spread his message or have the time to complete it, asked to be given his youth once more so that he might have more time. With a snap of the demon’s fingers and a flick of his wrist, smoke appeared before Veissclyff, and when it dissipated the mummer portraying him had shed his white beard and hair to reveal a fresh faced youth of six and ten. Somehow his robe looked looser with his rainbow belt now drooping and hanging lower than it had before, just barely clinging to his thin hips. Robb wondered if a switch of mummers had occurred, but when the youth spoke, it was quite clear that the mummer was in fact the same one who’d performed the elder. This caused quite a stir amongst the benches.

 

With the energy of youth the young Veissclyff managed to finish and even expound further upon his thoughts in a manner resembling quicksilver as he darted about the stage, unable to stand still for a moment as he went from writing in a book upon the book stand to pondering out loud. The ideas became more abstract and less concrete. Ideas focused on helping the poor he crossed out to say that the poor in spirit and poor in means equally desereved attention. All of which the demon commented on, urging him to add to his words even more and go in increasingly more detail until his words became flowery and exaggerated that a second book was required to be written in. When it was all finished Veissclyff demanded to be given an audience, and suddenly a parade of mummers, dressed as famous wise men and women from centuries passed marched upon the stage. Famous Kings such as Jaehaerys the I and Brandon the Builder, Maesters such as Gyldane, the Dornish conqueror Nymeria dressed in flowing sand silk with spear in hand, and many others that Robb both recognized and did not recognized, appeared and took audience to Veissclyff as he began to expound his thoughts, but just as he began to do so, the crowd of ancients began to complain that they had not eaten for centuries and demanded food to even begin considering anything. To placate them, Veissclyff urged the demon solve the matter and the demon snapped his fingers and a simple maid appeared to provide the famous ancients with sausages and lemon cakes. The maid was dressed in white and stood out amongst the entire stage with her long flowing blond hair. She was obviously a smallfolk girl, but she was endowed with such a beauty that even Robb could not help but take notice—but neither could Veissclyff whose mummer began to stutter and stumble with his thoughts—much to the demon’s delight.

 

When the ancients had had their fill some began to argue amongst one another, while others flirted. Garth the Green Hand pulled Nymeria close and offered a cup of wine he’d conjured up with his green hand. Veissclyff grew annoyed with their disorder and disinterest and begged the demon to whisk them away, and so they all departed, except for the maiden.

 

Then began the wooing of the maiden, who proclaimed that she was a good girl, and not in so desperate need of coin to .

 

“I would marry you,” proclaimed Veissclyff earnestly.

 

“But are you not a Septon?” questioned the maid with clear confusion as she looked to his white robes.

 

Veissclyff looked to his robes and to his loose belt, and then pushed the belt over his hips and allowed it to drop straight to the floor.

 

“A wise old man had lent me his robes, but I… I am a newly made man, free from all the restrictions of the past. I had been a child for far too long.”

 

“You speak rather well for a man with no clothes of his own,” countered

 

“I had the finest of educations, but I’ve spent so much time studying life and not enough living it to fully understand it. Mayhaps you could enlighten me?”

 

“Me? How could I? Oh no! I’m a good girl, I am!” protested the maid.

 

Veissclyff pulled close to her and delicately cupped her face with his large hand, “Aye, the best of girls—the maiden made flesh, surpassing the beauty of even the holiest of holies--and the best of girls deserves a reward do they not?”

 

Up in the balcony a mummer dressed as the Maiden appeared, looking infuriated and proclaimed “Blaspheme!”

 

“I… I… do not know,” replied the girl as she pulled only a little bit from Veissclyff’s advances.

 

He leaned in closer and urged sweetly, if desperately, “Let me reward you.”

 

He then kissed her, once, chastely but also delicately on the cheek.

 

“Was that all?” asked the maid, a question which seemed to cause many to snigger despite themselves.

 

“I would reward you more, dedicating your body as a Sept, and me as its loyal and devoted Septon.”

 

“Foul pernicious man! Base and debauched!” proclaimed the Maiden, who pulled out a bow and arrows and took aim. However the maid rose and pulled Veissclyff away at just the last moment, leaving the arrow to hit and scatter upon the floor harmlessly.

 

“What lovely things to say… but, could I be rewarded again? My other cheek grows jealous of the one my Septon has blessed, and would wither without such spiritual guidance.”

 

Veissclyff was more than happy to so reward such a maid. And soon her lips, jealous of her cheeks begged for salvation and Veissclyff was all too happy to oblige.

 

The Maiden above, balked and departed casting a curse upon them both that they be damned for trading and treating innocence and purity so foolhardily. The Demon walked to the front of the stage, obscuring the two mummers as he raised his blue silk cloak and gave a wicked grin, and gave a snap of his fingers. He then stepped aside to reveal Veissclyff and the maid in nothing but their smallclothes, and the maid growing tired and needing sleep. Veissclyff urged her to sleep with the promise of marriage upon the morn. The demon snapped his fingers once more and the dwarves appeared again with sheets of silk that they trussled about the maid and arranged so that she looked like the Maiden sleeping blissfully.

 

Veissclyff began by saying “Gods, I feel so… alive.”

 

“You have chosen to experience something instead of studying it from behind walls of stone—of course you feel alive as you so elegantly articulate that is what experience does to the human soul.”

 

“It wasn’t at all how I imagined—or wrote about. Gods, what if through my inexperience I have made further errors?”

 

The demon leaned in close to the young Veissclyff and whispered, “Lucky then that you have me to provide those experiences for you… anything and everything at your command.”

 

“But I am to marry on the morrow, and I will be needed for her.”

 

“Then best you experience everything in this night,”

 

“How is that possible?”

 

“Look again at your hands—see the marks of age and knobs of arthritis there? And yet you dare ask me whether everything can be done in a night? Time can be bent, provided you but command it to be so—though be careful, Veissclyff. An experience once had cannot be undone—nor the changes required to make such things possible rewound. Time can be bent—but not broken.”

 

“Forgive my doubt.”

 

And so Veissclyff began his escapade to experience life. He discussed religion with the High Septon Bones, mocking him and leaving little doubt that the former High Septon was anything but a freak chance of evil. He demanded to see the tall towers of Valyria, to stare into the Shadow beyond Asshai, to battle the beasts of Sothoryos, and many other wondrous things.

 

His jubilation at his triumphs though rung hollow when he found that the Demon acted rather blasé about the entire matter. He wished then to be able to show and share his experiences with, and teach them to enjoy as much as he.

 

Snap, and the boy mummer who had played the dead boy before appeared on stage once more, to play the part of Veissclyff’s son.

 

“I have the perfect solution, Veissclyff, meet your son, who is eager to learn from his father’s example.”

 

“Son?” questioned Veissclyff, but a stare at the boy quieted all other questions. And so the adventures continued with a visit to Ulthos, together they built a Sarnorian wall, and debated with the Amythest Empress, a duel with a Dothraki, and witnessing the construction of the Wall by Bran the Builder. That part especially Robb took interest in. Bran the Builder was portrayed rather comical—too busy fussing with his building plans to notice the comical chaos of his workers messing up all around him. A common theme throughout though was that everything failed to please Veissclyff—each proving to be a greater disappointment until Veissclyff in an intemperate rage banished his son and demanded to be wedded as well as bedded.

 

“Ah, but Veissclyff, you have gone too far ahead to bend time, and now it cannot be bent back,” countered the demon.

 

“What do you mean?” questioned Veissclyff.

 

The Demon diplomatically stated, “In order to have a son, your seed had to quicken and time pass for the maid. And since you did not return before the wish was made… I am afraid years have passed for your maid where you never returned.”

 

“No! You said you could bend time!” protested Veissclyff.

 

“Bend it, aye, but things cannot be undone once done. Besides, what care you for the maid? You never even bothered to learn her name,” teased the demon.

 

Veissclyff then demanded to see his sons’s mother and came upon his maid, once again, now dirty and starving and tired from begging. Upon sight of him, the mother maiden declares him to be some sort of ghost and with prayer she summons the Stranger once again. All throughout his adventures more of the Seven had appeared to denounce him and his ways, until now the Stranger was the only one left.

 

The Stranger did not waste time, proclaiming, “This is your last chance Veissclyff, you must choose. Repent and admit your crimes—or be doomed to the cold and dark for all eternity.”

 

“Banish it!” screamed Veissclyff to the Demon, batting away the Stranger and yelling “I am not ready to die!”

 

The Stranger said nothing, but instead approached the maiden, held out a hand, which she took and departed the stage with hand in hand, leaving Veissclyff and his demon.

 

He demanded to see his son again, and now a man grown older and burlier than he appeared on stage—a carpenter who dismissed him as being too much of a fresh of face youth to be his father. The boy mummer who had portrayed Veissclyff’s son earlier, now called the new son father. Veissclyff moved to speak to his newfound grandson, but his carpenter son hammered his fingers when Veissclyff carelessly put them upon his workbench as he approached his grandson.

 

“Be gone with your mischief, boy. You bring nothing but ill-luck wherever you go,” grumbled the gruff man, repeating the words with which Veissclyff had banished him.

 

This sent Veissclyff to demand to see the loveliest woman ever born, so he might learn to forget. And upon the stage appeared the mummer who had played his maid, now dressed as some past Valyrian or Ghischari maiden of centuries past. She was silent, though Veissclyff implored her to speak and answer why she taunted him so.

 

And then the Stranger appeared a final time, walking this time at the front of a procession of the rest of the mummers who were dressed as demons. They grabbed Veissclyff, who screamed of how cold it was, of how he wasn’t finished, cursing the heavens for how it had all gone wrong, and dragged him off the stage, leaving only the Demon who exited the stage triumphant, and the Stranger standing there.

 

“Man has but a short time to live too often tempted by the demons of the cold and the dark. None are safe from the promises of such demons, and even the greatest amongst us will one day fall. And yet, for those who hold fast and true, the light remains and waits for you.”

 

With the Stranger’s speech through, the mummer departed and so the farce ended. It was met with utter silence, most people looking to the Queen to gauge how to respond. After a moment of confused silence, she summoned the mummers onto the stage, where a polite, but not overenthusiastic applause was given.

 

“Your farce is far more than we imagined,” began his Aunt, as though she could hardly find words to describe it.

 

“But you can see how p—pernicious it is, your grace,” coughed Lord Rosby.

 

“How so? It had a moral fit for any man,” countered Lord Eustace Brune, one of the Cracklaw men sworn to Robb’s Aunt.

 

“And yet it is about a man who did none… of those things! Is the name Whytclyff to be… dragged through the mud so slanderously?” asked Lord Rosby as he swallowed his coughs.

 

“Was it about Whytclyff? I thought his name was Veissclyff,” countered the Queen.

 

Lord Rosby could not help but continue, “The entire first scene was lifted from his life! Witnessing the carnage left in the wake of the Bloody Wolf—”

 

“The Bloody Wolf?” questioned Robb. He had thought he had been quieter than he actually was, as his voice carried through the hall. Everything and everyone seemed to stop still where they were.

 

Lord Rosby fell silent but for a cough he could not suppress, and the entire room looked at Robb nervously.

 

It was Aunt Lyanna who broke the silence “I have heard this name for years uttered by many of you, and kept my tongue on the subject, as I thought it meaningless chatter at the time. But to utter such a name in front of my nephew, is disgraceful and disrespectful, Lord Gyles.”

 

He could tell that he had misspoke, and backtracked to say, “I had no intention of causing offence, your grace. It is simply a turn of phrase.”

 

His aunt frowned, and for a moment, Robb observed how she looked like his father in that moment. She then said, “In reference to my brother, Lord Stark. It is true that the Battle of the Bells was a bloody battle, I am told. I saw the remnants of another such bloody battle as was done outside the gates of this very city. War is a bloody chaotic mess, and those who are eager to unleash the tethers peace places upon our brothers and fathers, need to be reminded of what happens when those tethers are done away with entirely. These mummers it seems learned that lesson far greater than those who talk of bloody wolves. From war, with the posturing that occurs before it and the bloody aftermath from it, springs all discord and destruction—and for that reason, I will allow these mummers this farce.”

 

Lord Gyles went pail and Robb heard the entire room burst into conversation as his aunt dismissed the mummers and departed from the dais, leaving his shocked cousin wide-eyed and being consoled by Rhaenys.

 

Robb was confused, he tried to ask Jon through their connection what was going on, but Jon didn’t know either beyond the fact that Aunt Lyanna had just critiqued the new Faith’s lordly representative and protector, all on account of an insult to his father. Nothing good could come from this and this feeling was only added to when Alys returned from Lady Felesa Lannister’s compartments visibly shaken. It wasn’t until they were alone that she told him the maester had found poison to be involved—a small enough dosage had been ingested that it only made him sick and was curable for the nonce. But the method of delivery and the poisoner, remained a mystery.

 

The sooner he could get out of King’s Landing the better, all the while the bells haunted him in his dreams.

Chapter Text

LYARRA
 
The wedding was beautiful, as far as Lyarra could see. Durran was dressed in a fine golden silk doublet with black and white striped trousers. Lyarra meanwhile was one of the “honored” few chosen to carry the train of her new goodsister’s black velvet gown through the Sept upon Mother’s insistence. Outside of the Sept three orphan girls would take her place, but inside the Sept, Lyarra, Elenei, and Obella Sand each carried the train as an honor. Lyarra thought carrying the heavy velvet to be tedious, but she put on a good show nonetheless—if only to keep Elenei from ruining the wedding by throwing down the velvet train and running off in the middle of the Sept. Thankfully there was no need to carry Rhaenys’ maiden cloak as well, though it certainly made the train heavier than it might otherwise have been with its weight resting upon the gown. The cloak was adorned with rubies in the shape of a three-headed dragon against a beautiful black velvet. Once Rhaenys had joined Durran before the Septon standing between the tall statues of the Mother and the Father, Lyarra, Elenei, and Obella were dismissed to the front row of benches where three empty seats awaited their arrival.

The ceremony was long and overly warm and full of incense that clouded the Sept with smoke and stank of lavender and marjoram. More than once Lyarra found herself dozing as the High Septon droned on and on. She nearly stood out like a sore thumb when the rest of the congregation of all the great and noble lords of Westeros—or at least as many as could fit inside the Sept—rose to sing the songs and chants along with choirboys—a new feature of the Sept at the prompting of Clodos of Tyrosh—which improved the songs from the normally horrendous noise that such songs were. The songs praised the Father, the Mother, the newly blessed union, and the future of Westeros itself to come. Then Durran replaced Rhaenys’ maiden cloak with an obviously much lighter cloak of cloth of gold and sable velvet in the shape of a great crowned stag. It was then her brother and her new goodsister were allowed to kiss, and they did, with the bells of the sept ringing out joyously, and then it was time to return to her duty of carrying the train to the door of the great Sept.

The procession was led by seven torchbearers, each carrying a gigantic unlit candle that was each dyed a different color of the rainbow to represent one of the Seven. After the torchbearers came the choirboys, still singing their songs of praise to the glory of Westeros from booklets that each carried. After them, came the High Septon and other important Septons all in their full ceremonial regalia. After them came the heralds whose job it was to record and ensure that the proper order of ceremonial procession was carried forth in the correct manner. Mother said that they would be recording this procession in a book for generations of royal weddings to come. They marched solemnly but proudly, carrying the tabards of House Targaryen and House Baratheon of King’s Landing draped over their arms. Then came the Lords Paramount, or their representatives each proceeding with a squire carrying their own tabards, followed next by the small council members who were not Lords Paramount, and after them in rank by noble houses distinctly led by Lord Gyles Rosby who did his best not to cough through the procession—but failed. Lord Rosby, Lyarra had heard, had been given precedence over many of the other Crownlands houses at the last minute due to some argument or other with mother. His placement in the procession seemed an attempt to mollify him, and he seemed satisfied to Lyarra as he did his best to stick his chest out as he walked without coughing. Behind the other noble houses came Durran and Rhaenys coming right after, beneath a cloth of gold canopy held by members of Durran’s honor guard. Right in front of and behind them walked Ser Ulwyk and Ser Jaime for their protection. Lyarra of course carried Rhaenys’ train, which allowed Lyarra a chance to walk under the canopy. Behind the canopy Mother and the rest of the royal family and ladies of the court trailed behind with mother being escorted by Ser Mark Ryswell. In truth they processed slowly and nobly as they exited the Sept. At the top of the steps the three orphan children who had carried the train up the steps took over for Lyarra, Obella, and Elenei, and Lyarra led Elenei back to their placement in the procession with mother.

At the foot of the great steps that led up to the Sept of Baelor, stood a plaza with a stone statue to the King whose name the Sept bore. All along the edges of the plaza were crowds of people, most of whom were smallfolk, but some of whom were merchants, many who were dressed in black like Lord Gyles had—though his black were of the best silks, lined with sable fur except for the ermine cloak he wore with the red chevronels of his house boldly upon the fur. The merchants dressed in black were as nearly well dressed as Lord Gyles, while the smallfolk seemed to have satisfied themselves with whatever piece of black cloth they could get their hands upon in order to adorn their body. The sight of these, seemed to worry Mother.

When the canopy came to the top of the stairs, the procession halted, with the High Septon—who had left the procession with his fellow Septons and proclaimed for all of King’s Landing in a booming voice:

“Prince Durran and Princess Rhaenys are wed. May they be blessed in the light of the Seven and ne’er cast each other asunder!”

From those smallfolk and merchants who weren’t all decked in black—who seemed just as numerous as those in black—a roar emerged from them that overtook the plaza as Rhaenys and Durran continued the procession down to the base of the steps. Mother seemed preoccupied with looking back at the Sept as they descended the steps—not seeming at ease until the large thick doors had closed behind them and the High Septon and his entourage within. Mother could never hide her dislike of the Faith that well, Lyarra thought—and simply hoped no one else in the crowd took note.

Rhaenys and Durran were to ride through the streets on red and black horses—each sporting the color of the ordinary of their houses. Ahead and behind them traveled Whitecloaks and Durran’s honorguard—ensuring that no one might be able to approach within a few feet of them without passing someone armed with a sword. The crowd who wasn’t dressed in black threw rice and petals into the air as the newlyweds began the procession on their mounts. Lyarra had to wait with mother for the wheelhouse used to transport her and her siblings back to the Red Keep, while others entered litters to be carried off by servants. When the cumbersome four-wheeled thing had arrived, Mother hurried them all inside. Ser Mark took a seat next to the Wheelhouse driver, looking rather ridiculous in his finest white armor sitting next to a servant whose face must have been cursed at his birth.

“Why can’t I ride a horse like Durran?” pouted little Orys, Lyarra’s youngest brother.

“Because mother wolf wants all her pups with her,” replied mother warmly to her boy of four namedays, pulling him tighter in her grasp and tickling him slightly and causing him to giggle stupidly like any little boy.

Lyarra on getting in had been sure to nab the seat closest to the other door and its wooden partition which could be pulled down to reveal the outside. Elenei had growled at her getting that seat and with an inelegant kick to Lyarra’s ankles demanded Lyarra move over so she could sit there, however Lyarra held her ground and Elenei was told to sit down before she fell over. Elenei however was stubborn and refused to sit down, saying she’d stand the entire way.

Mother, who seemed to not be in the mood for arguing sighed and said, “Fine, but don’t cry to me if you fall over and hit your head because of a hole.” The wheelhouse began to move and Mother then turned to Lyarra and asked her to look out and see what the crowd were doing.

More than eager to get a glimpse and the grand procession she’d heard Rhaenys boast of for well over a moon, Lyarra quickly pulled down the partition and stuck her head out the window.

“Elenei!” called mother as Lyarra did so.

“Get off of me!” demanded Edrick disgruntledly, but Lyarra resisted temptation to look back in the wheelhouse—for the beginning of the Procession was beginning to round a corner, and Lyarra had a good view of Durran and Rhaenys.

“They’re still throwing petals and rice, Mother… and everyone seems to like the cloth dragon and stag,” said Lyarra as she tried to capture the splendid pageantry of many colored petals flying through the air like a rainbow of snow was falling upon her newly wedded brother. Behind them, one of the few lords who’d chosen to ride openly, rather than hide behind the curtains of a litter was Lord Gyles Rosby, who seemed to be accepting many different people, smallfolk and merchant clad in black cloth alike, coming and kissing the hem of his robe or shouted “Bless You”. When the smallfolk and merchants had done so with Lord Rosby, they then retreated back and sunk to their knees in prayer—which they were still in as the Wheelhouse crawled past them. One of them on his knees caught Lyarra’s eyes. He was thin and gaunt with a long beard. Had he not been praying, Lyarra would have found him intimidating to look at. Oddly enough a kind of serenity appeared on his face which made him seem not quite so terrible. Next to him, equally familiar to Lyarra’s eyes, and also dressed all in black was a handsome and brawny man with honey brown hair. Lyarra stared at them for a moment trying to place where she had seen the black robed men before, but unable to remember.

“What of Lord Gyles?” asked Mother when Lyarra had been silent for a good while.

Lyarra reported truly and said, “He’s being blessed by several smallfolk and merchants in black.”

“Come back in, Lyarra,” sighed Mother, and Lyarra was just about to do so when from further around the corner where Rhaenys and Durran had disappeared behind a few stone walls and houses, a loud cry let up. Lord Rosby, who was just at that junction now seemed to go paler than his shirt before something came flying at him. Lyarra missed it as she blinked in that moment, but in the next Lord Rosby fell off his horse and the crowd far up ahead swarmed towards his horse, causing it to spook and rear.

“Lyarra, what’s happening?” asked Mother.


“Lord Rosby got shot!” shouted Elenei from across the Wheelhouse.

In the next instant, Lyarra felt herself pulled back into the wheelhouse and turned to see her mother having done so before slamming the partition back up. Over on the other side of the Wheelhouse, Edrick was fighting to pull Elenei, who half hung out that side’s window, back inside by himself. Mother locked Lyarra’s door with the turn of a wooden nob—Lyarra doubted it would hold much, but it seemed to comfort Mother—who then plopped Orys down and stumbled over to help Edrick pull a screaming and kicking Elenei back inside.

“But cousin Arya—!” protested Elenei.

“I don’t care what cousin Arya is doing, you are my daughter, you will remain in here on a seat, or Gods help me child, I’ll have you whipped!” threatened Mother, which took Lyarra aback. Mother never threatened whipping… ever. This seemed to shock Elenei enough that the other side’s window could be likewise slammed closed and the door locked by Edrick, while Elenei recovered sprawled with little room on the floor of the Wheelhouse to call for herself. Mother then knocked heavily on the front of the Wheelhouse and shouted for them to get back to the Red Keep as quick as possible.

“Queen of Whores!” someone shouted outside.

Shouted an unseen man, “The Stranger comes! He comes! Repent!”

“Stoney Heretic!” someone else shouted.

“Get back!” called Ser Mark from up top.

“Northern Witch!” yelled another.

“Repent you Stoney Devils!” shouted someone else.

From what it sounded, it was true chaos outside.

The speed of the Wheelhouse grew and the screams and shouts of people and the bumps seem to grow far more numerous and larger now that they were going as fast as the Wheelhouse driver dared travel through the streets of King’s Landing. Several times the doors were grabbed at and rattled or pounded upon but Lyarra and Edrick each grabbed the interior handles and held on as tightly as they could to ensure the doors wouldn’t come bursting open as they continued on. More than once Lyarra heard Ser Mark shout for unseen others to stand back. Orys clung tightly to Mother. His earlier joy dissipated by the sudden and loud happenings going on all around them. Lyonel, who had sat across from Edrick rather quietly the entire time pulled Elenei up off the floor—and though he was the younger, comforted their sister, who accepted him. They must have broken away from the procession, Lyarra thought, as the screams and pounding soon grew faint and by the time her heart began to quiet from the sudden scare she’d had, a call to open the gates, sounded from Ser Mark. Mother didn’t seem at ease until the sound of the portcullis dropping behind them was heard. Still, no one made a move for the doors—half afraid of what the sight outside might appear.

It wasn’t until Ser Mark said they were back in the Red Keep that Mother allowed Edrick and Lyarra to open the doors and for them to come spilling out of the Wheelhouse. They were in the first outer courtyard that they had entered the Wheelhouse early this morning in. Lyarra took a good look at Ser Mark who appeared disheveled, as though he had been torn at himself, with his white robe pulled so that it half hung over only one shoulder and splattered with a few droplets of blood.

“What happened Mark?” asked Mother immediately.

“Something happened at the front of the procession which caused Lord Gyles to freeze up in fear… he was then shot with a crossbow from some house or other and fell off his horse. That’s when the crowd went mad.

“Where’s my son? Where’s Durran?” asked Mother, worriedly.

“I don’t know, my Queen. Andyr turned onto one of the side-streets we agreed upon should anything happen during the procession.”

Mother called for the closest servant to see Lyarra and the rest of her siblings off to their chambers, but Lyarra protested. Mother was too distracted to argue, and instead simply grabbed Lyarra’s hand and squeezed tightly—which the servants took as a sign that she was allowed to stay as they hurried off her for once compliant siblings.

Just then the sound of the portcullis rising was heard and servant scurried to open the great ironwood doors. In that instance came the litter containing Cousin Robb with his wife followed closely behind by the Lannisters, whom Lady Alys quickly departed to assure the screaming Lady Lannister of their mutual survival.

“The fanatics! They’ve returned! Callen’s returned!” exclaimed Lady Lannister rather distressed.

“Nephew—what did you see of my son?” questioned Mother as Robb strode past them.

“That’s nonsense Felysa… I saw Callen die myself,” soothed her husband.


“I need to get Grey Wind!” replied cousin Robb determinedly who without any curtesy hurried off for the courtyard where the direwolves were being kept.

“I know what I saw! He’s returned from the grave by some sort of magic!” exclaimed Lady Felysa.

“I’m sure it was only someone who looked like him,” hushed Lady Alys.

“No! It was Callen! It was Callen!” insisted Lady Felysa persistently, and with much less hysteria.

It wasn’t until Lady Lannister had been calmed by both her husband and Lady Alys, that Mother got any answers.

“Arya had her head stuck outside the litter the entire time. She said something about seeing a man in a window with a crossbow just before—” began Lady Alys.

“A man? A single man caused all that?!” exclaimed Mother in disbelief.

But at that moment the portcullis once again came up as more nobles and lords came rushing in, most having abandoned their litters for their own feet. Among them were Uncle Stannis and his family, and Lord Arryn and his family—all of whom looked ragged and disheveled. Upon seeing Mother, Lord Arryn’s eyes narrowed and he began to stride over and shout, “A private performance!”

But whatever he was to have said after that, Lyarra never knew as at long last in came the Kingsguard along with Durran’s honor guard—one of whom in plain armor with the Lannister tabard over top of it was carrying her brother upon his horse in front of him. Durran was half slumped forward in his seat with three arrows sticking out of him. One in his shoulder, another just below his side, and the last dangerously close to the heart and was bleeding profusely. Durran did not look well. He also appeared to have some kind of wound to his head as blood and dirt smeared his forehead and darkened his already black hair with a shiny sleekness. Riding along another horse with Ser Ulwyk was Princess Rhaenys—who herself had taken an arrow to her upper arm but beyond looking horribly shaken and disturbed, appeared unharmed.

“There were crossbows from every window!” shouted one of the honor guard with Lord Arryn’s tabard over his ceremonial armor.

“There were only three that I saw!”

“Two!”

“No, Seven! It’s a sign from the Gods!”

“Quiet, you blockheads!” shouted Ser Jaime as he dismounted.

The honorguard, beyond the Lannister-clad one were all a gaggle and disagreeing with one another as to how many crossbows there were when asked what they saw by various overlords.

Mother did not call out Durran’s name. Instead she squeezed Lyarra’s hand all the more tightly. Uncle Stannis took control of the situation and began giving commands for servants to come and help the Prince to the Grandmaester’s Tower, but ultimately it was the Kingsguard who carefully lifted him up between them and gingerly carried him to the castle, with Ser Jaime roaring for his brothers to be gentle.

It was then that cousin Robb appeared once again with his gigantic direwolf at his heels. The wolf spooked several of the servants, but Robb seemed determined on his course until his path crossed with Durran. Robb watched speechless as Durran and Rhaenys were hurried into the castle proper. On their tails followed many a person, including Lord Arryn’s heir, Edmyn, and cousin Cassana. Mother seemed frozen to the spot before pulling Lyarra close to her and hugging her tightly.

“What are you doing with that wolf?” questioned Lord Lannister once the knights had departed.

Robb, who had been stunned until that moment, shook his head and with purpose regained announced, “To find my sister!”

“You can’t go out there now with that… beast!” objected Lord Arryn.

Robb countered, “I can’t just leave Arya out there!”

“Grey Wind isn’t a beast, Lord Uncle,” contradicted Lady Stark.

“Aye, but you can’t go out with that wolf. Do you want to make this riot worse?” questioned Uncle Stannis.

Robb fumed, but he seemed to see reason and turned around and called Grey Wind to him.

It was then that Mother seemed to find her feet again and pulled them into the castle after Durran.

Behind her Lyarra heard Lord Lannister say, “Well done, Conhur…” as they departed the courtyard.

Durran was easy to find in the Grandmaester’s Tower, but Gormon had shut the door to everyone while he worked, and Lyarra took her leave of her mother, who refused to stand simply idly outside the door and argued with one of Gormon’s assistants that of course she would be in that room, telling Lyarra to go and find her siblings. They were all in the courtyard with the direwolves, petting and fawning over all three, who accepted their touches reluctantly. It was only upon seeing Lyarra that their activity was broken as they all pressed her all at once for information.

“What happened to Durran?” asked Lyonel.

“Was it the Stoney Septons?” questioned Edrick.

“Was it the Seven-folded Faithful?” asked Elenei.

“Is Momma okay?” asked Orys.

And many more questions far more quickly than Lyarra could answer without pleading for her siblings to be slow down. While she did not share all the details with her siblings, Lyarra did not lie to them either. She said simply that Durran had been injured, but that Grandmaester Gormon was trying to heal him.

“Where was he hurt?” pressed Edrick.

“Is Rhaenys hurt too?” asked Lyonel.

Lyarra spent what felt like many hours answering the questions of her siblings, and when they had grown fretfully tired of doing so, joining them in giving attention to the reluctant wolves of their cousins. It was then that Lyarra noticed at the far end of the courtyard, keeping quiet watch upon them all was her bastard cousin Jon. When the sun had sunk lower in the orange sky was she was rescued when Mother had asked for a servant to fetch Edrick and Lyarra.

They walked in silence, and once when they came to a stairwell and Edrick stood aside for her to go first—a first for him in a long time—he grabbed her by the elbow and asked in an uncharacteristically small voice that squeaked, “Durran won’t die, will he?”

“Grandmaester ought to know,” evaded Lyarra.

“No. You saw him, be honest. Will he die?” demanded Edrick.

Lyarra sighed before saying, “Mayhaps… he was bleeding like a boar.”

Edrick nodded his head nervously and gulped as they continued on.

They entered the chamber to find the arrows from Durran’s wounds had been taken out and disposed of. He was lacking his doublet and shirt, and his wounds were bandaged, including the one on his head which partially obscured his face due to the way the bandage was wrapped. Mother sat at the head of the bed, and though she made no contact with Durran, Lyarra thought she might attack as fiercely as a guard dog any who she’d consider a further threat. Mother’s glare eased upon seeing Lyarra and Edrick enter.

Mother leaned over her injured son and whispered, “Durran, they’re here.”

“Rhaenys, Ed…myn, and Conhur?” burbled Durran.

“No, your brother and sister.”

Durran seemed to look less than pleased by this, or it might have been the cough which brought up blood that caused his grimace. When he was finished he reclined back into his pillows and reached out his hand and called for Lyarra, which she took without hesitation.

“Sweet sister… I’m glad to have you here,” he said before moving to meet Edrick in the eye and say point blankly, “Grandmaester Gormon says that I am lucky—the arrows missed my heart, and I might yet live…” Durran ended this in a laugh which soon turned into another coughing fit of blood. This time, Lyarra noticed his bandages beginning to show little red stains.

“My prince, you are over-exerting yourself. Thank the gods I was able to get the arrowhead and shaft intact. You need milk of the poppy, dreamwine, and rest,” scolded Grandmaester Gormon.

“I’ve had enough rest! And if the worse should happen…” started Durran.

“Don’t think of that, Durran,” cooed Mother.

But Durran ignored them both and continued to look her brother straight in the eye as he said, “Edrick, you need to be ready, if I… should succumb.”

“Y—you’ll live,” quivered Edrick.

Durran continued, “Be ready, nonetheless. And even should I survive…. I doubt I could do much fighting… with how winded I feel. You must take your training at arms more seriously.”

Edrick nodded anxiously, and stepped up to the foot of the bed and grabbed the footboard before swearing he would be the best warrior of the family and fight nobly and devotedly for whatever Durran wished of him. Had the situation been different, Lyarra might have thought Edrick was putting too much airs in his vow, but to see tears at the corner of his eyes and see him shaking at the very real prospect of being the heir to more than just Claw Castle, made Lyarra believe his sincerity now.

Before Edrick had finished his promise he’d been interrupted by a knock at the door and before anyone could go to answer it, in rushed Rhaenys with the man in Lannister livery, denoting his service and fealty to that house—with long black hair and a hooked nose that made him distinct. He brought with him a heavy box which Rhaenys told him to set down before she swooped down next to Durran on the bed, causing both Grandmaester Gormon and Mother to object loudly, but the last dragon princess ignored them and quietly and gently leaned in and asked him how he was, cupping his face tenderly with her hands and kissing him openly.

“I fear myself not up to the bedding,” quipped Durran quietly to Rhaenys.

“Hush, and do what the Grandmaester says—or else you shan’t be up to it for longer than you should,” returned Rhaenys with an attempt to maintain the light joviality, but faltering halfway.


As Durran explained the situation to her, the Lannister man was hurried towards the door once he had placed the box upon one of Grandmaester Gormon’s tables. Durran interrupted himself to say, “Conhur stays. I… I want to do something for him.”

Grandmaester Gormon insisted, “My prince, you are too sick to have so many visitors!”

But this complaint was only met with the arrival of Edmyn Arryn, who Durran seemed half as delighted to see as he had Rhaenys.

“Someone must leave!” insisted Grandmaester Gormon.

“Edrick,” ordered Mother, and without another word, Edrick bowed his head and left. Lyarra took the fact that Durran had not once let go of her hand as likely the only reason she was permitted to stay—well that and her fading into the corner of the room that had seemed to occur. Rhaenys then gave Durran a long deep kiss and rose and approached the box, which had drawn the suspicious attention of the Grandmaester.

“You’ve seen worse,” japed Edmyn as he brushed his copper hair from his eyes and crossed his arms. He too seemed eager to put a bright spin upon the situation.

“Aye… recall that Conhur?” prompted Durran with a smile as he tried to include the young Lannister-sworn man who had tried fading into the Wall after being told to say.

“You weren’t bleeding so much, then,” grunted Conhur.

“Gods no…” admitted Durran who for the first time looked down upon his bandages to see the growing red spots and frowned.

“What is the task you wished for Conhur?” implored Mother.

“I would have him… knighted,” stated Durran plainly.

At this every eye looked to Conhur and looked at him with different eyes.

“He helped save me from the crowd when I fell… I might have been trampled but for him… and besides… I promised it of him. See that he is knighted. Promise me Edmyn that you’ll see him knighted,” urged Durran fiercely.

“You’ll see him knighted yourself, there’s no need for all these promises,” assured Edmyn, though his smiles weren’t quite as convincing. He was met with Durran’s glare, and soon the heir of the Eyrie looked to Conhur with an odd look before grumbling that he would. It was then that Rhaenys returned from her box and returned with shimmering round scaled stones in the shape of eggs.

“Are those… Dragon’s eggs?!” asked Mother, stunned at the sight of them.

“Aye. Uncle Stannis found them in the ruins of Summerhall… they are his wedding present to us,” stated Rhaenys simply as she carefully placed the eggs around Durran, which struck Lyarra as an odd thing to do.

“What are you doing?” questioned Grandmaester Gormon.

“Keeping me safe…” said Durran oddly, as if he already knew by some sort of magic.

“My Princess, I think it not wise to put such rare things in a sick—” began Grandmaester Gormon, but he was cut off when the Princess turned her head suddenly after placing the last egg about Durran.

This seemed to quiet Gormon for a moment until another voice from the door interrupted to say, “He is right… niece. They might fall and break,” cautioned Uncle Stannis who had appeared at the door with Cassana, who had brought her harp. Upon seeing Uncle Stannis, Mother’s eyes narrowed, but she remained seated. Cassana worked her way to the opposite corner of the room from Lyarra, where Conhur and Edmyn had similarly taken refuge—with the Arryn heir questioning the Westerlander.

“They survived a palace collapsing upon them,” countered Rhaenys, and the matter was at a close for the nonce, until Durran admitted quietly to Rhaenys, “You know, we never got the chance to read up on dragons and dragon eggs… mayhaps… while I recover… we could,” stated Durran hopefully with a smile.

Rhaenys smiled and said, “I’ll look for a tome at once.”

Mother then interrupted their closeness for a short moment to kiss Durran upon his forehead before rising to speak with Uncle Stannis by the door, his firm eyes locking upon Mother’s. They excused themselves and left the room without completely closing the door behind them, and in poorly hushed voices the two began to quarrel outside, which was thankfully obscured when Cassana began to play a sad but quiet tune that Lyarra swore she had heard Cassana play before. Instead of singing the verses, Cassana simply sung the song with nonsense words, as if afraid to speak the words outright.

Upon mother’s kiss, Durran’s gaze looked upon her with wonder, his look lingering on her retreating figure until she had left the room, despite Rhaenys’ attempts to return his attention to her. It wasn’t until Mother had departed the room that Durran looked once again to his newly sworn wife with a smile to ease her worried brow.

When Cassana said “derry derry derry down” amongst her nonsense words that Lyarra recognized the tune and was suddenly struck with fear. Lyarra stared at Cassana, who despite her playing and singing, opened her eyes and met Lyarra’s. For a moment the two girls shared the look oblivious to all else around them, as if it were a secret only they were party to.

She must have squeezed Durran’s hand doing so, for the next moment, her brother asked, “Lyarra… are you all right?”

Lyarra said nothing, but she immediately felt the need to flee the room with his somber music hanging in the air. She made her excuses, saying that she was tired and kissed Durran’s sweaty hand before departing the room. She interrupted Mother and Uncle Stannis who stopped in mid-sentence when they heard the door squeal upon opening further. Uncle had said something about “the Stoney Faith and calls against the Royal family being shouted amongst the lamentations

“What would you do? Hang them?!” scoffed mother haughtily.

“The things they are saying about the Royal family are treasonous, and dangerous with Lord Gyles’—”

And that was when they had stopped, and walked a few paces down the corridor that led to the other small chambers upon this level of the tower. Lyarra headed for the stairwell immediately, trying to appear calm as she hurried down them, but the music still haunted her footfalls. And soon, once she had reached the ground floor she had begun to run and run—not knowing where to go, but simply wishing to be as far from Cassana’s song as possible. After all, if the “fallow doe” was gone, then it couldn’t possibly be true. Nay, she was certain of it. She passed through a few tapestries and soon realized that she had lost her way in a small narrow dusty corridor she had ne’er seen before in her life. The high windows shone moonlight through, giving a pale silvery glow to the entire corridor. Afraid, Lyarra turned around, but was met only with darkness. Ahead, beyond the high windows was more darkness. She would have turned back then, had the song not haunted her mind and urged her forward. Slowly and apprehensively she crossed the lit portion of the corridor. Her perception was heightened and suddenly scared of what the darkness might conceal she looked all about her, and noticed, a set of footprints in the dust, not belonging to her. Someone had come through here. This passage was not unknown then, and at once it seemed to calm and frighten her. It wasn’t however until she heard voices, distant and ahead of her that she felt her arm freeze with pimples from a freshly plucked goose. She looked to either side of her, there was nowhere to hide but in the darkness, as both walls were bare, and so Lyarra rushed out of the light and

“You hear that?” questioned a voice that sounded familiar.

“Rats, Obi, and nothing more,” dismissed a second man.

“They were too loud to be a rat!” insisted the first man.

“As I said, little rats and nothing more,” repeated the second man.

As the footfalls approach, Lyarra pressed herself as flat against the wall as she could, and held her breath. Ever closer the smacking of bare feet against the marble floor came from one of them. And then they suddenly stopped, dangerously close.

“There’s someone up ahead,” whispered the first voice when the footsteps had drawn closer.

Thoughts flung from her mind as against better judgment, Lyarra turned and ran back through the lit portion corridor, and towards the darkness from which she came.

“Get her! She knows!” hissed the first voice, and Lyarra screamed—hoping someone might hear her then.

She didn’t get far into the other dark end of the corridor before she felt something hit her upon the back of the head, and the darkness consumed her.

Chapter Text

ARYA

She had fallen from the litter not long after seeing the coughing lord shot—straight through his chest. She had tried to return to the litter, but the crowd had separated her quickly, with many eager to see beyond her. She was stepped on twice—each time she’d kicked the offender and through sheer force of will had managed to stand up. She tried then to push her way back to the litter, but the procession was melting away in front of her eyes as litters and riders broke rank and went whichever way they could. Robb’s litter had vanished down some side-street, and the pushing throng of people increasingly separated her from the departing procession. She was now on her own. Part of her wanted to shout for joy at the freedom of it all, while another part nearly froze in fear as she felt hands grab at her dress. It was as though someone had realized the grey and white silk dress was worth something and this realization was quickly dawning on others around her. Not caring about the dress, Arya pulled herself free, tearing parts of the dress and pushed towards the back of the crowd. She would have to find her own way back to the Red Keep—and quickly.

She however soon found that the one man who had a piece of her torn dress in his hand, would not give her up so easily as she tried to push through the crowd which so eagerly moved towards where the procession had been. Shoes and boots proved the next stumbling block for getting through the crowd, as many careless people stepped on her ripped gown, slowing her down and causing her to stumble into others every so often.

If I hadn’t worn a dress…

But her goodsister had insisted.

And then she was free of the crowd—but she looked back to see the man still after her—only temporarily delayed. Without thinking, Arya ran, turning down an alley which took her deeper into the city and further down one of the three hills of King’s Landing. She ran past doors and houses aplenty, many streets abandoned or with some beggar hidden in some nook—attempting to pry open a shutter and raid a house. The further she ran, the more her torn dress became a hindrance. Her thoughts began to catch up with her feet as her ears took note that her footfalls were the only ones she was hearing at the moment—but that could change in an instant. If she had something to defend herself with—to take any man by surprise.

No she needed to catch her breath, first and foremost, her chest hurt, and her legs were beginning to ache. And so Arya dodged into a side alley and leaned up against the wall of a house to catch her breath. As she did she took note of her surroundings and was surprised to find that only a street or two further down the far side of the alley, Arya could see the city wall looming over the houses like a tall giant. It was then that Arya realized that she had run blindly down streets to… wherever she was at the moment. For an instant she was scared until she remembered the thrill of exploring the less used parts of Winterfell with Beth, Greyham, and Rickon. This was no different, she chided to herself, than exploring a new level of the dark and dank crypts, with Rickon likely to jump out from behind a statue in an attempt to scare her. Gods did she miss Rickon of all her brothers. But no matter, she would simply have to press on, and figure her way back to the Red Keep—which she could do.

Mayhaps I should speak to a Goldcloak? Surely they would see me back to the castle easily enough and avoid the crowd.

And with some resolve, and her breath returned to her, Arya headed for the far side of the alley. She first looked to get a sense of where in the city she was. The sun which had been high overhead when the wedding party had entered the church was now beginning to dip lower in the sky. Three hills were visible from her lowly point. The hill with the Great Sept being the closest, and another with the old dragonpit not too far either. The hill with the Red Keep was the farthest from where Arya stood—and the sun was beginning to hide behind its towers, darkening the red stone of its construction. She would have to get to the Red Keep—but the major street between here and there was blocked with the crowd. Looking down the street the alley intersected in the direction of the wall, Arya looked to see if a gate was nearby that the Goldcloaks who had given Nymeria such trouble were near, but the street dead ended at the city wall. She would have to follow the wall until she came to a gate. Curiously enough there must have been some death that affected the families so, for on many houses displaying black cloth hanging from their upper windows. Cautiously Arya crossed the street and continued down another alley, feeling a bit more comfortable doing so when she managed to grab a stray piece of wood that must have fallen from some of the wood sellers. It was barely big enough to qualify as a club, but Arya clutched it in her grasp. She was not in one of the better parts of the city, as this alley had a door to a house that looked abandoned and broken into judging from the half-broken door. From the street at the end of the next alley, she heard a commotion from one of the houses, followed by footsteps coming closer. Not wishing to be found, Arya ducked through the door and into the darkened house. She listened as the footsteps approached, echoing on the cobble stone of the street, pause for a moment, and then after what felt like a long extended moment, passed.

Arya breathed once again, relieved, before she felt someone grab her from behind. Without thinking, Arya turned swiftly and swung at whatever had grabbed her. She turned to see she’d swung and hit a boy in the head, not much older than her judging from his lanky and thin body and ill-fitting shabby clothes comparing to when Jon and Bran had been similarly proportioned. She’d knocked him unconscious, and for a moment she thought she might have killed him, and she bit her lip, uncomfortable with the idea—but then thinking what if he’d been even older and had a knife, and she bit her lip no more. Cautiously she hovered her hand over the boy’s mouth and nose, and felt slight and shallow air against her palm. He lived. As she pulled back her hand she noticed in his open mouth a distinct lack of a tongue—mayhaps he’d been punished for something he had said—Arya couldn’t imagine what, but one of Old Nan’s scariest stories told a tale of an old Andal king who’d found his brother’s words so offensive, that he’d had his tongue ripped out with hot pincers. Then, cautiously, Arya bent down and looked to where she’d hit the boy upon the side of his head. There was no blood, but the area was red and felt hot to her touch as she pulled back the boy’s shaggy dark brown, almost black hair to get a better look at his head. Confident that he’d be fine, but for a headache when he awoke, Arya decided that any further obligation she had to his well being was repaid in full, and was about to leave the shabby excuse for a house when she heard footsteps and voices in the alley.

“It’s down this away,” huffed a man’s voice.

As the footsteps left the cobblestone of the street, Arya feared that they meant this alley. Without much thought, she looked around to see if there might be someplace to hide out of sight from any windows or further in solitude, should they actually enter the house. Any furniture that remained were broken into pieces and piled in a heap in the center of the room—as if done on purpose. There was a ladder which led to a second floor of sorts that without thinking she climbed as quickly as she could as the thud of footsteps came closer to the door. As she heard the hinges of the half destroyed door squeal she managed to pull herself up fully onto the floor of the second story and back from the view of the ladder. As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice two more children, girls just younger than her, who stared at her fearfully as they pressed themselves within a corner and seeking comfort in each other’s arms. On the wall on either side of them was a window that had poorly maintained shutters closed, but with enough slots to allow the afternoon light through.

They might be the boy’s family…

Instinctively as she heard voices down below, Arya placed her forefinger to her lips as a gesture to the scared girls, who returned the gesture as if in acknowledgement.

Arya then turned her attention to the voices below. Men, both of them.

“What’s the boy doing here?” asked one man.

A knife was unsheathed and a long silence dragged out before another man spoke, “He is missing a tongue… The One Above have mercy, just like in the days of Septon Bones.”

The first voice added in, “It’s the High Septon’s work… it must be.”

The footsteps drew closer then to the ladder, and Arya’s heart stopped. She clutched the wood in her hand firmly, and prepared herself to strike, if a head should appear at the top of the ladder. This time she would strike and kill the prey with one swift move.

But then she heard the first voice cry out in agony.

“Easy there, Jonothor…” said the second man, and the footsteps moved away from the ladder.

Arya eased her stance and relaxed her position very slowly—scared to draw any attention back up to the second floor. Obviously one of the men was injured, and they sought refuge here, in this abandoned house.

“The One Above curse the Seven-Folded demon and his knife who stabbed me!” proclaimed the man named Jonothor.

“Hold still,” chided the second man.

Another long pause held sway in the house before Jonothor spoke again, “It had to be a trap—that’s the only thing that makes sense… to see Rosby shot down like that… and the Prince—”

The second man interrupted, “The Witch’s imp, you mean. The One bless the archer who shot down that wolf in stag’s skin.”

“Janys!” protested Jonothor.

“You didn’t grow up in the Stormlands, Jonothor, I did. The boy is no true Stag. I’ve seen true Stags—old Harbert, the King, they are the true Stags. The boy might have the coloring of one, but beneath that he is one of these Northern demons come to plague all sons of the Andals with their barbarism. Why would the One strike down one of his blessed sons like Rosby?”

“Unless he means to send a message to all the faithful gathered here…” offered Jonothor.

Janys asked “What message though could he me mean by killing Lord Rosby?”

There was a long pause before Jonothor spoke again, saying, “If the One is to root out the vile corruption they’ve brought to Westeros, it’s clear now that he will not begin in King’s Landing. Melchor was wrong… the One will come again, of that I have no doubt. Melchor was just wrong about the city and the date. I mean before the dragons came how holy a place was the Sept of Baelor? It wasn’t… no, if the One were to come again he’d return to an older and more sacred place so as to gather all true Andal sons together… then we could march and purge the South of these northern demons.”

For an instant Arya felt her temper flare at hearing her cousin called a “Northern demon”, but her anger was distracted when another set of footsteps approached, followed by the sound of a blade of some short length being drawn. However the footsteps from outside passed the house, but they were not alone as shouts and screams accompanied them and several more footfalls, as though a small number of people had run down the alley.

Curious to see what was going on, Arya looked around for a window and peered through the broken slots in the shutter. She was barely able to see beyond the houses across the courtyard that was formed by the houses on the block. However hinted afar were streets still teeming with a gigantic horde that writhed through surrounding streets to the main road between the Sept and the Red Keep.

“If you open it, you’ll be able to see more, child,” spoke a voice from behind her. Nervous, but not afraid, Arya turned to see a brawny man at the top of the ladder. His face was quite comely for one of the smallfolk. He was dressed in black robes, with long chestnut hair that came to his shoulders and amber brown eyes that entranced her the moment she saw them.

From his voice she recognized him as the one that the other had called, Janys. After her silence he continued, saying, “Come down, the lot of you. The One welcomes all innocents into his protection.” There was something to the way he spoke which caused Arya to listen intently, as though each word were dripping with honey.

The other girls were the first to more, seeming to want to be as far from Arya as possible as each scurried to the ladder and the man climbed up and out of their way so they could descend. Doing so gave Arya the briefest of glimpses at the feet of the man, who went barefoot and whose feet were black with dirt and grime. When the girls had climbed down the man then held out a large hand to Arya, but she instinctively backed away further from his reach—sliding her dress along the dirty floorboards as she scooted with her legs and the push of her arms.


“I will not harm you child…” said Janys, but words of “Northern Demon” echoed in her ears, and so Arya backed herself against the opposite wall. As if thinking better of it, Janys sighed, and departed back down the ladder. When he had vanished below, Arya let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding, and took comfort in remaining above while the others moved below. Her mind however continued to work despite the brief respite, and she knew that she would have to leave the house before she was discovered as Lord Stark’s daughter and another northern demon. Her dress nearly shouted as much with its gray and white colors. Thankfully the men weren’t familiar with the North and she hadn’t a direwolf sewn on the stupid dress. But she couldn’t rely on their ignorance to last for forever, and what would they do when they did learn of her being another Northern demon? She would have to escape. Her mind then began to wonder whether climbing down the side of the house and into the courtyard might do the trick. Bran had taught her some of the tricks to climbing out her window when she was younger. She would just need to take off these stupid shoes and stockings so her feet and toes could find the proper footholds. The dress was likely to get in the way so she hiked it up and used its torn ends as ties to gather the skirt above her knees, allowing her lower legs the freedom to move. She had to change rather slowly and quietly, not wishing to draw the attention of those below once again, lest they begin to wonder why she would wish to run away when they had shown little intention of harming her—well from their perspective at least.

Arya tip toed back to the window she’d been under and eased open the shutters. A tiny groan from their rusted hinges, prompting movement from below. Knowing that she had to hurry, Arya swung herself out the window and frantically searched for footholds as quick as she could. As she lost sight of the room she had been in, she saw Janys’ head appear above the top of the ladder. She hurried her journey down, half climbing and half slipping down the side of the building before landing rather abruptly on her feet, and recovering her balance by crouching low on her feet. Janys was at the window imploring that she’d be safer with them—that the streets were giving over to madness, but Arya knew what safe truly was. Safe was Nymeria at her side, her growls warding off all men who didn’t belong to the pack.

Feeling the need to escape this confining man rock she rushed towards another wall and tried to jump. Her hind paws not cooperating. She needed to be with her. She needed her. She was trapped in a circle of manrock. And then she noticed something… some vines that might just hold her weight and get her to a ledge where she could pull herself up to the roof of one of the manrocks. Spreading her clawed toes she dug as she pulled on the thicker and older vines with her fore paws, eventually bringing herself to the rooftop. Ignoring the scalding hot shingles of the roof on her paws, she scrambled across the tiles and over to the other side. She dangled herself off the ledge of the tiles and eased her descent by way of a rain barrel, partly filled with water. She moved constantly, not stopping to think, knowing she’d have to hurry if she didn’t want to be caught by the men who didn’t smell right. She took flight once again, feeling the need to run to reach her, though some part of her still felt as though she were penned up within a circle of manrock.

The sun grew low in the sky before she had tired and lost the urgency to run. Slowly she felt her mind return to her as she saw she was now part-way around the city from where she’d been. She could hear the roar of the crowd—now quite a bit closer to her—between her and the fortress. But before she could begin to plan her way around the crowd, she felt parched and out of breath—she needed water. A quick look around the streets and she found another rain barrel, partially filled with water. As she reached her hands into the barrel for water that she heard her name called from further down the street. She nearly ran at the sound of her own name until she saw it was her pack brother, Jon. For more than a moment they reveled at the sight of each other, rushing and clinging to each other as though separation had been longer than it had, but Arya in that moment didn’t care. She’d found one of her pack, and the urge to hurry eased for the nonce. That they were the most estranged of siblings didn’t matter, all that did was that they were together.

It wasn’t until the screams were heard that they broke apart. The crowd, which had been near was now at the other end of the street, carrying a limp body decked in black, save for his robe upon his shoulders. Those who carried the man were likewise in black.

“Lord Rosby died for us all! He readies us for the One’s arrival at sunset!“ shouted someone in the crowd.

Jon starred at them as they approached, needing to be prompted by Arya before he went from being pulled along to pulling Arya as they hurried in the opposite direction.

“We’ve got to get back to Robb, he and half his guard are out looking for you,” said Jon as they rushed.

It was as the sun was disappearing in the sky that Arya heard the bells of the Sept of Baelor begin to toll. And suddenly the shouts of the crowd behind them began to turn into screams. For a brief moment Arya looked back and saw gold cloaks now pushing through the crowd of black, hacking away with swords, maces, axes—whatever weapon was available to them, killing any and all who got in their way. Blood spurt from a young merchant as his face was sliced open like a pear. Another woman was stabbed through the chest. All the while the bells tolled.

Jon, who had been leading them near the Red Keep, but not directly towards it, made a sudden change in direction for it, and when the long path up Aegon’s Hill was at last come to, Jon let go of Arya and shouted, “Get to the keep, I’ll look for Robb!” before turning and rushing off down another street. At once the castle stood there, inviting and safe, but Arya thought of Robb, looking for her, and Jon rushing to find him.

Gray could easily be seen as black at twilight.

He has men with him, he will be safe.

He is one of the pack, and the lone wolf dies.

I have no sword.

Her feeble arguments for returning to the Keep subsided, she looked for something that could protect her, but just as she was, she saw Jon reappear with one of Robb’s men, carrying… Gods no!

Between them, staggering and half tripping, bloodied, with a knife sticking out of his gut was Robb, and the bells continued to toll.

Chapter Text

EURON

He spent the entire crossing from Bloodstone in solitude—unable to comprehend how his mother had just traded him for coin. Was he now the fake fat man’s slave? What would he have to do? Thus far Euron had simply been left to his own devices, and he’d been allowed to keep Salik who’d bit the fake fat man when he’d tried to grab him. And so he’d sailed the Narrow Sea with only Salik for company—sharing their rations as Euron didn’t feel like eating much. When he had first arrived at the manse, a fatter man than the fake old one who had brought him had pulled him aside and examined him.

“No, he is not ready to interact with the Prince,” tutted the fat man with hair as yellow as aged cheese and a beard with three braids. The man's fat sausage-like fingers pulled at Euron's grimy shirt with unrestrained disgust. In that moment Euron decided that he would wear nothing but these clothes for as long as he could—if only to spite the cheese-haired fat man.

“We were far worse in our own youth, Illyrio," said the fake fat man.

The fat man with hair as yellow as cheese, apparently called Illyrio interrupted the other, saying, "Speak for yourself—I have a statue to attest to how cleanly I was. Disgusting urchins aren't picked. I may have been but a simple bravo, but I didn't abandon all sense of cleanliness."

The fake fat man whom Euron had travelled with rolled his eyes and added, "Have your handmaids bathe him if he so offends your nose then. In any case, I would say he is perfect for Daemon as he is.”

“You agreed that after Aegon—” began the yellow-haired man.

“Yes, yes, but I hardly thought you’d lock him away in your manse for this long. He must have some exposure—”

The yellow-haired man interrupted, “He has the halfmaester and a Septa for his education and one of the best swordsmen—" began Illyrio.

"The boy will broaden his mind by exposing him to the plight of those whose live life as one of the small folk—something lacking from his tutors' experience."

Illyrio grew quite serious then and said rather solemnly, "I promised Serra.”

The fake fat man sighed, “Not now.”

“Yes, now!” insisted the man called Illyrio by the fake fat man.

The fake fat man looked to him and Illyrio had one of his guards, Strato, hurry him out of the room. The guard was a tall man, barrel chested with an extra barrel beneath his chest for safe keeping. He was dark-eyed and swarthy of complexion and had a reddish tint to his balding brown hair, but it wasn’t enough to call it auburn by any means. He had big meaty paws that gripped at a poleaxe tightly and at Euron’s hand even more firmly. And so Euron was dragged from the room by the guard and down a series of passageways until they came to a chamber far larger than anything Euron was used to on Bloodstone.

“You stay here,” grunted Strato before leaving and shutting the door with more force than was perhaps necessary.

Euron and Salik were then left to their own chamber. The chamber had its own bed as well as a few other furnishings that Euron recognized more from the guest rooms that he’d seen his mother preparing from time to time. There was a trunk for him to put his things in—not that he had much—which stood at the foot of a bed with drapes upon them. Why a bed would need drapes, Euron had no clue. The chamber itself was organized into three separate spheres. There was the sleeping nook which contained the bed, a chamber pot beneath the bed, and trunk and was closest to a window which looked out over a private courtyard where a fountain with a statue of a naked boy with a sword stood. Closer to the front wall was a table, some wooden chairs, a small bookshelf and a few boxes which contained rolls of parchment, quills, ink and other such fancy bobbles. Closer to the back wall was a small area with more comfortable seats and a long cushioned chair stretched so wide it could fit at least three or four people on it. These chairs and stretch chair surrounded a low table and were closest to the hearth which was nearly as big as the special room that had been at the inn his mother had worked at. Upon taking in the sight of the room about him, Euron allowed Salik out onto the bed, allowing his sea ferret to explore all the nooks and crannies that Euron might have missed.

Euron came to know his fancy chamber quite well as he was quite often locked inside it. The only company he had beyond Salik were the new tutors hired to teach him his letters and sums, or the handmaids that delivered his food, attempted to dress him, and often came dragging a large metal tub and buckets of hot water wash him, but the first time they'd tried this, he'd followed Salik's example and slipped out the window and down the side of the wall in the courtyard. However he had hardly figured his way out of the courtyard before Strato had emerged and returned him to his chamber. Bars were then added to his view to keep him from slipping away.

Still, Euron refused to be washed or parted from his clothes. They were all he had left of the Stepstones, besides Salik, and he'd bite, scratch, kick, and punch anyone who tried to take them from him. As such the handmaids eventually reached a compromise with him after a few days by agreeing to wash him with his clothes on. Euron had refused this trick as well--for they'd likely say he couldn't stay in sopping wet clothes. And so he went for nearly a fortnight without bathing... until one morning a fat old woman with one eye open wide and the other squinted nearly completely closed appeared with the large metal tub armed with a switch from some sapling branches of some tree or other. The only attractive feature about her was her long blue-black hair that seemed to shimmer in the light, despite being pulled up and back in a severe fashion. From the manner of her dress Euron knew that she was the Head Handmaid to whom all the other handmaids deferred. When he refused his bath as was usual, he was hit by the old matron, who when she spoke revealed that half her teeth were rotting or fallen out.

Euron did not react to the pain of the switch, his back still sorely remembered the whip he'd received the end of on Bloodstone the day he'd been... traded. This seemed to provoke the old matron who started babbling at him in the Pentoshi tongue he only knew a handful of words in from the traders that had visited Robert's Port.

When the switch proved ineffectual, that was when the old matron nodded to her handmaids and they began to pull at Euron--grabbing him by his clothes, which at first surprised Euron until he heard a distinct ripping sound followed by others. He tried to pull away, but the more he pulled the more rips and tears he heard until he was standing there in nothing but ragged clothes barely concealing the smallclothes he never took off. Soon more handmaids joined in, far too many to kick or punch away. Salik, the bloody coward had taken refuge under the bed as Euron was stripped completely naked, beaten raw with the switch until his eyes and face were as red as his back and backside felt, and then forced into the tub against his will. It hurt to sit or touch the side, and the brushes they used were hard horsehair bristles that felt as the rest of his skin was removed from him. Despite his protests--which were now weak and feeble, he was scrubbed roughly as the handmaids all chatted away in Pentoshi and the old matron looked on with the switch in hand.

The rags that remained of his clothes were tossed into the burning hearth and fancy cloth ones were laid out for him after he was rubbed dry with rough cloths. He thought of at first refusing the clothes simply to spite the old crone for whipping him so hard, but as a certain chill settled and caused his skin to become as bumpy as a plucked bird's, Euron slowly put on the small clothes, then the trousers, followed by the shirt. He wore enough of the clothes to not be naked, but he hardly saw the need for a double' or whatever the fancy cloth that was supposed to go over his shirt--or for that matter the need to tuck his shirt into his pants like he'd seen some fancy dress lords do. The boots seemed pointless to him, given that he was confined inside his chambers and his feet were blak and hard already--despite the handmaids' attempts to rub them raw--so he remained barefoot as he had always done before. This seemed to satisfy the old matron enough who barked her orders in Pentoshi and left him to the run of his chamber. It was only when the handmaids had all departed that Salik crawled out from under the bed and wriggled his way about Euron's neck and shoulders like a makedo scarf. Euron curled up on his bed and gently petting Salik, fell asleep with tears on his cheeks.

That night he had a dream for the first time in a long time. He had used to dream of a ship appearing out of the fog and a man he took to be his father jumping off and running to him and his mother--but never quite ever reaching them. But now he was on a ship himself--in the middle of a dense fog. At the wheel of the ship stood the Lady Bloodstone, as he'd last seen her: long brown hair, kind ghost grey eyes, and dressed in the blood red and grey colors of her ship. They continued sailing through the fog and Euron crossed over to her but before he could reach her a blast of cold air took the sails and the mist seemed to solidify into snow and block his way to Lady Bloodstone.

He awoke to find himself freezing. Salik having abandoned his neck and shoulders for the comfort of a nearby pillow. For warmth, Euron pulled as many covers over him as possible. But they proved too thin, and eventually he settled for the warmth of the double' or whatever it was called.

As weeks turned to moons, the handmaids found Salik especially to be rather endearing, and Euron put up with more baths than he might otherwise, simply to see Salik happily swim about the water as he longed to do. He once asked if he might be able to go to the courtyard with the fountain that was visible from his chamber’s window so that Salik might swim in a larger place than Euron’s bathwater. Every time the answer came back that if he was good at his studies he would be permitted to go outside more frequently. His tutors told him that a lord who did not know his letters was a poorer man than the husbandman who did. Euron knew not what a husbandman was—but by the way his new tutors talked of them, they sounded rather stupid. Euron wasn’t sure he wanted to know his letters and writing—he hadn’t needed it on Bloodstone—though he had to admit he found he rather liked his sums—for he could see how useful they might be in getting more gold.

 

One night, after Euron had fought with Salik over a choice bit of fish that Euron actually wanted to eat for once, a clamor was heard as servants ran up and down the halls. The fish was forgotten for half a second and Salik victorious, but Euron did not care for the moment. In all his time at the manse he had never heard such commotion as he heard now as doors slamming and bursting echoed through the halls, followed by multiple footfalls. He was curious as to what it all meant until suddenly the door opened up and Strato the guard was at the door.

 

“Put your boots on and come. The magister has ordered it that everyone is to assemble in his courtyard—even you,” Strato grunted.

 

Euron rolled his eyes and strode forth, but the poleaxe with which the guard carried, came down between them.

 

“Boots, now. The magister will have it no other way.”

 

Euron raised his eyes to Strato and crossed his arms. What did it matter whether his feet were covered or not. If it was that boots were required—then he wouldn’t be able to go to the courtyard to see what the magister wanted and wasn’t that a shame. It was then that Euron learned the persuasive ability of a sharpened poleaxe, and to save his skin, he slipped his feet into the godsawful boots. He felt awkward walking in the low heeled leather things—which made his feet feel as though they were a loaf of bread too long in its oven.

 

The sun was so low that a hazy purple glow had settled on the courtyard, giving the water in the fountain of the naked boy with a sword a blue-violet color. The entire household was gathered round in a semi-circle—even the kitchen boys with dark hair and fair greenlander skin. In the center stood the fat yellow-beard, ed Magister himself alongside of the fake fat man he was supposed to call Varys—but Euron refused out of principle. Between them stood another man with pale silver-gold hair and blue eyes dressed in a fine white double’ and trousers, and another who was forced onto the ground on his hands and knees by the white boot of the silver-gold haired man. The man on the ground had pale violet hair and olive skin. He looked beaten and bruised as though he’d lost a fight, but the sight that remained with Euron was that of the blood that came from the man’s mouth that he spat and gurgled unintelligible groans with. Whenever one threatened to become too loud, the silver-gold haired man kicked the man and like a broken dog, the man on his knees quieted his whimpering.

 

Also of note was another boy in the crowd with silver-gold hair that matched that of the man in white’s and thus Euron thought he was likely the man’s kin of some sort, too old to be a son but mayhaps a brother, though the boy was dressed all in red with black trim instead of the highly visible white. There was also a girl with long brown hair and a sickly complexion that seemed to be crying for some strange reason. Mayhaps she was a daughter of the man on his knees?

 

“Some of you may recognize this… excuse of a man from when he was a boy. A boy whose health and welfare Lord Varys and myself had taken to generously ensure, like we have for all of you. And just when he had reaped the benefit of our gratitude—what does he do but betray us—killing little birds and mice, our brothers and sisters, and even his own kin. For this reason—I give you the satisfaction of watching this man’s death,” declared the Magister.

 

The violet-haired man was hung in a nearby tree, but before he was finished writhing his belly was cut open and his entrails pulled out. He was then dropped to the ground and left to die twitching and choking until he no longer moved. On some level, Euron knew he should have been shocked by this, but on another he couldn’t help but be fascinated by the dark red that seeped onto the dirt from the body. He was so entranced he failed to notice when he was spoken to and was only made aware when Strato hit him on the backside of the head.

 

“You are to meet the Prince,” harrumphed the burly guard, and Euron looked up to see that the boy with silver-gold hair approached him. His double’ or whatever it was call was nearly as dark a red as the man’s blood was, with the black trim and embroidery upon it only making it seem darker in the twilight light. What was noticeable however was the eyes of the boy that was called the Prince—eyes that seemed almost to glow in what little light there was left, reddish-purple. Eyes that Euron would not soon forget. And that was how he was introduced to Prince Daemon.

Chapter Text

SELYSE

 

The Starry Mother had hit her hard but with a newfound defiance Selyse stood and met the eyes of the old woman.

 

“You slut. Your belly rounds with child and yet you have the audacity to continue looking me in the eyes? I’ll break you yet!”

 

‘She won’t. The Mother shall protect you now,’ reassured the voice of the Seven as a whisper in her ear.

 

And so the Starry Mother smacked her, beat her with a paddle, and finally with a switch so green it left bloody welts in its wake. She avoiding hitting anywhere near the babe, and so Selyse stood, absorbing the blows in a manner almost indifferent to the pain. The voice was right, no matter how hard Mother Teryse hit her, the pain did not hurt her in the least. The Mother protected her, just like the Mother had protected her before.

 

Selyse had discovered she was with child when her moons blood was late for the second moon in a row and her belly began to feel rather bloated and sore. She recalled her mother speaking to her as a young girl of the wonders of having children and the effects it had on a woman’s body. She had clawed at her stomach, scratching it with her nails, as though she could rip the growing stranger out of her body. She had cried inconsolably and prayed in the Sept before the Stranger for an answer. He never gave one. She could feel herself growing fat with every bite of food she took, and the Starry Mother’s vicious tongue never failed to comment on how much more she ate than her sisters.

 

And so it had been with a despairing heart that Selyse had climbed the septry to the highest tower, wishing to put an end to herself before she might be discovered. It had been a beautiful sunset the day she’d climbed the tower, casting the white tower pink in the evening light. She had stood there on the edge of the tower parapet, looking down at the long fall that awaited her. She prayed one last time to the Seven, if only out of habit now more than any real meaning. Having finished her prayers she stepped up onto the edge and then lo the voice had shouted “Stop!”

 

The shout had been so sudden she’d nearly fallen to her death from her jolt, and might have had she not steadied herself on the parapet. And then the voice had appeared before her, glorious and radiant in the setting sun. A winged man with seven golden wings and seven silver, with seven faces each more lovely and beautiful than the last, dressed in robes made from the light of a rainbow. It was nearly impossible to look straight at the man without squinting and holding the one’s arm up to shadow one’s eyes, but by doing so, Selyse could see and be struck by the awe and wonder of the sight of he who spoke for the Seven who were One.

 

The voice spoke, sounding as one and many at once, neither male nor female, and neither young nor old. ‘Daughter of the Stranger, Mother of the Prophet, Defender of the Faith, do not take your life, and by so murder yourself and the Seven who are One’s chosen prophet yet to come.’

 

“Prophet?” she had signed rather embarrassingly.

 

‘Aye. Thy unborn babe shall restore unto the Andals and First Men the true Faith that shall unite all peoples in blessings and worship, and you have been chosen to bear, protect, and raise this child.’

 

“Why me? And why this babe, born of foul rape? Doesn’t the Seven” she had asked in signs.

 

The voice did not respond, but instead released a dove from his hand which flew to Selyse and landed upon her outstretched finger. As the dove nestled itself on her hand, she felt an odd warm wave move through her entire body, most especially upon the budding swell of her belly.

 

‘The vile marks of the former father are washed away, and what he gave has been exchanged in favor of the Seven who are One’s gift,’ declared the voice as the dove cooed and then returned to the outstretched hand of the voice.

 

‘Protect thy child, for the coming days shall be many tests and trials both bloody and dangerous for you both.’

 

And with a flutter of his wings, the winged man had departed, leaving Selyse clinging to the tower parapet, but as the days and weeks progressed his voice could be heard in her ear, telling her of what had been and what was to come, like now. Ensuring that her protection from the Seven who were One remained.

 

After the switch had failed to receive any results, Mother Teryse, exhausted, crumpled down and began to cry.

 

“One of my daughters… Seven help me, my own sin returns to torment me!” sobbed the Starry Mother.

 

‘She got with child… her parents abandoned her here and told the former Starry Mother that they didn’t want her back…’ whispered the voice.

 

Feeling compelled by the Mother’s influence and protection, Selyse walked forward and bent to one knee and embraced the Starry Mother as she cried into Selyse’s swelling bosom on the floor of her room.

 

The Starry Mother was found dead the next morning, hung by a rope in her cell in the septry. Selyse before might have been sad or aghast at the sight, but now she knew that the Stranger would walk with her as the Father judged her, and the Mother loved her.