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Crowns of Gold

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Game of Thrones is owned by George R.R. Martin

The Queen’s chambers were as he expected them to be, grand and ornate, exquisite and sumptuous. Cersei’s abode was one reflective of her station, Robert Baratheon’s wife one for whom luxury had always been synonymous with normality, Lord Tywin’s daughter having never known anything but wealth and opulence. Columns and arches framed the numerous doorways of the apartment’s rooms, various symbols, emblems and designs etched into their surface, intricate Corinthian orders the most common of the types. The floor, polished but coarse, laid underfoot in large swathes of granite tiles, solid and strong. Grand curtains of Tyroshi cottons and detailed panes of Crownlander woods stood screened across the windows, their towering forms exposed to the daylight, illuminated by the sky and shading the interior. A balcony emerged to the outside, outcrop hovering above the shape of King’s Landing below, its space littered with sun chairs and tables alike, the ocean breeze cool and refreshing, warring against the heat whilst plants and vines snaked along the walls, flowers blooming and leaves green. More furnishings doted the household, lacquered seats and carven desks but pieces of the generous collection, leather divans, golden candelabras and silver dinnerware only further accompanied by the abundant books, vases, platters and urns peppered about. Dual bottles of Arbor Gold and Arbor Red rested on his sister’s nightstands in half emptied fashions, crystal glasses awaiting their use, bed by which they bordered the most sumptuous item of all. No doubt its feather stuffing and extensive span made for comfortable nights’ sleep, crimson sheets of Bravosi silk known for their quality, the many pillows it claimed spread onto the headboard’s length, overhead tarp casting slight shadow. Distaste for his older relative aside, he felt somewhat jealous on his part, even though his suite lacked for not, if certainly a bit smaller by comparison.

The youngest of the group’s occupants stilled, Tybolt’s figure having bolted from view, concealing himself by way of his parent’s dress. Cersei’s child took the phrase ‘hiding behind his mother’s skirts’ a tad farther than the usual scope. He wasn’t that frightening was he? The female Lannister’s voice dragged him from his thoughts.

“What do you want Tyrion?” She questioned him succinctly, tone flat yet with edge, his being bothersome to her psyche. Her hands, thin, dainty little things, colored cream and baby smooth, reached down beneath her clothes, extracting her son huddled within the depths of the gown’s green fabric, removing him from between her legs and subsequently pressing him to her chest. His head, crowned with locks as blond as his mother’s own, slumped facing her breasts, gilded hairs tickling at her bust, voluptuous curves bursting eagerly through the garb’s intentional cleavage. The dwarf failed to immediately answer, instead preferring to observe the picture of self-evident love, Cersei’s palm reposing behind her second’s head while her arm supported his youthful tush, lustrous mane pooling down her back, extending to her rear. Emerald tinted eyes focused solely upon Tybolt’s staring own as she conveniently ignored her brother’s presence. Curiously enough, the image before him overrode the all too dismissive callousness she exuded, it looking rather delicate and graceful. Words failed him.

“Well?” Cersei challenged once more, having grown already weary of his company. Blinking back into the moment and freed from his temporary lull, Tyrion’s head shook from side to side, knowing full well it was not the time. To interfere would prove pointless.

“Another time then.” He spoke, not bothering to forward it as a question. His sister, unsurprisingly, replied nothing in return, fingers raking throughout her son’s strands in lieu, whispering sweet words into his ear. As he motioned towards the exit, a movement caught his attention from the corner of his sight, ever brief action itching at his mind. His vision swiveled, peering atop his shoulder as he glanced back.

His nephew signaled, pink hand waving in goodbye, solitary glittering eye watching him from his mother’s bosom, curious. Cersei stopped him when she noticed, pivoting on her feet in such manner as to conceal Tybolt from view.

The half-man smiled as he left, waddling.

The page flipped as he continued with his reading, tome’s innards a yellowed hue from the vellum and the years, midnight ink as black as the sky. The poop deck glowed softly in the moonlit night, darkened clouds drifting soundlessly aloft, the shine of a dozen lanterns and hind’s three glass encased braziers rendering it easier to see. The waves lapped gently against hull, muted slaps of water ringing rhythmically within his ears, incessant yet calming. The Narrow Sea laid still on this summer twilight, its exterior so hushed it acted as a mirror, Avalon’s form reflected upon the waters, soaring and proud, monumental and imposing. The ship’s sails had long since been folded away, gatherings of ropes, cables and chains a veritable cobweb of rigging, linking bow to stern and deck to mast, a jungle of hemp and iron, shrouds and halyards. She was his crowning achievement, his statement to the world, the largest and most powerful vessel to have ever sailed. None could put her to shame. The boat’s subdued rocking seemed to tempt him into shallow slumber, oaken frame swaying back and forth, back and forth, almost a strut of sorts. He’d originally desired her to be built from ironwood, but it was not to be. Too many trees, Lord Forrester had said, would have needed to be cut, there would have been little of the Wolfswood left, he’d explained. A detail really, but a setback nonetheless. He’d made do.

The clanging of blades echoed throughout the background air, training weapons flashing with speed, clashing with strength.

A hit to the spine.

“Dead.” Stated the First Sword.

A swing, a parry, a strike to the gut. A telling look.

“Oh. Dead.” The teacher again declared.

Top, bottom, left, right. The skull was skewered, Arya’s sword hand captured by Syrio’s own uncompromising grip. The grin plastered across her face, however, did not fade, only thrived, copious sweat trickling profusely down her reddened brow. She was clearly enjoying the experience, sparring on the quarter deck as they were, a gaggle of both crew members and Stark men attending from the sidelines, chuckling and laughing at the impromptu show, tankards in their hands and drink in their bellies. Rum, wine, beer or mead he could not say, half empty barrels poised at their arms’ lengths unblemished and unmarked. He indulged himself a thin smirk, savoring the event, Tybolt’s palms shutting his text, marking his stop and setting the closed volume onto his open lap. He had a favorable view for the happenings nearby, chair on which he relaxed situated next to the stairs leading to the deck below, a house seat if you will. It was quite late, though, and despite the current amusement, the Bravosi water dancer appeared to be of the same belief. The merry band dispersed, those sober enough back to their posts whilst the others descended into the hull, joining the remainder of their already dreaming comrades. The younger Stark girl, on her part, casually jumped the few steps up in the direction of his position, gratefully grasping and gulping the large glass of water he held in outstretched offering. She then took a seat on his throne’s twin, sinking into its back as she panted in fatigue, the guards Jory and Wyl following in her wake. It was uniquely the four of them, Forel assumingly having chosen to retire.

“You enjoy fighting, don’t you?” He asked, Tybolt’s emerald eyes crinkling with mirth.

“Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?” Arya responded, a second swig of water washing down her throat, curtesy of the earthen pitcher on the planks by his foot. Her previously heavy breathing had begun to slow.

“It’s not a criticism, I assure you, just a question. You don’t have to defend your hobbies out here.” The prince rebutted, aiming his head to the ocean beyond, pristine canvas of mirrored stars an awe inspiring sight. “Besides,” he continued, “I know that your father approves, considering how he hired your tutor.” Tybolt’s thumb rubbed long the album’s cover, argent inlays gleaming white. Arya scoffed, as if offended. His neck bent back, lids closed.

“How did you convince him to let me come with you anyway?” She inquired.

“Whom? Lord Eddard? It wasn’t the simplest of tasks, I admit, but nothing a tad of persuasion,” He poked his raven clothed chest, “and several guarantees,” then pointing at Jory and Wyl, “couldn’t make do.” His counterpart beamed at the confession. “I had wished to bring my sister along as well, though she prompted me otherwise, said Tommen would be left alone with Joffrey. Mother wouldn’t have allowed it anyhow, I suspect. She strives to keep us close at hand.”

“Well thanks, I hadn’t gone to the Free Cities before.” She divulged, erupting from her chair and twirling round her soles as she inhaled the salty wind, breeze’s nonexistence notwithstanding. A huff. “Mother would never have let me go anywhere, especially not to Essos, it wouldn’t have been lady like, shed’ve said.” Executing a mock bow as she emphasized the two words. “She always wanted me to be more like Sansa, always compared her to me like I was the worst of us. ‘Why won’t you sew like Sansa? Why can’t you act like Sansa? Why don’t you follow Sansa’s example?’ She kept saying. I hate it, hate them for commanding me on what to do and what not to do.”

The prince stared at her brooding figure, conversation momentarily broken, quiet in his contemplation.

“You loathe my mother, don’t you Arya?” He suddenly quizzed, out of the blue. The Stark’s head twisted round in bizarre confusion, brown hair lax and grey irises searching. He understood her exonerated puzzlement.

“It’s not a trick, I promise.” He made clear. “There are plentiful reasons as to why you can detest her.” He pushed on, rising too from his position, starting to pace about the floor, circling. “Queen Cersei is cruel, bitter, vengeful, petty, vain…” A pause. “The last though not so strictly unwarranted, given that she is very beautiful, you must concede, as most everyone does. Not to mention how terribly she performed on the Kingsroad.” An unguarded frown dawned on her girlish face, further restrained ones painting those of the sworn shields, not that he blamed them. “And yet…” More silence. “I still love her. I truly, deeply love her. So much so that, when she holds me, I can’t tell whether I love her or Myrcella more, regardless of her flaws, of her sins…” The guard rail creaked under his tightening clasp, pathetic as it actually was. “That’s what occurs when a mother hugs you, feeds you, bathes you, soothes you. Loves you. Gods be good, she went so far as to prohibit the nursemaids from helping in any shape or form, the poor woman.” He snickered, briefly. “And that attachment, sometimes, it worries me. How greatly I yearn for it, crave it.”

Further soundlessness.

“I know my mother cares more for Joffrey than my siblings or I, my personal jealousy aside. It’s an obvious truth.” He progressed. “Perhaps that won’t change, maybe for the better, perchance for the bad, I can’t predict the future. It’s rather normal, I believe, for parents, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, to pick their favorites. We all do it, to an extent, deliberately or not. I found myself lucky to be the second of four; my sister and Tommen were ignored really, not as fortunate with our mother’s love; that became my job, a strenuous task, true, but a rewarding one all the same. And even then I faltered; I’ve always preferred Myrcella over Tommen, a sad reality, despite my best efforts. Gave her the larger presents, the rarer pets, dotted on her, try as I might.” Twice his boot heel rapped the vessel underneath, lumber groaning in retort. “Even the Avalon, of sorts, is an attempt at beating Joffrey, useless as he is, to get mother to prioritize me for once. Two years of secrecy, work and planning, just for a bigger morsel of her attention. Not that that was the only reason, mind you, but it did play its fair share.” He drummed his fingers.

“What are House Tully’s words, Arya?” He put forth, observing her. The answer was swift.

“Family, duty, honor.” She exclaimed without pause, motto etched into her brain, Maester Luwin to blame.

“And I’m sure you realize which of those words Lady Catelyn will center on the most, no matter the occasion, correct?”

The she-wolf nodded, mumbling, “Family.” under her breath.

“You may not be your mother’s favorite Arya, I can relate, but never let that cause you to doubt your love for each other. That is something to be treasured, to be revered.” He informed, teasingly patting her locks. She batted him away, annoyed.

“And Sansa?” She asked.

“Sansa is…” He sighed, cautiously measuring his response. “A delicate woman, too infatuated with my brother and utterly blinded by her childhood’s fantasies. She’s pampered and prim, not that I’m an exception of course, but she is dangerously so. The North is a vast distance from here, and the South just as afar from your sister’s cherished tales. I’ll assist as I can, when possible.” He eyed her meaningfully. “Presuming you carry your weight as well.”

They chortled together, himself, Arya and her house’s soldiers. He tapped her shoulder, grinning.

“Go, to your cabin, I apologize for speaking of such dramatic topics to a maiden I’d only met some two moons ago. It’s quite dreadful honestly.” She punched his arm, causing him to wince as she bid farewell. He returned the gesture to her and the men, they too expressing their goodbyes, at least till the next morn.

He stood alone again, none but the remaining sailors on watch, going bout their rounds, lamps in hand.

Retrieving a pouch from his person he analyzed it, thick leather casing and padded wool interior yielding a dozen vials of invaluable remedies. In his experience, the dagger to one’s back was frequently more fatal than the sword to one’s front, poisons arguably most perilous of all. Basilisk’s Blood, Essence of Nightshade, Tears of Lys, whatever could kill quickly, he bore a counteragent, there being no point to holding those for the kinds he wouldn’t be aware of until too late. This included his close family, should erratic treachery arise, though he planned for not. Their makers charged a fortune, the Lysene the most.

After all, how many individuals professed to constantly luging around an antidote to the strangler?

“Where is my son?”

In spite of its namesake, the small council chamber was a relatively spacious room, vaulted ceilings and arched pillars but a taste of the comparatively plain den, its decor less ostentatious than the excesses of the Red Keep and yet lavish anyhow. Massive tapestries dangled from the walls, depictions of knights and battles sown into the bulky twine, dyed and treated. Windows, tall and thin, crisscrossed its height, lighting the gloom, greatest of them the exclusive stained glass lunette, seven pointed star assembled within its structure, bright and radiant. Most notable was the impressive rug capped grand table at the alcove’s middle, equally stately lounges and chairs resting to its sides, a mismatch of dishes and tray, inkwells and quills spattered atop.

Queen Cersei Lannister’s curvaceous frame bloomed in the noontime sun, body haloed by the orange rays to her rear, red lips serious and trim, eyes sharp, tresses curled. A trio of men sat to her front, spindly, rotund and squat, shifting mildly. It was Littlefinger who responded first.

“Prince Tybolt had notified the council that he would be absent over a period of half a moon, the time, he explained, as necessary in order to fetch his finished project. All across the Free Cities, in fact.” Said the Master of Coin, Peter Baelish stroking his wisp of a goatee whilst he talked. “Were you unaware of this, your Grace?” He queried.

Cersei idly waved a lovely hand, crimson silk dress trailing abaft. “Of course I knew when he’d leave, as if he would without my blessing. Lord Stark’s treachery and arrest have merely made it imperative that I meet with him when he arrives, Arya Stark is still with him. With himself and his daughters under our yoke, the North wouldn’t dare rebel against the crown.”

“Your second son’s enterprise is quite the venture, I’ve been told. My little birds sing. Shipbuilders from the Summer Isles, Tyrosh and Pentos hired by the bag of gold, brought to Bravos and having set up hull and masts to put the largest swan ships and dromonds to shame. The blacksmiths of Qohor commissioned on mass to forge hollowed bronze tubes, those of the Street of Steel hefty iron balls. Meanwhile, the Alchemists’ Guild have been hard at work manufacturing an obscure substance, a fine black powder that flashes and burns, raiding privies and importing a foul smelling dust from both Dorne and Dragonstone.” Elucidated the Master of Whisperers, Varys’ perfume laden robe vibrant and colorful. He faced his raven haired counterpart, asking Baelish, “Such needs must have cost the crown a precious few dragons, yes?”

“Some two hundred thousand, to be exact, and all requisitioned during his short tenure as Master of Ships when Lord Stannis was away. His former ward was insistent and opportunistic, and what am I but a copper counting bookkeeper in service to the whims of the royal family?” Clarified the valeman, taunting.

“A justified expense, no doubt. The prince is very smart, very wise for his age. Even as a young boy he strode through his lessons at an astounding pace, is that not correct your Grace?” Affirmed Pycelle, the Grand Maester, with his wizard like beard and grandfatherly features, looking to his Queen, hunched and frail. Said Queen smirked in reply, pleased.

“Thanks to your marvelous instruction skills, Grand Maester. But yes, Tybolt was always an intelligent child.” She   ran a finger across the table. “You’ll remark that none of you have answered my question, however.” She spoke.

Once again Varys took the lead. “If the winds are favorable to his new vessel, then the prince should make port at King’s Landing either today or tomorrow. I simply know for sure that he and the Lady Arya have already left Bravos in the direction of Westeros.”

A wine chalice found its way into Cersei’s supple digits, alcoholic beverage swirling inside the crystal cup, a blood pigment.

“Thank you, councilors, that will be all. You may dispose.”

The triumvirate’s seats echoed amongst the stones as they scraped along the marble floor, its checkered layout alabaster and ebony. Words of ‘Your Grace’ slipped from their mouths as they bowed shallowly in their departure, customary and habitual. Unsurprisingly, the ancient Pycelle was last, sluggish and slow. 

She sat alone, drinking. 

Yes, everything would be right. Lord Stark would admit his treason, taking the Black, vindicating Joffrey and cementing his rule, uncontested. The then publicly disgraced Lord’s daughters would afterwards stay behind in the capital, Sansa, the pretty bird, to marry her eldest with Arya as a hostage, possibly wedded to another in the Lannister household. Regardless, her legacy would be secure, her children would be safe, happy, herself guiding them, forever onwards.

And with Tybolt at Joffrey’s side, nothing could stop them.

She poured herself an additional draft, smiling.

Four levels of dungeons laid beneath the Red Keep, layer following layer deeper within the earth of Aegon’s High Hill, cold and damp, sodden and soaked. Tired crumbling bricks lined these cellars, solid wooden doors, as broad as a man’s fist and iron studded, separating its sections. Dug during the reign of Maegor I Targaryen, it came as no wonder that the Black Cells stood at the third floor down, one staircase above that employed for torture, given his well-earned moniker of Maegor the Cruel. 

It was there Eddard kneeled against the rock, exhausted and tired as he did but wait, rotting straw cushioning his ass, greyed with age, putrid with stench. There hadn’t even been the basic dignity of a bucket or hole to act for a privy. He’d done as best he could, relieving himself in the claustrophobic cell’s furthest corner, keeping crudely clean. It was pitch darkness, sole light amidst the obscurity the torches of passing jailers, feeding him gruel, bringing him water, tending to his life. There was little worst. He had time to think.

Illegitimate, all of them, Joffrey, Tybolt, Myrcella and Tommen, products of incest between the Queen and her brother. Each a Lannister, none Baratheon; Robert had no true born heirs, save if he’d ordained one of his countless bastards beforehand, whichever he might have chosen. Not that it mattered, not since his death. Baelish a traitor, the Stark guards slaughtered, the coup a failure. So there he squandered as a blind man, a captive, his daughters likely to suffer fates similar to his own. Sansa’s cage would be gilded, filled with blossoms and roses, ladies and knights, but a prison still. And Arya…

He’d wished to have her laugh, sour as she’d seemed, obviously bored by southern castle life, more so than the near daily complaints Catelyn had clearly made apparent. It was by such argument he granted her permission to go with the second Prince, after several assurances of course. Jory, Wyl and eight others, some of his most talented fighters, when Tybolt had but his crew. In truth, perhaps it was his character, more than anything else, which convinced him on the issue. He prayed to the Old Gods for her protection. If his men heard the news of his incarceration, there was yet a chance they could escape and return to Winterfell, he frankly did not know. A final subject stuck to his mind.

What actions would Robb take?

She ran her palm through his rough mane, ash colored hairs spilling across his neck, muscular and lean. Lancelot he’d named him, majestic destrier splendid and strong, a fitting title, strange as it was. Tybolt always did have a certain flair, she supposed, with his rampant imagination and fantastical ideas. It’s what made him so endearing, in her opinion, among other details. The stunning purebred nuzzled at her hand, snorting snout whipping out her blonde locks, lengthy strands flowing in the soft wind. Myrcella giggled, plucking a rather large carrot from the stable boy’s wicker basket, humoring him. Her twin would have chastised her if he realized what she was doing, considering his mount spoiled enough; he didn’t want her contributing to the problem. Yet she pushed forward, enjoying what strikes she could get at his amusingly fragile ego, a friendly game of sorts between them. She sighed, missing his familiar presence. Rarely were they apart for such extended periods.

Her brother was a far cry from her uncle Jaime, resemblance to uncle Tyrion leagues further ahead. He didn’t hunt, he didn’t fight, he avoided his sparring lessons like the plague, to Ser Barristan’s irritated rankle. Not that the kingsguard would dare voice these grievances, despite his efforts. Reading, alchemy and dance proved to be his choice interests. Riding too, in fact, in which he demonstrated a remarkably dexterous prowess, or at least so long as he did not wield a lance, jousting especially; he lacked the strength to maintain it upright. The light gray suit he wore for his excursions, matching cape and gloves as accessories, had him look quite dashing as well.

He’d even adopted, on one particular occasion, the harp at her downplayed urging; his music had been so delightful.

It was the only instance father ever raised his fist against him. 

Shards were what remained of the delicate instrument, massive war hammer lagging nigh, severed cords and shattered wood scattered around. He slept with mother that evening, Grand Maester Pycelle nursing a worryingly severe bruise upon his lower arm.

Myrcella recognized a tug at her gown, cool and frilly lace straining at Tommen’s nervous energy.

“Cella, when is big brother coming back?” He queried.

Cersei’s third child clutched stiffly at the pendant dangling from her collarbone, exquisitely crafted butterfly sparkling in the sunshine, silver drawn rivulets surrounding the diamonds, rubies and sapphires incrusted within its surface, Casterly Rock mined gold the basis of its form.

“Soon Tommen.” She said, holding his hand. “Very soon…”

Her bed felt uncomfortably empty at night.

“Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same.”

Word Count: 4,102

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