“Hogwarts!” exclaimed Sirius.
“No… just no. I am never going to live in a castle named Hogwarts. No matter how many great memories you have of that place.” Sandor threw up his hands.
The castle had been complete two years ahead of schedule since they had a glut of builders come from everywhere in Westeros and Essos.
They were currently walking in the fruit glass gardens while Harry tried to inspect the berry bushes.
“Well, then what do you suggest?” Sirius crossed his arms and glared at him.
“I don't know.. But not Hogwarts!” Sandor made a face at that gods awful name… what self respecting man lived in a castle called Hogwarts? And it was such a magnificent castle at that… sure it was not as large as Harrenhal or as luxurious as the Red Keep - but it was theirs! He had only been to the capital once when they were returning from Braavos, and though the Red Keep was beautiful from afar, the city was a foul mess.
The towns that Harry had commissioned inside the walls were well planned, and orderly. No one was allowed to build or add anything as they saw fit. No Lord had ever built houses for their smallfolk, Harry was the first to do so in the long history of Westeros and probably even Essos. The smallfolk were free to live outside the walls if they wished to, and many northerners did live outside the walls.
The smallfolk that lived inside were those that worked in the castle or were farmers, crofters, traders and herders. Harry had anticipated and accommodated all the needs of the smallfolk. And if they wanted to build something, then they would have to petition their Lord. The houses were built from stone and mortar, so even the harshest winter would not see the smallfolk die of the cold.
Each house in Fisher Town had two sleeping chambers, a common area, a kitchen, a small livestock pen, a coop and a stable. This village was a days ride away from the Castle, the people who lived here were mostly the farmers.
Rush River Village housed the people who traded in livestock, so the inside of the houses were identical except they had tracts of fenced land to tend to their animals. The Rush River village had been divided in four zones: cattle, fowl, horses and the fourth was for those that did not fall in the previous categories.
This village was closest to the market areas inside the castle walls.
The streets of each town and village were lined with iron braziers topped with glass bulbs which were lit after sundown, when seen from afar it looked like the stars were twinkling on the ground.
The iron braziers were twenty feet high and could only be lit by climbing a tall ladder, this reduced the chance of anyone stealing the glass bulbs.
Sandor knew this was the first land in all of Westeros that had such expensive glass lining the streets. The glass protected the fire from the high winds that was common in the north and also from any summer snows snuffing out the fire.
Each village had a guard of hundred that patrolled and saw to catching troublemakers and criminals. Crime was low in their lands, Sandor knew this was because of the wards that Harry and Sirius had crafted. Harry said that only the most desperate or most determined would take up a life of crime due to the effect of the wards.
Harry had purchased twenty Destriers from Dorne in lieu of one of their glass shipments. These destriers were to be bred with the long haired horses of the north who were hardy but slow. They hoped to eventually produce a breed that could bear the northern weather as well as ride fast. It was an ongoing process and the second generation of foals had been born six moons ago. They had also purchased the seeds of various peppers and other vegetables that were indigenous to Dorne.
The Glass Port Town had smaller houses as most people who worked came from various lands in search of a trade and rarely lived with their families. The port workers preferred to send their families to live inside one of the walled towns.
The factories had been running for a few years now and they were overflowing with orders. Though the demand for glass gardens in the North was dying down finally. They had build a minimum of two glass gardens in each of the northern noble houses.
Winterfell now boasted ten, White Harbour seven, and the Dreadfort had five.
They had built thirty glass garden on their own lands.
They had ten for fruits, ten for vegetables, and ten for various kinds of beans. They were the largest greenhouses in the world, divided in three rows and each section of ten was connected. They were twenty four feet in height so that even trees could be grown indoors. The ones that they build for the other Houses were only sixteen feet high.
Harry was planning to build another section of ten connected greenhouses of twenty two feet so that he could grow grapes, and sell northern wine. These would also grow potatoes as Sirius knew of a way to make a potent drink from them.
Then there were the hidden glass houses which grew magical plants from Harry’s own homeland. They were all queer plants and were manned by the golems that Sirius had created. Harry and Sirius would check on them once a month.
Those plants had not fared well in the beginning and were almost close to death. Sirius had then suggested they add drops of the elixir of life to help them. That was, in Sandor’s esteemed opinion - Siri’s best idea yet!
Many people called Harry, the Merchant Lord, and Harry knew that they meant it as a slight but he did not care. These same people, came to said merchant to buy his wares.
“Alright you two! This has gone on long enough and I am sure even the glass garden workers would like some peace.”
Sandor and Sirius stopped their bickering and looked sheepishly back at Harry.
Now let's put forth a suggestion each and then we will vote on the name for the castle.”
The people who worked in the glass gardens had been trained by an acolyte of the citadel who had arrived two years ago looking for work. The Oldtown oustee had only hoped for some work and food. Instead he found a life here!
Jerret had to leave the citadel because his small knightly house had lost their monies in the rebellion and he wanted to help his family. His father and two older brothers had died in the rebellion at the Battle of the Trident. His young sister, mother were now alone in the world.
Jerret Shingle was from the crownlands, his father was a knight under the Lord Boggs of Crackclaw Point. The new king had taken much in war reparations from the Lords who had supported the Targaryens. Many small lords and knights with land had lost all. These new seats were given to those who had won the rebellion.
Jerret knew that he was not smart enough to forge any links, so he had decided to leave the maesters and find work in the newly flourishing Potter Black Lands.
While Jerret had studied all the subjects taught at the Citadel, his personal interests lay in agriculture. He had come on petition day to ask for something more than menial work, as he had been assured by the other workers that the new Lord was fair and kind.
“Do we have time to think of the names we want to put forth?” asked Sandor
Harry just shook his head “No, this has gone on long enough - one can say we had four years to think of a name.”
“Hogwarts!” Sirius exclaimed
Harry and Sandor snorted at him in unison
“Castle Potter Black.” put forth Harry
Sandor looked down at the ground for a moment, then spoke up “Hallow Hall.”
The castle had been built in a large crater inside a mountain, it was surrounded by a forest and a river that ran down the hill culminating in a large lake at the base of the hill.
Beyond the lake, a moat was being dug, after it's completion the draw bridge would be the only way to enter the castle grounds.
The other side of the crater had vertical rock formations which were impossible to climb due to harsh winds and the steep terrain.
After much bickering on all their parts they finally picked Hallow Hall; it was the most simple name but had a deeper meaning for all of them.
But somehow Sirius won the naming rights of the village by the castle - Hogsmeade.
“Do you have everything?”
“Yes, Siri. For the last time. I am only going to Bear Island!” Sandor turned from his packing and now gave the man an evil smirk “The question is… are you ready to rule when Harry and I away?”
Sirius gave a pained smiled at that and Sandor laughed a deep rumble that reverberated around the room. “I am sure it will not be very difficult, just very boring.” Sirius rallied but his smile was still more a grimace.
Sandor closed the chest he had been packing with a snap “Let’s go, I leave tomorrow and I want to get some time in the yard before I have be on a ship for a week.”
The brothers made sure to have two meals together each day as their daily tasks did not allow them to spend much time together in a day. Thus breakfast and dinner were mandatory to be had in the great hall for the three.
After breakfast Harry went off to his solar to oversee matters of ruling, Sirius went off to oversee the construction and the people of the land, and Sandor had his training, then his studies, and finally he spent his last few hours before supper helping Harry with whatever was needed.
Sandor Potter Black
Jeor Mormont was an old man, a man who had seen many wars and skirmishes in his life. Though when he smiled his eyes crinkled at the edges and he looked like a warm grandfather figure.
Jorah, his son was a tall man, but shorter than Sandor at six and ten. He was more talkative than his father and wished to know all out the places Sandor had travelled. It still amazed Sandor that there were grown men who had seen less of the world than himself. Though they all believed that he was originally from Essos. He was sure that would have been impossible without the use of magic considering they all had pasty skins like most northmen.
Sandor had been on horseback with the Lord Mormont and Jorah, travelling towards the site their builders had finalized. They were not the most comfortable house in the North, but Harry had given him a few options to present to the Lords of Bear Island.
Bear Island was in simple terms beautiful but lacking in resources that would make them rich. It had much in terms of wood and fur. But the most potent resource was the fishing. However the Mormonts had been unable to take full advantage of this great resource as they were frequently assaulted by wildlings from the North and Iron Born from the south.
The Ironmen raids had stopped when Quellon Greyjoy had taken over the ruling of the Iron Islands. Yet the raids from the north continued. Another hurdle in the way of the islands prosperity was the lack of funds to create infrastructure. If they managed to build more fishing boats then the men could bring in a larger haul. However if they attempted to do this is the past, they would have seen few returns as they would have to travel to White Harbour on the Eastern coast to make any trade. Now with the Glass Port open and flourishing, they could sell their fish very close to home.
Sandor was very nervous, this was the first time he was going to try and make a deal alone. Harry had give him a list of things he wanted and things that he could negotiate upon, however when he peeked a look at Lord Mormont he felt like a lad of ten namedays.
Sandor cleared his throat as the two men looked away from the coast and back at him. “My Lords, this bay would be perfect to build the shipyard. The ice here is the thickest towards the north and so the wildings would have a difficult time attacking the men. Additionally since the yard would need guards, even if the wildlings attacked they would be the ones to die. And, the waters near the coast are deepest here. The clearing on the coast will have to be flattened, but our workers can do that quite handily.”
The two men had nodded at all the points he had made, however the old lord had a furrow in his brow and Sandor knew he was going to argue on something or the other.
“Aye lad that is true. Your builder told us as much when he was here last moon. Now, tell me how much is this going to cost in gold.” Jeor’s fists opened and closed minutely as if he was bracing for some bad news.
The Mormonts had sent ravens six moons ago to ask if they could purchase some ships from them and if they could have a sort of payment system set up - like the ones they had given the Flints and Norreys on their glass gardens.
Harry had then made Sandor research House Mormont's finances and resources.
Sandor was deemed sufficiently educated by Harry in theory and now he was to start gaining practical knowledge.
Sandor had realised that they were hard pressed for a shipyard. It was not a issue in the beginning when they had just started in on the building efforts. But now that the trade had started in earnest, the bay was busy.
The coast was shallow in other areas and places where the coast was deep enough on their lands, the logistics of moving the ship from the shipyard to the Glass Port was a nightmare due to rocky and narrow shores. So, Sandor had suggested this harebrained scheme to Harry - now that he was here and would have to negotiate this crazy idea, he was jittery.
A Lord’s lands were his own and no Lord would allow anyone to gain a foothold on their lands in any circumstance. If the Mormonts agreed to this idea then it would be a first in Westeros. He had in truth appropriated this idea from Harry’s own world. Harry had told him of the history of his world, and how his home country had flourished from trade and had once been the largest empire.
A shipbuilding yard would be build on the lands of the Mormonts, financed by the Potter Blacks. All future ships of the Potter Blacks would be build here, and first preference would always be given to Mormont wood, as long as the price was competitive.
They would get anywhere between 20-30 ships for their own fishing needs depending on how well Sandor could bargain. They would be paid a one time sum of twenty thousand gold dragons for the use of this parcel of land. In theory the land belonged to House Mormont but the operation, upkeep and security of the land was the responsibility of the Potter Blacks.
Any future ships they wished to buy would be sold at cost to the Mormonts, on the condition they use those ships for the sole use of Bear Island. Ironwrath was close at hand as well, so the transport of Iron wood was logistically sound.
It was a great deal for the Mormonts, for currently they had no gold to spare for such a large undertaking. This trade arrangement could change the fortunes of Bear Island. Now all Sandor had to do was convince the man that a small parcel of his land and shore would be under nominal control of another lord.
It may look on the outset that House Potter Black was not gaining much by this arrangement, but they would have a foothold on another island, a land that could be used to send their own ships for repair, they would not have to pay ever again for the use of this land, the trade generated here would be taxed only by the Starks and not by the Mormonts.
They would not have to cut down their own trees to build any ships, the men stationed at the yard would be theirs to lend extra security. It would create in essence a trade cum military outpost for House Potter Black.
“My Lord - I have a proposition for you, I beg that you listen to me and then if you have any questions or apprehensions I can surely assuage you.”
Lord Mormont looked at him with a hard look in his eyes “Aye, then. Lets head back to the keep and you can tell me all about this proposition of yours.”
The castle and the grounds were in a better state than they had been during the time of his father. This newfound state of repair was thanks to the taxes they gained from the newest house of the North and the trade they generated.
Ned could only imagine the amount of gold they would receive when the 10 years of lowered taxes came to an end. If this was what he was able to achieve with just a fraction of the tax, he could truly start some projects when the full 30 percent started to come in.
His father had gained a coupe on all the other kingdoms when he made that deal with the Potter Blacks. If he was being honest, Ned would not have given the assumed merchants the lands his father had bestowed upon them. At the time no one knew of the family history of the Potter Blacks, there was no mention it even in his father’s journals.
Ned had managed to repair much in the castle, the new glass gardens made them free of food worries. Now the only food they bought from other kingdoms was grain. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, those were foodstuffs no northern house would ever buy from any other kingdom be it the Riverlands or the Reach. The next thing he wished to handle was to increase the number of guards at Winterfell as well as to patrol the lands.
Though each noble house in the North had gained their own glass gardens, Ned worried on the state of the smallfolk. Now, even in the harshest winter the nobles would not starve, but what would the smallfolk do? They could not afford these hot house marvels, they would still see the sick and the old ride out in the winter, claiming to go on a hunt. They would still go out to die so that their families would have one less mouth to feed.
Ned wished there was an easy solution to his problem, but considering the changes in the North in the last few years, he was optimistic about the future. And the Lords welcomed the smallfolk in their towns when winter came, they distributed food and warm clothes, they gave shelter. It was only a few bad lords that closed their keeps to the smallfolk, like the Boltons and the Whitehills to name a few. Ned grimaced as those houses crossed his mind.
The godswood of Winterfell was a thing of beauty and he liked the solace this place afforded him. The heart tree was especially radiant in the weak winter sun, the bark glowed white, almost blinding him and the leaves shined a deep ruby red. The wind rustled them and Ned felt as if it was the blessing of the gods being bestowed upon him.
He heard a crack and looked up towards the sound, two grinning face swam into his view.
“Ned! Are you going to start living here?” Luna called out impishly as Benjen followed her with a fond look upon his face. She was now ten and two, still the same as she had been the last time she had been this age. Each time he looked upon her, Ned was amazed at the feats magic could perform.
The fact that his bannermen were magical was a worrying fact, he had been so thankful for the gift of life to Luna that he had overlooked the reality of a house that could wield magic. He had fretted and worried for almost a year, and then those brothers had come back from the east.
Somehow, just speaking to them and being in their company had soothed his fears.. He had not spoken of his fears to them, he almost felt ashamed that he had distrusted these men. They had not asked for anything that he would not be willing to give them. Secrecy; it was a small price to pay for the return of his sister.
Ned smiled at his sister - now cousin to the world and beckoned her closer.
“Sansa is a beautiful child but her cries are some of the most piercing sounds that I have ever had the misfortune to hear.” he confided in her in a quiet voice. Her laugh at his small jape was soothing,
“I am going to tell your Lady Wife you said that” piped in Benjen.
He could not hate her, no matter what had transpired due to her actions. She was his blood, his pack. And father had never listened to her fears. He was at fault as well for the turns her life had taken. Lyanna had shouted and cried when she was informed of her betrothal to Robert, she had begged to marry in the North.
If anyone was a child of the North, it was her and Brandon. Both wild and free. And father had tried to smother that wildness in his daughter, all the while inflaming it in his eldest.
Ned thanked the old gods that Maester Walys had died before her had come back to Winterfell. That man had encouraged his father to create ties of marriage with the south. And they were all paying the price for his whispered words.
He kept the new maester at a length due to his distrust of Walys. But Luwin was slowly gaining his trust. The man was also a southron man but less ambitious than his predecessor.
“So, what brings the two of you here? There are no more sewing lessons for you to escape now that I have asked Catelyn to leave you alone. And I am sure you have your own duties at this time Ben.”
Luna stood there and looked down at the ground, he could see that her foot was tapping by the way her dress moved.
Ned held out his hand and beckoned her to sit next to him, she eagerly complied and he put an arm around her thin shoulders. Benjen sat on the smaller tree root and stretched his long legs as he adjusted his sword.
They sat in silence for a while before she spoke, her voice hesitant and low. “We heard that you are sending Benjen to the Manderlys for fostering. Is this true?”
Ned squeezed her shoulder and sighed heavily, he should have known that Luna would react this way when she found out.
“Aye, now that Ben here has given up on the ridiculous idea of joining the watch, and the North grows rich, I have decided to give Benjen the Lordship of Moat Cailin.”
Benjen looked surprised at that and smiled at that “Thank you brother. I will make you proud and defend the North, Lord Stark.”
Ned laughed at that “Oh Aye, I am sure you will, Lord Stark of Moat Cailin.”
Luna burrowed in his side “But why does he have to leave to White Harbour then? Isn't he too old to be fostering anywhere?”
Ben and Ned laughed at that as Ben tried to kick his sister in the shins for calling him old.
“The lands of Moat Cailin extend to the Blazewater Bay and the success of Glass Port shows us how much prosperity a port brings to a land. The Moat is important strategically but it is not rich in farmland or any other resource. The only thing that can maintain the castle and it's lands would be a port.”
Ben nodded at him as he spoke to both his siblings “I must go to the Manderlys because they are losing prestige as they are no longer the richest house in the North.”
Ned looked surprised at his understanding of the situation, his brother had matured in the last few years and Luna had mellowed from the hellion she was when she was truly ten and two.
“Yes, that is true. However the real reason is that I wish for you to learn how to sail a boat, run a port, see what is needed, and run trade. White Harbour has been our only naval and trading port since Brandon the Burner burned down the North’s fleet.
It is fortunate that we now have the coin to rebuild the navy and ports of the north.”
“The two of you are intelligent enough to understand the new situation we face as the ruling house of the North. We do not truly have a court or much politics here in the North, but the lords of our lands are a prickly bunch, quick to anger and quick to take offence. ”
Ned stood up and dusted his clothes “Come, let's take a walk around the godswood, my legs are numb.”
He waited till they had shaken the snow from their clothes and stamped their feet to get the blood moving “The Manderlys, The Boltons, The Cerwyns and the Ryswell’s were the most powerful and rich houses before the Glass Lord came to settle on our lands. Now, we must do all we can to maintain the peace and create a new balance.”
Luna looked oddly at him “Where did you learn all this Ned? You were in the Vale for most of your life.”
Benjen affirmed his sisters sentiments and Ned smiled at the two of them, “Father was a meticulous note keeper. He wrote of dealings with every house - and not just of the North.”
“In truth, I never would found his notes if I had not gone searching for a copy of the land and trade agreement father had signed with the Potter Blacks.”
Ned shook and head at that, he would have been a lost cub, away from his pack if not for his father’s notes on various houses and his dealings with them.
Like, why father had declined the betrothal to Bethany Ryswell the current Lady Dustin. Everyone knew that she was not a maid, and that Brandon had slept with her, but what people did not know was that it was not Brandon who had claimed her maidenhead like she told the world. It was man at arms in her household who had done the deed.
Father had wanted Brandon to marry in the Riverlands for the reduced crop prices this alliance would give the North, along with reduced tolls at the Freys.
He had found the marriage contract that father had signed for Catelyn and Brandon, and after reading it he had been furious and disgusted with Hoster Tully.
The man had not given him one item that his father had finalised with the Tullys.
The north had been robbed by that man, and he would not forget that slight.
If not for the urging of his wife he would not even trade with the damned Riverlands.
The notes had been another reason why he had decided against building a sept for his lady wife, his father had exclusively put in a clause that stated there would be no sept in the heart of the North and that all children of the union would only follow the old gods.
His father had his flaws and was led astray by his great ambitions however the man was a shrewd player of the game. Ned would learn from the mistakes of his ancestors and try not to repeat those mistakes. Building a fleet for the North, was one of those decisions.
“You understand why that particular castle must be manned. I trust that no one will truly know the events of the past” Ned looked pointedly at Luna “but we must stand strong in the event that someone does find out. Moat Cailin is the only way into the North and it stands empty.”
Luna nodded at his side, “I know Ned, I am not some southron flower. I understand how abruptly a war can begin. I know, but I will miss Ben.”
“I will miss him too, but he was going to leave someday, either to the wall or for his own keep. It is good that we now have the funds to repair the Moat as well as good builders here in the North.”
“Would we have been able to repair the Moat without the new funds we gain from eastern trading?” Benjen asked
“We would have been able to manage, though I imagine we would have had to borrow from the Iron Bank.” he slapped Ben on his back “But now, out coffers are filling, our food stores are sufficient, the North as a whole is prospering. And you, young Lord will be the Lord of Moat Cailin - the greatest defence of the North.”
The solar opened as a guard held the door open for Luna, she had actually asked the Maester to schedule a time to speak with the Lord of WInterfell.
Ned was slightly amused at this charade, he wondered what fresh hell his hellion of a sister wanted to bring down upon him.
“Lord Stark” she greeted him cordially and spoiled the effect of her being a young lady by giving him an impish smile.
“My Lady, please have a seat.” he waited till she was safely ensconced in the chair before asking her in his Lord’s voice “I was informed you sought out an audience with me my lady.”
“Yes My Lord, I have a boon I wish to ask of you.” she clasped her hands in her lap as if she was the picture of courtesy.
“And what would that be my lady?”
“I wish to be fostered at Bear Island.”
The blunt statement hit Ned like a chilly wind full of sleet and snow. Why did she too wish to leave. He had to send Benjen away for his house’s and Ben’s own betterment.
He had hoped to keep his little sister for a bit longer, till she wished to marry. And if she never wished to marry, then that was fine with him.
He threw away the game they were playing “Why? Luna, you have only just come back home.”
The girl looked away distressed at his obvious agitation, “I love Winterfell Ned, it's just… I had hoped to learn… I had hoped to learn to fight from the women of Bear Island.”
Luna leaned forward in her chair and held her hand out towards his on the desk, he readily held her tiny palms in his “I want to be able to defend myself, I… I never wish to be” she took a deep breath to calm herself “Please Ned, I know the master at arms has been teaching me, but his style of fighting is not suited for me.”
Ned had hoped and prayed that his sister had forgotten the hurts of the past, she laughed and played merrily but it seemed that she had only buried the pain.
Like him, he assumed. They were all well versed in hiding their emotions.
“Luna, did you know that the women of Bear Island also fight the same way as Rodrick Cassel does?”
She looked alarmed at that “What? But…. don't the women fight differently? I mean I cannot lift a heavy sword and fight with it at the same time. Not if I have any chance of defending myself.”
Ned smiled softly at her “The women of Bear Island are as big as, if not bigger than Ben and I.” Her face fell at that and Ned could not bear to imagine what thoughts were running through her mind.
“Luna.” he called out and she looked up from gazing at the table “There is another type of fighting that would suit you well. You wish to defend yourself & I will make sure that you have all the help you need to achieve this goal.”
She brightened at that “And what would that be?”
Ned laughed, “I had thought you would know… Why Braavosi Water Dancing of course!”
She grimaced and pulled her hand away from his as she hid her face in her hands “You know, I did see them when I was in Braavos with Harry and Sirius.”
“You should not call them by their given names Luna, address them respectfully with their titles ” he chided her.
“But they asked me to call them by their names.” she protested.
He sighed at that and let the topic be, “So, you will stay here and I will inquire about hiring a Water Dancing Master for Winterfell.”
She smiled widely at him and her eyes sparkled at the news. Ned was sure that his sister was part sprite with the way she could make everyone happy around her.
“You should have Sansa learn as well when she is older.” she said with a serious mein “All the women of our house should be able to defend themselves. If it had always been so, then Bael the Bard would have been sorry for even thinking of taking the daughter of House Stark.” she took in a deep breath “You should even have Cat learn how to defend herself.”
Ned led out a loud laugh at the image of his southron wife weilding a sword, and dressed in armour.
Alone in the Tower of the Hand solar Jon looked out at blackwater bay, so far away from the city of King's Landing, no stench fouled the air. It was a breezy evening and he felt his mustache ruffle in the wind. It was a somewhat peaceful evening. There were no matters that required his immediate attention, though books and parchment littered his desk. Moments of relative peace came by rarely these days, he was too old to be this busy. But what other choice did he have?
So many things had changed in the last four years. Robert had won the throne easily compared to how hard it was for them to keep him on it. The manner of Prince Viserys’ death had gotten out and even their allies were horrified by the act. Jon still did not understand why they had reacted negatively to something any of them would have done had they sat the throne.
In the beginning no one had cared and then six moons later his alliance was falling apart. He did not understand why this sudden change had come about, what had changed for the people who had rallied around Robert to come to despise him so.
In times of extreme introspection, he admitted to himself that the boy could have been sent to the wall or to the septry. But that was not a thought he liked to entertain because it made him party to the murder of a child.
Ned had been right when he wanted them to take a better path, the honourable path. His ancestors would surely spit on him as Robert had spit on the Prince’s body, when he met the Stranger.
Ned was more Arryn than him, his honour had been trampled in this mire of politics and greed. This city, this job had taken everything he had and still asked for more.
The day Ned had left the capital was the last time they had heard from him, all further communications from the North had come from the Warden of the North and not the boy he had raised; it was not Ned who wrote; it was Lord Stark.
When Robert had finally calmed down a few moons after the… act, he had felt some remorse for how he had behaved with Ned and written to him. But the reply had been curt, only stating that his king was free to do as he willed, and his subjects could not judge a king.
Jon knew this was because Robert was not sorry for the death of Viserys, he would likely kill the boy again and every other Targaryen he got his hands on.
The Riverlands were another problem altogether. Lord Tully was not in full control of his own bannermen, the Late Lord Frey openly defied old Hoster more often than not, the Mallisters were locked in a silent war with the Freys to become the second strongest house of the Riverlands. The less said about the Blackwoods and the Bracken rivalry, the better.
The number of Targaryen loyalists had not lessened in the Riverlands after the war, they had only become stronger in their convictions in the last years. Oh, Yes. They had bent the knee to Robert but they made things as difficult as possible without outright rebellion.
The Reach had bent the knee when Lady Olenna Tyrell arrived in the capital to take the bones of her son and the other Reacher Lord’s back to Highgarden.
But relations with the Reach was strained at best and hostile at worst.
Jon cursed Tywin Lannister for not ending the siege of Storm's End peacefully, he had after all asked the man to avoid violence and bloodshed. Gods be good; the war was won, the Targaryens were dead, Lord Mace only needed to to made aware of the reality of the situation and he would have packed up and gone home.
But no, the Old Lion’s pride had been wounded when the Northmen and their sellswords had attacked and killed his soldiers in the sack of King's Landing.
Tywin always needed to remind everyone of his superiority, of his roar. The proud lion of Casterly! Pah the man had too much pride and not enough sense.
His brother Kevan had fallen upon the Reachmen in the night and killed indiscriminately. When the chaos ended only bodies were left in the wake.
When he had been told that Tywin had attacked and taken Dragonstone, Jon had been happy. But now, after all these years, he wished the man had killed Viserys instead of bringing him back alive.
If only he had done that, then all the blame and disgust at such an act would fall upon that man. Tywin was already reviled for the massacre of the Reynes and Tarbecks. One more appalling act of savagery would not harm his reputation, he would rather take the fear and disgust he inspired in the people as a compliment.
Stannis had wed the Lady Lynesse Hightower just this year. It was a proposal he had considered carefully. In the end it had come down to two choices - the Florents or the Hightowers.
He had convinced Robert to choose the Hightowers as they wanted to wrest control of the Reach from Olenna’s old hands, and Jon wanted the Tyrell’s to be weak. It was a good thing that the Hightowers had not tried to offerup the Mad Maid - Malora Hightower. It would have been a heinous insult to the royal house.
Or mayhaps Robert would have thought it a wonderful jape to play on his younger brother. His stoic brother match with a mad woman for the rest of his life. Robert had wanted to give the Stormlands to Renly and saddle poor Stannis with Dragonstone. But after the massacre of the Tyrell forces, they needed someone strong to hold those lands. If they had installed a child in place of Stannis the Reachmen and the Dornish would have encroached upon the lands and blamed bandits for the raids.
That too had been a struggle. Jon never understood why there was such animosity between the two brothers. He had to cajole, threaten, lay out facts, shout, scream to make Robert understand why he could not make a child the Lord Paramount of his ancestral lands… lands which were bordered on two sides by seething angry lords.
In the end, he had to play the Targaryen card. Why did Robert wish to follow the tradition of the Targaryens by making his heir the Lord of Dragonstone. He was a Baratheon, he was of the line of the Storm King's and not of the blood of the dragon.
Despite Alerie being a daughter of House Hightower and the Lady Regent of Highgarden, the Hightowers wanted total control. They had always been an ambitious lot, the Dance of the Dragons and Alicent Hightower could assent to that.
Olenna Tyrell had a steep fight on her hands if she wanted to keep the power in the hands of the Tyrells. She was facing a power struggle inside the walls of Highgarden as well. Garth Tyrell the current seneschal and brother of the late Lord Luthor Tyrell was constantly butting heads with the Queen of Thorns. As long as they were busy fighting amongst themselves, they would not turn their eye on those that had wronged the Reach.
The marriage of Stannis and Lynesse would put some fear in the Tyrells of royal retribution as well as create bonds of blood between the two Houses and regions. Jon had enough trust in Stannis to not be swayed to the honeyed words of his new comely lady wife. His first love was duty… at least he hoped that it would remain so after Stannis got a taste of his wife.
The situation with Dorne was resolved as best as it could given the circumstances.
He had been utterly shocked when he reached Dorne and was greeted by Princess Elia and Rhaenys. The news had made Robert fly into another rage, at first he had demanded their heads be mounted on the Red Keep. Anyone could tell what such a demand would result in. It was only by the skin of his teeth had he managed to convince Robert to let them go into exile.
Now, there was a tentative balance between the various kingdoms. The only thing he was thankful to the Lannisters for, was their gold. The treasury of the Mad Aerys had over four million in gold dragons, but there were so many things that needed to be done, so many people to be paid.
The war had ravaged the land and its people. There were rewards to be given out, lands allotted, the gold they had borrowed for the war effort had to be repaid. Thankfully, he did not have to pay the Potter Blacks, that was all on Ned.
Robert had given away two million gold in reward to various houses and knights for their bravery in the war. When a strange mood took him, he almost wished it was Ned who took the throne rather than Robert.
The Queen had recently given birth - her second child. Prince Joffery Baratheon - the first of his name. At least the line was now secure. It had been a horrible time when Robert’s first child had died within months of his birth. A fever; the seven have mercy, but why did they have to be so cruel. All of Jon’s sons too had died before he had had a chance to see them grow.
His marriage with Lysa had given him two miscarriages, but he hoped for a son soon, an heir to the Vale. A strong boy who would someday lead the armies of the Vale as a Knight of the Realm.
His marriage was another sore point in his life. She was too young for him. He was old enough to be her grandfather. But, it was a concession to gain the armies of the Riverlands. Damn Hoster Tully! Damn him to the seven hells.
Jon knew of how much he disgusted his wife, she cringed each time that he lay with her, and he could not even blame Lysa. But, Hoster wanted a good marriage for his disgraced daughter and he had agreed just so that the damn war could be won. There was no going back now, as soon as she gave him a son, he would leave her be. Even if she did not… there was Denys, he would make a good Lord of the Vale and Warden of the East.
He turned from the window and walked to his desk as he shuffled through the papers. He sighed at the amount they owed to House Lannister. In four years alone they were a million gold dragons in debt to the Lions. And that prideful old lion would not forgive the debt, never mind that his daughter was the Queen, and most of the gold went towards her expensive habits.
He cursed the damn Potter Black’s for making glass cutlery and decorations.
It was now the height of nobility and wealth to own plates, bowls, cup and even spoons made of glass.
They even sold glass contraptions called chandeliers that lit up rooms beautifully.
But the cost for a medium sized chandelier could feed a village for a year.
The Queen had replaced all the braziers in the Red Keep with large glass bulbs as they were now called. The royal apartments all boasted of the most intricate chandeliers and the throne room had three large chandeliers lining the path towards the throne. If they borrowed any more, and they would have to, he would rather not borrow from Tywin.
He would have to have the Master of Coin approach the faith or the trade cartels. The Tyrells could not be approached so soon, the Hightowers too were similarly disregarded. Maybe he could, he ran a hand across his balding head, he would have to approach the North.
While the crown had to borrow, the North had flourished in the past years. After all those damn glass makers were taking all the gold from each kingdom and Essos.
He should not blame them, it was irrational he knew, but something about that House made him anxious. He was one of the few who felt this way, Tywin was another but that was to be expected with the actions of the Potter Black men at the sack.
Besides Jon suspected the Lord Lannister hated to see others get wealthy and those men were surely as rich as the Tyrells by now. In a few years they would likely be richer than the Lannisters. This brought a smile to his lips. Despite not liking the Potter Blacks, he knew they were honourable men. They had saved his nephew’s life and that was debt he owed to the brothers.
But, they were not respectful enough to the King, they never showed proper deference towards the nobility. He had also noticed a quirk in their speech, they never called anyone ‘My Lord’ it was always ‘Lord Arryn’ or ’Lord Stark’.
When they visited the Red Keep on their way back North, they had called the King ‘King Robert’ not ‘Your Grace’.
It may just be that they were foreigners and this was their way of showing respect, but it rankled Jon each time they did not give due courtesy to the Westerosi nobility.
They may have gained land and titles, and their line could be traced back generation - but they were never nobles. They were Essosi death worshipping merchants.
And, Jon could not see past that truth, no matter how much gold Westeros had gained in trade from them, the prestige alone of having Westerosi Glass was immeasurable.
It was not that the crownlands had not gained from the Northern trade, however between Robert who threw enormous amounts on drink, whores, large tourney purses and Cersei who liked to live in lavish luxury, there was always more gold going out than coming in.
Robert thought that the people would love him if he entertained them enough, gave them gold and held enough tourneys. He wanted to known as the jovial kind, the good king. But all he did was put the crown in debt. He had heard rumours the Potter Blacks were richest house in the North; though they neither confirmed nor denied this rumour as far as he knew.
The trade in glass had died in Myr and come to Westeros and he had to agree that their glass did not break easily, if you threw it hard enough it developed cracks but held its shape. Jon had always wondered if they had to face assassination attempts from the glassmakers of Myr.
He knew for a fact that most of the Lords in Westeros and many Essosi had tried to gain the secret to making glass. But somehow those brothers had gained the loyalty of their workers or so Varys claimed. No word of their method leaked.
Jon put it down to the number of guards that had stationed in their lands. That was another sore point for him, the guards of Stony Shore were brought over from their own homelands - wherever they had lived before coming to Westeros.
The lands of Stony Shore had more soldiers than Winterfell itself!
But it was all necessary, the trade they engaged in was glass making - a secret art.
The port needed soldiers due to the many foreign ships and men sailing there everyday.
However, even King's Landing had only five hundred gold cloaks, and maybe two thousand soldiers of varying houses.
The Potter Blacks had five thousand, and that is before taking into consideration that they had not appointed any bannermen as yet.
If things had been better with Ned, he could have suggested some of his own Valemen be given lands and be made the bannermen of the Potter Blacks.
But, things were rocky enough with Ned - that he could not reward the second sons of his loyal Valemen with lands and incomes in the North.
Varys had repeatedly tried to get a few of his so called little birds in the Potter Black lands, alas he had no had no luck in doing so. There were no orphan children running wild in Stony Shore, and his little birds stood out like a sore thumb.
All orphans were housed together at an orphanage where they were housed and fed. They were also assured of picking up a trade when they grew so they would not be thrown out on their behinds, when they had to leave at seven and ten which was what Lord Potter Black considered an appropriate age of manhood.
Bah - the orphanages of Westeros housed children only till they were ten and two.
Varys’ little birds had been lost in those lands. Jon assumed that they had willingly taken up residence in the orphanage where they could get a better life.
This had galled the man, if he could be called that, to no end.
As for Jon, he was wary of them, wary of their worship of the Stranger, wary of their connections to the House of Black & White, wary of their foreign roots, wary of their growing wealth, wary of their close ties to the Starks.
Despite his misgivings, they were loyal to the Iron Throne and he knew that Ned would never lift a blade against Robert, no matter how strained their relations. Ned was honourable and held duty above all. He had to have faith in Ned to keep this new House in check.
The new port at Sea Dragon Point saw increased trade in the Western shoreline but thankfully no piracy. It seemed Balon was cut from the same cloth as his father Quellon. Though the Iron Islands remained peaceful, they took no part in the affairs of the kingdom.
The work was never ending, he had to maintain a fine balance in this new order of Westeros. Taking a sip from his glass of watered down wine, he got back to work.
Beta - SITHIS ARCANIS
Who has my undying gratitude for not making me squint my eyes to re-read my work. Trust me, it is a pain.
AN - I love reading reviews. (wink/nudge)