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The Golden Stag

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The smell of battle wouldn't leave.

Tyrek Lannister, Lord of Hayford, had scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed in one of the Trident's tributaries once camp had been made, washing the blood from both his clothing and his skin. But no matter how hard he washed, he couldn't remove the blood from his hands. While all physical traces of the lifeblood of other men had been taken away by the warm waters, Tyrek could feel it as heavy and slick on his hands now as he had that morning, when it had been fresh and warm and revolting.

The camp was mostly silent, most everyone save for the sentries in their tents, exhausted by the battle on the border. Tyrek was given free reign, walking in between the orderly rows of tents and the picket lines of sleeping horses. Occasionally he passed a campfire that was still burning, the occasional man or two seated around them. They didn't speak to Tyrek and he didn't speak to them, wanting to be alone with his thoughts.

Or thought, as it were. All Tyrek could think of was one face.

The Riverlander had had pronounced cheekbones and a small scar on his cleft chin. His eyes had been a deep blue before Tyrek had glazed them over, sandy colored hair spilling out from under his arming cap. Tall and straight, he'd likely been a favorite of women, the laugh lines ingrained in his skin speaking to the man's predisposition to humor.

The Riverlander would never laugh again. Tyrek had seen to that, driving his sword through the dancing maiden of Piper on the man's chest in a moment of panic and fear and anger. He had been the first, though not the last. The others, oddly enough, Tyrek couldn't remember any details about; not their hair color, not their faces, not even how he'd killed them. But that first man, he of the blue eyes and blonde hair, Tyrek would never forget.

I wonder if I will ever tell Ermesande of this. I wonder if I'll ever feel brave enough. I wonder if I'll even live long enough for our marriage to be a real one.

Tyrek wondered a lot. His world that had been so sure a month or so ago had been picked up and dumped on its head in not even half an hour of combat.

Eventually he found himself at the edge of the camp, sitting on the bank of the Trident's tributary with his booted feet hanging down towards the water. The sentries were posted on the other side of the river, changing guard twice while Tyrek sat there staring at the water and seeing a dead man's face.

It was still in the middle of the night when a figure seemed to materialize next to him, taller and not as broad but otherwise physically much like Tyrek himself. Prince Damon Baratheon took a seat beside him, his longer legs dangling towards the water below as his equally emerald eyes stared at the moon's reflection in the shining water. He was in a black and gold tunic and black pair of breeches, the golden stag near glowing in the moonlight. Damon didn't say anything, didn't even look at Tyrek, but he extended a bottle out towards his cousin.

The Lord of Hayford glanced once between the Prince and the bottle, unsure if he was supposed to be the one to speak, before deciding against it and taking the bottle. The cork was already gone, the glass container already half empty judging by its weight in Tyrek's hand, and he brought it smoothly to his lips in the same motion.

He figured out it wasn't wine—it was much too potent to be anything served in King's Landing—when it burned its way down his gullet, forcing Tyrek to spit half of the sizeable mouthful out amidst the involuntary round of coughing that resulted.

Damon laughed. Laughed, a real one, not the forced attempts at mirth Tyrek had heard from the Prince for their entire acquaintance. It was short and at Tyrek's expense, and took the squire to the King so by surprise he nearly fell into the river.

His cousin's voice was tired when he spoke, and Damon got the feeling that the Prince hadn't been sleeping overly well either that night. "I should have warned you."

Tyrek took in a shuddering breath once the coughs had subsided, staring at the bottle in his hand like it was a vial of poison. It might well be. "What in the seven hells is this?"

The Prince shrugged in the dark. "It's best if you don't ask. I didn't."

"Where'd you even get it?"

The Prince hesitated a moment. "Her name is Bella. Where she got it I couldn't tell you."

Oh. Oh.

They sat after that for a long while, and despite the welcome if momentary relief from his brooding, Tyrek soon returned to it. Damon didn't say anything, which was normal for Damon, but they passed the bottle of fire back and forth between them, staring out over the shining water in united silence. Another of the hourly guard changes took place as the two young men continued slowly nursing the bottle amidst their inner ponderings, Tyrek finding the hard bite of the drink refreshing when drunken wisely.

The Prince broke the silence, his abrupt words startling Tyrek into flinching despite the low, quiet tone to the Prince's voice. "It's nothing like the stories claimed, is it."

Tyrek's mind had still yet to leave the Riverlander, and he had no doubts what the Prince was referring to. "No, it isn't."

"What'd yours look like?"

Apparently Tyrek wasn't the only one to have the face of the first man he killed locked in his mind. "Tall. Blonde haired, blue eyed, wearing Piper colors. He would have been a hit among the noble ladies if he hadn't been born a peasant." He took a long pull of the brew they'd been sharing, handing it over to the Prince with a coughed word. "Yours?"

Damon took it and downed a mouthful in one motion. "A Piper man also. Middling build and height, nothing overly special about him that I could see. His nose had been broken, I think. It angled a bit to one side of the nose-guard of his halfhelm." The Prince looked down to the bottle in his hands. "Or maybe the helm was just a little sideways. I don't know."

Tyrek watched his cousin, the world spinning slightly. It was more words than Tyrek had ever heard the prince speak at one time. The Lord of Hayford figured the nearing-empty bottle had a lot to do with that. "Stab?"

"No. Cut his throat." He took another drink, handing the bottle back. "Do you remember your second?"

Tyrek shook his head. "No. You?"

"I couldn't tell you a thing."

Tyrek realized then for the first time that maybe Damon wasn't as different as he had always seemed. Then again, that might just be the alcohol.

They didn't speak again until Jaime found them, appearing out of the night and startling them both when he spoke from behind them. "Damon, Tyrek."

It was a summons, and both of the Lannister-looking boys staggered to their feet. Stagger was the correct word, the former contents of the now empty bottle hitting them both in full when they rose.

Jaime cocked an eyebrow at them both in the moonlight, but said nothing. He held a scroll of parchment in his hand, and his face was far from reproving—it was concerned. Tyrek noticed, amid the swimming of the world, that Jaime glanced at him only once, his attention fully on Damon.

The Kingslayer wasted no words. Tyrek drunkenly wondered if that made it better or worse for Damon.

"The King is dead."

He and his father weren't close. Or hadn't been, as that was now the proper way to describe it.

King Robert Baratheon, the first of his name, had tried to pay more attention to his second son than he had any of his other children, particularly once Damon's penchant with a blade had come to light. The King had tried to work around Cersei's venom to have a connection with his second son, especially once Damon began attending as many hunts as he could.

But Damon's failings had poisoned that.

Robert Baratheon was—had been—gregarious, able to win allies with a smile and jest. His sense of humor was inappropriate and unkingly, but his ability to make friends was unmatched despite that. Robert Baratheon never lacked something to say, never met a soul he couldn't at least slightly relate to…outside of his wife Cersei, anyway. His force as a warrior was only matched by his force of personality.

Damon was none of that.

Each of the King and the Spare's conversations had been awkward and painful, the King unsure what to say to a son and the son unable to talk to near anyone, much less the man he idolized. Robert had watched him spar on more than one occasion, loudly complimenting Damon's ability to anyone who would listen, and while Damon basked in his father's approval he couldn't shake how uncomfortable it made him at the same time. Courtiers, including his royal father, would try to congratulate him on his skill, but all Damon could get out in response was a strangled thank you, his tongue twisting into a knot and his cheeks burning in embarrassment.

By the time Damon was thirteen the king and his son had all but given up, acknowledging each other's presence but stopping their attempts at conversation. Still, Damon had held out hope that one day, whenever he got around this infuriating, nameless inability to function as a normal person, he and his father would be close.

Now that was impossible. And Damon had no idea how to feel about it.

The Prince was already drunk, a condition he rarely ever let himself become—this was actually the first time he could recall it being the case—but he tipped the second bottle of spirits back and took another long swig. Bella's hand stroked lightly across his chest, his head resting against the softness of her bosom, but Damon was too lost in his own thoughts to be distracted at the moment. There'd be more of that later—Damon knew he wouldn't be getting any sleep through whatever remained of this night—but right now his intoxicated mind was trying to figure out what the seven hells he was supposed to do.

His father had died, succumbing to death hours after being mauled by a boar because he'd been too drunk to react quickly enough when it charged. That meant Joffrey, Damon's twin who he disliked and who disliked him, was now king. King Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and so on. Damon loved his brother by virtue of Joff being his brother, but no one loved the new king for his personality. Cersei had insisted that, upon the death of his father, Damon should return to King's Landing to swear fealty to Joffrey.

She'd been sending reasons for Damon to return to King's Landing since Damon had left King's Landing, some sweet and motherly and others downright threatening, but Damon had ignored them and convinced Jaime to do the same. Having his grandfather Tywin's backing—the Prince being here was all Tywin's idea anyhow—certainly helped that sentiment have some kind of pull. But her most recent letter had her best argument for his return, without her even knowing it.

The 'swear fealty' bit was nonsense; Damon had no intention of usurping Joffrey even if he had the opportunity. While the history of the Seven Kingdoms was full of ambitious, devious second sons lusting for their brother's crowns, Damon imagined being the king was the worst of the seven hells. Being forced to address thousands upon thousands of people in speeches, while also being responsible for the lives and wellbeing of millions? No thanks.

But the real reason his mother had given Damon to return was the simple fact that Joffrey was the king now. And with Damon hundreds of miles away and Joff always being the apple of his mother's eye, Tommen and Myrcella were left alone in King's Landing with a brother of…odd tastes.

Odd? I might as well be honest and call them sadistic. Cruel, revolting, unkingly. Not that I am a saint by any means, what with a naked whore at my back and a bottle of alcohol in my hand, but I never enjoyed hurting anyone. At least not until today, and that was more enjoyment of the rush of battle rather than enjoyment of the battle itself.

Damon was always cautious about not challenging Joffrey openly, because not only was that best for peace between them, but it was also wrong for a second son to challenge the elder. But despite having to toe that invisible line, Damon had also served as a shield between Joffrey and their younger siblings. Many of the verbal and other abuses Joffrey could so easily dish out Damon found a way to absorb or deflect away from Myrcella and Tommen, and while the second son never made a point of it, both of them were fully aware of which of Robert's sons was better with a blade. Or fists. Or anything, really, except charm.

But there was also a point for Damon to remain at the front, and that was that being there was the best way for him to end the war that was very suddenly being escalated. Eddard Stark, whatever his reasons, had tried to usurp Joffrey and give the throne to his uncle Stannis. He'd been imprisoned for the act, leading his son and heir Robb, who Damon had met and grown to like at Winterfell, to instantly call his banners. The heir to the north was moving fast, already supposedly on the march south, a good portion of his forces meeting him on the road to save time in their movement south. Damon had no doubt the Riverlands, until this point merely fighting the Lannisters due to the actions of Gregor Clegane and Tywin's calling of his banners, would side with their relatives from the north and vice versa.

The Riverlanders who Damon had just spilled the blood of that very morning. It didn't take a genius to figure out that could mean a whole lot of trouble.

Cersei's letter hadn't said why and Damon probably wouldn't have believed it even if it had, but the idea that honorable Ned Stark would do something so apparently dishonorable was atrocious. As atrocious as fighting in the street with his uncle Jaime, or as Robb calling his northern banners and marching south on King's Landing in response to Ned's imprisonment.

Or as a Baratheon Prince killing Lord Alester Vance of Wayfarer's Rest with a dagger through the eye while fighting under the banner of House Lannister, amidst a war he claimed he was still trying to stop.

"That's where I'm from."

The voice, spoken softly from somewhere over his head, nearly made Damon spill the rapidly-dwindling bottle in his hand. Bella wasn't much older than him, though it could be difficult to tell with whores; truth was she could very well be his age, and the profession she was a part of was already taking its toll. Her hair was a deep brown, her eyes even darker but skin fair. She was short but slender, her waist narrow and breasts on the smaller side, and Damon imagined if it wasn't for her nose being crooked from at least two breaks and her chipped front tooth from a client's fist she would be pretty.

She had been a gift from his uncle two weeks into the march, one undertaken subtly as Jaime knew Damon would prefer it. He'd returned to his tent from a scout with Ser Damion Lannister to find Bella waiting, and she'd informed him of his uncle's message; Bella was his and only his for the remainder of the campaign, she'd been paid double to keep her presence in his tent hidden, and that if Damon didn't "work the frustrations that are making you as venomous as a snake" out, Jaime would stab him.

Damon was thankful then. He was doubly thankful when it turned out that Bella was smart enough to realize Damon didn't care much for conversation, although she seemed to have disregarded that streak of sense at the mention of her apparent hometown. And he was most thankful for her when, after returning to the crest of the valley to move the camp farther down through the valley, she'd taken one look at his bloody, shaking shelf and gotten him out of his armor and straight to the bed with nary a word.

Although at the moment he was worried about just how many words and their meanings he might have just spilled. Was I thinking out loud? Bloody hells what all did I say?

"Uh…is it?"

Damon tilted his head up from where it was resting against her, though he couldn't see much of her face even then. Whatever he did see was swimming anyway. "Yes. Well, not exactly. I'm from Wayfarer's Town, not the castle of Wayfarer's Rest itself."

The Prince didn't know what to say to that, so he merely nodded. There was a moment of awkward silence before she spoke again. "You weren't joking when you said you don't like to talk."

"It's not that I don't like to talk." Even though I absolutely don't like to talk. "I just…don't. Talk that is."

"I can tell. Why?"

It was the alcohol that made his response instant and windy, at least for him. "Do you actually care or are you just bored of sitting in a tent in silence?"

Damon felt Bella shrug against his back. "Maybe it's a bit of both."

"Do you make a habit of asking the life story of the men you sleep with?" Damon instantly regretted it, not having realized how rude it sounded until it was out of his mouth. "I didn't…that was—"

Bella spoke on as if hostile questions were common. Judging by her nose and tooth, they were. "I don't make a habit of sleeping with one man for weeks on end, so you're already special. Plus the being a Prince thing. It makes me curious." She wrapped her bare legs, which had been stretched to either side of Damon, around his torso, pulling him up and her down until her head was resting on his shoulder. "So why?"

"People are…unpredictable. And odd. And they don't do what it makes sense for them to do." Her breath against his neck was finally succeeding at dragging his mind from everything going on in his suddenly absurd life. Damon, who had moments ago been torn between grieving his father's death, wondering why he wasn't grieving it more, concerned for his siblings, concerned for the war about to rip his country apart, and focusing on just how drunk he was because he'd fucking killed men, suddenly saw the advantages in that.

"No one makes sense, ever. It's what makes people people. I guess they don't teach you that in those castles of yours."

"And you learned it?"

"I had to, Princey. Life isn't like the stories they tell us as children."

"You're not much older than me. How do you know it isn't?"

Bella snorted, an unfeminine sound that was mighty out of place considering the very feminine legs around his waist and womanly hands stroking his ribs. "If stories were true, you and me would fall in love and I'd go from whore to Queen. We both know that won't happen."

She had no doubt in her voice, which was great considering Bella was absolutely right. Damon may think with the wrong of his heads quite often, but he knew marriage was about alliances and maintaining power, not about love. His mother had taught him that since the day he had been born.

Also the only thing I know about this woman is she really likes my lips on her navel. I'm fairly certain that isn't love, and even if it was there's zero chance me as a Prince would marry her in a tizzy of passion. Mother would kill me, and the nobles would revolt. "True."

"The stories make it sound like kings care about us smallfolk and about our lives and that us smallfolk care about the king. That's a lie."

A lot of blood was being diverted from Damon's brain to another part of his body, but that statement still stuck out to him despite the drink and whore's hands. "What makes you think that?"

He felt her shrug. "The king doesn't care about each peasant. All he cares about is the crops we grow and how well we swing a sword when he wants us to. That's fine; we don't care who the king is, what family he's from or what his…what's the word for beliefs?"


"No, not that. Who has what power, that sort of thing."

"Oh, politics."

"Yes. Politics." Bella tested the word several more times under her breath, likely committing it to memory. "We don't care what his politics are. All we care about are healthy children, enough food to keep us fed, and protection from too much raiding. Half of us don't even know the king's name, or the one before him, or the name of the Prince who will be the king after he's dead. I didn't know you existed until I found myself in your tent. It's out of our control, so why should we give a damn?" She turned her head to press a kiss to his neck. "This right here is the closest I'll ever get to a royal, and in the end that doesn't add up to much does it?"

"It adds up to a bunch of gold."

She giggled. "True."

"You do know that you're talking about how you don't care about a king to the son of the king, right?" Or the son of the dead king, anyway. Not that Bella would know that last bit. The camp as a whole had yet to be informed, what with Jaime and by default Damon just being informed mere hours earlier. It had actually been over a fortnight since the death of Robert had been announced; they'd been on the slow, careful march for weeks, and the Riverlands were mostly closed to any word from the capitol. The Golden Tooth, despite being a key castle, hadn't known as of yet, but that was likely due to Lord Leo being on the march with most of his men with Tywin. Word had probably gone there instead of to the Tooth, as would have been the case for a lot of the Westerlander lords.

Bella brought him back to the present. "Oh I know. But you seem smarter than most of you nobles even if you don't talk, and when else will I get the chance to say I had a long talk about the state of the world with a Baratheon?"

Damon had had about all he could take of talk that night; his throat hurt, from both the burn of alcohol and from talking more in a few hours in the dark of night than he normally did in a month. "You know what else you get a chance to do with a Baratheon? Hint, it's what I'm paying you to do."

Bella giggled again, her touch going from light and caressing to sensual in a moment like only a professional courtesan's could. "Aye, I noticed where your mind was goin' quite a bit ago. But this is the most I ever heard you say; I didn't know if I'd ever get more than a word out of you ever again. A girl has to make the most of her chances."

"Well," Damon said as he began to twist in her arms. "You have a great chance right now to do the first thing I ever told you to do the day I met you."

Bella grinned wickedly. "Stop talking?"

"You're damn right."

For the rest of the night, Damon forgot about the cares of the world.

But in the back of his mind, he knew it would be waiting to fall on his shoulders again come morning.