They were dressed in furs and leathers, and there were five of them.
Well, there were more than five, plenty more, but only that handful truly mattered. The eldest was red of hair and broadening through the shoulder, the youngest barely six namedays old, but they all looked the same. Not in coloring per se—the younger girl looked nothing like the older—but in their wolfish look, from lordly Robb and prim and proper Sansa to the skinny Brandon and the child that was Rickon. Wolfish. I suppose that's a fitting description, considering.
He liked them. All of them, even Arya, who had made no secret of her disdain for being escorted to the feast by him.
"There are certainly a lot of these Starks." It was Tyrek speaking, his face red and lips loose after his second glass of wine. Short but as attractive as most Lannisters seemed to be, Tyrek was a married man at four and ten, though his wife was all of one year old. It had taken months for the nephew of the Lord of the Westerlands to stop insisting everyone refer to him as 'Lord Lannister', what with his infant of a bride being the Lady of Hayford.
The owner of the next voice, another Lannister and squire to the king named Lancel, was even deeper in his cups. "I'd say so. Have you seen Sansa? If Lady Stark looked like that fifteen years ago…"
The table of squires laughed around him, and he did his best to join in even though he knew the turn the conversation might take. Sure enough, when Lorent Falwell—squire to Ser Borros of the Kingsguard—emptied his flagon in a long gulp, Damon knew what was coming nearly before the words left his lips. "Hell, even the way she looks now…I'm willing for a tumble if she is, old or not."
The laughter of the table of southron squires was cut short by one quiet but firm voice. "Enough. We are a guest in Lord Stark's home; as such, we will not speak inappropriately of either his daughter or wife."
The silence that followed—although it wasn't really silence, for the feast around them ground on oblivious—was horribly awkward in the moments before each of the half-grown boys murmured their apologies. The owner of the voice accepted them with a curt nod and a smile that even a simpleton like Lancel would know didn't reach his eyes before standing. The lads did the same, many of them wobbling. "I fear I must attend my family. All of you continue to enjoy the feast."
The Seven know you'll enjoy it more without my company. The tall, lean man—who was as much a boy as those at the table he'd just turned from, and also a man long their elder at the same time—began the ponderous journey towards the royal table, holding his disappointment in check. I knew it was a long shot in any case. Perhaps I should learn to keep my tongue in check.
Or just stop trying. That has better odds of working in my favor I'd wager.
It was difficult, being a Prince. One might think it was an absurd statement that, what with the wealth and the prestige and the hanger-on's that came with such a position. Many over the years had died trying to obtain that title for themselves and their sons, and many more would die trying to do it in the future. Damon on the other hand had been born to it, the son of a king and second-in-line to the most prestigious kingdom in the known world.
And he hated it, and all it entailed.
Prince Damon Baratheon tried to keep his inner ponderings to himself as he navigated Winterfell's hall, stepping around drunken men-at-arms and over discarded flagons of ale as he made for the lord's table. Even with his mind preoccupied with rehashing the conversation he had just come from—he'd only spoken three lines in half an hour, and they'd been enough to make him unwelcome at the table—he felt the eyes upon him. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the table of noble girls—Northerners all, as few women had travelled north with the King's court—eyeing him and giggling among themselves, oblivious to the fact that he was fully aware of what they were doing.
He was used to that. Tall and lean, neither broad nor frail through the shoulders, he was a fair man, accentuated by the black tunic with the golden stag stitched across his chest and his black breeches. He wished, for the millionth time in his life, that he had the black hair and blue eyes to go with it, but as always that wish wasn't answered.
Not that the alternative was bad; no, many would say it was better. Damon Baratheon looked, like all his siblings, like a Lannister, with curly golden hair and bright emerald eyes. His clean-shaven face had a sharp jawline and high cheekbones like his mother, and the slightest of dimples when he smiled. Even so, when he looked at his mother—she sat stoic and regal at the table he was walking towards, ever the lioness in a dress of crimson and gold—he could see much of what he saw when he looked into the mirror.
And when he looked at his Uncle Jaime, who stood resplendent in his Kingsguard armor just behind her, he saw himself exactly.
And when I look to my father I see nothing of myself, no matter how desperately I wish to. Damon glanced back over his shoulder even as he continued forward, eyes following the direction of the booming laugh he knew quite well. The King satamidst the revelry, a serving girl in his lap, drunk and boisterous and looking nothing like a king save for the crown atop his head.
Yet he is the man I wish to be. I should probably question that more than I do.
When he faced back forwards he was nearly at the high table, and his mother was watching him. Cersei Lannister was a beautiful woman, with all the looks Damon had just been attributing to himself, and she remained that way even when she wasn't smiling. Which she wasn't, not with the King doing what he was doing, but then again his father never gave his mother any reason to smile.
Her eyes were warm even if her expression was as cold as ice. She said nothing, pointedly not looking at the Baratheon colors he wore—she wanted him to wear Lannister colors like his brothers and his sister, but Damon insisted he wear the colors of his house—but she raised an eyebrow, anticipating in that motherly way she had that he was about to speak.
First Damon gave a smile and nod of acknowledgement to Lady Stark, ever mindful of his courtesies. "Lady Stark, your hospitality has been beyond gracious."
The wife of Lord Eddard smiled, and Damon noted that she was indeed still an attractive woman, just as Lorent had said. Even so, he should have the decency to not say it so openly, and never in her husband's hall. "Thank you, Prince Damon. I hope you are enjoying yourself."
Not at all. "I am indeed, my lady." He looked back to his mother, who had remained expressionless throughout her second son's interaction with the hosting lord's wife. "Even so, I believe it is time for Myrcella and Tommen to retire, and I myself am exhausted from the road. I believe I will settle them myself, if you both will excuse me."
Lady Stark graciously did so, and his mother merely nodded. She held his gaze a moment, silently asking how his attempt to integrate with the boys his own age had gone. Damon held it, letting her know in no uncertain terms that it had gone like all the previous attempts had gone.
Her eyes became furious, but she smiled to hold up pretenses in front of Catelyn Tully. "Of course dear. Find Ser Borros to escort you."
Damon placed a hand on his mother's shoulder and squeezed lightly. It's not their fault your son isn't comfortable around them, mother. The accountability is mine, not theirs. "Uncle Jaime is closer." Damon turned with one last smile before looking to his sister, who was staring into the crowd oblivious to her brother and mother's conversation despite being seated directly next to them.
Or staring at Robb Stark, rather. Damon smiled at that, even as he gently shook her shoulder. Myrcella was a pretty girl at two and ten, and was bound to grow into a beautiful woman in the not-so-distant future. She'd blushed like…well, like the girl she was when the heir to Winterfell had escorted her into the feasting hall, and blushed even heavier when she looked up now into her older brother's knowing eyes. Damon silently approved—Stark seemed a decent lad, and what with the friendship between their fathers just such a betrothal could easily take place, though it would be a few years yet.
He grinned at his sister. "Come, 'Cella. We've had enough feasting for one night."
The Princess opened her mouth to protest, but glanced at her mother before deflating. Damon knew the look the Queen was giving her only daughter without even turning to see it; it promised retribution if there was even a touch of protest. Damon had seen it many times growing up. "Of course, Damon."
As he pulled the chair out for her, his sister gaining her feet, Damon couldn't help but lean in closely to her ear. "I'm sure lord Robb will miss your stare as much as you'll miss staring."
Damon chuckled as his sister elbowed him as subtly and as hard as she could, now as crimson as her dress. He nudged her to show her he was joking even as he clasped his youngest sibling, the nine year old Tommen, on the shoulder. "You too, Tommen."
His plump younger brother didn't protest, sleep already prevalent in his eyes. Their uncle Jaime, having overheard Damon talking to the Queen, had summoned Myrcella's handmaidens and was awaiting them already, grinning charmingly at his nieces and nephews. The golden haired troupe made as quite of an exit as they could manage, and Damon breathed lighter once they were in the relative quiet of the inner corridor of Winterfell.
Tommen reached for his hand, and Damon obliged him. He knew it was unprincely of them both, but Tommen was a sweet child and still young; besides, Myrcella was on Damon's other arm, so he couldn't very well show favoritism between the two. "Did you enjoy yourself, little brother?"
The youngest Baratheon nodded sleepily. "It was fun. But the Stark wolves are…scary."
Myrcella chimed in from Damon's other side. "I thought they were majestic."
"All of them, or only lord Robb's?" This elbow was much less subtle and much harder, but Damon laughed all the louder after taking it. He agreed with both of his siblings; the Stark direwolves were majestic to be certain, even half-grown as they were, but Damon imagined they would grow into utterly frightful beasts all the same.
Their uncle, walking behind them, had chuckled with Damon and Tommen at Myrcella's expense. "The Princess is found of the young Stark. I noticed as well."
"I imagine the entire feast noticed." Damon laughed again, thankful Myrcella was taking her ribbing beautifully. If only everyone was named Baratheon or Lannister; I'd be the most popular Prince in Westerosi history.
As long as those Baratheons and Lannisters weren't his twin of course. He interacted with the brother who had been born five minutes before him about as well as he had the table of squires earlier.
Damon had given up trying to determine why he clammed up when it came to those situations. Not around his brother of course, because everyone clammed up around Joffrey, but the others. Damon was good in formal situations; he could write a book on etiquette, assuming the bumbling Pycelle would shut up long enough to give him the peace to do so. It was the informal that got him, a mystery he had yet to be able to solve, that manner of inspiring other men he saw his uncle Jaime and father Robert and other uncle Renly do so well. That escaped Damon Baratheon as little else did.
It's good I'm not the next king. I'd be 'Damon the Simpleton' or 'Damon the Dumb' I'm sure.
Tommen was asleep nearly as soon as he was in his room, Damon removing the Prince's boots and burying him under the mountains of furs. He gave a single nod to Ser Mandon Moore, who was stationed between the doors to Tommen's and Myrcella's chambers, before venturing a few more doors down the way to his own chamber, next to which was his brother's.
"I saw it didn't go well." His uncle said it quietly from his own station between those two doors, but with a sympathetic grimace that made it all the worse.
Damon didn't bother trying to play dumb. His uncle Jaime was perhaps the man he was closest to in the world, and had been since Damon and Joffrey had come screaming into the world fifteen years earlier. He was the only man Damon was close to, save for little Tommen; Damon wasn't good at making friends. "It never does."
His uncle placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. "They don't have to like you. You could outduel them all with your left hand while pleasing a woman with your right."
Damon snorted. "I have, save for that last bit. I think that's why they don't like me."
Jaime shrugged. "They'll get over it. You're a Prince, they're nothing." His uncle's face, an older version of his own, lit up in a smirk. "Besides, you're better with more than one sword than they are." He tilted his head towards Damon's closed chamber door. "Tyrion sent you a gift."
Damon smiled a bit at that. "Any idea where he is, by the way? I noticed he disappeared sometime in the early hours of the feast."
"No idea, but I wouldn't worry about that. You've got something more important to tend to." Jaime held up a hand to cut Damon off. "No worries; not a word to your mother."
The golden haired, black-clad prince slipped through the door and shut it firmly behind him. A young woman, red-haired and shapely and as naked as her nameday, lounged atop the bed within. Damon had no idea how Tyrion had smuggled her within Winterfell's walls, but as Jaime had said, the prince had more pressing concerns to worry about.
Damon let his eyes trail up and down her, the whore smiling at him in her practiced way. "Hello my prince." Damon didn't bother saying anything in return; instead he held her eyes as he reached for his belt. That made her smile all the deeper. "What is it I can do for you?"
"You can stop talking," the prince said as he stepped deeper into the room.
He had lied earlier. Damon didn't hate everything about being a Prince.
And he had at least one thing in common with his father.
It was a blunted sword hitting a durable shield, but it still hurt to high hells when its wielder swung hard.
Damon Baratheon swung hard.
"Yield, yield!" Shouted the Westerman squire, a lad named Falwell who would have been horribly outmatched even if he wasn't visibly hungover. His shield arm hung limp for a moment, struck numb by his blonde haired opponent. Tyrek Lannister winced in sympathy, having felt the same pain many times over the last few years. The Prince straightened up instantly, the blunted steel in his hands angled downwards. His voice was clear in the morning air of Winterfell's courtyard.
"I was aiming for that shield, Lorent. I could have rung your head like a bell, because the shield wasn't going to stop me." It wasn't said arrogantly, at least not in Tyrek's opinion, but it showed no mercy either.
Falwell's face twisted and turned red in a mixture of embarrassment and anger, though he kept his voice calmer than could have been rightfully expected. "Thank you, Your Grace. I'll keep that in mind during our next bout."
Tyrek watched Damon watching Lorent as he joined the ring of Lannister guardsmen and squires in the courtyard, noticing the subtle look of confusion on his royal cousin's face. He had just been trying to give advice, though it tended to sound like gloating from the Prince's mouth. Tyrek understood—well, tried to understand, although it was difficult to do so when you were defeated in the sparring circle every time you faced the Prince. Damon Baratheon was simply saying what he saw, not to rub in his victory to try and help the others improve. There was no malice.
At least Tyrek didn't think there was malice. Something about the Prince's manner made one confused as to whether he liked you, hated you or thought you were dirt beneath his knee-high boots.
Tyrek had tried hard in the last few years of his life, ever since being sent to King's Landing to squire for King Robert Baratheon himself, to look at Damon Baratheon's position objectively. It could be difficult, what with his ability to beat the hell out of you and then tell you what you'd done wrong, but he thought he was closer to nailing it down.
Tyrek stepped into the ring, wordlessly taking the blunted sword and shield from Lorent and already preparing himself for the pain of a beating. Tyrek was decent with a sword and shield and strove to improve constantly—although squiring for a man who didn't care to learn his name much less train him proved difficult to overcome—but he wasn't on par with the prince. Damon spent more time in the training yard than he did anywhere else and it showed, as did the effects of squiring for the Kingslayer.
Let's just hope the Prince doesn't decide to be 'the Kinslayer', or Ermesande will be the youngest widow in Westerosi history.
Damon nodded to Tyrek in acknowledgement before crouching down in a fighting pose, sword and shield at the ready. They exchanged a few testing strikes, Tyrek focusing on keeping his guard while Damon stalked around him. His cousin had six inches on him, but Tyrek was broader through the shoulder. Broader didn't mean stronger, as he had learned years ago, but it was still his best shot.
Until Damon spun out of the bull charge Tyrek tried after blocking the Prince's blow, and the cousin of the Queen suddenly felt a shield colliding with his back. Even as Tyrek landed face down in Winterfell's frozen courtyard, he knew the Prince could have easily slammed that shield against the back of his head.
Tyrek didn't let the laughs of the surrounding squires and men faze him as he climbed to his feet, for most of them were sympathetic in nature. Damon stood near him, emerald eyes glancing over him to make sure he was whole. "You've tried that move more time than I can count, Tyrek."
Tyrek son of Tygett nodded. "It almost worked…once." He cleared his throat, aiming a smile at the prince. "That was an excellent move, Your Grace."
Ah, there it is. As Damon always did when given a compliment that wasn't rigid with formality, his face turned a few shades darker and his eyes took on a slight panicked look, as if he didn't really know what to say. It's because he doesn't. "Er…thank you." He turned away to the ring of men and boys around them, anxious for his next opponent. "Garris."
Tyrek switched places with the Crakehall, pondering as always at Damon's actions. He'd tried, per his cousin the Queen's orders, to befriend Damon since he'd arrived in King's Landing two years past. It hadn't worked no matter what he tried, though there were odd times when he thought the Prince was trying to thank him for the efforts. Many of the other squires and pages in King's Landing—and even most of the men—thought the Prince arrogant and unapproachable, and at first Tyrek had agreed, but the longer he spent in the Capitol the more unconvinced he became. It seemed liked Damon tried, but he simply couldn't; if there wasn't a diplomatic, formal way of responding, he had no bloody clue what to say.
That or he really is an arrogant, self-centered prick. I may be just trying to find good things because we look alike.
Tyrek's inner musings were interrupted by the sound of Garris slamming to the ground, dropped by a vicious backhand blow to the knee. Three more competitors went up and fell down before Ser Rodrik Cassel, Winterfell's master-at-arms, invited the group of southerners to mingle with the northerners who had been training in a separate part of the yard. Damon fought Robb Stark, winning after a spirited bout, accepting the wolf heir's congratulations with a nervous smile and nod.
It was going splendidly, even a heavily swaddled Tommen getting in on the training and losing to young Brandon Stark despite Damon's encouragement, when Joffrey did what Joffrey did best.
Damon's twin was as tall as he was and just as lean with the same coloring, but they differed in the face. Damon had Queen Cersei's cheekbones and lean face, while Joffrey was a bit broader and softer, his cheekbones not nearly as defined. A pack of men—men, not the squires like Tyrek around Damon—hung with him, chief among them the scarred, vicious looking Sandor Clegane. The Hound scared the seven hells out of Tyrek, and he felt no shame in admitting it.
Joffrey spoke, hand on the expensive sword at his side and infuriating smirk on his Lannister face as he strode forward. "I would like a bout, Ser Rodrik."
The bearded northerner nodded. "Of course. Robb."
The Stark heir nodded, stepping into the sparring ring with a blunted sword in hand. Joffrey, however, raised an eyebrow. "Blunted swords are child's play, don't you think? I was thinking along the lines of live steel."
Tyrek felt a bit of apprehension in the pit of his stomach, eyes going between the two noble lads and the grizzled master-at-arms. Ser Rodrik's voice was firm. "I will not allow that, Your Grace."
Joffrey's smirk faded. "Allow, Ser Rodrik?"
Damon chimed in then, somewhat to Tyrek's surprise. "It is Ser Rodrik's right as Winterfell's master-at-arms to set the terms, brother." The Prince's tone was respectful and proper, but Tyrek knew Damon felt neither of those things for Joffrey. Or at least he supposed; Damon was always careful of courtesy and correctness, but only an utter fool could feel fondness for the real Joffrey.
Joffrey nearly glared at his brother, though he kept the smirk on his face. Besides, Joffrey never truly glares at Damon. The Heir had lost as much to the Spare in the sparring ring as the rest of them until he simply refused to spar Damon further. "Even so, I believe you would have right to overrule him, Stark. What say you?"
The wish to do just that was evident on Robb Stark's face, but he shook his head slowly. "Ser Rodrik is in the right."
Joffrey's smirk deepened. "Is that fear I see, wolf?"
The heir to Winterfell's face turned as red as his Tully hair. "Live steel it is, then."
Ser Rodrik wasn't in agreement. "It is still my sparring yard, Lord Robb. The answer is no."
Joffrey feigned a yawn. "I suppose I shall let you remain behind your master-at-arms' protection." Robb snarled in anger, all self-control gone, but Joffrey spoke over him. "But Princes will no longer stoop to such levels. Come Tommen, Damon."
Without a word the Crown Prince turned and strode away, his pack of dogs and many of the squires who had been with Damon following after him. Tommen looked to Prince Damon, who had hesitated. Tyrek watched as the Prince looked between the fuming northerners and his brother, conflict clear on his face.
And then Tyrek started walking as Damon, with a hand on Tommen's shoulders, turned to follow Joffrey.
He parried high and then struck low, only to have his opponent dance out of the way, gliding away from his blunted blade easily. "Too slow. Strike with force."
The Golden Prince gritted his teeth, molars grinding together. He swung again, putting all of his strength into the overhead blow as if it were an axe he used instead of a sword. Again his opponent moved out of the way, spinning from the strike and bringing a backhand blow towards the Prince's side.
His right side, which was left wide open by the blow and unprotected by the shield strapped to Damon's left arm. The second son of Robert cursed under his breath nearly before the blade came to a calculated stop against his ribs.
His uncle, immaculate looking despite having fought in the white Kingsguard armor for nearly an hour, smirked as he held the blade against his nephew's side. "Dead. That was too much force; you need to thrust hard and fast, but with touch. You don't have to split them in two to get the job done. By the noises I hear from your chambers I'd have thought you'd have learned that by now."
Damon grunted in mild amusement at his uncle's joke, both men resetting across from each other in fighting poses without a signal between them. It was hot in the inner courtyard of the Red Keep, and felt even hotter after Damon had spent so much time recently in the bitter cold of the north. He was soaked in his own sweat despite being shirtless, his golden hair clinging to his neck and shoulders. It all made the Kingslayer's unruffled appearance all the more infuriating.
The courtyard was empty save for the two of them; Damon preferred to train with his uncle in private, for he would never speak as he was about to if there were other ears present. "What do you think happened to the Stark boy?" His question was accentuated with a quick lunging strike.
Jaime deflected it with shield and struck low with his sword, Damon countering the blow. They exchanged blows a second later before simultaneously dancing away from each other, beginning to circle with their defenses raised as they had countless times before. The Kingsguard's face was blank, eyes roving his nephew/squire's stance for weaknesses. "I think he fell from a tower. Poor lad; a fall like that should have killed him, not left him a broken shell."
He struck as he finished talking, trying to catch Damon off guard. It didn't work, Damon parrying and returning the strike, nearly landing a blow on his uncle's shoulder before the Lannister twisted his body out of the way, smashing his shield against the Baratheon's and pushing them both back a few steps to recover his stance.
They circled again, two sets of emerald eyes trying to find weaknesses they might have missed in hundreds of previous bouts. "The Starks seemed shocked he had fallen, though. From what I gathered form their talk, he had never fallen before."
Jaime saw his attack coming, stepping unexpectedly away from the sudden charge and stabbing the blade forward towards Damon's side. It was his right side again but this time Damon was ready, twisting to deflect the sword with his own as he twisted his hips mid-step, buying enough time to turn his body around on the run and gather himself to repel his uncle's following blows.
The Kingsguard raised an eyebrow as they resumed circling. "Of course he hadn't fallen before; if he had, the boy wouldn't have been around to fall while we were there." Jaime gestured towards Damon's hips with his swords. "You won't be able to pull that move off in armor. Or when you're over forty, armor or not."
Damon smirked, face suddenly his uncle's when Jaime was fifteen years younger. "I thought you would appreciate it."
"Alayaya teach you that?"
The smirk deepened. "Chataya herself." They came together in a flurry of blows, matching one another's moves perfectly before separating a few moments later.
Damon loved these times; when it was just him and his uncle, he was able to speak his mind and ask the questions he had been holding onto for days on end. Whatever the reasons that Damon couldn't figure out, he always felt…panicked around others, unsure of what to say or if they were serious or joking, among other horrible variables that weren't logical from one person to another. He liked etiquette and formality, for in those situations there were accepted, polished expectations and pleasantries that could be exchanged. There were rules, and people followed those rules because if they didn't they would give insult. They were predictable, and Damon loved predictability.
But outside of formal engagements and expected pleasantries, people were complex. Damon never knew what they really meant or what he was supposed to say, and even when he did his tongue became so thick in his mouth and his mind screamed so many uncertainties at him that he could barely get a sentence out. By the end of those interactions, Damon was certain his counterparts were as ready to hang him as he was ready to hang himself.
Not so with Uncle Jaime. Around his mother's brother, Damon wasn't tongue-tied or uncertain—he was Damon. It came easily and naturally and the banter was horribly fun, just as it was with Myrcella and Tommen and, to lesser extents, his mother.
Jaime beat him this time with a disarming move he'd never shown Damon before, and he beat the Prince with it again three more times before the Baratheon Prince figured out how to counter it. Damon grinned widely after doing so, backing away with his shield and blunted sword ready, looking as if he had been swimming in Blackwater Bay.
His uncle nodded approvingly, still as composed-looking as ever. "It took you long enough to figure it out. You've died five times this session. Perhaps you're spending too much time at Chataya's." He struck again, as fast now as he had been when they started, and Damon knocked it away. "I'd try to keep you from there, but I imagine there is too much Tyrion in you to make that possible."
Damon laughed, even though he didn't really like the comparison. The Prince could tell that his mother's other brother did his best to make Damon comfortable, but Tyrion was sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, and while Damon wanted to laugh at his jokes and have a merry time with the dwarf he simply wasn't comfortable enough to.
It makes no sense, even I must admit that. Uncle Tyrion and I share a love of whores and unchaste kitchen maids, while Uncle Jaime never seems to partake. On the surface one would think the second son of Tywin would be closer to Damon, but they differed even in their similarities. Damon was discreet about his amoral activities, and had the decency to keep them hidden from anyone not named Baratheon or Lannister—even some named Baratheon or Lannister. Tyrion flaunted them to the world, along with his fondness for excessive amounts of wine. It wasn't proper or noble of him, and Damon had difficulties turning a blind eye to it.
But he didn't let himself dip into an inner pondering of his family or his sins or his shortcomings. Instead he focused on what he did do well, and lasted so long in the bout that the Kingsguard called an end to it himself. Damon was pleased to finally see a drop of sweat on his uncle's brow as they both took a seat on the edge of the private courtyard.
Damon was halfway through oiling the training sword—it was meant to be battered, but Jaime insisted his squire care for every piece of weaponry he ever touched—when he blurted out something that had been gnawing at him for days. "Do you think Joff lied?"
His uncle, seated across from him and oiling his own training blade—Jaime was nothing if not fair with his squire—raised an eyebrow. "I think your brother makes a habit of lying."
The second son nodded his head in acknowledgement, but returned to his point. "I mean about Lady Arya and her wolf."
Damon had been with Jaime searching for Lady Arya on a different part of the Trident when she had been found, and had missed the hastily assembled court and trial that ended with the death of Lady Sansa's wolf by Lord Eddard's hand. He was thankful for that last bit, as he found the Lady Sansa as courteous and proper as he was and therefore easier than others to interact with; he'd have hated to see her distraught after the condemnation and death of her wolf in place of her sister's.
Jaime shrugged. "Does it matter if he did?"
Damon furled his brow. "Of course it does."
His uncle met the emerald eyes mirrored in his own face. "Why?"
"Because if Joff lied and he did as Lady Arya claimed, then the direwolf didn't need to die. It shouldn't have died."
"Joffrey said the other wolf attacked him. Lady Arya said he invoked it. Honestly, I imagine the she-wolf was telling the truth, but it doesn't matter."
Damon stared at his uncle, shocked. "Of course it matters! If Joffrey had Lady Sansa's wolf killed because it did as any good beast should, then—"
"Then what? Will you go and bring the beast back to life?"
"Will you call Joffrey a liar to his face or for all the court to hear?"
"Of course not."
"Then what will you do, Prince Damon?"
The Golden Prince opened his mouth to answer, the oiling of the sword forgotten, but he found no words to say. His mouth worked three or four times before he grunted. "I don't know."
Jaime nodded, then pointedly looked at the blunted sword until Damon started working again. "Exactly. The past in the past; you can't bring that wolf back to life any more than I can King Aerys, and just like me you shouldn't want to. Joffrey is a prince, and a prince's word will always be considered truth. You should remember that, Damon." His uncle usual smirk returned. "As well as remember what I taught you today, because I expect you to use it tomorrow. I need to keep you sharper with the sword in your hand than the sword in your pants."
Damon slowly nodded, trying to digest what his uncle had just said. "Thank you, Uncle Jaime."
"Damon," came a voice from the door of the Red Keep. Damon twisted to look that direction, and saw his mother in the doorway to the castle. He rose to his feet as he saw several handmaidens and ladies-in-waiting with her, including the Lady Sansa. He was both amused and embarrassed by the red blush to the northern girl's cheeks as she unconsciously eyed his bare chest.
His mother didn't share the amusement. Cersei was watching Damon and Jaime, her eyes shadowed and face carefully blank. His mother the Queen had never been truly comfortable with his attachment to her twin, for reasons Damon wasn't certain of. Perhaps she feared he showed too much favor to those related to him through blood, though that didn't make very much sense to Damon. He supposed it was more likely her desire for him to become close to someone his own age such as Tyrek, a motherly concern that Damon imagined all boys must counter. Even Princes.
Cersei smiled at him, though her eyes remained shadowed. "Clean yourself up and meet us in the dining hall, sweetling. It is Lady Jocelyn's nameday, and you need not be late. She considers you a friend."
Damon barely withheld his snort of amusement. Jocelyn Swyft and I have never said more than two words to one another. It's been…other noises. But Damon wasn't about to disobey, and nodded. "Of course, mother."
Jaime took the sword, gesturing towards Cersei who hadn't moved. "I'll finish this up, Your Grace." He leaned in closely. "And I'll do my best to smuggle 'Lady' Jocelyn into your chambers tonight."
Damon didn't let his face give the last part away, but he gripped his uncle's shoulder in thanks. "Thank you for your time, Ser Jaime."
As he walked towards the group of ladies, pulling his golden and black shirt down over his shoulders, he again absently noted his mother's uncomfortable gaze.
Damon hated Loras Tyrell.
The Baratheon Prince knew it was simple jealousy that made him dislike the Knight of Flowers as ardently as he did. The Reachman had flair about him, a charm and gravitas that made women swoon and men follow. Already a jousting champion of renown despite being a scant couple of years older than Damon, not to mention well respected with a sword, Loras would make any young man jealous, so Damon didn't feel overly petty in his own envy.
But he certainly hated Loras. The trick with the mare made it even more potent.
"I wish Clegane would have let his brother take the flowery git's head off."
He meant to speak where only his uncle could hear it, but Tyrek nodded his assent from Damon's other side. His cousin had accompanied the Prince as he squired for Ser Jaime, assisting when Damon requested it and otherwise staying out of the way. So he pretty well stayed out of the way all day. I need no assistance with the few normal chores a Prince is allowed to do. "Clever bit, the mare."
Damon whirled on his cousin, glaring down at him. Tyrek paled a bit, taking a half step back. "Clever? Dishonorable."
Both of their blonde heads were doused with water when Jaime, sweat stained and in only breeches, withdrew his head from the bucket it'd been submerged in, blonde hair stuck to his forehead and spitting water from his mouth as he spoke. "Clever."
Both of his kin turned to look at him, one in shock and the other in disbelieving shock. "But it disrupted Ser Gregor's stallion. It was no longer a match of skill it was a farce of a fight…it was underhanded!"
Jaime turned to look at him, cocking an eyebrow. "Gregor Clegane is near eight feet tall, strong as a giant and with plate mail as thick as your head of hair. Skill only goes so far, Prince; it was already a farce before they climbed on either of their horses." Jaime pulled a clean shirt over his torso and gestured towards his freshly-polished armor, which both squires rushed to attend to.
"So you support the move? If I can't beat a man in fair combat I should resort to tricks and treachery?"
Jaime's gaze locked on the Prince's, emerald to emerald. "If it was real out there I would've killed Loras Tyrell before he got to the Mountain. But if I hadn't, Tyrell would have to live with talk that he tricked another knight in order to kill him. But Clegane, who did no such trickery until long after Tyrell would have been all over him? Clegane would be dead. Think on that."
"It wasn't clean."
"War isn't, Your Grace. I hope neither of you ever learn that firsthand."
It was an offhand comment, one Damon paid little attention to at the time. Later, he would wish he had.
The world went to shit quicker than I could ever have imagined.
"Mother, save the watery words for Myrcella and Tommen. What in the seven hells happened?"
Damon Baratheon knew as well as anyone that it was never wise to demand anything from Cersei Lannister. His mother loved him and his siblings fiercely, but she took little in the way of disobedience. By the tightening of the skin around the Queen's eyes and slight clenching of her jaw he knew he had spoken too harshly, but Damon couldn't focus on apologizing, not while everything in his life was changing much quicker than he could ever have anticipated.
Identical eyes held stares a long moment before the Queen finally gestured towards the seat on the other side of her desk. Damon took it impatiently, as impatiently as he had stormed through the halls of the Red Keep in just breeches, boots and a soaked shirt. He had been training with Ser Barristan the Bold and cousins Tyrek and Lancel, his uncle having firmly insisted the Prince remain behind while Jaime went about some business of the King. That had been this morning, and now, in the darkening of evening, the second son of Robert sat in his mother's chamber, sweating and angry.
The Queen never let things slide, though. Even when giving an inch, she took one back. "Never speak to me like that again, Damon."
The Prince nodded slightly, already regretting the sharpness of his earlier tone. His mother was a good woman who gave everything she could for his happiness; she didn't deserve to be barked at simply because Damon was concerned at the sudden changes. "I apologize, mother. I am only…confused. What happened to Lord Stark?"
His mother watched him a long moment, mouth in the thin line Damon knew meant she was trying to find proper words. He waited, though his impatience flared. The Hand of the King had, according to rumor, been returned to the Red Keep from the streets of King's Landing by Goldcloaks, the Lord of the North unconscious and wounded. Three of Lord Stark's men, including the hand of the Hand Jory Cassel, had been slain, the last by Damon's uncle. Three Lannister men had also died, and Jaime was nowhere to be found.
Damon, much like everyone he had asked, had no clue why.
Cersei finally spoke, voice calm. "Your uncle Tyrion was taken on the road while travelling south."
"Captured, by Catelyn Stark at her husband's command."
Damon blinked thrice, mind having difficulty wrapping itself around the news. It took him four more blinks before he managed to speak. "For the sake of the Seven why?"
His mother's voice remained calm, eyes startlingly blank. "He seems to believe Tyrion tried to have his son Brandon killed."
Damon shot forward. "The boy fell!"
"Yes, he fell. But, according to his wife and his heir Robb, an assassin wielding your uncle's blade attempted to kill the child in his sickbed."
Damon stared incredulously, mind racing. Tyrion has no reason to want the boy dead. Even if he did, Tyrion isn't the kind to kill a child. Damon may not be close to his dwarf uncle, but he didn't believe for a second that would do such a thing. Or that he'd be stupid enough to arm the assassin with his own knife. "I don't believe it."
"Neither do I, or your uncle Jaime. That is why he confronted Lord Stark outside a brothel. Things unfortunately took a violent turn."
Eddard Stark at a brothel? That was only one piece of the shock of news Damon was being assaulted with. He supposed there was precedent, Jon Snow being evidence, but Damon had seen the adoration the Lord of the North held for his wife, as well as Stark's emphasis on acting honorably.
But that was a rather unimportant detail. The bigger issue was that uncle Jaime had fought with Lord Stark in the street, leading to the deaths of men from both households. Whatever the foolish and brash move seizing Tyrion had been—and while Damon had had only limited interactions with Lord Stark, foolish and brash seemed out of character—there was no sense in attacking him in the streets. If there was a misunderstanding it needed to be worked out in the courts, not with steel. Those sort of actions were what brought on civil wars.
And, most devastatingly to the Prince of the Iron Throne, Jaime had spoken of none of this to Damon before he carried it out. He had neither taken his nephew to the confrontation, nor had he even given him a warning of what had happened to his own family. Damon was crushed; he thought Jaime told him everything.
Damon had been lost in his own thoughts, eyes unfocused. When he came back to the present, Cersei was watching him, as stony faced as ever. "Where is uncle Jaime now?"
His mother the Queen shifted slightly, and Damon swore for a moment he saw both anger and concern in her eyes. "No one is sure. He has fled King's Landing." That twisted the hurt deeper; Jamie had left him behind.
For the first time in Damon's life, his uncle was gone.
Cersei spoke again after only a moment. "Your grandfather has called his banners in response to Lady Stark's actions. It is likely Jaime is riding to meet with him."
Jaime left me to fight a war. I'm his squire, I should be with him. "What is father going to do?"
This time the anger in the Queen's gaze was unmistakable. "He has ordered Lord Stark to be cared for in his chambers, and intends to wait for him to awaken before learning what has happened. It is a foolish, weak move. He should be arrested for attacking the Queen's brother in the street."
It sounds to me like uncle Jaime attacked him. The much more likely cause of arresting Lord Stark would be his order to abduct Tyrion. Even in his state of shock, Damon knew that particular point was low on his mother's list of priorities. She and Tyrion had never gotten on well. "He is doing nothing?"
"But civil war is threatening to break out under his nose. Envoys should be sent to both Lord Tywin and Lady Stark, demanding both Tyrion's release and Tywin to stand down. This is all a misunderstanding!"
Cersei cocked a brow at him. "Neither Jaime or Lord Stark see it that way. Neither do I, for that matter."
"But, mother, Tyrion didn't attempt to assassinate Bran. All of this violence has started for nothing."
"The Starks have acted against House Lannister. That has repercussions."
Damon shook his head. "Those repercussions should be doled out by House Baratheon. The law of King Jaehaerys is clear, mother."
"King Jaehaerys was a Targaryen, and has been dead for centuries. You are a Lannister. House Stark has acted against you."
"I am a Baratheon as well, mother. And I am a Prince of the Iron Throne, which is the body that should mediate this dispute." Damon shot to his feet. "I will follow Uncle Jaime. I can convince him to return and settle this matter diplomatically."
Cersei had risen as he did, and her grip was firm on his wrist. "You will do no such thing."
Damon titled his head down to look at her. "I am his squire, my place is by his side. I am also a prince, and my place is to keep my realm from going to war."
"You are a boy." The words cut deep and true. "This matter is for men like your uncle and grandfather to settle." Her eyes tightened alongside her grip. "You will do nothing, Damon. Your place is here, with your sister and your brothers, unless the King tells you otherwise. He hasn't, and won't."
"But nothing. You will remain here, where you belong."
The Queen's tone was final. Damon wanted to argue, wanted to fight it fiercely. Instead, he turned and left.
And that night, he left King's Landing.
"Your mother knows nothing of this, does she." It wasn't a question.
"What do you think?" That wasn't a question either.
Tyrek sat his sorrel gelding back from the two identical men, eyes going back and forth between them. The Kingslayer sat a white palfrey, dressed in red and gold armor, his white cloak nowhere to be found. That's probably best, considering he broke the Kingsguard neutrality and attacked the Hand of the King and fled the city and…all of that.
The brother of the Queen had met them at the edge of the camp, hundreds of men in Lannister red and gold and the trappings of Lannister vassals spread out behind him. He saw the purple unicorn of Brax, the gold coins of Payne, the sun of Lefford and dozens of others. They were somewhere near the border of the Riverlands and the Westerlands, likely already in the latter, though Tyrek wasn't sure exactly where. It was an open field amidst a smattering of forest, large beforehand and made larger by Westlander axes. Tyrek was as inexperienced at warfare as the Prince he had followed days ago from the Red Keep, and thusly had no clue how many men there actually were. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them.
All of that was crossing in the back of his mind though, what with the man he had followed and the man that man had followed conversing a few yards in front of them. The Kingsguard knight had ridden alone to meet them, while the Prince had eleven men behind him. Ten were scouts that had intercepted them a few miles back, while the other was the only one the Prince had brought along—Tyrek, though that had been more of the Prince not telling him to stay than asking him to come. It'd seemed like a good idea at the time, what with the Queen's frequent commands to befriend Damon ringing in his mind, but when they'd gotten a night's ride from King's Landing Damon had revealed that the Queen had forbade him from doing exactly what he was doing.
Tyrek had stayed with Damon, more for fear of what Cersei would do to him should he return without her son than any real desire to ride to the war the Prince was hell bent on trying to stop.
Not that the Prince hadn't come prepared though. He wore armor of his own, much like Jaime's, though instead of crimson and gold it was black and gold, the stallion beneath him a red destrier, one of the six horses the two squires had taken with them. A helm hung from his saddle, the same black with gold trimmings as the breastplate and accompanying steel. It was visorless, instead accentuated by breathing holes around the mouth, with golden stag antlers on the helm. Most squires didn't have armor of any sort, war or not, but Damon was no normal squire. This was just the suit of armor that had fit him best, and the one he best liked—Tyrek knew for a fact that the Prince had received three different suits in the last year alone, gifts from various lords. The same could be said of swords, though one stood out from the others; the lion pommeled blade the Prince had chosen was brilliantly balanced and crafted, a gift from his grandfather Lord Tywin, who Tyrek was certain was somewhere in the maze of tents beyond.
I think he is as sick of wearing it all as I am of helping him in and out of it, though. For once I'm happy all I have is a sword and horse.
The Kingslayer looked to the other men around them before trotting a few steps closer to his nephew. "All of you, return to your scout."
A chorus of 'yes m'lords' followed, and for a moment Tyrek wondered if perhaps he should find somewhere else to be as well. To his surprise and pleasure, though, Damon stopped him before the thought could get very far. "Tyrek, you remain."
"Of course Prince Damon," he answered immediately, glancing at the Kingslayer and seeing the same surprise he was sure was mirrored on his face. He and the Prince had spent days in no one's company but each other's, and in all that time they had shared maybe fifty words. Most of those were about keeping away from others and staying ahead of the parties the Queen was certain to have sent after them. Damon had tolerated Tyrek's presence it had seemed, nothing more.
The cousin's musings were unimportant to the nephew and uncle, however, as they started speaking again as soon as the scouts were gone. "What the hell were you thinking, riding alone. There is a war brewing, and the roads are not safe for a Prince in any case."
"That fact that there is a war brewing is exactly why I'm here, and I know as well as anyone how to avoid unwanted guests."
The Kingsguard grunted, frowning deeply. "You think you know when you actually don't, which is more dangerous than not knowing."
The Prince straightened in his saddle, refusing to budge an inch. Tyrek would have been surprised by it if he wasn't already shocked at hearing so many words flow effortlessly from the Prince's mouth. "I made it here, didn't I?"
"How did your mother not send party's after you?"
"I'm sure she did, but they didn't find me." He gestured towards Tyrek without looking back at him, ostensibly towards the four horses the son of Tygett held strung out loosely behind him. "We rode hard and fast, and kept to the straightest path save for when we camped."
"The straightest path is a lot of back trails."
"Back trails I remember or have since learned. I've hunted with father enough to know the land passing well, and the rest Tyrek and I figured out. It's not hard finding an army when they aren't fighting yet."
"And what of the King? Does he know you're missing?"
"I'm sure he does by now."
There was silence for a long moment, nephew and uncle eyeing each other. Jaime spoke first. "Your mother commanded you to stay, didn't she."
"She did. The King didn't."
"Did you ask him?"
Damon squirmed in his saddle for a moment, and his voice came out much more guiltily when he spoke again. "No. He probably would have agreed with mother…for once. I couldn't have that."
Jaime half glared at his nephew for a moment, the Prince having gone from stubborn to chagrined quite quickly. Tyrek understood the wince in his shoulders when the Kingslayer whirled that glare on him. "And you, you just followed along without a word to the Queen?"
It was good that Damon spoke for him, for Tyrek was at a loss. "Don't blame Tyrek. He came because I asked him."
Well, more because I happened across you in the stables in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and you were worried that I would blow your cover, but I certainly won't contradict you.
Not that Jaime truly believed it, judging by his face. He nudged his horse forward a few more steps leaning over and talking so lowly that Tyrek, who hadn't gotten closer but certainly wasn't far away, couldn't hear him. Damon responded in turn, the two conversing for a few moments longer before the sound of hooves approaching from the maze of tents drew them out of it.
Ser Kevan Lannister, Tyrek's uncle, led another party of horsemen towards them, most of those behind him lords. Tyrek recognized Lord Jast and Foote, as well as Brax and Prester, and a handful of others. Ser Daven Lannister, another of the infinite cousins, carried the crimson and gold banner of Lannister to Kevan's right. There was a lack of Baratheon stags, but he supposed that was fitting, since this was shaping up to be an internalized conflict.
"Your Grace," he heard Kevan call as he reigned a mare up close to the two emerald and gold men. "Lord Tywin sends his regards, and welcomes you to his camp."
Damon responded instantly, voice clear in the midmorning light, and Tyrek absently noted that the Prince was back in his element; formal greetings with set responses. "Ser Kevan, it is good to see you again, though I must say I disapprove of the reasoning."
Kevan nodded only once, unflustered by the response. "Your grandfather invites you his tent, to discuss just that." Kevan's eyes flitted to Tyrek, then Jaime, then Tyrek and back. "All of you."
Tyrek gulped. His uncle Tywin scared him half to death, he had no qualms in admitting. Judging by the slight sag in Damon's shoulders, he scared the Prince as well.
Though you couldn't tell it from his voice. "Of course. I'd be delighted."
When the Prince started his destrier forward, he cast one fleeting look back over his shoulder to Tyrek, the first time he'd so much as glanced at his companion since they'd encountered the scouts. In the Prince's face Tyrek could see he most assuredly wouldn't be.
Days and days of planning had come to naught.
Damon didn't know what had come over him in his flight from the capital. He'd been so wrapped up in concern over where the stupidity going on around him might lead that it had seemed a brilliant idea; and, while he didn't put much stock in stories, he thought the tale of a prince riding alone to beg combatants to stop a war would be excellent fodder for the bards. He'd slipped out of his chambers and to the stables through a variety of passages and secret tunnels that he'd often smuggled whores through, taking Tyrek along on a whim. It had seemed a brilliant plan.
That had lasted until the night of the next day, when an exhausted Damon and Tyrek had camped somewhere in the Crownlands. It had dawned on him then, when it was far too late to turn back, that this was the first time he'd ever been anywhere without some elder in charge in all his life.
Before he had left the idea appealed to him greatly. Once it had happened, though, and he and Tyrek had been left alone to eat their rations and try to figure out how in the Seven Hells to keep a fire going, all he'd been was scared.
He'd remained scared the rest of trip west, though he'd tried to keep Tyrek from seeing it.
The only substantial contact Damon had had with Robert Baratheon was when they hunted, and while Damon didn't share the zeal for killing animals that his father did, he went on every hunt his mother would permit him to join. While he and his father never got on well, there conversations short and oftentimes awkward, it'd felt brilliant to share something with the man who had fathered him.
Those trips had also served as reasons for Damon to self-justify his trip, what with his time spent travelling the roads to hunts making him believe he could find the army of his grandfather easily enough. He had been wrong; Damon had been horribly lost more than once, and the sight of the Lannister scouts had given him relief like none other.
But here, standing across the table from where his grandfather expertly skinned a stag, he almost wished he had remained lost.
Lord Tywin Lannister of the Westerlands was feared, by friend and foe alike. Damon was neither, but he was terrified all the same. I'd love to say it's because I'm tired—we haven't slept much, Tyrek or me, what with the searching parties behind me—but I know better. He was an inch or so taller than Uncle Jaime, his hair gone white and balding in his advancing age, but he was lean and stood as straight as a blade. Eyes, pale green, had cut through Damon when they'd exchanged formal pleasantries as easily as the knife in Tywin's hand sliced through the stag.
Jaime stood to Damon's right, Tyrek his left. Silence descended on the tent.
The Baratheon Prince had finally gathered enough wits to speak when Tywin did it for him. "Why are you here, Your Grace."
It was a question although it sounded like some sort of command from his grandfather's lips. Damon tried his best to go into his planned spiel. "Lord Tywin, I must ask you to disband these men."
Tywin didn't turn to face him. He didn't even stop skinning the animal. "Do you carry commands from the King, Prince Damon?"
"Then why are you here?"
Three sentences. Three sentences and he's already got me on my back foot. "I'm here to stop a war." Even as Damon said them he knew how pitiful they sounded.
"With all due respect, Your Grace," Tywin said, somehow managing to sound like he meant that respect, "Eddard Stark started that war when his wife took Tyrion."
"She believes Tyrion tried to murder their son."
"I agree, which is why—"
"And stupidity, to take a Lannister on the road. That, Your Grace, is an act of war, especially with such nonsense reasoning." Tywin turned to face him, hands bloody and brow fierce. "I am only responding in kind to Lord Stark's actions."
Damon gulped once underneath the gaze, but he drove on, trying to salvage something from the speech for peace he had prepared for days. "Lord Stark believes a Lannister tried to kill his son. If we cease acts of aggression and reason with him, he will see the error of his actions I am sure."
Tywin raised a brow, and Damon inexplicably felt a blush rising to his cheeks. "Is that so? Jaime, give him the letter." Damon looked to his uncle, whose eyes held a mixture of sympathy and exasperation as he grabbed a curled raven's scroll from the table and handed it to his squire. "While you were riding towards us, your father has gone on a hunt, leaving Stark as regent. We received this, amidst requests from your mother to bring you back immediately. I will follow neither idea."
Damon quickly unfolded the scroll in his hand, reading the words of Lord Stark quickly. By the time he was done, his heart had frozen in fear. "This is madness."
Tywin returned to his flaying with a nod of approval. "It is."
"He refers to the Mountain…"
"Clegane is burning the Riverlands in response to Catelyn Tully's refusal to release Tyrion. This war you have ridden so fast and hard to stop has already begun."
Tywin turned again, and Damon shut his mouth. There was nothing physically threatening in the gesture, but Damon couldn't find words beneath the gaze. "The Riverlands have called their own banners. I assure you, were you to have come across a Tully party rather than a Lannister one, you would be a prisoner of the war you seem to think hasn't begun."
Damon tried to intercede, but Tywin was relentless. "Your family has been insulted. Your name may be Baratheon, but you are as much if not more of a Lannister. I will not return either you or Tygett's son to King's Landing, for your place is here, where your family fights a war against an enemy that provoked them unnecessarily."
It took the Prince a moment to respond. "But, grandfather, I can't possibly—"
"You can, and you will. Lord Stark may wear the badge of Hand of the King, but he is acting against the realm. That may be a stag on your breastplate, but it's a lion on the pommel of your sword. I see no wolf or trout."
"I am not the King."
"No, you are not. You are a Prince, and a Lannister, acting when your father will not." Tywin gestured towards Jaime. "You squire for a Lannister. You look like a Lannister. You're smart like a Lannister. It is time to be a Lannister."
The Lord of the Westerlands looked to his son then, so confident and commanding in his manner that Damon couldn't dislodge any of the arguments in his throat. "You will take both of them with you." His grandfather looked back to Damon once again. "If that is suitable to the Prince, of course."
No, it isn't. I came to stop a war, not join one. Lord Stark is acting brashly, I agree, but there must be a diplomatic answer.
Damon opened his mouth to say that. What came out was "Of course, Lord Tywin."
He walked out of the tent unsure of what the Seven Hells had just happened, but knowing without a doubt that he didn't like it one bit.
"Do you feel it?"
The question was asked quietly, murmured under his uncle's breath while the commanders kicked their mounts into gallops, veering left, right or rearward as they went to their commands. Ser Jaime Lannister and Prince Damon Baratheon sat their respective mounts firmly in the center of the Lannister lines, fifty yards in front of the infantry. Four hundred knights and freeriders flanked them, the vanguard of the fifteen thousand strong Lannister force. It was a third of their mounted forces, another third under the command of Lord Roland Crakehall on the left and the final third under Lord Quenten Banefort on the right.
"Feel what?" Or what in particular, anyway. Damon felt a lot of things. Apprehension, because he knew the political ramifications of a prince fighting for one or the other side in what was, for now, a localized conflict between two subordinate regions. Excitement, because after a life dedicated to training for war he was at the doorstep of a true battle. Shame, because he knew he should have been strong enough to prevent this but instead had meekly gotten manhandled into not only allowing it, but aiding in it. Concern, for Tyrek was on his left in chainmail and a halfhelm and Damon knew from years of sparring that his cousin was only decent with a blade, no true warrior.
Oh, Damon felt fear alright. That was partly to do with his shame, for it was taking everything Damon had to keep his hands from shaking. His throat was parched, heart pounding hard enough he was certain it would soon beat out of his chest and through the black and gold armor of his breastplate. When he'd been training with Jaime in the safety of King's Landing, he had thirsted for a taste of war like nothing else, wanting so desperately to be a part of the glorious battles sung about in songs. But now that he was mere minutes from one, that excitement was gone, placed by the terrifying realization that this might be his last few moments on earth.
He'd done no small amount of praying to the Seven in the last half hour. A man never realized how much he owed them for his life until it was possible it was about to be taken away.
For a moment Damon thought about denying the fear running through him, but he'd never made a habit of lying before, particularly not to his uncle. "Yes," he whispered quietly, wondering if it would make the man he near worshiped ashamed of him.
The Kingslayer nodded once, sharp and approving. "Good. That means you're not stupid." Jaime's voice held none of the mirth and lightheartedness it normally did, his voice confident but serious, with no room in it for anything except the matter on hand. "Use what I taught you, and stick close to my side. No heroics, Damon. Your main goal is to stay alive, understood?"
Damon met his uncle's eyes, emerald on emerald as they peered out of their respective helms. "Understood."
The knight of the Kingsguard held his nephew's eyes a moment longer. "And Damon…never hesitate."
He returned his attention to the front without giving the Prince the chance to respond. He lifted his voice into a single word, that word being relayed by the bellow of veterans all along the lines to either side. "Forward."
Damon took a deep breath to fight down a fresh wave of fear as he nudged his red destrier into a trot, the sound of clanking armor, hundreds of hooves and thousands of footsteps filling his ears. You are a Baratheon. You are the son of Robert, the nephew of Jaime. Cravenness is not in your blood, and you will not be the one to introduce it.
Jaime and Damon had split from Tywin Lannister the morning after the prince had arrived in his grandfather's camp, taking half of the Westerlander army with them. Houses Crakehall, Banefort, Westerling, Brax, Estren, Greenfield and Prester were among them, while the Leffords held the Golden Tooth looming a ways behind them.
The Tooth was a stout castle, situated squarely in the center of the only pass leading through the mountains into the heart of the Westerlands from the Riverlands. In the distance to either side of Damon the ridges of mountains, unpassable by armies of any size, rose high into the clear, cloudless sky. He, along with the Westerlander army, were moving slowly down a 'valley', though it was the hilliest valley Damon had ever known. It also was a vertical one, steadily rising towards the Golden Tooth, which the Prince was pretty sure meant it actually wasn't a valley, but instead a broad spur in the ridge of the mountains. Not that it mattered what he thought, for it had been referred to as a valley for generations and would be for generations to come.
Valley or no, the ground was uneven, rising into countless hills of various sizes, and the farther down the valley you moved the more wooded they became save for the road cutting through roughly the middle. The hills rising towards the Golden Tooth were for the most part clear cut, leaving any approaching army no cover as they moved up the valley to the pass and the castle guarding it. Many an army in Westerosi history had been decimated in this valley, prevented from entering the Westerlands by withering fire from the walls of the Tooth.
Damon and the army he was a part of had left those cleared areas behind the night before, though, and the lines of the Lannisters were constantly shifting to avoid thick patches or particularly sharp peaks of the hills, making their descent towards the Riverlands a slithering, slow process.
That had been prepared for though, and the worst of it had already been undertaken. Now, there were only a few hills between them and their enemy, who awaited them at the bottom of their descent.
Scouts reported the Riverlander numbers to be three and a half thousand or so, which gave the Lannister forces a near overwhelming numerical advantage. They also had the advantage of starting on the high ground, able to come boiling out of the hills at their foe.
But years of battle in this area had shown the strongest way to defend, and the Riverlander commander had wisely chosen it. Just as the Golden Tooth was situated in a pass where the unpassable peaks drew close together, the mountains drew close together at the foot of the valley where the border of the Riverlands and Westerlands met. This pass was broader than the one farther in the mountains, though it was dominated by three larger hills. The River Road was paved between the middle and left of the three hills, where the terrain on the other side was a gradual dip towards the lowlands. Another road of sorts, rougher and unpaved but also a straighter line from the Riverlands to the Westerlands, split between the middle and right of the hills, suitable for men on horseback but the terrain on the other side too rough for wagons of any sort.
The Tully forces were spread on each of the three hills, freshly built defenses of spiked barricades added to the sparse fortifications of stone that had been added over the centuries prior, the ground leading to the three hills cleanly cut to leave little cover. Damon didn't need scouts to know that high numbers of archers were on those hills, and that they would make any army trying to simply bypass them by riding on down the River Road pay dearly.
Not that we can. No commander with any manner of brains would leave an enemy force at his back.
That was why the men under Jaime's command were split into three even units. The men under Lord Crakehall would assault the left hill, the men under Jaime himself the center and those under Lord Banefort the right, the cavalry softening the enemy while the larger number of foot soldiers came in to finish the job. It was bound to be bloody, and while stands against more serious odds had been made it was unlikely to happen today. The Riverlanders hadn't had enough time to build as many fortifications as they would have needed, nor the traps and other obstacles that would have been useful in slowing the Lannister attack. They hadn't cleared enough space leading up the pass either, leaving time for only a volley or two before attackers would reach the hill. While the dip between where Damon and his uncle were to the Riverlander positions was sizeable, it wasn't enough.
I imagine the Tully's know that, yet here they are. I wonder if they too feel the fear I do. Surely they must.
And while he knew that dip he would soon be charging down wasn't enough, it still looked as long as the whole of Westeros.
The Lannister lines came to a halt at the edge of archer range, taking a few moments to straighten their formations. An eerie silence had fallen over the battleground, only broken by the occasional snort of a horse or cough of a soldier. The three hills were still, though Damon could see the men in battle lines opposing them.
Damon never remembered the command to charge, nor did he remember kicking his destrier into action or drawing his sword. One moment he had been staring across the ground he needed to cover, terrified and exhilarated, and the next the thundering sound of hooves and the war cries of thousands of men had filled his ears. His body shook with each step his destrier took, Damon finding he needed to focus no small amount on simply staying in the saddle. They barreled across the ground to their front, his uncle on his right, Tyrek somewhere on his left. Damon's mind was everywhere at once, on his horse, on the ground he was traversing, on the defenses steadily growing closer to his front and the men behind them, on how much he didn't want to die and how awful it would be to never kiss scandalous Jocelyn Swyft again.
He heard the sound of arrows long before he heard the call for shields, already hefting the steel banded oak over his head and the antlers on his helm, a golden stag on a black field its coloring. Up until that point Damon had forgotten entirely about its existence, though he was certainly thankful when he felt the terrifying impact of more than one arrow digging into its face that otherwise would have hit him. He couldn't stop the alarmed shout from escaping his lungs when another deflected off of his right leg, startling him so much he nearly jumped off of his stallion. The terrible scream of hit horses struck his very soul, redoubled by the agonized cries of wounded men.
Even as arrows struck his shield and deflected off of his leg he never looked away from his target. They were at the base of the hill, having covered the ground both amazingly fast and horribly slow, their speed decreasing slightly as they started up the clear cut incline. He had somehow pulled slightly ahead of Jaime, a knight in green trappings several horses to his left ahead of even Damon, and the Prince knew in the back of his mind that the line was less of a formation and more of a conglomeration of steel and horseflesh now. His stallion, whom Damon had never named, instinctually angled away from the first of the spiked barricades, and by virtue of having gotten farther ahead than most others he found himself soon behind only the knight in green. A second volley of arrows soon swarmed them, another finding its way into Damon's shield as the disorganized lines became a series of disorganized wedges flowing around the barricades.
And then they were on the enemy.
Until his dying day Damon would remember the feel of the knight in green's blood as it sprayed over Damon's visor, slipping through the breathing holes and filling his mouth with its coppery taste as a Riverlander with a longaxe cleaved the knight nearly in two. Without realizing what he was doing Damon had ridden his stallion over the big axe-wielder, the destrier trampling him as Damon instinctually swung his word in a deadly arc towards the Riverlander line he was very suddenly on top of.
The first man Damon ever killed was a nameless soldier in the garb of House Piper who had stepped towards the Prince aggressively, holding a spear and wearing a halfhelm. Damon's blade carved a red line in his throat, the man's spear deflecting off the chainmail blanket of the Prince's stallion. Damon barely had time to think of what he had done before he was swinging again, this time wounding another man in the shoulder as he blocked a passing spear thrust with his shield. His third strike was deflected away, but his fourth caught a man in the back as the Riverlander was blocking someone else's sword.
His stallion roared as he burst out the back of the Riverlander line, his rider's bloody sword held angled high as they began to build back up the momentum lost in the original impact and started towards the second formation mere yards ahead. This time Damon was the first attacker on the line, and in response had to use both his shield and his sword to block the spears of the Riverlanders. His stallion roared again, this time in pain, as a glancing blow cut underneath its blanket, though the animal kept moving. Damon swung again and again, disarming one man in every sense of the word while slicing another through the mouth as he shouted, leaving the man's jaws cleaved and cheeks slit.
It was instinct and training. Damon had no malice behind the blows, had no hatred for the men he was maiming and killing. He emotionally felt nothing, the only things he could sense being the rush of battle and the feel of his sword in his hand. His movements came natural, practiced a thousand times in training yards. While the sounds and smells here were nothing like they were there, the movements were much the same. Parry, strike, parry. Block with shield and sword, strike with shield and sword. Keep your horse moving to prevent an archer at the back of the lines from sighting down on you, use your stallion as the weapon it had been trained from birth to be.
The small part of Damon's brain that was still functioning—instinct had taken over near everything—was pondering at how alive he felt when he was suddenly catapulted forward, the shrill shriek of his stallion filling his ears as a knight in Vance colors cut its legs out from underneath it. Damon lost his arrow-riddled shield in the sudden jerked movement, yet somehow kept the grip on his sword as he crashed to the ground on his right shoulder, hearing the clang of his armor striking the armored body of a corpse when he came to a stop.
Damon was on his feet well before his mind realized what had happened, sinking his sword into the belly of a man closing in for the kill with his standing motion, the Prince's full weight behind the blow. Even as he withdrew the sword from the screaming man's guts Damon felt figures closing in on him, the distance yet close shout "To the Prince!" in his ears.
Damon cut down one man with a backhand move he had learned from Jaime mere days earlier, then sliced another's legs out from under him much as the Vance knight had his horse. One shieldless man crossed blades with him, and Damon instinctually used the disarming move that had so vexed him in the Red Keep's courtyard, leaving the Riverlander weaponless. Damon didn't hesitate, his uncle's admonishment from earlier ringing in his ears as he stepped forward to end the defenseless man's life.
The Riverlander didn't hesitate either.
In a move that surprised the prince like nothing else ever had, the weaponless Riverlander stepped towards the Baratheon, sidestepping Damon's stab with his hands outstretched. The Prince was so shocked he didn't react as the levy gripped the antlers on Damon's helm.
Damon was suddenly blind and terrified his neck was about to be broken, the Riverlander wrenching the helm down and in. The Prince had no choice but to go with it, the strap of the helm digging into the underside of his chin as the Prince wailed his arms—one holding a sword—wildly. Damon had to drop to a knee to keep the Riverlands from snapping his neck.
In his panic the prince felt a rush of strength and dexterity, enough to snap the thick leather strap digging into his skin with a fierce tug from his left hand. Damon's vision was returned as he rocked backwards on one knee, his helm pulled off and tossed to the side by the Riverlander who had been about to break his neck with it.
The Prince stared dumbly at the dagger the man had procured while holding the Prince's helm as it raised high, knowing he had no chance of blocking or avoiding it.
And then the Riverlander was dead, and a man in red and gold armor with golden hair was pulling Damon to his feet, shouting all the while. "Up, up, fight!" His Uncle Jaime whirled, cutting another man down. The Prince, who by all accounts should be dead, couldn't do anything but rejoin the battle all around them. He had no sense who was winning or even where on the blasted hill he was, but he did as his uncle commanded, swinging again and again.
A knight in the colors of House Vance—perhaps the same one who had cut his stallion down, though Damon didn't know—was suddenly all over the Prince, his armor expensive and well-made but also covered in blood and gore. The man was good, better than any Riverlander the Prince had crossed blades with so far, keeping the Prince on his back foot. His Uncle Jaime was suddenly gone, likely in his own duel, and Damon had to dodge away from the swinging man's blade twice and backpedal to miss his swung shield, stumbling for a moment on a corpse as he did so.
The Vance knight jumped forward with his blade at the opportunity, and Damon was only just able to catch it with his own. They locked for a moment, the other knight not as tall as young Damon but with the strength of a full grown man instead of a teenaged youth. He'd soon used his superior strength to force their swords down to Damon's left hip, and the Prince knew the Riverlord was waiting for the right angle to bring his own back up in a backhand blow across the Prince's face or throat.
Damon rammed his shoulder into the Vance knight's chest, knocking him off balance and stopping him from applying pressure to their locked swords long enough for Damon to drop his own without letting the other knight's bite into his side.
The Riverlander regained his balance and tried to bring his sword in in one move, but Damon had twisted and caught the man's wrist with his right hand, pulling him more off balance. The knight's shield slammed against Damon's back and his head nearly collided with the side of Damon's own as the Riverlander flailed to keep his balance, but the Prince held his enemy's sword locked against his right hip. With a quick movement the Baratheon drew his dagger with his left hand, stabbing across his own body to sink it into the eye of his enemy.
The man's face was mere inches from Damon as he stiffened in death, a few strangled breaths all that escaped his mouth before he crumpled to the ground, the hilt of Damon's dagger protruding out of the eyeslit in his helm.
And like that, all of it was over.
Damon scrambled to recover his dropped blade, expecting another enemy to be on him at any moment, but when Damon rose up all he saw was corpses and standing Lannister men. Jaime stood a dozen feet away, dead Riverlanders piled at his feet. Other notable warriors from the vanguard that Damon recognized were scattered across the field; Strongboar, Damion Lannister, Ser Flement Brax. All of them seemed to be coming down from the same battle high Damon himself was, their weapons slowly lowering as they realized their enemies had quite the field.
The coppery taste that had been on his tongue since the death of the green knight finally registered, and Damon vomited his guts out in revulsion. Everywhere he looked he saw dead men, a number of them slain by his own hand, and the cries of the wounded filled the air. One horse's screams were particularly loud and pained.
Jaime was suddenly at his side, leaning close to say something. Damon, his heights still heightened by the battle rush even as he began to shake from its withdrawal, couldn't hear him over the screams of the animal. "What!" He nearly shouted, despite Jaime being only a few inches away.
The Kingsguard, having removed his helmet to reveal a reddened face and sweat-soaked hair, showed a flash on annoyance at the prevalence of the sound, and turned to the downed animal. With a horrified start Damon realized it was his own red-hided animal, two of its legs severed.
"Wait!" Damon shouted as the Kingslayer raised his blade to end the creatures suffering. Jaime looked back at him, cocking a brow, and Damon stepped forward with his own blade. "I should do it." He stooped over the last man he had fought, pulling his dagger from the man's face with a sickening shlunk, moving to his mount's side. With a hard thrust the Prince ended the animal's misery, whispering a word of thanks to the beast for its service.
The cries of wounded and dying still filled the air, as did the shrieks of another wounded horse in the distance, but Jaime was able to speak to his nephew much easier. "Are you alright?"
Damon nodded, body shaking near uncontrollably. A sudden pang of concern shot through him. "What happened to Tyrek?"
"Here, Your Grace." Damon whirled to see his cousin a few feet away, white of face but otherwise unharmed, Damon's antlered helm in his hands. His cousin's pupils were wide, body shaking much like Damon's, and the traces of his own breakfast covered the toes of his bloody boots.
Jaime stepped towards the lad. "Are you alright, lad?"
Tyrek nodded. "I…er…yes." He presented Damon the helm he had recovered, hands shaking. The Prince noted the blood on Tyrek's gauntlets as he did so, and as Baratheon reached out to take the proffered hunk of steel he noticed it on his own.
The sound of near hooves had all three similar-looking men glancing up, and bulky Lord Quenten Banefort dismounted from near them, giving Damon a small bow. "Ser Jaime, Prince Damon."
Jaime nodded at him. "Report?"
"We've taken all three hills, my Lord. This one held out the longest." Absently, Damon heard the distance shrieks of the stallion cut off abruptly. "Our losses were light, the Riverlander's heavy. A number of them escaped down into the flatlands."
Jaime nodded, giving his nephew another glance over to make sure he was still on his feet before beginning to walk towards a horse that an unknown Lannister man had brought up. "Gather the commanders, Lord Banefort. We'll care for our wounded and organize a pursuit."
Damon hesitantly reached a hand out to grasp Tyrek's shoulder, noticing his cousin was staring off unseeing. The shorter, broader Lannister jerked back to his senses. Damon simply looked at him, unsure what to say or how to say it but knowing what his cousin was feeling. Tyrek seemed to understand that, and simply nodded at the Prince, who nodded back. They both turned to follow after Jaime.
But not before Damon recovered a hefty axe from one of the corpses and neatly lopped off both of the antlers on his helm.
So, just as a disclosure as to what it going on, I'm about 30 chapters deep on the dot net and am finally getting around to transporting it over. You all have the lovely WitnerRose527 to thank (or blame, but if it's the latter kindly direct that at me) for that, and if you haven't read any of her work yet, you're doing fanfics wrong.
While you're here though, y'all might as well let me know what you think! Cheers.
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."
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?
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."
"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.
He may have gone a bit overboard after the Battle of the Three Hills, but he couldn't find it in himself to regret the decision.
After originally chopping the antlers off of his helm in response to them nearly getting him killed, Damon had been set upon by the idea that a visor could just as easily be used to hinder his vision. In the ensuing days as the force moved towards Riverrun, Damon had scrounged up a plain, unadorned helm that had neither crest nor visor, only breathing and eye holes in a solid piece of steel. The battered chunk of armor was a plain grey and didn't match his brilliant black and gold plate in the slightest, but the Prince was still waking to the feel of his neck being twisted by the Riverlander and thusly didn't give much of a whit about how it physically looked. Its fit wasn't the best, but he could cinch the strap tight enough to stop it from moving, which was all Damon was concerned about at this point.
It was in his tent one night, after Bella had run her hand through his blonde curls, that the idea that his own hair might prove to be a liability. His first instinct had been to dismiss the notion of that ever being an issue as absurd; hair went under helms, and helms weren't supposed to come off in battle. But then the very recent fact that his helm had come off in battle—his only battle, so he was technically perfect on losing his helm in the middle of fighting—came rushing back to his head.
Bella had been as surprised by Damon's sudden command that she shear his hair short as by his sudden stop of what he had been doing prior to that. Even then she was adaptable, and after some trial and error Damon's hair had gone from hanging to his shoulders to being closely cropped and, if Damon said so himself, much more suited to him. It made him look older, more wizened…at least in his own mind. Bella agreed, though that might well just be her being prudent enough to always call the Prince who was her current paramour right.
His mother would most likely hate it, but Damon figured he was going to have hell to pay with his mother for all sorts of actions as it were, and this way at least he wasn't quite as worried about his own body being used as leverage in the middle of a battle. That was very relevant, considering he was looking down upon Riverrun and a host of Tully men.
The closer they moved to the castle they now faced, forging deeper and deeper into what the Prince supposed would be called 'hostile territory', the more he relived that first battle from all angles. There had been several moments that he probably should have died, most of them related to bad luck but a few to not reacting fast enough. Damon had taken to practicing with both Tyrek and Jaime of an evening whenever command issues weren't demanding his uncle's attention, both teaching Tyrek alongside Jaime and then battling them both at one time to try and increase his ability to react to the unexpected. He still didn't feel prepared enough, but Jaime had taken him aside and told him that the Prince would never be able to foresee everything. It came to a point of trusting his skill and using his instincts, as Damon had in his first conflict.
Damon was telling himself that over and over as he thundered towards the Rivermen from atop a bay destrier, not as big or flashy as the red he'd lost back on the border of the Riverlands but a well-trained beast of war all the same. The forces of House Tully here far outnumbered those they had faced on the Three Hills, but Damon was certain they still had the advantage. Jaime wouldn't have ordered the quick, bold charge down the throat of the Riverlands if he didn't think it were the case.
Not that his uncle wasn't prepared for a fight, though. Two other columns of mixed cavalry and infantry, again lead by Lords Quenten Banefort and Roland Crakehall, were angling wide, Crakehall and his men angling parallel with the Tumblestone while Banefort and his charged parallel to the Red Fork. Jaime led the force down the center, Damon and Tyrek again with the Kingsguard's column.
The three pronged attack was the best way to assault the castle, or at least the men outside it. Riverrun was a triangular shaped castle, nestled on a triangular piece of ground where the Tumblestone and Red Fork of the Trident met. While not naturally an island, the castle of Riverrun could be made one by the lifting of two sluice gates that would allow the Tumblestone and Red Fork to flood the massive, man-made ditch to the front of Riverrun. A permanent bridge extended over the ditch to a point, but only the lowering of the rest of the bridge from Riverrun's side would complete the road to the castle's gates.
The swarming hornets' nest that was the Riverlander camp was situated outside the castle however, as no holdfast outside of potentially Harrenhal could hold that many men for any amount of time. Damon, despite the jarring of a warhorse running at full speed, could see figures rushing to the walls of Riverrun even as hundreds and hundreds of men ran from the camps to join the defensive lines. The Lords of the Riverlands couldn't have had all that much time to from their defensive lines; scouts under Ser Damion Lannister had done a masterful job of ambushing Tully sentries and scouting parties. Still, they were in the Riverlords homeland, and the presence of a steadily growing defensive front told Damon that his cousin hadn't been entirely successful.
All of that was at the back of his mind however, his focus on the men he was about to try and kill. The fear was still in his gut, potent but not quite as bad as it had been the first time he charged an enemy line. The rush of battle, the same on that had brought his senses to a level he'd never experienced before days earlier, returned in full force, and he once again rose to the terrified, euphoric state that was matched by nothing else.
The Tully banner at the center of the enemy formation grew closer and closer, Damon settling into a place of little thought and instinctual action as the first volleys of arrows fell across them, striking his shield and his destrier's chainmail blanket but finding no purchase in his being. The sound of shrieking horses and men was drowned out by the growing war cry of the Lannister forces as they neared the spears of the Tullys, and Damon found himself bellowing one of his own out as he drew his lion-pommeled blade.
The two sides met in a cacophony of shields splitting, blades clashing and men and horses dying. Damon's mount slipped between two spears, one deflecting off Damon's shield and the other off the chainmail blanket of the horse. Damon's sword cleaved across the latter man's face, his screams ended a moment later by the Prince's second strike. He settled into a rhythm, surprised by how similar this melee was to the one on the border. Strike, parry, curse, strike. The lines were thicker here than they had been at the Hills, and it took much longer to work through the first line of enemy this time before Damon reached the second.
Later, Damon wouldn't remember when or how he ended up on his feet, in the middle of a savage brawl on all sides. He didn't remember falling from his horse or of the creature going down, but all of the sudden he was on the ground, battling a knight in the colors of House Vypren and killing him with a stab through the throat. A hedgeknight followed soon, nearly killing Damon with a backhand before the Prince ducked it and sliced his legs out from under him. Before the Baratheon could finish the man another was in his place, this one thrusting a spear that Damon narrowly avoided. Someone else, still mounted, cut the spearman down as he galloped past, too quick for Damon to see who it was. The screams of the hedgeknight from before had stopped in conjunction with the rider galloping across the place in which he had fallen, the wounded man likely crushed by the stomping hooves.
The Prince never had a chance to find out for himself even if he had been so inclined, for when one enemy fell another was certain to take his place instantly. A bright line of pain bit into his upper left arm when, while battling a man-at-arms in nondescript armament and a knight in the blue and white of Wayn, he didn't get his shield around in time to completely deflect away a downward strike at the chainmailed flesh below the pauldron. The sweeping slash cut deep and made both his arm and his mouth scream in pain, taking his concentration away along with the strength in his left arm, his shield dropping as his right, while still gripping his sword, instinctively went towards the wound where blood welled out of the split chainmail and boiled leather.
It left him open to the other man, who moved forward with a thrust. Only Damon's armor saved him, the well-made plate able to deflect the hastily-aimed blow off to the side. Still in pain but suddenly both angry and absolutely terrified, he brought his sword back from reaching towards the wound in a vicious backhand with all his strength, nearly decapitating the man-at-arms who had stepped forward.
The knight—the one to wound him—struck again, aiming for Damon's now-weak left side. The Prince sidestepped, but the toe of his right boot caught on the still falling man-at-arms, and Damon sank to a knee. The unintentional move may well have saved him, for the Wayn knight had swung his blade in a roundhouse blow after missing the downward strike. As the blade whistled over Damon's head, the Prince stabbed forwards, sinking the blade into the joint at the groin, blade digging deep where the pelvis and leg met and hearing the knight scream in response. The momentum of the knight falling helped Damon withdraw his blade as he gathered his feet, fighting through the pain to bring his shield up, blood running over the black chainmail and dripping off of his elbow.
In the slight lull in opponents the Prince was rewarded he heard a deep, close rushing sound. The Prince of the Iron Throne realized he had worked his way down the slope of the huge ditch only when the sluice gates to the Tumblestone opened with a scream of turning wheels and the roar of rushing water.
A moment of panic hit the Prince as he gathered his surrounding; while he wasn't deep into the ditch, the water would overfill its intended walls on the camp side, rising well above the level where the Baratheon's golden head was now. Damon could swim well enough, but not with a wounded arm and certainly not in armor. All thought of battle was gone as the Prince turned and started to scramble back up the incline.
One voice cut through the sounds of war and rushing water. "Help me!"
It was the Wayn knight, one gauntleted hand at the wound in his inner leg and the other reaching towards the man who had struck it. The ditch that was about to be underneath feet of water was full of corpses of both men and horses, as well as living trying to scramble out of the way. And wounded, like the man currently begging the Prince for help, who knew as well as Damon did that they were about to drown.
Damon hesitated, seeing the fear in the man's blue eyes underneath his helm. Logic screamed the reasons he should run; the Tumblestone and Red Fork were large rivers, and the ditch would fill very quickly, leaving Damon limited time to get away from the rushing water. The man was an enemy, and was responsible for the screaming wound on Damon's arm. He'd just been trying to kill the Baratheon prince moment's ago. The knight couldn't walk, courtesy of the Prince's blade, and dragging him out with one good arm couldn't be done quick enough to save him. In fact, it's probably only get Damon killed as well.
Jaime's words screamed in his mind; never hesitate, stay alive, no heroics, your enemy wants to kill you so kill them instead. Amidst it all his own conscience was screaming run, run, run, RUN!
Damon had sheathed his bloody sword, dropped his shield and gripped the knight's outstretched hand with his own before he knew what he was doing, turning and beginning up the gradual incline without another thought.
The man was heavy though not bigly built, most certainly because of his armor. Damon grunted as he started up the rise, fear and the strength brought by the rush of battle all that gave him the ability to keep moving forward. The sound of water grew closer in his ears, as did the sound of creaking wood and rattling chains, all accentuated by the screams of dying men and clashing blades. Damon focused ahead and above him, eyes settling on the back of a dead man in Crakehall brown as a target, pulling his dying enemy behind him.
His world became nothing but the dead man's back, the sound of rushing water and the weakening grip of the knight he was dragging. Thoughts of battle were gone, as was knowledge of where he was or what he was doing besides moving forward and dragging a weight behind him.
When the water struck his ankles Damon lost his footing, falling to his knees. Fear seized his heart, but in response the Prince gripped the Wayn knight's hand with his left and kept scrambling forward on his knees, despite the burning pain on the side of his arm and the exhaustion that had suddenly set in.
The sound of splashing boots came crashing towards him, the water by this point at his waist as he crawled forward on his knees. Damon suddenly remembered he was in the middle of the Riverlands fighting a war, and the renewed strength that thought brought sent him to his feet as he drew his dagger with his left hand, swinging it out aggressively in a wide arc in front of him. His right never let the Wayn knight's hand go, for reasons Damon didn't know.
The astonished face of a man in Lannister red was accompanied by the thundering voice of Ser Lyle Crakehall. "Prince Damon!"
The rest of the world came into focus as Damon recognized the blood-soaked men to be friendly. An authoritative, rough voice filled his ears. "Here, take him! Get his head out of the water!"
He only recognized the voice as his when three men rushed to do so, pulling the Wayn knight further out of the water. The Strongboar, a hulking brute of a man who could probably squash Damon with a meaty fist, gripped the Prince by his right shoulder, even as he shouted for a maester with his eyes on Damon's bloody left arm. The Prince was too focused on what had been a storm of swords and death moments ago, finding that all battle had stopped. Men stood around in various states of coming off their battle highs, corpses littered the ground, and soldiers—victorious Westermen, captured Riverlanders—were interspersed throughout the carnage.
Many of those who stood near where the river's new banks had been established were watching him.
"Your Grace," one of the men who had taken the Wayn knight said, Damon turning to face him. The man in blood-soaked Lannister crimson was crouched beside the prone knight, holding his head out of the water that even here came to Damon's calves. He was shaking his head in confusion. "This man is dead, Your Grace."
Damon stared at the now-glazed eyes of the man in Wayn blue, still locked over his head where he had been staring at the Prince trying to save him. A cloud of red blood was still raising from his submerged waist, the knight having bled out likely before the water even got near to his face.
The Prince could only stare at the dead man as the Strongboar ushered him out of the water, speaking of getting farther from the walls before archer fire focused in on them.
Damon said nothing, as was his norm. He thought nothing, either, mind as empty as the Wayn knight's eyes for a long, long time.
Bella was content to leave him in silence that night once he'd sated his desires, realizing his mind was locked on something from the battle earlier that day that it could not escape and was best left in peace. He lay in his usual position, this time minus alcohol, the whore slowly stroking his ribs as she had taken a habit to doing.
It took slender woman by surprise, that fact evident in her voice. "What?"
Damon took her arms, pulling them tightly around him like a blanket even though his eyes were far away, remembering something he wanted desperately to forget. "Anything. Everything. Just…talk."
After a moment of hesitation, she started. Slowly at first, then warming to the narrative, aware that the Prince was looking for a voice to focus on, not a conversation. She knew she would get no answers.
So Bella spoke of Wayfarer's Town. Of her father, a crofter until his death of a fever. Of her little sister and mother, both taken by that same illness within a few days of each other, leaving a Bella of two and ten to fend for herself in a cruel world. Of her nicer patrons. Of her worst.
The whore spoke long into the night, long after the Prince in her arms fell asleep. When she finally extracted herself from behind him and snuggled close to his side, she saw his face was, at least for then, at peace.
He entered the command tent the next morning intending to blend in with the table, as he normally did. As a Prince, Damon was expected to be at the strategic meetings, and technically could be a large voice in the conversation. As it was, Damon had never said so much as a word at them; he was content to sit, listen and learn, absorbing the information to be gleaned from more experienced tacticians.
The second he came through the door on this day, however, a booming voice cut through the light conversations of inside.
"The Daring joins us."
It was the Strongboar, nodding his head at Damon and grinning widely. That's….odd. The other men in the tent, seasoned commanders and veteran warriors, each stopped their conversation mid-sentence, greeting the Prince with nods or murmured pleasantries. And that's odder. Damon froze in the opening, completely unsure what he was supposed to do with the eyes of seasoned knights on him.
Jaime saved him, for the thousandth time in Damon's life. "Please have a seat, Your Grace." Emerald met emerald, and Damon noticed that his uncle looked neither pleased nor disappointed. The Prince for his part tried to relay his thanks as he quietly took a chair across from Ser Damion Lannister, who nodded with a grin of his own. Damon tried to return it, though he doubted he had hidden his discomfort.
"Is your arm healing, Your Grace?" Lord Regenard Estern, middle aged and two stone or so overweight, had never said a non-pleasantry word to Damon prior to the war. The Prince wished he hadn't have said one now.
"Uh…it is fine. Lord Estren."
"Excellent to hear."
A few others chimed in questions or remarks Damon had no clue how to correctly answer or respond to, and Jaime let him suffer much longer than the Prince would have liked before he called the lords to order.
The meeting, thank the Gods, proceeded normally. The Prince remained quiet as he always did, listening intently to the discussions of the current objective, their present positions and the strategy moving forward. Many of the riverlords facing them had been captured underneath Riverrun's sandstone walls, including Lord Edmure Tully himself. They were being held in the middle of the center camp, where Jaime had settled his command tent within clear view of the besieged castle and its flooded battlefield.
A number of Riverlanders, however, had managed to retreat back within Riverrun and raise the bridge, hence the siege. Lord Tytos Blackwood of Blackwood Vale had refused Jaime's demands for surrender, and in response Jaime had split his command into three camps. The Southern camp, under Ser Forley Prester, was situated along the Red Fork on the opposite side of the central camp where they were currently situated. The Northern camp, under Ser Damion Lannister, was situated along the Tumblestone. It was the best way to uphold the siege on the island Riverrun had become, though it was difficult to command the army as a whole with its three-pronged positioning.
Adding to the difficulties was that not all of the Riverlanders were trapped in Riverrun or imprisoned within the Central camp. Ser Karyl Vance—now Lord Karyl Vance, courtesy of Damon—and Ser Marq Piper had reassembled their fathers' shattered host after the Battle of the Three Hills, and were intermittently striking the Lannister force with lightening raids on the supply lines. Their losses had been severe at the border, but what men the Rivermen had left were doing an excellent job of being a royal pain in the ass.
And Riverrun would not fall quickly, no matter how one-sided the conflict outside its walls had been. Damon couldn't say with any certainty how prepared the Tully's kept their home for a siege, but he was betting that they were prudent enough to be prepared for a long while in any case. And with Robb Stark somewhere in the North marching down on their heads, any time past tomorrow seemed to Damon like a very long time to wait.
The rest of the tent seemed to agree, though no one had any better alternative, much less the Prince.
He remained after the rest of the Lords had been dismissed, sensing his uncle wished to speak to him privately; they hadn't had a chance to talk since the battle the morning before. His hunch was proven correct when Jaime, still lounging at the head of the table, spoke as soon as Ser Damion was out of the tent.
"You're making a name for yourself."
Damon's eyebrows rose in genuine surprise. "I am?"
Jaime nodded, eyes locked on his nephew's identical ones. "You are. First with your sword, and then with your heroics. Dragging a dead man through rising water, trying to save him? Really?"
"It…it seemed the thing to do. I didn't have much chance to think about it."
"Clearly. If you had you wouldn't have done it."
Damon realized Jaime was scolding him. "I couldn't let him…" The Prince trailed off, realizing the absurdity of what he was about to say.
Jaime finished it anyway. "Die? Yet you were the one to stab him with a sword, Damon."
"You wouldn't have let him drown either."
"You're right. I would have cut his throat and then ran like hell." Jaime reached a hand out suddenly, patting the Prince on the arm. "Listen, Damon, and listen well. That knight, some nameless no one from no place important, is not worth a hair off of your head. Those men are here to kill you; that same knight you risked drowning in a ditch to try and save was the one who cut your arm, yes? Yet you tried to save him still."
Jaime grimaced sympathetically. "Seemed the thing to do. I understand, Damon. I do. I was fighting a war around your age too. Dealt with things I didn't know how to deal with. But I'm telling you now, heroes die. You don't need to be a hero, Damon. You're much too valuable to die in a ditch."
"I could've died long before I even made it to the ditch, or before I even made it near Riverrun."
Jaime shook his head confidently. "No. I've sparred with you since you could hold a sword. I know your ability, and I know no normal swordsman is your match." Pride blossomed in the Prince's chest, unperturbed by his uncle's continued narrative. "As long as you don't do something stupid."
It hit Damon then, as clear as day. Jaime wasn't mad at him for trying to save the man he had already killed, not really. He was mad because he thought Damon had put himself in unnecessary danger. Which was somewhat absurd, considering he was seemingly completely fine with Damon charging up hills under archer fire and down Riverman spear lines, but then again his uncle had explained that in his own way; Jaime was confident Damon could handle himself on the field of battle, and with another wave of pride Damon realized he had done just that, twice now. His uncle was upset because his nephew had taken his mind off of the fighting, focusing instead on an errand that could have and probably should have gotten him killed.
The Prince, filled to the brim with pride, grinned at his uncle knowingly. "I'm here, aren't I?"
Jaime shook his head, trying to keep his face blank but finally breaking down and smirking an identical grin to his nephew's. "Stay that way, or your mother will have both of our cocks."
Tyrek was improving rapidly. Damon attributed most of that to the war, but he took a small amount of pride in thinking that he had a small hand in it as well.
"Better. You need to watch your shield though, Tyrek; it drops right before you strike. You fight anybody for more than two or three strikes and they'll notice."
His cousin cocked his head at him, both of them on the bank of the Tumblestone in the early morning mist. "Have you ever gone more than two or three swings before someone is dead, Your Grace?"
The Prince looked to the ground for a moment before shrugging in acknowledgement. "No." He glanced back up as he returned to a ready stance, live steel extended before him and the borrowed Prester shield—Damon's own was lost below the putrid waters of the ditch—in the ready position. "But if I ever do, I intend to win."
Tyrek grinned and nodded, settling into his own stance. They met in another clash of blades, the sound rising alongside the smell of frying meat and human odor into the brightening sky. Tyrek came hard at Damon's left, where his wound was still healing. That suited Damon fine; he'd told his cousin not to slack off on that side. The wound was healing as well as could be expected, and Damon didn't intend to let the arm grow lax and weak just because there was some pain.
This had become the two young men's routine; wake early, train with one another for three or four hours, eat breakfast, train for several hours more, eat dinner, train until night and return to their tent. That was it, day in and day out. No one had ever told Damon how horribly boring a siege was.
The songs don't talk of that. Or that men shit themselves when they die. Or any of the truth, really.
"How is Bella?"
Damon cocked an eyebrow at the question. Few men knew about Bella—few meaning only Tyrek and Jaime—although she ventured throughout the camp more and more. The Prince couldn't well expect her to remain in his tent at all times for weeks on end, and even if he did she probably wouldn't do it. As it was she had taken on the role of both a paramour and a servant, most likely to keep herself sane. She changed his bandages, cleaned his armor when he allowed her, disposed of the chamber pot, kept his hair close shorn...the list went on and on.
Most importantly, however, she could talk for hours on end. That could grind upon Damon's nerves whenever he let the boredom get to him, but in most instances it was a godsend. Whenever Damon became mired in thoughts of his father or how shit the world was turning out to be or whether that very first Riverlander at the Hills had a family who was missing him, Bella would speak. The Prince reckoned he knew most of her life by this point, or at least the parts she would ever be comfortable talking of. When she wasn't talking of herself she told stories, some of the same ones Cersei had told Damon when he was child and some that the Prince had no idea where in the world they could have come from or how in the name of the Seven anyone would tell them to their children.
Sometimes, Damon even talked back.
But rarely. And never, ever fully willingly.
Tyrek struck high, Damon parrying easily. "Is she as bored as we are?"
"Worse, I think."
They reset once Damon had knocked the Lord of Hayford off his feet with a shield rim to the back of the knee. "I like her."
Damon almost grinned. "Me too."
Tyrek, having to this point been teasing—it was odd, Damon found, to have somebody outside of Jaime or his younger siblings tease him and him not be upset about it—gave him a slightly concerned smile. "You do know she is a whore, right Your Grace? And that you'll never…you couldn't…"
The Prince cracked a smile. That was a conversation he and Bella had had many times over, and despite the undeniable closeness they shared—or at least that Bella shared with him—neither was fooling themselves with untrue notions of love. "I am fully aware, Tyrek, as is Bella."
"Good. I wasn't trying to tell you how to handle your own friendships, Your Grace, but I figured I'd try and make sure you weren't…you know."
"Thinking of marrying a whore? Worry not."
It hit Damon that he'd never discussed something so personal with Tyrek before as Jaime rode up suddenly.
"Get in your armor and on your horses," the Kingsguard ordered. Both young men straightened out of their fighting stances. The Prince could see the boredom and irritation he had noticed on his uncle's face for days was finally replaced by determination. "I am tired of these strikes by Piper and Vance. They'll have a hard time striking our supply lines when they are dead.
Damon and Tyrek both took off at a run, excited at the prospect of doing something different after weeks of monotony to the point of their complete focus being on getting in armor and in the saddle quickly.
Except for the small part of Damon's brain that wondered if he and Tyrek might actually be friends.
Damon had felt fear before.
His first memory of it was when he had been a small child, staring at the skulls of the long dead Targaryen dragons beneath the Red Keep. Another was when he was ten, on his first hunt with his father, and a boar charged his horse before Robert speared it through the neck—an odd bit of irony, considering just such a boar would do the King in years later. Recently he'd felt it at the Hills, when arrows had been falling around him and horses began screaming their horrible death screams and people started swinging swords at him. Even closer in the past at Riverrun, when he thought he was about to drown in a ditch of dead men.
Fear was a part of life for all of them, especially men who lived by the sword. Damon knew how to use it to his advantage, how to heighten his senses and swing harder than he ever had because he was so afraid. Fear was something he had grown used to.
But he had not known terror, true and complete terror, until Northern horns and war cries—hundreds of them—filled the woods around him.
Damon sliced a charging stallion's leg out from under it with a shout of exertion, his armor already filthy and sword covered in blood. He had lost another horse, because of course he had considering he was perfect on the ratio of horses ridden to horses killed in battle before he rode into this one, and was sprinting in one direction, cutting down the men he came across as he went. Not that that particular direction had an end goal for him; the Northmen were all around them, amongst them, everywhere at once with their furs and beards and swinging axes.
His borrowed shield was gone, hacked to bits in mere seconds of fighting by countless Northern blades. Somehow Damon had kept himself from following in the shield's footsteps, slicing through the burly Stark soldiers in a way only hours of training and sheer desperation could bring.
But even now, as he leaped several corpses—all in Lannister red—Damon knew he wouldn't stay alive much longer. Robb Stark, who was supposed to be somewhere in the North, had them surrounded and trapped in a wooded valley, less than a day's ride north of Riverrun. The trap had been well laid and blundered into, the Lannister desire to end the annoyance caused by the Rivermen paired with Jaime's irritation at having hunted them with no luck for several days, leading the Kingslayer to engage the first force of Riverlords he could find.
We should have known. Their scouts had disappeared, leaving them blind to where Vance and Piper were, but they had charged forward anyway. The strikes on Lannister lines had increased in number and strength leading up to the catastrophe Damon was currently living out, another indicator that perhaps something wasn't right, yet they'd engaged the dwindling number of men in Piper blue eagerly. The woods had been quite, horribly quite all around them, but they'd paid no mind.
We should have known.
But they hadn't known.
The Prince of the Iron Throne nearly cleaved a man in the colors of Vance in half with a two-handed, downward strike. Damon's brain was racing through the helplessness of the situation, his body acting on instinct alone. There was enemy everywhere, most of them mounted, striking and screaming and killing. Damon was almost convinced he had caught a glimpse of a wolf, an actual wolf, in the middle of it all.
They're all wolves, and they're tearing us apart like sheep.
"Get the Prince behind Tyrek!"
His uncle's voice came from directly next to him, the way Damon had been turning with sword raised. Suddenly there was armored men all around him, Lyle Crakehall, Tyrek atop his gray charger, Ser Talman Jast, others. Two strong arms from two different men—Strongboar and someone Damon couldn't name for the life of him—bodily wrenched Damon up off the ground and deposited him behind his cousin with burst of strength only the crisis around them could bring out.
From aback atop a horse Damon could gather the situation more clearly. And by that, it meant he could see that the situation was every bit as bad up here as it had been down there.
They were surrounded by Stark banners, the grey wolf on white everywhere the Prince looked, intermingled with the colors of their bannermen. Giants of Umber, bears of Mormont, suns of Karstark. The dancing maiden of Piper, which until this point Damon had only seen dancing away from him in fear, seemed to be swaying to the rhythm of the Lannister defeat.
All Lannister banners were gone. Most of their men were, too.
It all went through Damon's shocked mind in a moment. Jaime had never stopped shouting.
"Get the Prince out of here. All of you, strike at one point of the line. Get yourselves out if you can, but Damon escapes!" His uncle was covered in blood and gore but his face was unflappably calm. Damon saw in an instant the Jaime had accepted the situation for what it was, and was trying to salvage it the only way he knew how.
He had rallied his retainers, gotten to Damon's side, and ordered them to help the Prince escape at the cost of their lives. And he, Jaime, the man whom Damon trusted any and everything to, clearly wasn't going with him.
Damon shouted back, fear that he was about to lose his uncle more potent than even the terror the Northern war cries had brought. "No, I will not leave you!"
His uncle gestured sharply with his sword, ignoring his nephew's protest as if it had never been made. Except for his emerald eyes, which locked with Damon's identical ones for a moment through the eyeholes of their respective helms. "Go! GO!"
Later, the Prince wouldn't remember if he had shouted or cried or demanded Tyrek to follow Jaime, or if he had said nary a word. His uncle had charged brazenly in the direction where Damon instinctually knew Robb Stark could be found the same instant the last few vestiges of Lannister coherency galloped in another.
Tyrek was a good horseman Damon learned, sitting behind his shorter cousin with one arm gripping him tightly and the other swinging his sword at every northern face he saw. The gray destrier they rode, which Damon was fairly certain wasn't the mount Tyrek had rode into the ambush, was a good horse, fast and strong even with two armored men astride his broad back.
The men around him, the best of the Lannister forces, thinned one by one as they charged towards the southern end of the valley. Damon saw the Strongboar set upon by Northmen and disappear from his sight in a moment. He saw the other man to lift him up to Tyrek's horse, still nameless, slump dead from his saddle, a Stark spear in his side. He heard the sound of Northern cavalry thundering after them, shouts of alarm and 'save the Prince' from the dying men trying to help him escape, and gurgles of pain from men he killed as they sprinted by.
The end of the valley was blocked by several ranks of Northern cavalry. Damon and the remnants of his uncle's command hit them hard and centralized, the chasing Northmen crashing down on their back. The Prince swung and swung and swung, hanging onto his cousin for dear life with the other arm, trusting Tyrek to know which direction to ride as the man around them died.
It was bloodier than anything Damon had been a part of yet, men trampled beneath the hooves of horses if they fell beneath the hundreds of men fighting on horseback. He also saw very little of it, Tyrek keeping the grey at a full lope made possible by the deaths of the Lannister men around him. Damon swung repeatedly at passing faces and Northmen, hitting some, missing others, slicing horses and man alike. He couldn't see much of anything going on, working through feel and sound.
It startled him when they suddenly burst out of the chaos into open field, the light of the rising sun turning the blueish field into a beautiful scene that clashed with the sound of hell behind them. Damon looked left, then looked right, where seconds ago there had been Lannister friends and Stark enemies alike.
There was nothing, the sound of battle growing farther and farther behind.
I left him. I left Uncle Jaime. I left him to die!
Two blood covered, golden haired men, who had so recently been boys, galloped across an empty field all alone.
Bella saw her Prince return from the flap in their tent. He was soaked in blood and gore and sweat, seated behind his sweet cousin on a grey stallion that was clearly about to die from being ridden into the ground. When he dismounted the grey, which promptly fell over dead once Tyrek had also dismounted, he staggered, clearly having been in the saddle for hours. He had ridden out days ago handsome and pristine atop a bay only to return bedraggled and half-dead.
He'd also left as silent as ever, and he was returning louder than a baying hound.
"To arms! To arms!" To speak so little he could apparently bellow when he tried, and the Prince, once his legs were back under him, stomped through the camp doing just that. Bella followed at a distance, concerned over his outwards appearance but absolutely horrified that his wits might have snapped.
Damon didn't notice her, Tyrek or anyone else; he just kept shouting. "Form a shieldwall to the north! Spears and archers to the front!"
Bella kicked into a sprint after him, even as the Prince in black armor stomped through the evening light. She only stopped when the Prince was intercepted by Lord Andros Brax, the commander of the central camp in Ser Jaime's absence. The nobleman looked both alarmed and dumbfounded, the camp becoming a beehive of shouting soldiers as men rolled out of tents and shot up from card games to sprint for weapons.
"Your Grace, what the hell is going on?"
Damon, for the first time since she'd known her client, didn't hesitate. His words were clear, strong and to the point. "Stark is in the Riverlands. Our host is crushed. They have Jaime."
Other figures, knights and lords alike, were swarming to the Prince as others took command of the forming shieldwalls. Bella, despite her short height and small stature, muscled her way to near the Prince's side. Lord Brax spoke above the dozen different voices asking the Prince and young Tyrek a dozen different questions. "Where, Your Grace, where are they?"
"They slaughtered us half a day's ride north, maybe a bit farther. All cavalry."
Tyrek put in then, his voice parched but as insistent as his cousin's. Bella imagined Damon's would be as rough sounding if he weren't so riled up. "We lost pursuit hours ago, my lord, but they might be close."
Damon was staring into Andros Brax's soul. "We are all that's left of Jaime's force."
Some of the lords and knights began to swarm in a dozen different directions. "Solidify the shieldwalls!"
"Watch for a sortie from Riverrun!"
"Form a skirmishing force!"
One voice, loud and insistent, calmed them all at once. "Enough!" Shouted Ser Damion Lannister, half dressed as he jogged forwards with his eyes on Damon. "How many, Your Grace?"
The Prince shook his head. "I have no idea. It was an ambush, and they were everywhere at once."
Damon's face showed his concern, even if his voice remained the same even tone. "I don't know."
Ser Damion turned. To Bella's surprise, his eyes settled on her. "You, girl. Fetch the Prince and Tyrek water, quickly!"
Bella rushed to obey, sprinting back to the Prince's tent. When she returned, two chairs had been foraged for the Prince and his cousin, who all of the sudden looked their age again. The camp was much more controlled, although a clear shieldwall had been formed on the perimeter.
The whore from Wayfarer's Town knew Damon wouldn't want her to do what she was about to, but she did it anyway. Pushing through the crowd, she stepped immediately to his side, pulled the cork on a bottle of wine, and brought it to his lips while laying what she hoped was a reassuring hand on the back of his sweat-soaked neck.
The Prince hardly acknowledged her. From this close, she saw his normally brilliant emerald eyes were black, pupils wider than any she had seen. When she brought the wine to Tyrek, she saw his were the same.
The Lords around them had grown silent, Damion Lannister speaking above the hum all around them. "I will lead a scouting force in strength to make sure the Starks haven't closed in yet. Get word to the other camps to keep their shieldwall strong but to begin preparing to pull back to the Golden Tooth."
Some lord Bella didn't know—she only knew Andros Brax because his son had propositioned her once and she'd actually been able to say no—spoke. "Break the siege?"
Damon's voice startled her, Bella turning back to his side at once. From the jumps of the other men, it had startled them too. "We don't know their strength, and while three separate camps are good for a siege it will not hold against a concentrated attack." He was staring off, as if his mind was one place even though his lips were moving. "We need to pull the prisoners we took weeks ago and the men we have left back to a stronger position, and then rejoin Lord Tywin." His voice dropped. "We have to have something and someone they'll trade Jaime for."
From what Bella had heard, it was unlikely Jaime was even alive, but she knew better than to say anything like that to the Prince.
Ser Damion was nodding. "The Prince has the right of it. We've lost Jaime and a large number of men; we can't lose the rest of the army as well. Get things rolling, my lords; time may be of the essence."
Bella was suddenly, most likely unintentionally left in charge of both of the shocked young men who were all that returned from the force that had left in strength days ago. Unsure of what else to do, she led them both back to Damon's tent. They followed like dogs, giving her no arguments as she stripped them both of armor and began to scrub them clean. Tyrek at least came more to himself when she was halfway down his stomach, flushing and telling her he was capable of handling it, pulling on trousers and leaving the tent, his armor and chainmail left behind.
But Damon never moved until she started to turn to get some more water after finishing, the whore absently wondering who was technically in charge of packing the Prince's tent and how she might get them to go about it. Then, as she started to angle away, the Prince abruptly grabbed her in a desperate grip, pulled her standing form to his sitting one, and sobbed like a child into her chest.
Harrenhal was a testament to the destructive power of the Targaryens and their dragons, a monstrous ruin of blackened stone and burnt crenellations. Prince Damon Baratheon had craned his neck back to take in the monstrously thick curtain walls as he rode through the western gates, seated atop a bulky but otherwise unremarkable bay destrier, the last of the horses he'd taken with him in the flight from King's Landing. Damon, who as a Prince had seen more extravagant things than most, had found the thickness of the walls mind-boggling.
When he had come out of the gateway into Harrenhal proper, he'd realized that 'mind-boggling' applied to everything about Harren the Black's folly.
He'd seen the five towers, the smallest of which was still an absolute giant by Westerosi or any other standards, from miles away. Up close they seemed to reach into the heavens themselves, rising up and up and up and never seeming to stop. The sheer amount of ground Harrenhal covered was absurd, and while he knew it wasn't the case it sure felt like Harrenhal was bigger than the entirety of King's Landing.
There were thousands of men and women inside her walls even before Damon had brought thousands more, but it could have passed for a few hundred. They'd entered and seemingly disappeared into the sheer mass of the castle.
Damon Baratheon sat in one of the many rooms of the Kingspyre Tower, which his grandfather had taken as his command post/quarters. Lord Tywin Lannister was seated at the head of a long table, eyeing the assembled commanders on either side of it. Ser Damion Lannister, Tywin's cousin by blood and nephew by marriage, had taken command of the flight from Riverrun, which had seen the bulk of what had once been Jaime's force pull back to the border of the Westerlands before swinging south and making a quick, borderline desperate march straight for Harrenhal. They'd been harried throughout their march/flight by Riverlords and Northern scouts alike, and one lightening raid had been intent on freeing the score of prisoners and very nearly succeeded. But the column of Lannister infantry and cavalry now rested behind Harrenhal's ruined-yet-strong walls, and their prisoners—including Edmure Tully—were safely in the great cell at the base of the tower.
But it had taken time to make it from Riverrun to the border and then back east to Harrenhal. And in that time, the world had finished it's descent into hell.
Prince Damon sat to his grandfather's right, barely registering what was being said around him. It was poor form, but Damon's mind had always been prone to running itself into spirals that led inevitably to the ground, and ever since the Whispering Woods it had run all the harder.
There was good news, and there was bad news; most of it was bad. But the biggest issue to Damon wasn't just good, it was great; Jaime was alive, held captive by Robb Stark in the very castle Damon and his uncle had been besieging oh so recently. Damon had told himself the Kingslayer was still alive ever since the Prince and Tyrek had galloped away from the slaughter in the Riverlands, but now he had absolute proof that the man he near worshiped actually was. If Robb Stark's message demanding the return of his father and sisters for the son of Tywin could be considered absolute proof, that is.
It was to Damon.
His other uncle on his maternal side, Tyrion, had shown up unscathed as well; in fact, he had appeared in Tywin's camp with hundreds of the warriors of the Mountain Tribes of the Vale at his back, and had fought alongside them at the Green Fork of the Trident when a few thousand Northmen had masked Robb's fording at the Twins. Damon was grateful his dwarf uncle had returned to friendly forces unscathed, even if that relief—to Damon's shame—was nothing compared to the relief that Jaime was alive. The Tribesmen were scattered throughout the camp, though a large number had left with Tyrion for King's Landing mere days before Damon had arrived at Harrenhal, where the one they called the 'Halfman' was to fill a temporary position on the new King's council.
A position that had already been filled not all that long ago, and rather quickly and stupidly opened back up.
This was where the bad news came in.
The Lannisters—which includes me, even if I am a Baratheon—no longer had Robb's father to trade. Joffrey, King Joffrey the First of His Name, had chopped the Lord of Winterfell's head off after the man had admitted to trying to give the crown to their uncle Stannis in a coup. Damon loved his brother by virtue of Joff being his brother, but Damon couldn't find very much shock or surprise that his twin had already fucked everything up within a few fortnights of taking the throne.
Damon had lived all his life with Joffrey, even if they had little to do with one another by mutual accord. He knew what his sibling was capable of better than almost anyone, and while Damon felt a streak of guilt for the thought, he was terrified of his brother's coming reign. He didn't see a way Westeros came out intact once it ended.
It's already falling apart, and it just began.
As it was, he didn't really know what he felt about Lord Eddard's death, and certainly not about Stark's supposed confession. Damon respected the man's reputation for being honorable and forthright, but a public admittance of trying to usurp Joff's crown for a man well down in the succession certainly harmed that perception. Stark had seemed a sensible man, not one prone to bouts of ambition or insanity, which were the only things that could have driven him to do what he did.
On a personal level Damon hadn't known him much beyond that, but he liked Lord Stark's children, including the eldest who had slaughtered a contingent of men Damon had been a part of. Eddard had been courteous and polite, as well as of the quiet and thinking nature Damon was known for, which made Damon predisposed to like him, but he felt no true sadness at his death. The Prince hoped that was due to the nature of their relationship and not due to Damon's experiences thus far on the battlefield.
The Prince tuned back into the briefing in time to catch a very vital, very disturbing piece of information he had not yet been privy to. "As of the last information we have, Stannis sits at Dragonstone with few men while Renly is in Highgarden with a great many. Both are claiming themselves Robert's rightful heir."
It was another shock in what had become a year of shocks and surprises. Damon spoke, his surprise keeping the quiver of unease from his voice when Tywin settled pale green eyes on him. "How in the name of the Seven do they suppose that? They are fourth and fifth in line after my late father, with the first three very much alive."
His grandfather's gaze was still intimidating; no number of battles and killings would ever change that. "Ambition and greed. They have both decided upon a farce of a story to discredit King Joffrey and his siblings, though how Renly claims to be above his own brother is not yet clear."
Ser Damion Lannister was scowling as fiercely as Damon, though his was more of concern at two more enemies forming to be dealt with when they were having enough trouble with the two they already had. Damon's was a scowl of confusion and betrayal, even if he had never been close to either of his Baratheon uncles. "What story could they possibly hope to be believed?"
Tywin's jaw clenched for a moment, and then he simply took a scroll from in front of him and handed it to Damon. The Prince took it, spreading the parchment in front of him and skimming across the information to get the gist.
He read it twice more in painstaking detail, because he didn't believe what his eyes told him.
The message was a brief paragraph of the most insulting trash the Prince had ever had the misfortune to read. And, to make it worse, it was centered on his family. Around his brothers and sweet sister, around his beloved mother and the man he loved most in this world. Around the Lannister name and the legitimacy of Joffrey's Baratheon one.
Damon realized he was angry, which was odd. Damon fell victim to all sorts of impious emotions and reactions—lust, pride, envy—but he was never one prone to anger, no matter what was thrown at him. Even when he was in the midst of battle, moving on pure adrenaline and battlelust and fear, he didn't feel anger at the men he was killing or those who were trying to kill him. It was simply men doing what they thought was their duty, and the Prince doing what he knew was his.
But right now, hearing what his father's brothers were saying of Damon's mother and her twin, the Prince was furious. Enraged. Plain old fighting mad. Damon leaned back in his seat as he met his grandfather's eyes, his own squinting in rage. "Filth. Utter filth and lies. They resort to rumors and degradation of their own kin to try and seize the crown for themselves."
His grandfather's stoic face remained stoic, but he nodded once sharply. His eyes dropped to the parchment still in Damon's hand, giving the Prince the hint to pass it on down the line, but he covered the not-so-subtle hint by speaking. "Agreed. Both Baratheons are merely trying to seat themselves on the Iron Throne. All of us here have no intention of letting that happen, but first we must focus on the Stark boy. He is unlikely to be placated now that his father has been executed, but we still hold his uncle and sisters."
Both men of Lannister blood waited until the piece of parchment made the round to continue. Damon was furious, embarrassed and worried all at once at the glances some of them gave him upon reading it. He didn't like that. He didn't like that at all.
Ser Forely Prester moved the narrative forward. "What is your plan, Lord Tywin?"
"Stark is a green boy, but he is a green boy who has my son. We may no longer have his father, but we still hold parts of his family. I want Jaime back, and I am sure Stark wants his sisters."
"So we negotiate a peace?"
Tywin shook his head. "There will be no peace; chances of that were lost when the King removed Ned Stark's head. We will have to defeat the Stark boy on the field of battle, which will be considerably more difficult while he holds my son."
It will be considerably more difficult with Stannis and Renly as daggers pointing at our backs. But Damon didn't say that, because he was well aware that Tywin already knew it.
"We need to force his hand before he can consolidate the rest of the Riverlords; we still hold the numerical advantage while they are scattered, and many of the Rivermen won't support Robb while we hold their lords hostage." Tywin was meeting each pair of eyes in turn, a command/intimidation tactic that no one could pull off quite like Tywin Lannister could. It gave Damon, who by now had killed more than his fair share of men, positive shivers. "We bring the boy to us. We use Harrenhal as a command center, but we march out and scorch the Riverlands a village at a time until Stark comes at us. If he wants the Riverlords to support him, he cannot sit by idly while we tear their homeland apart."
Damon spoke again unprompted, and part of his mind noted it as a record for him, particularly around his grandfather. "What if he uses the same tactic for the Westerlands? More than Uncle Jaime was captured in the Whispering Wood."
"We're already in the Riverlands," Lord Brax said. "Stark would have to fight his way into the West and then take the castles. We have the advantage if we strike now."
There was a chorus of 'yes my lord' in response, and Damon joined in. A map of the Riverlands was unceremoniously spread out across the table, and with no further preamble Tywin began divvying out assignments. They had near twenty-five thousand men in Harrenhal, with riders being sent to the western Crownlands for additional support and several hundred men already raiding alongside Gregor Clegane. A thousand of those men were going with Forley Prester to High Heart. Another thousand were going under Flement Brax to Acorn Hall, ordered to burn villages with impunity along the way.
Damion Lannister was appointed in command of the scouts, charged with keeping an eye on Robb to keep another Whispering Wood from happening. Other commands were given to to this knight or that lord. Damon sat through it all, wondering which man he was going to ride with and how in the lord he was going to cope with that.
"You will lead seven hundred men and storm Lord Harroway's Town."
It took Damon a solid five seconds to realize Tywin was talking to him.
Damon was prone to worry, but not to panic. This time, however, he panicked heavily.
"But…Lord Tywin. I'm not qualified—"
Tywin cut him off. He did that a lot in their interactions, but Damon was usually more thankful than upset since it kept the Prince from sticking his own foot in his mouth. "You have handled yourself better than most in the battles you have fought. Indeed, your actions have given you the nickname of Damon the Daring. And you are a Prince, as well as a Lannister." Tywin looked back to the map in dismissal. "You are as qualified as any other."
Damon normally wouldn't dare to speak after Tywin claimed the subject closed—especially after their one-sided conversation those months earlier in the command tent—but his fear of actually being in command of others made him try anyway. "I'm only a squire."
Tywin cocked an eyebrow, half in annoyance, half in something Damon couldn't identify but did not like. "Oh?" Tywin reached a hand towards Ser Kevan, palm up. Damon's great-uncle, face trying to hide a smirk, drew his sword and placed it in his elder brother's hand. "Kneel."
Damon blinked thrice. Just like that? Aren't I supposed to have some trials of manhood, stay in a sept overnight…slay a demon with my bare hands? Something? I just turned six and ten a fortnight ago, for the sake of the Seven!
But his grandfather was waiting, the angle of his eyebrow rising as his patience dropped, and Damon did the only thing he could think to do; he dropped to a knee.
As his grandfather laid the sword on one shoulder, then the other, saying words Damon hadn't thought to hear for years, the Prince didn't feel joy or pride at being knighted so young, nothing that he thought he would feel when he became worthy, at least in the eyes of one man, to call himself 'Ser'.
All he could think of was how he no longer had an excuse for turning down the command, and how much terror had come to dominate his life.
Tyrek was in the middle of helping Bella organize the Prince's tent where she would be staying while he remained in the Kingspyre Tower. Well, that was the story; Bella would spend most of her time in the tower's chamber with Damon, but this was for appearances sake.
Not that a whore staying in a Prince's tent is something of a message or anything. But who am I to argue?
He was moving the cot for the fourth time, wondering how in the world the slender woman had strong-armed him into this duty, when the Prince literally burst in.
"We're going to Lord Harroway's town."
Both Tyrek and Bella spoke. "What?"
The Prince's voice was rushed, excited—scared. "I am to storm the town and take any members of House Roote left there as hostages."
Tyrek dropped the edge of the cot unceremoniously. Bella also eyed the work they—Tyrek—had been doing, realizing it was about to be torn back down. "Who is in command, Your Grace?"
Damon looked to his cousin, and Tyrek knew him well enough by now to see the fear in his eyes. "I am."
"But you're a squire…Your Grace."
Bella spoke too, equally shocked. "And six and ten."
Damon shook his head. "Not anymore." He glanced to Bella. "Well, your point is true. But Tywin doesn't seem to think that matters."
Tyrek wasn't sure what to think; confusion was a normal condition for him now. "You're a knight?"
Bella didn't seem to mind that much; it was the command thing she was having issues accepting. Tyrek imagined she knew intimately well how uncomfortable Damon was when he was in charge of anything that didn't have formal, regulated responses. "But…you're…"
"I know." Damon seemed to be as confused as the others. "What I don't know is what to do."
Tyrek shrugged. "Lead, I suppose. Fight. You're the best fighter I know. All you have to do is do it at the front, and you're normally there anyway."
Tyrek felt every bit of the hesitation and concern Damon had; he had no doubt of Damon's ability with a blade, having seen it firsthand on fields of battle and in rivers of blood. As for a six and ten lad being put in charge of a band of hardened fighting men…well, any man who didn't doubt that was a fool.
Tyrek was a lot of things. A fool wasn't one of them.
But his cousin—his friend—needed to hear encouragement, not questions. Tyrek knew the Prince well enough by now to know Damon's mind would throw enough questions at him already. "You will do fine, Your Grace. I have faith. You're a knight after all, and that means something in and of itself. Ser Damon." Tyrek grinned at the last title.
Damon stared at him for a long moment, and then abruptly drew his sword.
Whoa, hold on a minute. Perhaps I said the wrong thing. Damon turned to face him. The really wrong thing.
But Damon merely gestured with his other hand. "I'm glad you have confidence in knighthood. Because I need loyal knights around me...Ser Tyrek." Damon almost smiled. Almost. "And if I have to do this, I sure as shit am not doing it alone."
Later Tyrek would realize it was knee-jerk reaction by the Prince to a situation he didn't know how to control. Damon was a thinker, and when he didn't have time to properly think he wasn't sure what to do. His responses—like knighting a lad of five and ten mere minutes after being knighted himself—could be extreme, as Tyrek would learn more and more in their time together.
But Ser Tyrek Lannister did have one hell of a ring to it.
He awoke to screams.
Damon was not of a forceful nature, either in personality or in his treatment of others, but he gripped an equally startled Bella by the waist and hurled her off of him and the cot with all his might, before he even realized what he was doing. With a surprised yelp his—lover, paramour?—landed on the worse-for-wear carpet over the packed dirt of the courtyard of Harroway's Tower in a tangle of naked flesh as the Prince leapt from where they had a second ago been sleeping, dressed only in breeches. His body acted as his mind tried to catch up, stepping and lacing his armored boots and grabbing his sword in record time even as a familiar, terrifying sound filled the dark of the night.
War horns. Northern war horns, singing their mournful song of death and accompanied by the low, otherworldly cries of the attackers. Damon was instantly back in the Whispering Woods, reliving the moment he had realized they were all going to die.
The same terror that had seized him then seized him now, making his knees buckle and his heart stop, his mind telling him to run again now as he had then, but his body shouted to Bella over the cacophony of war cries, screams and shouts to action outside despite his want to run. "Get into the Tower, Bella, now!" Damon saw only a glimpse of the growing terror on her face before he drew his sword from its scabbard and stepped out into the dark.
It was chaos, men flooding out of the canvas tents around him as others stumbled up from dotted campfires, confusion and fear on their face. Damon imagined it was worse outside the old curtain wall of Harroway's Tower, in the small town of the same name. It was from the western perimeter that the shouts and screams were coming, though Damon had assumed as much the second he recognized the horns. The Prince, torso as bare as the sword in his hand, rushed across the small enclosed space of the tower's courtyard, weaving through the maze of rushing men and in one case knocking a man-at-arms flat. He jumped atop the rampart—they were only two feet high, the outer wall only another four beyond that—and stared in that direction as archers came into position around him, shouted into action by men more veteran than the young Prince in charge of them all.
The city of tents outside the Harroway's Tower and its wall was burning, the fire on the outer ring and starting to grow.
Only the most veteran knights and a handful of archers had made their encampments around the old roundtower alongside the Prince, the rest of them either sleeping in the small inn or brothel or pitching their tents just outside of the scattering of buildings and homes that made up Harroway. Damon had decreed before their assault on the small town that there would be no forceful evictions of the smallfolk of the town, and had insisted those who slept in the inn pay for their rooms. Damon hadn't been able to tell how well that had gone over with the men under his command, as he could seemingly never tell what others were thinking, but he imagined it hadn't gone over well. Still, he had reasoned with himself that stricter demands had been made of soldiers in the past, and reminded himself of his grandfather's parting words when Damon rode from Harrenhal.
A lion doesn't concern itself with the opinions of sheep.
He'd told himself that repeatedly before had had stormed the town, only to find that even a sheep could have taken the place.
In his first command, Damon had taken his objective without taking a casualty. That would have been a great feat for certain, save that he hadn't inflicted any casualties either. Harroway had been devoid of any form of resistance, Damon and his knights riding through the streets unopposed. Expecting a trap once he'd realized they had met no opposition, Damon had ordered every inch of the town scoured even as a defensive encirclement was formed, unwilling to let his guard down as they had in the Whispering Wood.
There had been no trap, at least not up until now. House Roote, the Lords of Harroway, had taken their men and possession and fled both the town and the small roundtower that was their seat weeks ago, likely to join Robb Stark at Riverrun. It was a prudent move, what with Harroway's close proximity to Harrenhal and the massive army encamped there, and the Roote's had taken everything an army could use—steel, surplus grain, even stock animals save for a scattering of pigs and milk cows—with them.
Only one Roote had remained, to continue to govern the town and go about her House's business. Allison Vypren, the elderly mother of Lord Alman Roote, had been waiting for Damon under the opened gates of the Tower. Small and graying but unmistakably proud, she had merely cocked an eyebrow as a Baratheon in battle armor rode to her atop a brawny stallion, neither impressed nor intimidated. Within a few moments of her opening her mouth, Damon had found instead he was both of those things.
"I wondered how long it would take a Lannister army to take an undefended town. Weeks, apparently. Lions indeed, though I daresay you are a cub. Regardless, Harroway is yours. Try not to choke on your accomplishment, child."
It had been barbed responses and witty banter that left Damon half afraid of the old woman since. Damon had left her Tower to her, though she had been confined to her quarters within it. Though it was expected he would take some of the abandoned chambers within for his own as both a Prince and the commander of the 'victorious' side of the fight that never occurred, Damon had preferred his tent and cot outside in no small part to ensure he was far away from the woman's wit.
But all of that was unimportant, as the sound of the enemy spread like the flame to his men's tents outside.
"Prince Damon!" He turned to face the authoritative voice that had been barking commands since before Damon had exited his tent. Ser Philip Foote, big and brawny, strode towards him, the scrambling men around them parting like a wave. The Westerman knight was near forty, grizzled and experienced at war, as evidenced by the patch covering where his left eye had been before he lost it to a Saltcliffe spear during the Greyjoy Rebellion. He had, likely on Lord Tywin's orders, become Damon's prefect and aide, helping the green Prince command the seven hundred soldiers under his command. Damon had been thankful for his presence to this point, even if he found the man could be a touch overbearing at times.
"They're setting the tents ablaze, as you can see Your Grace." The big man stepped close, a good half a foot taller than Damon. "I've ordered the gate sealed and archers to the wall, and have a rider ready to ride for Harrenhal at your command."
Damon's mind raced through the situation in a moment. Sealing the gates of the roundtower was a prudent move, as they didn't know the numbers they were facing or if the Northerns meant to take the town back or merely raid it. It did, however, leave the confused men outside to fend for themselves, both against the attacking force and the fires that force was setting. Still, the Northmen had clearly killed the pickets and sentries and slipped amidst the tents before sounding their attack; they had the element of surprise on their side, and were charging from the darkness towards a surprised, sleeping enemy. It was the prudent move to leave his men outside to fend for themselves until they knew for certain the threat they faced.
Damon's mind returned to the Whispering Wood, to the men who had died or been captured to ensure that he the Prince escaped. For the first time since that morning Damon wondered what the others, the men who weren't Princes worth saving but had been instead left to die, had felt.
"Tyrek!" His cousin had appeared alongside Ser Philip, Damon somehow knowing that his friend was thinking the same thing he was. "You're with me. Ser Philip, you have command of the roundtower."
The big man turned to watch after them as both blonde boys, one shirtless and the other having only slipped on a loose tunic, shot past him towards the impromptu stables. "Where are you going Your Grace?"
Neither the Prince nor his companion answered.
Damon didn't know if he was doing it for the men out there, the men he had abandoned in the Whispering Wood, or if he thought it would make a good tale for the bards, but before he could think about how stupid he was being he was atop his bay and galloping out the gates.
Tyrek had joined him, as had a handful of knights without prompting. They rode down the streets, the warm night air buffering his bare torso as terrified smallfolk ran from the battle and stumbling soldiers ran towards it.
Men shouted and screamed up ahead, half of them fighting northerners, half of them fighting the fires. Damon and his contingent barreled into the middle of what well could be one of the Seven Hells, the Prince hacking a Northerner out of the saddle. He'd forsaken his shield in his rush to leave his tent, and found he was missing it desperately when another Northerner came at him from his left side. The Prince twisted in time to block the blow but barely, the heavily bearded man cast into a terrifying contrast of shadow and flame by the burning fire all around them.
Damon, at the disadvantage in that position, simply kicked his heels into his stallion's flanks, thankful for the hastily fastened saddle as he broke away and wheeled around amidst the burning tents and men. The Northerner got a lunging, parting blow in, the tip of his blade slicing a shallow cut across Damon's back, making the Prince gasp in pain even though he instantly knew the wound wasn't serious. By the time the Northerner recovered his seat Damon was facing his right side to him, and in a few hard struck blows from this new direction the man fell dead from his saddle.
And then, quick as the'yd arrived, there weren't any Northerners left to fight.
Damon dismounted in the middle of a living hell, no longer a Prince but instead another hand to man the fire lines pulling buckets from the nearby Trident.
It was morning before they'd finally extinguished the blaze.
Damon was soot stained and filthy, standing amidst the charred remains that had once been his men's tents and, in places, his men. It'd been a lightning raid, the Northerners only there to kill a few sentries, set a few tents ablaze, slaughter a few sleeping men, and leave. They had succeeded grandly, losing less than a dozen while Damon figured his losses for near forty.
The Prince realized it pissed him off royally.
I take a town and lose not a man. But when we go to sleep that night, we wake up to forty dead.
Damon knew this was war, but it certainly didn't feel like war. It felt like murder, like a cheap trick, though the Prince knew if the roles had been reversed he wouldn't have hesitated to do it himself. Or would I have? Is this honorable? Is killing a few dozen at night better than a few thousand in the middle of the day, or worse?
Damon didn't know. He didn't know much of anything these days.
His back was a red line of pain, his breeches having become soaked in blood due to the motion of tossing buckets of water on the fires not allowing the wound to clot properly for a long while. Damon wasn't concerned, for he could deal with pain, but staring at the lined up corpses of men—his men—was something he couldn't deal with at all. They'd followed him, willingly or no, and now they would follow no one ever again.
This too was war, but it tore him in two.
Damon, still shirtless, stared sightlessly at their half-burnt corpses before turning to face Ser Philip and Tyrek. One Northerner had been taken prisoner, falling from his own horse while trying to flee when a mule, its mane aflame and mad with pain, had sprinted into his horse. The man, middle aged and unremarkable in the white on purple of House Woolfield, had lost his seat and fallen into the furious hands of men who had been woken to their tents burning. He showed the effects of the experience, face as purple as his shirt, one eye swelled closed and lips a shredded, red mess. Damon had no doubts his men would have beaten the Northerner to death with fists and feet if a knight, a calmer, level-headed older man named Corliss in service to House Jast, had not intervened.
Damon knelt down in front of the Northerner's swollen eyes. "Are you alive?"
The Northerner grumbled something Damon could only assume was a curse about his mother, but looking at the man's mess of a face made Damon almost sympathetic. Almost.
"Good." The Prince reached out a hand, a piece of folded parchment in his hand, a hastily scribbled note it's unsealed contents. "You're going to give this to Robb Stark."
"Tell him Damon wants to talk."
The Riverlands settled into a stalemate.
The Prince of the Iron Throne sat astride Harroway for nearly two full turns of the moon, waiting on an answer from the Young Wolf that never came. Damon reminded himself that the Riverlands were a dangerous place for anyone of any allegiance; the bloody Northman he had sent with his letter could have been ambushed by other Lannister soldiers somewhere on the road, or perhaps even by bandits—wars were nothing more than mountains of coin in the eyes of the lowest of the low. Perhaps one of the wounds Damon's men had inflicted had damaged him internally, and the Woolfield now rotted on the side of the road. Perhaps he simply didn't pass on the message, some Northern or Riverlander lord deciding not to bring the request of parlay before their newly crowned King.
Perhaps Robb had ignored him.
Damon hadn't been close to the eldest Stark son while in Winterfell, but they hadn't hated each other. At least, the Prince didn't think Robb had hated him, but he was never much good at discerning that sort of thing. But they had been civil at the very least, and Robb was borderline friendly at times. When the Baratheon Prince had sent his missive, he'd never considered the Stark King would refuse him.
But Damon wasn't the same boy he had been those moons ago at Winterfell, and he imagined Robb wasn't either. The Baratheon was now a knight with the blood of dozens on his hands; the Stark was now a King with likely the same. Damon had the weight of command on his shoulders, while Robb had the much more daunting weight of kingship on his. Whatever almost-friendship or cordial acquaintance the two had once had was as dead as their fathers.
The two boys were now men on opposite sides of a war. While Damon was inwardly frustrated and disappointed that he couldn't force Robb to parlay with him, he forced himself to accept both facts.
The war, for what it mattered, was at a standstill of sorts. Robb couldn't force the offensive on Tywin; the Lannisters had too many men and too strong of a position, as well as the advantage of holding Edmure Tully and several Riverman nobles as hostage. On the other side of the coin, Tywin couldn't force anymore of an offensive than the scattered raids and sieges on the Riverlands, unable to march out and besiege Riverrun even if it was tactically viable due to Stark holding Jaime.
Not to say there had been a cease in violence. While Damon had seen neither head nor hair of a Northerner or Riverlander since the fiery raid on his camps, a score of small scale battles and skirmishes had occurred. Ser Forley Prester had taken the towns of High Heart and Blackbottom Bend easily. Gregor Clegane, whom Damon refused to think of as a knight for the Mountain was nothing more than a vicious dog, had burned seemingly half of the villages along the Trident. The Strongboar, captured at the Whispering Wood while helping Damon and Tyrek escape, had been exchanged for a handful of Rivermen noble sons and had brought news that, while Jaime was kept separate from the rest of the prisoners, Lyle had seen him alive and…alive anyway.
But it wasn't all good news. Ser Flement Brax, whose brother Tytos still remained a captive at Riverrun, had attacked Acorn's Hall at the same time a conglomeration of Riverlander and Northern forces had strengthened it, leading to a pitched battle that saw the royalist forces routed. They were nearly slaughtered to a man when the rebels pursued, a few hundred of them only surviving due to the arrival of Ser Forley, who had been drawn by the sound of pitched battle from his own conquests a few miles away. The Prester knight had stemmed the pursuit long enough to turn the flight into an orderly retreat, but had himself pulled back and abandoned the two villages he had captured in the face of the superior Northman numbers. They had been harried clear back to Harrenhal.
And that was only what Damon knew of. All ravens and couriers routed through Harrenhal and therefore his grandfather, and the Prince had no doubt that Tywin kept a firm grasp on who knew what. He may have knighted him, but Damon didn't imagine for a second that Tywin let him know everything.
A prime example was that Damon didn't know anything about either of his Baratheon uncles. Where they were now, who made up their forces, what his grandfather intended to do about them, what they intended to do about each other…none of it. It was as if the two Baratheon brothers had vanished from the Seven Kingdoms.
So the Prince had sat and waited for either a response from Robb or new orders from Tywin, receiving neither for the aforementioned moons. He had tried to pass the time training, but after the third time of reopening the infuriating slash across his back he had been forced to stop. Riding scouts tended to irritate it as well, and he even had to be careful while abed with Bella, a place he had never been careful in his life. While the red, weeping wound was now an irritated pink line that had only recently grown sturdy enough for him to resume training with Tyrek, the days of absolutely nothing had nearly driven him mad.
Some of the messages that Tywin had allowed through were not of a military nature. Damon had lost count of the total number of letters from his mother, though he had received northward of fifteen while at Harroway. The Prince had taken to putting Cersei's letters into three categories, based on the contents. 'Letters from the Queen' used the tactic of duty and obedience to one's parents, trying to coerce him back to King's Landing via royal requests and demands. 'Letters from Mother' used the tactic of love and need to see him, near-begging him to leave the fighting to more experienced men and return to her at King's Landing where he would be safe. And finally, 'Letters from the Lioness' used hardnosed, brutal tactics; telling Damon how Tommen and Myrcella asked after him and cried at his absence, how King Joffrey was worried for his sibling, how she couldn't understand why he insisted on worrying her into an early grave and how she couldn't believe he would risk depriving her of her child so soon after her brother was put in stocks.
Letters from the Lioness were the hardest for the Prince to handle, and as his mother Cersei knew him well enough to know that would be the case. Well over half of her letters had been of that sort, and in the past moon she'd hit him even harder.
It had taken him no time at all to recognize the small, neat lettering of his sister, nor the near-unintelligible scribble of Tommen. They'd both written him, some of their words their own thoughts, others heavily and obviously influenced by his mother. Damon, who had taken to answering only one in ten of his mother's pleas, had written the both of them back at once, and then wrestled with the guilt of leaving them for a week. He admired his mother's ruthlessness and pragmatic attacks, but sometimes he wished to throttle her. As it was, he had had Bella sew both of his sibling's letters into the cloth lining of his breastplate, keeping them close to him as both a way of treasuring them and a silent vow that he would return to them both.
But only once the war was won. However much he missed his brother, sister and mother, he had a duty as a Prince and as a Baratheon to see those opposing Joffrey's rightful reign and degrading his family's blood and name stopped. He had failed at ending this war before it began, a shame he would carry to his grave, but by the Seven he would see it to its end. And, despite the boredom and fear and shame and guilt and countless other emotions that gnawed at him daily, he felt a pivotal turn was coming.
So when Tyrek, out of the blue, pounded on the canvas of his tent in the middle of the night, Damon knew even before he answered that something was shifting.
The Prince was on his feet in moments, again clad in breeches and nothing else, same as he had been the night of the Northman raid. He pulled the blankets over the still half asleep Bella to preserve her modesty—an odd thought, conserving the modesty of a whore. His paramour grumbled in protest, sleepily twisting them more snuggly around her and instantly falling back asleep. Damon stepped through the flap, unconcerned with his state of relative undress.
That was appropriate, considering Tyrek shared it. Absently Damon noted that Tyrek, over the moons and moons of war and training, had lost much of the chubbiness of youth, replaced by muscle and suntanned skin. Damon imagined he himself had undergone the same change, if the soreness he awoke with most mornings said anything.
His cousin may only be five and ten even if he looked older, but the Lord of Hayford had become Damon's righthand man. While Ser Phillip Foote was still the man liaison to the rank-and-file men, due to his experience and the fact that grown men likely found it hard to follow two freshly-made knights still in their teens to war, Tyrek tended to update Damon on news from the other fronts, as well as ride on scouts, train with and accompany the Prince near everywhere. Damon was eternally grateful, not only for Tyrek's assistance and willingness to help but also for the fact that he had a friend, one with whom he shared a bond only those who fought and bled together could share. The Prince wasn't sure when precisely his cousin had infiltrated the very small ring of people Damon trusted, but the fact that he had brought the golden-haired Baratheon both relief and hope that, just maybe, Damon wasn't as fucked up socially as he thought he was.
In any case, his cousin gave a slight bow in greeting before gesturing behind him without a word. A courier, dressed in Lannister crimson and holding a torch, stepped forward after a bow of his own.
"A letter from Lord Tywin, m'lord."
"Your Grace," Tyrek firmly corrected, though Damon didn't mind. He waved the courier's quick apologies away, then held the same hand out to Tyrek without looking away from the lion seal on the folded parchment. His cousin instantly placed a dagger in Damon's hand, and the Prince split the wax deftly, unfolding the message. The courier extended his torch, giving Damon light enough to read the contents.
He only got through the first paragraph before he started yelling.
Cersei wasn't a fool.
The Queen of the Seven Kingdoms knew what her son was. She knew Joffrey was sadistic, coarse, rude; unkingly, if she was truly honest. He was her Golden Prince, her son, her firstborn, and she loved him fiercely, but she wasn't stupid, nor was she blind.
Some days she wished she were. The day she had seen the dead whore in her son's chambers, shot full of crossbow quarrel's, had been one of them. She had resorted to black violence of her own before, hardening her heart to do what was best for her children—slaughtering Robert's many bastards was merely the most recent and severe of the extremes she would resort to. But seeing that sort of violence carried out by your own child, someone you brought into this world and loved with all of your heart since they first drew breath…that was different and terrible, and nothing in the seven Kingdoms could prepare you for it.
She wondered if this was the Seven punishing her for that, or her and Jaime for their love for one another.
But she discounted the latter as soon as she thought it. She and Jaime had beaten the odds, truth be told. Three of their children were sweet, good people, a much higher ratio than other offspring of siblings; look at the Targaryen bloodline, where a child who wasn't completely insane was the exception, not the norm. Tommen was a sweet child who loved kittens and applecakes. Cersei could never see him raising an aggressive hand to anyone or anything, much less another human being. If anything Cersei worried because he was too soft, too caring of others, and while that concerned her for his future in a cutthroat world, she certainly preferred that to the sheer aggression and brutality that was her oldest. Tommen didn't look like Jaime all that much, but she knew his heart was the same as her brother's.
Myrcella was an angel, a copy of Cersei at that age with half of the fierceness and twice the sweetness. Her little girl was already a beauty, likely to grow to an equal of Cersei herself. She would make some Lord the perfect wife, though the Seven knew there was no House nor lustful man worthy of her. Certainly not this Trystane of Dorne, Prince or no; the Dornish were savages, and no machinations of Tyrion's would see Cersei's daughter in their hands. Though, considering the sounds outside the throne room, Cersei couldn't deny she was glad her daughter wasn't here.
And then there was Damon.
Her second son, born mere minutes after her first, was Jaime incarnate. He was tall and strong like his father, smart and cunning like his mother. Damon was all of Joffrey's fierce will to fight for his family and none of his cruelty, all of Tommen's care for others and none of his hesitance to fight. She had seen her son train with her lover since he was a small boy, and while seeing the two of them together terrified a part of her—Damon was so alike Jaime in physical appearance that Cersei had been waiting for someone to put his true parentage together since her twins were two—she was also fiercely proud of how much like Jaime Damon was. She didn't know much about sword play, the ridiculous ideas of the role of women taking that avenue from her, but she knew enough to know Damon was highly skilled. While he may not possess his father's glib tongue, he possessed his skill with a sword.
And his streak of foolishness, much to Cersei's chagrin.
She had been terrified and furious when Damon had disappeared with only a letter of his intentions left behind all those moons ago, but she had been confident the men she sent after him would return him to her side.
Her son's insistence on attending the hunts of the man he thought was his father paid off in an infuriating way, and by the time Cersei realized the soldiers and Kingsguard she had sent after him should be replaced by trackers and huntsmen it had been too late. She had resorted to letters, some begging and kind, others demanding and even threatening, certain that he would return when he realized the anguish he was causing her.
Finally, after months of fruitless pleas that were answered with an increasing resolve in the tone of her son's replies, she had even helped her youngest two children pen letters, pleading with their brother to return to them. Cersei knew that, while there was a fierce competitiveness and distaste between her twins, Damon loved Myrcella and Tommen more than anything else, more than he even loved her or Jaime. This tactic, she was so certain, would bring her son back to her.
It, like all the others, hadn't.
Instead, through moons and moons of worry and strife, she only heard of her son's escapades on the field of battle, the very place she wanted him nowhere near. Just like his father, Damon had a flair for reckless bravery, and while part of Cersei was proud to hear of the stories about her son Damon the Daring, the rest was furious and terrified.
She needed to know he was safe. She needed to know he was not slogging through the mud and blood that her brother spoke of.
She needed him here, now, to protect his family. Instead he was off in the Riverlands, fighting a war he had no business being involved in.
Cersei shushed Tommen, the vial of sweetsleep clutched hidden in her hand. Stannis, he who was attacking her city to kill her and her children, would not get her youngest son. She had ordered Joffrey to leave the front, plans in place to make sure her eldest didn't fall into the cursed Baratheon's hand either, but she knew there was a chance that would go awry. But no matter what, sweet Tommen would not fall into Stannis' hands.
The sounds of men outside the doors of the Iron Throne caused Tommen to cry and her to shush him again, whispering sweet words into his ear even as she uncorked the vial of poison.
The Queen steeled herself, ready to once again do an awful deed for the sake of her family.
When the doors opened she brought the vial to her son's lips, though a moment of weakness made her hesitate.
She would later thank the Seven for that hesitation, whether they had damned her or not.
It wasn't Stannis Baratheon walking through the doors of the throne room to take her and her son. It wasn't his dead brother Renly in some awful twist of fate. It wasn't Robb Stark or dead Ned or Robert or the fucking boar that killed him.
It was her father.
The vial slipped to the ground and shattered as relief flooded her. She found no words as Tywin marched in, proclaiming their victory. She barely even looked at him, clutching Tommen in a fierce hug as her eyes were drawn to a figure walking quietly behind and to the right of her father.
The figure was tall and straight, in black and gold armor with a Baratheon stag on the front and a sword with a lionhead pommel at his side. When he removed his helmet, stepping into the torchlight, Cersei thought for a fleeting, glorious moment that it was Jaime.
It wasn't, but it was every bit as glorious.
Damon had come home.
The Red Keep had never been so full. Damon hated it.
He hated the look his brother was giving him more.
I despise attention. All attention. Mother knows this, yet here I am. I should've let bloody Stannis have them all.
The Prince didn't mean that of course. He'd fought hard to prevent that very thing, hardly sleeping in the days it had taken the Lannister forces to under his grandfather to withdraw from the Riverlands, merge with the Tyrells and what few houses remained with them after the mysterious death of Renly, and barely make it to King's Landing in time to repulse Stannis. He'd nearly worn Bella into the ground, finding the whore's ministrations were one of the only things that got his mind off of the danger his family was in. By the time he'd strapped on his armor and joined the mad dash in the middle of the night, he almost swore he heard her sigh in relief.
He'd been in the vanguard, riding alongside Mace Tyrell's two youngest sons and the best knights the combined forces could field. It had been an honor to ride with Ser Garlan, for the secondborn of the Tyrell brood was a great warrior, as Damon saw more than once in their mad dash to and through the city. Damon had been careful to keep his opinion of his own skills in check, but the Prince knew he was far above average with a sword; even so, he wasn't sure who would win in a duel between himself and Garlan the Gallant. He admitted to himself that watching the older knight fight had humbled him.
Fighting alongside Loras had been less of an honor. Not because the Knight of Flowers wasn't skilled; much to his vexation, Damon wasn't sure who would win between himself and Loras either. But Damon hadn't liked him beforehand and their time together since hadn't changed the opinion. Damon knew the rumors about Tyrell's relationship with Renly, and the knight's actions since Damon had seen him again after Renly's murder only confirmed it, at least in the Prince's mind. The Knight of Flowers skulked and snapped and looked on the verge of tears half the time, seeming like he was the woman widowed instead of his sister Margaery, Renly's bride.
Damon didn't know really what to think about that, so he simply didn't. It wasn't hard, seeing as he didn't seem to know anything these days and thusly had an overflowing pile of things he refused to contemplate. Damon simply pushed the implications of what he was seeing and hearing away to the back of his mind, alongside what the hell he was doing in this war and where it ended and if his uncle Jaime was still alive and so many other things that thinking about them would certainly overflow his brain and kill him.
I have to say, death would be a welcome reprieve right now. It had been only a scant two days since the Battle of the Blackwater, bodies and salvage teams still knee deep all over the gates and bay, but seemingly half the nobility in Westeros had came to the Great Hall to shower affection on the men partially responsible for the mess. His grandfather had gone first, dressed in red and gold armor with a crimson cloak and seated atop a marvelous white stallion that he rode down the middle of the line of gaurds. Joffrey, first of his name, had declared him Savior of the City and named him Hand of the King, Tywin accepting in the cool, emotionless manner he always exhibited. It made sense of course, the Lion of Lannister retaking the position he had resigned decades ago due to foolhardiness of Aerys Targaryen.
Even so, Damon pondered for a moment at the blatant dismissal of Tyrion, who even now lay unconscious of wounds sustained trying to protect the city when Joffrey had, by accounts, left the walls. Tyrion had destroyed countless of Stannis' ships with a boom and wildfire on the Blackwater Bay long before Tywin and Damon arrived, and had held the city together through bread riots and starvation caused by the effects of war. Damon had gone to see his uncle twice-even he and Tyrion weren't close, the dwarf was blood-but to his knowledge Tywin hadn't even made the attempt. Nor had Cersei. And certainly not Joffrey.
It didn't seem fair. Neither did praising the Tyrell's, whose former allegiance to Renly was the main reason for the aforementioned bread riots and starvation, but Damon knew they were to follow him in line.
But Damon was next. And thusly Damon went, as was his duty.
The Prince supposed he could had ridden a horse as his grandfather had, but he had opted against it. That certainly drew attention, something Damon desperately wanted to avoid. Not that I can, walking down the center of the Great Hall with dozens of nobles on either side. The way he was dressed didn't help either, but at least it was comfortable to him. He wore the black and gold armor he'd been near-living in for months, though he had noticed it was starting to fit him a bit too snug through the chest and arms. The black plate was scrubbed to a high shine, devoid of the smoke stains and blood that had covered it after the battle, but the sun streaming through the big windows pointed out the scars the plate had accumulated. Only the helm was unblemished; Tywin had set a smith to work on a helm that matched the Prince's black and gold armor before Damon left for Harroway, and the Prince carried it now for show.
Though I'll never use it. His grandfather, unaware of the revelations of Damon's first battle all those months ago, had had the piece made with a visor and a golden stag crest. Damon had accepted it graciously of course, even wearing it as he first rode away with the vanguard from the Lord of the Westerland's tent a few nights ago, but he had had Tyrek bring Damon's battered, plain chunk of grey steel that the Prince had scrounged up before Riverrun and switched helms just before the charge. A man nearly broke my neck because of needless additions to a helm. The Seven saved me from it once, and I don't intend to squander the blessing by letting some other fool finish what the first started. Nevertheless it at least looked brilliant tucked against his right hip by Damon's right hand, the Prince's left holding the lionhead pommel of the sheathed sword on that hip.
It was these things that Damon tried to focus on as he made his way towards the Iron Throne his father had taken. It took all the Prince had to avoid sprinting the seemingly indomitable distance and getting it over with, but he somehow managed to keep his pace at least somewhat serene, even if it was a touch to brisk for the event. As he walked Joffrey spoke, his voice sounding sincere though the look Damon had seen in his twin's eye was anything but. His brother was livid, at what Damon wasn't sure, but the second son of Robert imagined the first equated what he was saying to drinking horsepiss.
But Joffrey was an excellent mummer when in public, and when Damon dropped his gaze to the foot of the throne's dais he could almost believe his brother meant what he was saying. "Prince Damon Baratheon. You are hereby commended by the Crown for your bravery in battle, both beneath this city's walls and in the fields of the Riverlands. For your deeds, which include the slaying of the rebel Lords Alester Vance and Bryce Caron, as well as dozens of their knights and men-at-arms in single combat, you are hereby granted the Lordship of Dragonstone, to be assumed after the wars we now fight are concluded."
Damon came to a stop at the foot of the dais, dropping to a knee and bowing his head, showing respect he didn't feel. He knew the grant of title and land had been coming, his mother telling him the night before after berating him for the thousandth time that he had left and gone to war, although the mention of his slaying Bryce Caron was a detail he hadn't known-Damon couldn't remember doing it, but then again most of the enemy had been faceless in the dark of that night. Damon didn't feel much of anything towards the land grant, since it was currently a hollow appointment; they'd beaten Stannis badly at the Blackwater, killing a large number of his men and causing an even larger number to change allegiance in the middle of the battle, but he still held some amount of power and still poised a threat. Even if he didn't, Robb Stark certainly did, now left alone in the Riverlands or wherever the hell he was, and Balon Greyjoy had proclaimed himself king...again. That meant this war was far from over, though the celebrations of the past two nights made Damon wonder if anyone but him realized it.
Damon glanced out of the corner of his eye at poor, pretty Sansa Stark, standing emotionless to one side and clearly showing the effects of the war. It was shocking, He wondered what it was like to be a fawn in a court of wolves, and how she would feel if he told her her brother hadn't agreed to negotiate. Damon imagined it wouldn't go well, and though his heart had hardened towards the Northmen the night of the fires, he hoped she was managing decently. They had spoken hardly a word, but she'd seemed sweet and innocent. He imagined contact with Joffrey had changed that.
Damon realized he had waited a hair to long to respond, and barely managed to not flounder his words in his embarrassment. "You honor me, Your Grace. I only fight for the honor of the King."
He heard Joffrey stand. "Come, brother," the king said with a warmth so false it made Damon's skin crawl. "Stand, let us embrace. You have served me well."
Damon did as he was bid, meeting eyes identical to his own as he ascended the steps of the dais. Joffrey's smile was flawless but Damon recognized the anger beneath it. Normally he would look away then, never one to instiagte deeper disagreements with his twin, but something in Damon made him hold his brothers eyes until their quick, horrid embrace. As he turned away, he saw the rage and jealously in Joffrey had doubled.
As the Prince took a spot to the left of the platform, finally out of the public eye, he couldn't find it in himself to regret the stupid show of defiance. And when someone in the crowd shouted "Damon the Daring", the name echoed by dozens present, he nearly smiled.
It died before it started, however, as Loras was the next to enter. Only Garlan's presence in the forefront made it tolerable.
What followed was the most grandiose display of utter bullshit Damon had ever seen.
It took everything he had to keep his face still through it all. Garlan spoke of how Margaery, Renly's former queen, had fallen in love with Joffrey from afar. He spoke of how her marriage to Renly had gone unconsummated, and how she desperately desired to wed the 'true, just' king. Damon barely paid attention to Joffrey's elegant and clearly scripted response. Of how he claimed he had made a solemn vow that he must keep to Sansa Stark, of how a King's word was a special thing, all different kinds of storybook sayings that made Damon want to smack his twin upside the head with a mace.
Their mother broke in then, followed by Pycelle, and it all accumulated in Sansa Stark being set aside for the Rose of Highgarden. It was an insult to House Stark, war be damned, that Damon could only believe was coming because it came from his brother. The flatterings and chitterings about love and friendship between Baratheon and Tyrell annoyed him to no end, and it nearly made him curse aloud when, at the end, Loras was appointed to the Kingsguard to fill the spot of recently slain Ser Mandon Moore. It was all done tactfully and elegantly and politically and it made him want to throw his helm through glass of the window to make them all shut up and be done with it.
When it finally, mercifully ended, and the long stream of men to be knighted started forward, Damon sighed inwardly, resigning himself to a long day. And he was right, for it certainly was.
There was one bright spot however. When Damon glanced over to see Sansa Stark leave, he couldn't help but see the pure joy in her eyes. Realizing the sweet girl was free of his brother, a faint smile of his own finally broke through.
"Not that I'm complaining, but why are we here?"
"It's fishing, Tyrek. We're here to catch fish."
He didn't have to look at his cousin to see the unimpressed look on his face. "I know why we're here, Damon, but why are we here?"
The heir to the Iron Throne turned from where he sat at the edge of the small, secluded cove beneath the walls of the Red Keep, fishing line in hand. "You'll have to put that in Westerosi."
Tyrek Lannister, Lord of Hayford and the Prince's closest friend, cocked an eye at him, re-baiting the hook of his own line. "You hate fishing."
"I don't hate fishing."
"Yes you do. You said that very thing dozens of time on campaign. Don't make me fetch Bella; she'll back my statement and you know it."
Damon narrowed his eyes at the younger knight, trying to find an answer for several moments before eventually giving up and looking back to his line. "Okay, so it isn't my favorite pastime. But we're here now, so shut up and fish. Besides, you don't even know where Bella is."
This time Damon's glare was genuine. "How the hells do you know that?"
Tyrek shrugged, trying and failing to keep the smile off his face. "Oh, I have my ways."
"You saw her didn't you."
"She's my friend too, Your Grace, and you always spoke so highly of Chataya's."
Damon looked back to the cove, bronze face flushing red in embarrassment. "I never did any such thing."
"Perhaps not in so many words, but anyone who spends any lengthy amount of time with you learns to hear more from what you don't say than from what little you do." Tyrek hesitated. "I didn't see her in that sense, so you're aware; I just bumped into her on my way back with one of the others."
Damon couldn't help but chuckle at that despite his early embarrassment. "It wouldn't have mattered if you did, Tyrek. It's her occupation."
"I know you actually mean that, but still...I didn't."
The two men—one six and ten, the other half a year younger, but both already bloodied knights—returned to the fishing. Tyrek wasn't wrong; Damon hated fishing. Some men found it relaxing but the Prince just found it tedious and unsatisfying. You spent hours staring at water and a small line, and oftentimes you didn't return with anything but an aching back and half-blinded eyes. There were thousands of things the Prince preferred to do, or at least used to. Training, reading, women...even hunting, which he hadn't been since well before his father died, would have been preferable.
But there was a problem with all of those things. Before, when life at the Red Keep had been the only thing the Prince really knew, he could be content with just those things. Damon loved well-written books and trained for both enjoyment and the need to always improve his skills, and there was nothing he liked more than a woman, but all had lost a hint of their appeal since his return from the field. Well, the last bit hasn't, but I can only spend so much time in Chataya's without raising suspicion, and Jocelyn Swyft left to visit her mother's family on the Claw two days past. All of these happenings added up to one undeniable, awful truth.
Damon Baratheon was bored. Horribly, horribly bored, and he'd only been in King's Landing for little more than a fortnight.
He missed the warfront.
He found that an interesting thought, one that didn't make sense on the outside but had the undeniable ring of truth to it when he admitted it to himself. Damon was not, in his own opinion, of the same vicious nature as his twin. The Prince got no enjoyment in taking lives, though by the Battle of the Blackwater he was so well versed in it that it hardly crossed his mind anymore and certainly not his conscience. He still found the war to be based upon stupidity and foolish pride, as well as the reprehensible greed and envy of his Baratheon uncles. All of it could and should have been avoided, and Damon never let himself forget that if he had only been stronger and not so bloody awkward he might have been able to do just that.
But despite all of that, and despite wishing he had had the strength to avoid the conflict they were now engaged in, Damon couldn't deny he was glad for it. The Prince could feel the differences in himself, both physical and mental. He was stronger now than he had ever been in his life in both senses, and while he still hated beyond hate talking to those he didn't truly know and still found himself second-guessing his words and actions in personal settings, he knew he wasn't the same weak, scared boy he had been moons ago.
He still didn't like talking but he was certainly better at it than he had been, and while he always felt like an idiot after speaking in private with others he found himself doing it more and more. His time in command of the force at Harroway had strengthened his ability to give orders—command had more of the expected structure he relied on anyway, and had gone from being very, very hard to merely difficult—and Bella and Tyrek had broken into his confidence in two vastly different but effective ways. He trusted them both almost implicitly, though the only person he trusted absolutely was his uncle Jaime.
If it wasn't for the absence of the man he idolized, life at war was almost perfect.
Camp life was boring as well, horribly so, but it was a different kind of boring than the boring Damon faced now. On the front there was always the underlying current of life or death—you never knew when an arrow from the woods would find your heart, or screaming knights and levies would burst through your camp with fire and sword. Training while surrounded by the tents and fortifications of war had a different feel than training while surrounded by high, safe walls. Even lying with a woman was different, more exotic and exciting in odd but wonderful ways.
And then there was battle.
Again, Damon didn't believe himself bloodthirsty, but something about battle called to the Prince. The combination of terror, fear and even joy came together to almost nothing, in a way Damon couldn't describe. He felt nothing at all on the field, nothing but drive and will to kill those trying to kill him, yet at the same time he felt every emotion he had ever known and the undeniable, fierce pull of life itself. He hated it yet loved it, wished it were at an end yet craved for more. And he desperately wished he were at the front now.
If it were up to Damon he would be, but upon his return to King's Landing, however heroic it had been, that decision had left his hands. He had escaped to join the fight the first time because his mother hadn't been expecting him to do so, but now she was both expectant and prepared. Damon looked away from his line—the damn thing hadn't been touched by a fish all day anyway—and glanced over his shoulder thirty or so yards behind himself and Tyrek. Ser Balon Swann, newly appointed to the Kingsguard after the death of Ser Preston Greenfield during the bread riots Damon had thankfully missed while on campaign, stood in his white armor, keeping an eye on the Prince. It was ostensibly for protection, and that had a layer of truth he supposed, but Balon, Damon and Tyrek all three knew he was also there to make sure the Prince didn't make a second run for the front. Everywhere the Prince went one of the Kingsguard accompanied him, even if it was within the walls of the Red Keep.
It was vexing. Both because he had had to admit his unprincely activities on the Street of Silk to Ser Balon and swear the man to silence, but also because if it weren't for his mother's precautions Damon would have done just what she was trying to prevent him from doing. At least she openly admits it. I respect her for that even if I'd like to throttle her throat.
So here the Prince sat, fishing in a protected cove while over three quarters of the army he had served with were marching back to the Westerlands to drive Robb Stark and his raiding Northmen out. Damon was secretly shocked his grandfather hadn't permitted Damon to go and thusly overruled Cersei, but for reasons of his won Tywin had not. The deep, unpleasant side of Damon that he kept well hidden even from himself whispered that the old/new Hand of the King was worried the second son of Robert would grow too popular through more exploits on the battlefield, causing potential strife in Joffrey's rule. Damon's ugly side said it would, but his true self despised the thought. Joffrey may be cruel and unfit, but he was the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms. Damon neither deserved nor wanted the crown.
Yet, as he pulled his line in and realized the bait had been stolen while his mind was elsewhere, he would almost take the responsibilities of being King if it meant he had bloody something to do. Something other than fishing, that is.
"Where is the King?"
"Your brother is holding court."
Damon turned his head to look at his mother's sharp profile, a touch of anger in both his eyes and voice. "His future Queen is entering his city, and you're telling me he is 'holding court'?"
Cersei looked first at him, then glanced around them pointedly. Damon knew what she was getting at, but he didn't agree with her concerns. He and his mother stood at the head of a royal procession, the street leading from the River Gate already cleared behind them by rows of Lannister men-at-arms and goldcloaks. The only people in feasible earshot were Ser Loras and Ser Borros Blount, and Damon had spoken quietly enough that neither could have heard him. And Tommen, who stood beside Damon with his elder brother's hand resting on his shoulder, but the boy was too focused on the array of knights and soldiers to take notice of what his mother and brother were saying. "Don't give me that, mother. You and I both know grandfather is the one holding court; Joffrey has no need to be there beside saving face, and anyone with eyes knows better anyway."
The Queen finally focused her full attention on him, eyes both angry and astonished. Damon reflected both emotions in his own; anger at Joffrey for not being here to meet his to-be-bride, and astonishment at himself for speaking so rashly to his mother. Her voice was sharp when she spoke, though she managed to keep it as low as his. "I will hear no such talk, Damon. He is your rightful king."
His anger rose again at that, but so did his chagrin. The second helped temper the first. "Aye, he is my king, but Margaery is soon to be my queen. More importantly, she is going to be his. Why is he not here to greet her?"
"I told you."
"You told me the diplomatic answer. Now tell me the truth. Please." He added the last on barely in time, chiding himself again for the sharpness of his tone. Cersei's eyes narrowed, but Damon knew his mother wasn't overly angry at him. She'd expressed joy in his shift from meek to merely shy, and while the Lioness would not appreciate backtalk from her son she would be glad he was building courage to do so.
At least Damon told himself that was her thought process. It was possible she was just plain pissed at his insolence, in which case he was in for a few very unpleasant verbal lashings once back at the Keep.
Cersei held his gaze for a long moment, emerald on emerald, before returning her eyes to the gates that would soon admit the Tyrell procession. She didn't speak for a moment so long that Damon thought she had resolved to ignore him before her voice came out even lower than it had before. "Margaery must be made to come to her King. All the way."
"She's already crossed hundreds of miles."
His mother ignored that. "All the way to her King, wherever it is he decides to be. The Tyrells are already far to comfortable with their new power at court. Loras in the Kingsguard, Mace on the Small Council alongside several of his chief bannermen...they are showing too much power. The populace need to see the Lannister's are in charge, not the Tyrells."
Damon almost corrected her, what with the Baratheons being in charge, then realized she was right. Tywin, her, Tyrion...the Lannisters ran the Kingdoms no matter what house Joffrey belonged to. Still, Damon nearly scoffed at the fact that Margaery hadn't even stepped inside the gates of King's Landing before she and her family were engulfed in the politics that dominated the city. But that is the nature of power I suppose. Those who have it strive to keep it and show they're keeping it, while those who get a taste always want more.
Even if he found the excuse ridiculous and noted the machinations of Tywin and his mother all over it, he couldn't deny some truth behind the thought process. The Tyrell name, or more precisely Margaery Tyrell's name, was already on every peasant's tongue in the city. Almost from the moment the union between Joffrey and Margaery had been announced wagonloads of food had been arriving in the city, distributed to the poor and lowly who so recently had been so hungry they had started riots over a few crumbs of bread. Each wagon was delivered 'as a gift from Lady Margaery', given in her name and thusly endearing the girl from Highgarden to the smallfolk.
It was a brilliant move, Damon had to admit, and very, very effective. Still, Damon couldn't help but point out that the Tyrell's had originally sided with Renly, and thusly the reasons for the starvation in Joffrey-held King's Landing was mostly on them in the first place. The fertile, extensive Reach produced nearly half of the food in all of Westeros, and shipments from there had been vital to the towering population of King's Landing since the moment the city had been built. If they hadn't originally sided with his uncle in an attempt to make Margaery queen there would have been no starvation in the first place.
Not that that would ever cross the mind of the smallfolk. As Bella had taught him, all they cared about were warm places to sleep, healthy children, and enough food to feed them, and would swear their eternal loyalty to whatever ruler gave them those three things. And, at the moment, that ruler was very clearly Margaery Tyrell, although she had no true ruling title in the city beyond the King's betrothed.
Despite all of this Damon still found Joffrey's absence absurd, but because of it he let the matter lie and joined his mother in looking toward the River Gate. There was also another reason for his anger he knew, beyond what he allowed himself to admit. If Joffrey were here, he probably wouldn't have to be, and even if he were he'd have a minor, unimportant role. But without his royal twin here, it fell to Damon and Tommen to help his mother make the Tyrell procession welcome. So, Damon.
He missed Myrcella fiercely. His sister would be near unrecognizable by the time he saw her again he knew, for Tommen had been so different when Damon returned to the Keep that he had hardly recognized him. But Myrcella was in Dorne, sent there by Tyrion to protect her from Stannis and the Starks. Damon was glad the dwarf had recovered, but he was angry all the same for taking his reunion with Myrcella away from him. He'd hoped she would have accompanied the Dornish party that arrived a few days ago with Oberyn Martell, but she had not.
She would have loved this moment. What's more, she would have done well in it. Damon wouldn't. His stomach was about to chew a hole through abdomen with dread already, and the Tyrell's weren't even at the gates yet.
When the first banners of golden rose on green field did file through the gate, led by an honor guard of Reachman knights in colorful, expensive armor, Damon straightened. He was dressed in Baratheon black and gold, newly made clothes; both he and Tyrek had found the wardrobes they had left behind too small for the bulkier, taller forms they had returned with. His lion-pommeled sword, it's sheath crimson and gold, hung at his side, the only comfortable thing he was wearing. Damon missed his armor nearly as much as the warfront, despite it too pinching places he didn't want pinched. His head and face were bare, showing golden locks cut short and golden skin darkened by days training under the sun.
I hope I make a glorious sight, for the Seven know I'm about to make some pitiful sounds.
The Tyrell procession of knights and men-at-arms formed two columns on either side of the street, much as the Lannister forces and goldcloaks were doing behind Damon and the rest of the royal party. More wagons of food proceeded them, and Damon heard the steady cry of the smallfolk—they had been lining the streets since early morning to see the girl they already adored—rise in volume and intensity at the sight. Damon chuckled quietly to himself at the move, quietly applauding the Tyrell's for never letting the peasants forget what they were doing for them.
"Is that Lady Margaery's carriage?" Tommen pointed a chubby hand at a brilliant, white and green contraption coming through the gates to rapturous applause. He noted, for the thousandth time, that Tommen's hadn wasn't nearly as chubby as it used to be-his younger brother was growing up already, much quicker than Damon had.
He nodded, ruffling Tommen's hair. "Indeed it is." He smiled down at the younger Baratheon even as the fear in his gut grew, knowing he was about to be forced to carry out the sort of duty he abhorred.
The first woman to exit the carriage after it pulled even with the royal party was not at all Margaery, the reputed beauty of the entire south. She was old, wrinkled, and small, with some sort of...hat?...covering her ears and forehead. But when she set foot on the ground, assisted by two very, very tall guardsmen, and laid her eyes on Damon, he knew two things right away.
First, this was Olenna Redwyne Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns. Second, he was absolutely no match for her.
In classic Damon style, he proved that quickly.
Cersei stepped forward, and only years of practiced protocol made Damon follow, hand lightly urging Tommen to come along. "Lady Olenna," their mother said, "welcome to King's Landing."
Olenna hardly even acknowledged Cersei, eyes not leaving Damon. "You're a fair bit more handsome than I had heard, King Joffrey, but you look like a scared child. Come now, I am old but not poisonous."
Damon froze for a moment, stumbling over the few words he could bring forth. "Lady Tyrell, I'm not...I mean."
Her shrewd eyes dropped to his sword, then lightened with understanding. "Ah, you're the younger twin, the swordsman my grandsons wrote of. Damon, was it? Garlan told me they call you the Daring. I don't see how a man who can hardly speak to a harmless old woman could have such a nickname."
Damon was scrambling for something—anything—to say when another voice cut in. "Come now, grandmother; do not be so rude to my future goodbrother."
The Prince, thankful for the rescue he so badly needed, looked to the new voice, and felt blood rush places it didn't need to.
They were right. Margaery Tyrell is beautiful.
Deep brown eyes, full of mirth, looked up into his emerald ones. A pretty smile adorned a prettier face, flanked by cascading dark brown hair. Damon nearly gave her a once over, but years of fighting public impropriety—and those eyes—kept him from it. He didn't have to look her over to see her slender yet womanly figure in a dress of dark Tyrell green. Damon had seen many pretty women in his days, both clothed and unclothed, but he knew without doubt that today he had seen the fairest of them all.
And she is going to be my goodsister. How wonderful.
Tommen, sweet Tommen, saved him. His younger brother stepped forward, bowing slightly to Margaery and smiling at her shyly. "Welcome, Lady Margaery."
Those brown eyes left Damon after a moment longer to return Tommen's greeting with glee, and Damon felt the trance break. He bowed his own. "Indeed, welcome."
Olenna spoke again. "At least the youngest has some sense of propiety to him. I daresay the middle is only good at swinging his swords."
He felt a spike of deep embarrassment and slight irritation at the statement, although he knew Olenna Tyrell had him pegged correctly. A strong voice came out of nowhere, however, surprising himself, Olenna and Cersei all three. "I'm good at more than swinging my swords, Lady Tyrell, but it is what I do best. I leave the diplomacy to the King, who eagerly awaits you and the Lady Margaery at the Red Keep."
Cersei barely kept her shock off of her face. Olenna raised an eyebrow. Damon openly gaped at his own clearly delivered statement.
"See, grandmother," Margaery chimed in with a laugh, causing Damon to look back at her. It was far to easy to look at her. "You need only give him a chance."
Damon tried to find something clever to say, but his mind had gone blank again as it always did and the discomfort he had lived with all his life returned to his stomach. He gaped like a fish under her gaze for a moment before he merely inclined his head, Queen Cersei stepping in for a second rescue and taking over the rest of the greetings.
Several other Reach women had filed out of the carriage, each of them prettier than the last. Several men of standing introduced themselves, Damon shaking hands with several. All the while the smallfolk cried for Lady Margaery, who smiled and waved to their delight as Damon tried not to look at her.
Damon followed the protocol decently well once the effect of seeing Margaery and being lashed by Olenna's wit had worn off, but he was never more thankful than when the short greeting was over and the Tyrell's returned to their carriage. Cersei and his brother returned to their own and Damon to the black palfrey he had ridden, taken a position at the head of the procession alongside Sers Loras, Balon, Garlan and Ser Thaddeus Leygood, who had commanded the Tyrell party from Highgarden to here. The Golden Prince led the procession through streets of euphoric smallfolk, hearing them cry 'Margaery, Margaery' over and over.
Damon was thinking it to, mostly for reasons it was shameful to admit but he was forcing himself to come to terms with, but also in worry. He didn't like the idea of so lovely a creature falling into the hands of his brother, and then didn't like the idea that he didn't like the idea. He knew nothing of Margaery beyond her being physically attractive, even if it was enough so to temporarily stun him. She could well be as bad as his brother, or worse, although worse than Joffrey was hard to imagine. She had been married to his uncle Renly after all, consummated or not, and was only coming to Joffrey now that her previous bid for a crown was gone. He knew nothing, and certainly couldn't judge her character on her pretty face.
That's what he told himself, over and over and over.
By the time the procession reached the Red Keep, Damon realized his past with women, where he had allowed himself to pursue every unattached one he took a fancy to, was going to cause him no small amount of trouble. He may not have been proud of it, but he had felt no worry that it would ever come back to haunt him when it came to women he couldn't have.
He was wrong.
But surely, despite that past, Damon, who was nervous and awkward and had thusly become hesitant to trust anyone or anything, wouldn't find himself wanting to trust a woman based solely on her looks, would he? He was fully aware of how stupid a woman could make a man, seeing it in himself time and time again. Damon at least knew the weakness for women was there, and that meant he could control it couldn't he? He had always told himself he would not be a slave to a pretty face no matter there standing or lack thereof.
He'd been wrong about that too, apparently, for if he wasn't careful that is exactly what he was going to become to Margaery Tyrell.
He was going to spend the foreseeable future swimming in some very dangerous waters.
Heads up, double update today! Make sure you read chapter 14 before 15, as both were uploaded about ten minutes apart. Thanks y'all!
The Prince looked as if he were about to burst into a regal dance.
Not on a ballroom floor of course; she had only had limited interactions with the middle of the Baratheon brothers, but that had been enough to show her he probably hated dancing. Dancing was a social function, and while the steps were normally set in stone the expected flirtatious conversation was not. Damon the Daring may be just that, a daring warrior, but wit was not his strong suit.
Grandmother calls him a simpleton, but I don't believe that to be the case. Neither does Grandmother, not really.
While wit may not be Damon's strong suit, it was certainly Margaery's, and she had used it in her fortnight in the capitol to learn all she could. What rumors and opinions she hadn't uncovered her grandmother had, and they seemed to agree with one another. Damon wasn't stupid, but he wasn't the sort to dazzle with intelligence either. A good warrior, but not one to inspire the men he led. Deadly, but awkward.
It was an odd combination to be sure, though an accurate one. He had proven his awkwardness weeks ago in the streets of King's Landing, and he was proving his deadliness now.
The Prince of Dragonstone was crouching, blade poised and ready and shield raised. Three men were spread out in front of him, their own sparring swords and shields poised, looking for weaknesses. All three were Reachmen, coming to King's Landing alongside their future Queen. Damon seemed to only fight Reachmen; she hadn't needed rumors to learn that most men and boys who lived in the Red Keep avoided sparring with the Prince whenever possible, save for the man named Tyrek, who by accounts seemed to be the Prince's only friend. Even now, most others in the sparring yard had stopped their own training or mock duels to watch, the Lannister knight among them.
Eliot Rowan, youngest son of Lord Mathis and still a squire of seven and ten, moved first. Smally built and very quick, he darted towards the Prince's right, jabbing his sparring sword forward in a quick jab. His two compatriots—the Redwyne twins, who in fairness weren't much older than Eliot—tried to press the advantage of their numbers, moving in near perfect unison on the Prince's front and left.
Damon held that dancer's pose so long Margaery thought he meant to take the blows before he darted into action. He knocked away Eliot's blade so strongly it nearly knocked the sword from the squire's hand. At the same time he swung his shield, interrupting both of the Redwyne strikes before they could straighten out, catching them on his shield. With a shove he knocked both blades back, swinging his own blade in. Hobber, the Redwyne in the middle, had already been raising his shield to catch the blow he expected to come.
It didn't land where he thought it would, however; Damon' shifted the blow in midair to counter, quicker than Hobber could. His blade struck the side of the Redwyne's knee, bucking it and dropping his opponent. In one well-practiced move Damon landed a lighter blow on Hobber's shoulder—if it had been a hard blow when at war, the Redwyne would be red from blood—and then swung overhand towards Horas almost as soon as it landed. The second Redwyne gave a couple steps of ground, Damon turning to face him and forcing him back several more with a flurry of strikes.
But Eliot returned to the fray, driving for the Prince's back. He swung, Margaery certain he would land a blow on the Prince, but Damon was suddenly swinging his shield back as he twisted his body, blocking Eliot's strike with his shield while at the same time knocking Horas' away with his sword. Damon took a quick few steps back, gathering himself. Horas followed, but Eliot didn't, leaving the elder Redwyne twin to face Damon alone. A flurry of blows were all it took before Horas had yielded, and then it took all of no time for the squire to follow.
All told Margaery figured it only took half a minute; she'd barely had time to stop walking to watch before the sparring session was over.
"He took the idea from Garlan," came the voice of Loras behind her. Margaery turned to glance at her brother, splendid looking in his new white armor of the Kingsguard. Lean and fair, her brother was an attractive figure, one many said looked like the male version of Margaery and she the female version of him. She herself didn't see it save for their deep brown hair and eyes, but then Margaery figured she probably wouldn't.
Although, if I truly did look like Loras, one would think Renly would have been more willing. Or willing at all, for that matter.
But that was the past, and Margaery was making a point of focusing on the future. That future was Joffrey, even if the rumors she heard of her future husband were less than inspiring. That didn't matter in the slightest; Margaery was fully aware life wasn't like the stories of her childhood claimed, and she would suffer any manner of hardship if it meant she and her son after her sat the Throne.
"Took what idea?" Margaery hooked her arm through Loras' as she and her party began forward again. Ever since her arrival in the city as the future Queen a Kingsguard had been assigned 'for her protection', whether she liked it or not. The Rose of Highgarden didn't care for it in the slightest, though when it was Loras like today it wasn't as off putting as normal. But having a man in white armor always hanging about would never be completely welcome.
But I'll gladly grow accustomed to it as Queen. Margaery liked few things as much as she liked that title.
Her party began forward again, comprised mainly of her ladies-in-waiting and a few of the other noble women from the court. Several of her cousins, chief among them Megga and Elinor of lesser Tyrell branches, were giggling down at the courtyard and the men training there, likely ogling this one or that one. In the past Margaery would have done the same with carefree flirtatiousness, but now she knew better than to show any more interest than she already had. A good wife paid attention to only her husband, and while Margaery wasn't married as of yet, she needed to get in the habit.
Although it would be entirely too easy to look at Damon, who Margaery knew was receiving most of the attention in his black tunic that hardly fit his chest and arms. It was a shame Joffrey and his twin weren't identical in that regard.
"Training against more than one opponent. Garlan says it better prepares you for battle."
"And does it?"
Loras nodded softly, mind clearly flashing back to the Blackwater. Margaery and her brother shared almost everything, neither one out of the confidence of the other, but they hadn't spoken of the battle. She had been raised to be the perfect wife and lady of a castle (or Queen of a realm), and thusly hadn't been taught much of war or its intricacies. However, her grandmother had mentioned that those who saw battle were changed by it in ways those who hadn't couldn't hope to understand. Margaery heard a kernel of that truth in the odd tone to Loras' reply. "Yes, it does."
Normal Loras returned in force a moment later, when he glanced dismissively down at the courtyard and his voice became haughty. "Though training with those three isn't going to help anyone. Horas and Hobber? You could beat them. Handily."
Margaery giggled softly. "They say he is an excellent swordsman."
Loras shrugged stiffly. "I suppose so."
She nudged her brother lightly. "The famous Knight of Flowers isn't jealous, is he?"
The Kingsguard snorted. "I think not."
I think so, but I won't tease you about it. "And what of the King?"
Loras shook his head dismissively, then lowered his voice. As a Kingsguard he owed his loyalty to the King above all else, but that was only in theory. Loras' true allegiance was, as it always would be, to the interest of House Tyrell. And in this instance and most instances moving forward, that meant to her. "I don't know what he is, but a warrior he isn't."
Those were dangerous words, but on this open terrace above the training courtyard they were safer than most other places. The constant chatter of the other women with them kept their words from carrying overly far, and Loras was smart enough to keep his voice low enough to avoid reaching to the others. It was a precaution all of the inner circle of Tyrells had taken since the king had accepted the betrothal arraignment; they operated as if someone was listening at all times, since someone might well be.
"They say he left the walls while you and his brother were storming them."
"So they do."
So Joffrey, the first of his name, wasn't a hero. That didn't matter to Margaery, not at the base of it. Every maiden wanted a hero and Margaery was no different, but she would learn to live without one. Besides, heroes quite often got themselves killed in the prime of their lives, and Margaery needed Joffrey to live long enough to help her make a future King, the way Renly had not.
Renly was heroic, and Renly was dead.
It was a shame, that. She very well could have loved Renly Baratheon in time, no matter his taste for her brother. Joffrey, though, she doubted she ever would love.
"It doesn't matter," she said aloud.
Loras looked down at her. "What doesn't?"
"Any of it."
She told herself that often. In time it would prove true.
Baratheon family dinners had always been awkward at best, depressing at worst.
The addition of the Tyrells to this particular one hadn't helped much, at least not for Damon.
Joffrey sat at the head of the long, mahogany dining table, as was his right as King. Cersei, as Dowager Queen, sat to her eldest son's right. Margaery, as the future queen, sat to his left. Damon was very, very glad he wasn't between the two women. He didn't need to be Cersei's son to know she disliked Margaery, mostly because the Tyrell girls rise in power coincided with the Lioness' dip in it.
Not that Margaery showed any knowledge of her future goodmother's distaste. She had to know, but she was horribly pleasant to all of the Baratheon family, and the Lannister's as well. Damon wished that wasn't the case; it'd be easier to dislike her if she wasn't.
He was trying so desperately hard to hate her; the Prince assumed it would be impossible to be attracted to someone he hated. As it was she had proven to be nothing but witty and kind beneath her attractive exterior, much to his dismay. Damon knew it could be an act-part of his difficulties with people was he never knew when anyone was being sincere-but that didn't seem to make a difference. She was sweet with Tommen, kind to him in the few times he hadn't managed to avoid contact with her, and nothing but respectful and courteous with everyone else.
So, in summary, Damon was failing miserably at not liking her.
Now, more than ever, he wished he was back on the warfront. There were no beautiful maidens betrothed to his brother there, and never a lack of things to do.
He sat to his mother's right, Tommen his own. Lord Mace sat beside his daughter and across from Damon, followed on that side by Garlan and Olenna. Tywin, as Hand of the King and grandfather to the king, was next to Tommen and across from the Queen of Thorns, while Sers Balon Swann and Meryn Trant stood guard by the two entrances to the room. Tyrion was absent, as was his norm-Damon wasn't certain just where his uncle went, but considering the coolness with which both Cersei and Tywin treated the dwarf, Damon couldn't blame him.
At the very least, the addition of Mace Tyrell made certain the dinner wasn't quiet. The overweight, rambling Lord of the Reach kept a near constant stream of conversation through courses of boar, barley bread, blood melon, blueberry tarts and the rest. Damon found the talk borderline annoying, but that was normal for the Prince and he didn't know if Tyrell's blabbering was socially unacceptable. Judging by the looks Damon's family-and even Mace's own-periodically gave the Lord of the Reach, he was guessing it wasn't.
But Joffrey was nearly as talkative, regaling his bride to be with tales of their childhood and his past. Damon found the stories sickening to listen to, especially considering he knew the truth behind the tales. Occasionally they were complete falsehoods, making Joffrey sound like he wasn't a complete monster. Others were true but altered to make him sound better or, from time to time, Damon worse. It'd been like that ever since he had returned to King's Landing and his foolish show in the throne room. Joffrey had clearly heard something about his brother's actions on the battlefield, and he liked none of it.
Damon held his silence, mainly because there was nothing he could do. Calling his brother out as a liar in front of all those present would only create trouble, and in a war of words Damon knew Joff would win. The second son now had no doubt he could thoroughly embarrass the first with a blade or with fists, but attacking the king with live steel wouldn't exactly be any better than calling him a liar, and Joffrey had learned years ago to not spar with his twin. So Damon sat, and endured, and tried not to look at Margaery.
Tommen, too young to truly understand the underlying circumstances but old enough to know half of what Joffrey was saying was false, began to protest, but Damon hurriedly ruffled his hair and spoke over him. The Lord of Dragonstone could handle his brother's abuses and had done so for all of their respective lives; Tommen was still a child, and Damon wasn't about to let the youngest of the three Baratheon brothers draw the ire of the eldest.
Only once did Damon truly focus on the conversation, and that was when Lord Mace asked Tywin about the state of the war. "Stark has pushed his way into the Westerlands," his grandfather said. "How he slipped past the Golden Tooth without ever being seen is unknown to us, but he managed to assault my cousin Stafford at Oxcross. Our armies under Lord Damon Marbrand and his son Addam are pushing after him to root him out, while your own armies under Tarly are focusing on the Riverlands."
Ser Garlan, who seemed to share Damon's zest for martial pursuits, chimed in. "How many Riverlords still fight by his side?"
"The Freys, Mallisters and Blackwoods are his chief allies. Others support him, but most of the families of the Lords we hold hostage are withholding support. Bracken, Darry, Vypren, Cox, those ilk. Our capture of those lords, and more importantly of Edmure Tully, can't be understated." Tywin looked directly at Joffrey. "Prince Damon's actions have proven vital, on that front and others."
The prince was as shocked as the king was infuriated, though both Baratheons managed to keep their reactions hidden. Did Lord Tywin just...defend me?
The stories belittling Damon abruptly stopped.
The conversation was quickly resumed, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms making observations, the Queen of Thorns making barbs, the Lord of the Reach making japes. The Prince of Dragonstone, for his part, had almost made it through the night without making a fool of himself when tragedy struck.
He had been absently reaching for one of the sweetroll on the table before him, still pondering his grandfather's subtle defense of him. So distracted was the Prince that he didn't register another hand was doing the same, and before he knew what was happening the rough callouses of his hands were touching soft skin.
Damon froze as a shock stronger than a Clegane reverberated up his arm and through his body, focusing intently on one area in particular. His emerald eyes shot up to lock on Margaery's brown ones, his jaw dropping slightly from the ferocity of his reaction. For the first time since meeting her, Damon saw the Rose of Highgarden was flustered, cheeks reddening and eyes returning the shock.
Neither of them moved their hands for a solid three seconds.
Damon gathered his senses first, jerking his hand back as if the plate of sweetrolls were a Dornish viper coiled to strike. He stumbled over his words, still shaken by the intensity of the incidental contact and his reaction to it. "My...uh...sorry, my lady."
Margaery's face recovered its serene, pleasant look at once, her disarming smile rising as she took a roll from the plate. "Think nothing of it." But the blush was still there, and Damon swore her hands shook slightly.
He glanced to the side and saw Cersei looking at him with an eyebrow raised. He looked a little to the right and saw Joffrey staring back.
The King had seen the accidental touch. And judging by the loathing in his eyes, he had seen the reactions as well.
Well, Damon thought as he made a point of staring at the half-eaten honeyed chicken on his plate. Fuck.
His mother answered nearly before the first knock ended. Her chamber door swung open, the Queen stepping aside and gesturing her second son in with merely a glance.
Damon entered, not meeting her eyes and heading straight for the wine he knew would be on the table. "I know what you're going to ask. I don't have an answer."
Cersei's tone held neither condemnation nor interest; it was quiet, blunt and emotionless. Damon knew the tone well, well enough to know it never meant anything good for him when the Queen used it. "That was the quite the display."
Damon saw no point in denying what had been made abundantly clear. "I was momentarily surprised by the contact. My reaction may have been a touch overdramatic."
The Queen took the glass of wine her son extended towards her, face remaining a stone mask save for the slight arch she gave her eyebrow. "Mere surprise made you stop breathing?"
He flushed as red as the wine in his mother's glass. "I might find the Lady Margaery...appealing. Physically."
The Queen sipped her wine, gesturing for Damon to sit in one of the wooden chairs besides the table the pitcher of wine sat upon. She took the other. "Physically appealing. A poet's words." Damon winced; Cersei had never made light of his difficulties in expressing himself to others before. She must be very disappointed in him. "Your brother saw the effects this...physical appealment had, on both you and the Tyrell girl."
Damon grunted, looking down at the mahogany table and scratching at an invisible blemish. "I know." Oh, did Damon know. He'd kept his eyes on his plate and his hands safely in his lap for the remainder of the meal, then gone to the training yard to work out the tension the very moment the table had been dismissed by an inwardly seething King Joffrey. It had made him go a bit too hard on Tyrek; one blow from a dulled sword had near broken his cousin's shoulder, and Damon realized it would take a different kind of distraction to settle himself down. He'd never made better time to Chataya's.
The Golden Stag didn't let himself ponder even a moment on Margaery's reaction; if he did, he'd probably let his cock lead his head to the block. Still, a very loud portion of his mind wouldn't let him forget the equally shocked look in his future goodsister's eyes and all the possible implications of that. Some were harmless, others mild, but a choice few made both his heads ache for vastly different reasons.
The Queen spoke again, oblivious to his inner thoughts. "Then you know he's going to be upset."
Upset? More like homicidal. Or fratricidal anyway. I wonder if the Seven hold killing a twin as a greater crime than killing a mere sibling, not that Joffrey will care either way.
"I wasn't expecting him to laugh and say 'have fun', mother."
Cersei finally showed an expression, and it was one of anger and disapproval. "This is no japing matter, Damon."
It certainly wasn't, and Damon bowed his head in deference. "You are right, and I apologize. It was simply an accidental touch, nothing more. While I realize Joff will likely contemplate murdering me, I'll make a point of avoiding the Lady Margaery for...well, forever I suppose." He raised his head in sudden, barely concealed hope. "That would be much easier if I-"
"No." Cersei glared at him, killing the remainder of her wine and then extending the now empty glass towards him to refill. Damon obliged. "Don't dare mention you returning to the front."
"Mother, I have only caused embarrassment since I have returned. On the warfront-"
"On the warfront you run the risk of dying. Don't give me lines about glory or honor; they will remind me too much of your uncle."
Damon swallowed; the absence of Jaime Lannister was a constant cloud over both his and his mother's lives. "It's not about honor or glory mother. It's about protecting the family from men who spread vicious lies about us in a quest for Joffrey's throne. I am useless to stop them here in the capitol, but with a sword in my hand..."
"With a sword in your hand you're just another knight to be killed by the enemy. No, that is not even true; you're a prince who the enemy will want to kill more than mere knights. You are not going, certainly not for such a reason as your inability to control yourself around a woman." Cersei huffed. "I thought turning a blind eye to your past indiscretions would help you, but now I wonder if it has simply made you a slave to your own desire, just as your father was."
His mother couldn't have stunned him more if she had bludgeoned him over the head with a mace. "You...you know?"
The Queen waved her off hand dismissively. "What, of your affinity for women? Of course I know."
Damon had never been more ashamed or embarrassed in his life. Well, that was probably an exaggeration, but this certainly ranked near the top. "For how long?"
"Since the beginning. Did you truly think me so blind as to not see what my own son was doing?"
"...I thought I was careful."
She shook her head, extending the once-again-empty glass. Damon filled it as bid, embarrassment and chagrin keeping him from meeting eyes as emerald as his own. "If you have been 'careful' all these years, I have made a mockery of your education. There is nothing discreet about a Kingsguard so often near Chataya's brothel, even if he is disguised. And there is certainly nothing discreet about living with a whore while on campaign."
The words were like hammerblows, and Damon slumped deeper into his chair with each one. "I don't know what to say."
"Then say nothing. Not about Margaery Tyrell, not about Chataya's or your brown haird paramour or even Jocelyn Swyft. And never, ever mention the warfront again."
He said nothing for nearly two weeks.
And then, as punishment for his 'indiscretions', the Seven sought to see his downfall.
The inner courtyard where he and his uncle normally sparred was still Damon's favorite place to train, but the lack of a grinning Jaime Lannister swinging a blade at him lessened the appeal. That being the case, he had branched out to the larger training yards since his return to the capitol, taking advantage of the influx of Reachman knights and noblemen and their lack of fear of him. Garlan Tyrell had quickly solidified the already burgeoning respect Damon had for him, and the Daring sparred with the Highgarden knight whenever possible. He'd already learned a great deal from the older warrior, and Garlan the Gallant had been kind enough to work with both Damon and Tyrek.
That last bit was what had really earned Damon's good graces. In their months of training together Tyrek had grown exponentially in skill, so much so that he was more than a match for most men he faced. Due to this rise in skill and Damon and Tyrek's familiarity with each other's fighting styles, the Prince found it took him longer and longer to defeat his cousin. Garlan, however, managed to do so quickly and repeatedly. That in and of itself told Damon all he needed to know.
But while branching out to face the fresh blood in the Red Keep's sparring rings had helped Damon keep the edge on his fighting prowess, it also meant he spent longer out of the social safety of his chambers and the private yard. The Prince was usually good at avoiding people despite this, particularly in the past few days when he had redoubled his efforts to avoid pretty much everyone not in Lannister red or Baratheon gold—unless that person in Lannister red or Baratheon gold was the King, in which case Damon avoided him like the Great Spring Sickness. But today, as the fates would have it, Damon had been less vigilant than usual; he and Tyrek were deep in conversation about the plausibility of using a particularly risky disarming sequence in battle, and whether or not it was more likely to knock your opponent's sword from his hand or help it find your throat. Ser Balon Swann, who Damon found was actually a likeable fellow and a good warrior, had become part of the conversation as well.
As focused as he was on the intricacies of their discussion, Damon let his feet follow their own path towards his chambers. Along the way, however, the traitorous appendages and the boots they were wearing led him directly into a Tyrell party lounging on a terrace, the permanent pavilions covered with sprawling vines of honeysuckle, their sweet scent carried through the air on a slight breeze.
It wasn't just any Tyrell party, however; it was the party of the King's betrothed. And, sitting at one of the scattering of tables, the recent focus of Damon's dreams and nightmares sat watching him.
He stopped dead, his two companions slowing to their own confused halts. Margaery was dressed in a gown of bright blue, the neckline modest but enough to draw Damon's eye, her hair loose and flowing over her shoulders. A silver necklace, ending in a sapphire the same color as her gown, clung tightly to the skin of her throat. She held a piece of silk in her hands, working it into a piece of cloth meant to be a...well, Damon didn't know what the hell it was supposed to be. Truth be told her hardly saw it, so engrossed was he in the woman holding it.
He regained his senses much quicker this time than he had the night of the disastrous dinner, which Damon had yet to attend another of. Forgetting all ideas of politeness or courtesy, Damon ripped his gaze from his brother's betrothed and turned smoothly on his heel, starting back in the opposite direction with hardly a second passed since his halt. He knew it was a mild insult, not even acknowledging Margaery when they had met gazes. Damon told himself that was probably a good thing, and despite his physical need to turn back around and stare at her he made it a full step back the way he had came.
The musical voice stopped him as cold as it's owner's gaze and touch had. Why. Why did she have to call.
Damon contemplated running for a full two seconds before he swallowed, straightened, and turned back around. He found her gaze waiting right where he'd left it, this time joined by most of the fifteen or twenty bodies with her. Damon, somehow remembering his courtesies, bowed slightly, low enough to acknowledge he was speaking to a lady of high nobility but shallow enough to remind those observing that his own noble blood was higher still. Tyrek bowed a bit lower, as did Ser Balon Swann. "Lady Margaery," Damon returned. "We were just passing."
Damon started forward again, intent on walking so fast past them that Tyrek and Balon would have to sprint to keep up, but alas his future goodsister had other plans. "Nonsense, it is a lovely afternoon. You must join us."
A chorus of agreements rung out from those around her, chiefly her handmaidens. Damon's mind rushed for a plausible excuse, but as it so often did in public-and in particular around the Rose of Highgarden-it failed to provide anything useful. But the Seven, despite this ensnarement they had set for him to punish him for past sins, came to his rescue; the warm breeze blew again, and the cold sensation of it blowing against his sweat soaked shirt gave Damon an idea. "We are much too unpresentable. My apologies."
There, an excellent excuse. It also happened to be true; both Damon and Tyrek were dressed in simple breeches and tunics that had fit them a year ago, the shirts soaked through. Cersei had always complained of Damon's tendency to walk to and from training looking 'like half a peasant', but the Prince didn't see and had never seen a point in ruining the best of his wardrobe with sweat and blood. He may be a Prince and thusly not lack for gold, but the practical portion of his mind simple wouldn't allow him too. He allowed himself a moment of self adulation, as the practice was helping him save his own hide.
Or so he thought.
The Prince hadn't even managed to start moving again before Margaery spoke once more. "Oh, don't concern yourself with such things. All of us here know you were simply better readying yourself to defend the crown, and will not hold the results of that against you." The same chorus of agreements came from those in her party, as did a few giggles from those seated closest to her.
Damn. Damon's mind scrambled some more, and this time threw something of it's own accord at him. He gestured towards the silk and cloth in her hands. "We're not very good seamstresses."
The Tyrell party laughed to a man, and Damon only then realized they thought he'd made a jape. He tried to smile a charming smile, to make them think he'd actually done it on purpose.
Margaery shook her head. "We won't hold that against you either."She smiled, a devastating smile that nearly buckled Damon's knees. "Please. Sit."
Something in her tone had him moving towards her table before he could convince himself to fuck it and run.
The members of her party-the Redwyne twins, a few Reachman squires and ladies-rose as he stepped underneath the pavilion. Damon, apprehension and excitement striking him in the stomach, waved for them to return to their seats. Margaery and those at her own table did the same, Damon noticing the others seated with her for the first time. Megga and Elinor Tyrell, cousins from lesser branches, were seated near her. Megga was overweight and laughed very, very loudly; Damon imagined she spoke the same. Elinor was willowy and witty, the former fact intriguing Damon in a sinful way and the latter terrifying him in a much more potent one. Alysanne Bulwer, one and ten and the Lady of Blackcrown, was also present, as was Alla Tyrell, another cousin of the same age as Alysanne. Both smiled shyly in an endearing way, but Damon paid them little mind as he approached. All his focus was on the lady they served.
And Sansa Stark, who stood directly to Margaery's right.
The Northerner, taller by a head than the future Queen and with hair so red as to be flames, was every bit as pretty as Margaery Tyrell. She may have been physically prettier, if he was to be honest, though Margaery appealed to the Prince of Dragonstone in a way the Prince didn't understand. She looked much better than she had in her times as Joffrey's betrothed, though the stress of being the sister of a rebellious lord in the court of her brother's enemies was evident in her face. Damon smiled slightly and nodded to her, hoping it came across as friendly to the poor girl. She dropped her eyes from his, though, and Damon imagined his emerald gaze reminded her too much of Joffrey.
"Alysanne, Alla," Margaery said, politely but authoritatively. "Please be dears and give your seats to Prince Damon and Ser Tyrek."
Damon shook his head. "We couldn't take..."
The Rose of Highgarden clearly would have no argument. "Nonsense. You will seat, if it please you." Or if it doesn't, Damon finished mentally.
The two youngest at Margaery's table nodded, scurrying out of the way as Damon and Tyrek-Damon taller than all of them save Sansa by a fair margin, Tyrek as broad as Alla and ALysanne put together-took their vacated chairs. The Prince made a point of sitting at an angle from Margaery's left, next to Megga-it kept Tyrek between him and witty Elinor, while also keeping him from being directly in front of Margaery's gaze.
Not that it mattered. As she sat, the rest at the table doing the same, her brown eyes locked onto his emerald ones. "I must say, Prince Damon, I feel as if you have been avoiding me."
That's because I have been. Ardently. Damon, throat suddenly closing, cleared it before answering. "I...apologize, my lady."
Tyrek, bless his soul, came to his cousin's rescue. "I can tell you from experience, Lady Margaery, that Damon leaves that impression on everyone. If you're not losing to him in the sparring ring, a pastime I suggest all of you avoid, you'll see neither hair nor hide of him." Tyrek smiled charmingly, eliciting a giggle from Elinor and Megga and a smile from Margaery.
The giggles he couldn't care less about; Tyrek could have both Elinor and Megga if he wanted them, and may the Maiden grant him stamina. But the smile from Margaery made Damon jealous for the thousandth time at Tyrek's easy charm.
Elinor leaned around Tyrek to smile at the Prince. "From what I gather you go no where else, my Prince."
He shrugged. "There isn't much else to occupy my time."
Megga, proving Damon's assumption that her voice was as loud as her laugh, trumpeted from beside him. "In King's Landing? Surely you jest, my prince."
Damon the Daring didn't quite know what to think of Elinor and Megga's use of 'my prince'. It was different than the normal recognition of rank, flirtier and intentionally said in a sultry tone. Part of Damon liked it...a lot, because he'd heard them and other words in similar tones and much more interesting situations. In this setting, though, the rest of him found it uncomfortable. "I don't."
Margaery spoke again, giving him another reason to look at her. "Prince Damon has been here all his life, Megga. I doubt he finds it the same thrill we who haven't been do."
He nodded, perhaps a touch too eagerly. "Exactly."
Elinor sighed, returning to her needlework. "I suppose that it is good you train so much, what with the war and all."
He found himself glancing at Sansa, who's brother Robb was firmly on the other side of the casually mentioned war. He noticed Tyrek doing the same, his cousin answering so Damon didn't have to. Thank the Gods for Tyrek. "I'm sure all of us here hope for a quick and more peaceful end to it."
"Peaceful?" Megga again, Damon wishing suddenly that he had sat by Elinor instead. She may trap him with her wit, but at least he'd still be able to hear whenever she was done. "Odd words coming from a knight who fought bravely in the Riverlands."
Tyrek swelled with pride, though he tried to keep it from his voice. "I don't know if I was any braver than others."
Damon leaped on the chance to keep the focus off of himself. "He was, my ladies. He saved my life in the Whispering Wood."
Elinor and Megga fawned over Tyrek at that, Sansa remaining intent on her needlework and Margaery watching her cousins expertly wrap Tyrek around their fingers with a knowing smirk. She glanced at Damon, who realized he had been staring, and spoke as soon as he jerked his eyes to Tyrek, both blonde knights blushing for different reasons. "Yet you are the one they call the Daring, my Prince."
This 'my prince' near broke him in two. Tyrek luckily saved him, for the hundredth time in the last ten minutes. "Aye, and well deserved Lady Margaery. Damon broke the Riverlander lines at the Three Hills near on his own, and nearly drowned trying to save a wounded enemy at Riverrun."
The first was a lie, and the wink Tyrek sent Damon showed he knew it. It set Megga and Elinor to fawning over him this time, though, and Damon imagined Tyrek thought he was returning the favor from earlier. Despite not having any idea how to respond to the praise, Damon couldn't deny that a part of him enjoyed it. We're even, Tyrek, though I'm going to give you an extra wallop in the ring for embellishing the tale.
The banter went on for several minutes, mainly between Tyrek and the two Tyrell cousins. Sansa said nothing, Margaery chiming in but seemingly more than content to watch her humorous cousins flirt with the blushing Lannister. That was fine; Damon was content to watch her.
Balon, who had gone to stand beside his sworn brother Ser Meryn Trant, suddenly reappeared. "Forgive the interruption, but Prince Damon has been requested in the Queen's chambers."
Damon nodded and rose, one hand still on the table as the others did the same. The Prince was shocked that he felt a touch of regret at the blessed means of escape. He bowed again all the same. "Thank you for your time, my ladies."
Margaery smiled. "The pleasure is all ours, Prince Damon." As she spoke, she casually lay her fingertips lightly on the top of his hand.
It took all of his willpower to remove his hand, bow again, and take his leave.
His feet felt tied to stones and his heart was in his chest as he and Tyrek left the pavilion, Balon falling into step behind them as they made for the royal apartments. Damon, cursing himself for a fool, felt the fiery impressions her fingertips had left for a long, long time.
Damon didn't, however, see his grandfather watching from a window a hundred feet away.
For a man who had seen war and stared death in the face, he spooked easily. A witty courtier, especially if they were female, scared him in a way an enemy with a sword couldn't. If his choices were host a ball or storm a castle, hand him a ladder and point the way. Need a hill taken? He's your man. Need a diplomatic envoy? You'd better pray he's not your man.
But all of those fears seemed irrelevant compared to where he was now. You've killed men, Damon. You've drawn blood, you've shed blood, you've braved arrows. Grab onto this ridiculous fear and do what must be done.
He repeated the mantra in his head twice before he raised his fist and knocked on the door of his grandfather's chambers.
"Enter," called Tywin from inside, and Damon took one last steadying breath before he did so.
The Hand of the King's solar was surprisingly plain for the richest lord in the Seven Kingdoms. A desk, a table and pitcher of wine, a small sunroom with a square of potted greenery...and that was really about it. No golden lion statues, no signs of opulence, no skulls of Tarbecks or Reynes. Damon wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it wasn't what he found.
Damon only let himself glance over the chambers briefly before he stepped a few strides into the room. "You requested my presence, Lord Tywin?"
Tywin Lannister was seated at the aforementioned desk, peering down at the open ledger before him. "I did. Please, have a seat Your Grace."
It may have been phrased as a request but it wasn't one, just as the summons earlier that afternoon hadn't been. The Prince of the Iron Throne did as he was told, because one did as Tywin Lannister asked. Strictly speaking, his maternal grandfather should have been standing as Damon entered to show the proper respect of a lord to the son of a king. The Hand hadn't been, and Damon gave zero thought to the potential slight. Damon may be a Prince but Tywin was the true ruler of the realm, as well as his elder and a powerful lord in his own right.
The Lion of the Westerlands kept his attention on the ledger in front of him for another few moments after Damon took the upholstered chair across the desk from him, then casually set it aside. The full brunt of his pale green gaze, eyes a touch lighter than Damon's own bright emerald, peered across the table at him, and it took all of Damon's will to meet the gaze and keep himself from squirming. "Shall we do away with titles for this conversation?"
The statement took Damon by surprise. "Of course, Lo...of course."
His grandfather nodded once. "Good. Your wounds, have they healed?"
It took Damon a long moment to realize what he was talking about. He'd taken two notable injuries in battle, though neither had been life threatening; one slash to his arm taken beneath the walls of Riverrun, another blade across his back at the raid on Lord Harroway's Town. While both had hurt like the seven hells when he'd taken them and for days after, now they were no more than white scars and lessons. "Yes. They were healed well before we returned to the capitol."
"Good. You will need to be at full strength for your return to the front."
Damon's heart soared. "I am eager to go."
His grandfather nodded again, never having moved his stare. "I imagined you would feel that way. But first, there are several matters you and I need to discuss." The Hand of the King finally turned his gaze from Damon, who sunk a little into his seat at relief of being out from under it. Tywin began sorting through a stack of parchment, speaking as he did so. "Tell me, Damon, what are your thoughts on your recent lordship?"
Damon shifted in his seat. Truth be told Damon didn't feel much of anything about his appointment to the Lordship of Dragonstone; Stannis still held it and it's incomes, and the likelihood of that changing anytime soon seemed slim due to Robb Stark still waging a damaging war in the Westerlands. Damon had never been to the island or in it's castle, and part of him wondered if the first time he visited it would be with a sword in his hand and flaming arrow in the sky. Saying any of that to Tywin, however, didn't seem like a good idea. "I am honored by the King's gift."
Tywin never looked back from the parchments. "It was an insult."
"Lord...I mean, grandfather?"
"The lordship of Dragonstone is an important enough holding, I grant you, and one with a rich history, but it was not suitable for you. You, as Robert's second son, should have received Storm's End and the Paramountcy, not only due to your blood but due to your actions in the war." Tywin seemed to find the parchment he was after, for he returned his gaze to his grandson. "What's more, you know this. You are too smart to be honored by a insult."
Damon felt a rush of pride at the compliment, but also felt his apprehension grow. He didn't know what the point of this meeting was, but he doubted it was to stoke his own ego. That being said, he didn't like the criticism of Joffrey. Not for Joffrey's sake, because Damon knew in a reversed role the king would only join in on Damon's defamation, but because he didn't see how it could lead anywhere good, even if it was Tywin Lannister saying it.
"The Paramountcy of the Stormlands is a powerful position-"
"Historically held by a Baratheon since Aegon's Conquest, and the Durrandon's for thousands of years before that. You have the blood of both families in your veins, yet you were not granted the title made vacant by the death of the traitor Renly."
Damon squirmed. "I don't..."
"Your brother meant to hurt you. He doesn't need a reason, he is the king, but that doesn't mean you have to be happy about it. So come. Tell me your true thoughts on this." Damon stared for a moment, trying to decide if this was a trap of some sort or an honest inquiry, and Tywin shifted in his seat, tone changing a touch. "This is not a test, Damon. I merely want to know your opinion on it, out of earshot of the king."
The Prince still took several moments to answer. "I suppose I could have expected the Stormlands, but I have found it a poor idea to expect anything in the world. I don't covet power like most; I'm the first to admit I'd do a shit job with it."
Something changed in Tywin's face, though just what it was Damon didn't know. "A good policy, expecting nothing. If a man wants something in this world, he must take it. Glory, riches, power...it's all there for those who will seize it."
Damon shrugged, still very uncomfortable with this line of conversation. "I can't say I want much of any of that."
Tywin tilted his head down, peering at his grandson. The Hand of the King was only a couple of inches taller than Damon and marginally broader, but Tywin's sheer force of presence always made him seem infinitely larger. "And what is it you do want."
Damon opened his mouth to answer, then realized he didn't have an answer. Huh. What do I want? He had answers for the short term of course, and they were what most men his age wanted. The rush of battle, the feeling of a good meal in his belly, a naked woman in his bed. But long term, that was another issue. Damon had always assumed he would just serve his father and then his brother as a warrior, maybe getting a small keep of his own or maybe not, doing the will of the King until the day he died. He'd not put all that much thought into it; a great deal of it was out of his hands unless he went the way of Daemon Blackfyre, and Damon Baratheon would rather die.
He ran the question through his mind for a long while, his grandfather watching him intently but patiently. Finally Damon shrugged, both mentally and physically. "I don't know. But I know what I don't want."
Tywin held his gaze a moment longer, before finally nodding softly. "I suppose that is something." Damon didn't know if his grandfather meant that as a good thing, a bad thing or an indifferent one, and he didn't ask.
Tywin straightened back out, leaning back into his chair before continuing in a tone that told Damon whatever focus of the conversation beforehand was now settled in the Hand of the King's mind. "You are going to marry Sansa Stark."
Damon blinked thrice. "...what?"
"Your brother set aide the Stark girl when the Tyrells assisted us on the Blackwater. Their men, and more importantly their ability to keep our own men and the smallfolk of the city fed, can and will make the difference in this war. That made the price of the girl Margaery becoming queen worth it. But the northern girl is still of great value; she has a claim to the North, which may prove vital when her traitorous brother is brought to heel or dies."
The Prince's brain was having difficulty getting past the 'marry Sansa Stark' bit so his mouth spoke of its own accord. "There are other Stark boys, who didn't rebel."
"There were, though the guilt of one Stark is enough to cover the others. But the younger Stark, Brandon and Rickon, are dead."
That broke through his stupor. They were children, one having been crippled right before Damon and his family had left Winterfell. While Damon hadn't had all that much interaction with it, Brandon had seemed a smart, good lad, and Rickon's wildness was highly entertaining. And they were young, so young, too young to be dead. Brandon is the same age as Tommen, Rickon even younger. "How?"
"Balon Greyjoy has attacked the north. His son Theon took Winterfell and killed them both."
A deep, bitter anger took root in Damon in that moment for the Ironborn. "They were children, children he had been raised with."
Tywin shrugged. "He considered them enemies."
Damon was taken aback by his grandfather's indifference, and then remembered who he was talking to. Tywin Lannister had flooded the mines of Castamere, full of women and children, and sealed the exits. None had escaped.
For the first time, Damon felt something other than fear or respect for the Lord of the Westerlands.
Tywin went on, unaware of the Prince's inner thoughts. "As I was saying, you are to marry Sansa Stark. While not appointing you Lord of the Stormlands was an insult and a foolish move by your brother the king, you may well find yourself a Paramount without it."
Damon, still full of anger at the murder of the Stark boys-of my potential goodbrothers, it seems-met his grandfather's gaze much easier this time. "Do I have a say in the matter?"
Tywin arched an eyebrow, much as Cersei was fond of doing. "Do you object? Sansa is a pretty woman, and young. I didn't think a lad your age would be adverse to having her as a wife, even without the region attached."
He had a point there; Sansa was a pretty woman, even if she didn't make his body react as another, not-to-be-named lady did. Even Damon, with his many and exotic dishonorable experiences, would find no qualms retiring to a bed that held her for the rest of time.
But there was more than his physical desire or lack thereof at stack with this. His anger still fresh, Damon spoke more confidently to Tywin than he ever had before. "There is the fact that two of her brothers are dead, and a third is rebelling against my own. Does she even know?"
The Lord of the Westerlands was watching Damon as intently as ever, shaking his head slightly. "She knows nothing, either about this betrothal or her brothers."
"So am I to tell her? 'Lady Sansa, we are to be wed. Oh, by the way, the lad you were raised with murdered your younger brothers and I'm about to march to the warfront to try and kill your elder one.'"
Tywin's tone darkened, though his face remained impeccably calm. "Careful."
Damon reeled himself back in, though the fear had been blunted for now. "My apologies, Lord Tywin. But you must see my concerns; not only is she likely scarred from her time as Joffrey's betrothed, but our families are at war."
The Hand of the King didn't raise his voice, but Damon knew he was striding into his grandfather's disapproval. "If you think marriage is about the happiness of one or either of those involved, my daughter has made a mockery of your education."
Damon winced inwardly, the point striking true, but he continued on. "What of Jaime?"
"What of him?"
"Sansa is our last hope of bartering for his release. If she is married to me, the Starks will be less likely to come to the table."
"They haven't came to the table yet, now have they? Don't worry about my son; there are plans in motion to secure his release."
Damon didn't have to be overly intelligent to know just what sort of plans those likely were. He also didn't need to be overly intelligent to know there was always a chance they would fail miserably, potentially at the cost of his uncle's life. "But those are prone to failure by their nature, no matter the experience of the men behind them. I realize I have no right to ask this of you, but give me one last chance to at least bringing Robb to talks."
Tywin's stoic face was only betrayed by a clenched jaw; he clearly wasn't used to being argued with, particularly not by meek and nervous Damon. "You will do your duty, Prince Damon."
The Prince nodded feverishly. "Yes, I will. If that duty leads to me marrying Lady Sansa I will do so with gusto. But let me try to negotiate with Robb; he knows me, if only briefly, and he knows me and my brother aren't the closest of siblings. That will help, considering King Joffrey removed Eddard Stark's head from his shoulders."
There was a long pause. "What are your intentions?"
Well, that's better than a 'no'. "I will take a large number of the Tyrell host with me and go to the Westerlands, joining with Lord Marbrand. But I will also take a letter and memento from Lady Sansa, and send them with a trusted envoy under white flag to wherever I find Robb."
Tywin waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, this is all standard procedure. Standard procedures have done us no good."
"Standard procedure comes from faceless Lannister envoys. This will be coming from a face they know, and one who nearly died trying to save a knight fighting on their side."
Tywin raised a brow again. "That was a foolish move."
Damon blushed lightly, glancing down. He heard Jaime's reprimands from a lifetime ago in his mind, bringing with them a fresh wave of both concern and resolve. I'll free you, uncle, or die trying. "Yes, it was. But wise or foolish, it may yet come in handy. What's more, I'll bring Lord Edmure Tully along with me; not the other noble hostages, just Robb's uncle. Perhaps, with a letter and memento of Sansa as well as the physical presence of his uncle, I can make this work."
Tywin merely sat there for a long while. When he spoke, his tone was quiet. "Losing Edmure Tully to a plot or misfortune would do us no good."
Damon swallowed once. "He'll die before I let him return to Robb Stark for nothing."
His grandfather shook his head. "You don't have the stomach for that sort of slaughter, Damon."
How right you are. "I do when it comes to protecting my family."
That seemed to strike a chord in Tywin, whose face lost a touch of tension. Long moments pass, Tywin contemplating his grandson's idea while the grandson pleaded with his eyes for the request to be granted.
When Tywin finally spoke it held nothing but confidence and conviction. "You may try your plan. Take half of the Tyrell forces and half of my own guard; I will handle it with Lord Mace." Tywin's face almost showed a hint of wry humor. Almost. "And with your mother. I'll order your provisions and supplies to be made ready; you will leave first thing in the morning."
"May I request we leave an hour before dawn? Grandiose displays and ceremonies aren't my specialty, and I'd prefer to be out of the city before it begins to truly stir. Empty streets will hasten our departure anyway."
The Lord of the Westerlands pondered a moment before nodding. "Very well."
Damon shot out of his seat, excitement and a touch of fear for what was about to happen in his chest. He bowed, lower than was necessary but not low enough to truly show the depths of his appreciation. "Thank you, Lord Tywin."
His grandfather's voice stopped him mid-turn. "And Damon." When he glanced back, Tywin settled a meaningful, hard gaze upon him. "Do not fail."
Damon swallowed once, then bowed again. "I won't."
But I will disappoint you by my means. I hope you'll forgive me. More than that, I hope it works.
Chataya was always welcoming and always attractive despite being close to forty, and at other times in his many middle-of-the-night visits to her establishment he hadn't made it any farther than her luxurious personal office, but today Damon was all business.
"I need Bella."
The Summer Islander woman smiled. Tall with skin the color of obsidian and sandalwood eyes, her white teeth stood out startlingly when she smiled. Her accent, thick and heavy, was part of her appeal. "She is sleeping, but I will wake her."
Damon shook his head slightly. He'd imagined that was the case; while brothel's never closed and there were always at least a handful of clients sampling the wares, they almost grew still at the deadest hours of the night, those last few before dawn broke. It was in that timeframe that Damon normally made his trip, even though it coincided when most of the brothels workers tried to sleep. "Not in that sense, Chataya." Well, probably in that sense too, but I'll have to work the logistics of that out. "I mean I need to take her. I'm going back into the field."
She nodded, smile not wavering. "That was part of my agreement when you brought her to me." She reached a hand out and ran it down his arm. "Come now, Damon, you know I am a woman of my word."
Damon smirked at her lightly. "Yes, well." He tossed a pouch onto her desk behind her. "Shall we make the same arrangement this time around? Whenever she returns, she will have a place here if she wants it?"
Chataya placed a quick kiss to his cheek and laughed. "For you? Anything. Do you know where she is or shall I go get her?"
The Prince grinned again before turning. "I know where she is."
Where she was was in one of the personal sleeping chambers, very small rooms not meant for entertaining but available to prized workers or those who paid a fee to Chataya for their work. While Bella had no features that made her prized, her time with Damon had certainly made her wealthy, and she preferred to pay that premium than to sleep in the common rooms with the others.
It took her until his third knock to open the door. Behind it she was dressed in only a shift, long hair a tangled mess and face confused.
He shut her up with a kiss, then leaned against the side of her doorframe. "Get your things. We're back on campaign."
Bella blinked thrice. "We are?"
"We are. This time, though, I'll pay you double."
That woke her the rest of the way up. "Oh?"
"Yes. Because this time, you're going to help me piss off the most powerful man in Westeros."
He told himself it wasn't treason, and at the heart of it it certainly wasn't. Damon was merely doing as Tywin had bid him, just in a slightly different way than the Hand of the King might have thought he was going to.
It was inappropriate for the Prince to be knocking at Sansa Stark's door an hour before dawn, but Damon was past trying to be appropriate. He'd been appropriate in his first attempt to end the war, if a bit reckless and deceptive. Now Damon was beyond giving a fuck; he was going to get Jaime back, and with each move he made he felt this was the way to do so.
I'm technically not doing anything I wasn't authorized to do, and at least I feel bad about it. And terrified, because Tywin might well kill me. Also a lot of this could go wrong in a myriad of ways, all of which could result in a major setback of the war effort.
Or it could work, in which case a major detriment to our efforts can be removed. Perhaps even a peace on one front can be achieved.
Damon almost stopped then, fear and second-thoughts nearly making him abandon his plan at the end of it. Then, with a wave of resolve, he knocked lightly on the door.
It took Sansa a long time to answer, long enough that Damon had looked thrice to Tyrek and Bella standing at their respective bends of the dimly lit corridors in anxiety. Sneaking Bella in was simple; they don't ask questions of a Prince. Getting Lady Sansa out will be the true test.
When the lady in question finally opened the door, the worry on her face looked so at home, so much like it had a permanent place there, that it hardened his wavering resolve. He bowed, then spoke. "Quietly, my lady."
She took a hesitant step back. "Prince Damon..."
He held a finger to his lips. "A simple dress, and a cloak with a hood. Careful and quiet."
Her Tully blue eyes stared at him in confusion. "What is happening?"
"I am going to the war front to negotiate with your brother. I was told to bring a letter and memento of you." He shrugged. "I imagine you can pen the letter along the way. You’re the memento."
Tyrek, who was supposed to be watching the corridor for early-morning servants, suddenly appeared at his shoulder. His tone was cheerful, a vastly different one than when Damon had first approached him about this plan. "In other words, Lady Sansa, we're kidnapping you."
Damon nodded. "So please, keep it quiet."
Before most of the city had even woken to meet their day, a hooded Sansa Stark rode out of King's Landing on a wagon, between a washerwoman and a whore.
It took them only until dusk to catch up to him, but Damon had figured that would be the case. He had six hundred mounted men, which could have kept ahead of the inevitable pursuers from King's Landing if he pushed them hard enough, but he also had fifteen hundred footmen and a couple hundred followers of various occupations. With these, there had been no chance of avoiding them for long, and in any case they would have found him eventually.
Damon met them on the outskirts of his half-erected camp, the sound of tents and fortifications being built rising from behind him while the scent of roasting meat filled the summer air. He took only three men with him, one of which knew what the incoming delegation was here for and two who were about to be horribly surprised. Garlan Tyrell had taken command of the Tyrell men who had gone with Damon, making up nearly all of the Prince's cavalry. He sat an impressive black destrier to Damon's left, the strong animal having been bred by his elder brother Willas. To Garlan's own left sat Ser Philip Foote, whom Damon had chosen to continue his role as Damon's prefect and made commander of the Lannister contingent beneath only he himself; the knight was atop a bay charger, the only man of the quartet in armor although all wore swords. To Damon's right was Tyrek on a grey stallion, the Lannister knight's preference in horseflesh. He was every bit as nervous as Damon, for he was one of only three conspirators who knew of Sansa Stark's presence when they left King's Landing.
You've made your decision, now live by it. Sansa is our only true bargaining chip to secure uncle Jaime's release, and I will not see it squandered by marrying her to me in a political move. I realize I'll marry for politics one day, but I can at least hope it won't be to someone my brother emotionally tortured for his own putrid pleasure.
The prince breathed a touch easier when he saw who headed the twenty-strong contingent from King's Landing. Ser Kevan Lannister, portly and balding, was Damon's great-uncle, and had always been kind in their interactions. Kevan was a capable, charismatic man who did not lack for cunning, but Damon was glad it was the hand of the Hand of the King to follow them. Damon would stand up better to his great uncle than he would any other.
He had known it to be highly unlikely, but Damon had feared Tywin himself would follow after the Prince when they realized Sansa Stark was missing; he'd had no doubt Tywin would instantly know just where she had gone. Damon had taken Sansa and Edmure Tully to try and negotiate with Robb, their respective brother and nephew, because he saw it as the best chance of securing Jaime's release. While he was scared shitless of his grandfather, Damon had no intention of giving her back now. He supposed plots and schemes had their place in the world and particularly in times of war, but when those plots and schemes risked the life of the person he trusted most in the world...well, Damon refused to risk it.
Damon eyed the gold and crimson banners flying over the approaching party, steadying his breathing for the coming clash. You've always thought me subservient, grandfather, and you've been right. But you yourself said a man only gets what he wants when he reaches out and takes it. How angry can you be that I followed your guidance?
The answer was very, but Damon didn't let himself focus on that fact.
Kevan reined to a stop a few meters to the Prince's front, bowing as was proper though he eyed both Damon and Tyrek knowingly. "Prince Damon."
"Uncle Kevan, a pleasure to see you."
"Normally the pleasure would be mine, Prince Damon, but I regret my reason for being here." Kevan eyed the Tyrell and Foote knights pointedly. "Shall we discuss that reason in a more private setting, Your Grace?" He found it mildly amusing that Kevan hadn't included Tyrek as a pair of ears that didn't need to hear the following. Ser Kevan had taken a large role in raising his nephew since Tygett, Kevan's brother and Tyrek's father, had died when Tyrek was very young. As such, he had noticed the friendship that, after several years, had finally grown between Prince and lordling. He clearly had no doubts Tyrek knew all about Lady Sansa's presence.
Even if he had, Tyrek's sheepish look would have given him away in a heartbeat. Damon was bad at intrigue, but Tyrek was terrible.
The Lord of Dragonstone shook his head. "I chose them to be here with full knowledge of what was coming."
Kevan pursed his lips a moment, nodded, and wasted no more time on pleasantries. "Where is the Lady Sansa, Prince Damon."
He felt the glances Garlan and Philip Foote gave him, though he kept his eyes forward. "In my camp, in her own tent."
His great uncle's face darkened. "You left her there unguarded?"
The Baratheon Prince liked Kevan, he truly did, but he couldn't help but find the suggestion insulting. He was not a genius, but Damon wasn't stupid either. "Of course not. Ser Balon Swann guards the entrance with orders to kill anyone who tries to force entry."
"And if she attempts to leave?"
Damon shrugged. "Steps were taken to prevent that, as well as to protect her...reputation."
Those steps consisted of Bella, a whore, and an elderly septa named Morra from a small septry a three hour march from King's Landing. Damon had convinced the hunched woman in her fifties to join them with a very generous donation to the septry's presiding septon, and she and Bella had predictably butted heads almost instantly. The septa resented the whore's occupation, while the whore resented the septa's attitude towards her. Still, Damon had taken Sansa from King's Landing to attempt to use her in a negotiation, not to cause rampant rumor about her lack of virtue; two women with her at all times, one being a septa, would help in that endeavor.
He'd also told Bella to let the northerner know what might happen to her were she to leave the sanctuary he had made for her; no one in the camp aside from Damon, Tyrek, Bella and now his Kingsguard and two commanders knew who she was; all the common soldiers would see would be an attractive young woman, and they would assume her to be of the same occupation as Bella and most other women in camp. His wartime paramour was well aware of the baser desires of men on campaign, and the danger to Sansa should she show her face would probably be the only thing Bella and Morra would agree on.
Kevan was watching him, and Damon returned the gaze far easier than he had in the past. "Did the Kingsguard knight know? From their reactions, I can see Sers Garlan and Philip did not." He glanced to Tyrek, lips twisting emphatically. "And I never doubted that you did."
The Prince stepped in to defend the men under his command. "Tyrek was only following orders. Ser Balon found out approximately ten minutes ago."
Kevan snorted in mild amusement. "'Following orders'. This war has changed you, Damon."
He felt a combination of pride and shame at that, and didn't understand the odd mixture. It was certainly true, though; before the journey to Winterfell all that time ago and the events that had unfolded since then, Damon never would have disobeyed his mother, much less his grandfather. The prospect of taking only a few horses and one squire younger than himself on a reckless ride without the knowledge or consent of anyone would have been inconceivable. He never would have taken the initiative to steal a noble lady out from under the nose of his brother and intend to use her to barter with an enemy, with only partial permission from the crown. After his first battle, he had lamented to Bella that he didn't understand other people because they rarely did what it made sense for those people to do. Now he was just like them.
He also wouldn't have been called the Daring, led men and heard their praises of him, or been knighted. He wouldn't have a true friend his own age.
He wouldn't have blood on his hands and dreams that sometime kept him awake at night.
Yes, the war had changed Damon. He felt like overall it was for the better, but he knew several—his brother the king, his mother, the Hand, a nameless Piper solider with a broken nose whose body was by now only bones in a mass grave—who would disagree.
The Prince just shrugged. "Jaime said war changes all men."
His uncle spoke softly. "I suppose it does at that." He straightened, tone returning to normal. "You know why I am here."
He nodded. "I do."
"But you don't intend to give her back."
This time he shook his head. "I don't."
"I don't suppose I have to tell you how certain of those in King's Landing think of this."
Damon almost laughed, though he felt no joy or pleasure at the thought of just how and who he had pissed off. Well, except for Joffrey; I may have to serve him for the rest of my life, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy infuriating him. "I can well imagine, Ser Kevan."
The Lannister knight's look was cautionary. "Then you can also imagine what sort of danger you are flirting with, Your Grace. On more than one front."
He most certainly did know, but he felt his heart soften a touch farther towards his uncle for the warning nonetheless. "I can."
"If she were to escape or be freed..."
"I can imagine the results of that possibility too, uncle. I am shy, not stupid."
Kevan snorted his laugh again. "'Shy'. I've never seen a shy lad do anything so..." Reckless? Absurd? Convoluted? "...Daring."
The twist to his uncle's lips showed his intentional use of the moniker Damon had acquired. It made the Prince's heart swell with pride, and even his uncle's cryptic next several words couldn't deflate it. "But I still have my reservations, and not only about the validity of your intended plan. Be careful, Damon; these are dangerous times."
And like that, it was done. Damon's respect for his uncle increased when he realized Kevan had seen he would not relent and, instead of trying to haggle Damon down, had accepted it as it was. With a small bow and no further formality, Kevan turned his horse. "May the gods help you, Damon. You will need all seven."
The septa had finally stopped talking at her, Bella closing her eyes to try and alleviate the headache that had developed over hours of argument, when a hand smacked the canvas of the tent she was to share with the embodiments of the Crone and of the Maiden. Standing, and looking to lady Sansa to assure herself the young woman was decent—she was, and was eyeing the origin of the slap reservedly—Bella walked to the flap and half opened it, peering out. When she saw the torchlight flickering in the brilliant emerald she had come to like, she opened it fully.
Lady Sansa and Morra came to their feet, bowing lightly as the Prince only stepped far enough in to be clearly visible in the light of the brazier and torchlight. "Lady Sansa, septa." He hesitated, and she saw he was contemplating how best to say what was on his mind. It shocked her how, even after weeks of relative separation after their arrival in King's Landing, she remembered the Prince's physical cues that she had picked up on months ago.
Although she reasoned Damon Baratheon was hard to forget, at least for Bella; he had made a habit of taking her life and turning it over onto it's head. She'd gone from a broken-nosed whore in a minor Riverland town to a prince's paramour/servant on battlefields all over central Westeros. She'd seen Riverrun, the great castle of the Tully's, the ruined remains of Harrenhal, the largest castle ever built, and the Red Keep, the seat of kings.
Then, after fully expecting Damon to forget her upon his recall to King's Landing, she had found herself working in one of the most popular brothels in the capitol. Her earnings, which had been great from her months with the golden haired royal, had grown faster than she had ever thought possible. Yet before she could even become set into that setting, the same green-eyed warrior had come to her again, and now she found herself, for the first time since she was much too young, being paid for something other than her body—which was almost a shame in this instance, as it was horribly easy to look at Damon and remember just how shockingly much the silent prince had known about a woman. That aside, she was now a handmaid/minder/semi-guard to a lady descended from hundreds of generations of kings, even if said lady hadn't chosen her willingly.
She'd seen none of it coming but Bella could hardly wait for what would come next.
She brought herself back to reality when the Prince found his words. "I came with warning and reassurance both, Lady Sansa."
Bella glanced at the girl. Sansa had been quiet, very quiet, ever since Bella had helped sneak her into a wagon of camp followers at the Red Keep, but that was to be expected; the girl had been raised prim and proper, and while Bella had gathered that Sansa's experiences in King's Landing had taken the shine off many of her girly notions she figured it was still odd for the lady to have a whore as a constant companion. That, and the northerner was a captive in the middle of a camp of men on the warpath to kill her brother, which Bella couldn't imagine was a comforting thought. The poor girl was in a hard place.
But she was nothing if not proper in her answers and courtesies, unfailingly so with regards to Damon. "Yes, my Prince?"
The whore barely withheld a smile at the odd light that flashed through Damon's eyes at that; oh yes, she remembered the effect those words had on him when spoken by a woman. She couldn't blame him, either, for the first thing Bella had noticed about Sansa was how attractive she was.
Damon rallied and carried on, though not without a glance at Bella that made the courtesan's smile come to the forefront. "The warning is what I imagine Bella and Septa Morra have already told you; straying from this tent when we are encamped or from the wagon you are riding in when we are not would be...unwise."
Sansa nodded, face emotionless. "I understand."
The Prince looked like he expected her to say more, but quickly realized she was finished. Now he knows how I felt when I first met him. Or how anyone feels when they first meet him. "I also find it only to fair to tell you exactly what we are doing here. I am not taking you back to your family for nothing, if at all" His voice hardened almost imperceptibly. "I don't know what they told you in King's Landing, but here are the facts. Your brother captured my uncle Jaime in battle, and nearly captured myself and Tyrek with him. I, in turn, have your uncle Edmure Tully in my custody...and you."
Sansa said nothing, blue eyes respectfully somewhere on Damon's chest. After only a momentary pause, he continued. "You are here because I intend to trade you and your uncle for Jaime. With that in mind, your safety and wellbeing are my foremost concern. At night, Ser Garlan Tyrell, Ser Balon Swann, Ser Tyrek and even I myself will take turns standing sentry through this flap. While we travel, one of those same men will be near you, though not openly." He cleared his throat, not used to saying so much at once. "While many will guess, I don't intend to scream to the world that you are with us, at least not until I meet up with a larger force."
Suddenly her eyes darted up to meet Damon's, not those of the scared doe she had been but now something else entirely. It shocked Bella as much as it did Damon. "In case my brother tries to free me."
Damon nodded, emerald meeting blue. "Yes. In case he tries that...and many die."
The Prince shifted uncomfortably, holding her gaze until Sansa's eyes dropped again to his chest, the girl's face going back to the emotionless mask it had been. "I felt you should know where things stood." He shrugged. "And, before you let your hopes rise...I offered parlay to Robb once before. He didn't respond." He turned as quick as he came. "Goodnight, my ladies."
Bella caught his parting words. "At least I hope it will be."
Two weeks later, the raids began.
Damon was out of his tent with a sword in his hand by the time the horn abruptly ended.
His men were nearly as fast, shouts of warning and alarm filling the air as other sentries echoed the horn blast of the first. His men, most of them dressed only in breeches and hastily put on boots, scurried out of the rows of Lannister crimson and Tyrell green tents like bees from a disturbed hive, sprinting towards lines of shields and spears.
Damon sprinted as well, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Face the west, the west! Shieldwall!" It was the only logical direction for a variety of reasons; while Damon still wasn't certain where exactly Robb Stark and his northern raiders were, they were still somewhere in the Westerlands, likely between his current position a few days ride from Payne Hall and Lord Damon Marbrands position in Sarsfield. Also, the first horn—the warning he'd ordered his sentry's to give if they were alerted—had come from that direction.
And, judging by how abruptly it had ended, Damon doubted the man who blew it was playing any sort of trick.
His thoughts were confirmed when a handful of riders, no more than twenty, burst over the crest of a hill, shouting and yelling as they spurred their garrons towards the Prince's encampment. They each carried a torch in one hand, illuminating the night around them. It was a terrifying tactic to be sure, but only half as alarming as the sudden wave of flame lighting the sky over them, as a volley of flaming arrows came cutting down over the camp.
The shots had been fired blindly for the most part, and likely at maximum bow range, but while only a small number of them hit feasible targets they did disconcert the Baratheon prince's sleepy men, breeding a touch of panic as men ducked to avoid the falling flame while still being ridden down upon by mounted foes. Damon never stopped running, through blind luck or the will of the Seven avoiding even a close call with any of the arrows. Thanks to that, he was among the first of his men to reach the attacking Northmen.
They'd set a handful of tents ablaze by the time he took one of their number by surprise, the Prince driving the point of his blade under the northerner's ribs and into his chest at an upwards angle. He fell from his horse with only a bloody gargle and a thud, nearly wrenching the Prince's blade from his hands. Damon quickly vaulted onto the dead man's horse, a sorrel mare of slight build, and kicked her towards another of the interlopers.
And, to Damon's utmost surprise, the Northman turned and galloped back the way he had come.
Just as they had at Harroway moons ago, the northerners disappeared as soon as they had struck, leaving Damon with nothing but an unorganized and burning camp. The Prince nearly kicked his captured mount after them, but common sense had him rein the sorrel to a stop instead. Damon was the only mounted man he saw in the light of the fires, aside from his enemies rapidly getting away. Many of his men were already fighting the scattering of fires, and while he'd only seen score of rebel riders the arrows from earlier hinted at greater numbers out of sight. Riding after them with a small contingent would be risky; riding after them single handed would be suicide.
It would be dumb for Damon to get himself captured, and even dumber to get himself killed.
And, unlike at Harroway, Damon had larger concerns than chasing the raiders or even helping his men fight the fires. He whirled his borrowed mare around and galloped towards the center of the camp, to a single tent where three women were staying under the current guard of Garlan Tyrell.
The Reachman was at the ready near the entrance, sword in hand. Tyrek, who apparently had had the same idea as Damon, came around the corner of Lady Sansa's tent at the same time, Lannister-green eyes checking for any fire. Bella, dressed only in a shift, stood peeking over Garlan's back, stepping out as she recognized the Prince dismounting at the front.
"We're fine," she said before Damon could even ask. "Remain out here, though, my Prince; Sansa is dressing."
"None of the arrows came near here, Your Grace," Garlan supplied, his fighting stance relaxing slightly. "With your leave, I'll organize the firefighting efforts."
I should have thought of that; it should be my responsibility. Instead Damon had been concerned for his hostage; the risk he was taking in bringing Sansa outside of King's Landing's walls hadn't truly sank in until the arrows began falling all around them. All it would have taken was one unfortunate arrow and all his plans and hopes would be as dead as his father. "Of course, Garlan. I'll be behind you in just a moment."
He waited a split second for Garlan to stride away before stepping in close to Bella. "Are you all well?"
She nodded, and Damon recognized her tense but prepared expression as one he often saw on his soldiers. With a start, Damon realized his paramour had been around nearly as many battles as he himself had. "Yes. The maiden and the crone were both startled, but whole."
"I'm fine as well," Tyrek piped in, cocking a brow at his friend. "Thank you for your concern."
Damon ignored him, instead placing a quick kiss to Bella's brow. "Calm Sansa down and get her back into bed, although I realize she won't sleep well."
"No, I won't," came an unexpected voice from the entrance. Sansa Stark stood in the entrance, only her head visible; she was using the flap of the tent to help conceal whatever she did or didn't have on behind it. Damon found the sight to be highly erotic, and cursed himself for thinking with the wrong head as his camp was literally burning. "Was it my brother, Your Grace?"
Damon saw no point in lying, even if he had to swallow once before he could speak. "Yes. Or at least some of his men."
"So he is close then."
Damon didn't know what to make of that, but he knew where it could have been leading. The last thing he needed was the meek and guarded hostage in front of him to start getting ideas. "Close enough to accidentally kill you, yes, or to get you killed by one of my men at the very least. Return to your tent, Lady Stark." He looked to Tyrek, then shot a glance at Bella. "Cousin, you are on guard until I return. You as well, Bella."
He didn't have to tell them just what to guard for.
He only suffered a mere three men killed, all of them sentries, and less than a dozen wounded in the raid, and returned the favor by killing two of the Northmen. But as Damon had learned that night, setting fires and killing hadn't been the Northern intent. A number of the northmen had, under the cover of the arrows and the charging men with torches, managed to steal a third of his horses out from under him.
Damon didn't know if he was more embarrassed or more pissed, but he was leaning towards the former.
By the second raid days later he was prepared for horse theft, moving all of them to a more central camp location, but was instead rewarded with several burning wagons of provisions. The third raid was merely a volley of blindly fired arrows that managed to kill an ox and wound a washerwoman, as well as cot his men half a night of rest. The fourth tried for the horses again though it was successfully beaten back after a handful of northern losses, while the fifth and sixth raids were more attempts to burn down the camp.
While none of the subsequent attacks were half as damaging as the first, each managed to make his men more and more uneasy at night as well as make Damon all the more agitated. He almost wished Robb would attack him head on and get it all over with, and to hell with whoever won.
On the seventh raid, that very nearly happened.
Damon was more surprised by it than any of the others, mainly because it was carried out in broad daylight. The Prince was the the head of his column, Ser Balon Swann on one side and Ser Philip Foote the other, riding through a wooded stretch in the eastern Westerlands, when without a war cry or horn or any indicator he was suddenly in the fight for his life.
They galloped out of the trees in heavier numbers than any of those he'd faced yet on this campaign, nearly upon him before Damon even realized he was under attack. The Prince's first concern was for his outriders—their entire purpose was to prevent this sort of thing, and the only way they would have failed so magnificently was if they were magnificently dead—but that concern was soon replaced by a complete focus on remaining alive.
It was difficult.
"To arms!" Ser Balon roared, even as he drew his morningstar and tried to shield Damon form the oncoming wave. The Prince acted on instinct more than anything else, drawing his sword before he was even fully aware of what was going on and bracing himself to meet the approaching enemy. All up and down his line orders were shouted, most of his men rushing towards the front while others fell back to protect the wagons of provisions and supplies. Damon himself gave none of the orders; no sooner had he drawn his sword than the charging northern's were atop him.
He took the first one through the eye after a hard parry and the third he opened from hip to belly, but no sooner had either of them hit the ground than another rammed his garron into Damon's stallion at full speed. Both horses and riders went down, the Prince leaping from his bellowing horse at the last instant. He probably should have died before he even hit the ground, but Ser Balon in his white armor had seen the Prince go down and quite literally came to his rescue, morningstar whipping and whirling as he muscled his horse into the throng beside the Prince. Shouts of "Protect the Prince!" and "Rally to His Grace!" came from behind him as the golden haired knight staggered to his feet amidst the claustrophobic press of horse, man and steel.
Though still slightly off balance, Damon came up swinging. That was probably all that saved his life, for there were so many men trying to kill him—and just him, it seemed—that he would have been skewered a dozen times over if he hadn't. He cut a Riverlander's throat and wounded a Northman's arm in the same swing, and only the falling body of the first saved him from a sword to the belly. Damon whirled and danced as his balance returned, simply because that was the only way he could avoid the seemingly hundreds of blades coming for him; he fought by pure instinct and training, and part of him knew that if he tried to put any conscious thought into what he was doing he would be dead in a moment.
He didn't think of Sansa or Bella or even Tyrek. He just fought, mind blank and arm red.
He couldn't even remember when or how he ended up back on a horse at all, much less how he made it all the way back onto his own stallion. He could feel the blood running down his face and arm as he swung but couldn't tell you how most of it got there, noticed but didn't comprehend Ser Philip Foote falling under the rising ocean of dead horses and men around him, took note of but didn't truly see Garlan Tyrell and his Reachman rear guard crashing into the fighting with lance and sword. He was surprised, truly and utterly surprised, from the moment the Northmen burst from the trees to the moment a column of cavalry under the burning tree banner of House Marbrand appeared over a hill to his front and descended upon the chaos.
The northerners disappeared as soon as they struck, in the near-magic way only they seemed capable of doing. It took several minutes after the last of his opponenets fell before him for Damon to come back to a fraction of his senses.
When he did, it was so thoroughly unpleasant he almost wished he had remained stricken dumb.
Corpses were thick around him, the furs and blues of Starks and Tullys intermixed with the greens and reds of Lannisters and Tyrells. Horses, more than one but probably less than a hundred, screamed in agony, their haunting bellows a sound one could become familiar with but never be unaffected by. Ser Balon Swann, now red from head to toe, held his left hand to a cut in his right forearm, though he was looking down at the Prince concernedly.
Down at... Damon realized he'd lost his horse again, and this time there was likely no chance of finding it in the mess of broken bodies of both man and beast around him. He ached from the top of his once-golden head to the toes of his once-black boots, though both were now colored red with blood and guts. It stank, of sweat and blood and shit, and with a barely-controlled heave Damon realized a finger was curled around his swordbelt.
Just the finger. There was no sign of it's owner once you got below the third joint.
By the time he had removed the stiff appendage with another dry heave, his mind still trying to catch up with all around him, a knight in grey armor and a bronze cloak appeared, his red courser in bronze barding with the burning tree of Marbrand. Ser Addam Marbrand, hair a deep copper and in ringlets to his shoulders, dismounted beside Damon, removing his helm. He spoke, and Damon had to cock his head to hear the man over the dying shrieks of a horse. Or maybe a man, for that matter. "Your Grace, are you alright?"
Damon realized the wounded Ser Balon had been asking that for quite a while. The answer was a resounding fuck no, but Damon had enough of his wits back to know giving that answer would not be appropriate. "I am fine, Ser Addam. It appears you arrived just in time."
The knight nodded. "My vanguard and I have been trying to join up with you for several weeks, but we kept getting delayed by raids."
That Damon could relate to. "Aye, the same can be said for us. Though never anything near this size..."
"Your Grace, this was a blatant attempt to kill you before our two forces could meet," Ser Balon chimed in, also having dismounted amid the slaughterfield. His arm still bled heavily.
"I agree," Addam said. "There would have been more Northerners I'm sure, but my lord father has kept the main Stark force relatively limited to the the far western reaches. We're no sure how many other forces Stark has in this area, but judging by this..." He waved at the mass of bodies around them. "I'd imagine more than we'd like to think."
Damon nodded slightly, still fully returning to his senses. "We should regroup in case they hit again. And sort through our losses."
It didn't sink in fully that the entire raid had been solely to kill Damon until a few hours later.
Ser Philip Foote, Damon's prefect, was dead. So were several hundred of his men, and most of Damon's patience.
The Northerners left as many dead on the field as the Southerners, but they also left a score of captives. One of these, a lordling, was as tall and broad shouldered as an Umber, his face pox scarred and determined. He near dwarfed Damon, but the Prince had gotten so angry once he'd fully recovered his wits that he would gladly bare knuckle brawl the giant right there in the middle of his command tent.
Damon took several calming breaths before he spoke, reasoning that he had never been one prone to anger and that this would be the worst possible time to become that way. Besides, this northerner was only fighting the side he had born to, as was Damon. There had been nothing dishonorable about any of the raids, not even the attempt on Damon's life. That was war. This was war.
The Prince was starting to learn that he both loved and hated it.
Only a select few were present; Sers Garlan and Addam, as commanders. Ser Balon, whom Damon had yet to thank but sorely needed to. Tyrek, because Damon had so few friends and desperately needed one right now. The heir to Ramsgate, Hullen Woolfield, though he unlike the others stood in chains.
And Sansa Stark, accompanied by a septa and a whore.
Damon didn't waste time. He was so bloody tired of wasting time. "I assume you know each other." He gestured between Sansa and Hullen.
The Woolfield said nothing. Sansa, after a moment, finally did. "Not personally, Your Grace."
"But you know who she is, don't you Woolfield." Again the man didn't answer, so Damon put an edge to his voice. "Your life depends upon your tongue right now. Use it."
The big man merely cocked a brow, and Damon nearly executed him on the spot for that. Sansa, seeing the change of emotions on the Prince's face and the refusal on the prisoners, quickly interceded. "Yes, I am sure he does. While we haven't spoke, Hullen Woolfield and his sisters were often in Winterfell for hunts and feasts."
Damon nodded. "Excellent. In that case, Hullen, you'll be fully aware of what's about to happen."
The Prince took the entire room by surprise when he subtly withdrew his dagger and took a step towards Sansa, reaching out with his left hand and grasping a handful of her red hair. Bella and Tyrek gasped, Morra and the until-then stoic Woolfield shouted, and Ser Garlan stepped towards him in a rush, but no one could stop him before he struck with the blade.
Sansa, who had been too surprised to move, stared open-mouthed into his emerald eyes for a moment, before looking down at the lock of Tully red hair in his hand.
Damon turned, stepping to the chained Woolfield in one stride, noting the terror of almost seeing his king's sister struck down in cold blood recede from the big man's eyes. "Balon, release him." The Kingsguard did so, though he and Ser Addam both drew there swords before hand. Woolfield rubbed at his chafed wrists. "You are going to bring this memento, a letter and what your own eyes have seen to Robb Stark. You are going to tell him Damon wants a parlay. And you are going to tell him I had best get it, or it won't be Sansa's hair I send to him next."
The Prince near threw the lock of hair at the big man, withdrawing his prepared letter from his belt and thrusting it at Woolfield at the same time. The giant took them, mainly because he had no other choice. The Baratheon Prince turned and started to walk away. "Tyrek, get him a horse and get him out of my sight. Oh, and Hullen." Damon stopped, whirling back around and stare pointedly at the northern lordling. "You are the second envoy I have sent to Robb. Make sure he understands you will also be the last."
The Prince turned again and left without a second glance at anyone.
Double update today folks, courtesy of WinterRose! Make sure you check out chapter 19 before you read this!
They met on a blackened hill.
It hadn't always been black. Indeed, the near-choking smell of smoke told just how recently this nameless hill had been covered in daises and trees, a piece of solidarity and nature amidst a world of sword and pain. But Westerlander axes and Reachman flame had done away with all of that in controlled, intentional style, going about the removal of trees and brush from the crest of the hill for a thousand yards in a circle from the point where Damon now sat.
Anything that might hide a man, even a lone assassin, had been removed or demolished. At no point were the surrounding woods close enough to put a hidden archer within feasible range, and any natural dips or ditches in the rolling sides of the hill that might have been covered in long grass were now completely exposed, their canopy of green nothing but blackened stubble. It was a touch sad, but now there was zero chance of a surprise.
Well, almost zero chance. The Prince of Dragonstone had long ago learned that surprise had the damndest way of surprising you.
Damon Baratheon sat a black stallion at the crest of the hill, staring down over the distance of burnt ground to the green tree line a gentle slope and thousand yards away. He was accompanied by only three others, each atop a mount of their own. Ser Balon Swann held the King's banner, Joffrey's sigil of stag and lion flapping in the breeze. Ser Tyrek Lannister held the white flag of parlay, nothing more than a bedsheet tied to a lance. Lord Edmure Tully held nothing but his tongue, his hands secured to the pommel of Damon's saddle by a length of rope.
More for show, really. If this goes south, Ser Edmure will soon find himself dead, unarmed or not.
This was what Damon had been trying to arrange for moons. Somewhere hidden in the trees down there sat Robb Stark, the proclaimed King in the North, and his army of Northerners and Riverlanders. Damon had become uncomfortably familiar with the latter, having fought those men a dozen times and nearly been killed by them just as many, but he had yet to see hide nor hair of Robb Stark since forever and a lifetime ago at Winterfell.
Today though, after weeks of envoys and negotiations under flag of truce, that was finally going to change.
The Young Wolf had agreed to a parlay with the Golden Stag.
Damon had been asleep in a painfully empty bed when Tyrek had awoken him, saying a man with furs and a flag of truce had surrendered himself to a sentry. That man turned out to be Hullen Woolfield, atop the same bay mare he had ridden off on days earlier. With him he had a letter, sealed with the Stark direwolf.
There had been a flurry of responses back and forth since then, letters from both Damon and Sansa going out and letters from Robb coming in—though none from Jaime, despite Damon's request for them. Regardless, this meeting had finally been set up, on the first day of the new century.
The day of his brother's wedding.
King Joffrey Baratheon was set to marry Margaery of House Tyrell within hours; both king and future queen were likely already in preparation here at the crack of dawn, for it was to be an all-day affair. Seventy-seven courses or some such foolishness, all sorts of pomp and circumstance. Damon was supposed to be there; so was Sansa Stark for that matter, and Tyrek, and Ser Balon and a large number of the lords waiting with his army. There had been letters from the capitol both asking for his return and demanding it, insisting that it wouldn't be proper for the king to marry without his brother present. Damon had seen it all before, during his first flight from the capitol—he'd made something of a habit of the improper, committing borderline treason time and time again to do what he thought was best.
And this parlay was for the best. They hadn't executed him yet, and Damon was willing to hedge his bets they wouldn't do it now.
So, all of those wedding guests, prince and prisoner alike, waited a few days march into the Riverlands, a week south of where Damon had first tasted battle. This particular area was in no-man's-land, close enough to Robb Stark's base of operations at Riverrun to be frequently patrolled and raided by Northerners while also close enough to King's Landing to be frequently patrolled and raided by royalist.
Close enough for both armies to fall back to heavily defended bastions, should it all go to shit.
And it had a high chance of all going to shit.
Damon normally wouldn't focus on that; he had been so intent on arranging this, so sure he could make something work, that he couldn't allow himself any self-doubt now that it was coming to fruition. But when the only other thing he could focus on was his brother marrying Margaery Tyrell, he gladly decided to study the faults in his logic.
There were plenty, most glaring of which that Damon had no fucking idea what he was going to say to Robb Stark.
He was going to propose a trade of Sansa and Edmure for Jaime of course; that much had been planned since the moment Tywin told the prince that he was returning to the front. It had also been hinted at heavily in the setup of this parlay, both sides talking of it without actually talking of it. Damon wasn't concerned about that; it made sense for both sides, and he saw little in the way of Jaime soon being back as the prince's idol and mentor.
It was the whole 'end-the-war' thing that Damon was unsure about. He had been so focused on getting his uncle back that he hadn't properly prepared for just how he was going to convince the Stark king to lay down his arms and return to the king's peace.
Mainly because he wasn't actually operating with the king's authority. He was mostly certain that, if he were able to actually bring Robb to the table, the capitol would forgive his recent spree of roguishness and accept the headway he had made. It only made sense for them to; Damon had no doubt he would pay for his deceptions and impropriety, perhaps quite severely, but if he could hand them the ability to nullify a major threat they would be fools not to take it.
Then again Joffrey was king, so foolishness was certainly in play here.
There were also the facts that Robb hadn't been beaten on the field of battle and had a very reasonable and justifiable cause for rebelling. While accepting a crown and proclaiming himself king was a stroke too far, the Lannisters and Baratheons had certainly provoked them to an extent. It could also be argued that Robb was winning, or at least that he certainly wasn't losing. Why would he back down when he was in such a good position?
Damon realized his plan may have been horribly hairbrained at the same time Robb Stark rode out of the woods from below.
It was quiet, nothing but tension and the smell of smoke in the air as Robb and his three chosen companions rode slowly up the hill. Damon watched them come, stomach knotted in anxiety that he tried to keep from showing on his face. It took years for the King in the North to reach the top of the hill, all of the dangers and risks and worries swirling around Damon's mind so fast as to almost overwhelm him and render him useless.
A year ago it would have. But that Damon had been a boy, and this Damon had seen too much death to be one of those anymore.
Robb Stark had grown into his frame since that time in Winterfell, a beard accompanying the auburn locks held out of his eyes by a crown of bronze and iron. He was dressed in furs and leathers, atop a sorrel stallion of southern breeding—likely one of Damon's own horses, stolen in the first of the raids. The Prince didn't let himself focus on that very long at all.
Two of his companions were much the same, one an older man of impressive height and build. An Umber most like, although Damon had thought Hullen Woolfield had been an Umber as well. The other was a touch older still, though the black trout holding his cloak together left little doubt as to who he was. Blackfish Tully eyed Damon impassively, glancing only once at his nephew Edmure.
The third companion was a woman.
Catleyn Tully sat a bay mare, dressed in a blue cloak with hair like her daughters pulled into a tail. It took Damon by surprise, the King in the North bringing his mother to such a parlay, but when he saw her gazing past him towards the woods behind the Prince he understood.
"She isn't here, Lady Stark."
Damon realized those probably weren't the best words to start this meeting, but he didn't have any better ones.
Robb spoke, and he sounded nothing like the boy he had been last time they met. The Young Wolf's tone was authoritative and strong. Kingly. "And where is she?
Damon met Robb's eyes, Lannister emerald and Tully blue. "Where is my uncle?"
Robb gazed at him for a moment, then leaned back slightly in his saddle. "Alright, Lannister. You've been trying to see me for months; here I am."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm a Baratheon."
Robb shook his head. "Not according to your supposed uncles." The King in the North cocked his head slightly. "You know, it's a miracle no one saw it beforehand. You look just like him."
"And who is that."
"Jaime Lannister. Perhaps Stannis was on to something. Perhaps my father was too."
It only took a few sentences, and I've already lost control of this conversation. How in the seven hells did I think this was going to be a good idea.
Damon cleared his throat, both to push down his apprehension and his genuine anger at Robb's insinuations. "I'm not here to trade insults with you, Robb."
The bigger companion spoke. "It's King Robb."
Tyrek answered him. "Not in the south."
The Prince broke back in before either could continue. "I'm here to talk of peace."
The King in the North snorted. "Peace. Says the man who has killed more than one of my lord bannermen."
His tongue answered before his brain could. "Says the man you've been trying and failing to kill for months."
Robb merely shrugged. "Such things happen in war."
Damon took a moment before continuing. "You know I am no good with words. If you wish to fight with those, I will leave now; there is no point in throwing insults at one another."
The Northern king opened his mouth to respond, likely with a wit that Damon wouldn't know how to counter. Instead, his mother cut him off. "I want to see my daughter."
Both men, king and prince, looked to her. The former gave her a look of irritation, the latter a blank stare. "Your daughter is a guest in my camp. She is safe, but wishes to return home."
Catelyn Stark shook her head. "I would like to see her, Prince Damon. With my own eyes. Please."
Her son took the narrative back. "Why isn't she here?"
"I brought your uncle, as you can all see."
Edmure Tully, who had been quiet as the grave, suddenly spoke. "I am fine, thank you all for your concern."
Damon continued, ignoring the poor jape. "Why isn't my uncle?"
"Do you have her or don't you, Damon?" Robb's voice was hard.
"I sent you proof."
"Letters that could have been written by any hand, and a lock of red hair that could have come from any head. I want to see her."
Damon found himself clenching his jaw. "That is more than you sent to me. I have no proof my uncle is still alive, much less that—"
It clicked in his mind all at once. Damon reeled back in his saddle, the motion causing his stallion to shy to one side and nearly jerk the Lord Paramount tied to it to the ground. "You don't have him, do you."
Robb, to his credit, didn't hesitate and didn't look away. "No, I don't."
At first Damon was relieved, so relieved it nearly made him lose his seat atop his horse. But before it could truly settle on him, that relief turned to apprehension, then concern, then fear. "Then where is he?" If he wasn't a captive of Robb Stark, Jaime should by all accounts be back in the capitol. If he had turned up there Damon had no doubt he would have received word of it, but he had not. That left the list of places his uncle could be both long and short; long in that he could be literally anywhere, and short in that there were only two places he would be.
Unless he was dead.
Damon was, simultaneously, horrified and infuriated. His voice came out sharp and angry. "You killed him."
Robb shook his head calmly. "I did not. I released him, weeks ago, with the expectation my sisters would be released to me. It wasn't until I got your letters that I realized something was amiss."
The Prince of the Iron Throne shook his head in disbelief, reeling from the possible answers to this new information. "Yet you came to this meeting, knowing it was to arrange a trade."
The Young Wolf cocked a brow. "I came to this meeting to discuss peace, as you yourself said. For that, I have demands. One of which is my sister. Where is she."
Damon didn't answer for a long time, trying to get a grip on the rash of emotions and thoughts crashing around inside him like the waters of Shipbreaker Bay. If Jaime had been released, he should have returned. He hadn't, at least not to the Prince's knowledge, and that left the options of his whereabouts bleak and terrifying. That in and of itself was enough to make Damon want to curl up in a ball, the thought that his idol was quite possibly dead in a ditch somewhere with no one to even recover his body.
But something somewhere within him didn't allow that. Instead, it focused on Robb's other words. That he was, in fact, here to discuss peace terms. That, while he didn't have Jaime to trade, he seemed at least willing to discuss the possibility of a truce. With a truce came peace—at least on that front—and with peace in central Westeros came the opportunity to search for an uncle that, if Robb was telling the truth, was somewhere between Riverrun and King's Landing. Maybe dead. Hopefully alive.
"What are these conditions?" His voice came out calm and collected, nothing at all like what he was feeling.
Robb had never looked away from Damon's eyes. "Show me you actually have my sister, and we'll discuss them."
Damon hated tears, so the reunion between Catelyn Stark and her daughter Sansa—the latter tied firmly to Tyrek's saddle—was hard to watch.
With no regard for the potentially tense situation, Lady Stark barely waiting until Sansa reached the top of the hill before kicking her horse forward and wrapping her arms around Sansa's middle and crying into her daughter's hair. Sansa, who had been admirably stoic since her abduction from King's Landing, broke into deep sobs, her tied hands jerking against Tyrek's saddle as she tried to return the hug. Instead she buried her face into her mother's neck, body shaking with the tears.
Damon watched it uncomfortably. Robb, to either his detriment or his credit, almost managed to keep any emotion from his face. His voice only slightly wavered as mother and daughter cried and spoke in hushed, teary whispers. "I see you weren't lying."
"I told you I wasn't." Damon coughed, looking away from the crying women and trying to focus on the conversation ahead, although he gave Tyrek a not-so-subtle glance to tell him to keep an eye out. "What are these conditions."
Robb, still looking at his sister and likely fighting the urge to ride over and hug her himself, tried to return to the task on hand as well. It was kingly of him, though Damon could tell it was very difficult for him. "First would be the release of Sansa to me."
Damon nodded. "Go on."
"Second, you will assist the North in ridding our coasts of Balon Greyjoy."
The Prince of Dragonstone nodded slowly. Greyjoy had hit the North harder than anywhere else, and Damon realized for the first time that Robb needed peace as badly as Damon did.
Actually, he needed it worse.
Several phrases, from the mouths of both his grandfather and his mother, popped into his mind unbidden. Lessons taught to him since he was old enough to listen sprang back to memory, things he had found intimidating or unimportant to his life as a boy recalled when they actually appeared in front of him.
Damon had been so entirely focused on getting his uncle back that he hadn't seen the big picture of the conflict; he hadn't seen all that was going on. The North had a large army, it was true, but they were currently fighting a war on two fronts. Balon Greyjoy was in their homelands, while Damon and his men were in their way to the south. They had no ships to combat the Ironborn, no ability to hold onto the Riverlands and clear the squids away.
And without Jaime, they had no leverage. No power to hold over Damon and Tywin's heads, nothing to barter with. Their army wasn't bigger, their positioning wasn't better, and while Stannis wasn't outright at war with them, he was no ally either.
Robb Stark didn't hold all of the cards. Instead, Damon found he himself did.
But all he said was "Go on."
"Lastly, you will recognize the independence of the North and the Riverlands. That includes the release of all prisoners of war, and the return of Ice to my family."
Damon almost laughed. "No."
Robb arched a brow. "No?"
The King in the North stared at him for a moment, expecting him to elaborate. Damon didn't. "What do you mean, Damon?"
"I mean you will not be independent of the Iron Throne. The North and the Riverlands belong to Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name. Not Robb Stark."
Robb straightened in his saddle. "I don't intend to kneel."
The Prince of Dragonstone shrugged. It was a forced move, made with a nonchalance he certainly didn't feel. "Then you don't intend to see peace, and there is no need for us to continue talking."
He had turned his horse completely around, Tyrek staring with eyes begging to know if he was supposed to come along, when Robb spoke again. "Damon."
The Prince turned back to him, keeping his emotions from his face. "Robb."
The Stark was staring at him intently. "We aren't children anymore, even if we were not so long ago. Even if we want to be again. These aren't games."
Damon didn't look away. "No, we aren't."
"My lords crowned me king when your brother murdered my father."
"When your father tried to usurp the crown."
Robb nearly snarled. "Lies."
Damon cocked a brow. "Are they?"
"My father was an honorable man."
The Prince had no argument there and didn't know what else to say except to concur. "I agree."
"Yet he is dead."
"And so are many men. Of both of ours."
"Yet you're willing to let more die."
Damon had never been surer of what to say in his entire life. "No Robb; you are." The King in the North said nothing, and Damon continued. "Peace can be had, but not independence. Discuss that with your lords and I'll discuss it with the king. Perhaps something can be worked out." He saluted, having said all he had wanted to and more than he probably would in the next three months. "I'll give you a week to answer me, be it peace or war."
Damon didn't wait for a response, kicking his stallion over to Tyrek and taking the rope tied to Sansa. Robb cut in. "Leave her with her mother. As a token of goodwill."
Catelyn, who had tightened the grip she had never relinquished throughout her son's negotiations, nearly broke his heart with her tone. "Please, Prince Damon."
Old Damon would have given her over then and there. Sansa was a young girl who had been caught in a string of events completely over her head. She'd been abused by Joffrey, tortured mentally and emotionally, and had only been reunited with the family she'd been away from for months minutes ago. Robb was clearly at least willing to discuss peace, considering the position he was in strategically; what harm could doing the right thing cause?
Old Damon would have said none. This Damon, the one who had seen blood and shit and death on battlefields, knew better. Sansa was the most advantageous prisoner the crown held; giving her away would do nothing good and everything bad.
He wanted to, though. He wanted her to escape and be free, this innocent girl caught in a spat between her brother and former betrothed.
For a second he faltered, then made up his mind.
"No." The Prince of Dragonstone literally pulled a sobbing Sansa from her mother's arms, despite shouted protest from Edmure and Robb and all three of the Stark companions. Sansa screamed, doing her best to jump from her horse despite being tied at the wrist to the rope in Damon's hands. Damon instead plucked her from her saddle and sat her down sidesaddle in front of him, ignoring the double-fisted punches she threw and tears she cried.
He almost expected Robb to draw steel at that display. The King in the North didn't, however, restraining his own mother instead, though his eyes were glaring and promised a retribution. Damon met the glare only a moment before turning jittery horse and screaming northern girl and galloping away. When he finally looked back, Sansa having broken down into a sobbing hunk at his chest, the Starks were gone.
The entire display had broken his heart, though he resolved not to let it show. He hated himself for it almost as much as he was certain Sansa and the Starks did.
But he was a Prince. A Baratheon and a Lannister, and there was a war to win.
Robb had only been partially right. They weren't kids anymore, but this certainly was a game, one the Golden Stag was finally beginning to play.
The Seven frowned upon him for his cold-heartedness though, as he learned a few days later. They punished him in the most devastating way they could.
They made Damon king.
The Lord of Hayford Hall had grown used to things happening in the dead of the night.
Word of King Robert's death had reached their camp in the earliest hours of the morning, long before the sun would rise. So too had the word that Stannis was descending on the capitol with the majority of Renly's host, and over half of the engagements he and the Prince he followed had fought in had been underneath the stars rather than the sun.
The days, by contrast, were much more boring and tame. He trained, rode and otherwise killed time until darkness and its dangers fell. Each night when he lay down on his cot he expected to be woken by the sounds of screams and crackling flame or the melancholy tone of a courier bringing bad tidings. That very thing had already happened more than once, and he expected them to happen again.
So when he saw the messenger and his dying horse being escorted through his camp in the middle of a sunny day, he expected it only to be more threats from the capitol or war news centered around Stannis. Maybe even an answer from Robb Stark, though he still had two and a half days to answer Damon before the Prince's ultimatum was up.
Not that Tyrek had any idea what Damon was going to do if Robb didn't respond within the allotted timeframe; the Prince had confided in Tyrek that he didn't have any idea either. He supposed their only option would be to take this rogue force and move forward to engage the King in the North, sending word back to the pissed capitol that Damon the Daring could use some of the Reachman reinforcements he'd been wise enough to forgo requesting thus far. The Prince had been spending several hours a day with his chief commanders, coming up with potential ways to go about just that but not yet having found one anyone could agree on.
Tyrek glanced to the Prince as soon as he saw them, opening his mouth to say something about them but closing them as soon as he saw Damon was already standing, still holding a bowl of venison stew in one hand. Tyrek also rose to his feet, the others that had been sharing the midday meal following suit. Ser Addam Marbrand and Ser Garlan Tyrell both lay their bowls on the stumps they had just vacated, preparing to pass on any orders that might be forthcoming to their respective commands. Ser Balon Swann popped his back before taking up position to the king's right as Bella, who had been responsible for the stew the commanders had been eating, straightened from stirring the broth in the hanging pot, glancing once at her Prince. Damon didn't return the glance, but he gestured for her to stay with a flick of his free hand.
That came to the surprise of no one, much less Tyrek. While Bella spent her nights with Sansa Stark and Septa Morra, her days were spent mostly in the company of Damon, both publicly and privately. The Prince had stopped concerning himself with hiding it for the most part, and if it bothered any of the cadre of commanders, no one said anything.
The messenger was sweaty and had bags under his eyes, clearly not having slept in well over a day. He wore the black and red trappings of House Thorne, the closest Crownland house to their current position inside the Riverlands. His escorts, one a Marbrand retainer and the other a soldier of House Tyrell, left him as soon as they delivered him to the Prince's cookfire, bowing in respect before turning their horses to return to their scouting duties. Many of the scouting parties were on long, winding searches for Jaime Lannister—Damon and Tyrek had only returned form one of their own mere hours earlier.
Whatever news the man carried must have been important, for he had ridden his horse so hard that Tyrek doubted the animal would have made it another half mile. It's bay hide was probably a few shades lighter than the dark bay it looked to be, true color hidden by the sweat and foam covering every inch of its body.
The messenger dismounted with the crack of joints and a grunt of pain, deepening into a bow of his own in the direction of Damon before reaching into his leather satchel, withdrawing a folded piece of parchment and extending it to the Prince of Dragonstone. "A message from the capitol, Your Grace. I was told to get it here as quickly as physically possible."
Damon took the offered parchment, Tyrek seeing the seal of the hand of the king pressed into the wax as the parchment exchanged hands. "Thank you. Bella, a meal for him." Even as he said this Damon was extending the sealed parchment towards Tyrek, who had already withdrawn a dagger, splitting the wax seal quickly. Damon opened it one handed, still clearly intent on returning to the stew in his other hand as soon as this inconvenience of command was over.
Tyrek saw his friend's face change as he read the letter, body as still as a statue even if his face didn't give anything away. He stared at it for a long, long time. As the messenger accepted a bowl of stew from Bella and followed the summoned squire leading his poor horse away to be cared for, Tyrek found himself growing anxious. Damon's face never flickered, never showed so much as a hint of emotion, but the knuckles of the hand still holding his meal grew white.
After forever and a day, as the commanders and the courtesan stared at him in growing concern, Damon finally moved. He shifted his gaze to the trampled grass beneath his feet, extending both hands out. The bowl he gave to Bella, who took it and did nothing to hide the concern on her face as she gazed at his emotionless face. The letter he extended to Tyrek, who took it while giving Damon the same exact look Bella was.
Then, the Prince simply turned and walked into his tent, closing the flap behind him.
All eyes stared at the canvas for a moment, before simultaneously turning to Tyrek. The Lannister knight opened the parchment in his hand, reading the lines that changed everything about everything thrice before speaking.
"Sers, please form an honor guard. Whatever you agree is best to protect Damon but still move quickly towards the capitol. I'll begin getting the necessary provisions aligned. Bella, get Lady Sansa prepared to leave on horseback. Then, go to Damon." He let his eyes settle on the girl. "Your King needs you."
She was the queen, except she wasn't.
She had been—twice—but now she was merely a former queen who had lost her king…also twice. She had been Renly Baratheon's queen, but when someone or something struck him down that night in the Reach she had stopped using the title. Afterwards she had become the queen of Joffrey Baratheon for all of half a day, until he choked to death on poison mere feet from her. Neither marriage had been consummated, the first because of her husband's preference for her brother and the latter because there had been absolutely no time. That left Margaery Tyrell, the Rose of Highgarden, a twice widowed maid.
And not a queen.
Margaery didn't think herself overly greedy. She wanted power of course—many did, and there was no sin in it. She wanted power for the Reach, for House Tyrell, and of course for herself. But a woman could only amass so much power of her own in Westeros, and in all places except for Dorne a woman's power began and ended with the power her husband held.
More precisely, with the power she held over him.
Margaery could have controlled either Renly or Joffrey. The former because she had information that could destroy him and incentive not to use it, painting her as a friend and ally to a man. And she would have been those things, whatever Renly Baratheon's taste in the bedchamber; he was a good man, a caring one, and would have made a charming, pretty face to show the people while Margaery worked her way into a true power in Westeros.
Joffrey she could have controlled because he was starving for affection and approval. He had also been a complete monster, one whose face was appealing but whose look made her skin crawl and psychotic ravings made her stomach twist in revulsion and, yes, fear. That would have been a harder task, at least in terms of keeping his want and need to torture others controlled and hidden. Running the kingdoms in his stead, though, would have been a simple matter; Joffrey Baratheon had no interest in running the kingdoms and certainly no skill for it. Her only obstacle in power from that angle was his grandfather, Lord Tywin Lannister. That struggle would have been hard fought and likely very, very underhanded.
And might still be, if her family got what it wanted.
Her as queen. Again, but this time with a king much more moldable and much less insane.
Margaery shifted as subtly as she could, keeping her face expressionless as she listened to the testimony of yet another witness, this one Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard. The trial of Tyrion Lannister had been a difficult thing for her. In one sense that was good, because as the bereaved widow of the dead Joffrey Baratheon she was expected to show some discomfort when at the trial of her husband's killer. It was also a problem, because she was genuinely distressed to see Tyrion stand accused of something she knew he didn't do.
Tyrion Lannister was innocent. He hadn't killed Joffrey Baratheon.
And she knew who did.
She didn't, actually. Not who had actually slipped the poison to the king or who had supplied it. She supposed she wasn't even completely sure who had given the order, not with evidence or factual knowledge.
But Margaery Tyrell knew. She knew it in her bones and in her heart of hearts. She'd never been warned or told anything, not a word about what her grandmother and others had planned, but down deep she had almost expected it. While it was a shock, it wasn't necessarily a surprise when the king had stared choking.
Tyrion Lannister hadn't killed Joffrey Baratheon, House Tyrell had. They hadn't done it for the good of the realm or to take revenge or any such noble cause—they had done it so that their rose, their beautiful daughter who had been raised from the moment she was born to be the perfect queen, could marry someone different and still be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
They did it for greed. They did it for power.
They did it for her.
And Tyrion Lannister would die for it.
Margaery had the decency to feel guilty about that, and about the fact that she was relieved her second husband had died.
Life with Joffrey would have given her the power she had always craved, but it would have been…less than pleasant, on the personal side of things. While she had no doubt she could have made the firstborn son of Robert—if he truly was the son of Robert—love her more than life itself, people were what they were. He would still have been the same monster beneath the surface, no matter what facades he put on or what differences she could make in him. There would always be that madness, and who knew what it might cause him to do to her. Or to their children.
She had felt many things while she watched Joffrey die, but she wouldn't deny that relief had been one of them.
But Joffrey was dead. And her father and grandmother were already pushing Lord Tywin to 'keep the alliance' between House Tyrell and House Baratheon-Lannister. Tywin seemed to be in complete support of it, even if Dowager Queen Cersei most certainly was not. Margaery seemed to be the only one to realize that another, very vital individual had a say in that matter. Not that she was worried about that.
Damon of House Baratheon—now King Damon of House Baratheon, first of his name, even if he had yet to be crowned—had been gone from the capitol for months, since only a few weeks after she and House Tyrell had arrived in King's Landing. He was somewhere in the Riverlands, either fighting Robb Stark or trying to make peace with him, depending on who you want to believe. He had Sansa Stark with him, sent alongside then-Prince Damon and Margaery's own brother Garlan to try and broker a peace. Or abducted by then-Prince Damon and his cousin Tyrek for the same reason, if her grandmother and her sources were to be believed. Margaery had no reason not to.
Damon the Daring indeed.
Whatever the true story, his absence and what might or might not have changed in that amount of time didn't bother Margaery. She remembered the first time she had seen the Prince, or more precisely the first time he had seen her. Margaery may technically be a maid, but she knew plenty about men and how they thought. She had seen the flash in Damon's eyes the second they found hers and knew exactly what it had meant, and precisely how…intrigued the now-King had been with her.
And how terrified.
Margaery also remembered, perhaps too vividly, that night she and her family had first taken dinner with Joffrey and his. She remembered his reaction to the accidental touch of their hands, saw it had shaken him deeply. She also remembered it had shaken her, an unexpected occurrence, but she of course had recovered from it quickly. Damon had not, and had spent the next days avoiding her like the Great Spring Sickness.
She knew why. Then, it had been only a point worth noting, possibly to use as an ally later or for some lighthearted fun. It could have become a problem if she weren't more in control of herself than she was, but Margaery wouldn't throw her position away for a golden face, no matter what his touch made her do involuntarily. Now, though, it was something she could and would use.
And the sinful side of her imagined it would be very, very fun. She'd heard the rumors. She'd felt the effect in tiny doses. And if she could have that effect on Damon without trying, imagine what she could if she actually did.
Things are bound to become interesting, when the King returns to King's Landing.
As if at her summons, at that very moment he did.
The doors to the Great Hall opened suddenly, amidst the testimony of another 'witness' whose name Margaery had missed amid her inner musings. Lord Tywin, her father and Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne—the judges filling in for the king in his absence—looked to the head of the hall, the Hand of the King's brow furling in irritation at the interruption. Abruptly, however, they stood.
Margaery looked that direction, and quickly did the same even as something in her lurched oddly.
Damon Baratheon strode down the center of the hall with none of the discomfort she had come to expect from him, the gathered crowd on both sides near falling over one another in their haste to rise. He was dressed in black and gold armor, a sword at his side and a helm tucked under one arm. His golden face, framed by golden hair shorn short, was completely blank, emerald eyes staring straight ahead of him as he all but marched towards the Throne that now belonged to him. He paid no mind to anything, eyes locked on dais of the chair of melted swords Tywin Lannister had stepped away from at his instance.
Four figures followed him, three in armor of their own and the last in a dress of blue silk. To Damon's right and slightly behind, dressed in Lannister crimson and gold, walked Tyrek Lannister, face similar in features to his kingly cousin though he was shorter and broader. His face was also blank, following his friends every move like the loyal companion he had proven to be. To the king's left walked her own brother, in his green armor and cape, like the other two wearing a sword and looking for all the world like they were on a battlefield. Behind them, side by side, came Ser Balon Swann in his Kingsguard white, morning star and sword both sheathed on his hips, and Sansa Stark, a stunning contrast in her dress to the armored knights she followed.
Margaery registered the others with a quick, cursory glance. Her eyes immediately returned to the King of the Iron Throne, tall and strong and, if she had anything to say about it, soon to be hers.
The courtiers clamored and bowed, shouting greetings or condolences. King Damon paid none of it any mind, eyes never straying and face never changing as he walked forwards, slowing only subtly, his companions mimicking his motions exactly.
The King came to a stop next to the bench where a dwarven, chained figure stood watching him. The clamor of the court died down as the King, for the first time since entering, looked away from the throne. Damon turned his head slowly to the right, eyes falling on the man he thought killed his brother.
Margaery, heart racing in the excitement, found herself leaning forward as Damon said something in a low voice to his uncle, though she didn't manage to hear just what it was. Tyrion Lannister met his eyes and held them for a long while, then shook his head once.
Damon stared, emerald on offset emerald and black, for a long, long while, as the now-quiet throne room waited with baited breath. Then, abruptly, he looked to his grandfather. Tywin and the other judges had descended from the dais of the throne as Damon had made his way forward, as was protocol. At his look Tywin stepped forward to his grandson's side, and more quiet words were exchanged. Margaery again was too far away to hear anything, though she doubted it would have mattered if she had been anywhere but net to them; they spoke very quietly indeed.
King and Hand nodded at the same time, both with carefully blank expressions though Margaery thought she saw a hint of annoyance in Tywin's pale eyes. Both men turned to face the gathered crowd, and Margaery instinctually found herself looking to Tywin for the inevitable proclamation.
To her utmost surprise it came from Damon, though it was classically succinct of him. "We are adjourned for the day."
He turned away with no more words, stepping forward to take his mother in his arms for a brief hug. Tywin, at the same time, spoke to the crowd. "Return at the break of dawn three days hence for the resumption of the trial. Ser Meryn, please escort the prisoner back to his cell."
Margaery kept her gaze on Damon, willing him to look at her. After a few moments, he did. She smiled, lightly, not in a suggestive or flirty manner but just enough. Damon held her gaze for a long moment, and then, to her utter shock, abruptly turned away.
And froze dead in his tracks, as he found himself face to face with Jaime Lannister.