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The Red Door

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The Nameless Girl

She always loved watching the flames. For others they looked all the same, but not to her. There were a thousand different colours to be found in the flames. There was also something strangely comforting about them. It felt as if an old memory was trying to wedge its way into her mind these days. Now more than ever she dreamed of her past, but sometimes she was unable to say if it was a memory or a dream.

She recalled not much from her past. All she recalled was a house with red doors and a lemon tree in the garden. She also had a brother who told her stories about dragons and knights, but even her true name was lost to her. Her Mistress calls her Naerys, but she knew by now that this is not her real name.

It was the name she muttered when her first Maester found her half-frozen on the streets of Braavos. Even Braavos was nothing more than a blurry memory to her and always filled her with an aching pain that she was unable to describe. She knew that her brother died, but who and why this deed was committed she didn’t know. Her memory of that night was nothing more than a dark chasm. Not that she tried to remember. Whatever happened to that night, she didn't want to recall these painful memories.

And her current life wasn’t all that bad. She was lucky that her first Master sold her to Mistress Meema, a rich woman who owned one of the most prestigious brothels of Volantis. The Mistress was once a courtesan herself and sold to the Triarch of Volantis. Not that she cared much about the past of her mistress. Having a past is painful and those who lose themselves to such memories go mad..

You have no mother and father, Mistress Meema had  told the new girls only recently. I am now your new mother, child.

For her that was never hard to accept. She didn't even know her father's and mother's name, only that both of them died a long time ago. As young girl she often pretended that Mistress Meema was her mother, though they showed little resemblance to each other. Mistress Meema was graced with inky black hair and eyes of jade. Naerys’ hair was pale like the moonlight and her eyes of a dark purple colour like the silk dresses the highborn ladies of the city like to wear.

"Naerys," Mistress Meema's soft voice called her back to the present. Like every morning she was lounging on her silken canopy, a fan and her correspondence in her. Her age was showing these days, her once black hair streaked by more grey strands than she was able to count. ”Come here. I have need of your help, child."

"At once, Mistress," she replied obediently and left her comfortable place before the hearth. Then she knelt down next to her and kissed the Mistress' hand.

The Mistress smiled warmly and brushed her hand through Naerys' silver hair.

"Now little bird...bring me ink and paper. I have need of your translation abilities."

"Of course," she answered and made her way to the carved box made of dark cherry wood. Carefully, she opened the box and found the ink and paper.

Unlike the other girls she was fluent in High Vayrian and thus her Mistress often used her for translation work. Her correspondence was often meant for the high nobility of Volantis. Naturally, she was not allowed to speak about it, but the idea of making use of her knowledge never occurred until one of the other girls remarked upon it

"Child!" her Mistress called out to her again and she hurried to join her side. Carefully, she spread the paper on the table and dipped the feather in the pot of ink. Then she shifted her attention back to her Mistress. “May I begin?"

Her Mistress smiled and started to dictate her letter to one of the many rich merchants residing in the city. Naerys knew many of them by name and also their dirty secrets. Many come here to find escape from their life, but some even used her Mistress’ place to cover secret business deals. Even bribes and elections were often decided in these halls.

It was no long letter and soon paced the ink and paper back in the box, before returning to her Mistress’s side.

"I thank you," her Mistress replied and poured herself a cup of sweetened wine. Naerys also received a cup but hers was sweetened with more honey than usual. Her Mistress knew her taste.

"How old are you now, child?" her Mistress asked.

"One and three…I flowered recently," she answered, which earned her a sad smile. Naerys didn't quite understand why her answer saddened her, but her Mistress always kept her true feelings hidden.

"Do you know what that means, child?" her Mistress asked.

"I will have to serve," she replied. She wanted nothing more than to make her Mistress proud, but deep down she feared the uncertain future…

"You are so young," her Mistress remarked and leaned back. ”But it would stir the jealousy of the other girls if I show you more consideration than others. Some of them are already grumbling about your favourable position."

She was stunned by this piece of information, but then she spent most of her time caring for her Mistress.

"I don't want to upset the other girls," she gasped and earned herself a soft smile.

"No one can live without enemies, sweet child," Her Mistress remarked and brushed over her cheek. That is a lesson you need to learn if you want to be my successor."

"Your successor?"

"Of course," her Mistress confirmed. ”Why else would I take you under my wing?"

"But...!" she wanted to protest, but her Mistress' fingers sealed her lips.

"I have no children nor will I ever have one. You are smart and you have the right mind for this kind of business. When I die I want you to have all my jewels."

Fearfully, she grasped her Mistress' arm and kissed it.

"You won't die!" she insisted and earned herself another chuckle.

"Nobody can say what tomorrow brings, sweet child."

...

Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to moons and nothing changed. She continued to care for her Mistress and wondered when she will finally lay eyes on the man she will serve. Most of the girls served for a few moons, but some girls served for years.

Mistress Meema was such a person. When he was a young man the Old Tiger made her his official mistress and after seven years of loyal service he gifted her a box of jewels. These jewels she used to buy this place and turned it into one of the most prestigious brothels in Volantis.

Yet Mistress Meema’s brothel was no place for cheap music, but beauty and music. All the girls here were educated, knew how to play an instrument and how to read. Some even knew history and others were fluent in more than one language.

"Your harp play needs more work," Nala, a girl hailing from Lys remarked. She was chosen to train them in music and dance. Nobody was able to bring forth softer tunes than her and nobody was more critical.

Not that the girl’s criticism bothered her. She wanted to improve her play and a gifted teacher like Nala could only be to her advantage. At least that is what she tried to tell herself when she was scolded by the girl.

"I have been practicing diligently, but it is not getting better," she replied and lowered her head in apology.

Nala smiled and picked the harp from her hands.

"You look tired, sweet child," Nala added and brushed her hand over her cheek. “The Mistress should take on another servant to ease your burdens."

"The Mistress wants no one else," she countered stubbornly.

"Our Mistress is very sick," Nala replied in a serious voice. ”She is trying to hide it, but her coughing is getting worse. Soon we will be sold."

"Sold?" she asked, a sick feeling settling in her stomach.

"Of course," Nala said and moved closer to whisper into her ear. “Unless she names a successor we will be sold.”

But she named one, she wanted to tell the girl, but then she recalled that her Mistress asked it to keep it a secret.

“I see,” she said and nodded her head in understanding.

The weeks passed and her Mistress’ condition worsened steadily. She was barely able to leave her Mistress’ side and was often unable to sleep through the night.

Tonight was such a night and as always she went to brew a hot tea for her Mistress. First she heated the water over the hearth and put the herbs into the steaming water. The healer prescribed it to her mistress to ease her pains.

Quickly, she returned to her Mistress’ side and brought the cup to her mouth.

"I thank you," she said, her face pale as ash. Sweat was rolling down her cheeks as she continued to drink.

"Is there more...," her Mistress began, but then she heard it. It sounded like breaking glass and when she turned around she found a piece of stone lying on the ground. It broke the painted windows and the bits and pieces were littering the ground.

"What happened?" she asked and turned back to her Mistress. She gasped when she noticed her empty eyes staring off in the distance.

Fearfully, she touched her Mistress’ brow. She was cold and she was no longer breathing.

She is dead, she knew and felt as if an arrow pierced her heart. She knew that her real mother perished in the birthing bed and now it felt as if her second mother was taken from her.

Yet she had no time to grieve for her mistress, when she heard loud noises coming from the solar. Gathering her courage she grabbed the dagger hidden under her Mistress' wine stash and made her way down to the solar.

When she entered the solar she felt as if stepping into a furnace. The solar once decorated with fine silk cushions and exotic flowers was burning.

Girls lay sprawled on the ground, dead and bloody. She spotted Nala among them, her head split open and part of her brain matter spread over the floor.

She froze and nearly dropped her dagger.

“Look!” a stranger exclaimed. He was a giant of a man and pointed at her. Wasting no further thought she rushed off, down the next corridor, leading the larder. There was a window leading out to the street. It was her only change of escape.

Her heart threatened to jump out of her chest as she rushed down another corridor, the voices of the stranger’s distant echoes.

Breathing heavily she stumbled in the larder, where she found two of the kitchen maids and several other girls hidden under the tables.

One of them shrieked after they noticed her entrance.

"We need to get out of here!" she shouted at the girls hidden under the table. Those were the young ones, the maids, like her.

Yet it was too late. A moment later the door was opened and someone grabbed her roughly around the neck.

She found herself struggling against the man's weight, her dagger far from her grasp.

"Do you have her?" another man asked.

"I have her," he confirmed her captor and pulled on her hair. The pain made her whimper, but her gaze was fixed on the dagger on the floor.

"What have we here?" her captor’s companion asked and grinned when he spotted the younger girls cowering under the tables.

"A stash of maidens ready to be sold. We will be rich men."

"Are you a maid?" the man pulling on her hair asked. She knew what he was really asking. Are you worth any gold?

"I am one and three...freshly flowered," she replied, her head pressed on the hard stone floor.

"Good," the other man said and pulled her back to her feet. ”It would be a shame to kill you.”

The same night they were brought to the harbour. Whoever these men were they intended to sell them for a good price.

What hurt the most was that she had to leave behind her books. Over the years she had assembled a large collection. Now they were lost to her. Like the other girls and her poor Mistress.

...

She didn't know how long their travel lasted. For weeks she only knew the rocking of the waves and the smell of salt filling her nostrils. Sometimes her captor allowed her to go on deck to catch fresh air, but most of the time she spent in her carbine.

We are going North, the man who bought her told her not long ago. He was a grim man and sported a shaggy beard. His accent sounded strange and she wondered if all people in the North speak like him.

Finally, moons later they arrived at a place called White Harbour. She found the town passable, but it was nothing compared to the splendours of Volantis.

Yet the worst was the cold.

Not that it was much of a surprise. Underneath her flimsy cloak she wore one of her summer dresses.

Their stay at White Harbour was short and only two days later they continued to travel along a muddy road called the Kingsroad, leading towards a castle named Winterfell. Finally, their captor thought of providing them with pelt, but one of the girls grew sick and died from a fever.

The rest of the travel consisted of blistered feet and the icy wind biting into her skin. She desperately tried to hide her face from the cold, but her efforts proved useless. The cold got everywhere and no pelt in the world was able to protect her. It made her long for a warm hearth, for her Mistress, for her house with the red door…

The thought was enough to conjure tears to her eyes, but she continued on towards Winterfell.

It proved to be a massive castle made of grey walls and towers alike. Yet they didn’t enter the castle, but were brought to a town named Wintertown, where they were meant to serve in a shabby tavern.

"What do you have for me, Brease?" the owner asked eyed each of the girls.

"Maids...lots of maids," their captor replied and patted her head. “This one is a true beauty...you ought to sell her maidenhead to one of those high lords."

"Purple eyes and silver hair," the owner muttered and regarded her closely. “From Lys?"

"Don't know...she doesn't speak much."

"That is good. I will take her and the other girl...the one with the red hair. The Lord's son has a nameday coming up and the Greyjoy heir likes coming here. They will serve."

...

The Bastard of Winterfell

Jon flushed as they entered the shabby tavern. He came here to celebrate his nameday. It was Robb's suggestion, but he was sure that Theon sparked the idea.

The heir to the Iron Islands always pondered ways to humiliate him.

"Is something wrong, brother?" Robb asked, a smile curling on his lips. “You are shivering like a young tree.”

Jon gritted his teeth and tried to keep his composure. Theon’s snickering made him boil with rage, but he couldn’t run off. Robb was trying to be gracious and to refuse his gift would be an outright insult. He had no other choice but to play along.

"I am fine," he assured Robb. The solar was dark and the girls were lounging against the walls, their smiles following after him. “Truly, I am fine."

"Of course you are," Robb added and patted his shoulder. “Today is your nameday. Believe me...you will like it."

"As you say, brother," he muttered as the owner of this shabby place came to greet them. He was an ugly man and bared his yellow teeth.

He knows Robb.

"M'Lord,” he greeted. ”What can I do for you?"

"Oh, the girl is not for me," Robb replied and jerked his head at Jon."Today is my brother’s nameday and I intend to be generous."

The man's face lightened instantly and he rubbed his hands together.

"Ah, of course," he said and led the way. „You are lucky too. We have two maids."

"Maids?" Theon asked and wrinkled his brows in surprise. ”Sadly, I can’t afford maids."

Jon wanted to kick the boy, but he didn't want to embarrass Robb.

"Please…show them to us," Robb stuttered and the owner followed suit.

Two girls appeared, one graced with red hair and the other…silver-blond. It was an uncommon hair colour. Most people in the North sported dark hair and her eye colour was even stranger. Purple like dark silk.

"The one with the silver hair is called Naerys...like the Dragon Queen. The red head is called Maara...she is a bit wild."

Jon swallowed hard, all eyes resting on him. He didn't know what to say. He was speechless.

Then the silver-haired girl lifted her head and met his gaze.

"Well chosen," the owner said and patted his shoulder, though Jon hadn't even said a single word.

Not that he cared. He wouldn't have been able to choose on his own.

"Very well," Robb said and handed the owner the promised gold coins.

It only helped to deepen his grudge against Theon Greyjoy.

"What are you waiting for, Snow?" Theon taunted and grinned.”Or did you forget where to put it?"

"I know where to put it," he replied through gritted teeth and followed after the girl. Quietly, the girl led him up a staircase towards the guestrooms. Jon's heart nearly jumping of his jest after the girl had closed the door behind them.

What disturbed him even more was that the girl’s silence.

Was she afraid or just unable to speak?

Instead she started to pull of her clothing.

"Please stop!" Jon gasped anxiously.

Her eyes widened in surprise and she stopped.

"Why?" she asked, in a strange accent Jon was unable to place. “Isn’t that the reason you came here?"

"I am here, because my brother thinks he is doing me a favour. He thinks I am in need a woman before I go to the Wall.”

"What has this Wall to do with having a woman?" she asked and sat down on the bed, her hands smoothing over the surface. Her lack of knowledge only confirmed what he already knew. She was a stranger to these lands, but her silver hair and purple eyes could have told him that.

"Going to the Wall means joining the Night’s Watch. The men of the Night’s Watch are not allowed to marry or to father children. Thus having a woman will be out of the question."

"There is only one thing I don't understand," she said after a while of silence had passed between them.”You said that they are not allowed to marry or to father children. Why does that mean you can’t have a woman?”

Jon was stunned.

"Well, it doesn't matter...because I can't do that...I could father a bastard."

"Bastard," she repeated the word as if it was foreign to lips. “What does that mean?"

He sighed heavily.

"It means my father and mother were not married. I am also a bastard...the life of a bastard is full of hardships."

"Why?"

"Because people shun you. Bastards are cursed by the Seven."

She laughed and rose to her feet to pour herself a cup of wine. Then she took a hesitant sip and shifted her attention back on him.

"Where I come from very few people believe in the Seven. The courtesans often went to the Temple of Light to pray or to receive blessings. The God of Light makes no difference between rich and poor, old our young, slave or free man. This concept of bastards being cursed makes no sense to me."

Jon didn't know what to say that. He had the urge to laugh and wished Lady Stark would hear the girl’s words.

"Temple of Light?" he asked. ”Where can I find this Temple of Light?”

"In Volantis," she replied and sat back down on the bed. ”It is a beautiful city. You should visit if you have the time."

"I told you...I will go to the Night's Watch. The Wall is the only place for a bastard like me. The rumours say the King is coming to make my father Hand of the King. His wife wants me to leave."

"Then leave…I don’t understand why this Wall is the only place you can go," she replied and met his gaze. Her words angered him, but he tried to keep his composure.

"Didn’t you listen?" he grumbled. „I am a stranger in my father's home...," he continued but stopped himself after he noticed her sad expression.

A moment of heavy silence followed, before she spoke again.

"You are a free man...you can go wherever you want and leave your mark on the world. I don't understand why you want to go to the Wall when the whole world stands open to you. Go to Essos...nobody there will care if you are a bastard."

"I can't just go," he countered and sat down on the bed next to her. ”I have a duty."

"Duty to whom?"

"My father...to remove his shame. By serving in the Night’s Watch I can achieve that."

"If your father is ashamed for fathering you then doesn't deserve to be called your father."

"How can you say that?" he asked and fisted the bedding. ”Do you even know your father?”

"No," she replied a sad expression taking hold of her beautiful face. „I only know that he is dead...like my mother and brother."

He felt like slapped.

"I...," he stuttered and lowered his head apologetically. “I am truly sorry."

"You are a strange boy," she said and pursed her lips. ”I forgot to ask...What is your name?"

"Jon Snow," he replied and felt her hand on his cheek. Her touch was warm and he couldn't help but to return the gesture.

She smiled at that.

"Well, then Jon Snow...I can assure you that you won't have to worry about bastards. We all know how to make moon tea."

He frowned and brushed her hand away.

"Why would you want to do it with me?"

"I rather do it with you than some other fool. You are at least pretty to look at."

Her words made his cheeks burn.

"You mean it?"

"Of course," she replied and brushed her hand through his dark curls. “I mean it."

"I am not lying," she assured him and leaned down to kiss him. He closed his eyes and returned the kiss, touching his lips to hers. The kiss warmed him from head to toe and left him delirious for more.

Then she let go of him and pulled off her cloak, followed by her dress. She was precious to behold and made his breeches uncomfortable tight.

Gods, he thought and was torn between running away and kissing her again.

Again she bridged the distance and kissed him, her hands pulling on his hair.

Her mouth felt so soft and he was soon losing himself to her touch. Carefully, she helped him discard the rest of his clothes. Only when she started to work the bindings of his breeches did he stop her.

"I may be a maid, but I know what I am doing," she assured him and touched him.

A moan escaped him and he felt both shame and lust washing over him. Then he balled his fists in the bedding and closed his eyes.

It felt like a massive wave, threatening to overwhelm him.

"Don't fret," she told him and helped him pull down the breeches. „It won't hurt...boys are luckier than girls in that regard."

A trembling laugh escaped him.

"So I heard," he replied and touched her shoulder. She smiled as settled herself on him, though he saw a hint of discomfort washing over her, before a gasp left her mouth.

"Are you well?" he asked her then and brushed his hand over cheek. She smiled at that. It was a smile that tugged at his heart.

"Aye," she replied balanced herself against his chest. Jon bit back a groan and then another. It was too tight and too warm.

It took not much more than that, before the world started to blur before his eyes. When he came back from his haze he felt only shame.

The way she was calmly washing herself bothered him even more.

"Do you want to wash yourself?" she asked, but he needed to leave, to forget about his shame, to hit Theon and to thank Robb, to do something.

"I am fine," he replied and put on his clothes, before slipping out of the room.

Yet even at night, when he was rolling from one side to the other, was he unable to forget her sad smile.

...

The Namless Girl

She was occupied with the calculations when a strange customer entered the solar.

It was a dwarf, a very well-dressed dwarf.

Yet his ghastly look didn’t bother the other girls.

"What brings you here, M'Lord?" Ross, one of the prettier girls asked and smoothed her hands through her red locks.

"Did you come in company of the King?" Kyra added. She was one of the youngest girls, only one and tree.

"Business," the dwarf lord answered. ”I am here to find company for the King...there will be a feast in Winterfell."

"We heard of it," Ross replied and grinned down at the dwarf, her breast nearly completely visible through her pale dress. Even from here she was able to see her frozen nipples. “How can we be of service to you, M'Lord?"

The dwarf chuckled.

"I am searching for pretty girls who know how to entertain a King," he explained and looked around. “This shouldn’t be hard to accomplish. I never thought a dreary place like the North could be filled with so much beauty.

The girls giggled. Only Ross, the oldest among them, continued to sport her feigned smile.

She knew what it would mean to serve the King.

She the King riding through Wintertown and wasn’t very surprised. She heard that he was once a mighty warrior, but now he was only a fat man, dressed in fancy clothing and carrying crown on his head.

"Then tell us…What does the King like?" Kyra asked and twirled her brown air between her two fingers.

The dwarf opened his mouth, but then their Master joined them, his eyes blinking as he noticed this richly-dressed customer.

"M'Lord! M'Lord! Welcome!" their Master greeted and rubbed his hands together. „I am sure we have a girl that will suit your tastes."

"Not today," the dwarf lord answered. “I am here to find ladies for the King."

"The King...!" their Master stuttered and nearly collapsed. „Truly...such an honour," he continued and rang with his composure, his gaze hurriedly wandering over the girls, before coming to rest on her.

"Then you should take a look at our new girl," he boasted proudly as if she was some sort of well-bred horse.

"Barely touched and very beautiful. Look at this exotic hair and those purple eyes."

The dwarf inclined his head and to look at her while she tried to hide herself behind the bottle placed on the table.

He eyed her from head to toe, before giving his answer.

"I fear she wouldn't be to the King's taste," the dwarf explained in an apologetic look. ”Her silver hair and her purple eyes would only remind him of a man he once killed for stealing away his betrothed."

Realization showed on her Master's face.

“Of course...we have plenty of other girls. I am sure one of them will suit the King’s taste."

The dwarf nodded his head in understanding.

“That would be of great help to me."

Her Master smiled and rushed up the stairs to call for the other girls occupied with customers.

"I need to put on a proper dress," Ross told her, a smug smile curling on her crimson lips. ”I think M’Lord is thirsting for a cup of wine.”

"I apologize," the dwarf said and smiled at her. ”But your lack of beauty wasn’t the reason."

The dwarf’s forwardness amused him.

"I am not sad," she whispered and filled a cup to the brim. “I saw the King. He is far too big for most girls here. I fear not all of them will make it out alive."

The dwarf lord laughed and sipped from his wine.

"You are a witty one, aren't you?"

"If you think so," she said and continued with her calculations. Since she gave her maidenhead to Robb Stark's brother her Master was hoping that either Robb Stark or the Greyjoy heir will return to demand her company.

Thus he had to find other obligations for her. At first this included cleaning the floors or serving ale to the customers, but when her Master realized that she was good with numbers he allowed her to do the weekly calculations.

"No, I mean it," the dwarf insisted and moved closer get a look at her work. “I never met an honest whore."

She gritted her teeth and bit back a sharp comment.

"Where I come from we call ourselves courtesans."

The dwarf lord cocked an eyebrow and placed his cup back on the table.

"And where is this wondrous place you are coming from?"

"Volantis," she answered hesitatingly, because Ross told her to keep him occupied. ”My mistress died and I was sold."

"Volantis," the dwarf repeated and jerked his head at the accounts littering the table. ”I am surprised they teach courtesans how to calculate."

"And to read," she corrected him. „We are thought a great many things, M'Lord."

"Oh, I don’t doubt that, though I am curious...please tell me more."

She sighed, but answered nonetheless.

"Poetry, music...I was even allowed to study High Vayrian. I miss that the most. No other language can compare."

"I can read a little bit of High Valyrian," the dwarf remarked and emptied his cup. “It is a very beautiful language, though nobody at court appreciates it…the King holds not much love for the Targaryen dynasty.”

The name Targaryen sparked something in her blurry memory.

"Naerys...that is my name," she added. ”A Targaryen Queen carried this name.”

"Aye," the dwarf confirmed. „I saw a painting of her. She liked to dress like a Septa."

"Septa?" she asked, like so often.

"A woman dedicated to the Faith of the Seven. Queen Naerys was known to be very pious,” the dwarf explained quickly after he noticed her obvious confusion.

"Interesting...," she began, but her Master’s re-appearance interrupted their conversation.

"Girl!" her Master grumbled at her. ”Do your work upstairs. You are bothering us."

She frowned, but lowered her head in understanding.”Of course."

Arriving at the top of the wooden stairs she stopped and continued listening. She always did that, because it helped her to gauge the situation.

"You should ignore her, M'Lord!" she heard Kyra say. „She thinks she is something special because our Master keeps her fresh for the Stark heir, though I doubt he will come back after his bastard brother plucked her.”

Kyra’s comment earned her a scolding

„Shut your bloody mouth, girl!"                                                                                                                                        

...

The Bastard of Winterfell

The sound of the feasting guests made his head squirm. He was so happy to see his Uncle again, but when he asked him about joining the Night’s Watch he made fun of him. Like the girl with the silver hair.

His Uncle’s words wounded his pride.

Jon was ten and five, almost a man grown, but his Uncle dared to call him a child.

And yet his Uncle’s words made him doubt his past convictions.

What if his Uncle was right? What if the girl was right?

All he knew was that he had no future in Winterfell if his father agrees to serve as the King’s Hand.

Go to Essos. Nobody there would care if you are a bastard, the girl told him and deep down he wanted to believe her. Sometimes he imagined becoming a sellsword, but then he wasn’t even able to speak the language spoken across the Narrow Sea. Coin he had too, but his fear held him back.

I have to make a decision, he knew and brushed those troublesome thoughts away. Tomorrow I will decide.

Slowly, he continued to stumble along the wall, fresh snowflakes littering the path before him.

I had a cup too much, he knew and felt the sudden urge to vomit. Ghost seemed to sense his distress and joined his side, licking his hand while he leaned against the stone wall.

“I am well,” he assured the wolf.

“You look pale,” a stranger’s voice disturbed their peace. Jon turned around was surprised to find the Queen’s brother, Tyrion Lannister, observing him from the distance. “And very drunk.”

“I had only three cups,” Jon defended himself, but the dwarf grinned, his ugly face alight with amusement.

“You are the bastard, aren’t you?” the dwarf continued his questioning. Jon winced, but tried to keep his composure. This one was a high lord and a Lannister.

A Lannister always pays his debt, he recalled their motto from one of Maester Luwin’s dusty books.

“Eddard Stark is my father,” he replied, lacking a better answer.

“And Lady Stark is not your mother…which makes you the bastard,” the dwarf quipped amusedly.

“Aye, Lady Stark is not my mother,” he answered through gritted teeth. Ghost seemed to sense his discomfort and growled at the dwarf.

“Ah, one of the famous direwolves!” the dwarf exclaimed happily and rubbed his hands together.

“May I touch him?”

“You may,” Jon confirmed politely. ”But be careful. The teeth of a wolf are sharp.”

“As are the teeth of a lion,” the dwarf countered quickly. ”Though I am only a very small lion.”

“You are small…nobody can deny that, my Lord,” Jon agreed sarcastically.

The dwarf smiled wryly.

“And you are the bastard…nobody can deny that, my boy,” the dwarf added gingerly. ”I heard about your generous brother. He bought you the most beautiful flower to pluck.”

Jon was momentarily confused, but then he understood. He froze in embarrassment, his cheeks burning like a hot brazier against the cold winter air.

“Who…,” he stuttered and looked around to make sure that nobody was around to listen to their conversation. ”Who told you?”

“The owner of the brothel was bragging about it to me and wanted to offer the girl to the King. Luckily, the King holds not much love for silver-haired beauties.”

Jon felt a hint of relief washing over him, though he tried to hide it from the dwarf.

“A witty girl,” the dwarf added knowingly. ”I have never met a whore who could read and write High Valyrian poetry. What a waste.”

“My Lord,” Jon interrupted stiffly. “I think it is best I leave you now. I am tired and a bucket awaits me to empty my stomach.”

The dwarf grinned.

“I will see you soon, my boy.”

I hope not, he muttered and led Ghost away.

As expected, he spent half the night emptying his stomach. Afterwards he rinsed his mouth and tried to sleep, but the uncertainty of his future kept him awake.

Jon was woken by the cry of a woman. Slowly, he rubbed his eyes and pulled on his tunic. Then he made his way to the basin and splashed fresh water into his face to banish away his weariness.

For a brief moment he believed that the woman’s cry was merely his imagination, but only a moment later Robb stormed into his chamber, his face as pale as candlewax.

“Bran fell!” he shouted, his voice laced with fear.”He fell from the Broken Tower!”

“What?” he asked Robb and followed him down the whirling steps. ”How?”

“I don’t know,” Robb answered and opened the door, Greywind and Ghost close at their heels. “I don’t know.”

The Broken Tower was not far, just across the courtyard and pass the stables, yet they were not able to see anything. A large group of onlookers was assembling and Robb had to push them aside to get through.

“Out of the way!” Robb shouted as he continued to push the people aside. ”Out of the fucking way!”

Finally, the crowd parted and they were allowed to pass.

“Bran!” he heard Lady Stark’s whimpering cries. „Wake up! Wake up!”

“Mother!” Robb shouted, his voice growing softer than a feather as he approached his mother, grouching over Bran’s body. ”I sent a rider to inform father, but we need to move Bran away from here…we can’t have him lying her in the dirt. Jon is going to help me.”

Jon swallowed hard when he met Lady Stark’s piercing blue eyes.

Yet she simply brushed her tears away and ignored him.

“Carefully,” she told Robb as he knelt down to lift Bran’s body from the ground. Jon did same and moments later they were able to place their brother in a bed, Maester Luwin ready to attend to him.

Then they were sent away and he door was close behind them.

.The waiting proved the worst. The whole day Maester Luwin spent inside Bran’s chamber. Only Lord Stark, Lady Stark and Robb were allowed to see him.

Jon longed to see him, but he doubted Lady Stark would appreciate it. Luckily, Robb was kind enough to keep him and Arya informed.

“What did Maester Luwin say?” she asked Robb, her voice brimming with impatience. ”When will he wake up? When can we speak to him?”

“I doubt you will be here,” Robb replied, his face stern. „The King wants to depart soon.”

Arya grimaced.

“I won’t go!” she insisted and left, Nymeria trailing after her. ”Father can’t force me!”

Robb exhaled deeply and shifted his attention back to Jon.

“Father told me he wants to speak to you,” Robb added quietly.

Jon shrugged his shoulders and rose to his feet, Ghost following after him. The way Robb said it meant it was important.

“I will speak to him,” he assured Robb and whistled at Ghost. ”Come along, boy.”

The castle was eerily quiet. It felt as if his brother’s accident had cast a heavy shadow over their family.

Carefully, he climbed up the stairs and tried to forget his fear. He wondered what Lord Stark could want from him. Jon was hardly ever called to his study. That was usually Theon or Arya.

He exhaled deeply before he open the next door and made his way along a dusty corridor, lined with old pictures and fine tapestries woven out of colourful seam. One carpet showed black wolves running across a white field. There were many more, but an angry shout diverted his attention elsewhere.

“The boy is barely ten and five. I won’t take a green recruit to the Wall. A few more years and the boy will be old enough to decide…,” Uncle Benjen’s muffled voice rattled across the corridor.

Jon froze. This was most definitely his Uncle Benjen’s voice and he knew who they were talking about.

“But my wife!” he heard his father’s protest.”I tried my best to convince his…,” his father added, his voice laced with frustration, but his Uncle interrupted him.

“No!” Uncle Benjen replied firmly while Jon moved closer to the study. He didn’t dare press his ear against the door, but he heard enough to understand what they were talking about. “Our sister’s ghost would hunt me from her grave…speak to your wife and tell her the truth. Fourteen years are long enough to hide behind a lie.”

His Uncle’s words confused him. Why would Lord Stark’s sister care about him? She died before his birth…

“I cannot tell her…I made her believe that he boy is my son and you know how much she dislikes him…,” his father continued, but his Uncle showed little patience and interrupted him again.

“Of course she dislikes him!” his Uncle shouted. Who wants to have a bastard growing up among his trueborn children? What did you think? That she would come to love the boy like her own? I never had a wife and I will never have one, but I think both your wife and the boy deserve to know the truth.”

Silence followed and he heard the sound footsteps moving against the stone floor.

Truth, he wondered. What truth? And what does his Aunt have to do with it?

“They can never know…Catelyn…she wouldn’t understand…I fear what she could do,” His father stuttered and fell silent.

“Ned,” Uncle Benjen said, his voice heavy and sad. “Lady Stark would endanger her whole family if she told he King about Jon’s true parentage. She wouldn’t risk her families’ safety.”

“You don’t understand!” his father countered angrily.”Lyanna asked me to protect him. For all those years I kept him safe from the King, but Robert’s hatred for Prince Rhaegar remains unchanged. Sending him to the Wall would keep him safe…not even the King would be able to touch him there.”

“Aye,” Uncle Benjen agreed, his voice laced with disapproval. ”What about the boy’s wishes? How can we decide his future when he doesn’t even know his past? Isn’t that cruel?”

“Maybe,” his father replied, but Jon didn’t want to hear the rest. He heard enough and felt only confusion.

Lyanna asked me to protect him. Robert’s hatred for Prince Rhaegar remains unchanged. Sending him to the Wall will keep him safe.

Lords Stark’s words kept whirling through his mind as he rushed out of the castle. His heart was pounding furiously and sweat was rolling down his brow.

It can’t be true! It had to be a lie! A dirty lie…

Anger and sadness washed over him as he opened the door to the crypt. Along the way he had fetched and lit a torch, before slipping down stone steps.

“Come boy!” he told his wolf and together they continued their march through the darkness. Arriving at the bottom of the stairs he turned left and found a familiar statue staring back at him through the darkness.

Deeper and deeper he descended into the crypts until he found the tomb he was searching for.

It was the grave of Lady Lyanna Stark, flanked by the tombs of her Lord Father Rickard Stark and her brother Brandon Stark.

Her statue showed a young girl, her youth captured in stone. There was something very sad about her expression and now Jon knew why.

Lyanna asked me to protect him, he recalled Lord Stark’s words. Robert’s hatred for Prince Rhaegar remains unchanged. Sending him to the Wall will keep him safe.

The words cut deeper than steel.

“So you were hiding down here?” he asked the statue, anger and sadness whirling up inside him. ”All this time you were hiding down her…Mother,” he continued and was barely able to force the words over his lips.

Then the tears came, rolling down his cheeks like raindrops.

“Why did you die?” he asked the statue, but received no answer. He couldn’t help but to be angry with her, when it wasn’t even her fault.

Hatred unlike anything he had ever known pulsed through him. It was Prince Rhaegar who did this to her.

He raped her and the result was…Jon Snow. And yet his mother loved him and asked Lord Stark to protect him when she should have cursed his existence.

He never told me, he thought and stumbled towards the grave. He touched it carefully and rested his head on the cool surface. Lord Stark never told me how much you loved me.

This was the greatest betrayal.

He didn’t know how long he remained like this, but Ghost’s wet tongue on his skin called him back to the present.

“I know,” he muttered to the wolf. ”She is dead and yet…,” he continued and rose to his feet.

Then he gathered all his courage and lifted the surface of the tomb. The stone statue was nothing, but a false image. Only once he wanted to see her with his own eyes.

Sweat and fresh tears were rolling down his cheeks as he managed to shove the stone lid to the side.

Exhaling deeply he lightened the tomb with his torch, but found no bones. He found only ash and a dusty cloak. Quietly, he crawled into the tomb and touched the garment. It nearly fell apart as he tried to unfurl it, but what was hidden beneath it proved far more interesting.

It was a wooden box, carved out of dark wood and embellished with beautiful gilded carvings of dragons.

Carefully, he opened the box and gasped. Inside he found three colourful stones. With utmost care he picked one from the box and was surprised how warm they felt. Yet the stack of dusty letters placed beneath the stone surprised him even more.

He put the egg aside and opened one of the letters. The paper was old and written in a foreign language. Jon knew it was High Valyrian, because he saw such letters in Maester Luwin’s books.

The writing looked elegant, but these stone eggs were even more precious to behold.

Not stone eggs, he corrected himself inwardly and smoothed his hand over the surface. Dragon eggs.

The Nameless Girl

She didn’t expect him to return, but then he was a rather strange boy. The way he spoke of having to remove his father’s shame confused her greatly, but then she didn’t really understand how it felt to have a father.

“Do you even have enough coin to pay for her, boy?” her Maester asked Jon Snow, his dark eyes shining with subdued anger.

“I have,” the boy confirmed stiffly and put a bag of coins on the table. Her Maester’s eyes started to glitter like the stars and a grin revealed his unruly teeth.

“Aye, Aye, that will do!” her Maester said happily and rubbed his hands together. Then he turned around to search for her.

She sighed and didn’t even attempt to hide away. It could be worse. The strange boy was pleasant enough.

“Come here girl!” she heard her Master’s shout. She straightened herself and feigned a smile. ”How may I serve?”

“Get the boy upstairs and do whatever he likes,” her Master told her. She smiled and dipped her head again.

“Come along, my M’Lord,” she said and jerked her head towards the stairs. ”I think you know the way.”

“I know,” the boy confirmed stiffly and followed after her. He didn’t look very enthusiastic, but maybe be that was just part of his personality.

Once she had closed the door behind her she filled two cups. Then she started to remove her dress, but the boy stopped her.

“Please…that is not why I came here,” the tried to explain and ruffled his unruly dark hair out of his face.

”There is something else I want…,” he added and pulled something out of the vest of his cloak. She stopped and watched as he put a stack of papers on the table. The paper looked very old, yet it didn’t explain why he brought the letters here.

“I don’t understand,” she said and met his grey eyes. ”Can’t you read?”

“Of course I can read,” the boy replied and appeared insulted by her words. ”But not that…it is High Valyrian…I heard you can read it. Can you translate it for me?”

She was speechless and a moment later she broke out in laughter.

“Gods…,” she said and tried to stifle her laughter. “You paid all this money for me to get your letters translated?”

He frowned.

“These are very important and personal letters...,” he explained, his voice laced with anger. ”Can you read High Valyrian or not?”

“Aye,” she confirmed and was beginning to realize how important this was for him. ”I can read High Valyrian.”

Carefully, she picked the first letter from the stack and unfolded it.

The writing was marvellous and spoke of good penmanship, but the use of the language was even better. It were only a few sentences, but the author was without question fluent in High Valyrian.

“Greetings to you Grand-Uncle Aemon….I hope that you are in good health and that I will soon find time to visit you at the Wall. I enjoy our correspondence, but to have the possibility to speak face to face with you would be an even greater pleasure. Life is difficult in the capital and my father’s madness taking a toll on us. Yet among this darkness we were blessed with good news. Elia is expecting again, though the Maester never fails to remind me of the dangers. Please return this letter to me as always and write me a lengthy reply. As always, I hope you will be watching the skies as diligently as myself. Sincerely yours, Prince RhaegarTargaryen.”

“Prince Rhaegar Targaryen,” she repeated the name to herself. There was something very familiar about this name, but she forgot where she heard it.

Jon Snow seemed equally disturbed.

“Are you well?” she dared to ask, but received no immediate answer.

Instead he exhaled deeply and pulled his cloak from his shoulder.

“Aye,” he said and moved over to the table, before drowning the cup in one go. ”Please continue.”

“Very well,” she replied and picked up the next letter.

“Greetings to you Grand-Uncle…I hope this letter receives you in good health. The tourney of Harrenhall proved as wasteful as I expected and my father’s presence there only helped to stir the cries for a rebellion. Tywin offered his support, but I can’t bring myself to trust the old Lion. Elia is as well as can be expected given the difficult birth of my son Aegon. He is a precious boy and healthy as one can be, but something is not right. On the day he was conceived I saw a bleeding star, but his birth went about like any other. Maybe I was wrong to think him the promised prince…Could I have been wrong? And I made an interesting acquaintance…Lady Lyanna Stark…the daughter of the Lord of Winterfell. But why am I telling you this? You probably heard that I crowned her Queen of Love and Beauty. The girl from the North proved brave and beautiful…I only wanted to honour her for her valiant deeds (of which I intend to tell you about in my next letter), but my wife misunderstood my intentions. Why I am writing this to you is beyond me, but it feels like you are the only friendly spirit I can converse with in these dark times. As always, stay in good health, Grand-Uncle. Sincerely yours, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.”

“This Prince Rhaegar sounds unhappy,” she remarked and shifted her attention to Jon Snow. He was still deadly silent, his gaze lost and sad.

“Aye,” he replied, but didn’t speak further.

“Lady Lyanna Stark,” she repeated. ”I think I have heard people talk about her. Is she a relative of yours?”

“Aye, she was my aunt,” he replied through gritted teeth. ”But that was another lie. In truth she was my mother.”

She gasped and finally understood why he was so distraught. Lady Lyanna was supposedly raped, but she forgot the name of the man who did this vile deed.

“I am sorry,” she apologized and picked up the next later. This letter was dated a year later.

„Greetings to you Grand-Uncle…I hope my letter reaches you in good health. These lines were written in hurry, for the realm is breaking apart before my very eyes. You might have heard about my father’s vile deed…he murdered Rickard and Brandon Stark in cold blood, though I have yet to discover why Brandon Stark thought I abducted my beloved Lyanna, though she assured me that she left a massage for him in the hands of Lady Lysa Tully, supposedly a trustworthy friend of hers. Not that it matters now. My beloved Lyanna is heavy with child and I need to keep her safe or the promised prince might never be born. Until then take care of yourself and keep watching the skies. Sincerely yours, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.”

“My beloved Lyanna….my beloved Lyanna,” Jon Snow muttered to himself and grabbed the table. ”How dare he call her that!”

Then she finally understood. The man who abducted her was this Prince Rhaegar. All her knowledge about the Targaryen line ended with King Jaehaerys the Second death and thus she lacked in knowledge about the succeeding Targaryen Kings.

And yet this Prince Rhaegar called her “my beloved Lyanna”. Why would he call her that if he raped her?

“It seems he cared about your mother,” she said at last and offered her own conclusions on the matter. ”I don’t think he harmed your mother.”

“I know that now,” he replied angrily and rose to his feet, before binding the letters back together. ”But he left his wife and children. He should have known better…my Grandfather and Uncle died for their folly.”

“I see,” she remarked, taken back by his aggressive tone. ”I didn’t mean to insult you…,” she wanted to continue, but then she noticed the tremor in his shoulder and heard his soft whimpers.

He was crying and she felt utterly helpless.

“He was my father…I wish he was just a rapist…that would have make it so much easier to hate him…,” he stuttered, tears rolling down his cheeks.

She didn’t know what to say, but she felt the urge to comfort him. He came here freely, baring his secrets to her, a stranger. He trusts me to keep his secrets, she understood and rose to her feet.

Gently, she placed her hand on his shoulder. Yet he didn’t stop. Instead he leaned over the table and continued to weep.

She felt completely helpless and put her arm around his shoulder, steading him as the both of them sank to the ground.

Lacking words of comfort she pulled him in a hesitant embrace. She expected him to pull away, but he buried his head in her neck and continued to weep.

She didn’t know how long they sat there, but then he stopped and brushed his tears away.

“I apologize,” he said at last, his voice strained and laced with embarrassment. ”I shouldn’t have acted like this and I shouldn’t have burdened you with this knowledge.”

“I understand that…but I won’t tell anyone…I promise,” she added helplessly.

He looked stunned.

“I thank you…,” he said almost gently. Slowly, he moved towards the door, but stopped at the last moment. Then he turned around to look at her.

He looked torn, his face a mixture of sadness and determination.

“Naerys…that is your name, isn’t it?”

She nodded and liked the way her name sounded on his lips, though it wasn’t even her real name.

“Well, then…Naerys…Would you like to go home?”

“Home,” she repeated. She never had a real home. All she had was a dream; the red door and the lemon tree. ”Braavos…my brother and I used to live there. Of course, I would like to go home.”

“Braavos…,” the boy repeated, a ghost of a smile tugging on his lips. ”Then that is where we will go.”

The Bastard Prince

It was nearly dusk when Jon slipped out of the castle. Jon said his goodbyes, but it was still hard for him to leave his home.

 I can’t stay, he knew. My presence here puts them in mortal danger.

And yet it pained him to leave his siblings; Robb, Arya, Bran, Rickon and even Sansa.

No, this is the best solution for everyone involved.

It was night when he finally arrived at Wintertown. There not far from the market place he waited for his travelling companion.

The wait felt like an eternity as he watched the coming and going of the smallfolk. Most of them he knew, but he doubted they paid him much attention.

“There you are,” a quiet voice snapped him out of his reverie and a gentle touch on his shoulder made him turn around. He hardly recognized her with her covered hair.

“We need to hurry...,” she told him anxiously. ”My Master is a drunk, but the other girls will notice my absence.”

“Of course,” he replied and led her back to his horse.

“Have you ever ridden a horse?”

She shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips.

“No, but I would love to try,” she added and tightened her grip on his arm. Her touch warmed his cheeks, but he quickly brushed those thoughts away.

There is no time for this.

“Well, then let me show you,” he answered and climbed in the saddle while her curious purple eyes continued to observe him from the ground.

“Now it’s your turn,” he prodded. ”Just put the feet in the stirrup and climb up. Don’t be afraid. I will catch you if you fall.”

“I am not afraid,” she assured him determinedly and put her feet in the stirrup. With quick movement on her side she was seated where she belonged.

They didn’t speak as they rode through the woods and avoided the main roads. The weather was kind, an occasional snow storm slowing down their travel.

They rode through the night and at times Jon felt like slipping out of his saddle. Then he welcomed the icy wind, keeping him from falling asleep.

After a day of riding they decided to rest. He led the horse deeper into the woods and tied it to a nearby tree. Wrapped up in their cloaks they tried to sleep, but the sun falling through the treetops made it almost impossible.

Jon was also afraid of being discovered

He stole a girl, even though he promised to accompany his Uncle Benjen to the Night’s Watch.

He did it to buy himself time, but his lie weighed heavily on his mind.

Lord Stark lied to you for fourteen years, he thought, fresh anger stirring inside him. What do you care about a flimsy promise?

“Jon,” the soft voice of his travelling companion snapped him out of his thoughts. ”Where are we going?”

“White Harbour,” he returned and met her gaze. “There will find a ship.”

Realization showed on her face.

“I recall this place,” she answered and pulled down her cloak. ”And really you think we will find a ship that leaves for Braavos?”

“I hope so,” he said and tried to sound confident. ”Any ship travelling to Essos would do…we have to leave as soon as possible.”

Fear showed on her face.

“As long as we don’t go to Volantis or one of the Slaver’s Cities we should be fine.”

Her words confused him.

“I thought Volantis is a beautiful city.”

“It is,” she confirmed and pulled down her shawl to reveal some sort of tattoo resembling tear drops. ”Every slave has such a tattoo. Everyone in Volantis would know that I am escaped slave. This means death for me. Slavery is forbidden in Braavos. It is one of the few safe places for someone like me.”

Jon swallowed hard, disgust filing him to the brim.

The girls in the brothel were practically slaves of their Master living right under his Lord Father’s nose.

Once he exiled a high lord for the crime of slavery, but the poor girls were of little interest.

“Jon,” his travelling companion’s soft voice called him back to the present. ”Do you understand what I am trying to say?”

“Aye,” he confirmed. ”I understand.”

The smell of salt and sea filled his nostrils as they made their way through White Harbour.

It was the first city he visited and he was impressed by what he saw. The houses were made out of white stones glimmering in the pale morning light like the polished surface of a sword.

All looked so orderly and even the streets were made of smooth stones like the rest of the buildings.

Along the harbour he spotted several docks filled with countless ships in all forms and sizes. The people working on the ships were even stranger to behold. Some were dark as ink, some pale-haired like the girl in his arms and some had even pink haired.

Weary from the long travel they settled in a nearby tavern. A few coins and they even got a proper meal consisting of grilled fish and sea grass. The ale was bitter and the fish was good, though his travelling companion touched any of it.

“Don’t fret,” he assured her and started to rummage through his belongings. He stole clothing from the servants, but he feared they might be too big for her small form.

“Here,” he said and dropped the clothing in her lap. ”Put this on…it will disguise you well enough to ward off suspicious looks.”

“I thank you,” she replied and started to remove her cloak. Jon didn’t waste another moment and turned around, facing the wall.

She chuckled, obviously amused by his behaviour.

“I apologize,” she said as she continued to dress. ”But you have seen me before and yet you act like this…”

“I only did it to please my brother,” he explained plainly. ”He spent a lot of coin for my sake. In truth I feel ashamed of my behaviour.”

“Oh,” he heard her answer, soft and sad. This was not what intended to achieve. ”I didn’t think it was such a bother for you.”

“It was no bother,” he corrected himself. ”I enjoyed it, but I thought myself above such things…and I swore that I would never father a bastard. I used you for my personal pleasure and that was wrong.”

“You don’t need to feel ashamed,” she assured him after a moment of silence had passed between them. ”And you helped me to get away.”

Another moment of silence passed between them as he listened to the rustling of her clothing. Finally, his travelling companion freed him from this strange situation.

She looked strange in the wide clothing meant for a young man, but it was necessary.

“Good,” he replied and couldn’t help but to smile. ”Now rest. I will get food for Ghost. He hasn’t eaten since yesterday and he grows upset if he has to go hungry.”

As if his wolf understood him he lifted his head and yawned.

“I will do that,” she replied, before settling down on the bed made of wool and hay. Ghost didn’t seem to mind her presence and rolled to the others side, before dozing off.

In truth he didn’t just get food for Ghost, but spent half the evening asking around for a ship leaving to Braavos. Finally, after a dozen of conversations he found a galley named the Lady of the Sea.

The Captain was massive man and dressed in rich robes, but he offered him a fair price. Jon feared his wolf would scare the Captain away, but it seems the promise of transporting an exotic animal intrigued the man.

He tried to be as silent as possible, but his travelling companion already awake, Ghost’s head resting in her lap.

The sight surprised him, but he kept it to himself.

“It seems Ghost and you are getting acquainted,” he remarked.

“You were gone long,” she replied and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. ”I thought you got lost.”

“I found a ship,” he explained and rinsed his face in the bowl of water placed on a nearby table. ”The ship is called the Lady of the Sea. The Captain wants to leave today…we should hurry.”

She smiled in relief and quickly fastened her cloak.

“What about your horse?”

“I sold it…coin is more important,” he explained.

.Men in all sizes and colours were loading goods on the ship while the Captain was puffing his pipe.

“Ah, there you are!” the Captain exclaimed in a thick-Bravoosi accent, his small grey eyes darting to his wolf. ”And the promised beast. You weren’t lying when you said that his fur is as white as snow.

“I thank you,” he replied and feigned a smile. Then he shifted his attention back to his travelling companion. ”This is my friend…he will travel with us. Sadly, he can’t speak properly.”

“A waste…such a pretty boy,” the Captain remarked. ”The Gods are cruel.”

Jon didn’t comment and pulled her along towards the ship. It was nearly midday when they left White Harbour behind them.

Jon felt both relief and sadness, but it was better this way.

One day I will return, he promised to himself. One day.

“Jon,” his travelling companion addressed him. Jon wanted to chide her for it, but the door to the cabin was closed. ”I know it is a silly question…But why did you ask me to come with you?”

Because I couldn’t forget your sad smile, he wanted to say, but found another reason.

“I know nothing of the Free Cities…I can’t even speak the language,” he explained and ruffled his hand through his hair. ”Once we arrive in Braavos you can leave…you are free to go wherever you want.”

She shook her head.

“I was only four when I lived there. My brother and I lived in a small house with a red door and an elderly man took care of us. One day men came and killed my brother and the old man. I don’t know how I made it out, but they found me roaming in the streets. Naerys…that is not even my real name. My brother used to call me Dany. I tried to explain it to my Mistress, but she found the name too plain.”

“Dany,” he repeated the name. He was a simple name, but suited her.

“Then I will call you Dany,” he declared and pulled his cloak around his shoulders. ”You are free…you don’t have to carry the name these slavers gave you.”

She smiled.

“Jon is a rather plain name for the son of a Prince, but it suits you.”

He laughed.

“I suppose you are right.”

Chapter Text

Ned

The boy was gone and Ned didn’t know what to do. At first he thought that Jon left, because he asked him to join the Night’s Watch, but now he knew the truth. The boy lied to him and stole away a girl from the nearby brothel in Wintertown.

The boy’s actions are now the talk of the castle. Day in and day out he had to hear Cat’s complains, yet Ned continued to send out one rider after another to search for the boy. He needed to find him, to ease the guilt raging inside his chest.

Lya, I failed miserably.

He should have known better, but now it is too late. The boy is far away and all he has left is a broken home.

The King was wants a quick departure, this wife is angry with him for worrying about the boy named his bastard, Robb is demanding answers. Sansa is dreaming about her betrothed, Arya is throwing one temper tantrum after another, Rickon seems utterly confused by Jon’s disappearances and Benjen is pressuring to tell Cat the truth.

The boy probably heard our fight, Benjen suggested not long ago.

Ned disagreed with Benjen, it is the only explanation for Jon’s behaviour. Not long after the boy’s disappearance, Ned sent out men to inquire about his behaviour in the last day before his departure. The answers he received confirmed Benjen’s suspicions.

I saw the boy carrying something from the crypts, one of the guards told Ned no long ago. I saw him in company of a girl, a woman from Wintertown told Ser Roderik.

It didn’t make it any easier for him to accept the current situation. The boy he swore to protect left because he discovered Ned’s lie.

“Father?” Robb’s voice called him back to the present. ”You called us here.”

“Ned,” Benjen added and closed the door behind him and Cat. His wife was utterly silent, her blue eyes narrowed in confusion. ”Your son asked you a question.”

Benjen’s voice was brimming with subdued anger. It told him that his brother is blaming him for Jon’s disappearance.

“I heard you,” he replied and turned around to face his lies. ”I called you here to speak about Jon…,” he trailed off.

Relief showed on Robb’s face.

“Did you find out about his whereabouts?” his son asked, but he was forced to crush his hopes.

“No,” he replied. ”But I know why he let…it has to do with his mother.”

“Why can’t you tell us where he went if you know that his disappearance has to do with his mother? Robb asked, his brows wrinkled in confusion. ”Shouldn’t you know about your whereabouts?”

Ned swallowed hard and felt Cat’s gaze resting on him.

She asked him numerous times about the boy’s parentage, but every time he refused to answer her questions.

It is time to reveal the truth, no matter how much it pained him to do it.

“Jon’s mother died in childbirth,” he said, unable to reveal the full truth at once. ”I am sure he is aware of this fact…he probably overheard an argument between myself and your Uncle Benjen.”

“Argument?” Cat asked. ”What kind of argument?”

Benjen didn’t hesitate to give her the blunt truth.

“Our argument concerned the boy’s future,” he explained and met Cat’s gaze. ”I refused to take the boy to the Night’s Watch.”

Cat’s features were awash with anger, but she kept her composure.

“I see,” she said. ”But that doesn’t justify the boy’s actions. He shamed us all…,” she continued, but Ned couldn’t help but to correct her.

“Cat…I doubt the boy left because of the girl,” he explained. Every word burned on his tongue. “He left because he found out the truth…he found out that I am not his father.”

Cat’s eyes widened in shock, her face pale like the parchment Maester Luwin uses to write his letters.

“What did you say?” she asked. ”The boy is not your son…”

“No,” he confirmed. ”The boy was never my son. He was my sister’s child…I promised her to protect him.”

Deadly silence followed and Ned averted his gaze. He was unable to endure her reaction.

“Prince Rhaegar!” Robb exclaimed and bridged the distance. Ned felt him pulling on his shoulder and turned around to face his son. Cat remained silent. ”He is Prince Rhaegar’s son…gods…he raped her…,” Robb stuttered, but Ned cut him off.

“No,” He corrected his son.”Rhaegar didn’t rape her. Lyanna was always stubborn…she went freely and doomed herself with her mindless act. She was so afraid and I promised her to protect her boy. Robert would have smothered Jon in his crib if he knew the truth. Making him my bastard was the only way to protect him. I didn’t relish…,” he tried to explain his reasons, but Cat was shaking her head in disbelief.

Her face was flushed, tears shining in her eyes.

“Didn’t relish it?” she asked, her voice brimming with bitterness. ”You took me for a fool…you took us all for fools. Did you ever consider the danger you put us in?”

“Aye,” he agreed, his voice growing softer. ”That is why I didn’t tell you. I didn’t do it out of cruelty…,” he tried to explain, but Cat showed him no mercy.

“You lied to me, because you didn’t trust me!” she threw back, her voice raw with emotions. ”Did think I would hand over a helpless babe?”

“I never thought…,” he stuttered. Surprisingly, it was Benjen who came to his rescue.

“We cannot live in the past,” he said and touched Robb’s shoulder. ”Jon made his choice, but I felt you deserve to know the truth.”

“You were right to correct me for insulting the bastard,” Cat said at last, tears running down her cheeks. ”He has more honour than you…he saw how much danger he posed to our family and left.”

“He is no bastard,” Ned corrected quietly. ”Prince Rhaegar…he married Lyanna.”

“Gods!” Robb muttered. ”That means…,” he continued, but Cat wanted to hear nothing of it.

“It matters not. Nobody can ever know the truth,” she insisted, her blue eyes burning into Ned’s.

“Now it is even more essential that you go to King’s Landing,” she explained. ”There can be no doubt about our loyalties. Do you understand?”

Ned understood, though he had wanted to refuse the King numerous times.

He swallowed hard and lowered his head in acceptance.

“I understand.”

Dany

The Temple of Light in Volantis was massive, but the Titan of Braavos proved even more impressive. Looming over them was a massive giant of stone, who greeted the approaching ships.

Suddenly, a loud roar echoed in her ears, loud enough to wake even a distant ship.

“Ah it is good to see my old friend!” the Captain remarked, his pipe in hand. Dany liked talking to him and heard his entire life story. Thirty years he had been ferrying lumber and pelt between White Harbour and Braavos. No wife or child was waiting for him, only the sea. At least that was what he claimed, though Dany didn’t quite believe him.

“Is this giant always this loud?” Jon asked and covered his ears to the roaring sound. ”How often does it happen?”

The Captian laughed cheerfully.

“Three times a day, and whenever a ship approaches the harbour. Better get used to it, my boy.”

“Aye,” Jon replied and frowned at the Giant. He was no longer garbed in his pelted cloak, but wore a simple white tunic, dark breeches and his worn-out riding boots.

The proceedings that followed took all morning, the city hardly visible behind the thick clouds of fog covering it like a mantle of white dust.

First they had to pass Chequy Port where two tedious custom officers inspected their holds. The inspection went smoothly until one of the custom officers spotted Ghost and decided to spark a heated conversation. Left and right, up and down their hands moved as the Captain and the custom officer engaged in heated discussions. Finally, the Captain was able to convince the man and they were allowed to pass.

Yet it was only the beginning. Next they docked at place called Ragman’s Harbor. It was a port meant for foreign ships and much different than White Harbour. The smell of dirt, sweat and poverty lingered in her nose as they made their way along the cobbled street leading along the port. Everywhere she looked she found porters, mummers, brewers, beggars and whores. The smell, the noise and the amount of people cast a stunned look on Jon’s face. He looked like a little boy left alone in a foreign place.

Dany felt only relief. Here she is safe, at least for now.

Jon frowned, his face pale like the mist hovering over the city.

She moved closer, Ghost trailing behind them and garnering surprised looks from the passing Braavosi.

One girl, dressed in yellow silk moved closer, but backed away fearfully when she noticed the wolf’s ruby eyes.

“Ghost!” Jon commanded and whistled.”To me!”

Quickly, the wolf moved to his side and stroked his furred ear.

“We should search for a tavern,” she added quietly, discouraged by his ill-mood. ”Tomorrow, we can explore the city.”

“Aye,” he agreed, his dark eyes sweeping over the port. Along the street they found several inns and taverns, some of them carrying descriptive names like Happy Port, Satin Palace, the House of the Seven Lamps and many more. ”But we have to be careful. We can’t afford to waste too much coin.”

“Don’t fret,” assured him gently. ”I learned how to haggle in my Mistress’ service.”

Thus the evening passed as they moved from tavern to tavern to compare the prices.

Now and then she took the time to take in her surroundings. Maybe she knew this particular corner? Maybe her brother took her here to watch the ships? Or maybe it was all a dream, something she imagined to paint a past for herself.

It didn’t matter. Braavos was the safest place for someone like her.

It was late evening when they finally decided to return to Happy Port. It was a brothel, but the price was good and the meal was for free, though Jon seemed to dislike it when the girls started to swarm around like bees.

For Dany this place felt like home, though she would have never admitted it openly.

They ate in silence, their meal consisting of fresh oysters, grilled fish and strange vegetables. One of the girls called it sea spinach, a dish only known in Braavos.

Dany thanked her for her kindness and slipped her an extra coin, though it was her own money, stolen from her Master’s hidden stash.

“Where did you get the coin from?” Jon asked her later as they settled down for sleep. Jon slept across the room, his bed made of hay and wool. His cloak was thrown around his shoulders and his his few belongings stacked against the wall. Among it was a box made of dark wood and covered in beautiful gilded carvings of dragons. Not that she has ever seen a real dragon, but her brother liked to tell her stories about them.

“Dany!” Jon called out to her. ”Did you hear what I said?”

“Aye,” she confirmed and nodded her head. ”The coin…it belonged to my Master…I stole it.”

The smile hushing over his lips surprised her.

“Well, bad for him, but good for us,” he declared, before lying down on his bed. Dany wanted to ask him about the box, but his weary expression stopped her.

I will ask him later, she told herself and pulled the blanket over her shoulder. Ghost was not far, lying sprawled between Dany and Jon, his red rubies eyes glinting in the dimly-lit room like two polished rubies.

Silence spread between them as Dany tried to sleep, the noises of the city reaching through the thin walls.

She tossed and turned, Jon’s back turned to her as if he was determined to avoid her. At least that was her impression.

Even his sword was there, lying not far from his grasp as if he expected a nightly assault. On the ship they shared a cabin and she couldn’t help but to notice his discomfort whenever she slept close to him.

At times she expected him to put the sword between them like the knights do in the tales to keep the maids pure.

The thought was ridiculous, but made her smile. Jon was no knight and she was no maid.

Yet she was unable to keep her mouth shut.

“Jon!” she called out his name. She was sure that he was still awake, by the way his hand was grazing over the pommel of his sword. ”Do you regret coming here?”

“What?” he asked and sat up. Then he turned around and rubbed his eyes. ”What did you say?”

“You look sad,” she replied and met his gaze.

“My sadness has nothing to do with you,” he assured her and brushed his locks out of his face. ”Do you recall the sword fighters we saw tonight?”

His words confused her, but then she recalled the fabulously dressed men sparring against each other on the open street.

“Aye, I recall them.”

“Their swords…I gifted my little sister a similar sword…small and nimble, meant for a girl’s hand. She would love it here…that is why I am sad.”

She understood what he meant, even though she had only flimsy memories of her brother.

“I am sure you will see her again,” she assured him.

Finally, a smile showed on his lips.

“I hope so,” he replied.

 

Jon

They searched every part of the city. From island to island they marched, searching for a house matching Dany’s description: three-storied house with a red door and a lemon tree.

At first it didn’t bother him all too much. He loved exploring the city. Every island promised new adventures and foreign sights. There was the Island of Gods, located at the center of the city and housing hundreds of different shrines and temples dedicated to every known god.

Dany knew all their names and spent half the day educating him about them. Jon knew only the Seven and the Old Gods Lord Stark’s ancestors worshipped. The Seven were always foreign to him, maybe because he associated them with Lady Stark. The Old Gods he followed because they were his father’s gods.

Yet Lord Stark is not his father any longer, though he still thought of him as such. The betrayal stung deep, but he was still a man who cast away his honour to protect him when he could have easily handed him to the King.

It made him wonder if Prince Rhaegar worshipped the Seven?

It was a silly thought, but he couldn’t help but to think like that when he saw all these temples dedicated to so many different gods. The sheer number was mindboggling to him, but for Dany it seemed normal.

She gave him all their names. There was the Temple of Light, the Tempel of the Moonsingers, the House of Black and White, the Sept-Beyond-the-Sea and many more, some even unknown to his bookwise travelling companion.

“All these temples…utter madness!” he muttered to himself as they made their way along another cobbled alley. The buildings here were all decorated with smooth tiled stones. Marble, Jon thought, though he knew little about such things. Yet it as not hard to see that this was a place meant for the more fortunate members of society.

As they passed he spotted women garbed in colourful clothing, their hair braided up on top of their heads and decorated with all kind of frilly head-coverings. Some wore colourful feathers and others nets made of silver and pearls. The men were even worse. Some of them wore high-buckled boots decorated with silver, gold and jewels.

Their mistrustful looks didn’t help to ease his fear, though Ghost was following after him like loyal shadow. Especially, when they tried to glimpse over the stone walls surrounding the houses, did they earn hostile reactions. One time, the guards nearly caught them, though they were able to slip away in a nearby alley.

Now they were back, walking along the same street. It was getting late, the first signs of dusk visibly on the distant.

Yet Dany had no intention to stop her search.

They hadn’t eaten since morning, though they were forced to take a break during around midday when it started to rain. They took refuge in a nearby tavern, drank tea and counted their leftover coin. It was not much, but that was no surprise. Jon had to bribe the custom officer to allow Ghost into the city, though that remained a secret between him and the Captain. He didn’t want to bother his travelling companion more than necessary when she was so happy to come here.

“This house is familiar!” Dany exclaimed and stopped abruptly. She pointed at a three-storied house, made of black stone and a yellow roof. The painted windows told him that this place was the home of a rich merchant; definitely, not a place for orphaned children.

Yet that didn’t seem to bother Dany.

“Jon,” she said and winked him to her side. ”Lift me up and I might be able to get a look at the door.”

Jon sighed heavily and wanted to refuse, but they had been marching all morning and he understood that desperation was driving her.

“Very well,” he replied. Her nimble stature made it easy for her to climb on his back. Soon she was sitting on his shoulders like Arya used to do when she was little.

“Good,” she said and pulled herself to her full height, her bare feet resting on his shoulders. ”Are you alright?”

He couldn’t help but to laugh. This was utter madness and he wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed, but then it had been a long time that he had so much fun.

“I am fine,” he assured her and tightened his grip on his feet as she pulled herself up on the wall. Finally, she reached the top while Jon kept looked out for possible onlookers.

The alley completely deserted, but he was still anxious to leave.

“The door is red…but I am not sure…I see no lemon tree,” she said, her voice laced with bitter disappointment. They found several houses with doors painted in different hues of red, but none fitted Dany’s memory.

Three days of search, but no success. Jon was beginning to think doubt their quest, but he couldn’t bring himself to destroy her hopes.

“Let’s move on,” he said encouragingly and made his way back to the wall. She didn’t answer, but he saw her slender form casting a shadow on the cobbled street below.

He spread his arms and a moment later she was back on the floor, her silver hair dishevelled and sweaty.

“Shall we search elsewhere?” he asked her as they made their way back to Ragman’s Port. She didn’t speak, her gaze fixed on the ground.

“Dany…,” he said and touched her shoulder.

“No,” she replied, her voice brimming with sadness. ”Haven’t you noticed? None of the houses we visited had a proper garden, let alone a lemon tree. Braavos is devoid of greenery. Maybe I made it all up. Maybe I didn’t even have a brother…,” she trailed off and stopped abruptly.

She sounded hopeless and lost.

Jon felt the urge to comfort her, though deep down he partly agreed with her assessment of the situation.

“Nonsenses,” he said and tightened his grip on her shoulder. ”I am sure you had a brother, but the memories are a fickle thing. I remember very little from my early years. Maybe you are confusing something. It happens.”

“Maybe,” she replied leaned into his embrace. ”Maybe you are right.”

Slowly, she turned around and met his gaze, her purple eyes shining with tears.

She looked pale, her silver wet from the rain that was again pouring from the sky.

“I hope I am right,” he replied and graced her with a smile. ”We should get back to Happy Port. I fear it will pour all night and I doubt Ghost wants to get another bath.”

“Probably,” she agreed, a trembling laugh leaving her mouth. Then she pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and pointed at ahead. ”Happy Port it is.”

The rest of the walk was bridged in silence, the movement of their footfalls on the ground and the whispering of the people the only noise.

Happy Port was brimming with customers, though Jon was by now used to the girls in their flimsy clothing and the drunken men boasting about their prowess.

Their meal was simple, potato soup and hard bread, but for Jon’s empty stomach it was heaven. One of the girls was even kind to bring Ghost leftovers.

Their room was all the way up the stairs, but the song and noises of the brothel were still reaching through the thin walls. That it was rather shabby didn’t bother him either. What counted to him was that the people here were trustworthy. The first day he carried around his box, but now he kept it hidden in their locked room. Only once one of the girls dared to ask about it, but Jon’s sharp rebuke scared her away. Dany scolded him for his behaviour, but then she didn’t know about the content of the box.

“We have to find a different place,” she said after they had finished their meal. ”And we need work.”

“Aye,” he agreed and continued to smooth his hand over Ghost’s head resting in his lap. ”I asked the Captain about it before we left the ship. The dock workers always in need a helping hand. I doubt they will pay me much, but I am barely able to understand the language.”

“I will teach you everything you need to know,” she declared determinedly. ”And I can work too. I will ask around.”

He nodded, perplexed by her resolution. Three days she had been searched the entire city like a madwoman and now she acted as if her search was no longer important.

“What about your search?”

“It matters not,” she replied, defensively. ”I cannot spend chasing the past.”

“Maybe, “Jon agreed and rose to his feet, before sitting down next to her. “But maybe we are just asking the wrong questions.”

“Wrong questions?” she asked and wrinkled her brows in confusion. ”What do you mean?”

“Maybe we should stop searching for painted doors, but inquire about your brother. You have silver hair and purple eyes…Did your brother look like you?”

She frowned and pondered his question for a moment, before giving her answer.

“I think so…my memory is rather blurry,” she explained.

“Good,” he said. ”And do you remember what happened that night?”

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes.

Then she opened them again, her purple eyes wide and bright.

“They killed the elderly man…my brother…he threw me out of the window. There was garden and a door out to the street nobody knew about other than my brother. I was bleeding from the broken glass and the insides of the house were on fire. They burned him…they burned my brother and the elderly knight. Then I ran…the rest are nothing but blurry memories.”

Gods, he thought. Who would burn innocent children? Whoever Dany was, her caretaker or her brother had hateful enemies.

“Well, then we will ask around…I am sure someone will be able to remember such an incident,” he declared determinedly.

“Do you think that possible?” she asked and leaned closer, her warm breath tickling his cheek.”Or are you just trying to comfort me?”

“Both,” he admitted and brushed his hand over her cheek. He did it subconsciously and pulled his hand away when he noticed his mistake.

“Lie or not,” she replied and smiled. ”I am thankful for your help.”

He nodded and exhaled deeply. He was about to rise back to his feet, but her curious glance wandering to his box made him stop.

“Do you want to see?” he asked her, trying to find a more pleasant topic to occupy their minds with. ”It belonged to my father.”

“Of course I want to see,” she replied, her eyes alight with curiosity. ”Is it something precious?”

“Very precious,” he confirmed and unlocked the box. Then he picked out one of the eggs. It had a black surface, red vines whirling around it from all directions.

“Is it a jewel?”

“No,” he replied and placed her hand on the egg. ”It is an egg…. a dragon egg.”

She gasped in surprise like young children do when they hear an unbelievable story.

“It is warm,” she whispered.”Do you think it is alive? Do you think they can hatch like chicken eggs?”

“Maybe,” he replied and graced her with an amused smile. ”Maybe they will hatch if we keep them warm. As you said…it works with chickens.”

It was a silly notion, but Jon was merely joking.

She chuckled and put the egg back in the box.

“Maybe.”

Dany

They had been roaming Drunkard’s Town all morning. She and Mella, the tenant’s wife that rented them a small room facing out to the street, had been selling fresh oyster to the passing crowd.

Among their customers she observed a great variety of people; sailors, whores, singers and even merchants. Now and then one of the famous seawives bought from them and sparked up a conversation with Mella.

She was a tall and graceful woman, her blond hair falling to her waist in thick curls. The only mark on her beauty was the burned off skin on her neck, but she never hid it like Dany did with her slave marks.

“Dusk is near,” Mella observed and pointed at the sky. Streaks of red and orange littered the horizon, the buildings in the distance nothing more shadows. ”I think it is time to pack our things. Mara will be upset with me if I stay away beyond sunset.”

Mara was her eldest daughter. Like her mother she spent half her days selling fish near Ragman’s Port., but by now she was back home, taking care of her younger sisters Hadi and Shala. Hadi was ten and four and an acolyte in the Temple of Light. Shala, the youngest was only ten and spent most of her days at home, keeping the house hold in check.

Mella’s husband Seoman was often away. He was a fisher and spent most of his days on his ship.

“Of course,” Dany replied and picked up her basket. They sold most of the oysters, but her work didn’t earn her much coin. Jon didn’t earn much more than her, but together were able to afford the rent.

The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon when they returned. Yet the moon was full and lightened the streets better than the flimsy street lights.

“Where have you been?” Mara asked. She was garbed in a dirty green dress, her hair dishevelled and dirty. ”It took you longer than usual.”

“Aye,” Mella confirmed and pulled off her cloak. ”We had a lot of customers.”

“I can see that,” the girl replied and opened the door for them. Shala was hovering in the anteroom, her red hair kept in two long pigtails. ”But father was fretting about you.”

Instantly, Mella’s face lightened up. ”I didn’t expect such a quick return.”

“He was forced to return,” Mara explained. ”A storm damaged his ship.”

Mella sighed and touched her red amulet wrought in the form of a flame. Like her second-oldest daughter she was a devout follower of the God of Light and two times a week they went to the temple to receive blessings. ”It is good that our stocks are full, but we have to thankful that your father returned to us in good health.”

Then she shifted her attention back to Dany, who had observed their exchange in silence.

“You should come and eat with us one of these days,” she said and graced her with a warm smile.

Dany felt a gust of affection washing over her.

“I would be honoured,” she replied and dipped her head, before making her way down the stairs torwards her own dwelling place.

Carefully, she opened the door and stepped inside. Much to her surprise Ghost was already there sprawled on the floor next to the fireplace.

The popping fire surprised her even more. Quietly, she made her way to the next room and found Jon sleeping on his bed of hay and wool.

Dany slept near the fireplace, but she offered him numerous times to sleep next to her. It was much warmer, but Jon proved more stubborn than expected.

Sighing deeply, she closed the door behind her and stirred the dying fire back to life. Then she placed pot on the flames and heated the water.

For others cold water might suffice, but Dany preferred it scalding. She even accepted the additional work of transporting the water here every morning.

It was her only luxury. Happily, she discarded her dress and washed herself before the open fire, Ghost her only witness to the act.

She enjoyed every minute of it and it helped to loosen her stiff muscles. In her Mistress’ place they had their own bath, but here the people contented themselves with cold water from the rain basin.

“Gods!” Jon’s gasp called her back to the present. ”Can’t you put up a warning!”

Dany turned around and flashed him a grin. They have been living together for nearly tree moons and yet he acted like he had never seen a naked girl. Dany knew why he was like that, but nobody here cared that he is a bastard, the son of a whore or a Prince. Even Mella and her daughters considered them wed, though they had never shared a bed since their first encounter.

Mara even offered her moon roots. Mella had her daughter for it, because the substance was apparently much stronger than tansy and could lead to unwanted side effects.

If you want proper tea, go to the healers.

Sadly, going to the healers also means to waste their scarce coin.

“Well, usually you are not even home during this time of the day,” she replied and pulled her dress back over her head.

“Better?” she asked.

“Much better,” he replied, but the smile showing on his lips meant that he shared her amusement.

“When did you return?”

“A few moments ago,” she replied and brushed her hand through her hair. It was getting too long and bothersome. ”Why are you home before nightfall?”

“Didn’t you see?” he asked and frowned. ”I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Dany was confused.

“A surprise?” she asked and looked around. ”What do you mean?”

“Your nameday…the door…Didn’t you see?”

“The door?”

Jon sighed and patted her shoulder.

“Come along…I will show you,” he replied and opened the door. The street outside was deserted, the sky starry and littered with numerous stars. Then Jon closed the door behind them and lifted his latern.

The light revealed the truth. Someone painted the door in rich crimson.

Dany didn’t know what to say.

“Did I get the colour right?” he asked her, his dark eyes resting on the door.

She tried to speak, but no sound left her mouth.

“I wasn’t sure…,” he stuttered, but Dany sealed his mouth with a kiss. His lips were soft and inviting.

Surprisingly, he didn’t push her away and returned her kiss. He even parted her lips, his tongue brushing against hers.

It sent a surge of desire through her body, but then he stopped and pulled away. It felt as if someone had poured bucket of cold water over her.

“I assume this means you like my gift?” he asked her and pulled her back inside. It was only now that she noticed the peddler boys watching them from the roof.

Damn brats, she thought and recalled and unpleasant incident three weeks ago. Mara and her sister had been bathing and the boys watched them from the roof.

Mella cursed the living shit out of the boys, but it seems her curses were not much use.

“Of course I like it,” she confirmed and eyed his swollen lips. ”It is just…nobody has ever gifted me anything.”

“Oh,” he said, his face alight with surprise. She made use of the moment and kissed him again, smoothing her hands through his soft hair.

Annoyingly, he pulled away again, his dark eyes resting on her in a mixture of lust and shame.

“You don’t have to repay me like that…,” he told her and she couldn’t help but to slap him for his stupid answer.

“Sometimes you are really a fool!” she snapped while he rubbed his shoulder. ”That was not the reason I kissed you.”

He looked guilty.

“I didn’t mean…,” he stuttered and flushed. ”I didn’t mean to insult you. I liked it. Truly, I did.”

His answer helped to calm her anger.

“Good,” she said and pulled the dress over her shoulders. ”Because I am sick and tired of sleeping alone.”

“Dan…,” he wanted to protest, but forgot about it when she kissed him and slipped her fingers under his tunic. Finally, he forgot about his inhibitions and helped her pull off his tunic. His boots and breeches followed suit.

He swallowed hard, before kissing her again. Both of them were naked as their name days his skin hot like a brazier.

He gasped into her neck, then moaned, as she reached between their bodies to touch him.

Soon his fingers were digging into her back, his head buried on her shoulder, panting for air.

“Stop it!” he gasped at last and stilled her hand. And then his mouth was back on hers, his hand brushing her breast and hip. She pulled her hand away and threaded it through his hair, before pulling him back to her sleeping place, next to the hearth.

She lay down and pulled him down, staring down at her with half-lidded eyes. Yet she also read fear.

“Is something wrong?” she asked and brushed her hand through his dishevelled hair.

He didn’t speak, the silence stretched endlessly. Then he shook his head.

“Nothing is wrong,” he replied and braced himself beside her while the other one pulled on her hip. His eyes, dark like the starry sky above, fluttered close as he slid inside her.

He exhaled shakily, his breathing ragged.

It didn’t hurt like the last time, but he asked her anyway.

“Does it hurt?”

“No,” she whispered and touched her mouth to his. ”Not at all.”

He moved slowly, his movements controlled, his laboured breathing muffled by her shoulder. She wanted him to kiss her again, but his face was buried in her neck, his fingers grasping the bedding.

Soon even that thought was forgotten. Her own body thrummed with heat, her breathing becoming ragged as he sped up his movements, his hands grabbing for her hip in a desperate motion.

With one quick motion she he slid impossible deep and left her gasping for her air, stars exploding before her eyes.

He thrusted a few more times into her, his hips jerking in quick movements. Then suddenly, he collapsed and buried his head in her neck, his moans echoing in her ears.

Slowly, he lifted his head, his pupils blown and his face flushed.

He gave her an apologetic look.

“I wanted to pull out, but I was not quick enough,” he told her. It took her a moment, before she understood what he meant.

“You are a fool,” she told him chidingly and brushed her hand over his cheek.

“Maybe,” he said and sounded slightly hurt, before sliding out of her and rolling on his side.

“I am sorry…,” she apologized quickly and patted his shoulder.”It is just…I don’t understand why you feel ashamed. I am sure even your oh so honourable Uncle took great pleasure in producing his children.”

“You know why.”

“I am just trying to open your eyes to the truth. Most people here don’t care if you are a bastard. I don’t even have a second name. Snow, Sand, Flowers, Waters…your surname means nothing to me.”

“You are right,” he said, a hesitant smile crossing over his lips. ”But it is hard to forget about these past habits.”

Robb

Lord Wylis Manderly proved as enormous as his Lord father, a jolly smile lightening up his round face as he tried to kneel.

“A bow should suffice, my Lord,” he assured the man.

“Of course,” the man replied and bowed his head. ”It is a pleasure to be here, Lord Stark.”

“And it is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Manderly,” Robb replied and leaned back, grasping the handle of the high seat. It was still strange for him to occupy his Lord Father’s seat, but Greywind’s presence gave him the confidence he needed. ”Sadly, neither my Lady mother nor Master Luwin are here to join us.”

It was half a lie. Maester Luwin was tending to Bran because Robb instructed him to do so and his mother left for the capital to report her findings his Lord Father. A few weeks ago she made her way up to the Broken Tower and found a golden lock. Robb didn’t know what to make of it, but his Lady mother was convinced that Bran’s fall was more than a simple accident.

Robb had pleaded with her to remain here, but his Lady mother insisted and thus he was left fretting about her.

“A pity,” the Lord said and Robb nodded his head in agreement. ”But I bring good news…my inquiries about your brother proved fruitful.”

“Truly?” Robb asked and felt relief washing over him. He had been fretting about his brother since the day he disappeared, but now there was a glimpse of hope appearing before him. ”Please tell me about your findings.”

“A man…a Braavosi Captain saw a boy fitting your brother’s description, but what convinced me was the description of his wolf. He had fur as white as snow and ruby eyes.”

“Ghost,” Robb said and tightened his grip on the handle of his chair.”That was without any doubt Ghost.”

“There is more, my Lord,” Lord Wylis added. ”Your brother wasn’t alone. He had a travelling companion…a boy with silver hair.”

“Silver hair?” Robb asked and received the confirmation he had been seeking for. It was true. His brother stole away the girl form the brothel.

His Lord Father was convinced that it means nothing, but Robb couldn’t believe that all this was a mere coincidence.

Not that he could tell anyone about it. Only he and his mother knew about Jon’s true birth and his Lord Father swore them to secrecy.

“My Lord!” Lord Wylis called out to him. ”The Captain told me that your brother left his ship in Braavos.”

“Braavos,” he repeated. Then he lifted his head and met Lord Manderly’s gaze. ”Did my brother tell him about his future plans?”

“Not that I know of,” Lord Manderly replied and destroyed all his hopes.

Robb wanted to do nothing more than to ready a ship and bring his brother home, but he was also sure that neither his Lady Mother nor his Lord Father would approve of such actions.

He exhaled deeply and met Lord Manderly’s gaze.

“My Lord,” he said and graced him with a smile. ”I am thankful for your help. I hope you will stay a few more days to enjoy our hospitality.”

The man smiled happily and lowered his head.

“I am honoured, Lord Stark.”

Moments later he was making his way up the stairs to Bran’s chambers, Greywind trailing after him.

Maester Luwin’s looked surprised.

“My Lord Stark,” Maester Luwin greeted. ”What brings you here?”

“I want speak with Bran…alone,” he replied.

Bran’s face lightened up and Maester Luwin nodded his head in understanding.

“Of course,” the elderly man said and closed the door behind him.

“Robb!” Bran exclaimed impatiently. ”What is going on?”

“I bring good news,” he replied and settled himself on the bed next to Bran. ”I have news about Jon…It seems he travelled to Braavos.”

Brans eyes widened in surprise.

“Braavos…,” he repeated. ”Will you send men to bring him back?”

“Not now,” he replied sadly and ruffled his hand through his brother’s hair. ”I can’t act without father’s approval.”

...

Jon

He found the place beside him empty. Carefully, he pulled the bedding up to his shoulders and narrowed his eyes against the bright sunlight.

“It is almost midday,” Dany chided him from her place near the window. Barely a moon ago he was able to find her an old writing table. Now she was earning additional coin by penning letters for their illiterate neighbours. It was not much, but better than nothing.

“Today is a holiday,” he reminded her. ”I don’t have to work.”

“That is why I chided you,” she replied and chuckled, her gaze fixed on the paper in front of her. You missed the parade and the costumes. It was a fabulous sight.”

“I see,” he said and she put away the piece of paper. Then she rose to her feet and pulled off her dress, before slipping back under the bedding and snuggling close to him.

He sighed in frustration.

“Stop it!” he told her and rolled away.

She chuckled and turned around to grace him with a mischievous smile.

“It seems you brought your sword to bed,” she joked.

They had done this more than a dozen times, but her merciless teasing still made his cheeks burn. After the first time he tried to refuse her, in fears of getting her with child, but his will proved weaker than expected. He tried to console himself with the fact that he hadn’t spilled inside her since their first night together, but the last few times were close. It was hard to keep a clear head at the hight of pleasure.

“Still,” he told her and pulled her hand away. ”I need to get up.”

Quickly, he tried to move out of the bed, but she proved swifter and grasped his shoulder.

“I got you!” she declared like a child playing hide and seek.

“I can see that,” he replied and leaned down to kiss her, but she didn’t move. Suddenly, she paled and wheeled around, emptying her stomach on the floor.

“Gods!” he gasped and was quickly at her side, brushing her hair out of her face. ”Are you sick?”

“It seems so,” she replied defensively. Quickly, she climbed out of the bed to retrieve a rag and a bucket to water to clean the mess. Jon used the time to dress himself and joined her side to help her.

By then she was already finished and slipped her dress back over her head.

“You should go and see a healer if you are feeling sick,” he told her, but she shook her head.

“That would cost too much,” she insisted. ”I will drink tea and keep away from the fish. That should do it.”

Jon didn’t like that sound of that. The lack of coin was becoming more and more of a problem, though Dany tried to ignore it.

Jon never shied away from hard work, but he wanted something better. He liked the tenant’s family, but he can’t imagine living her forever.

Maybe it was his noble upbringing, but the money he received for his work was not enough for him.

He had been pondering this for a while, but he didn’t dare to bring it up until now.

“Dany,” he said and cleared his throat. ”I have been thinking…”

Her face softened at his unsure tone.

“What have you been thinking about?” she asked and knelt down to brush her hand over Ghost’s head.

He was growing bigger every day. Another reason.

“A few days ago I met a man…he was recruiting for the Second Sons…a swellsword company,”

“I heard about them,” she replied and grew defensive. ”What about them?”

He was sure that she understood what he wanted to say. She was far too smart.

“I am a good swordsman…it would only be for six moons…the coin would allow us to live comfortably for one or two years. You could open shop…start a business or something else.”

“Six moons,” she repeated. ”That is half a year.”

“I know,” he admitted. ”But you are not alone. Mella will take care of you and Ghost will stay with you. What more protection do you need?”

“I am not afraid,” she replied defensively. ”I know how to take care of myself, but I worry about you. All you know is the practice yard, but a real battle is full of blood and dead.”

“I know,” he replied, slightly hurt by her words. What she said was true, but it still hurt his pride.

“I am not afraid,” he insisted and she smiled sadly.

“I don’t deny your bravery, but brave people tend to do stupid things,” she added and pulled a shawl over her shoulder. Even here in the Free Cities, the first signs of autumn were showing.

For Jon the autumn weather felt almost pleasant, but Dany was used the heat of Volantis.

“I won’t do anything stupid,” he replied. ”I will come back. I promise.”

Another moment of silence followed that drove Jon to madness.

“Don’t you believe me?”

She wrinkled her brows.

“Of course I believe you,” she replied, her purple eyes glinting with a strange emotion he was unable to place. ”But that doesn’t mean I like it. Go if you must. I won’t stop you.”

“That is not enough for me,” he replied. ”I won’t go without your blessing.”

She nodded her head and rose to her feet to place a kiss on his cheek.

“You have my blessing.”

Relief washed over him and spurred him on.

Carefully, he brushed his hand over her arm.

“Before I go,” he said and forced the words over his lips. ”We could go to the temple…there are more enough…”

She cocked an eyebrow, a hesitant smile playing on her lips. It told him that she understood what he was trying to say.

“Not now,” she told him and squeezed his hand. ”When you return…then we will go to the temple.”

He couldn’t help but to smile.

“And you will be fine?”

“Of course,” she replied and jerked her head at Ghost. “As you said…Ghost is here. He will protect me.”

Ghost yawned and rolled to the other side, ignoring them.

Chapter Text

Dany

The Tempel of Light was smaller than the one in Volantis, but the crowd of people flocking there was astounding. The great variety in the crowd of people surprised Dany even more. She spotted men in all know skin colours, ranging from darkest black to pale silk.

Dany stood like a sore thumb. Her dress was painted in an earthy-red colour while the other followers chose bright crimson robes. Malla offered to lend her one of her robes, but Dany declined politely. She liked Mella, but she had no intention to become a follower of the God of Light. She lost her belief in gods during her early childhood.

And yet Malla was able to convince her to visit the Temple of Light. Maybe the reason was her loneliness.

Three moons ago Jon left to join the Second Sons in a campaign to Qohor. What the campaign entailed she didn’t know, she only hoped that he will return in time to hold his child in his arms.

She knew that she was with child before he left and had every intention to tell him about it, but then Jon brought up his plan to join a Second Sons. She may hate the idea, but she was aware that they needed the coin. She liked Mella and her, but she couldn’t imagine remaining in their home forever.

Jon was working himself to the bones and barely earned enough to pay the rent. Dany herself was well-liked for her writing work among the neighbours, but no merchant or higher-standing Braavosi would be prepared to employ her in his shop. She learned this quickly after she tried to advertise her services to a higher-paying audience. Some of them even threatened her and told her to return to her slave master.

It was a hard lesson, but no surprise. The Braavosi may boast about their freedoms, but when a slave was trying to rise above his station it was seen as a threat.

“You look rather pale,” Malla remarked, as they climbed up the many steps leading to the Temple of Light. Dany with her swelling stomach had to walk slower than Malla, but the other woman didn’t seem to mind the slower pace. ”Is the child giving you problems?”

“No,” she replied and laughed. “But the kicking is driving me mad.”

Malla laughed and helped her climb up the last step. ”Then I am sure it will be a boy.”

Dany didn’t know what to make of her words. It was a mystery to her how strong kicking can be an indication for a male child, but then she never had a child.

“How do you know?” she asked as they crossed the large courtyard, leading to an arched entrance, flanked by two large torches made of iron. The flames were roaring and two acolytes in crimson robes were singing songs as they continued to stir the flames to life. ”You have three girls.”

Malla laughed again and put her arm around Dany’s shoulder.

“True,” she agreed. ”But my mother was a midwife. Whenver a child prove a strong kicker it turned out to be a boy. But you are not wrong. Mara was a strong kicker…well, my prediction turned out to be wrong. Sadly, I am not like priestesses of my god. I cannot read the flames.”

“Do you think they can really foresee the future?” Dany asked.

“Some can,” Malla replied and led her into a long hall, lightened by numerous torches. Another staircase followed. The steps were made of marble as black as the inky sky and the flames reflected on the small surface looked like stars. ”I am sure about it.”

Dany wished she could share her belief, but kept her doubts to herself.

At the entrance to the sanctuary of the temple they were greeted by two young acolyte girls. They looked very young and when she took a closer look she recognized Hadi under the red-face painting she had applied on her beautiful face.

Dany wanted to greet her, but Malla put her finger on Dany’s lips and led her deeper into the temple. Like the other followers they receive a small candle, before they were allowed to pass in the large hall housing the sanctuary of the temple.

The sight of the sanctuary made Dany gasp. On a raised stone pedestal stood a massive cup of roaring flames rising into the night sky above.

An uncountable number of stars twinkled down on her through the open dome. The sheer beauty of it made her forget about her earlier discomfort.

“I told you how beautiful it is ,” Mella whispered and pulled her along. ”But now we need to be silent or the God of Light will not hear our pleas.”

Obediently, Dany followed after Mella and sat down next to her. They sat in the middle of the great hall, right next to large stone pillar made of the same black marble like the reflective stairs outside. Dany could even see her face and silver hair reflected back to her. It looked like a veil of moonlight falling around her shadowed face.

Moments later the ceremony began. About a hundred acolytes accompanied two priestesses leading a procession to the burning cup. The two priestesses were beautiful beyond compare. Both were tall, their pale faces unblemished by time and dressed in flowing silks of crimson. The acolytes wore simpler clothing and their hair was kept short.

Dany was never particularly gifted in music, but the voices of the priestesses were soothing to the ear, almost like a lullaby. The music had an almost hypnotising effect on her mind.

It took all her concentration to understand the verses of the song, spoken in a rather old dialect of High Valyrian.

You are in my heart, God of Light!

There is no other who knows you,

Only your loyal children, who you have taught your might.

Those on earth come from your hand as you made them.

When you have dawned they live.

When you set they die;

You yourself are lifetime, one lives by you.

All eyes are on your beauty until you set.

All labor ceases when you rest in the west;

Your light banishes away the darkness.

Your children pray to thee,

Protect us from harm and the false gods.

Shine a light and lead us through the darkness.

For the night is dark and full of terrors!

“For the night is dark and full of terrors!” the voices of the followers echoed through the hall. Dany felt a shiver running down her spine as they continued to chant.

The false gods, she thought and wondered what they would think of Jon’s gods. Why do they need protection from false gods?

Yet she was beginning to understand the appeal of the God of Light as her gaze wandered over the assembled crowd. Most people here came from humble backgrounds, their clothing dirty and ragged. Many sported faded slave marks and others were beggars hailing from the dirty parts of the city. The God of Light made no difference between poor and rich men. He took and gave as he pleased. It was no wonder that the poor and desolate were flocking to him like sheep, though Dany was sure that some of them only came to receive a warm meal.

Two times a week they offered warm soup and freshly-baked bread to the hungry of the city. Today was not different and even Mella convinced her to partake. Dany wanted to refuse, arguing that she had no need for it.

“Come, child,” Mella said softly and pulled her along towards a group of women. Dany noticed instantly that all of them were marked with the tear-like tattoos meant for pleasure slaves. ”I want to introduce you to my friends.”

“Sisters,” she greeted them and graced the women with a soft smile. ”I hope you don’t mind if bring a friend to join us.”

“Of course not,” an elderly woman said. She was graced with black leathery skin, her grey hair kept in a long braid falling to her waist. ”Be welcome, sister,” she added, her eyes fixed on Dany’s neck. Today she decided not to wear a shawl, because Mella told her that most slaves would see it as an insult.

“Where do you hail from , child?” another woman asked. She was much younger than Mella, her hair pale like Dany’s and her eyes dark like ink.

Dany swallowed hard and decided to be honest.

“I can’t remember…I was young when they captured me. I served in Volantis and later I was brought to Westeros. Half a year ago I managed to get here.”

Her story earned her stunned looks.

“You must be blessed by R’hllor if you made it through all this,” one of the younger women said. Her hair was red like crimson and her eyes blue like the open sea.

“Maybe,” Dany replied politely, though their curious looks made her uncomfortable. She didn’t want to embarrass Mella. ”I hope so.”

“Here,” the young girl seated next to the crimson-haired girl said and handed her bowl. It was watered soup, littered with herbs and meat. It was not much, but for the beggars it must be a mighty feast. ”Eat. You look thin.”

Dany had the urge to laugh. She was always thin, but she couldn’t tell that to the girl’s face.

The rest of the night passed quickly as the girls entertained her with their tales of woe. Dany was surprised how open they spoke about it, but she also noticed the bitterness hidden behind their smiles.

Compared to them Dany had an almost kind upbringing. She never lacked proper food and her Mistress never hurt her. Her life in the North was hard, but her time there was too short to leave a harrowing memory on her mind. By now she had almost forgotten about it.

It was past midnight as they made their way back to down to their residence, the stars and the moon lightening their way.

Few people could be seen on the streets and thus the two men, garbed in rich velvet cloaks stood out to her like a sore thumb. That their faces were shadowed by their cloaks added to her feeling of discomfort.

The cobbled street was broad and wide, but the men walked straight towards them. Dany felt a hint of apprehension, but only when Mella’s fingernails started to dig into her arm she started to feel fearful.

“Whore!” one of them cursed and spit into Mella’s face. ”Your Master should have cut off your limps and fed you to the crows. A slave should know his place.”

Mella didn’t move, her gaze unyielding as she brushed the spittle from her cheek.

“You will come to rue your deeds, whore!” the other man added loudly. Then they were gone, swallowed by the darkness.

Dany trembled, completely taken off guard by their behaviour.

Mella was calm, though her features betrayed anger. It seems this was not the first time this happened to her.

“Child,” Mella said after a moment of silence had passed between them. ”Do you care for a cup of tea?”

“Tea?” Dany asked.”Now?”

“We shouldn't take our usual route home,” Mella explained and pulled on Dany’s arm.”Come…I know a nearby tavern.”

“Who were these men?” Dany asked after they sat down at table near the entrance.

“Brutes…they work for the slave masters,” Mella explained, her face guarded and her hand resting on her amulet.

”They bribe them to harass escaped slaves and those who strive against their crimes. I am one of these people and that is why they insulted me.”

Dany felt liked slapped, realization dawning on her.

“The burns…You were a slave?”

Mella smiled and patted her cheeks.

“Of course I was a slave,” she confirmed.

“And that is the sole reason these men insulted you?”

“Yes,” Mella explained and graced her with another smile. “As I said…I am working against them. The women you saw…we are part of a group. We help escaped slaves, but we also gather money to smuggle them to Braavos. Our initiative is founded by the Iron Bank.”

“The Iron Bank?” Dany asked, unable to believe it. ”They are giving you money to smuggle slaves?”

Mella chuckled and took a sip from her cup of steaming tea.

“Well, I doubt they are doing it because they are selfless,” she replied. ”But one of my friends serves the wife of Tycho Nestoris. She is one of us, though she hails from a very old family that once resided behind the Black Walls of Volantis. Her father fell victim to a political scandal and was disinherited. Downtrodden and penniless he had no other choice but to sell himself and his daughter into slavery. She never told my friend how she ended up as Tycho Nestoris wife, but they say she was very beautiful in her youth. Anyway, her husband funds our initiative. I don’t think I have to say that the slavers are not happy about our actions and thus they are employing brutes to disparage our cause.”

Dany was stunned by her tale.

“That sounds foul,” Dany replied. ”Someone should report them. Isn’t slavery a crime?”

“True,” Mella added and placed her cup of tea back on the wooden table. ”Slavery is a crime, but holding a view that supports slavery is not forbidden. And we have no proof.”

“So we can nothing we can do nothing against it?” she asked.

“We?” Mella asked, a hint of a smile playing on her lips. ”Do you want to join us? Are you not afraid?”

“I am not afraid,” she assured her, though it was a lie. ”I can read and write High Valyrian and several other languages and dialects…Could that be of use to you?”

Mella’s eyes widened in surprise.

“You can read and write High Valyrian?”

“Aye,” she confirmed proudly.

Mella smiled and patted her shoulder.

“I think you could indeed be of help to us.”

Jon

The rising sun painted the river Darkwash in a bloody glimmer. Beyond the river Jon spotted a sea of pine-trees as dark as the river before them.

This is the true gold of Qohor, one of the sergeant’s told them. With the sold lumber the rulers of Qohor buy their armies of Unsullied.

Busco, another recruit who hails from Braavos told him great detail what the training of the Unsullied entailed. Torture, murder and blood, he summed it up. Caspian and Rollo, two other recruits hailing from Braavos refused to believe it.

No man would be able to slaughter babes.

This incident occurred two days ago, but Jon and Busco soon found other companions who didn’t hesitate to share their gruesome stories with them.

Tito, a Sheepman, didn’t hesitate to tell them about their enemy, the Dothraki. Even in Westeros they knew about them; valiant warriors armed with bows and curved blades. Yet it was their fearlessness in face of death that made them so dangerous.

Never face a Dothraki horde on an open field, Tito had told him and bared his white teeth. He spoke their language well, but was prone to confuse certain words, which often led to amusing misunderstandings.

Jon liked him, because the young reminded him of Robb. Like his brother the young man excelled with the lance, though Jon was still the better swordsman. Yet it was the preferred choice of weapon among the Second Sons. Every recruit received one, accompanied by a shield and leather armour. Most men brought their own horses, but those who were less fortunate had to accept a deduction from their salary to acquire a horse.

Jon was one of these unfortunate souls, but the salary would still be enough to live a year without worries.

“What are you frowning about, Jon?” Busco asked and watched a group of men running off in the bushes with two camp whores. They usually slept close to the Commander’s tent who frequently asked for their company.

Jon felt only disgust when he thought of the leader of the Second Sons. Captain Mero was a tall man and sported a bushy red-gold beard. He gave the impression of a seasoned warrior, but after tree moons in the man’s service Jon felt nothing but dislike for the man.

While his men starved and were forced to sleep on the hard floor he resided in a tent of Myrish silk and sipped his wine from a golden cup. Jon was not the only person who held this opinion, but like all the others he kept his mouth shut.

Only six moons, he told himself and forced a smile over his lip. Only six moons.

“Our mission,” he replied. ”Why do the rulers of Qohor employ sellswords to fight the Dothraki horde when they have these unbeatable Unsullied at their disposal?”

Busco frowned and rubbed his bearded face. He was one or two years older than Jon, but he had the face of a boy, all soft and without the hint of a scar. Why he decided to join a sellsword company was a mystery to Jon, because the young man wasn’t particularly gifted with the sword, though he was a passable rider.

“I have no idea,” Jon replied at last and shifted his attention to Tito, who was oiling his blade. ”You claim to know everything about these Dothraki…Why do you think they employed us to fight the Dothraki horde?”

“The Dothraki are strong and valiant, but they are not exactly cunning. They wear no armour and they don’t know how to take cities protected by stone walls. They would never be able to take Qohor with its high walls and his army of Unsullied. That is why they attack the smaller towns along the trade lines. The rulers of Qohor usually pay ransom to the Dothraki to stop the attacks, but the first six moons of these saw already two major attacks. It seems they want to make clear to the Dothraki that they crossed a line, though I am not sure the Second Sons and the Stormcrows will be enough. The high payment promise danger and blood.”

“Well, we are safe for now,” Tito added and jerked his head at the camp. It lay situated before a hilly landscape, the river Darkwash curling behind it and disappearing in the dark forest. Mero was a fool, but the man who decided about the placement of the camp chose a good place. It was a compact camp, orderly and well-defended. A deep ditch was dug around the outskirts, sharp stakes jutting into the air like sharp fangs. “The Dothraki can’t swim and this place here is the only possible crossing point for horses.”

“How comforting,” Jon added sarcastically. ”Maybe it would be best to simply lure them near water and drown them.”

Busco wrinkled his brows in confusion. ”There is a river over there if it escaped your attention, friend.”

“It didn’t escape my attention,” Jon replied. ”I was thinking of a lake…not a river. Besides, it was a silly notion. I was just joking.”

Yet Tito seemed to like the idea, his golden-brown eyes alight with amusement.

“My Uncle knew a man who escaped from Vaes Dothrak…not far from the city you can find a mighty lake the Dothraki like to use for cleaning rituals. I wish we could just drown all these bloody Khals in this lake. That would be quite ironic.”

His joke was laced with anger, but that was no surprise to Jon. Even in Braavos they heard about the woes of the Sheepmen. Their towns were often raided by the Dothraki horde and its inhabitants sold into slavery. Dany knew numerous girls who suffered this fate.

“Certainly,” Jon agreed and pulled his cloak over his shoulder. Then he emptied his cup of watered wine and rolled to his side. He was a man born and bred in the north, but Qohor proved colder than anticipated. The days were pleasantly warm and the sky crispy blue, but the nights were freezing cold.

Even now his breath left his mouth in the form of white puffs rising up into the starry sky.

Dany is right, he thought before falling asleep. This here is much different than the practice yard of Winterfell.

The sun had barely risen beyond the horizon as they crossed the river. The road that followed filled Jon and the other recruits with discomfort. The path before them proved narrow and not all suitable for mounted riders. Even worse was the hilly landscape rising to the north and covered with thick forests.

“Why the frown, friend?” Busco asked habitually as always. ”Do you think someone will jump out of the woods and attack us?”

Jon laughed, trying to hide his apprehension and tightening his grip on his spear. He felt almost like a knight, ready to storm into the next enemy.

Prince Rhaegar was known to be a masterful jouster and yet he failed in his most important battle against Robert Baratheon.

Who knows what the world would look like had he won?

Jon met King Robert and found little to admire about the man. He has grown fat and spent his days consorting with whores. How is he any different from Mero?

Prince Rhaegar was a fool for running away with his Lady mother, but there had to be something good about him. Why else did men die for him? Or did they just die for the crown?

Such questions were whirling through his mind in these quiet hours of waiting.

“This place is the perfect place for an ambush,” Tito added and flashed Jon an assuring smile. ”But I doubt the brave Dothraki would choose such a cowardly hiding place. The word Ambush is a foreign to them. They would never hide away from their enemy.”

“Sounds comforting,” Jon replied and forced a smile over his lips. His arse was wound from the long ride and he longed to stretch his limps, but that was only the beginning of their hardships.

They travelled for endless hours along the road, before they arrived at an elevated ridge overseeing a long plain-like landscape. It looked as if someone burned off the woods and left nothing more than scorched earth.

The work of the Dothraki horde, Tito had explained, but Jon refused to believe it. Why would they burn away such precious trees?

To get more ransom, Tito had answered, but to Jon it was a waste. Wood was precious good to the people in the North, but it seems the Dothraki don’t share their beliefs.

Yet that was only a small part of the devastation left by the Dothraki horde. A day later Jon and the other recruits were separated to join scouting teams and soon they were confronted with more and more bloodshed.

Half a day they rode and passed one devasted village after another. They found burned fields, bloated corpses and heads put on pikes.

The sight made Jon sick, though he tried to hide it from the other more experienced men. He didn’t want to give the impression of a green boy.

Now and then they found women and children, wandering aimlessly through the landscape, their eyes riddled with madness.

“Curse them!” Tito exclaimed when they found the corpse of a woman, her limps and head cut off and arranged in some odd blood ritual. ”May the Great Shepard banish their souls in the darkest pit of hell.”

Busco was deadly silent and hardly spoke as they made camp and slept in the desolated ruins of the town. At night they only heard the whispering of the wind blowing through the collapsed wooden palisades that once surrounded this dwelling.

“These Dothraki are exceptional bloody,” Vhraesi, the leader of their scouting team muttered to himself. He hailed from Norvos and was a veteran of war. It was hard to guess his age, but his hair was completely grey and his face riddled with deep scars as if someone pushed needles into his bare skin. ”It seems a khalasar chose a new Khal.”

“What has the choosing of a new Khal to do with all this bloodshed?”

“Whenver a new Khal is named they try to establish their reputation. It seems this one wants a bloody one. Every khalasar is different, but you never know what goes through the mind of a Dothraki.”

The man’s words gave Jon much to ponder until he finally fell asleep. The sun woke him mercilessly and by midday they made it back to their camp located on the ride.

“Finally!” their leader gasped and stroked his beard. ”The Stormcrows found us.”

They counted around five-hundred men, but their equipment proved much better than their own. Both men and horses were equipped with proper armour.

Their commanders proved also more agreeable than Mero. None one of them bedecked themselves in comforts above the men riding under them.

No, they even drank with the fresh recruits, though Jon got the feeling this done out of pure amusement.

Yet it gave Jon the possibility to get a look at their allies.

There were three join commanders leading the Stormcrows. Daario Naharis, the first joint-commander, was a strangely-looking man with a blue beard, his clothing far too bright for a mercenary. Yet he seemed to enjoy the trust of his men and Jon couldn’t find any fault in him other than his strange appearance. The second joint commander was a man named Sallor the Bald who sported a twisting scar on his right cheek. Apart from his tendency to pick his nose with great regularity he spoke very little and poured down one cup after another. The third man was a man named Prendahl na Ghezn and hailed from Ghiscar.

The watered wine flowed, but Jon stopped at the third cup.

“You are rather pale around the face, my boy,” Daario Naharis japed and pointed his blade at Jon.”Is the pisswater wine too much for you?”

Jon forced a smile over his lips and shrugged his shoulders.

“Seeing the mangled corpses the Dothraki left for us taints even the best wine,” he replied and earned himself an amused smile.

“That is true…we have yet to pay witness to their bloody deeds,” he replied and refilled his cup, his eyes still fixed at Jon. ”You are not from Essos, are you? Your accent is strange.”

“I hail from the Westeros… the North,” he replied vaguely.

His eyes widened in surprise.

“Westeros,” he repeated and his eyes widened in surprise. ”What brings a boy from Westeros all the way to Essos?”

“An adventurous spirit,” Jon replied vaguely, but Busco decided to piss into his soup.

“Oh, come on, Jon!” his friend exclaimed and patted his shoulder. ”Why not tell him about your heroic tale?”

“Heroic tale?” Daario asked and stroked his blue beard. ”Oh, please tell me about your heroic tale. That is an order.”

“I follow only Commander Mero’s commands and not yours,” Jon rebuffed him.

Daario laughed, but Busco told him anyway. Probably out of fear from the other man.

“Jon freed a girl from a brothel,” he explained. “A noble deed, isn’t it?”

Instantly, the mocking smile vanished from Daario’s face and was exchanged with an almost serious expression.

“My mother was a whore,” he said and raised his cup to his lips. ”She was a pretty woman and drank herself to death. I wish my cunt of a father who impregnated her would have done the same. These slavers are a nasty bunch. I wish the Dothraki would raid their cities instead of providing them with fresh meat.”

Jon couldn’t help but to smile.

“I think this is something we both can agree on.”

Arya

She hadn’t been allowed to leave her rooms for days. She forgot what fresh air tasted like, but even a blue sky and the tough of warm sunlight on her skin wouldn’t be able to wash away the bitterness in her mouth.

Weeks ago her father was imprisoned by Prince, no King Joffrey, but why and how it happened was still a mystery to her. All she knew is that Sansa had something to do with it, because when the Kingsguard came to capture her they mentioned that her sister proved herself loyal to the new King.

Arya still refused to believe it. Sansa could be stupid, but selling out their father to the enemy was another matter.

Yet Arya still recalled Sansa’s horrified reaction after Lord Father announced his intentions to send them back to Winterfell.

Arya was delighted, though she was saddened to leave her dancing master, but Sansa cried bitter tears and refused to speak to their Lord Father in the following days.

So far Arya has yet to get a glimpse of her sister, but she guessed that she was kept under guard like her.

The Queen had no qualms to demand Lady’s death. Arya doubted Sansa’s betrothal to Joff would stop the Queen from imprisoning her sister if meant to serve her cause.

I hate them, she muttered to herself, her face plastered against the painted window. Outside she spotted the Gold Cloaks marching over the courtyard, two servant girls talking to the guards and a bare-headed man garbed in a lilac tunic speaking to two small children.

It was impossible to escape from here. She tried numerous times, but every time they caught her and the Queen had her disciplined for her disobedience.

Wild little animal, she liked to call her, but Arya couldn’t care less what the evil Queen or her stupid son thought of her. If Nymeria was here she would order her to bite off their heads.

Yet Nymeria was far away and now even Needle was taken from her. The Queen took her blade away after she tried to stab the Prince and a day later Joff made her watch as her brother’s git as melted into a nice drinking cup.

Arya never felt more hatred for a human being than in this moment.

May he choke on his wine!

Yet her precious blade remained lost.

The thought alone was enough to conjure tears to her eyes and made her grab the windowsill until her knuckles started to ache.

“Lady Arya Stark!” a hated voice snapped her out of her thoughts. She hadn’t even noticed the entrance of Ser Meryn Trant, but the bruises still marking his cheek made her smile.

My best work.

”Your sister Lady Sansa is here to speak with you.”

Relief washed over her as she spotted Sansa hovering near the entrance. She looked pale, her hair delicately braided and garbed in a simple black dress.

“Please leave us alone,” she told Ser Meryn who obeyed without and closed the door behind him.

Instantly, Arya hopped to her feet and embraced her tightly.

“I heard you misbehaved,” her sister remarked quietly, her hand brushing over Arya’s cheek. ”Why are you making it harder than necessary?”

Arya felt like slapped and backed away from her.

“What do you mean?” she asked. ”They imprisoned our Lord father! We have to get away and leave this cursed city!”

“I cannot leave,” Sansa insisted stubbornly. ”I am betrothed to the King. He loves me and I will convince him to show mercy to our Lord Father, though he committed treachery against our King.”

“Loves you?” Arya asked and continued to walk backwards until she hit the stone wall. ”Do you even listen to yourself? He imprisoned our Lord Father!”

“I know that,” Sansa replied and gave her a chiding look. ”But what choice did he have? Our Lord Father named him a bastard of incest. As I said before…I will convince him to show father mercy. His love is true…I know it. He will allow father to take the Black.”

“You call that mercy?” she asked, her voice rising louder and louder. ”If our Lord father called Joff a bastard then I am sure it is true. Father would never lie about something like that.”

Yet Sansa remained unmoved by her tantrum.

“Arya,” she sighed heavily. ”You are behaving like an unruly child. If you insisting on behaving like this you will have to remain here. Your talk would only displease the King and it will only be harder for me to convince him.”

Arya remained silent for a long time, all kind of violent thoughts rushing through her mind.

She tried to keep her composure, but being locked up here for days and the loss of Needle made her prone to throes of anger.

“Then go back to your stupid King!” she snapped, turned around and crossed her arms in defiance. ”Marry him and have his bastards! I can’t endure your stupid talk any longer! Go away!”

“As you wish!” she heard Sansa’s angry and the clash of the door.

She was alone again.

Chapter Text

Jon

The vanguard consisted of eighty riders. Around twenty of them belonged to the Stormcrows, but the rest belonged to the Second Sons. Their leader was Vhraesi or the Old Man as the others recruits liked to call him. That the Vhraesi chose Jon was a surprise. He was a passable rider, but he was never good with the lance.

“I can see something!” the cry of his companion snapped him out of his thougts. His name a Pentoshi, but his name escaped Jon.”Camp ahead!”

Jon narrowed his eyes against the bright sunlight and tried to find this camp. It took him a moment, but then he saw it too. Hidden behind a cliffy landscape he spotted tents, horses and the black smoke of cookfires rising into the sky. The earth-like colour of the tents made it hard to see them in the barren landscape surrounding them.

“Lower your voice, fool!” Vhraesi snapped at the man and flashed him an angry look. ”They may have put up sentries.”

“Of course,” the man replied and lowered his head apologetically.

“What are we going to do now, old man?” a man going by the name Red Axe remarked. He belonged to the Stormcrows and thought himself above the others. His tone towards their leader was beyond rude, but Vhraesi ignored him and came straight to the point.

“Simply…we are going to throw fire in the hornets’ nest,” the old man whispered to them. ”I will send two men to scout the camp. I need to know where they keep their baggage carts and horses. Then we will put them on fire and lure the horde down our chosen path. Is that understood?”

His question was confirmed by quiet mutters and soon two men were chosen to fulfil the task.

The hours of waiting that followed proved worst and even after their companions had returned Jon’s apprehension intensified. He tried not to show it openly, but Tito’s stories and what he saw of the Dothraki unsettled him.

“Ready?” Vhraesi asked in a whispering voice and jerked his head towards the eastern side of the camp as they moved along a row pale hills swirling around the Dothraki camp. There on the outskirts of the camp Jon spotted several hundred horses and carts packed with food and other belongings.

“Ready!” Jon answered in unison with the others and tightened his grip on the reins of his horse. They moved slowly, the rising sun painting the sky in pink light. As they reached the end of the pale hills they took a deep breath and lit their torches. Their companions had found no sentries in this direction and thus it was unlikely that the Dothraki would be able to see them, yet Jon was unable to brush away his fears.

“All will be well,” he heard Tito’s assuring voice and felt his touch on his shoulder. ”It is quite clear that they had a victory celebration. They will all be drunk. Marli said so.

Marli was one of the two men chosen to scout for sentries. He was a Sheepman like Tito, but very quiet compared to his chatty kinsman.

“Victory celebration?” Jon asked, keeping his voice intentionally low. ”They butchered villages and dismembered women. What is there to celebrate about?”

“Don’t try to make sense of barbarians…it is no use,” his friend replied and straightened himself in his saddle.

Jon swallowed hard and followed after the others, before descending on the Dothraki camp.

Tito’s prediction turned out to be true. Nobody was there to stop them as they descended on the baggage carts and herds of horses. A few men stood guard, armed with nothing more than their famous curved blades. They were barely able to raise their swords, before they were rolled over.

They did as they were commanded and set fire to the baggage carts while around twenty other men did their best to drive apart the horses.

Soon the flames were rising and the camp was coming alive. Jon heard shouts, the language foreign to his ears, but they didn’t linger for long. They set aflame another row of baggage carts, before wheeling their horses around and driving them back to their chosen path.

Jon didn’t dare to look back as he drove his horse forward. He feared to find a horde of horsemen rolling over him.

He kept his gaze fixed on the distant horizon, his eyes burning from the dust and smoke.

It was long past midday when they made it back to the camp.

Jon felt only relief as he spotted the blurry outlines of their camp, the armour and shields of their men shimmering in the midday heat.

They had spent two days to fortify the ridge with two wooden forts, ditches and sharp stakes, but Jon felt that all their effort paled in comparison to the might of the Dothraki horde.

Around twenty-thousand men, women and children, Tito had estimated. That means around fifteen-thousand riders.

Jon had swallowed hard when he heard this, but like the others he tried to keep up an appearance of indifference.

Together the Second Sons and the Stormcrows counted three-thousand men. It was like a drop falling on the desert ground. No wonder the payment was high.

I should have known better.

“Did you lose any riders?” Commander Mero demanded to know from Vhraesi, before he was even able to dismount from his horse. About ten of their men had split from their group earlier to look out for the Dothraki horde. Vhraesi was confident that they would follow their trails.

Their high position gave them an advantage, but they were vastly outnumbered.

“No,” Vhraesi replied and dismounted in a quick motion. “All riders made it back. We can continue with our plans.”

“The archers are ready,” Daario added, garbed in full armour, his blue hair hidden under his helmet. “Sallor knows his task. I hope your men know theirs.”

Mero frowned and straightened himself. It was not hard to deduce that the two of them held little love for each other, but then hardly anyone liked Mero. Even his own men disliked him. Why he hasn’t been murdered until now was a mystery to him.

“Do you question my men’s abilities?”

“Of course not, Commander,” Daario replied mockingly.

“I hope for you that we have enough arrows,” Vhraesi interrupted, a hint of frustration visible on his lined face. ”We found a horde counting thirty-thousand men and about fifteen-thousand riders. Our quarrels can be settled after the battle is fought.”

Mero huffed.

“Stop instructing me and prepare your men, old man. If this goes wrong we will all die.”

Then he left, making his back to his shiny tent.

Vhraesi and the other sub-commanders did as they were commanded and prepared for battle. Blades were oiled, a few more stakes were put into the ground and soon each man took his assigned position.

Jon carried a shield, a spear and his sword. Only a few hundred of their men remained mounted and built their rear-guard. Most of them belonged to the Stormcrows, their heavy armour the best protection against the approaching enemy. About half of their men formed a shieldwall spreading over the ridge.

Behind the shieldwall sat men, each armed with a longbow. The rest of the archers were placed at the flanks and protected by stakes, about a third of them armed with longbows and other shorter-ranging weapons.

The longbow, made of yew, was a difficult weapon to handle, because it demanded both strength and practice. Jon had observed the training of the archers and realized that every single one of them was an experienced warrior. He found only three green boys among them, all of them buff and strong like bears.

“Jon!” Tito whispered and patted his shoulder. ”Can you hear them too?”

Jon nodded his head. It sounded like rolling thunder, but even this sound was soon drowned out by the ear-bleeding cries of the Dothraki horde.

The Golden horde as Tito called them.

Jon tightened his grip on his spear and kept his shield up. He had the sudden urge to ride away as the first horses stormed up the ridge towards the raised pikes.

Jon, placed in the back rows didn’t see much of them, but heard the cries of horse and men alike. Gritting his teeth he lowered his shield to throw his spear at the approaching wave of enemies. Jon was unable to see where his spear landed, but he spotted several riders impaled or catapulted from their horses.

They lifted their shields gain as the next wave approached. Again the might of the Dothraki cavalry collided with the shieldwall, pushing them backwards. Jon gasped for air, sweat running down his cheeks. Before him he saw only shields and behind him the arrows hissed down at the enemy below, the air filled with the cries of dying horses.

This is madness, he thought as this procedure continued endlessly. How did the Dothraki train their horses to run into raised pikes?

Hours passed and no end was in sight. The shieldwall stood strong, but the first rows were thinning while the heaps of the corpses grew higher and higher. It way long past evening when the hissing of the arrows ceased and the reserve was sent towards the approaching enemy. Their heavy armour protected them from the countless Dothraki arrows, but they were still outnumbered.

Jon eyed them with envy, not because he was longing for the thrill of riding through a horde of barbarians, but because he was slowly suffocating. His feet felt numb and he longed to stretch his limbs.

“Gods!” he heard Busco’s gasp. ”Will it ever end?”

“Shut up!” he heard another man’s curse that was soon drowned out by the sound of rearing horses.

Long after Jon had stopped counting the hours, the enemy stopped its attack and left.

Jon was stunned, but also relieved.

The battle was finally over and the ridge below was covered in dead men and horses alike. The smell was even worse, maggots and flies already festering in the dead corpses. Some of the Dothraki warriors were still alive, some of them littered with numerous arrows.

Jon and the other green recruits were tasked to make sure that they don’t see the next day.

Jon felt only disgust. The Dothraki were barbarians, but besting a man in battle felt much different than giving him the deathblow when he was lying on the ground and unable to move.

Yet that was what Jon signed up for.

To make it easier he recalled the butchered villages, but it didn’t give him the same thrill other men liked to boast about when they took a man’s life.

Tito was different. He even scoured the heaps of corpses for prominent members of the Dothraki horde. The head of a known Dothraki warrior or a kinsman of a Khal promised additional gold and many a man was prepared to wade through heaps of corpses to get it.

Jon was not such a man.

The night had fallen when Tito returned to join him and Busco, his armour covered in blood and grime. He grinned and emptied his bearskin while Jon continued to watch him with fascination.

“We won a great victory, but you look like sullen as ever, friend,” he remarked and took a seat next to Jon. ”Now we only need to cash in the promised coin. We didn’t get the Khal leading this khalasar, but several of his kinsmen are among them.”

“How do you know that again?” Busco asked and snorted in disbelief. ”They looked the same to me.”

“Their bells and war paint reveals their rank,” Tito explained without hesitation.

“I hope you are right,” Jon added and exhaled deeply. ”But it will take us several weeks to return Qohor. Once we leave this position we are vulnerable for attack and what you told me about the Dothraki makes me believe that they will return to take revenge for this humiliation.”

“Maybe,” Tito replied hesitatingly. ”But our host is smaller and quicker. Once we have crossed the Darwash we should be relatively safe.”

“I see,” Jon replied and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders.

They found little sleep that night and mounted their horses before the first rays of sunlight were apparent on the distant horizon.

Not that Jon was able to sleep. The cold and the uncertainty kept him awake.

“Back to Qohor!” he heard his companion’s cries of relief. Not even the lack of rations seemed to bother them. The promise of gold seemed more alluring than a proper meal.

Ever slowly, they made their way along the narrow path leading them back to the crossing over the Darkwash.

Only two moons, Jon thought and brushed his fears away. Due to the wounded men it took them nearly three days to reach the promised crossing.

Jon felt only relief when he spotted the dark waters of the Darkwash glimmering in the sunlight.

Yet their enthusiasm was dimmed, when they realized how much the water level had risen since their last crossing weeks ago. Several men tried to lead their horses through the water, but the current carried them away and they drowned in the dark waters of the river.

They had no other choice, but to build a bridge or to cross over at another point.

“There is another crossing point a days’ ride away from here,” one of the sergeants’ informed them and thus their host of men was forced to move further along the river.

It was a horrible mishap that angered the men who hadn’t seen a proper meal in days.

Mero drove them mercilessly, but the commanders of the Stormcrows put an end to the death march after several of their horses and wounded had died in the previous night.

They made camp near a slope of the river. There they used their spears to catch fish while small scores of men were sent out to hunt.

It was in this moment that Jon appreciated Bran’s love for fishing. After several hours of wading through the riverbank he had caught an impressive amount of fish and was soon roasting them over a warm cookfire.

It tasted heavenly, but it didn’t help to fill his stomach.

That night sleep came easier to him. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but his sleep proved as dark and as deep as the waters of the Darkwash.

It was the sound of rolling thunder that woke him from his slumber. At first he thought it a dream, a mirage, but then he recalled the sound from his first maiden battle.

Horse hooves, he knew and instinctively grabbed for his blade. Tito and Busco were still asleep, but Jon didn’t hesitate to kick them awake.

“Wake up!” he shouted. “Wake up!”

Busco grumbled, but Tito was quickly on his feet and grasped for his spear.

“Can you hear it?” he asked his friend, who opened his mouth to speak, his voice drowned out by the cry of the Dothraki riders washing over the camp.

Jon didn’t waste single breath and picked up his shield, before making his way back to his horse, bound to a nearby tree. The animal reared in fear, but Jon was able to calm it down and climb on its back. By the time he was seated in his saddle the camp had descended into chaos.

Men scrambled out of their tents and were cut down before they were even able to grab their weapons. Jon himself found himself soon under attack.

It was a young warrior, his curved blade meeting his shield, bringing forth a clinking sound. Jon didn’t give him a chance to retaliate and buried its blade in the enemy’s horse.

The animal shrieked and Jon ended the man with a cut to his head.

After a brief moment of search, he spotted Busco trying to fend off a Dothraki rider on foot, an arrow sticking from his shoulder. The warrior was strong and able, his curved blade cutting Busco open like a pig.

The Dothraki warrior laughed, his numerous bells tingling as he moved his head in Jon’s direction.

Without further hesitation he wheeled his horse around and leaned down to pull out the spear he had put into the ground, before going to sleep.

“Busco!” he shouted and lifted the spear as he continued to urged his horse towards the enemy.

The Dothraki warrior was not even able to move out of the way, before he was impaled and thrown from his horse.

He looked slightly different from other warriors. His braid reached nearly to his waist, his face painting unnatural bright. His painted vest accentuated with gold made Jon believe that he was someone very important.

Yet Jon had no time to waste on the warrior.

A volley of arrows caught him off guard and he was barely able to lift his shield to protect himself. His horse reared and he was thrown backwards on the ground

Two arrows hit his shield and one lodged itself into his armour, bringing forth a painful feeling in his right shoulder.

“Busco…,” he turned around as he searched for his friend, but it was no use. His eyes were empty, a puddle of blood spreading beneath him.

When Jon turned around he saw twelve warriors, their curved blades raised and circling around him as he lay unmoving on the ground.

Yet their eyes were not fixed on Jon, but on the impaled warrior.

Jon waited for the death blow, but the men ignored him and continued to whisper to each other in their foreign language.

Instead of continuing to fight, one of the men unhorsed and pulled the dead warrior on his horse.

Then they wheeled their horses around and left Jon, lying there, the smell of blood lingering in his nose. He still felt the arrow sticking in his shoulder and blood was running into his face. Carefully, he touched the back of his head and winced in pain.

He must have hit his head when he fell from the horse. Ever slowly, he tried to pull himself on his feet, the world around him starting to spin in circles.

A sudden feeling of sickness overcame him and he fell back on his knees, before emptying his stomach on the ground.

He tried to pull himself up one more time, before he collapsed and was swallowed by the darkness.

Dany

The sun had sunken beyond Ragman’s Port when Dany returned to her humble home. She sold all oysters and even the fish.

Feeling the weariness in her bones she longed for nothing more than a bath. Eight moons along she felt more like a burden than a help, though neither Mella nor the girls complained about it. No, they even helped her with her daily chores.

As dutiful as ever young Shala awaited her with a bucket of water.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” she asked like always. Sometimes it was Mara or even Hadi who helped her, but most of the time it Shala. Dany harboured the suspicion that the girl liked coming here because of Ghost. Every free minute she was trying to play with him and make him repeat the tricks Jon showed to her before his departure.

“Oh, please,” Shala replied happily and brushed her fingers through Ghost’s fur. The wolf ignored her and rolled to the side. The lack of exercise made him lazy. Sometimes she took him for a walk, but the stares of the people made her uncomfortable.

When Jon returns you will have to give up your laziness, she thought and poured the steaming water in a cup.

“Is that enough?” she asked the girl, but Shala’s attention was fixed on the heap of papers stacked on the table. Most of the documents concerned slave transports, all written in the finest High Valyrian. Dany didn’t know how Mella got these documents, but were a great help to her. Most of her work consisted in forging documents, but even this task proved harder than expected. Depending on the city the slave masters use different phrases in their correspondence. To get the wording right was incredibly difficult.

“Nothing exciting,” she lied and brushed the letters aside.

“Here your cup of tea,” she added and held it out to the girl.

The girl thanked her and started to sip on her coup, her eyes wandering to Jon’s box harbouring the dragon eggs. Sometimes, Dany picked them out of the box and placed them in the cookfire. It was a silly notion, but she sometimes dreamed that they would hatch like in her brother’s stories.

“Can I see?” Shala asked hopefully.

“Yes, but only briefly,” Dany replied at last and opened the box. ”It belongs to Jon…I have no right to it.”

The girl’s eyes widened, a strange expression washing over her face. Maybe it was only her imagination, but it was not the first time this happened. Whenver Dany brought up Jon, Mella and the girls grew strangely silent as if they knew more they wanted to say.

She wanted to bring it up, but she always told herself that it won’t matter when Jon returns.

Six moons had come and gone, but Jon has yet to return. That the campaign could take longer than expected was something she expected, but Shala’s behaviour unsettled her.

Now or never, she thought and sat down next to Shala, who was still admiring Jon’s eggs.

“Are these jewels?” the girl asked innocently.

“No, these are eggs,” she replied and touched the black egg. As always, it was warm and pulsing like a small flame.

In that specific moment the child kicked her and left her gasping for air.

“Are you well?” the girl asked and touched her shoulder. ”Shall I call for mother?”

Dany chuckled and patted the girl’s shoulder.

“I am well,” she assured her and decided to make use of the moment to inquire about her strange behaviour.

“Say, Shala,” she said and forced a smile over her lips. ”Did you hear something about Jon that I should know about?

The girl paled.

“Father he heard…mother told me not to tell you,” the girl stuttered fearfully.

Her tone frightened Dany more than she wanted to admit.

“Shala,” she said and swallowed hard. ”What did your father hear?”

“The men Jon is fighting with…the Second Sons…they were defeated by…by these Do…Dothraki…at least that is what my father heard from the sailors,” she continued to stutter and gave Dany a fearful look.

Dany felt a hint of sickness washing over her, but she tried to keep a calm composure in front of the girl.

Slowly, she rose to her feet and put her cup away. Her hand was trembling, but at least she kept her tears in control as she shifted her attention back on the girl.

“Shala,” she addressed the girl as politely as possible. ”I am tired. Please don’t tell your mother about our talk.”

“I will do as you say,” the Shala replied quietly and slipped out of the room.

The moment the door had closed behind her the tears came rolling down her cheeks.

It is my fault.

I should have told him to stay.

My fault, she thought and sank to her knees before the hearth. The box was still open, the eggs shimmering like tree precious gemstones. My fault.

Her ragged sobs must have alarmed Ghost, for he was suddenly there, licking her face as if he wanted to comfort her.

“Stupid wolf!” she told him and buried her face in his thick fur. ”I told him not to be brave!”

Ghost seemed to share her sadness and whimper softly, before settling down on the dusty carpet beside her.

“No, I am stupid,” she muttered to herself and enclosed the wolf’s head. “It should have told him…then he wouldn’t have left.”

She wanted comfort, someone to tell her that everything would be alright.

Yet Ghost didn’t answer, his ruby eyes watching her ever silently as he continued to lick her face.

She didn’t know how it had happened, but she woke on the floor, Ghost curled around her.

It was a loud cry that woke her, the voice familiar to her ears.

Rubbing her eyes, she rose to her feet and dragged herself to the window. Carefully, she opened the panes, an even sharper cry pierced through the night that left her shuddering.

Mella!

The girls!

With a beating heart, she rushed back to her bed and retrieved the blade she kept hidden there under the blankets.

By the time she was moving back to the door, Ghost had risen from his place near the hearth.

“Ghost,” she whispered and jerked her head towards the door, her feet weak like pudding. ”Come along!”

The wolf hesitated as if he was confused by her command.

“Ghost!” she repeated more loudly. ”Please! Come with me!”

Finally, the white wolf started to follow after her as she made her way outside and up the steps leading up to Mella’s home.

Her heart was threatening to jump out of her chest as found the door wide open. She hesitated for a moment, but a painful whimper and a loud bang snapped her out of her frozen state.

She tightened her grip on her dagger and stepped inside the anteroom, Ghost following after her like a shadow.

It was in the middle of the night, but even the darkness was unable to conceal her grizzly finding. Mella lay sprawled on the ground, her eyes empty and dead. Her skull must have been bashed by something hard, so much Dany deduced from the bloody wound showing on her head.

“Let me go!” she heard Mara’s desperate voice rattled down the stairs leading to the upper sleeping compartments.

Leaning against the wall, she pulled herself up the stairs, Ghost leading the way as if he was aware of the danger ahead.

There, sprawled on the steps she found Shala, unmoving and her limps arranged in a strange position. Someone must have pushed her down the steps, Dany realized at once.

“Please!” she heard Mara’s cry coming from the room at the end of the corridor. ”Please!”

Gasping for air she followed the voices rattling down the stairs. Reaching the top she found a corridor, broken furniture and the clear signs of a fight visible to her.

Dany didn’t hesitate to move down the corridor, though her feet felt weak and wobbly. Ghost’s presence gave her the assurance she needed.

Inside she found Mara and two men. They one was copper-skinned and the other one pale-skinned like Dany. The pale one was cowering on the ground, his head sporting a nasty wound. The copper one was trying to press a struggling Mella to the ground.

Their velvet cloaks sparked her memory: the brutes who insulted Mella.

And now they came to kill her.

And Shala.

Hatred beyond reason filled her to the brim and she plunged her dagger in the man’s back. The man shrieked in pain, but her bloody deed was not enough to vanquish him. He noticed her presence and turned around to push her away. The dagger slipped out of her hands and she stumbled backwards, hitting the ground.

She gritted her teeth against the pain in her back and found Ghost burying his teeth in the other man. His painful screams echoed through the room as the other man moved towards her.

Dany closed her eyes, fresh pain surging down her back. It felt as if thousands of needles were piercing through her skin.

Yet nothing happened. She only heard a shout and a loud thud. When she opened her eyes again she found Mara on top of the man, kicking and hitting him as he continued to groan.

Blood splattered Mara’s dress and the man’s cloak, but she didn’t stop. Over and over again she hit him as Dany pulled herself back to her feet.

“Stop it!” she shouted at the girl and pulled on her shoulder. ”He is dead and gone!”

“I don’t care!” the girl snapped back at her, her red hair falling like flames around her flushed face. ”He killed my mother!”

“I know,” Dany replied through greeted teeth, another surge of pain wrecking her body. ”But we can’t waste time.”

Instantly, Mara stopped, her breathing laboured as she stared back at Dany.

Ghost trailed back to Dany’s side, licking her fingers as she trembled in pain.

“Are you in great pain?” the Mara asked fearfully and moved to her side, brushing her shoulders. ”I am sorry…I was just…What shall we do?”

“We can’t leave your mother and sister lying down there…your father won’t return for long…contact your mother’s friends…we need to go somewhere else…they could come back…,” she stuttered and braced herself on the other girl’s arm.

She hoped that this would ease the sharp pain, but then she felt something wet soiling her dress.

Her water broke.

Chapter Text

Jon

Jon felt a sharp pain surging down his back as he tried to move. Slowly, he opened his eyes and narrowed his gaze against the bright sun. The smell of sweat and blood lingered in his mouth and nose as he tried to recall what transpired.

His memories were slightly blurred, but he recalled that a horde of Dothraki ambushed their camp.

“Jon,” Tito’s weary voice made him angle his head to look at his friend. ”The Great Shepard be blessed…you are finally awake. I feared the worst.”

Jon noticed that he was placed on the ground, a dusty cloak draped over his body.

“I…,” Jon began and tried to sit up, but a sting of pain washing over his shoulder made him grit his teeth.”What happened?”

“You don’t remember?” Tito knelt down next to him and helped in a sitting position. “A small host of Dothraki ambushed and killed hundreds of our men. I lost you during in the chaos and tried to find you. Marli saw you kill the Khal and shortly after the Dothraki horde dispersed. You are truly a lucky bastard. How is it possible that his Bloodriders didn’t kill you?”

Jon felt his head hurt from all this new information, but the fact that this warrior was a Khal stunned him.

“This man was a Khal?” Jon asked looked around. Their camp, consisting of several hundred men camped near the river, the dark woods of Qohor looming in the west. They must have crossed the river Darkwash. Jon recognized the landscape. ”I see…those men were his Bloodriders. To answer your question…I think they mistook me for a dead man.”

Tito howled with laughter and patted his knees.

“You are truly a lucky bastard, friend!”

Even now Jon winced when he heard the word bastard, though Tito certainly didn’t mean it as an insult.

Jon sighed deeply.

“I am just happy to be alive,” Jon replied and sighed deeply. ”How long was I out and how many of our men remain?”

“Three full days,” Tito explained and jerked his head towards the handful of tents erected close to a large tree that granted plenty of shadow. ”Barely five hundred men remain, most of them Stormcrows. We are the lucky ones.”

“Busco died,” Jon added quietly.

Tito nodded his head, a sad smile curling on his lips.

“I know,” he whispered and leaned closer. ”But Mero died with him. Even the proud Stormcrows took heavy losses. One of their join-commanders died and the other one is wounded. The acting Commander Daario had us camp here for two days, hoping that his scattered men might find their way here to join us. He told me that he doesn’t want to cash in the money without his men.”

“Cash in the coin?” Jon asked. ”But we were defeated.”

“True,” Tito agreed. ”But the rulers of Qohor paid us to fight the Dothraki Horde…I doubt they expected us to win. Besides, we killed several high-ranking Dothraki warriors and you killed the Khal. It is only regrettable that we weren’t able to salvage the body. Well, at least the Dothraki will be occupied for a while.”

“How so?” Jon asked. ”Why will they be occupied?”

Tito smiled and handed him his waterskin.

“First you drink and then I will explain,” his friend said and patted his shoulder. ”You sound like broken glass.”

Jon nodded his head and drank greedily, the taste of the cool water like heaven on his tongue.

“When a Khal dies the successor is decided by competition. The warriors fight each other until one of them prevails, though it is not always that bloody. It depends on the khalasar. But first they will prepare the Khal’s body for its departure to the next world. All of this can take weeks.”

Jon nodded his head, but decided that he won’t feel safe until they were back in Qohor.

“How long will it take us to reach Qhohor?” he asked and handed the waterskin back. ”I need to return to Braavos. I promised to return within six moons.”

“A week,” Tito replied and picked a green fruit from his belongings. ”Eat or you will not even make it back to Qohor.”

Jon did as he was asked and took a bite rom the fruit. The bitter taste made him wince, but it was enough to water his mouth and to fill his stomach.

All the while Tito continued to recount what transpired in the last three days.

It was past midday when Daario Naharis announced their departure. Jon tried to make himself useful, but Tito commanded him to rest.

It was early evening when they climbed back on their horses.

Sweat was rolling down his cheeks and the movement of the horse didn’t help to ease the pain in his shoulder, but he was relieved to return home.

Dany will be angry, but he was sure. I will have to ask for her forgiveness.

“You look much better, boy,” Daario Naharis remarked as he led his horse next to Jon’s. He looked more or less unscathed, a few bruises littering his cheek. ”Last time I laid eyes on you I thought you will kiss the earth.”

“We Westerosi are hard to kill,” Jon replied curtly and earned himself an amused smile.

“And mad,” Daario added and stroked his blue beard. ”What madness possessed you to attack a Dothraki Khal?”

Jon shrugged his shoulders.

“I didn’t even know that he was a Khal.”

Daario Naharis howled with laughter.

“You are a strange boy,” he added after his laughter had died down. ”Any other man would have claimed this victory for himself. Not that the rulers of Qohor would believe us without a head, but we were able to salvage several other heads,” he added and patted one of the bags fastened on his horse. The pungent smell and the blood seeping through the seam of the bag told him that is where kept the heads. ”Mero is dead, but that you will receive your fair share. Daario Naharis always pays his debts, boy.”

He sounds almost like a Lannister, Jon thought and forced a smile over his lips.

“I thank you,” he answered and lowered his head. ”But as I told you before…the boy is called Jon.”

“Jon,” Daario repeated and bared his teeth. ”A rather plain name. You should choose a bloodier name to spread your reputation. A friend of mine is named the Widower and another one Bloodfinger, but Jon…Jon evokes nothing but boredom.”

Jon knew he was just joking, but the sun was burning off his face and his shoulder started ache again. He felt the urge to put an end to this conversation.

“I have no interest to pursue this career further. I took part in the campaign, because I need coin…there is a girl waiting for me at home…a girl I am going to wed.”

Daario’s eyebrows wandered to the top of his head. He gaped at Jon as if he just proposed to cut off his balls and eat them.

Jon couldn’t help but to laugh, despite the lingering pain his shoulder.

“Why this horror?” Jon asked sarcastically. “Does marriage scare a brave man like you?”

“Of course not,” Daario snorted. ”But even the most beautiful flower loses its fragrance. It is the same with women. There are too many beautiful flowers to choose from. Why settle for one?”

Jon laughed.

“What if I already plucked the most beautiful flower? Why would I have need of others?”

Daario Naharis gave him a dumbfounded look.

“You are twisting my words, boy,” he replied and led his horse away.

Jon felt a hint of triumph and slowed down his horse to ride next to Tito.

“Did he mock you?” his friend asked.

“He was polite enough,” Jon replied. ”I will get my coin. That is all that counts to me.”

“That is all that counts,” Tito agreed, a strange expression playing on his face.

“Jon…,” he began and started to fiddle with the reins of his horse. ”I would like to accompany you to Braavos. I always wanted to see one of the Free Cities. Do you mind?”

Jon was surprised by his request, but saw no reason to refuse him. He doubted Dany would mind meeting a fresh face.

“Sure,” he replied. ”Come along if it pleases you, my friend.”

A brilliant smile played on Tito’s lips.

“I thank you, my friend.”

Dany

She dreamed of home.

Again the house with red door appeared before her like a mirage. Everything was as she recalled and through a high window she spotted the lemon tree she had been desperately searching for.

“Little Princess,” a soft and gruff voice called out to her. ”Come to me, little Princess.”

Princess.

She received names different names. Whore. Naerys. Dany.

Yet no one had ever called her Princess.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she beheld the face of her elderly caretaker. His grey beard and crinkled face filled her with a deep longing to rush into his open arms.

“Dragon…,” an unfamiliar voice muttered behind her. ”Dragon...”

Slowly, she turned around and another door opened before her. She wanted to rush back into the arms of her caretaker, but when she turned around she only found darkness.

If I look back I am lost, she thought and moved through the next door, leading her into a round drum-like room.

Sitting near a popping hearth she found a man, familiar and foreign at once. He was very tall, graced with long silver hair and dark indigo eyes.

The man’s black clothing stood out against the red dragon embellished on his doublet.

“The Dragon…,” he whispered to the woman perched on a great wooden bed. ”The Dragon has three heads…”

She was very beautiful, graced with a heart-shaped face and long brown reaching down to her waist.

Her swollen stomach betrayed her pregnancy, but the smile playing on her lips was sad.

“My child will be the third head?” the young woman asked. ”How can you be sure?”

“I saw it,” the silver-haired man replied, a smile hushing over his lips. ”I saw girl with silver hair and purple eyes. She looked like my Lady mother.”

“A girl…,” the young woman muttered, her grey eyes alight with wonder. ”I always wanted a girl.”

“Maybe it will be a boy,” the silver-haired man added and rose to his feet. ”Sometimes I see a boy…dark-haired and grey-eyed like you. It matters not…boy or girl…the dragon has three heads,” he added and placed a kiss on the woman’s lips.

Instantly, the pair faded away like the morning mist and left her wandering along a narrow corridor. The walls were high, grey and dark as the night.

Only the gilded door looming on the other end of the corridor promised escape.

“Sweet sister,” the voice of her dead brother whispered as she put her hand on the handle of the door. ”Sweet sister…come to me.”

Golden light blinded her as she pushed the door open, though it lasted only for a brief moment.

When she came back to herself she found herself sitting on a soft feather bed, garbed in a pale nightgown.

“Can you see this, sweet sister?” her brother asked. He was graced with a sharp-featured face, framed by silver hair and lilac eyes reminiscent of rose petals.

“A crown,” she replied softly. She sounded different. Almost like a child. ”It is a crown, brother.”

An almost loving smile spread over her brother’s pale lips as he held up the precious crown. It was a simple band of gold, set with seven gemstones, glittering in the candlelight like jewels.

“Our Lady mother carried this crown,” her brother continued to explain and carefully placed the crown on her head. ”She was a gracious Queen to our Lord Father and one day you will be my Queen.”

He seemed elated, though his words evoked only confusion inside her.

“Your Queen?” she asked softly.

“Yes, sweet sister,” her brother answered and leaned down to kiss her head. ”One day I will go home and then I will kill the usurper dog’s.”

Dany shivered and her brother trembled, a gleam of madness apparent in his lilac eyes.

“I don’t like dead men…they smell,” her younger self complained, but her brother didn’t share her opinion. His fingernails started to dig into her cheek and tore a whimper from her lips.

“You are Princess Daenerys Targryen!” he snapped at her, like a monster from a terrible nightmare. “The blood of the dragon does not weep!”

“Viserys!” she begged.” You are hurting me!”

He didn’t stop, her cheeks awash with pain, blood trickling down her neck and shoulders as the darkness swallowed her whole.

A moment later she found herself back in her home. The home she and Jon found in Braavos.

Everything was as it should be. The fire in the hearth was cackling and the eggs lay nestled between the swirling flames.

Carefully, she tried to pick the eggs from the flames, but it was no use. The flames were lashing out at her like whips. She coiled away, but the fire blazed, the flames feasting on her dress, hair and skin. She tried to scream, but no sound left her mouth.

You are the blood of the dragon!

The blood of the dragon does not weep!

The flames continued to engulf her as her body was wrecked by pain.

Gritting her teeth, she curled her fingers around her womb. She closed her eyes to block out the pain, but a distant voice snapped her out of her nightmares.

“Dany,” Mara’s voice, rang soft in her ears. Something cool and wet touched her brow as she turned her head to look at Mara. ”You are finally awake.”

Mara looked exhausted, her red hair dishevelled and her eyes red-rimmed.

Dany recalled the visions, but what happened before was nothing more than a blurred memory.

She only recalled collapsing from the pain.

“How long was I gone?” she asked, her voice strained and distant to her ears. ”Where is my child?”

“A boy,” Hadi said and moved to her bedside, carrying a whimpering bundle. ”It is a boy.”

“Give him to me!” she demanded anxiously and stretched out her arms. It took all her effort, fatigue making her sleepy and feverish.

Her son was a tiny babe, graced with silver hair. She expected purple eyes or grey eyes, but then she recalled that all babes have blue eyes after birth.

It will change over time.

He whimpered a little as she held him close, tears trailing down her cheeks.

“He is a bit small,” Mara added softly, her voice heavy with worry.

“He is a dragon,” it escaped her involuntarily. The pain was still there, burning inside her womb, something warm soiling her thighs. ”He will grow strong.”

Mella gave her a confused look and touched her brow.

“Of course,” Mara replied and brushed away the bedding. ”It is not your boy I am worrying about…your bleeding has yet to stop. And you are burning with fever.”

Fear gripped her heart as she saw the blood.

Dany shook her head.

She can’t die. Not after she realized the truth.

She is Daenerys Targaryen. Her brother was Viserys Targaryen and the Prince from Jon’s letters was her other brother. The brother she only knew from Viserys’ stories. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.

Jon was my nephew and I sent him to his death.

I sent my brother’s son to his death.

Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled Rhaegar’s words.

The dragon has three heads.

Three heads, three eggs.

“Mara,” she said and angled her head to look at the other girl. ”Did you get Jon’s box? I recall asking you to take it with you”

Mara smiled and brushed her hand through Dany’s wet hair.

”Aye, I brought Jon’s box,” Mara replied and pointed at the box placed next to her bed. ”Don’t fret. Nobody will be able to steal your jewels. This is the Tempel of Light. We are safe here.”

“The Tempel of Light,” she repeated and placed her boy back in Hadi’s arms. Slowly, she pulled her feet out of the bed and leaned down to open the box.

Carefully, she smoothed her hand over the rough surface of the eggs. They were hot as a brazier, something deep inside them pulsing with life.

“Fire,” she muttered to herself as if in prayer. ”I need fire. The hottest fire you can find.”

“Dany…,” Mara muttered, worry written all over her face. ”Your fever is speaking…”

“I am not mad!” she snapped back, surprised by her temper. ”Please…these are not jewels….these are dragon eggs…I need a fire…it has to be now or never.”

“Dany,” Mara began, but Hadi cut in.

“We built a pyre for the dead…,” the younger girl explained, but Mara interrupted, anger visible on her face.

“Stop encouraging her in this nonsense, sister,” Mara said and jerked her head at Dany. ”Her fever is speaking.”

“I don’t think so,” Hadi replied determinedly and touched her amulet wrought in a red flame. ”The God of Light touched her. “

“Fuck your God of Light!” Mara shouted, but lowered her voice when Dany’s babe started to cry. ”Why did your God of Light not save our mother when he is so almighty and all-knowing?”

Dany heard enough and rose back to her trembling feet.

“Aemon,” she said and kissed the babe’s head. ”Call him Aemon…for the Dragonknight.”

Jon told her that he wanted to be like him. A knight…honest and true. Jon was no knight, but he did what knights are supposed to do. He protected her when he could have left her rotting in the North.

Then she turned back to Hadi.

“Will you show me the way and help my carry the box?”

“Of course,” Hadi explained and touched her arm.”I will show you the way.”

“Will you come with us?” Dany asked Mara.

Mara shook her head.

“I will not be part of this madness,” Mara replied stubbornly. ”I will take care of your boy while you are gone.”

Dany swallowed hard and nodded her head in understanding.

Hadi had to steady her as they made their way to the great sanctuary. There she found a large wooden pyre, the corpses wrapped in white cloth. Dany had visited the Temple of Light a dozen of times and often enough the dead were given to the flames to receive the blessings of the God of Light.

Death by fire is the cleanest death.

As they climbed up the steps leading to the pyre, they were accompanied by the soft song of the acolytes.

“I heard of such eggs,” Hadi said as they came to stand before the pyre. ”The dragonlords of old possessed such eggs.”

“Aye,” Dany replied softly. ”I am of their blood…the blood of the dragon.”

Her feet felt wobbly as she approached the pyre. Yet she knew what to do. She felt it.

The dragon has three heads.

“Could you light the pyre?”

Haid nodded her head and touched her torch in the cup of fire.

The flames danced and the singers continued with their song. As if stirred by their song the flames leapt higher and higher.

Dany swallowed hard and cradled the box in her arms as she stepped in the flames.

Fresh blood trickled down her thighs, tainting her nightgown in crimson blood.

Sweat was rolling down her cheeks as the flames touched her naked skin. The fire whispered and cracked, touching her feet and upper body. The touch of the flames was hot like a brazier, but there was no pain. It felt like a warm embrace. A mother’s touch.

The world around her disappeared, the blazing flames painting her surroundings in a golden glimmer.

She closed her eyes, but when she opened them she was still there.

This was real. She should be ash, but her heart was still beating.

Like a storm the flames whirled around her, images forming before her very eyes.

She saw her brother Rhaegar slain by a mighty warrior. Heard a woman’s cry as a babe was cut from her womb. Heard Viserys’ whimpers as his face caught fire and turned red like a terrible wound. She saw an old dragon sitting on a wall of ice, bloody tears rolling down her cheeks as he wept for his lost family…

The sound of cracking of stone chased away the visions, white flames swallowing her up. Then everything faded into darkness, sweet and pleasant as if she was cast back in her mother’s womb.

She woke naked and covered in ash. Her eyes burned from the smoke, but she was still alive and breathing.

She felt the small creature’s touch on her naked skin, its hot scales digging into it as it crawled up her arm.

Dany stared in wonder at the creature. It was a dragon, graced with black wings and red scales. A second dragon, golden and bluish, clung to her thighs. The third one, pale-green and silver, hopped on her shoulder and curled his head in her neck.

Weak like a newborn babe she rose to her feet and the dragons started to shriek, giving their greeting to the world.

Robb

Robb tried to straighten himself as he observed the approaching column of riders, the joined banners of House Lannister and Baratheon fluttering in the soft breeze.

King Joffrey is a bastard, so much he knew after Stannis Baratheon revealed the truth to the realm. It confirmed his mother’s suspicions that Bran’s fall was more than a mere accident.

Maybe he saw the Queen and the Kingslayer, his mother had offered as a possible explanation.

The truth stirred fresh rage inside him.

Robb called the banners after his father’s imprisonment and won one victory after another. And now he was forced to come here to crawl in the dirt before The Lannisters.

You are doing this for your Lord father and the girls, his mother had reminded him upon his departure from Riverrun. There is no dishonour in kneeling if it saves the life our loved ones. If King Torrhen was able to do it, you can do it as well.

Yet Torrhen Stark bent the knee to a dragon and not to a bastard, who dared to imprison his Lord father.

He wanted to do nothing more than to cast Tywin Lannister’s offer in the roaring flames, but then his Lord Father would suffer a traitor’s death.

“It is the Imp,” the Greatjon grumbled as he spotted Tyrion Lannister perched on his horse, leading the column of riders. ”Gods, these Lannisters know no shame.”

“Better than Joffrey,” Robb muttered to himself and led his horse closer, his gaze searching for his little sister Arya.

“Robb!” he heard Arya’s anxious voice rolling over the meadow spreading before him. ”Robb!”

His heart skipped a beat as he saw her winking back at him. She sat perched on a palfrey horse, her brown hair untidy as ever.

“Lord Stark,” Tyrion Lannister interrupted his moment of happiness. ”I understand that you are anxious to reunite with your sister, but there are formalities that demand your attention.”

“Indeed, let us proceed. As stated in my last raven…I accept your Lord Father’s peace offer and the following conditions: My sister Arya will be exchanged for your brother Ser Jaime Lannister while my sister Sansa remains betrothed to King Joffrey. My Lord Father will be allowed to join the Night’s Watch and remain unharmed. I myself will bend the knee and keep out of the brewing war between Stannis Baratheon and your family,” he forced the words over his lips. ”Do I have to crawl down from my horse to bend the knee?”

Surprisingly, the dwarf remained polite as ever.

“Of course not,” Tyrion Lannister assured him. ”But there is no need for such humiliating gestures. My Lord Father understands that you are a honourable man who keeps his word.”

“Aye,” Robb replied and jerked his head at the Greatjon. ”Bring Ser Jaime.”

Moments later the Kingslayer was dragged forward, walking after Lord Karstark’s horse. The Kingslayer was garbed in simple clothing, his blond hair and beard freshly shaved. Robb showed him no courtesy, for he feared that Lord Karstark would hold it against him.

A subtle smile showed on Lord Tyrion’s face as his brother’s bonds were cut. The Kingslayer returned his brother’s smile, but when Robb met his gaze he only saw rage.

“Give my brother a proper horse and cloak,” Tyrion Lannister declared and turned to look at Arya.”You may now join your brother, Lady Arya.”

Arya didn’t hesitate and urged her horse forward. His men parted, allowing her to find a protective shelter.

“Sister!” Robb exclaimed and opened his arms to receive her. It took barely a few seconds before she hopped into his arms. ”It is good to have you back.”

“Robb,” she said and nuzzled his neck. ”Will you take me home?”

Her sad voice filled him with a burning rage. It took all his strength to keep his composure. For father.

“I am thankful for your cooperation,” Tyrion Lannister said and led his horse closer. ”But before I take my leave…I wanted to tell you…I didn’t harm your brother.”

“I know,” Robb replied coldly, holding Arya close to his chest. ”My Lady mother informed me about the result of the trial. The gods decided in your favour. I accept that. Good luck with your war, my lord.”

“I thank you,” the dwarf quipped back and graced him with an amused smile. ”Give my greetings to your Lady mother and your bride.”

“I will,” Robb replied coldly, though he hand no intention to fulfil the dwarf’s wish. ”And now I will take my leave.”

They didn’t make it back to Riverrun before nightfall and camped on a small clearing, not far from the road, leading back to Riverrun.

Arya refused to leave his side and made use of every moment to inform him about her trials.

Robb listened attentively, but it took all his strength to keep his composure.

“And Sansa,” he said carefully. ”How is she holding up?”

Arya paled and grew very silent, before she finally answered.

“She still thinks Joffrey is in love with her,” she said, her voice laced with bitterness. ”I told her how stupid that sounds, but she didn’t listen to me. She called me an unruly child.”

Robb nodded his head in understanding and smoothed Arya’s hair.

“Arya,” he said and sighed deeply. ”Please don’t speak like that in front of our Lady mother. She frets about Sansa.”

“Of course,” Arya replied and leaned in his touch. ”I won’t tell her. I promise.”

She looked distraught as if something was weighing on her mind.

“What is wrong?” Robb prodded gently and pulled his hand away. ”Is there something you want to say?”

She nodded her head, her eyes glossy and sad.

“Mother frets about Sansa,” she said and averted her gaze. ”Did she fret about me?”

Robb was taken back by her question.

“Of course she did,” Robb assured her. ”She is most anxious to see you.”

A ghost of a smile tugged on Arya’s lips and she hugged him again.

“Thank you for bringing me home, brother.”

Instantly, all his feelings of rage and humiliation were blown away.

“Robb!” Arya exclaimed and pointed at the sky. ”Look!”

Robb lifted his head and gasped.

A red star was piercing the sky, leaving a bloody wound in its wake.

“What could it mean, brother?” Arya asked, her voice filled with excitement and wonder.

Robb couldn’t speak, for he knew what it meant.

The realm will bleed again.

Chapter Text

Jon

Jon was glad to change the hot climate of Qohor to the pleasant climate of Braavos. When he first came to Braavos he hated the constant rain and fog, but now he felt savoured the cool breeze coming from the sea. The campaign to Qohor had taken him much longer than anticipated and he hoped that Dany will not be too angry with him.

Braavos was still the same busy place, but Tito admired everything with awe and wonder. His friend’s mouth stood open as he saw the numerous canals snaking their way through the city. The inhabitants intrigued Tito even more and once he mistook one of the fabulously dressed Braavosi men for a whore.

Arriving at Ragman’s Port Tito wrinkled his nose.

“What is this smell?” his friend asked as they passed a peddler selling salted herring to a Seawife perched in one of her beautifully-decorated ships. The woman was a great beauty, graced with black hair and jade eyes.

Jon felt almost embarrassed by the way Tito stared at her. He looked as if he had never seen a woman before.

“Don’t stare!” he chided his friend and pulled on his arm, leading his friend along the cobbled street toward Mella’s home. It was not hard to miss the building. Not long ago Jon painted one of the doors in a bright crimson colour.

“Why?” Tito asked. ”Where I come from women are flattered if you stare at them.”

“This woman is no common woman,” he explained. ”She is a Seawife and belongs to the Sealord of Braavos. They cost a fortune.”

Tito laughed and patted Jon’s shoulder.

“Are you speaking out of experience, friend?” Tito asked, though Jon told him in great detail about Dany. ”Is that the reason you joined the Second Sons? Did one of these Seawives take away your coin?”

“Believe me…I have no need of Seawives,” he answered as they made their way up the steps leading to the entrance. Suddenly, Jon realized that it was barely midday. He doubted that Dany would be home at this time of the day.

Thus he wheeled around and pulled Tito up another staircase, decorated with several painted pots and flowers.

Jon didn’t know why, but it felt as if something was amiss. Normally, Shala would come to greet him or Mella would dry the clothing on the roof. Yet neither Shala nor Mella could be seen.

Brushing those fearful thoughts away he knocked at the door. A moment passed, before the door finally opened. It was Mara, Mella’s oldest daughter.

Instead of a smile he received a look of utter shock.

First the young woman gasped, then she clapped her hands together.

“Gods you frightened me,” she whispered and squeezed his arm. Then she smiled. ”We thought you dead.”

Jon was stunned.

“What?” he asked, trying to hide his discomfort. ”Why would you think that? Where is Dany?”

“She is not here…,” Mara replied vaguely, her eyes coming to rest on Tito, who was trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible, though that was harder than expected. Graced with copper skin and garbed in his dark worn-out leather armour he stood out among the brightly-dressed Braavosi.”Don’t you want to introduce your companion?”

“Oh, yes. Forgive my negligence,” Jon apologized quickly. ”This is Tito…he hails from Lhazar. He is a friend.”

“Well met,” Mara replied and brushed her braid of red hair over her shoulder. Then she stepped aside as if to indicate for them to enter. ”Come inside…I will explain what happened.”

Jon frowned and stepped inside. Tito grinned at her, but his smile earned him no warm reply. Mara was always cold towards strangers, especially men.

She led them along a narrow corridor leading to the kitchen, where dough was placed on the wooden table. Jon looked around, searching Shala, who was usually responsible for this chore. She often brought them fresh bread, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” Mara asked him and then Tito.”Tea…Do you know tea?”

Tito continued to grin.

“I like tea,” Tito answered and Jon was surprised that the Sheepmen know tea, but then he hardly knew anything about them. Tito gave him only bits and pieces of information.

“Very well,” she replied and started to heat the water while she explained Dany’s absence. “As I told you…we thought you dead, because my Father heard about the defeat of the Second Sons. Many things happened during your absence. My mother and sister are dead.”

Jon felt as if someone hit him and he had to balance himself on the table.

“How did it happen?” he asked and winced when he heard how raw his voice sounded. ”And where is Dany? Please tell me!”

“Don’t fret…Dany is well considering the circumstances,” Mara assured him and handed the cup to Tito, who eyed the substance curiously and wrinkled his brows in confusion.

“It is hot,” he stated matter-of-faculty.

“Of course it is hot,” Mara answered and ruffled her hand through her loose strands of red hair. ”It is tea…tea is hot.”

“I know tea, but we don’t drink it cooked,” Tito explained and earned himself a look of disbelief from Mara.

“Fuck the tea!” Jon interrupted their silly conversation. ”Where is Dany?

Mara gave him a surprised look and shook her head in understanding.

“She is at the Temple of Light,” she finally gave him the piece of information he was longing for. ”She is well, though I don’t trust these priests.”

“Temple of Light,” he muttered and tried to make sense of Mara’s words. ”Why did she go there and where is Ghost? Did she take him to the Temple of Light?” And you have yet to answer my first question…What happened to your mother and sister?”

“Brutes entered our home and killed them…Dany helped me, though she was heavy with child. I brought her to the Temple of Light for protection and that is where she is now…with your child.”

Jon stared at her with utter disbelief.

Tito laughed and patted his shoulder.

“Congratulations, my friend!”

Jon didn’t even register Tito’s words and continued to stare at Mara like a witless fool.

Finally, recognition showed on her face.

“So she didn’t tell you?” the young woman asked, her brows wandering to the top of her head. ”No wonder you are so surprised.”

No, she didn’t tell him and he understood why. He wanted to smack himself.

I am a fool. I shouldn’t have harped on about the bastard thing again and again. She was probably afraid that I would be angry with her.

“Why didn’t she return here?” he asked, still unable to understand why she chose to stay at the Temple of Light. ”Was she afraid?”

Mara shook her head and took a sip from her cup.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the truth,” she replied, a smile curling on her lips. ”You have to see it with your own eyes to believe it.”

Jon didn’t know what to make of her words, but was prepared to accept this answer.

“Can you at least show me the way to the Temple of Light?”

Mara nodded her head.

They left an hour later after Tito had emptied his cup of tea and Mara had finished kneading the dough. Jon was barely able to sit still, but he had the feeling that Mara took pleasure in torturing him. It felt as if she was punishing him for his long absence. At least that is what he deduced from her sharp remarks about his adventure to Qohor.

It was late evening when they arrived at the Isle of the Gods. The streets proved busy at this time of the day and it was hard to move through the crowd of people.

He recognized the Temple of Light. Both the walls made of red-coloured bricks and the priests garbed in their silken red robes stuck in his memory.

Jon doubted the priests would have allowed him and Tito to pass if they hadn’t brought Mara with them, who demanded to see her younger sister Hadi.

The younger girl appeared moments later, her eyes wide in wonder as she saw him standing there, alive and mostly unharmed.

“R’hllor be blessed!” Hadi whispered and touched her amulet. Then she smiled and lowered her head in reverence. ”We thought you dead and gone…another miracle.”

“Maybe,” Mara replied sourly. ”Where is Dany? Your priests spent enough time swarming around her.”

Hadi frowned, anger glinting in her blue eyes. ”Dany is a honoured guest.”

“Honoured prisoner would be the better term,” Mara replied and jerked her head at Jon.”Dany told me the eggs belonged to him. I think he has every right to see what they brought forth.”

“What Dany brought forth,” Hadi corrected her sister and shifted her attention back to Jon.”But I am sure it will ease her heart to see you. Please follow after me.”

Halls and corridors followed, lightened by numerous torches, the flames shining like stars on the black surface of the walls.

The acolytes eyed them with great curiosity. One of the higher-ranking Priestesses stopped them and only allowed them to pass after Hadi had explained their purpose.

At last Hadi opened a door, which led to a large curling corridor ending in a wooden staircase. Upstairs they found sleeping compartments that were solely occupied by women.

Not that Jon cared. He only wanted to see Dany, to hold his child and to apologize for his delay.

“Here,” Hadi said and pointed at a wooden door, but gave both Mara and Tito a sharp look. ”I think they deserve some privacy.”

Jon didn’t recognize Dany when he laid eyes on her. Her silver hair was no longer than the length of his little finger and garbed in red robes she looked indistinguishable from the other acolytes. Yet her change in appearance was not the most astounding thing, though Jon finally understood Mara’s strange remarks.

The creatures swarming around Dany shouldn’t exist. The last dragons perished more than hundreds years ago, but here they were: dragons reborn from his father’s eggs.

One dragon was as black as the night, his scales red like crimson. Another one was blue like the summer sea, his scales shimmering with a golden glimmer. The last creature sported a pale-green colour flecked with silver on his neck and back.

Yet even the sight of the dragons was nothing compared to the whimpering bundle sucking from her bared breast. He saw only a thatch of silver hair, but he felt as if his heart wanted to jump out his chest.

He wanted to speak, but it felt as if he lost the ability to do so.

“Dany…,” he stuttered, his voice strained and distant to his ears. When she didn’t react he raised his voice. ”Dany…”

Dany froze and lifted her head, her purple eyes wet with tears.

She didn’t answer for a long time, her body trembling as she continued to rock their babe in her arms.

“They told me the Second Sons were defeated,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. ”I didn’t think…” she trailed off, her voice drowned out by the whimpering child.

“I was lucky,” he replied, lacking a better answer. Then he swallowed hard, his eyes fixed on the black dragon, who had hopped on her shoulder.” How did it happen? How did they hatch?”

A small smile washed her sadness away.

“I don’t know,” she replied weakly. ”I don’t know how why it happened…I only know that I stepped into a burning pyre and emerged unharmed.”

Jon was stunned to silence. For the blink of a moment he thought she was joking, but on her face he found no hint of amusement. It would also explain her short hair, but it was still hard to believe.

“Do you want to hold your son?” she asked, breaking the silence that had settled over them. She regarded him with wide eyes as if she was afraid of his reaction.

“Of course,” he replied in a trembling voice, feeling the urge to reassure her. He had always feared to father children, not wanting to condemn them to the life of a bastard. And yet he felt only joy.”What name did you choose?”

Relief was palpable on her features as she lifted the child into his outstretched hands. For the blink of a moment he wanted to tell her to keep the child, fearing to drop him. It was a silly notion. He held all his younger siblings when they were babes. Yet he couldn’t help it.

“You fought Dothraki and yet you pause to hold your child,” she remarked, a hint of a smile playing on his lips. ”His name is Aemon.”

“Aemon,” he repeated the name of his son. ”A Targaryen name.”

“You are of Targaryen blood,” she replied firmly and smoothed her hand over the child’s head. ”And you told me that you wanted to be like Aemon the Dragonknight. Besides, I don’t know many Stark names.”

“No,” he assured her and eyed the child once more. He looked like most babes. Pink-faced and blue-eyed, his silver hair his only striking feature. ”It suits him…he has silver hair like you. Speaking of silver hair…Could it be that you have Valyrian blood? Maybe one of your ancestors descended from the Blackfyre line?”

She chuckled as if he made a particularly funny joke.

“Why Blackfyre? Why not Targaryen?”

“My doomed Father was the Last Targaryen,” he replied, confused by her sudden change in mood.

“He was not,” she replied confidently. ”Prince Viserys was smuggled to Essos and so was his younger sister, a mere babe…Daenerys Targaryen.”

“Daenerys Targaryen,” he repeated the name, all pieces falling into place. ”So that is your true name?”

Her smile was as bright as a star.

“It is,” she confirmed and stroked the dragon’s head. ”But I prefer Dany. Daenerys is quite a mouthful, don’t you think?”

“I like it,” he said and moved closer, her face inches away from his. The dragon’s crimson eyes regarded him curiously. Then the dragon hopped from her shoulder and joined his two brothers. ”Do I have to call you Princess?”

It was meant as a jape, but her sad smile made him regret his words.

“No,” she answered and brushed her hand over his cheek. Then she leaned closer and placed a kiss on his lips. ”Nobody can know. The dragons are small and fragile. We shouldn’t risk their safety. We need to leave Braavos.”

“Aye,” Jon agreed. ”And I have been wondering…Where is Ghost?”

“Outside,” she told him quietly, a hint of guilt showing on her face. ”The other girls are afraid of him, but I made him a nice sleeping place in the outer garden,” she continued to explain and led him to a door hidden beneath a colourful drape. She pulled the drape aside and pulled down the handle, leading him out into a round courtyard, littered with trees and vines.

Moments later Ghost’s white-furred head appeared behind one of the long smooth pillars supporting the roof of the terrace. Ghost’s eyes met his and Jon hoisted Aemon back in Dany’s arms.

His wolf made no sound as he trailed to his side and licked his hand.

“Did you miss me?” he asked, though it was silly to expect answer from an animal, no matter how clever.

“He has grown lazy,” Dany joked. ”Another reason to leave Braavos.”

“Aye,” he agreed and brushed his hand through Ghost’s soft fur, an idea blooming in his mind. ”Dany…Would you care to meet a friend of mine?”

“A friend,” she repeated, curiosity glinting in her eyes. ”A friend of yours is a friend of mine. Of course I want to meet him.”

Arya

Riverrun’s godswood was barely able to harbour all the guests paying witness to her brother’s wedding to Lady Roslin Frey.

Lady Roslin was the kind of girl that makes men go mad, graced with a pretty face and soft brown hair reaching to her waist. Her dress was exquisite, made of a pale white seam, so shiny Arya thought it flowing water. Her hair held little decoration, only a few white daisies littering the braids keeping her hair out of her face.

Sansa would have sighed and admired the beauty of it all, but Arya winced at the scratchy feeling of her dress. It was made of grey pale lace and some sort of silken collar that turned her skin red. Her Lady mother spent all evening braiding her unruly hair.

Her Lady Mother even called her pretty and for a brief moment she was very happy. Jeyne Poole used to call her Arya Horseface, though next to Walder Frey’s weasel-faced daughters everyone would look pretty. How someone like Walder Frey was able to father a beauty like Lady Roslin was a mystery to her.

Arya was happy for her brother, for he seemed to like the girl he is going to marry, but the there was something that stirred her bitterness. The presence of her supposed betrothed, a plump Frey boy graced with freckles and a shock of red hair.

Elmar Frey.

Elmar, she repeated the name to herself and gave him a sideway glance. He was standing among his many brothers, picking his nose. Elmar the Nosepicker, my future husband. Never. I rather marry Theon Greyjoy.

She brushed those bothersome thoughts away and shifted her attention back to the pair..

The bride was led by one of her elder brothers, forced to stand in for Walder Freys’ absence. Robb was relieved when the grim old lord announced his absence, but the man leading the bride looked like all the other Freys; weasel-faced and grim.

Robb walked at his Lady mother’s side, for their Lord father was gone, banished to the Wall. Robb was dressed in grey and white, Greywind forced to observe the ceremony from afar.

“Who comes before the gods this night?” her Lady mother’s soft-spoken voice broke the silence that had settled over the crowd.

“Lady Roslin of House Frey comes here to wed…a woman grown, trueborn and noble. She comes to beg the blessings of the gods,” Stevron Frey answered quietly, no smile showing on his lips. ”Who comes to claim her?”

“Robb of House Stark, heir to Winterfell,” her brother replied clearly. ”Who gives her?”

“Stevron Frey, heir to the Twins,” the old man replied and placed Lady Roslin’s hand into Robb’s. Then he looked down at Lady Roslin.”Do you take this man?”

“I take this man,” Lady Roslin whispered her reply. Then Robb pulled her cloak from her shoulders and replaced it with his own, sewn out of warm pelt and embellished with a grey direwolf.

“You may now kneel and receive the blessing of the gods,” Her Lady Mother added and hand in hand her brother and his bride knelt down before the tree. A moment of silence followed and then the bride and groom kissed.

The ending of the marriage ceremony was accompanied by clapping and soon the guests made their way back to the Great Hall. Her Lady Mother was seated on her left side and Elmar the Nosepicker was seated on her right side, gulping down a piece of chicken.

Arya tried her best to ignore him, but this proved difficult when he was making these annoying noises. She had the urge to kick him, but that would displease her Lady Mother and she promised to behave.

Thus she endured it and focused on her food.

Now and then Elmar the Nosepicker mumbled an incoherent sentence and Arya continued to ignore him.

Yet then the minstrels were called forward and the dancing began.

At once the guests rose to their feet and started to crowd the dance floor. Robb was no great dancer, but he tried his best, probably to please his bride.

Several songs followed, before her mumbling betrothed asked her to dance with him. She only agreed, because she promised to behave. Thus she danced with him, fearing for the pretty slippers her Lady Mother gifted her as the clumsy boy continued to stumble over her toes.

“Can’t you be more careful, stupid!” she chided him quietly and at last she was freed from her obligation. Limping she returned to her seat, a warm smile playing on her Lady Mother’s lips.

She leaned down and kissed her cheek.

“Thank you for behaving,” she whispered in her ear, her warm breath tickling her cheek. ”I know how hard it is for you.”

You know not, she wanted to say, but then she recalled how happy her Lady Mother was when she returned. She had wept for hours, nearly choking Arya to death until Robb separated them. You had our Lord Father…not Elmar the Nosepicker.

“I am fine,” she assured her and decided to eat her cake.

The rest of the night passed quietly until a particularly drunken Lord called for the bedding.

Happily, the drunken horde of men lifted Lady Roslin in the air and carried her out of the room while the pretty ladies, most of them Roslin’s relatives, pulled a helpless Robb out of the Great Hall.

It was no surprise to her that her Lady Mother sent her to bed, though she asked to join the other ladies. She always wanted to know why people make such a fuss about the bedding.

Even late into the night she heard the sounds of the celebrating guests. Somewhere between midnight and sunrise she woke, the taste of blood lingering in her mouth.

That night she dreamed she was a wolf, running freely through the woods.

Sadness filled her as she pulled on her cloak and slipped out of her chamber. She had spent the last weeks exploring the castle and knew how to avoid the guards. Lucky for her, the drawbridge was lowered and it was not hard to mix among the small folk to make her way out of the castle. Her Lady Mother wouldn’t approve, but Arya longed for the smell of grass.

Only an hour of freedom, she thought and hopped through the green meadow, daisies and daffodils lining the muddy trail leading to a small wooden area not far from the castle.

She didn’t know what caused it, but she started to tremble. Someone was there, watching her from the distance.

Slowly, she turned around and gasped.

Familiar golden eyes stared back at her, though by now her beloved wolf had grown into a massive beast like Greywind.

“Nymeria!” she shouted and bridged the distance, burying her tear-stricken face in Nymeria’s tousled fur, so much like her own hair. ”You came back!”

Daenerys

“You didn’t lie when you said that your woman is beautiful,” Tito remarked and dipped the bread in his bowl of soup.

Dany smiled and continued to rock Aemon. He was a quiet child, but the presence of so many people made him fuss. Only the rocking movement of her arms helped to calm him.

“There is no need for flattery,” she replied warmly, her gaze flickering back to Jon.”But I thank you for helping Jon. He told me that you took care of him while he was wounded.”

“I did,” Tito replied and broke apart the rest of the bread. ”But I am sure he would have done the same for me. He impaled a Dothraki Khal for our dead friend Busco.”

Dany gasped in surprise and gave Jon a curious glance.

“You killed a Khal?”

Jon blushed in embarrassment and put his empty bowl away.”I didn’t know that he was a Khal. Tito is just trying to flatter me.”

“You are far too humble,” Tito replied and bared his teeth. Then he put his empty bowl away and gave Mara a curious glance. She had been silent throughout the whole exchange, but now she decided to speak, her blue eyes coming to rest on Dany or better said on the black-winged dragon perched on her shoulder.

“I know I have no right to ask this question,” Mara said, her voice barely above a whisper. ”What will you do now?”

Dany nodded her head in understanding.

“We can’t stay here…the dragons can’t stay here,” she explained. “Though I fear what the priests will do if I try to leave.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Mara replied determinedly.”Hadi will help you. Getting away shouldn’t be much of a problem, but one question remains: Where will you go?”

“I have already thought about that,” Jon declared and brushed his hand over Ghost’s head. Then he turned to look at Tito.”Lhazar is a wide land…big enough for growing dragons. Tito is prepared to offer us asylum.”

Dany felt a gust of sympathy washing over her.

“And this is not too great of a burden for your people?”

“No, on the contrary,” Tito replied and gave her knowing smile. ”My Mother is going to love the dragons.”

“And we won’t have to depend on them,” Jon added, a seldom smile curling on his lips as he pulled a clinking bag of coin from his vest. ”All we need is your people’s friendship.”

“The fact that you fought Dothraki should win them over quick enough,” Tito explained and tightened his cloak around his shoulders. The night was cold and a breeze was coming through the open door leading out to the garden. Outside she heard the whispering of the priests, ringing softly in her ears like a lullaby. They were generous to her, but she didn’t trust them.

“Whatever you do,” Mara whispered softly. ”You should leave as soon as possible. The longer you stay the harder it will be to get away.”

“True,” Dany agreed with a heavy voice. ”Will you come with us?”

Sadness was showing on Mara’s face as she shrugged her shoulders.

“My father has need of my company,” she explained. ”Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Dany replied, though she felt disappointed. Another friendly face would have made the long travel more pleasant. ”And I am going to miss you.”

Chapter Text

Jon

They had travelled the whole day before they decided to camp near a small brook snaking its way through the hinterlands of Braavos.  It had rained all evening, the hills and valleys covered in white mist.

Tito didn’t approve of his suggestion, but Jon’s shoulder was starting to ache and Dany and Aemon were in dire need of rest.

By dusk Jon had fed the horses and Tito had built a campfire near a tree, which sported a thick tree crown to protect them from the rain.

“They are rather wild,” Jon remarked as he observed Dany feeding the dragons with the meat she had roasted over the campfire. The green and the black dragon were hissing and snarling at each other like snakes.

What stunned him more was his son. Aemon seemed unbothered by the commotion and continued to sleep on Dany’s folded cloak placed next to her and Ghost.

“They always behave like that when I am feeding them,” Dany assured him and threw a piece of meat to the blue dragon, who observed his brothers from the sidelines. Only the piece of meat managed to lure him from his comfortable place. ”The green one and the black one are wild, but the blue one is well-behaved.”

“They lack names,” Jon stated after the blue dragon had lifted his head to fix him with his golden eyes.

It was not the first time.

Maybe he is confused by my Stark blood , Jon mused and stretched out his hand. In the last moment, he pulled his hand back, deciding that he didn’t want to disturb the feeding ritual.

“It is not easy to decide on a proper name. Besides, the eggs belonged to you…you should have a say,” Dany explained and smiled back at him.

“I heard the dragonlords of old rode such creatures to battle,” Tito added, who had been listening to their conversation from the sidelines.”My mother said they were able to control them through their special blood.”

Dany looked hesitant, but Jon decided to give Tito the truth.

“Dany has dragon blood through her father and mother,” Jon explained. ”And I through my father.”

Tito’s eyes widened in fascination, his gaze flickering from Dany to Jon.

“Well, that explains a lot,” his friend said, an amused smile playing on his lip as he pointed at the blue dragon. “And I think I found your dragon. This one is looking at you like a lovesick puppy.”

“True,” Dany agreed enthusiastically and graced Jon with an encouraging smile. ”You should try feeding him. Give him time and he will become attached to you,” she continued to explain and held up the stick with the roasted meat.

Jon nodded his head in understanding and pulled a piece of meat from the stick.

Hesitatingly, he moved closer to the blue dragon, who continued to stare back at him in silence.

Ever slowly, he knelt down before the creature and held the piece of meat above the dragon’s head. Unlike his wild brothers the blue dragon waited until Jon had dropped the piece of meat on the ground before devouring it completely.  Then, as if spurred on by Jon’s actions the dragon propelled himself in the air and landed on Jon’s arm.

Jon was stunned by the dragon’s agility and Dany clapped her hands in appreciation.

“Good work!” she praised the blue dragon, who continued to crawl up Jon’s shoulder, curling his spiky tail around his arm. Grinning, Dany handed Jon another piece of meat. ”Now you have to reward him. That way he will learn to obey your commands.”

Jon couldn’t help but to smile. It seems training dragons was not much different than training direwolves.

“Your reward,” he told the dragon and dropped the piece of meat on the ground. Quick as ever the dragon devoured it.

“Now touch his back,” Dany instructed gently. ”They like that, especially after a hearty meal.”

Maybe I was wrong to compare them to direwolves?  They are almost like babies.

Jon nodded his head in understanding and touched the dragon’s scaled back. He couldn’t help but to gasp when he felt the sheer warmth radiating from the dragon’s skin. It felt like a flickering flame tickling his skin. And as Dany promised…the dragon seemed to appreciate his gesture and shrieked happily, before rubbing his head against Jon’s hand.

“As I said…the dragon is in love,” Tito remarked jokingly.

“It seems I have competition,” Dany agreed and hoisted Aemon in her arms. He was crying, though Dany fed him not long ago.

She tried to feed him again, but Aemon continued to cry. Dany sighed and rocked him left and right while Jon continued to feed the dragons. As expected, the green one and the black one continued to fight for every piece of meat while the blue lay down beside Jon and curled his tail around himself.

Finally sated, the two wild dragons started to dig a hole in the ground and went to sleep.

By then Dany had calmed Aemon, though he remained fully awake, touching his mother’s red robe.

“Dany,” he said and cleared his throat. ”Let me take care of Aemon for you. You mentioned that you want to get a proper wash in the brook. Now is your chance.”

Happiness made her face glow. His offer seemed to please her.

“That would be lovely,” she answered and knelt down next to him. Jon held up his arms and she placed Aemon in his arms. ”It won’t take long,” she assured him with a quick smile and placed a kiss on his cheek, before leaving them.

Once she had disappeared out of sight Tito leaned over, showing Jon a piece of cloth. It looked like the ribbon usually wound around Tito’s scabbard.

“Babies like it when you do this,” Tito explained and dangled the ribbon in front of Aemon’s eyes. To Jon’s astonishment Aemon started to observe the movement of colourful garment and stretched out his hand to reach for it. His hands were too short, but it filled Jon with a dazzling realization. In a few moons from now this babe will crawl and run around. Suddenly, his mind was awash with hopes and dreams for the future. He imagined showing how to use a sword and other useful things. Maybe one day they will be able to return to Winterfell and then Jon could introduce him to Arya and Robb’s children.  They could grow up like brothers…

“Jon,” Tito snapped him out of his reverie. ”About time I say.”

Jon was confused and lifted his head to meet Tito’s gaze.

“What do you mean?”

“You finally smiled,” his friends pointed out. ”A smart little boy like this one deserves a smile.”

Shame washed over him. It was true, but he couldn’t help but to nurse a hint of resentment against Dany. He had his suspicions why she didn’t tell him the truth about her pregnancy, but then she even avoided speaking about Mella and Shala’s deaths.

So far Jon had allowed it to rest. Yet deep inside he wanted to know the reason. Did she think he would leave her or was she only afraid he would be angry with her?

I need to know , he knew and made a determination to speak with her. Later when we are alone.

Jon trusted and liked Tito, but he didn’t want to speak about such personal matters in front of him.

“Aye,” Jon agreed and brushed his hand over Aemon’s head. His silver hair was soft like silk. The sheer touch warmed him from the inside out. ”He is a smart boy,” he added softly and picked the ribbon from Tito’s hand. It was beautiful to behold and made from an expensive silken cloth.

“A woman?” Jon asked curiously.

Tito laughed and shook his head.

“No, it belongs to my older sister,” he explained proudly. ”She made me promise to bring it back.”

“Clever of her,” Jon complimented and thought of Arya. He wondered if Arya skewered Prince Joffrey with her little sword like she promised him during their last conversation. Jon met the Prince only briefly, but even Theon Greyjoy thought him a prideful little shit.

“Well, I will be pleased to meet your sister and your Mother,” Jon added and handed him the ribbon.

“And my other siblings,” Tito added and bared his teeth.

“Of course,” Jon confirmed.”How many siblings do you have?”

Tito wrinkled his brows and pondered his question for a moment.

“Twenty I think,” he answered and Jon stared at him in disbelief. ”I stopped counting.”

“Your poor mother,” was all that Jon managed to say in return.

“Not all of them are my full-blooded siblings. My mother was my father’s head wife. He had two younger women in later years.”

“That seems to surprise you,” Tito remarked and gave him a knowing smile. ”I heard the dragonlords of old used to take more than one wife. The one that conquered the Sunset Kingdoms even wed his sisters. In my tribe nobody would consider marrying a woman from the same town, but I guess everybody has his own traditions.”

“Dany is not my sister,” Jon countered, though she is his aunt. How strange that sounds. She is barely a year younger than me.

Tito shrugged his shoulders.

“I never thought that…you two don’t show much resemblance to each other,” Tito added and bound the ribbon back around the scabbard of his sword.

“It seems you managed to put Aemon to sleep,” Dany interrupted their conversation, a warm smile showing on her lips as she regarded Aemon.

“It seems so,” Jon agreed and Dany sat down next to his.

Jon didn’t know what brought it on, but Tito rose to his feet and jerked his head towards the brook.

”I will leave you for a while,” he added with a knowing smile and marched off.

“Do that,” Jon added, his gaze flickering back to Dany. It seems Tito granted him his wish for privacy. Now or never.

“Dany,” he said after he had placed Aemon back in her arms.”I need to know…Why didn’t you tell me that you were carrying our child?”

She paled visibly, fear written all over her face.

“There was more than one reason,” she replied hesitatingly and swallowed hard. ”I wanted to tell you, but then you told me about your plans to join the Second Sons. I wasn’t happy about it, but then I recalled our first meeting. I told you that the world stands open to you and I thought it would be hypocritical of me if I stopped you from putting your abilities to use. I know you did it for the coin, but you are a good swordsman. In hindsight it was a mistake…I didn’t think it could get this bloody. I spent my whole life locked up in Volantis…in truth I don’t know as much of the world as I like to pretend,” she explained, her voice growing eerily quiet as she continued. She was also trembling, her gaze fixed on the sleeping dragons.

“Well, I suppose we make good company. Fighting the Dothraki was terrifying and my survival was pure luck. I only know Winterfell.”

“I suppose,” she said and angled her head to look at him. ”But I shouldn’t have lied to you. Your anger is justified.”

“I am no longer angry with you,” he assured her and smoothed his hand through short hair. ”Yet there is still much we need to talk…,” he trailed off and leaned closer to kiss her. Her lips were soft and inviting, but he quickly pulled away, before he could be tempted for more.

“Before you left…you spoke of marriage,” she said, a ghost of a smile tugging on her lips. ”Do you need one of these robed priests that worship the Seven to accomplish it?”

“No, the North is different,” Jon answered and shook his head. ”Our ceremonies are much simpler. Marriage ceremonies usually take place during night and preferably during full moon. Then the bride and groom stand beneath a weirwood tree and exchange vows in front of witnesses. There is not much more to it than that.”

“I heard about weirwood trees,” she answered and wrapped Aemon in her cloak. ”But I doubt you will be able to find one in Essos.”

“No,” he agreed sadly. ”Any tree would do, but I do think it should be a pretty one. As you told me before…nobody in Essos will care if I am a bastard. It will be for us alone.”

She smiled and seemed very pleased by his words.

“Finally,” she said and brushed her hand over his cheek. ”That is what I have been waiting for and was the reason I refused you last time. I didn’t want you to marry me because you felt obligated to do so.”

Her words hit him hard, tears burning in his eyes.

“That was not the reason I asked you,” he answered in a trembling voice. ”I did it because I care about you, because I love you…At least it feels that way…I am not good at this, but I should have expressed myself better…” he stuttered, but was stilled when she laid her lips on his. It felt so good, like fresh summer wine, but then she stopped and leaned back on her heels, eying him with wet eyes.

“I need to learn that too,” she said and pursed her lips. ”I am sorry for hiding the truth. I won’t do it again. I promise.”

Ned

Maester Aemon was breaking his fast when Ned entered his dimly-lit shed. The smell of raven shit and ink met his nostrils as he moved towards the large wooden table placed in the middle of the room. Parchments, scrolls and old leather-bound tomes covered half the table, hiding the shrunken old man from Ned’s searching gaze.

On a smaller table sat the Maester’s steward, a chubby boy named Samwell Tarly. Ned knew his Lord Father, but the boy and the grim Lord of Hornhill shared little resemblance. The boy was shy and clumsy, but supposedly very clever.

“Maester Aemon,” Ned addressed the blind old man.”You called for me?”

“I did,” the Measter answered and lifted his head, his unseeing eyes staring off in the distance. ”A raven arrived this morning…from Winterfell.”

“My son?” Ned asked and swallowed hard.

The Maester smiled and pulled forth a raven scroll hidden in pocket of his dark robes. Then he shifted his attention to Samwell Tarly, who was watching them attentively.

“Samwell,” the Maester addressed the boy. ”I think you should do your work elsewhere.”

The boy paled.

“Of course,” the boy muttered anxiously and gathered his many maps. ”Of course.”

A moment later he was gone, leaving only Ned and Maester Aemon.

“I didn’t dare to read it,” the Maester added softly and held the roll out to Ned. ”And I can assure you…this Janos Slynt and his companions will hear nothing of this conversation.”

The mention of Janos Slynt made his blood boil. Ned dishonoured himself by accepting the false accusations of treason to save his daughters, but even that was not enough for the Lannisters. It shouldn’t have surprised him that Tywin Lannister sent a dozen of Lannister loyalist’s to keep a close eye on the former Lord of Winterfell. The only relief was that the Lord Commander disapproved of their presence.

At least they won’t be able to follow me beyond the Wall.

“I thank you, Maester,” Ned replied politely and picked the raven scroll Maester Aemon’s hand. Carefully, he unrolled the piece of paper and read the few precious lines written by Robb’s hand.

It was not much, only an assurance that he made peace with Tywin Lannister and fulfilled his vow to Walder Frey to wed one of his daughters. Yet it was the mention of Arya’s safe return to Winterfell that brought the greatest relief, though Sansa’s remaining betrothal to Joffrey Baratheon left a bitter taste in his mouth.

I should have left after the wolf died , he realized far too late. I should have never ventured south.

“Bad news?” the Maester Aemon asked and graced him with a toothless smile. He looked fragile and sickly and yet he was inquiring about Ned’s well-being.

“No,” Ned answered and forced a smile over his lips. ”My son informed me that he bent the knee to King Joffrey. One of my daughters finally made it home, but the other one remains betrothed to the King.”

“So it is true,” the old man remarked and chuckled. ”The King is a bastard.”

Ned was stunned by his directness, but tried to keep his mask in place.

“I confessed my crime,” Ned insisted. ”That is why I am here.”

“Indeed,” Maester Aemon confirmed and leaned on the table.”Yet it doesn’t change the truth, the boy is not Robert Baratheon’s son. You are not the first man that was punished for revealing an uncomfortable truth.”

“How can you be sure?” Ned asked hesitatingly.

“I am blind, but my hearing is very good,” the old man explained. ”My childhood in King’s Landing taught me how to spot a lying man, but you don’t have to fear me. I am a man of the Night’s Watch and I take no part in the struggles between your family and the Lannisters. I was simply curious, but I have to admit… it fills me with joy to see the proud Tywin Lannister fooled by his children, though it won’t ease the loss of my family.”

His family.

The realization hit him like thunder. The man in front of him is Jon’s last living relative

“True,” Ned agreed and exhaled deeply while holding the raven scroll over a burning candle. ”We all lost much through the Rebellion. For whatever it is worth, I didn’t approve of Tywin Lannisters butchery.”

Yet his words’ didn’t help to erase the pain written all over the old man’s face.

Guilt clenched around his heart like a tight noose and spurred him to headless actions.

“How well did you know, Prince Rhaegar?” he asked, before he even registered that the words had left his mouth.

The old man shrugged his shoulders, surprise apparent on his wrinkled face. ”I met him only once, but he wrote me letters. He liked discussing prophecies and sometimes we also spoke of personal matters…,” he trailed off.

“Prophecy,” Ned muttered to himself, recalling his last conversation with Lya. She spoke about a prophecy or whatever her feverish mind conjured up in her last moments. Utter nonsense.

“My Lord,” the Maester began, but Ned cut him off.

“I am no Lord,” he insisted and met the old man’s gaze. ”Did Prince Rhaegar ever speak to you about my sister?”

“He did,” Maester Aemon confirmed, a weary expression taking hold of his features. ”I know the prevailing opinion among your people is that he raped her, but the way he spoke about her points in a different direction. Forgive me for saying so, but I had the impression that the feeling was mutual, for in his last letter he informed me that his beloved Lyanna is joyful to carry his child. I always wondered if the child survived,” he continued, his unseeing eyes wide and hopeful.

Ned felt as if someone had poured a bucket of cold water over his head.

Gods be good , Ned thought and braced himself against the table. He knows.

“My sister died of a fever…” Ned began and wanted to deny the existence of such a child, but when he saw the tears rolling down the old man’s cheeks he shuddered and paused. He was unable to control it, the words leaving his mouth, before his mind was able to register them. ”She died of childbed fever.”

Utter silence reigned between them and the old man grasped the handle of his chair with such a force that Ned feared he might hurt himself.

“And the child?” the Maester asked his breathing raggedly. ”Did the child die?”

“No,” Ned replied, not able to lie in the old man’s face. ”The boy lived.”

“A boy,” the old man muttered weakly, leaning on the table. His breathing grew laboured and he started to trembled. ”Where is the boy?”

“Far away,” Ned replied vaguely, but seeing the man’s heartfelt reaction he doubted the he would ever betray his secret. If anything he gave the old man peace by telling him that not all of his family members perished in the Rebellion. ”Jon left because he found out the truth.”

“The bastard son that should have joined the Night’s Watch,” the old Maester said, realization showing on his withered face. ”Your brother mentioned him. Was you brother aware of the truth?”

“Aye,” Ned confirmed. ”Benjen knew. I also told my wife and son. Now you can count yourself among these precious few who know the truth.”

“Where did the boy go?” the old man asked almost impatiently.

“Essos,” Ned replied unwillingly. ”He left for Essos.”

“I thank you for telling me the truth,” the old man said, a smile banishing away his sadness. ”I thought I was the last of my kind, but it grieves me that the boy will be alone... a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

They had travelled for nearly three moons when they found the borders of Lhazar marked by endless plains of pasture. What followed was a beautiful landscape, full of rolling plains of brightly coloured grass. Tito’s people call it fire grass as it is used to produce oil for lamps and cookfires.

Yet they were still a days’ ride away from Tito’s birthplace Lhazosh, one of the three major cities belonging to the Lhazareen. Dany was relieved for she longed for a night under a proper roof. Lhazar proved quite warm, but the nights were often frosty. Jon and Tito tolerated the cold well enough, but Aemon and Dany were different. Every night she had to wrap her son in several layers of cloaks and pelt to keep him warm.

The dragons were similar. They held great dislike for the cold and dug deep holes to ward off the icy wind.

“Finally,” Tito said and pointed at the town located near the swirling slope of a river, glittering like a band of silver in the last rays of sunshine. Like most Lhazareen towns, the houses were made of wooden planks and roofs covered with dried fire grass. The only protections were wooden walls and ditches meant to ward off unwelcome enemies.”This is the last town before Lhazosh. We should stay here overnight...the rest of the way we will only find sheep herds and fields.

“You know your homeland best,” Jon said and winced as straightened himself in his saddle. Dany shared his pain. Her ass was wound from the long ride.

Aemon whimpered in her arms, obviously unhappy that he hadn’t been fed for several hours.

Have a little patience, she whispered and rocked him, her eyes darting to the three dragons soaring above their heads. She had looked at them a thousand times, but their beauty was still breath-taking. Especially, now as the first rays of sunshine fell upon, their scales and skin gave the appearance of diamonds and other precious jewels.

Rhaegon’s smooth skin looked like black obsidian. Sonarys’ scales glowed like the surface of a blue diamond flecked with gold. Yet it were Viserions’ silver wings that stole her breath away.

Their rapid growth was even more astounding. In the matter of moons they had doubled in size. Feeding them was becoming more and more difficult, though Dany believed it was the freedom that made them thrive.

“One day I want to see your land,” Tito replied and dismounted.”I want to see this frozen water.”

“It’s called snow,” Jon corrected him, but Tito ignored him and grinned.

“I like my term better,” Tito jested and grabbed the reins of his horse, leading it along a downtrodden trail towards the river. Near the river bend she noticed a handful of girls, some bathing and others cleaning colourful clothes.

Dany followed suit and climbed from her saddle, Aemon secured on her arm. Jon walked next to her, Ghost not trailing after his horse.

Two of the dragons, as if they were able to sense their plans, descended from the sky. Dany stretched her free arm and Rhaegon landed on it, his tail curled around her upper arm. Sonarys followed suit and settled himself on Jon’s shoulder. Only Viserion continued to soar above their heads, his silver wings spread wide. He gave a lonely appearance. If Viserys had he could have claimed Viserion as his own. Sadly, she was only able to give Viserion her brother’s name.

Maybe Aemon could become his rider, she wondered not for the first time, but that moment was years away. Who knows how big the dragons will be by then.

“We should spend the night out here. Ghost and the dragons could frighten the inhabitants,” Tito suggested and pointed at the grassy plain sprawling around the river bend. Further away from the river the grass changed to a pale yellow colour, but close to the river the grass was a rich green. The pattern was reminiscent of a colour motley.

They followed the river and built a camp beneath a large tree. Jon watered the horses and Dany used the time to fed Aegon. By the time her son was sated Tito had made a proper cook fire. Ghost was already slumbering on a patch of grass as Dany set down next to the popping fire. Carefully, she placed her sleeping son on her folded cloak and made sure to cover him with a warm pelt.

A moment later the dragons were there, swarming around her like a bear around a pot of honey. Rhaegon started to blow small flames in the air and Viserion started to shriek. Only Sonarys remained calm and sat on the branch of the mighty tree, providing them with a pleasant shade.

“Soon they will have plenty of meat,” Tito promised.”My family owns a large herd of sheep. Believe me...after a moon or two you will start to pray for something else than sheep meat.”

“I doubt the dragons would care,” Jon remarked and slumped down next to the fire, his cloak thrown around his shoulders.”Still..Why are you so sure that your people won’t mind the dragons?”

Tito shrugged his shoulders and sat down next to Jon.

“My people have never seen dragons,” Tito explained. ”But they are quite adaptive. Besides, you will have to convince my mother and brother of your trustworthiness. They are the ones in charge of the city.”

“They are in charge of the city?” Jon asked, surprise apparent on his face. ”Is your family some sort of nobility?”

“I don’t know what that means, but my Father was elected to the position of chief upon my grandfather’s passing. My brother succeeded him a after his death and it is very likely that his son will be the next chief . The office has been in our family throughout generations,” Tito continued to explain and nibbled on the piece of fruit he had cut apart with his dagger.

“Elected chief?” Dany asked curiously. ”That sounds familiar. The Triarchs of Volantis are elected every year, but it seems the term of your rulers is rather lengthy. How long is “throughout generations”?”

“I don’t know, a long time,” Tito answered. ”It is not important. I think the office has been occupied by my family since my grand-grand grandfather.”

“And your mother?” Jon asked and leaned over to feed Ghost with a piece of dried meat. ”You mentioned that she and your brother are in charge of the city.”

Tito shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, my mother is no the chief, but my brother likes to leave the squabbling farmers to my mother. She is a learned woman and my people respect her for her knowledge.”

“Learned woman?” Dany asked. ”What does it mean?”

“That she knows a lot,” Tito explained matter-of-factly, obviously amused by their interest. ”She taught me how to speak and to write the language of the Free Cities. Not many among my people have this knowledge.”

“And you think she will welcome us despite the dragons?” Dany asked and continued her questioning. Tito’s mother intrigued him, though she didn’t want to appear too eager.

Tito grinned and bared his teeth.

“My mother is rather eccentric and very fond of stories. You will understand what I mean once you meet her."

Robb

Lord Karstark looked grim as ever, but that didn’t surprise Robb. A week ago he invited his bannermen to attend the harvest festival. Every Lord one of his Lords joined him in Winterfell, only Lord Karstark excused himself.

Robb tried not to hold it against him as is Lady Mother advised him.

He lost his sons, his Lady mother had told him only hours ago.

It was true. Lord Karstark lost two of his sons in the Battle of the Whispering Woods, but so did many others. Lady Hornwood lost her husband and son, yet not a single word of anger passed over her lips when Robb spoken to her during the harvest festival. She even accepted his suggestion to legitimize her Lord husband’s bastard son Lawrence Snow, though only on the the condition that the boy won’t succeed to his father’s position until her death.

“It took you long enough to make it here, Karstark,” the Greatjon grumbled and took a swag from his tankard. ”Did you get lost?”

The Greatjon’s words earned him a murderous look.

“I had to bury my sons, Umber,” Lord Karstark replied curtly and shifted his attention to Robb. ”And my only remaining son and heir remains imprisoned by our enemy while your son is enjoying himself with the whores of Wintertown.”

“Such rudeness!” the Greatjon barked and slashed his hand on the table, the wood giving away under the might of his blow. ”I will…,” he continued, Robb whistled and Greywind rose to his feet. His wolf bared his teeth and the men stopped.

“I didn’t call you here to endure such childish quarrels, Lord Umber!” Robb shouted and tried imitate his father’s voice.

Then he swept his gaze over the assembled men. There was the Greatjon Umber, Lord Manderly, Lord Glover and of course Lord Karstark.

“Of course, my Lord,” The Greatjon muttered, but accepted his reprimind with grace.

Relieved, Robb shifted his attention back to Lord Karstark.

“It is regrettable that you were unable to attend the harvest festival, my Lord Karstark,” Robb added politely and whistled, calling Greywind back to his side. ”But it is good that you came here to hear my decision concerning the Hornwood lands. Your daughter was after all deprived of a future husband, was she not?”

“She was,” Lord Karstark confirmed curtly and took his seat next to Lord Manderly.”My Alys was indeed betrothed to Lord Hornwood’s heir.”

“I intend to have Lord Hornwoods’s natural son legitimized. The boy is only a few years younger than your…,” he continued, but Lord Karstark cut him off, his face a grimace of anger.

“My daughter will not wed a bastard, legitimized or not!” he snapped angrily. ”I will not be humiliated in such a manner, my Lord Stark.”

Robb sighed. He never had any intention to force the matter, but the Hornwood lands are rich and he didn’t expect such a violent reaction. Lawrence Snow wouldn’t be the first bastard to be legitimized and wed to a Lady of trueborn stock.

“On the contrary,” Robb replied as calmly as possible. ”This arrangement was merely a suggestion. You may wed your daughter to whomever you like. Insulting you was not my intention.”

“And yet you sit idly while the Lannisters occupy the Iron Throne,” Lord Karstark said what many a man didn’t dare to say to his face. Robb was not fool. He knew that most of his men were disappointed by his actions. He won one battle after another and many of them believed that they could have won the war.”Stannis Baratheon is amassing an army to claim his throne from the Lannister bastard. The only reason I haven’t yet joined his cause is my respect to your Lord Father. Yet this respect is dwindling as my son and heir remains a captive.”

“Your son is a respected hostage,” Robb countered and steeled his nerves for the rebuttal. “He will be released within a year. Tywin Lannister…,” he continued and was promptly interrupted.

“Curse Tywin Lannister!” Lord Karstark raged and pounded his hand on the table. ”I don’t give an inkling of shit about his promises. We know how they are bought…with blood…the blood of my sons.”

“You have my honest sympathies for the loss of your sons,” Robb declared and tightened his grip on the handle of his chair. ”But such is the way of war. Other men have also lost their sons and none of them show me such disrespect. I should cast out of my halls, but I will refrain from doing so, because I know that it is only your rage that drives you to such headless actions. I am sure you know why I forged peace with Tywin Lannister. It was not because I wanted to avoid battle, but to save my Lord Father’s life. I would gladly join Stannis Baratheon in his struggle against the Lannisters, but I have no interest to see my sister’s head mounted on a pike. Now let us return to the matter of hand…the Hornwood lands.”

Then he paused briefly to gather his thoughts.

“As I said before,” Robb said and jerked his head at Master Luwin, who had remained silent throughout the heated exchange. ”Lawrence Snow shall be legitimized. Does anyone here wish to voice his objections?”

The Greatjon and Lord Manderly remained silent, but Lord Karstark made his disagreement known.

“Why should a cursed bastard rule over the Hornwood lands if there are other lords eligible to hold these lands?”

Robb expected this answer and turned to look at Lord Glover.

“Tell Lord Karstark about this cursed bastard’s character,” Robb replied through gritted teeth.

“I have raised the boy from early age…he is a fine boy and will make a good lord. All he needs is a proper wife,” Lord Glover added his voice.

Lord Karstark laughed.

“Well, I am sure your Lord Father harboured similar thought about his own bastard,” Lord Karstark mocked. ”And what did he do? He ran off with a whore.”

Robb heard enough and rose to his feet.

“I think I have heard enough of your venomous hatred,” Robb replied and rose to his feet, trying to keep his anger at bay.”I ask you to leave, my Lord. Return once you regained your ability to control your rude speech.”

Silence reigned for a long moment, before Lord Karstark rose to his feet.

“Very well,” The proud Lord declared coldly. ”I shall not return until my son has returned to me.”

“What a bitter cunt,” the Greatjon grumbled and broke the heavy silent that had settled over them after Lord Karstark’s departure. ”Don’t fret about it, my Lord.”

“I am above such insults,” Robb replied coldly and sat down. Greywind came to his side and licked his fingers.

“My Lord Stark,” Lord Manderly broke the silence, a jolly smile curing on his lips. ”May I speak?”

“Speak,” Robb replied and picked up his goblet.

“I don’t wish to insult you, Lord Stark,” Lord Manderly tittered. ”But maybe you could consider to ransom Lord Karstark’s son. This may help to ease his anger.”

“Lord Tywin already offered such an arrangement,” Robb replied unhappily. ”But the price is too high. The harvest was good, but the Maesters believe that this will be the longest winter in a thousand years. I intend to buy corn from Essos.”

“I see,” Lord Manderly replied and graced Robb with assuring smile. ”But I think I have a solution for your problem. Allow me to shoulder the costs. House Manderly owes house Stark. Let may ease your burden, my Lord.”

Robb wanted to refuse, but Lord Manderly was right. He couldn’t afford to make an enemy of Lord Karstark. Yet he was sure that Lord Manderly expected something in return.

“Very well,” Robb replied and returned Lord Manderly’s smile. ”House Stark will ask for this favour, but in return I would like to suggest a match between the future Lord Hornwood and your younger granddaughter. Would such an arrangement please you or are you also insulted by the stain of bastardy, my Lord?”

“Of course not,” Lord Manderly assured him quickly.”My granddaughter will be pleased to wed the future Lord Hornwood.”

A small success, Robb thought and sighed deeply.

“Very well,” Robb said and leaned back in his chair. ”We should proceed.”

“Of course,” Master Luwin added and cleared his throat. Other topics were discussed, ranging from simple land disputes to marriage arrangements. It was late evening when they were finished.

“Lord Manderly,” he addressed the Lord of White Harbour. ”There is another matter I want to address…in private.”

Robb read surprise on Lord Manderly’s face.

“Of course,” Lord Manderly and remained seated. ”How may I be of service?”

“It is a rather delicate matter that I intend to put into your hands…it concerns my brother Jon,” Robb explained and explained deeply. ”Your son informed me not long ago that my brother travelled to Braavos. I Know it is much to ask, but your son knows the Free Cities better than most men…I am sure he would be able to find my brother.”

“My son will be pleased to fulfil this important task,” Lord Manderly declared confidently. ”I assume you want this to be a secret?”

Robb nodded his in confirmation.

“Does that mean I can trust on your secrecy, my Lord?”

Lord Manderly smiled and sipped from his cup. The crimson liquid splattered his doublet and cloak.

“You can, Lord Stark. You can.”

Jon

They departed before the sun had risen beyond the horizon, the river drenched in bright sunlight. The dragon led the way, soaring above their heads like three colourful kites.

Jon liked watching them, though he worried about the impending meeting with the Lhazareen. Tito was too enthusiastic, but Jon remained sceptical.

Yet he hoped that everything will work out. For Dany’s sake they needed a place to stay. Neither Aemon nor the dragons could endure the constant travelling.

These thoughts occupied his mind as they continued their travel, passing more plains and hills. Sometimes they saw a sheep herd grazing on the plains of colourful glass, kept in check by a few riders mounted on small horses. Once they came upon a smaller herd, not more than a hundred sheep, protected by two young children. Yet they moved on quickly after one of two young girls threatened Ghost with a handmade bow.

Your wolf looks similar to the desert jackals, Tito had explained to them. They feared that Ghost might kill sheep.

“I can see it!” Dany exclaimed suddenly, her voice alight with happiness.”Finally.”

Jon tore his gaze away from the dragons and angled his head to look at the city walls rising behind the distant horizon.

It didn’t surprise him that Lhazosh had city walls, but the magnitude surprised him, given that all the other Lhazareen towns he had seen so far were mostly made of wood and clay. These walls were made of high, white stone walls, the surface glinting like a polished blade. The city was slightly bigger than White Harbour, but densely populated. The outskirts were littered with small wooden houses, sheds and fields. It looked like wheat, corn and barley.

“Finally,” Jon agreed and graced Dany with a relieved smile. She looked tired, her face pale, though she was smiling. Aemon was also awake and gurgled, his small fingers pulling Dany’s bright-coloured robes.

The eyes of the Lhazareen followed them as they rode along the dusty road leading to the main gate.

The street was busy. Carts rolled by, transporting barely and people alike, children played their games and a pair of guards gambled.

Yet all of them stopped their activities when they spotted the dragons soaring over the sky. One woman gasped, a small girl started to cry and a boy pointed at the sky.

Tito led the way, an amused grin playing on his lips while Jon avoided to look at the onlookers. Dany was much the same, her gaze fixed on the city ahead, a look of determination apparent on her face.

Inside the city they found houses made of equally white stone, some more whole than others. On top roofs he spotted green gardens and even trees.

It was a beautiful city, but Jon missed his home, the snow and winter’s touch on his cheeks. Even in Braavos he missed his home, though he never dared to voice it in front of Dany. She had been so happy and now they had to make a new beginning, in this strange land.

More and more people stopped along the road to get a look at the dragons, though none looked violent or angered. Most of them looked simply awed.

None of them dared to speak to Jon or Dany, though they spoke with Tito. Some smiled at him, others frowned. It was odd, because Jon was unable to understand their language.

They moved along the main road, passed the large statue of a man carrying the staff of a shepherd, a flock of sheep perched beneath his feet, before they crossed over a small bridge leading in different part of the city.

A flock birds fled from the dragons as they crossed a large courtyard, leading to a broad staircase giving access to the stone building above. It was a two-storied building with a thatched roof painted in a dull red colour.

A handful of guards, armed with spears appeared from behind the gates, their dark eyes stunned by Tito’s appearance.

A brief exchanged followed. Then the leader of the guards pulled off his helmet and revealed a sweat-covered face. The resemblance between Tito and the older man was unmistakable. They shared the same sharp cheekbones and the same straight nose, though his hair was smooth and short, while Tito’s was curled and fell to his shoulders.

First the man frowned and then he started to laugh.

They exchanged a hearty hug and continued to exchange pleasantries. Jon didn’t dare to move, his eyes fixed on the dragons, circling above their heads.

Tito was calm as ever and pointed at the dragons.

Gasps escaped their mouths and one man even dropped his spear.

The leader of the guards was about to open his mouth when a young woman decided to interrupt their meeting. She was tall and graced with copper-skin, her hair kept in a tangle of braids.

Tito grinned happily and patted his scabbard.

His sister, Jon guessed. They had the same eyes, golden brown like running honey.

Jon read anger on the young woman’s face. No word left her mouth as she slapped Tito. Jon winced and Tito rubbing his burning cheek.

Yet his friend continued to smile and jerked his head at the young woman.

“May I introduce my sister Larsha,” he said as if nothing happened.”Don’t be afraid. That is her way to express how much she missed my presence.”

“The slap was well-deserved,” the young woman said in broken Bastard Valyrian.

”Three years, brother. Mother thought you dead,” she added and took in Jon and Dany. ”And now you bring these foreigners here.”

“And dragons!” Tito added with a grin and pointed at the sky. Larsha lifted her gaze and froze. Then she covered her mouth and remained like this for a whole minute.

“Did I startle you, sweet sister?” Tito teased and earned himself another slap on the shoulder, though less hard than the first one.

“I am…Hibal,” the man who shared Tito’s features decided to introduce himself.”Tito is my brother.”

“A pleasure,” Jon replied politely and Dany followed suite. Then she smiled and called for the dragons.”Māzigon kesīr!”

Come here, she had said and Jon tried to recall the High Valyrian Dany taught him. By now he understood the basic grammar, but his pronunciation was terrible and the hundred different conjugations never fail to make his head squirm.

At once the dragons obeyed and propelled themselves downwards. Sonarys settled on his shoulder while Viserys landed on the ground beside Dany’s feet. Rhaegon followed Sonarys example and settled on her shoulder, his head rubbing against her neck.

“By the Great Shepard!” Larsha muttered, her eyes wide in shock. ”It’s like mother’s stories!”

“You don’t have to be afraid,” Jon assured them softly and stroked his hand over the dragon’s head. Ghost was not far, his white fur standing out like a sore thumb. ”Neither the dragons or my wolf will do you harm.”

“I believe you… Jon…Did I say your name right?” Hibal asked in broken Bastard Valyrian.

“Jon is fine,” Jon confirmed with a smile.

“And I am Dany,” Dany added. ”I am pleased to meet you too. Tito spoke very kindly about his family.”

“He did?” Larsha asked and wrinkled her brows. ”Well, mother will be anxious to meet you.”

“I sure hope so,” Tito replied cheekily and Larsha rolled her eyes. ”I was speaking about our guests. You can be happy if mother doesn’t wash your ears for running off like a fool.”

“I fought Dothraki,” he declared proudly and Larsha’s face softened a little.

“You are still a fool,” Larsha chided and graced Jon and Dany with a smile.

“I will lead you to my mother,” she explained and winked with her hand as if to indicate to follow after her.”Please follow after me.”

Instantly the guards parted and allowed them to pass. Slowly, they descended the steps towards a large wooden door. It opened with a loud groan and revealed a round inner courtyard, overseen by balconies carved out white cedar wood. Vines snaked around the walls and flower pots decorated the steps. Jon spotted women and children of all ages, observing their entrance with great curiosity.

Some came running towards Larsha, pulled on her skirt started to ask question. They only stopped after they spotted Ghost and the dragons . Some froze in fear and others stared in awe.

“Come along,” Larsha called and shooed the children away. Then they led them up another staircase leading up to a bronze door.”This way. Don’t mind my wild nieces and nephews. You will get used to them.”

Jon couldn’t help but to smile. The swarm of children made him think of Winterfell and his siblings.

Not now, he thought and brushed the thoughts away before they were able to take hold of his mind.

Another staircase followed, before entered a round room lightened with braziers. Elevated above the tables, placed near the walls, was a high seat carved out of white wood and covered with brown pelt.

On the opposing side were two guards, armed with sharp spears and painted shields.

“So you have returned, my unruly son,” a soft voice remarked, belonging to a woman standing on the other side of the room. She was tall and beautiful, her dark hair streaked with silver, but falling around her shoulders like a waterfall of ink. She looked very different from the other Lhazareen women. Her skin was pale like snow and her eyes were strangely-formed, very narrow and almond-shaped. Yet her golden-coloured eyes betrayed her identity.

This is Tito’s mother.

Tito smiled brightly and lowered his head in reverence.

“I have returned, mother” Tito replied and jerked his head at Jon and Dany.”And I brought guests.”

“I can see that,” Tito’s mother replied and descended down the steps, her pale robes swishing after her.

”And dragons,” she added, her eyes wide in wonder as she took in Sonarys’ appearance. There was calmness to her that unsettled Jon. Tito’s mother seemed completely unfazed as if it was a common occurrence to see dragons. ”Truly, those are gracious beasts.”

“How did you accomplish it?”

“The eggs hatched after I put them in a burning pyre,” Daenerys explained vaguely.

“I see,” Tito’s mother said and smiled unbelievingly. ”When I was very young I travelled to Asshai…it was there that I first laid eyes on dragon eggs. A wise woman prophesied me that I would see a living dragon within my lifetime. It seems the time has finally come. The Lion of Night will soon be unleashed upon the world.”

Jon was confused by her words, but tried to remain polite.

“The Lion of Night?” he asked. ”Is that a myth from Lhazar?”

“No, from my homeland,” she answered and winked with her hand, as if to indicate that it wasn’t important. ”Forgive me…I was just elated to see a living dragon,” she continued and smiled. ”Now let us come back to the topic at hand. What brings you all the way to Lhazar?”

“Tito told us we would be welcome among your people,” Jon explained their purpose. ”The dragons need a safe place. Lhazar is a wide land. We are asking for asylum.”

“I understand,” Tito’s mother said, her eyes resting on Dany. ”My son, who rules this city will not be pleased. His people don’t like outsiders. It took years before they accepted me as one of their own.”

Tito frowned.

“Jon fought at my side against our common enemy, the Dothraki. He is trustworthy.”

“I believe you,” Tito’s mother replied. ”And I will do my best to convince my son. For the time being you have our hospitality.”

Jon had hoped for more, but it was better than nothing.

“I thank you, my Lady.”

Ser Barristan

The darkness gave away to light as Ser Barristan slipped along a dusty wall, towards the Silk Maiden. Ser Barristan was a man of the Kingsguard and tended to avoid such places, but it was this place the Spider chose as their meeting place.

I should curse him, he thought, but he was a knight without a King. Prince Joffrey had disposed of him like a dirty pair of smallclothes, though that was not the only reason he was filled with bitterness.

I bent the knee to serve a better King, but that was another lie.

Briefly, he considered joining Stannis or Renly Baratheon’s cause, but then the Spider contacted him and he decided to delay his decision. Barristan distrusted the man, but nobody can deny his knowledge.

One of the ladies led him into a small anteroom where he found the Spider, clad in a simple black cloak. The lack of his silken robes made him almost unrecognizable.

“Good Ser Barristan,” the Spider greeted with overflowing sweetness.”It pleases me to see you hale. After the unfortunate…,” he began, but Ser Barristan wanted to hear nothing of the humiliating exchange in the Throne Room.

“Make it quick and tell me about your findings,” he demanded coldly, his hand grazing over the pommel of his sword.

“Hasty as ever,” Lord Varys chided him his tittering voice. “But it is understandable. Let me be brief…I received delicate news from Essos. The rumours say that dragons have returned to the world.”

Barristan felt as if all air had drained out of his body.

“Dragons?” he asked and thought the man in front of him mad.”Are you trying to take me for a fool?”

“Of course not,” the Spider assured him.”My source wouldn’t lie about such a delicate matter. Well, it confirms another suspicion of mine…I firmly believe that one of Queen Rhaella’s children escaped the assassination attempt...it is the only possible explanation. Who else can command dragons other than those of Valyrian blood?”

“True,” Ser Barristan replied hesitatingly.”But King Robert firmly believed that they died. Or was that a lie?”

“Lie?” Lord Varys asked and smiled as sweetly as an innocent maid. ”I might have withheld certain pieces of information from our most gracious King, but I have never lied to his face. No corpse was found, which leads me back to the original purpose of our meeting. I want you to find whoever commands these dragons and report to me about his whereabouts.”

“And why should I trust you?” Barristan demanded to know.”Or do you think I have forgotten how you pitted the Mad King against Prince Rhaegar?”

“I did no such thing,” Lord Varys replied, amusement apparent his face. ”I invited you here to offer you a purpose, Sir Barristan. Agree or don’t agree, I won’t argue with you…,” he trailed off.

“I will do it,” Ser Barristan said at last. ”Where do I begin?

“Braavos,” Varys provided quickly. ”The rumours about the dragons started in Braavos.”

“That is not much information,” Ser Barristan remarked and sighed heavily. Yet deep inside his heart he allowed himself a glimpse of hope.

If there is a chance that the Prince or Princess survived I need to take it.

I owe it to Queen Rhaella.

“I will do it,” Ser Barristan repeated his declaration of acceptance.”But I have one last question.”

“Speak, Ser Barristan.”

“Why are you doing all this?”

The Spider smiled sweetly.

“I fear I can’t answer your question to your full satisfaction, but know this…I serve the realm.”

Chapter Text

Jon

The sun was barely visible through the shrouds of fog blanketing the hills and plains ahead. Lhazar was a vast land, not unlike the North, though of a more pleasant climate. It hardly rained, though when it finally did, it poured down on them as if he gods decided drown them. Yet it was this thick fog that never failed to fascinate Jon.

Every week, Tito, Jon and the other men rode out to scout the lands for potential enemies and every morning they encountered the same thick fog. Tito was unbothered, but Jon was always relieved when fog dispersed. Jon preferred to see his enemies.

“Don’ fret about it, friend,” Tito remarked and pointed at the sky. ”The sun will soon banish away the fog.”

Jon nodded his head and followed after the column of riders. All of them were older than Jon, warriors who had seen countless battles. Tito’s oldest brother Mallar, the chief of the city of Lhazosh, was their leader. He was a stern man of thirty,  but Jon was thankful that he allowed him and Dany to remain in the city. Jon didn’t know how, but Tito’s mother was somehow able to convince her son.

Jon suited this task just fine. He certainly preferred using his sword than being a sheep farmer.

“The next town should be the last one before we reach the border to Kosrak,” one of his companions explained. He was one of Tito’s many cousins. After three moons Jon was beginning to understand bits and pieces of their language, though he still had much to learn. Dany learned quicker and was already able to hold conversations with Tito’s relatives. Especially, his older sister Larsha seemed taken by Dany and dedicated much of her time to educate her in traditions of the Lhazraeen culture.

Jon was more than surprised when the young woman appeared on their doorstep, armed with a bow and spear to take Dany for a hunting trip. It seems hunting small animals was some of sport among the women of this city.

Dany was fascinated and now she often returned home with a dead hare, a peacock and once she even killed a squirrel.

“Finally,” Tito muttered and straightened himself on his horse. Jon nodded and took in the town they had passed at least a dozen of times. Unlike most Lhazareen town the walls were made of brown clay and there were even several watchtowers rising above the outer walls. Outside the city they were greeted by the sight of corn and barely fields. The dying sun light gave the fields the appearance of a sea of gold. ”First we rest and then we ride back.”

The other men smiled, sharing his relief. They had ridden for days and most of them longed for home. Jon shared their relief, but he couldn’t help but to feel uneasy as they continued ride through the town. Something was different.

The people were far more guarded than usual and the streets were almost deserted.

“What is going on here? Where are your people?” Tito asked an elderly woman, perched on her doorstep and working a spindle. Beneath her feet sat a young girl, who tried to hide behind her grandmother’s back when Ghost’s ruby eyes fell upon her.

“Stay away, boy!” he told his wolf and touched his head. ”You are frightening the little girl.”

Ghost yawned and trailed back to his side.

“The women and children left to seek shelter behind the walls of Kosrak,” the elderly woman explained.”And the men went to join the warriors. A Dothraki horde was seen and the chief of the city asked for their assistance.”

“Dothraki?” Tito asked, his voice laced with displeasure. ”Are you sure?”

“Yes,” the woman replied and patted the girl’s cheek. ”We will leave soon, but we have to wait for my son’s return. He is still out on the plains with our herd of sheep.”

“I see,” Tito replied and led his horse along the dusty road. At the end of the city they found a well, where they were able to water their horses. Once they were finished they settled down a green patch of grass, Ghost curling down beside him.

“Shall we ride for Kosrak?” one of their companions asked Tito. He was the youngest of the warriors, though still a handful of years older than Tito. He was asking for Tito’s decision as his brother put him in charge of this scouting troop.

“Not all of us,” Tito explained. ”My brother awaits our report. We have to return.”

Then he let his gaze sweep over the group of men, coming to rest on a scar-faced man of middle high. He was his good-brother, though his name escaped Jon. His friend had so many relatives, trying to recall all their names made his head squirm. ”Would you go, brother?”

“Of course,” the man replied and rose to his feet. ”I will go and return as swiftly as possible. You should leave soon or you won’t be able to make it back before sunset.”

Then he freed his horse and mounted it in one quick motion.

“True,” Tito agreed and winked. It was the way of the Lhazareen warriors to show respect to show respect to each other. ”We shall see each other in Lhazosh. Take good care and may the Great Shepard protect you.”

“And the Great Shepard protect you!” the man replied and left a cloud of dust in his wake.

Jon and the others left moments later. It was as if Tito was possessed by a demon. It was strange to see him like this. He was always quick to jape, but now he carried an almost gloomy expression.

“Is it uncommon for the Dothraki to come here at this time of the year?” Jon asked his friend as they passed yet another sheep herd. This was a particularly big one, guarded by at least a dozen of men and women. It felt as if the sheep were slowly swallowing up the landscape. That they blocked the way ahead didn’t fail to worsen Tito’s ill mood.

“It is,” his friend replied almost sourly. ”They usually attack during the dry season. Whatever reason compelled them to attack earlier…it is not good for us. The harvest has yet to be brought in and knowing the Dothraki they will burn our fields to ash.”

Jon swallowed hard, trying to lift his spirit. Usually, it was the other way around.

“You still have the sheep,” Jon countered. ”They will feed your people.”

“The sheep are not enough,” Tito replied bitterly. ”And the Dothraki will take them too. They take everything from us. It has always been like this. First they burn our corn, then they steal our cattle and at last they enslave our people.”

Jon had never heard him spew such hatred, but it seems the recent news had brought forth another aspect of his personality.

The rest of the way was breached in silence, the whispering of the wind their only companion.

Relieve washed over Jon when he spotted the familiar white walls.

It was dusk, the sky streaked in stripes of orange and red. The sun was a fat ball of light, soon to be swallowed by the approaching night.

Dany and Larsha greeted them as they led their horses towards the main gate. They were dressed in hunting gear; knee-length tunics, fastened with a leather belt and rough-spun pants of wool. Around their shoulders they carried their bows and their game. Jon counted two small hares on Dany’s shoulder.

“We didn’t expect your quick return,” Dany remarked and brushed a loose strand out of hair out of her face. It was braided, but the sharp wind never failed to dishevel it. ”Why this haste?”

“We bring dark tidings,” Tito explained for Jon and winked at his men.”I need to report to my brother. We will speak later, Jon. Please excuse me,” he added quickly and led the man away.

“I see,” Dany said and looked slightly disappointed. Then she shifted her attention back to Jon.

“It seems we will have,” she declared proudly and pointed at the dead animal.

“Why tomorrow?” Jon asked.

“Larsha invited us to eat with her family,” she explained happily and winked at the departing friend. ”I could hardly refuse after they showed us so much kindness.”

“True,” Jon agreed.”How are the dragons? Did they give you problems?” he asked, his eyes darting to the sky. There he spotted Rhaegon and Viserion circling over the city gates. They were now the size of a small horse, but their hot breath could easily kill a man. First they kept them inside the city, but they have grown unruly and wild.

“None,” she confirmed. ”Though I think Sonarys missed your presence.”

Jon nodded his head in understanding.

“I will see to him tomorrow,” he assured her and led the way towards the city gate. ”I am tired and we shouldn’t let our hosts wait.”

Like always, the children were fascinated by Ghost. At first they were terribly afraid, but what Tito told him about his people turned out to be true. The Lhazareen are quite adaptive.

“True,” Dany confirmed. Their way to the chief’s home was not far, though it made Jon uneasy to reside with Tito’s family. He repeatedly offered to move to another house, but Tito was always able to convince him otherwise.

It is better for Aemon to be around other children, he had explained, though Jon doubted that was the real reason. Jon had the feeling that Tito felt out of place among his people. The Lhazareen were good people, but very mistrustful towards strangers. Tito was the complete opposite. He held a great curiosity for foreign customs.

“There you are,” Dany greeted Aemon, who sat perched on the colourful carpet. Not far Jon spotted one of Tito’s many half- sisters and his father’s second wife, Lilra. Unlike Tito’s mother she was a full-blooded Lhazareen woman that hailed from the city of Hesh. She was at least ten years younger than Tito’s mother, but no great beauty. Yet she had a kind smile and adored Aemon. As always, she worked her spindle. Several other girls sat beside her and worked their spindles in tandem. Some of them had children of their own, though most of them were younger than Dany.

Aemon gurgled happily as she picked him up. He counted seven moons and spent most of his time trying to crawl around. Jon never failed to marvel at every change. Aemon’s blue eyes had changed to a light grey, though Dany believed to see specks of purple. His silver hair also darkened a little, though Jon doubted it will ever resemble his dark hair.

“Did he give you problems?” Dany inquired from Lirla.

“No…he liked the sheep milk,” the woman explained and smiled at his son. She said more, but Jon was unable to understand it. Dany did and thanked her for her effort, before they returned to their quarters. Their chamber was bigger than the one they occupied in Braavos, but Jon missed the red door he painted for Dany.

“I will take care of him while you change,” he offered to her as she pulled off her cloak.

“Thank you,” she replied and started to unfasten her belt. Then she pulled off her tunic and started to wash herself with the water kept near the bed. Jon looked away, though no longer out of embarrassment, but because he wanted to avoid the effect her naked form had on him.

Finished with her wash she pulled on a pale wool dress and fastened it with a belt. On her breast he found the stitching of a wolf and a dragon.

“A new dress?” he asked curiously as he hoisted Aemon back into her arms.

“Yes,” she answered and smiled proudly. ”I made it myself. Do you like it?”

“I like the wolf and the dragon,” he remarked and pointed at the stitching.

She smiled.

“I made the wolf and Larsha made the dragon,” she informed him quickly and jerked her head at the pot of water. ”You should also get a proper wash. You stink.”

Jon frowned. It wasn’t like he was averse to bathing, but Dany had some sort of obsession with cleanness. In Volantis, so she had informed him, all nobles and even the common men frequent the bath house almost daily.

“I will do as you say,” he assured her and got a proper wash. Then he put on a fresh tunic, his old black breeches and his riding boots.

Tito’s family had already begun with their meal when they joined them. As honoured guests they were allowed to sit next to Tito and Larsha, though chief Mallar and his family eyed them with mistrust. Jon tried to ignore it and focused on his meal. It was a simple stew made of sheep meat and wild vegetables, but tasted heavenly. Even Old Nan wouldn’t have been able to make it better. The pastry that followed was even better. It was a cake glazed with honey and filled with nuts. The children went crazy over it and stuffed one piece after another in their greedy little mouths. Ghost was happy to receive leftover meat and was soon peacefully snoring next to him.

Finished with their hearty meal, the children started to assemble around Tito’s mother like a horde of worshippers.

“Time for a story,” Dany explained and patted Aemon’s head. He was gnawing on his toy, a small wooden horse gifted to him by one of Tito’s nephews.

Jon finally understood. The horde of children assembled to hear a story.

The sight made him smile. Every day Old Nan would gather them around the hearth to spin her tales.

Jon couldn’t help but to imagine Bran and Arya among the excited children as they demanded their favourite stories.

“Tell us about the dragonlords!” one of Tito’s nieces demanded.

“Or about Sage Kings of Ghis!” a boy demanded eagerly.

“I want a happy story…like the one about the lovers Zaal and Rudaba,” a girl chirped dreamily.

“Yesterday was my nameday!” Rostam, chief Mallar’s son declared proudly. Jon couldn’t help but to be reminded of Theon. “It should fall to me to choose the next story.”

His grandmother seemed less pleased by his demand, but gave in.

“Very well,” she said and smiled at her proud grandson. ”What story do you want to hear, grandson?”

“A scary story,” the boy declared loudly. ”I want the story about the Bloodstone Emperor.”

Tito’s mother winced as if the name invoked some long forgotten fear.

“Very well, but for the sake of our guests I will recount the story in Bastard Valyrian...I hope you paid attention in our last lessons, grandson,” she said and cleared her throat. ”But I demand silence from everyone.”

Instantly, silence fell over the group of children as Tito’s mother began to spin her tale.

“Not long before the fall of the Empire of Dawn the Amethyst Empress ruled over the known world. Begotten by the Opal Emperor she was said to be of unsurpassed beauty. They say the gods fashioned her eyes out of the falling stars and that the finest flowers were ashamed to bloom in her presence of her crimson lips. Despite her many admirers she chose no consort to rule at her side. Some say she took a lover, a simple shepherd, but those are merely tales. For hundreds of years she ruled over the known world, but there was someone who begrudged her for her power. It was her younger brother, later known as the Bloodstone Emperor, who hated and desired his beautiful sister. Some say he was born evil, begotten on a mermaid while others say his descend to madness began after he found a fallen star, the bloodstone. Yet even before this fateful day, the Prince was known to dabble in the dark arts. Hungry for power, he fashioned himself an army of demons and beasts yet unknown to the world. Some say he was even able to overcome death itself. Thus a dark shadow was cast over the Empire of Dawn and soon after the Prince murdered his sister. They say he dismembered her body and gathered her blood to fashion himself a new consort, the Tiger Queen. His usurpation became known as the Blood Betrayal and some say it was this vile deed that ushered in the Great Darkness...”

“But that surely wasn’t the end of it, grandmother?” one of the younger girls asked and shuddered. She couldn’t be older than Bran and probably heard the tale for the first time.

“No,” her grandmother replied and graced the girl with a warm smile. ”I just need to catch my breath. Now be still and I will tell you the rest of the story.”

Then she exhaled deeply and continued with her tale.

“After the murder of the Empress the Bloodstone Emperor ascended to the throne and ushered in a century of darkness and terror. They say he enslaved his own people, feasted on human flesh and dared to cast down the true gods of Yi Ti to worship the bloodstone. Everywhere in the Empire he built temples and filled them with his dark priests. Yearly he sacrificed thousands of infants to increase his ever growing army of demons, but eventually, a hero emerged to put an end to his reign of terror. Some say he was the son of the Amethysts Empress, begotten on her by her secret lover and others say he was nothing more than a common man who lost his son to the Emperor’s yearly rituals. Commoner or Prince, it was said that he forged the legendary blade that slew the Bloodstone Emperor. How he was able to forge such a powerful weapon is shrouded in mystery, but there are many stories, one bloodier than the next. Some say he tamed a dragon and forged the blade in dragon fire while others claim that he plunged the blade in his wife’s heart. I doubt we will ever know the truth, but even the fall of the Bloodstone Emperor wasn’t able to stop the breaking of the Empire of Dawn.”

A long moment of silence passed, before one of the children dared break the silence. Even Jon had been captivated by the tale. There was something very familiar about it. The Great Darkness seemed to refer to the Long Night, though a few aspects of the tale left him confused. Old Nan’s mentioned a similar hero, but this was the first time he heard about this Bloodstone Emperor.

“What happened to hero after the Bloodstone Emperor was defeated, grandmother?” one of the children asked.

Tito’s mother shrugged.

“Nobody knows for sure, but some say he travelled over the sea because he believed that the Bloodstone Emperor wasn’t vanquished after all. Some even say the Bloodstone Emperor still lingers in the world, vying for his revenge. As for the hero…the people in my homeland believe he will return when the need arises.”

Disappointment showed on the girl’s face and she opened her mouth to voice her protest, but chief Mallar decided to put an end to the gathering.

“I think it is time to for our dire rest,” he declared and soon the great assembly dispersed, leaving only Dany, Aemon, Jon and Tito.

“I told you,” Tito remarked and sipped bowl of milk. ”My mother is a great storyteller.”

“She is,” Jon agreed, but was more interested to hear about Tito’s report. ”What did your brother say about the Dothraki threat?

Tito frowned and gritted his teeth.

“He intends to call for an assembly of the tribes.”

“Does that mean there will be war?” Jon asked, fear washing over him.

Tito laughed.

“Don’t make me laugh,” Tito said and balled his fists. ”The tribes won’t go to war. They will ask him to close off the city gates and wait out until the enemy leaves. The last time our people dared to take arms again the Dothraki they butchered our armies and built a heap of corpses. This bloody memory never fails to install fear into my people’s hearts. There will be no war. We will sit behind high walls while the rest of our people are enslaved.”

Arya

Drops of sweat rolled down her temples as she continued to practice her water dancing. Her Master Syrio was no longer here to train her, but she tried her best to continue her practice. Every few days she rode out to the Wolfswood hide away from her mother’s watchful eyes. She may have lost her sword, but Bran and his new friends, the Reed siblings, were kind enough to steal a practice sword from Ser Roderik’s stocks.

Again she slipped back into the first stance and hit the trunk an ironwood tree. It helped to imagine Joff’s smug smile, but it wasn’t enough to still her rage. Her Lord Father was still alive, but far away. For her it felt as if he died. Even her Lady Mother chose to wear black, though her Lord Father was still breathing.

When Arya was imprisoned in the King’s Landing she wanted to nothing more than to go home, but now even her home felt foreign. Nothing was the same. Her Lady Mother grieved for her lost husband, Robb played the Lord, Bran spent most of his time with the Reed siblings and Rickon spent his time in company of the Frey boys. Yet Jon’s disappearance hurt the most. Everything would be better if he was here.

“There you are little pest!” a familiar voice snapped her out of her practice.

It was Theon Greyjoy. The very sight of him darkened her mood only more.

“What do you want, stupid?” she asked him and turned around to look for Nymeria. Relief washed over her when she spotted her rolling in the mud not far from a crooked oak tree.

“Come here, Nym!” she called. Instantly, her wolf hopped to his feet and joined her side.

“Lady Stark wants you to join her and Lady Roslin,” he informed her promptly.

Arya sighed. She could hardly refuse if her Lady Mother and Lady Roslin demanded her presence.

“I see,” she replied and gave Theon a sharp look.”Tell my Lady Mother about my training and I will inform her about you and Lady Roslin’s handmaid. Is that understood, stupid?”

Theon frowned, obviously unhappy that she knew about his secret.

“Very well, little pest,” he grumbled his agreement. ”We have a deal…though I didn’t think you could be this sneaky. You are worse than the bastard.”

Arya didn’t hesitate to kick him between the legs for his stupid remark.

“Call Jon a bastard and Nym will eat you!” she threatened.

“I meant it as a compliment,” Theon countered quickly. ”The sneaky bastard ran off with the prettiest whore I have ever laid eyes one. I didn’t think he had it in him. Robb even sent men to bring him back, but I doubt he will agree. Why would anyone trade the Free Cities to a frozen place like the North?”

“Shut your bloody mouth!” Arya shouted. ”Jon will come back! I know it!”

Angry, she left Theon and hid away her practice blade, before returning back to the castle. Back in her chambers she washed herself and put on a proper dress, before making her way to her Lady Mother’s solar. There she found Lady Roslin in company of her Lady Mother and her two handmaids. One was called Amerei and the other Arwyn. Not long ago she saw Amerei coming out of Theon’s chambers, her dress in disorder. Arwyn was the complete opposite. She was incredibly shy and barely able to speak to a man. Arya avoided both their presence. They never failed to remark upon her betrothal to Elmar the Nosepicker.

Lady Roslin was different. She was her brother’s Lady and the future Lady of Winterfell. She was also very kind to Arya and often asked for her presence, though Arya held little interest in the girl’s hobbies.

She was like Sansa. She liked stitching and singing, a fact that never failed to delight her Lady Mother. Her Lady Mother even asked Lady Roslin to teach Arya the harp. Arya agreed only, because she didn’t want to displease her Lady Mother, though she showed little promise.

“There you are, Arya,” her Lady Mother greeted as she entered the solar. She smiled when she saw her dress.

“Here I am, Lady Mother,” she confirmed and dropped a quick curtsy. ”Why did you call for me?”

“To share the happy news,” Lady Roslin explained from her seat, placed near the warm hearth and flanked by her two ladies. ”You are the only who doesn’t know. I am expecting the heir to Winterfell.”

Heir to Winterfell, Arya repeated to herself, realization washing over her.

It was quite the surprise, but then even Robb was born barely a year into her parents’ marriage.

Arya stood frozen and took in Lady Roslin’s slender form. She barely recalled her Lady mother’s pregnancies, but looking at Lady Roslin it was hard to believe the she was expecting.

“Are you not happy?” Her Lady Mother asked gently. “Both Bran and Rickon were delighted.”

“Of course,” Arya confirmed and smiled. She meant it, though she didn’t know what it meant to be an Aunt. ”I am just surprised.”

“Of course you are,” her Lady Mother added gently and beckoned her to sit down next to her. For Arya it felt strange, because this place used to belong to Sansa. Stranger was even that her Lady Mother stopped to force the stitching lessons on her and allowed her to pursue other interests, like bow practice and the harp, though Arya only pretended to like it for Lady Roslin’s sake. ”It is a small piece of happiness in face of our loss.”

With loss she meant their Lord Father and Sansa, but her Lady Mother always refrained from speaking their names as if it hurt her too much. Suddenly, all her anger was forgotten and she wanted to nothing more than to wash away her Lady Mother’s sadness.

“Do you want to hear what I learned to play?” she asked her Lady Mother.

Happiness lightened up her features and she brushed Arya’s hair out of her face.

“That would be lovely.”

Lady Roslin seemed equally delighted and asked Lady Arwyn to fetch her high harp.

Moments later she returned and Arya took position. She exhaled deeply, trying to quell her excitement, before she started to play.

It was a simple song, but it proved harder than expected to hit the right notes. Now and then she missed the right sound, but it was better than expected.

“Very good!” Lady Roslin complimented her. ”I can see…you practiced.”

She did not, but neither Lady Roslin nor her Lady Mother did know that.

What counted were their smiles.

“That was very good,” her Lady Mother complimented and kissed her cheek. ”You are very talented. You have barely practiced for more than three moons…it took Sansa much longer to learn this song.”

Arya’s heart swelled with happiness, though she wished her Lady Mother would say the same about her bow practice.

“I thank you, Lady Mother,” she replied and returned to her seat. The rest of the evening was spent inside. Her Lady Mother worked through the accounts and showed Lady Roslin everything she needed to know. Arya was kept company by Arywn Frey who helped her comb Nymeria’s dirty hair. All in all, it was a pleasant evening, until she went to see Bran.

He looked pale and the smile he gave her barely reached his face. That she found him in company of the Reed siblings didn’t surprise her. She quite liked Meera Reed, for she showed Arya how to use a frog spear, but her younger brother Jojen was simply weird. The way he behaved was reminiscent of an old man. She also didn’t like that Bran spent so much time in the boy’s company. Before his fall Arya, Bran and Jon were inseparable, but now she not only lost Jon, but also Bran.

“Arya,” Bran said upon her entrance, a weak smile tugging on his lips. Summer lay next to him, his head resting on Bran’s lap. ”Your visit is a pleasant surprise.”

“Theon found out about the sword,” she replied quickly. ”Don’t tell our Lady Mother that it was my idea.”

“My lips are sealed,” Bran promised her and patted on the place next to him. ”Is this the only reason you came to see me?”

“Of course not,” she snapped and sat down. ”I wanted to see you. Master Luwin told me that you have strange dreams that keep you awake.”

“I have no common dreams…I have green dreams,” Bran told her and smoothed his hand through Summers’ soft fur.

“Green dreams,” Arya repeated and tried ignore the staring of Jojen Reed.”What does that mean?”

“It means I can see things…I can see the future,” Bran whispered. ”I tried to explain it to Maester Luwin, but he doesn’t believe me.”

Arya was stunned, but she was also sure that Bran wouldn’t lie about something like that. He truly believed this, even if it sounded mad.

“What did you see?”

“Many things,” he replied vaguely and paled. ”I saw Jon.”

“Truly?” Arya asked and tried to contain her anxiety. ”Did you see where he went?”

Bran swallowed hard.

“He was on a battlefield…there were dead corpses everywhere. They were burned and rotten. Then I saw a city full of blood….and another city with red walls. I also saw father…he went beyond the Wall,” he recounted his dreams, though it was hard for Arya to make sense of them.

“Maybe it was only a nightmare,” she offered as a possible explanation, but Bran shook his head in disagreement.

“It was no nightmare, ”Bran insisted stubbornly. ”I can prove it…Master Luwin thinks that Lady Roslin will have a son, but I know that it will be a girl. I saw her in a bed of blood.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

It took only the blink of a moment, before the sheep was devoured by Sonarys’ blue flames. It was both a beautiful and terrifying sight. Dany knew how powerful dragons can become, but seeing their might with her own eyes was a different matter. Then, as quick as a snake the dragon snapped his head forward and tore a piece of meat out of the animal’s body. The other two dragons followed suit, feasting on the blacked corpse as if it was the most delicious meal. This was their second sheep, but Dany had the feeling that this was only the beginning.

They will need more and more food.

“They are hungry,” Jon remarked quietly, his dark eyes fixed on the dragons.

“Aye,” she confirmed and rose to her feet. Jon remained seated and grasped her hand, a gentle smile playing on his lips. She was unable to pinpoint it, but there was something different about him these days. He was very quiet, more so than usual, always staring off in the distance as if his mind was somewhere else.

“Is something wrong?” she asked him and squeezed his hand.

“It is full moon,” he said and pointed at the sky. A fat autumn moon hung over the dusky horizon, streaked in red and velvet.

“I can see that,” she replied, a little confused by his statement. There was nothing special about it.”What you trying to say?”

“I will tell you,” he assured her with a smile. ”But we should get going or they will close the gates before we return from our hunting adventure. ”I trust that Lirla takes good care of Aemon, but I doubt you want to spend the night out in the wilderness.”

Dany was both confused and amused by his secrecy.

“Then let us go,” she replied and returned his smile.

Her answer seemed to please him greatly. Then he pulled her along towards his horse. They rode here together, though Dany knew by now how to properly handle her horse. Larsha took her for daily rides and Jon took her hunting whenever he had time to spare. She liked that, because out in the wilderness they could be alone. She liked Tito’s family, but there was always someone there watching them. It was hard to find privacy.

Usually, it was her idea to go hunting, but today Jon asked her to join him. It warmed her heart to hear this, for she missed him every time he left to ride out with Tito’s men. Especially, with the sighting of the Dothraki horde she worried for him. What Jon felt on this matter was like mystery to her. He was always courteous and helpful, but he hardly ever spoke with her about things that bother him. Reading his moods was just as difficult. He was not the kind of man who carried his feeling on his sleeves.

They rode for another hour, passing hills and plains of green and yellow pasture. Night had fallen when they arrived at a small wooden area. Dany had never dared to venture this far from the city, but Jon seemed completely at ease. Maybe it was Ghost’s presence that assured him. He was now nearly as big as a horse. He could easily carry a dainty girl like her, though she doubted the wolf would appreciate it.

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked and climbed from the saddle. Dany was still confused, but it was true what he said. This piece of land was very beautiful. The woods were littered with rich green grass, old trees, bent and crooked, but beautiful in their own way. Especially, the red flowers strewn over the meadow gave the landscape the appearance of a colourful painting.

“Very beautiful,” she agreed and felt a soft breeze touching her skin. A pair of butterflies hovered over the knee-high grass right above Ghost’s head. The wolf seemed bothered by them and sniffed viciously. ”But is this also a good place to hunt?

“I will show you,” he told her and pulled his belongings from his saddle. He always had his sword and his hunting gear fixed on his saddle, though they hadn’t even used it. First they went to feed the dragons and now they came here, but Dany saw no animals to hunt.

Quietly, he pulled her along through the grass towards the woods. The whispering of the wind could be heard as they stumbled over the underwood and foliage. The trees here looked ancient, some of their trunk as thick as a several men.

At last they stopped at some sort of a clearing. The beauty of it left her gasping for air. There was a massive tree, its bark pale like snow and its leaves painted in different colours of yellow and red. The moonlight falling through the tree tops gave the bark an appearance of ivory.

“I promised you a pretty tree, didn’t I?” he asked her and smiled proudly.

Finally, she understood what he meant.

It should at least be a pretty tree, he had told her when they spoke about marriage. That was now nearly four moons ago and she thought he had forgotten about it.

I am a fool, she thought and squeezed his hand.

“You did,” she confirmed and graced him with an amused smile. ”Though it took you long enough.”

He shrugged his shoulders and slung his arm around her shoulder.

“I kept watching out for the perfect tree and a week ago I finally found this one. This one looks a bit like a weirwood tree…the bark has a similar colour, though the leaves of a weirwood tree are much brighter. They also have a faces carved in the trunk.”

“Truly?” she asked, fascinated. ”Who carved the faces?”

“Old Nan used to tell us that it was the work of the Children of the Forest,” he explained and beamed. He always lost his serious countenance whenever he spoke about his family and home, though it was a seldom enough that he spoke about his family. She met his brother Robb, but she couldn’t bring herself to like him. She knew that he had four other siblings, but she only knew the name of his younger sister, the one that likes him. Arya she is called and she likes playing with swords. Dany asked him several times about his little sister, but whenever she did he grew sad and thus she decided to avoid it. She told herself that he would eventually tell her about it when he is comfortable enough. Thus hearing him speak about his home filled him with relief.

“That sounds interesting,” she added softly and jerked her head at the tree. ”But I doubt that is why you brought me here. Now that we finally found a tree…Is there some sort of ceremony?”

“There is,” he confirmed and led her closer towards the tree. ”Usually it is just an exchange of vows, though I don’t recall the exact wording. The truth is…I have never attended a real wedding. My Lord Father never took his bastard to weddings,” he explained. It was only subtle, but she heard the bitterness ringing through his facade. She hardly knew Lord Stark, but she couldn’t help but to be angry on Jon’s account whenever he spoke about his life as a bastard.

“Then we will do what you can remember. I don’t need a ceremony or vows,” she assured him and lifted his hand to her lips.

“We can make up vows if you don’t recall them. Let me try…I swear before the gods and that this man is mine and I am his… from this day till the end of our days,” she continued and blushed a little. ”I am fond of poetry, but as you can see…I am no great poet either. What do you think of my vows?”

He chuckled and held her closer. ”I like it. I swear before the gods that this woman is mine and I am hers. From this day, until the end of our days,” he declared and leaned down to kiss her eagerly. It stirred up the familiar feeling of warmth between her legs, yet she also felt also a hint of fear.

It had been a long time that they had lain with each other, though that was her fault. She had told him that Aemon’s birth made it uncomfortable for her. He accepted it, but it didn’t help to ease her sense of guilt.

In truth, it was only half a lie. The first moons after her son’s birth she had felt pain, but a moon ago the pain finally disappeared, but she feared having another child. Aemon was a mere babe. She wouldn’t want to leave him motherless. She had few memories of her brother Viserys, but she recalled clearly how much their mother’s death haunted him.

She had yet to tell Jon about Aemon’s difficult birth, but she feared his reaction.

His mother died in childbirth, she recalled. I can’t burden him with this guilt.

“Daenerys,” he addressed her in her full name and pulled away when he noticed that she had stopped moving. He sounded serious, the smile banished from his lips and his hand resting on her cheek. ”Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” she assured him and smiled. ”I was just thinking. Is there something else we forgot?”

He frowned, but answered nonetheless.

“Usually the bride and groom kneel beneath the weirwood tree to receive the blessing of the old gods, though that wouldn’t make much sense here. This tree is not dedicated to the old gods,” he explained and jerked his head at the tree.”But I have something else for you. A gift.”

“A gift?” she asked and it relieved her to see a smile on his lips. ”For me?”

“Tito said it is common among his people to give each other gifts on their wedding day,” Jon explained and let go of her hand. Then he made his way back to his horse and rummaged through his hunting gear. Only when he stepped into the moonlight was she able to make out what he had searched for.

“A bow,” she said and marvelled at its beauty. It was made of a pale bark…like the tree. ”Is it made from the same wood?”

“Exactly,” he replied and held the bow out to her. ”I thought it fitting.”

Dany stared at him for a moment, speechless. He carried an expectant look, but she didn’t know what to say. She trembled and stared at the bow and then back at Jon.

“I don’t have a gift for you,” she said, close to tears, though it were happy ones.

“Gods…don’t cry,” he remarked and frowned. ”I didn’t know that this would upset you…besides you already gave me a gift.”

“I have?” she asked, a little confused by his answer. ”What gift did I give you?”

“Our son,” he replied and smiled warmly. ”I never thought I have a son of my blood, but that is not the only gift. Without you I would be at the Wall, alone and forgotten. I never thought I would have a family…at least not like this.”

Dany didn’t know what to say. She could only stare at him in disbelief.

“I am your family?” she asked, searching his face.

“Of course you are,” he assured her and brushed his hand through her locks. ”Now take your gift. I am sure you will make good use of it.”

“I will,” she assured him in a trembling voice and took the bow from his hand. It was a slender thing, the wood soft and smooth like a polished sword. It was a far too precious gift and she touched like as if it was a precious jewel.”I will.”

As if cast in a dream she made her way back to the horse and placed the bow in the bag, containing her hunting gear.

Then she turned around and pulled off her cloak. Underneath she only wore her pale wool dress and her sandals.

He smiled at her as he moved closer, his hand wandering through her hair. It was now nearly as long as her chin, though she doubted he cared about that.

She leaned closer, her face tilting into is neck. He wrapped his arms around smoothed his hand over her shoulder.

“Are you sure?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Aye,” she assured him and pulled back to kiss him, slow and gentle. His grip tightened on her shoulders as he deepened the kiss. Together they stumble to the ground, the grass soft, almost like a featherbed.

His body sinks on top of her as they continued to kiss, his thigh sliding between her legs. The familiar feeling of warmth stirred inside her.

Carefully, he opened the buttons of her dress and pulled it aside. He kissed her breasts, before moving lower. His warmth breath tickled her stomach, only to move further down.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, confused by his actions. ”Are you trying to find out if I am ticklish?”

He chuckled, his face half lit by the moonlight.

“Just an idea,” he added and pushed up her dress. The touch of the night air felt cold on her skin.

He laughed again, his breath tickling the inside of her thighs. ”Have a bit of patience.”

“Patience…,” she muttered, her words swallowed by gasp. The soft touch of his mouth was a foreign sensation that overwhelmed her. It made her shut her eyes close as the current of pleasure washed over her. They had thought her how to pleasure man that way, but she never knew that it could be done the other way around.

“Jon,” she called out too him when it was too much and grasped his hair, pulling hard. Yet he didn’t stop, or maybe he didn’t hear her. Maybe her voice died in her mouth. It was almost too much, the warm sensation overwhelming, as the wave of pleasure came crushing down on her.

She was still struggling for breath when Jon lifted his gaze to meet hers. His eyes were dark, glinting like the coals in a brazier.

“Who thought you that?” she asked, both curious and stunned.

“No one,” he replied, his voice lith with amusement. “I just wanted to kiss you there. Did you like it?”

It was such a silly question, she couldn’t help but to laugh.

“Of course I liked it…it is just…they thought us such things in the place I grew up…it is strange having a man do it,” she tried to explain her thoughts and slipped her hand downwards to touch him.

He gasped, then laughed against her cheek.

“Well, I suppose that is a compliment,” he remarked slightly sardonically, though she knew it was meant in a joking manner.

“I meant it,” she replied and gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. He laughed and she silenced him with a kiss. He returned her kiss and he allowed her to sit on top of him.

She felt no pain as she mounted him. It felt right and she savored the sensation. Yet it was the warmth in his eyes that unraveled her. She knew then that his words were not empty talk. He meant it when he said that she is part of his family. His smile was never this soft as he sat up and held her in his arms.

Even after he had collapsed next to her she still felt his hands stroking through her hair, though he was half asleep. There was so much she wanted to tell him, but whenever she opened her mouth she was unable to find the right words. Where she came from people don’t speak about their wishes or the future. They only think of the next day.

“Jon,” she asked him. ”Tell me about your home.”

Jon lifted his head, surprise apparent on his face.

“What brought this on?”

“Nothing,” she assured him quietly. ”I should know about your family. Maybe we will go back there one day.”

He beamed.

“You think that is possible?”

His question surprised her. He sounded almost like a little boy and she wanted to give him a happy lie, but that wouldn’t serve them.

“Yes,” she answered and averted her gaze. ”But it would be hard to accomplish. Do you understand what I am trying to say?”

Instantly, his face changed back to its usual solemn expression.

“The dragons would never be tolerated in the North,” he told her and kissed her brow.”But I am not Aegon the Conqueror nor do I want to be. I don’t want to drench the Seven Kingdoms in blood just to win a crown that doesn’t belong to me. I would have to fight my own brother and Uncle. I can’t do that.”

“I never asked that of you,” she replied quietly. ”But the dragons will continue to grow. There will be people who will try to take them away.”

“True,” he agreed unhappily. ”And that is why we need to learn to control them. I said I don’t want to be Aegon the Conqueror, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight those who want to harm us.”

“Us?” she asked, his words alarming. ”What do you mean?”

“I am talking about the Dothraki,” he told her, his voice taking an almost icy tone. ”You have not seen what they do. I will not sit idle while they rape and murder people who have shown us nothing but kindness.”

“The dragons are small,” she countered fearfully. ”Arrows could hurt them and even I know that the Dothraki are terrifying bowmen.”

“True,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. ”But the Dothraki are also hot-headed. We could lure them into a trap.”

She frowned. She had never seen a real battle. Yet she didn’t want to appear a craven.

I am the blood of the dragon.

“And you think we could really win?”

“Maybe,” he answered. Then he shrugged his shoulders. ”Though the dragons wouldn’t be enough. I would need the help of Lhazareen warriors, but Tito thinks that the tribes won’ fight. Besides, why should they trust a foreigner?”

She could only nod her head in agreement. She lived it every day. The other women were kind to her, but she will always be an outsider. So much is clear.

Maybe that is why Jon longs for Winterfell.

“Jon,” she said at last and intent to returned to. ”Tell me about Winterfell…tell me about your home.”

A brief moment of silence passed, but then he nodded his head.

“What do you want to know?”

She pondered his question and pursed her lips.

“Tell me about Arya.”

...

She woke when the first sunlight fell through the slanted windows. Jon was still asleep, his warm body nestled beside her. Carefully, she rose from her bed and pulled on a robe.

Quietly, she made her way to Aemon’s crib and found him still asleep. It was no surprise. He hardly ever woke before the sun had risen to the sky. It would be no problem to slip away for an hour and Jon knew how to feed him with sheep milk.

Out on the corridor she met several of Tito’s relatives. She greeted them and made her way up the curling staircase.

Upon her entrance she found Tito’s mother at work, squashing leaves with a pestle. She was also devoid of her usual pale robes and garbed in a green dress. The front was covered with old stains of blood and other substances she was unable to identify. It was not the first time that she came here, but her collection of books, herbs and other strange utensils never failed to fascinate her.

When Tito told her that his mother is some sort of a midwife she expected one of these women who came to Lady Meema’s brothel, but it was clear to her that Tito’s mother was more than a common midwife. Never once did she see a midwife keeping notes on her patients or able to mix complicated potions like this. Whoever thought her must have been a professional one, like one of the Maesters Jon told her about.

“There you are, child,” she greeted her and graced her with a smile.

“I have your potion over here,” she added and rose to her feet, before making her way to a small table filled with all kinds of bottles. They were marked with foreign signs of black ink.

“This one is yours,” Tito’s mother remarked and handed her a blue bottle. When she first came here she expected to get something bitter like moon tea, but the teas she received from Tito’s mother tasted almost like common tea. She felt the urge to ask her more questions. She knew next to nothing about her body besides what other girls told her.

“Is something wrong, child?” Tito’s mother asked, worry written all over her face. ”You look pale. Was the last tea too strong?”

“No,” she assured her quickly, trying to overplay her insecurity. Then she bit her lips, torn between baring her fears to her. She was a woman, if anyone would understand her it would be someone as kind as her. ”I just wondered…you know much about childbirth, don’t you?”

She gave her an amused smile.

“I brought more than thousand children into the world,” she replied, though not pridefully.”I think I know what I am doing, child. Do you want me to take a look at you?”

Dany didn’t know why, but she felt a little embarrassed.

“Look at me?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. ”I assume the birth of your boy wasn’t the most pleasant experience?”

Dany was stunned.

“How can you tell?”

“Your hips,” she replied as if it was all too clear. ”You are rather young. How old are you?”

“Nearly ten and five,” she answered. ”What do my hips have to do with my age?”

“You are still growing,” she explained and patted on a cushioned seat on the floor. ”Some bodies need longer to be prepared for the trials of childbirth, though some stubborn husbands do not understand that.”

Dany settled down cushioned seat, but felt the need to defend Jon.

“He didn’t force me into anything…I wanted Aemon…I just didn’t know that it would be this painful,” she explained honestly.

“All births are painful,” Tito’s mother explained. ”But there is a difference between painful and deadly,” she continued to explain and pulled up her dress. Gently, she spread her legs and inspected her closely. Dany tried not to wince, but soon she forgot about her discomfort.

“Did you bleed?” Tito’s mother asked and lifted her head to meet her gaze.

“Aye, quite a lot,” she confirmed anxiously.

“I see,” she replied and patted her knee. ”I am surprised you are still alive. It is as I thought. Your hips are yet too small.”

“Yet?”

“Don’t fret, child,” Tito’s mother assured her and pulled the dress back down. ”You are completely healthy, but I would advise having another child in the next two years. By then you should be grown enough. And my tea has yet to fail me.”

Dany nodded her head in understanding.

“How do you know all this?”

Tito’s mother laughed and made her way to the hearth. She picked the pot of steaming water from the fire and filled it into two cups placed on a nearby table. Then she rose on her tiptoes and picked a handful of herbs from the bundle hanging above her head. She smashed the herbs between her hands and put them into the tea.

Then she settled down in front of Dany and handed her a cup.

The tea smelled like perfume, a mixture of lavender and something earthy.

“You are a curious child,” she remarked and sipped from her tea. ”No wonder Tito likes you and your husband.”

“As to your question,” she added and placed the cup on the ground beneath her feet.”My Father was a bó shì …a doctor at court…a healer. That is how I learned.”

“Court?” Dany asked. ”I don’t know much about Yi Ti…You have an Emperor if I am not mistaken?”

“The God-Emperor,” she said. ”But don’t be mistaken…it is not an emtpy title. They do actually think him a god. It is a ridiculous notion…as he is mortal like any other human being. My Father used to treat his bowel problems. I doubt a god would have problems emptying his bowels.”

“You don’t seem to like him very much,” Dany remarked and couldn’t help but to chuckle. She tried to imagine a god, being planted to his pot all day long. It was a ridiculous thought and she quickly brushed it away. ”And I wonder…How did you end up here if your father held such an important position?”

A bitter smile showed on her lips, but she answered nonetheless.

“My Father was not only a bó shi but also a tài jiàn …an eunuch…a man without a cock…he started out serving the God-Emperor’s many wives. No man with a cock is allowed in their presence…the same goes for doctors.”

“But how…,” she countered, but Tito’s mother was quicker.

“My mother was called Lady Sun…she was the daughter of the third Prince, but my father was a lowly court official. Both perished young and I was adopted by my Father who carried the surname Zhu. My full name is Zhu Yingtai…a silly name given to me by my sentimental father. He named me after the tragic heroine of his favorite tale, though he later claimed it was because I had a similar thirst of knowledge like her. Well, my Father was a well-respected man, but fell victim to a court intrigue. They executed him and I was sold into servitude…I rather not tell you the detail about these trials. Eventually, I escaped and came here. The people mistrusted me at first, but Tito’s father was much like my son, very curious...I think you you can imagine the rest of the tale.”

“I think I can,” Dany replied. ”I think I understand better than you know.”

She gave her a sad smile.

“You are lucky you know,” she added and rose back to her feet. ”I didn’t love Tito’s father…I married him because I had to survive. He liked me and so I played along. You can choose your path. I envy you a little, though I love my family and my husband was good to me. Tito told me that you are Princess…my mother was disinherited for marrying a lowly court official.”

“Jon is no commoner,” she corrected her. ”He is a Prince…at least that is the way I see it. He is my brother’s son…who was once meant to be a King, even though he was the son of his second wife.”

Understanding washed over her face.

“Don’t tell that to the others…they would think it strange for relatives to be wed. It doesn’t bother me, because my relatives are similar, especially the nobles. The God Emperor’s head wife is his half-sister.”

“I won’t,” she assured her and straightening her dress.

“I wonder,” Tito’s mother remarked. ”Now that you have dragons…Will you try retaking the throne that your family lost?”

“Jon says he is no Aegon the Conqueror…he doesn’t want to drench the Seven Kingdoms in blood,” she recounted his words to her. ”I think he just doesn’t’ want to use the dragons for revenge, though he thinks we should use them to fight the Dothraki.”

Curiosity showed on the other woman’s face.

“Fight the Dothraki?”

“Aye,” she confirmed proudly. “Jon thinks we could lure the Dothraki in a trap.”

“A trap,” Tito’s mother mused.”You seem to have a lot of confidence him him, don’t you?”

“I do, even if others don’t,” she replied confidently and picked the bottle from the table.

Then she stopped and gave her a last smile.

“I thank you, for your efforts. I will heed your advice.”

Margaery

Maegaery didn’t know how long she stood there watching over Renly’s body. At times she thought he would wake up again and give her one of his charming smiles. Then he would don his crown and they would repay Stannis for his vile murder.

Granted, she had no proof that it was Stannis, but she was there when Renly was slain. Whatever dark sorcery conjured this shadow that slew her husband and King, it carried Stannis Baratheon’s face.

Yet even Loras, who was grieving Renly, refused to believe her. He even wanted to execute Lady Brienne. Only Margaerys’ word kept him from doing something hasty.

Poor brother. Your love for Renly was true and now you suffered the greatest loss.

Margaery was fond of Renly, but she always knew that he didn’t desire her. He treated her like a sister and nothing more. Even when she offered to invite her brother in their bed did he refuse her attentions. Back then she felt insulted, but now she understood that this just showed what a good person her late husband was. He was always true to himself, even though he was sometimes behaved like a child.

They shouldn’t have celebrated one tourney after another, but her husband wanted to ascend to the crown in glory.

The Knights of Summer know nothing of war, her Lady Grandmother had told her on her wedding day. It was true. Her brother Loras was a gallant and a valiant fighter, but he never saw true war. He thinks it is like in the songs, full of glory and valiant deeds. Now he had experienced the first touch of war. Maegaery did as well, though less so than her sweet brother.

“Your Grace,” a shy voice snapped her out of her thoughts. It was Lady Brienne of Tarth. Not long ago she asked the Lady to become her sworn sword. Loras raged with anger, but Margaery trusted the Lady to keep her safe.

Margaery turned around and graced the Lady Knight with a sweet smile.

“Please don’t call me your Grace,” she corrected her kindly. ”I am no longer Queen. My husband is dead and I don’t carry his son.”

“Your Grace…,” Lady Brienne corrected, but Margaery’s smile cut her off.

“What brings you here?”

“Your Lady Grandmother calls for your presence. An envoy has arrived…from King’s Landing.”

An envoy from King’s Landing, she thought and felt a hint of apprehension washing over her. This was a surprise, but not completely unexpected. They might be traitors, but Tywin Lannister has few allies. Yet Margaery learned enough from her Lady Grandmother to know that Tywin Lannister cannot be trusted.

He intends to make use of my Lord Father’s desperation, she was sure. If Stannis is allowed to ascend the throne he will depose House Tyrell and place his Florent relatives in charge of the Reach. Tywin must know this.

“Very well,” Margaery replied and turned around, joining Lady Brienne at the entrance of the tent. ”Let us speak to this envoy.”

When she entered the tent she found her Lady Grandmother speaking to a stranger. He was garbed in a black travelling cloak, a silver mocking bird fastened at his chest.

He bowed low and smiled. It was a sly smile, not quite reaching his face.

“Your Grace,” he cooed sweetly. ”The tales about your beauty weren’t embellished.”

Empty flattery, she knew and put her mask in place.

She giggled portraying the flattered maiden.

“I thank you,” she replied sweetly and lowered her head. ”You have yet to state your name, my Lord?”

“I am Petyr Baelish…Master of Coin,” he declared proudly. I am also here to speak in the name of the King. He wishes to make you his Queen.”

Margaery was surprised by this blunt offer, though she did her best to hide it.

“I generous offer,” she replied at last when she felt her Lady Grandmother’s eyes burning into her back. ”But I assume Lord Tywi…no the King expects something in return. We are after all traitors who questioned the King’s legitimacy.”

Petyr Baelish’s smile betrayed nothing.

“The King ‘s good-will is known far and wide. He is prepared to forgive House Tyrell if you are prepared to fight his enemies, namely Stannis Baratheon.”

“Very kind of him,” her Lady Grandmother remarked more directly. ”But isn’t your gracious King pledged to wed Sansa Stark? What will her brother do once he hears about this?”

“Sansa Stark’s father is a known traitor and an allegiance with the North is not comparable with an allegiance to the Reach. Sansa Stark has nothing to offer. The King intends her to find her a proper match in time. As for her brother…the King will not make his true intentions known until Stannis Baratheon is vanquished. Once Stannis is defeated Robb Stark will have no one to rally around. I doubt he will find a cause to stage another rebellion.”

“And what guarantees us that your King will keep his word?” her Lady Grandmother asked, not backing down from her position.

Lord Baelish smile disappeared, his eyes taking an almost threatening glint.

“You are acting as if you are in a position to make demands, my Lady. The Hand of the King, Tywin Lannister guards the city against the approaching enemy. He will win this struggle…he has no need of the Reach to win this war. What he offers is not an allegiance, but a way to redeem yourself and show your loyalty to the true King.”

True King, Margaery mused, losing herself to distracting thoughts. Who is the true King? Renly thought himself better equipped than Stannis, but often acted as if wearing a crown is a child’s game. Stannis thinks himself the rightful King, because he is the older brother and because he can point back at King Robert’s claim. Robert Baratheon defeated Prince Rhaegar, but in the end it was his Targaryen blood that gave him his crown.

And now a Lannister bastard occupies Iron Throne. How the game can change.

Not that it would matter to her Lord Father. She loved him with all her heart, but she always knew that his ambitions stand above her own feelings.

He would marry me to a fool in a motely if it would bring me a crown.

“Granddaughter,” her Lady Grandmother called her back to the present. ”We are waiting for your answer.”

She wanted to curse herself for allowing her mask to slip. It seemed Renly’s death rattled her more than she wanted to admit.

She brushed those thoughts away and put on her mask.

“I would be honored to be his Grace’s Queen,” she replied and dipped her head.

Chapter Text

Jon

“What are you doing? “ Dany asked Jon and Tito, who sat on the carpet. Aemon sat not far from Jon and was gnawing on a wooden toy. It was a carved dragon Jon made for him not long ago, which was also quite noticeable. The carving look unrefined, but he doubted his son minded. He seemed to like the wooden dragon, given how often he was nibbling on it.

”Why are you two playing with Aemon’s toys?” she continued to ask after she spotted the rest of Aemon’s toys arranged on the carpet.

Jon shrugged his shoulders and graced Dany with a warm smile.

“We are not playing with Aemon’s toys…Tito and I were just trying to visualizing a way to fight against the Dothraki. Aemon’s toys are a great help,” he explained.

“These are the Dothraki,” he added and pointed at the two carved horses in front of Tito. Then he leaned back and pointed at the soldiers placed before Jon’s knees and at the flanks of the battlefield.”And these are our men.”

Dany wrinkled her brows and shook her head in disbelief.

“And what use are the twigs placed in front of our men?” she asked and jerked her head at the two pieces of wood placed before the men in front of Jon’s knees.

“A ditch,” Tito explained and leaned back on his hands. ”Jon’s thinks we should dig a ditch and lure the Dothraki there to trap them”.

Surprise showed on her face.

“And how do you intend to lure the Dothraki there?” she asked and pointed at the ditch. ”I know they are hot-headed, but I doubt they are stupid.”

“True,” Jon agreed. ”But I have an idea that could solve this problem. Do you recall the fog that covers the plains and valleys before sunset?

Realization washed over her face.

“The fog would hide your trap,” she surmised, but there was still a hint of discontent visible on her face. She looked even more beautiful like this: her amethyst eyes narrowed in concentration and her pink lips pursed as she pondered over their plan. ”But how do you intend to lure them there?”

“That would be my task,” Tito explained proudly.”I have scouted the landscape for an appropriate battlefield. I know the land better than anyone. It would be no problem for me to lure them there. I did this before in our campaign in Qohor.”

“I see,” Dany replied and pointed at the men placed at the flanks. ”You told me that the Dothraki attack in waves and that a khalasar can have up to thousand riders. How can you prevent them from simply overcoming your flanks and avoiding the ditch in front?”

“Well, the ditch is supposed to look more like a half-moon and will be dug between two hills. We could even use the earth to built the hills ourselves,” Jon explained and broke one of the twigs to place the two pieces at the flanks. It didn’t look like a half-moon, but he was sure that Dany had enough imagination to understand what he meant. ”The flanks would also be protected by a shield wall and archers. We could also put up stakes to keep the enemy at bay.”

“I see,” Dany replied and moved closer, kneeling down beside Aemon. His son eyed them each with wide grey-purple eyes. Jon could only imagine what he was thinking.

What are these stupid grown-ups doing with my precious toys?

“And how do you intend to employ the dragons?” she asked curiously.

“Simple… the dragon’s task would be to burn the trapped Dothraki,” he explained and picked one of the dragon figurines from the stack of toys placed next to Aemon. The second dragon was still in Aegon’s mouth.

“Like this,” Jon showed her and smashed the dragon into the Dothraki riders. Aemon followed suit and threw his own dragon on their own men. He gurgled happily and Jon patted his curly head. ”Good work, but next time you should attack the enemy.”

“They have arrows,” Dany countered quietly. ”The Dothraki could shoot the dragons from the sky and I doubt their flames are yet strong enough to burn all these warrior. They could still overwhelm our flanks or retreat.”

“I doubt the Dothraki would have time for that,” Tito added more seriously.”Jon suggested to fill the ditch with oil. The harvest of the firegrass was plentiful. All we would need is a few gallons and we could fill both the ditch and drench the battlefield. The rest would be left to the dragonfire.”

Dany shuddered and fell silent. At first he thought she was simply disgusted by their plan, but when she started to draw invisible lines behind the Dothraki warriors he knew she was merely pondering over their battle plan.

“You should have the dragons attack the rear once the brunt of the Dothraki force has entered the battlefield. Then they would be really trapped…in a ring of fire.”

“A pit of fire,” Tito added sardonically, a smile spreading over his lips. ”The only appropriate place for this bastards. Hell on earth.”

Jon didn’t add anything to Tito’s words. He held no love for the Dothraki, but he was only considering this plan, because it would be the only way to win. Tito told him that the Lhazareen would be able to muster around seven-thousand men-at-arms, by far not enough to fight a horde of Dothraki, but the use of the dragons shift the balance in their favour. Not that his plan would ever be accepted by the assembly, but it was a nice way to occupy one’s mind.

“And you intend to present this plan on the assembly?” Dany asked expectantly.

Jon shrugged his shoulders.

“I doubt they would listen,” he replied his gaze flickering to Tito. His friend nodded his agreement.

“My brother is very eager to fight, but the chiefs of Hesh and Kosrak are not like my brother. The chief of Hesh is a landowner and the chief of Kosrak is a former merchant. They prefer to stay on the safe side.”

“I see,” Dany replied and graced Tito with a smile. ”Will you stay for supper?”

Tito shook his head, despite the smile playing on his lips.

“My sister invited me to take supper with her children,” he explained and rose to his feet. ”Another time.”

“Another time,” Jon added and started to put away the toys. Aemon didn’t approve and started to wail. Jon let go of his task and picked him up. This never failed to calm his Aemon.

“All this work you and Tito put into this…it is a shame that nothing will come of it,” Dany remarked and pulled the pot from the cookfire. A pleasant smell filled Jon’s nostrils and he went to retrieve the bowls while carrying Aemon on the other arm.

“Here,” he said and placed them on the ground next to Dany. ”But you are right. It is a shame. Tito hopes he will be allowed to speak before the assembly.”

“Knowing Tito he might even convince these stubborn chiefs,” Dany replied and filled the bowls.

“True,” Jon replied and placed Aemon back on the carpet next to him. Then he picked the dragon from the heap of toys and handed it back to him. He smiled and started to gnaw again. Smelling the food, Ghost came to join them and placed himself on the carpet, probably hoping to get the leftovers, though he had already received a good amount of meat. ”But I doubt even Tito’s charm would be enough. The way he speaks about the chiefs makes them appear very…very stubborn. Well, whatever it is worth. I liked your idea,” he added and started to eat. It was rabbit stew spiced with the sharp fruits the Lhazareen liked to put into their food.

“My idea?” she asked, slightly confused.

“To attack the Dothraki from the rear,” he explained.”I didn’t think of that.”

She beamed and broke the bread.

“Speaking of battle plans,” she added amusedly. ”You said that you have too few men…I would also employ the women. Almost all of them know how to use a bow.”

“A short-range bow,” Jon corrected her, but her idea was not without merit. Shooting burning arrows on the enemy wouldn’t be hard to do and placed at the flanks even the arrows with the shorter range would be able to reach their enemy. ”But you are right. More men are always good…or better said more archers. Yet I doubt that the men would like to see their women fight against a Dothraki horde.”

Dany frowned at that and dipped the bread in the stew. She chewed quietly, before continuing to speak.

“Aren’t the women the ones who suffer the most when the Dothraki capture them? The men may get chained, but the women get raped. Do they not deserve revenge for all the woe instilled on them by the hands of the Dothraki?”

“Of course, they do,” Jon assured her, even if wouldn’t want her to fight.Yet Dany was stubborn and Jon would need her help to control the dragons. Besides, Arya would wash his ears if she ever heard Jon speak like this.

...

Daenerys

They placed three wooden chairs in the middle of the large courtyard, elevated above a hundred cushioned seats. The elevated seats belonged to the chiefs of the three major cities and the cushioned seats to the chiefs representing the smaller towns and hamlets. Above the wooden seats hung the banner of each of the three cities. The banner of Lhazosh showed a white sheep on a green background. The banner of Hesh showed a gallon of wheat and a vine of grapes. The banner of Kosrak showed a herd of black sheep on a white background.

As outsiders Dany and Jon would have usually been seated at the outer ranks, but Tito insisted they be seated next to him.

Thus Dany had a good view on the men that assembled here in Lhazosh. Chief Mallor headed the event and was garbed in his leather armour, a white pelt thrown over his shoulders. Below his feet rested his shield and spear. The chief of Kosrak was less impressive than Tito’s brother. He was big-bellied man who looked probably never saw a battlefield. The Chief of Hesh was thin like a reed and marked by age. Among the lower-ranked chiefs she found younger men, some of them carrying scars.

Chief Mallor tapped his spear on the ground to get the attention of the whispering crowd. At once they stopped and silence reigned.

A weary smile showed on Chief Mallor’s face as he addressed the two other chiefs in a friendly, but also formal tone.

“Be welcome here, brothers. I am thankful that you all came here. More than a week ago my men a Dothraki horde was sighted. This means it will only be a matter of time, before the first town falls prey to the plundering horde. I know your hearts are stricken by fear, but the attacks are constantly increasing. The Dothraki are like dogs. They smell our fear and they think us weak. We need to take up our spears to show them that we are not sheep waiting for slaughter. Only then will they stop their vicious attacks.”

The younger chiefs cheered, but the elderly men muttered and carried disapproving looks.

“They don’t look very enthusiastic,” Jon remarked quietly.

“No,” she agreed quietly and squeezed his hand. ”They don’t.”

Now the Chief of Kosrak spoke.

“Your words are daring, but I have no interest to sacrifice my men unnecessarily. How many Dothraki were sighted?”

“A horde of thirty-thousand…meaning around fifteen-thousand riders,” Chief Mallor recounted what Tito had told her only a few hours ago. ”We could muster around seven-thousand men if we band together. If we fight cleverly we could…,” he continued, but the coughing of the Chief of Hesh interrupted his speech. This earned the man snorts from Chief Mallor’s supporters.

He carried himself with the arrogance of a man that thought himself above the other men in the assembly.

“Why should we waste our men in another useless battle when we have our city walls to protect us against the enemy? The Dothraki barbarians will never be able to overcome our walls.”

His supporters clapped, but Chief Mallor’s dark gaze told her everything she needed to know. There was no good blood between these two men.

“Sadly, not all of Lhazar can be hidden away behind high walls, oh revered Chief!” mocked Chief Mallor.”And the day might come when the Dothraki shed their past ways and learn how to overcome our walls. But it is no surprise. You are old and you will probably never see this day.”

“You dare!” the old man snapped, but the young man seated at his side took his arm and whispered something in his ear. He had a similar sharp face. Dany believed him to be his son, though he lacked the soft body of his father. He was strongly-built and carried the scars of a warrior.

“I am only speaking the truth!” Chief Mallor shouted and tapped his spear on the ground as if the emphasis his point. ”Our fields will be burned, our wives will be raped and our people will be sold into slavery while we sit behind high walls. You speak so highly and consider yourself above the barbaric Dothraki, but you don’t want to lift a single finger to protect our people. I call that craven.”

“Enough!” the young man, who had calmed the old Chief of Hesh, shouted. ”My Father is still the revered Chief. You speak out of turn, Chief Mallor. My father was merely pointing out that such a fight would be a wasteful endeavour. His caution has nothing to do with cowardice. I know the strength of the Dothraki, but even I do not think we are able to win such a battle.”

“I agree with Young Jemshid,” the Chief of Kosrak added and leaned back in his chair. ”Such a fight would serve no purpose. Kosrak brought in the majority of its harvest. The barbarians can try to steal it from behind our walls.”

“No purpose,” Chief Mallor muttered angrily. ”And this coming from a man who never held a spear in his hand. Well, Lhazosh and even Hesh have yet to bring in the harvest. I would fight alone if I had the men to do so.”

“Do it then,” the Chief of Hesh added smugly. ”I am sure your forefathers will greet you in the next world for your valour, Chief Mallor. But please leave us out of this madness.”

“Madness,” someone repeated anda interrupted their exchange. Dany was not surprised that Tito’s mother dared to interrupt the man.

She promised to consider it.

”Why is protecting one’s people madness? Or are the walls of Hesh enough to protect all your people from the approaching enemy? Did you not swear on the Great Shepherd to guard your people like your own children? Or did you forget the vow you gave when you ascended to your position upon your father’s death twenty years ago. You might not, but I do.”

“Why does the woman speak?” he Chief of Hesh asked and acted as if he hadn’t even heard Tito’s mother.

“The woman is my late father’s wife,” Chief Mallor snapped. ”And you will show her the respect she deserves or I will cut out your tongue!”

“Do it then,” the elderly man taunted, but it was again Young Jemshids’ intervention that ended the impending fight.

“Father,” Young Jemshid said and patted his shoulder. ”Allow her to speak.”

“Very well,” the man grumbled. ”Speak then and I will try to listen.”

Tito’s mother smiled and turned to look at Dany.

Dany knew that this might happen, but she felt as if all air had been drained out of her body when as everyone started to look at her.

“Some of you might have heard about the foreigners residing in our city,” Tito’s mother explained and jerked her head at Dany and Jon.”And their dragons. Jon of Winterfell offered to employ them in our favour.”

Deadly silence reigned as their eyes burned into Dany’s. Jon looked confused, which was no surprise. Dany doubted he understood all they had said.

“Tito’s mother told them that we are prepared to employ our dragons in their favour,” she translated.

His eyes widened in surprise, understanding washing over his features. She had told him about her talk with Tito’s mother, but she gave no promise.

I will think about it, she had told Dany only yesterday.

“I see,” Jon said and straightened himself.

“It is true…we have dragons…and we intend to fight at your side,” Jon said in broken Lhazareen that earned him amused laughter from the younger children.

“We saw these dragons,” the Chief of Hesh remarked. He sounded unimpressed. ”They are not bigger than horses. How can they kill fifteen-thousand Dothraki screamers without getting pierced by their arrows?”

Dany frowned at that and decided to go for a more blunt approach. Only an hour ago saw Rhaegon and Sonarys circling over the city gates. They should hear well enough.

“Let me show you!” she declared and cleared her throat.

“Ñuha riñar! aōha muña brōzas syt ao!” she exclaimed once, twice and a third time.

Jon stared at her, but she was sure that he understood what she said. He was getting better at High Valyrian, though he liked to downplay his achievements.

After the third time the sound of wings drowned out the muttering of the crowd. First came Rhaegon, his wings as dark as the night, as he descended on the deserted part of the courtyard. Sonarys followed suit and landed not far away, his eyes fixed on Jon, as if expecting his command. Viserion came at last, his silver-streaked wings glimmering in the sunlight.

Silence reigned.

“You are right. The dragons cannot burn fifteen-thousand men alone,” Tito added his voice. ”But together we may be able to give the Dothraki horde a defeat they will never forget. Then they will finally understand that the Lhazareen are not as weak as they think.”

All were stunned, especially the Chief of Kosrak, who was trembling like a leaf. Only the Chief of Hesh continued to sneer in distrust while Chief Mallor smiled.

Did he know about their plans?

“Then show us what your dragons can do,  little girl,” he taunted, his dark eyes fixed on his.

Dany was tempted to fulfil his promise, but Young Jemshid was again the voice of reason.

“I don’t think a demonstration is necessary, but I have to agree with my father’s scepticism. I doubt your dragons can take up a horde of Dothraki. Their arrows are deadly,” he said in broken Bastard Valyrian, his eyes fixed on Dany.

Then Jon rose to his feet and met the young man’s gaze.

“True,” Jon agreed. ”But not if we are able to use the dragons to our full advantage,” he added and turned to look first at Tito and then at Chief Mallor. ”I have a plan…I don’t expect you to agree, but at least let me explain.”

“This is preposterous!” the Chief of Hesh snapped, but Young Jemshid raised his hand and winked at his father. Surprisingly, the man obeyed.

“I lead our man-at-arms. I want to hear him speak,” Young Jemshid declared and turned to look at Chief Mellor.”What do you say, Chief?”

A heavy moment of silence followed before Chief Mellor spoke, a seldom smile playing on his lips.

“We will hear Jon of Winterfell.”

Ser Barristan

For three days he had wandered through Braavos without rest. He asked every sailor, every peddler and every whore if they had heard something about dragons. Yet half of them didn’t either understand him or thought him mad.

He wanted to curse the Spider, yet he was still a man of the Kingsguard and desperation was driving him onwards.

But I am in dire need of rest , he knew and felt the weariness in his old bones.

A night of rest should help, he thought and made his way back to Ragman’s Port. Whores winked at him as he passed, peddlers sold their oysters and a little girl pointed at his white beard.

Brothels and taverns lined the long cobbled street, the smell of fish and salt his constant companion.

Barristan didn’t want to waste much coin and decided to rent a room in the brothel Happy Port . Naturally, the girls came swarming around him like a swarm of butterflies. Most of them could be his granddaughters, but that never kept whores from seeking out customers.

Tired, he settled on a table not far from the hearth. It had rained all morning and he was drenched from head to toe.

For a piece of coin of the girls brought him a bowl of soup and bread. She was a pretty girl, golden-haired and green-eyed, though it bothered him when she started to ask him questions.

Soon he also knew her name. Irina.

Maybe I should ask her. The other whores knew nothing of dragons, but it is worth a try.

“Say,” he addressed the girl and graced her with a grand-fatherly smile. ”Did you hear the rumours about the dragons?”

Surprisingly, the girl started to smile and nodded her head in confirmation.

“I did,” she said and took a sip from her cup of wine. ”But I have yet to see a dragon. Did you come here to find them?”

“Maybe,” Barristan replied vaguely and shrugged his shoulders. ”Where did you hear about the dragons? Any piece of information will earn you another piece of coin.”

The girl laughed, her voice soft like the sound of bells.

“There is a girl serving in the Temple of Light. She told my sister that she was there when the dragons were born. She said that a girl laid dragon eggs into a pyre and stepped inside.”

Barristan frowned at that. They say King Aegon the Unlikely tried to hatch dragons and burned down Summerhall. This story sounded just as mad, but it was better than nothing.

“Where can I find the girl who told you this wondrous tale?”

“She comes here almost every night to preach to the whores,” she answered. ”You could go to the Temple of Light or wait here. I am sure she will come. The other brothel owners don’t tolerate priests in their halls, but our Mistress is different. The girl’s mother was a good friend of her.”

Barristan nodded his head and sighed deeply. What do I have to lose?

“I will heed your advice,” he told the girl and sent her on her way. Then he finished his meal and returned to his room.

He slept for an hour before he returned to watch the coming and going of the guests. His time as a member of the Kingsguard should have thought him patience, but it was harder than expected.

Truly, Watching the coming and going of the guests was the only occupation he could find. It was no surprised that so many tongues mixed here at Happy Port. Men from all over Essos came here to enjoy the presence of the pretty whores, yet he found no Westerosi.

They prefer the better brothels , one of the girls had explained to him after striking up another conversation.

Thus when he spotted a man speaking in a strong northern accent he was rather surprised. When he spotted a merman embellished on his vest and cloak he was even more surprised.

House Manderly , he knew and took in the massive man surrounded by two guards. He was feasting on a massive piece of chicken, the grime running down his chin and neck. Two whores kept him company, one of them graced with massive breasts. Just looking at her made Barristan forget about his years of abstinence.

May the Mother give me strength , he muttered himself and gulped down his cup of wine.

“Oh, this one is like you,” Irina, who had joined him not long ago, remarked.”But he came here to find a boy and a wolf.”

“A wolf?” he asked in confusion.

“Aye, he came her to search for this boy with the white wolf. Marlyn was able to recall him. He stayed here for a week in company of a pretty silver-haired girl. She was one of us…they marked her with the tears of woe.”

“Tears of woe,” he muttered. ”What does that mean?”

“That she was a slave,” the girl continued to explain and jerked her head at the massive man.”The man also said that his Lord of…of ...Winterhell wants him to find the boy, because he is his brother…Or was it cousin?”

Robb Stark has no cousins other than the Lord of the Vale , he knew and rose to his feet. He didn’t know why, but the story woke his interest.

“It is good to find a fellow Westerosi among these strangers,” Ser Barristan remarked and graced the man with a smile. ”Where do you hail from, my Lord?”

The massive man put his goblet away, his face flushed red from the wine. Yet he graced Barristan with a jolly smile.

“White Harbour,” he replied and sent the whores on their way. ”Where do you hail from, friend?”

“The Stormlands,” he answered quickly. ”What brings you here to Braavos?”

“To find my Lord’s brother…his illegitimate brother. An important task my Lord Father thinks…well I cannot complain. The wine is good and I have my answers. Sadly, the boy left. I doubt my Lord will be pleased with this answer, but I can hardly search through all of Essos for a bastard boy that ran off with a whore.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time this kind of thing happens,” Barristan remarked. ”Pretty girls often cause boys to forget about their honour. Forgive my intrusion, I was just curious.”

“No bother,” the drunken Northman replied. ”I will stay few more days…to settle a few contracts. You may join me if you like…I am always happy to speak to a fellow Westerosi.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Ser Barristan replied, though rather disappointed. He hoped for more. Thus he spent the evening in company of Wylis Manderly. It was getting late when the promised girl appeared.

She looked just like Irina described her. Red-haired and blue eyed. She was also dressed in a crimson robe.

As expected, she walked around, spoke to the girls and preached about her god.

“Pretty girl, a shame that she serves this strange god…I heard Stannis Baratheon keeps one of them as his advisors…,” Wylis Manderly slurred, but Barristan rose to his feet and winked at the girl.

She started at him in confusion, but then she came to their table, a polite smile playing on her lips.

“What can I do for you?”

“I heard that you could provide me with an answer to my questions. Did you hear the rumour about the dragons?” he asked in low voice. The Northman next to him was barely listening, his thoughts clouded from the wine. Barristan doubted he understood what he was talking about, but he started to laugh when he heard about the dragons.

“Dragons…my you are a strange fellow,” he muttered and gulped down another goblet.

“I was there when the dragons were born…I was there when the God of Light granted us a miracle.”

Barristan smiled.

“Please tell me…Who woke the dragons and where does this person hide? I mean no harm to him or her.”

The girl looked hesitant, but she eventually answered.

“She called herself Dany and she came to live in my father’s house. She lived with a young man, her husband. Jon, they called him and he had a white wolf.”

“White wolf?” Manderly asked, suddenly stone sober. ”Are you sure this boy was called Jon? Can you describe what he looked like?”

“I am sure,” the girl confirmed and looked utterly confused. ”He had dark hair and grey eyes.”

“Gods be good!” Manderly exclaimed and nearly spilled the wine over the table, but Barristan was quick enough and caught the cup. ”And the girl…his wife…What did she look like?” he Lord continued with his questioning.

“She had silver hair and purple eyes…she said she is a Princess…and her son…she gave him the name of a dragonlord.”

Barristan gasped.

“Dragonlord?” he asked and shuddered. ”What name did she give the boy?”

“Aemon…for the Dragonknight,” the girl answered as if she was recounting a tale.

“Where did she go?” Barristan asked, still unable to believe what he just heard.

“Lhazar,” the girl replied and Wylis Manderly cursed.

“I fear the wine was too much,” Wylis Manderly muttered and rubbed his hands over his flushed face. ”Dragons…dragonlords…I am going mad.”

“Don’t fret, my Lord,” Barristan remarked and patted his shoulders. He felt the urge to laugh, but he knew that this was not the right moment. ”I don’t think you are going mad, but I doubt this is a coincidence. I think we are searching for the same people. I am searching for the girl, a Princess of House Targaryen, and you are searching for the illegitimate son of Lord Stark. I don’t know how, but it seems fate brought us together.”

Wylis Manderly stared at him in disbelief.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Ser Barristan smiled and rose to his feet.

“Ser Barristan Selmy,” he replied and lowered his head. ”My name is Ser Barristan Selmy.”

...

Chapter Text

Jon

Shrouds of white were hovering over the hills and valleys. It was hours before sunset, the sky of a deep navy blue colour, lightened only by few stars flickering on the distant horizon.

They took their positions long ago. Now they were waiting for the sound of horse hooves and the cry of the Dothraki horde. Jon knew the fear the Golden Horde could instil and so did the Lhazareen warriors, lined up behind the ditch that was meant to trap and stop the charge of the enemy. It took nearly three days to dig the ditch and several hours to fill it with oil. Finished with this task they went on to drench their chosen battlefield in oil. Most of it was covered in pasture and that it hadn’t rained for weeks could only be to their advantage, though Jon still feared the thick fog.

Tito had assured him that he would be able to lure the horde here, but Jon couldn’t help to nurse doubts. Soon, he told himself and eyed the light glinting on the distant horizon. In a few hours the sun will show itself.

Exhaling deeply, he turned around and took in the Lhazareen warriors. The front line was made up of men from Lhazosh and Kosrak. They were all garbed in leather armour and armed with spears and painted shields. They made up the first three lines and lined the half-moon-like ditch, spreading between two hills to the left and right. Behind the shieldmen stood the archers spread over the hill they had built from the dug-up earth.

A ring of fire.

It is the only way to win, he reminded himself not for the first time and smoothed his hand over the pommel of his sword. Carefully, he pulled the blade out and admired it. The torches, carried by the Lhazareen warriors, cast a golden glimmer on the polished blade.

The touch of Sonarys’ hot breath on his cheek roused him out of his lethargic state. The dragon lay curled next to him, staring out in the darkness.

He is searching for his brothers, he knew and cast his eyes to the right flank. There on the hill he placed Dany and most of the Lhazareen women, who volunteered to take part in the battle. Naturally, this roused dissatisfaction among the men, but the women came anyway, probably spurred on by Tito’s mother. Clad in leather armour and armed with bows they sat behind the shieldwalls, waiting for their enemy.

Jon was still worried about Dany’s safety. Rhaegon and Viserion were there to protect her, but that wasn’t enough to remove his fears. He knew the strength of the Dothraki horde. One stray arrow would be enough, but he couldn’t bring himself to banish her to the side-lines. Besides, he needed her to control the dragons and she deserved to be part of this as much as the other women.

“Jon of Winterfell,” Young Jemshid, son of the chief of Hesh, called him back to the present. ”Can you hear it ?

Jon remained silent and listened. It was only subtle, but the vibration intensified with every passing moment.

“I do,” Jon replied and nodded his head in confirmation. ”They are coming.”

“I know,” Jemshid agreed and gave him a grim look.

Then they heard it. The thundering sound of a thousand hoofbeats shook the very earth as Jon tried to see through the fog.

Tito and his men are to join the men placed at the flanks once they reach the battlefield and the numerous torches flickering before him are meant to lure the Dothraki towards them. Tito was sure that the Dothraki wouldn’t hesitate to attack them.

They think us weak, Tito had told him not long ago. And that will be our advantage.

Jon didn’t know what to think. His hand trembled as he observed the enemy’s cavalry charge. Even the thick fog was unable to suppress the rumble of the hoof beats; rather, the concealment of their approaching figures only served to heighten the sense of impending doom.

Men liked to boast about their lack of fear in the face of the enemy, but in this moment Jon recalled Lord Stark’s words after Jon’s first execution.

One can only be brave in the face of fear.

“Shields and spear up!” he heard Young Jemshied’s voice, echoing over the ranks of the warriors below. ”Shields and spears up!”

It took only the blink of a moment before the men had lifted their shields and spears to meet the onslaught of the horde. Jon remained atop the hill, the banner of Kosrak and Lhazosh fluttering above his head and his dragon at his side.

The dragon shrieked as if aware of the impending danger.

“Patience,” he whispered to the dragon and patted his neck. ”Patience.”

Yet all of these thoughts were banished away as the cries of the Dothraki screamers started to echo over the battlefield. Jon finally saw them, dark shadows moving behind white shrouds.

Tito’s predictions proved right. The Dothraki riders stormed forward as if they could only see victory beyond the fog. Faster and faster they charged, spurred on by their illusion.

Jon’s breath hitched as the first riders disappeared in the ditch. It wasn’t all too deep, but not narrow enough to be crossed with a horse. Suddenly, hundreds of riders realized that the ground beneath their feet had disappeared. With helpless shouts, some of them pulled back on their reins, but it was already too late. They hurtled down into the ditch filled with slippery oil.

Thus it continued. The first wave of riders was pressed forward by the second line. The second wave of riders was pressed forward by the third line.

Soon the screams of horses contested with the cursing of the Dothraki warriors. As expected, some of them tried to crawl out of the ditch, but the Lhazareen warriors’ stood strong and held them off with their sharp spears and shields.

“It is time,” he told Young Jemshid, who nodded his head in grim determination.

“Prepare the arrows!” Young Jemshid commanded and at once the bowmen nocked their burning arrows.

“Nock!” Young Jemshid shouted and counted to three. ”Loose!”

It sounded like the wings of a thousand birds taking flight at once.

Like a hundreds falling stars they fell upon the battleflield.

Another volley of arrows followed, before Jon’s part was mean to begin.

Sweetly, he smoothed his hand over Sonarys’ wings and gave the command.

“Sonarys!” he shouted and pointed at the ditch below.”Dracarys! Dracarys!”

In the blink of a moment the oil caught fire, spreading along the ditch like a current of flames. Jon felt the heat on his skin, but that was not the end of it.

“Māzigon kesīr!” he shouted and at once his dragon returned to his side, the screams of men and horse alike filling his ears. Their burning arrows they had unleashed earlier helped to spread the flames over the battlefield.

It was a terrifying sound that made Jon shiver from head to toe, but he quickly brushed those feelings aside.

Not now!

“Now,” he told the beast and pointed ahead on the battlefield.”Dracarys! Pōntoma Zālaza!”

That the dragon understood his command was still a miracle to him, though the result was terrifying to behold.

Sonarys’ bathed the battlefield in a stream of blue fire. At once the flames, seeded by the burning arrows, doubled in size.

Higher and higher the flames rose as Sonarys unleashed stream of fire upon the battlefield.

“Jon!” Young Jemshid shouted and snapped him back to reality. ”The beacon was lightened!”

Jon angled his head and looked at the right flank. There he saw it, the beacon that was meant to announce the second phase.

Now it’s your turn Dany!

Jon kept his gaze fixed at the dark hill, its outlines illuminated by the growing flames below. In regular intervals he heard the sound of arrows unleashed on the enemy, but soon even this sound was drowned out by the roaring flames.

Patiently, he waited for Rhaegon’s and Viserion’s attack.

At first he only saw the outline of their bodies, but then he saw their colourful flames. Visieron’s yellow and Rhaegon’s crimson flames, waltzed over the rear and made an escape impossible.

For this brief moment the battlefield turned into a ring of fire.

Daenerys

The world was on fire. Flames of blue, red and yellow grew higher and higher, swallowing up the enemy like a hungry men his last supper. Dany shuddered at the sight, though she tried to put a brave face. She had never experienced war, only read about it in history books.

She tried to block out the smell of burned flesh and the arrows bouncing off their shields. Down below the hill she spotted Dothraki riders trying to hop over the sharp stakes and barricades. Their flank was better protected than the opposing one due the thick forest spreading below the hill. Yet Tito and his brother Hibal urged their men to remain vigilant.

“Shields and spears up!” she heard them shout as they continued to thrust their spears into approaching enemies.

Dany tried to forget about them, minding her own task. She had unleashed a dozen of arrows on them. Yet the increasing number of Dothraki riders trying to overcome the barricades and stakes worried her.

We are all dead if they reach us. We would be trapped. Not even the dragons would be able to help us.

“Arrows!” Tito warned and all of them ducked their heads. Some arrows snapped over their heads, but a good dozen of them stuck in the shields of the Lhazareen warriors. ”Keep your shields up!”

A rush of fear washed over her as she gazed across the sea of flames stretching as far as her eyes could see. Somewhere over there was Jon. At least she thought so, for she saw Sonarys hovering over the burning ditch. The flames there were unnaturally high and bright. Dany had never seen anything like it.

Rhaegon and Viserion were still attacking the rear, though less enthusiastic than before. For her it seemed they grew bored with their task, but that was no surprise to her. They had the mind of young children.

“Arrows!” Tito warned again a moment later he found one sticking in his shield. Several others bounced off their painted shields or flew over their heads. Some of the women started to whimper, but Larsha showed no mercy.

“Crying is no use,” the young woman snapped and shifted her attention to Tito, armed with his shield and spear. Whenever an enemy rider dared to get close he thrusted his spear with a precision that astounded Dany. ”Keep shooting! If they get up here we are all fucked!”

Fear washed over Dany s she watched the dark shapes of the riders glimmering in the rising sun. The sky had lightened a little, though a a strange darkness had spread over the other side of the battlefield. The fire was unnaturally bright, but the dark smoke blocked out the sparse sunlight.

Nocking another arrow she turned back to look at the dragons circling above their heads.

Would they hear me from the distance, she wondered and unleashed an arrow on an approaching warrior. The arrow hit his horse right in the neck. The animal reared and at once the man ended up in the mud only to be killed by another arrow. Jon had told her once that a knight in plate armour wouldn’t be easily vanquished by such arrows. Thus it relieved her that that the Dothraki were only clad in painted vests, though they were still terrifying in their own right. Another enemy would have long balked after a greater part of their arm got destroyed, but not the Dothraki.

“Arrows!” Tito warned again and Dany lowered her head. One of the girls, not far from her, was hit and whimpered in pain.

“More arrows!” one of the Lhazareen warriors shouted and another volley was unleashed upon them.

“Why are they all coming here?” Larsha asked in a frustrated voice. ”This position is much harder to take than the other one…,” she continued, but was interrupted by an arrow snapping past her head.

Too close, Dany thought, her heart hammering wildly in her chest. Too close.

“You are right,” Tito remarked and pulled his shield over his head to cover them. ”But the dragons might have lured them here. The Dothraki probably held their reserve back and watched us. They only started to attack us after your dragons burned the rear.”

“I could call the dragons back and set the forest below us on fire,” she offered though that was a more than dangerous suggestion. At the moment the wind was in the favour, but one change and they would all burn to death.

“No,” Tito replied and shook his head. ”I will light the beacon…to inform the others about our peril.”

“But they might need the men on the other side…,” she countered, but Tito shook his head.

“It seems we were wrong and they decided to focus their attack on this position. Besides, Jon would cut off my balls if I allow something to happen to you. He specifically told me to alarm him if anything is amiss,” he replied and gave her a reassuring smile. ”Keep shooting and all will be well!”

“You heard my brother!” Larsha shouted at the other women. ”Keep shooting those arrows!”

Jon

Higher and higher the flames danced, hovering above them like a fiery fist. Jon could only watch in silence, his hand gripped around the hilt of his sword.

So much destruction, he thought, a strange feeling of sickness settling in his stomach. I never have seen such high flames. Was this due to the oil or the dragonfire?

He felt the heat on his skin, touching him, trying to devour him. For a brief moment he feared being swallowed up by the flames, but Young Jemshid ordered the men to retreat back to a safe distance.

Even the hardened warrior grimaced at the destruction, but didn’t lose sight of the battle.

“The left flank is asking for our assistance,” Young Jemshid remarked.”I will collect our men and lend Chief Mallor our help.”

“Do that, but leave the mounted men here,” Jon asked of him, his gaze fixed on the right flank, a bright light burning on the hills like a candle on an inky candlestick. ”The way to the right flank is much longer and the distance is easier to bridge atop a horse. It seems the Dothraki decided to attack both sides.”

Young Jemshied frowned, but accepted his decision.

“I will do as you ask,” Young Jemshid agreed quickly. ”This is their last stand. It will soon be over.”

“It will soon be over,” Jon agreed and turned around to whistle. Ghost, who had observed the battle with impatience, was quickly at his side as he mounted his horse. Sonarys was still circling above his head, observing the sea of flames below.

Three-hundred men, riding under the command of Tito’s cousin, set out to strengthen the right flank.

Jon spurred his horse onwards, his eyes burning from the smoke. The smell of burned human flesh lingered in his nose and mouth. It was a sweet smell, with a hint of decay. When he was watching the flames from behind the ditch he hardly smelled it, but now it washed over him like a wave.

Not now, he thought and forcefully brushed those distracting thoughts away. Not now.

He spotted the enemy from afar. It was hard to say how many of them were still out there, but their sight was enough to send Jon’s heart racing.

Dany I am coming.

“After me!” Tito’s cousin shouted and lifted his spear. His men followed and Jon did the same, Ghost following after him like a loyal shadow.

It was good that they had scouted these lands a thousand times. It made it easier to make their way through the thick forest.

The enemy didn’t see them coming.

Jon buried his sword in the first enemy he found. Blood splattered over his cloak as the men dropped from his horse. Another one followed, but this one pulled himself back to his feet only to be killed by a Lhazareen warrior. One tried to unhorse Jon, but Ghost was quicker and buried his sharp teeth in the horse’s neck, tearing out flesh and bones.

Thus the killing continued.

Cut. Hack. Cut. Hack.

It was like a prayer on his lips and soon he forgot the pain he always felt when trying to lift his arm. The pain was a gift from his maiden battle in Qhohor. Yet the pain was still there, like a distant echo.

Another Dothraki rider was hurled from his horse as he buried his blade in the animal’s neck. Arrows hissed through the air and Jon quickly moved his horse to the left side to evade the deadly missiles. This happened once, twice but only at the third time was his horse hit. The animal reared and he stumbled to the ground. He heard the sound of cracking bones, but was able to return to his feet.

Not wasting a moment he picked up his sword and met the curved blade of a Dothraki warrior. Steel met steel, bringing forth a ringing sound. Left and right the blades met in a wild dance, but Jon was quicker and dealt the man a cut to the left. He whimpered, his hand gone, nothing more left than a bleeding stump.

Jon wasted no time and dealt him a cut to the neck. He wheezed for air and collapsed from his horse in a puddle of blood.

Ghost unhorsed another one while Jon attacked the next one and buried his blade to the hilt. Suddenly, his heart knew no fear, only the song of steal and blood.

Daenerys

The sun had finally risen above the horizon, casting the scorched plain in a bloody glimmer. There was not much left, but ash and bones.

The smell of death filled her nostrils and her eyes burned from the smoke. Above the sky she spotted Rhaegon and Viserion, unperturbed by the past events. For them all of this was a game.

Dany couldn’t say how many warriors perished in the flames, but she knew that they won.

A shattering defeat will make the Dothraki think twice before they attack again, Jon was convinced and she believed him. Yet she was unable to shrug off the gloomy feeling as she followed after the other women. Only twenty died, but several of them suffered arrow wounds. The rest of them remained relatively unharmed, though almost all of them were covered in ash and sooth.

Even now flames were rising from the battlefield, sending plumes of dark smoke into the air. The sky was no longer clear blue, but dark and threatening. Dark dreary clouds hung over them, ready to pour down their load of rain.

Dany hoped for it. Her throat was dry and she longed to wash off the ash and guilt.

She tried to kill before, but this was different.

Thousands of Dothraki warriors perished in the flames. The thought alone made her shiver, though they won a victory.

Yet there was no cheering. Most were just relieved that the battle was over.

Amidst this chaos she found Jon, stumbling over the dead bodies. She was only able to differentiate him from the other men, because Ghost was there, his fur covered in ash and blood.

Jon’s face was pitch black as if someone touched his head in a pot of ink.

Ghost was the first one to spot her and came running towards her, licking her hand as if he was searching for something to eat.

“There you are boy,” she said and patted his head, before making her way towards Jon.

By then he had turned around and brushed his hand over his face.

“It is over,” he said, in hallow almost gloomy voice. His eyes were red from the smoke, almost bleeding.

He looked terrible as if someone had cast a shadow over him.

“We won,” she said, allowing herself to smile in relief. He didn’t return his smile and only pulled her into a tight embrace, burying his head in her shoulder.

“Jon,” she asked as he trembled. ”What is wrong?”

Then she felt something wet on her face. She lifted her head to the sky.

Then it started to rain.

Yet it was no common rain.

The rain was as black as ink.

Sansa

The throne room was filled to the brim and Sansa was barely able to get a glimpse at her gallant King. Joffrey was clad in crimson and gold, a gilded crown resting on his golden locks.

He looks like a true King, she thought and was barely able to calm her quickly beating heart. My King. My love.

The only thing that dimmed her mood was that she wasn’t allowed to stand at his side. She even felt a hint of jealousy washing over her when she spotted the Queen Mother standing next to Joffrey.

Her smile was as brilliant as a star and her garments were even finer. Garbed in a dream of red silk she gave the appearance of a ruby.

Lord Tywin was not far, standing at the feet of the Iron Throne, the ugly barbed chair once forged by Aegon the Conqueror. He was clad in a long flowing cloak of red velvet. His golden armour, embellished with lions, was polished like a looking glass. She half expected him to ride on his white stallion like he did on the day he met Stannis Baratheon in battle.

Sansa didn’t see the battle, but heard enough from the men to understand that it was a brutal fight.

The wildfire feasted on Stannis Baratheon’s fleet, she had heard from Joffrey’s mouth. He had spent all evening enthralling her with his tales, describing to her in detail how he slew one enemy after another. The Hound had told her that it was a mere tale, but she didn’t believe him.

Surely, her King wouldn’t lie to her?

He was earnest when he promised her to spare her Lord Father’s life. Arya may think what she pleased, but it was Sansa who pleaded for her Lord Father’s life.

She knows nothing, she reminded herself. At the bottom of the steps, leading up to the throne the Kingsguard assembled, every single one of them clad in a cloak as white as snow. They all looked splendid, even though she noticed Ser Barristan’s absence. She knew why the King had to dismiss him, but he was always kind to her and thus she couldn’t help but to feel sad.

My brother Jaime will make a better Commander of the Kingsguard, the Queen had told her not long ago.

Sansa brushed those thoughts away and watched as the Tyrell family stepped before the King they betrayed.

Yet Sansa couldn’t help but to be awed by the splendour of Highgarden. All their knights wore polished armour and wore cloaks of a deep green colour, each embellished with a golden rose.

Lord Mace Tyrell was a man close to her Lord Father’s age, his golden-brown hair streaked with grey. In his youth he might have been a gallant man, but his girth gave him the appearance of a man who grew too satisfied with his life. His two sons, Ser Garlan and Ser Loras, outshone him in every aspect. Ser Garlan was a tall, broadly-built man and graced with golden-brown hair. His brother Ser Loras was graced with softer-featured, but Sansa knew that this was no indication for his lack of strength. Ser Loras’s bravery in battle had spread throughout the whole city. Every maid in the castle sighed as he rode through the city. The Tyrells may have betrayed the King, but the smallfolk love them well.

Sansa’s love for Joffrey was true, but she couldn’t help but to admire Ser Loras.

May the maiden forgive me.

At last Lady Margaery Tyrell appeared, coming to stand beside her Lord Father. She wore a gown of pale silk and a green cloak, embellished with the golden rose of House Tyrell. She wore her curling brown hair open, a single white flower placed in her soft locks.

She looked like the maiden reborn and Sansa couldn’t help but to feel a hint of jealousy.

I will be Joffrey’s Queen, she knew and brushed these treacherous thoughts away. The Tyrells redeemed themselves, but I will be Joffrey’s Queen.

The hall fell silent. All she heard was the soft breathing of the lords and ladies standing behind her.

Then her King straightened himself and began to speak.

“Lord Tyrell,” Joffrey addressed the Lord of the Reach in a raised voice. ”We rejoice that you have recognized your error and came to aid us in our fight against my treacherous Uncle. House Baratheon will not forget your valour in battle and the help you lent us on this bloody day, but your King still expects you to renew your oath of loyalty. Let everyone hear that you abandoned your past allegiance.”

Lord Tyrell’s face was slightly flushed as he knelt before his King and renewed his vows.

He spoke in a low and almost soft voice. Sansa heard only whispering, but Joffrey’s smile relieved her. The Tyrells chose a wrong path, but they helped to save the city. They deserve to be forgiven.

Like my Lord Father.

“We forgive House Tyrell,” the King said at last. ”You may rise, Lord Tyrell. You may rise.”

Joffrey smile was bright, but the Queen’s smile was even brighter. In that moment she looked like a proud lioness, her locks falling around her shoulders like a mane of beaten gold.

Lord Tyrell muttered something in return and kept his head fixed on the ground.

“I thank you, your Grace,” she heard Lord Tyrell’s whispering.

“No need, my Lord,” he replied politely, the smile banished from his lips as he descended down the steps.

As he reached the bottom of the steps he swept his red cloak over his shoulder, his gaze fixed on the Maid of Highgarden.

“There is no need for gratitude,” the King added and stepped towards the young girl. ”My Lord Grandfather and Hand of the King informed me about our betrothal and marriage. Being able to behold your beauty makes this task all the more enjoyable.”

Betrothal and marriage, she repeated and froze. It can’t be!

It felt as if the sun was banished from the sky, all her happiness taken from her in this fateful moment.

“I thank you for your kind words,” the Maid of Highgarden replied softly and lowered her head in reverence. ”I am honoured by this offer, your Grace.”

Joffrey smiled at the Maid of Highgarden like had smiled at her. It was his mother’s smile, bright as a star.

Sansa trembled.

This can’t be right. He made a promise…he made a promise to Robb.

She wanted to say these words out loud, but she didn’t dare.

Sickness washed over her as she watched Joffrey place a kiss on Lady Margaery’s hand.

I can’t be, she thought again and refused to believe it. He promised his love to me.

Anger seized her in that moment and it took all her composure to keep her tears at bay.

The rest of the ceremony was nothing more than a blur. When it was done, she dismissed her ladies and rushed outside to hide her shame.

I cannot allow them to see my tears, she thought but they came anyway, rolling down her cheeks in a river of salt.

They did it behind my back, she realized and balanced herself against the wall.

“Sweet child, don’t cry!” a soft and familiar voice called her back to the present. Quickly, Sansa brushed her tears away and turned around, trying to give an indifferent appearance in front of the Master of Coin.

“I am not crying,” she replied, though he clearly saw the redness of her cheeks.

“Yes, you are,” Lord Baelish remarked and handed her an embroidered handkerchief. ”And you should dry your tears. Beauty like yours shouldn’t be tainted by tears.”

“It seems I am not as beautiful as the Maid of Highgarden,” she declared, not hiding her anger at the King. He never loved me. His promises were nothing more than empty lies.

“I doubt your beauty has anything do with it, sweet child,” Lord Baelish remarked and winked his hankerchief before her head.

She smiled. His words were like balm on her broken heart.

His smile even brightened as she took the hankerchief and brushed her tears away.

“Why then?” she asked, desperate for an answer. ”You serve the King. Did he speak his thoughts to you? Please tell me…”

“Because the Maid of Highgarden has something you don’t have…swords and gold,” he explained and brushed his hand over her cheek. A strand of hair had escaped her braided hair. ”Don’t fret about it, my Lady. You deserve much more…so much more.”

She didn’t know what to make of his words.

Was he just trying to be kind to her?

“I thank you for your kind words, my Lord,” she replied at last and wanted to return his hankerchief.

“Keep it, my Lady,” he replied and bowed his head. ”More tears might follow, but know this: You have a friend in me as did your Lady Mother.”

“I thank you again,” she replied and lowered her head. He smiled almost softly and grasped her head to place a kiss on her knuckles.

Then he left her standing there, all alone.

Everything came crushing down on her in this moment.

She was alone, utterly alone. She cast away everything to have Joffrey’s love.

Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks and her heart hardened against the King.

Ser Barristan

Hills and valleys of pasture spread before them. He and Lord Wylis had travelled for weeks. The lands of Lhazar were wide and dry. It hardly rained, though the nights could get rather chilly.

Ser Barristan was used to the pleasant weather of King’s Landing, but his armour kept him warm enough. Ser Wylis was different.

The constant heat was a pain for him. Even now he was sweating like a pig and never failed to complain about his task.

“How did a Princess of House Targaryen end up in a brothel?” he asked not for the first time.

Ser Barristan didn’t answer immediately. The very thought of seeing Queen Rhaella’s daughter being subjected to such humiliation made his blood boil.

“I heard that the Princess and her brother fell victim to an assassination,” he answered vaguely. He and Ser Wylis may share a common goal, but he was still a Northman and he intended to be careful. ”I thought them dead, but then I heard of the dragons. Now I know the truth. The Princess is alive and I owe her my sword.”

Ser Wylis frowned and brushed the sweat from his brow.

“And a year ago you still served King Robert,” the man countered, but Ser Barristan knew what he was really trying to say. Why would you want to serve a runaway whore wed to a bastard?

“King Robert is dead…a bastard occupies the throne,” he replied more sharply than he intended. “Or do you believe that Lord Eddard Stark committed treason?”

“No,” Lord Wylis replied with utter conviction. ”Lord Stark confessed treason to protect his daughters. There is no doubt that the King is a bastard.”

“Something we can agree on,” Ser Barristan replied and kicked his boots in the sides of his horse.

They were riding along a swirling rode when he spotted the city they were searching for. Lhazosh.

The girl in Braavos didn’t know where Jon Snow and the Princess travelled, but almost everyone in Lhazar heard of the two foreigners and their dragons.

Ser Barristan didn’t believe his ears when they shared their fantastical tales.

The dragons burned a whole horde of Dothraki, they had told him, but Barristan was unable to believe it. The dragons couldn’t be older than a year. How could they be this powerful?

“Lhazosh,” Ser Wylis remarked and pointed at the city walls. ”It looks like they described it: A city with high pale walls.”

“It does,” Ser Barristan agreed, but stilled when he spotted the creatures blocking out the sun.

“Gods be good!” Ser Wylis Manderly shouted and pointed at the sky. For a brief moment Barristan thought he might collapse from his horse. His guards were not different, their faces pale like snow.

“Dragons!” Ser Barristan gasped, his eyes fixed at the creatures flying above their heads. They were as big as horses, their brightly-coloured skin glittering like diamonds. One dragon had blue skin like the summer sea, one dragon had wings as dark as the night sky and another dragon had silver wings.

Ser Barristan was elated.

I found them. Finally.

He ignored the Northmen and led his horse towards the city gates.

The people of Lhazosh eyed them curiously, but none of them were rude or unfriendly.

Yet it was hard to find someone who was able to speak their language.

It took a while, before they found a merchant, clearly a Lhazareen, who was able to speak Bastard Valyrian.

“I am seeking an audience with the owner of these gracious dragons,” he explained his purpose.

The man gave him a strange look, but answered nonetheless.

“You have to go to the Chief’s home…Chief Mallor is his name,” he explained and pointed down a large street lined with trees and carts. ”Go down the street and cross the large courtyard…the guards will stop you, but they will understand you. Chief Mallor is a learned man.”

“My thanks,” Ser Barristan relied and wanted to hand him a coin, but the man refused.

They did as they were told and found the Chief’s house without much effort. As expected, the guards stopped them.

“I am here to seek an audience with the owner of the dragons,” he explained his purpose again.

“What is your name?” one of them inquired mistrustfully.

“I am Ser Barristan Selmy, I was a knight in the service of Princess Daenerys’,” he explained and turned around to point at Lord Wylis Manderly.

“I am Lord Wylis Manderly…I came to find Jon,” he explained plainly and without much fanfare.

“Jon,” the man said, recognition washing over him. ”I know Jon of Winterfell. I will call for him if you state your business.”

Lord Manderly frowned.

“His brother… Lord Robb of Winterfell sent me to speak with him,” he explained.

“His brother,” he muttered and nodded his head in understanding. Then he opened the gates and called for one of the younger guards.

Ser Barristan didn’t understand what he told the young boy, but a moment later disappeared.

Then he led them into an airy courtyard. A horde of children played there, throwing balls at each other. They eyed him and one cheeky girl even pointed a finger at him.

They stopped before a staircase and the children giggled. Ser Barristan tried to ignore them, but it was harder than expected. Their bright laughter made his head squirm and he felt strangely anxious.

“There they are!” the young guardsman from earlier said and pointed at Ser Barristan and Lord Wylis Manderly.

Behind him Ser Barristan spotted two young people.

One was a girl, clad in pale robes and sandals. One could have thought her a sheep herder, but her pale silver hair and her bright purple eyes told him that his long travel was not without merit.

Next to her stood a young man, but Ser Barristan was unable to make out his face from the distance. He was neither tall nor small, his tanned skin framed by black hair.

“Who do you bring, Hibal?” the girl asked, her voice soft and filled with curiosity.

“Ser Barristan,” the man answered and pointed first at Ser Barristan and then at Lord Wylis Manderly. ”And this one seeks Jon…he says his brother sent him here.”

“Robb sent you,” the boy said, astonishment evident in his voice. Finally, he stepped from the shadows, his grey eyes searching Lord Manderly’s gaze. ”Why?”

“To take you home,” the Lord explained plainly. ”Why else?”

The boy opened his mouth as if to speak, but then he stopped. Abruptly, his gaze flickered to Ser Barristan.

“Barristan Selmy?” he asked in disbelief. ”The Barristan Selmy?”

He sounded almost like a little child and Ser Barristan felt a hint of sympathy washing over him.

The boy didn’t waste another moment and explained Ser Barristan’s relationship with the Princess’ family.

“This man…he is very famous…he used to serve your family,” he told the Princess.

Ser Barristan, thankful for the help, made his way up the steps and dropped to his knees.

The girl paled, her eyes wide in shock.

A trembling smile curled on her lips.

“Did you know my Lady Mother…and my Lord Brother?”

He couldn’t help but to smile and took her hand. She was clearly surprised by this gesture, but didn’t appear frightened.

“Of course I did,” he replied and winced at his trembling voice. ”You are her very image…and your Lord Brother Prince Rhaegar was a good friend of mine. I still weep for his loss.”

Ser Barristan felt relief washing over him as he noticed the Princess’ tears.

“You are welcome, Ser Barristan,” she began, but the boy frowned. His hand was resting on the pommel of his blade, though Ser Barristan was sure that the boy knew what kind of an enemy he would have to face.

“You served King Robert,” the boy said in an almost icy voice. ”Why are you suddenly prepared to change your loyalty?”

“King Robert is dead,” he explained bluntly. ”And his son dismissed me…but the boy is no true King. He is a bastard. There is much you need to hear.”

“Maybe,” the boy replied and his hand fell to his side. ”But I will kill you if you try to fool us.”

“No harm will come to you or the Princess,” Ser Barristan assured him and dropped the Princess’ hands.

“I am a traitor…you may kill me if you wish,” he told her and dropped his head.

A moment of silence followed before she started to laugh.

“Why would I want to kill you?” she asked, her voice brimming with emotions. ”I want to hear about my family. I doubt a headless man would be able to do that.”

Ser Barristan didn’t believe his ears and met her gaze.

“Nothing would please me more.”

“Good,” she said and jerked her head at Jon, a smile lightening up her face. ”But it is not I you should kneel to…Jon is my brother’s son…Prince Rhaegar’s son.”

Barristan thought he misheard, but he found no hint of dishonesty displayed on her face.

Silence stretched between them as she stared at the boy.

He still carried the same unreadable look, his features a grimace of mistrust.

Suddenly, his eyes were no longer grey, but dark as the night. These eyes were familiar, but maybe his mind was trying to play a trick on him. He was an old man and his eyes were growing weak.

“I don’t understand…,” he muttered helplessly, but the finally provided him the answer he was searching for.

“Aye” he admitted in an almost sour tone. ”Lady Lyanna Stark is my mother and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen is my father.”

Chapter Text

Jon

The smell of roasted fish and sheep mixed with the smell of spices, but Jon felt no urge to eat. Their guests were different. Both Ser Barristan and Lord Wylis Manderly ate as if they hadn’t seen a proper meal in weeks. For Jon that was a surprise, because their food was nothing special. It was surely nothing compared to the dishes they received at home. Especially, Ser Barristan must miss the delicacies of the south.

“I apologize for the meagre meal, but we didn’t expect guests,” Daenerys explained and handed Ser Wylis Manderly a bowl filled with steaming meat and vegetables. His Lord Father was massive man, but his son was of no slender built either. It looked quite amusing how he tried to fit himself on the cushioned seat beneath his wobbling girth. Ser Barristan, thin and agile, looked almost out of place next to Lord Wylis Manderly.

“It is no bother,” Lord Wylis Manderly replied politely and spooned the food into his mouth. It was not enough, but Jon doubted Lord Wylis intended to stay for long. Ser Barristan was another matter.

“Ser Barristan,” Jon addressed the elderly knight. ”You mentioned that King Joffrey dismissed you. May I ask why he would do something foolish like that? Surely, the King is aware of your reputation.”

Ser Barristan’s gaze darkened and he put down his bowl.

“I don’t think it was the King’s decision. The Queen Mother wanted me gone. She always wanted her brother to rise to the position of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. The reason was ludicrous. She accused me of negligence when I …,” he continued, but stopped abruptly, a strange expression washing over his face.

“Gods…I am a fool,” he muttered to himself and craned his neck to look at Jon. He looked regretful, as if he was about to apologize, but then he stopped himself and cleared his throat, before he continued to speak. ”I think it is best when I start at the beginning…I met Lord Eddard Stark not long ago when he still occupied the position of Hand of the King. Now both Lord Stark and I find ourselves removed from our positions, though due to different reasons. Lord Eddard Stark was victim of a betrayal, though I admit his actions were quite risky given his weak position at court. Now I regret that I didn’t try to warn him, but back then I was foremost a member of the Kingsguard…I hope you understand. Well, coming back to the topic at hand…I doubt that you are aware of it, but Lord Eddard Stark was accused of treachery against his King and was forced to take the Black…,” he trailed off.

Jon froze, unable to wrap his had around Ser Barristan’s words. Treason was not something he associated with Lord Stark, but then he recalled what Ser Barristan told them only hours ago.

The boy is no true Kinghe is a bastard.

“You mentioned that Joffrey is a bastard. Did Lord Stark find out about King Joffrey’s true birth?”

“Indeed,” Ser Barristan confirmed and nodded his head. ”The boy is supposedly the son of Cersei Lannister and her brother Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer. At least that is what your Lord Uncle accused him of when he stormed the Red Keep. Sadly, he was betrayed and taken captive. For weeks the King kept him imprisoned while your cousin Robb Stark was waging a war against the Lannisters. He won several victories, but in the end he bent the knee to save his Lord Father’s life. Shortly after, Lord Stark confessed his treason, though he probably did it to protect his daughters. Even I can understand why he lied.”

Jon swallowed hard. It was too much to take in, but the worst was this clenching feeling of guilt.

I should have been there to help Robb.

Shame washed over him, but there were still many questions lingering on the tip of his tongue.

“And my sisters?” he asked. It didn’t escape him that Ser Barristan called Lord Stark his Uncle and Robb his cousin, but to him they were still his siblings. ”Are they still in Lannister hands?”

“Lady Arya returned to Winterfell, but Lady Sansa was still betrothed to King Joffrey when I departed for Braavos.”

The news about Arya relieved him, but the fact that Sansa is still promised to wed Joffrey disgusted him. It wasn’t even his bastard birth that irked Jon, but the boy’s vile character. Sansa used to call him her half-brother, but she deserved better than Joffrey.

“But why would Jon’s brother allow that?” Daenerys asked, who had been listening to their exchange in silence. “Surely, he wouldn’t want his sister to wed to a boy who accused his Lord Father of treason?”

Lord Wylis huffed and grabbed for his wooden cup. He winced at the taste of the ale. It was probably too weak for his taste, but the Lhazareen preferred mix it with water and honey.

Then he took his time to answer Daenerys’ question.

“Lord Robb had no choice, but to accept Tywin Lannister’s conditions. I am sure he would have preferred to refuse such a match, but he could hardly object, given that his Lord Father’s life was dangling on silver string. I hold no grudge against my Lord, though others are still grumbling about his decision.”

“And Lord Stark took the black?” Jon asked as if to confirm the truth. It was a strange irony. Jon was meant to join the Night’s Watch, but now Lord Stark was forced to join. It felt as if they traded places.

“He did,” Ser Barristan confirmed and emptied his cup. Daenerys was quick to refill it, which caused an odd reaction from Ser Barristan. Jon knew the reason. It must be strange for him to see Queen’s Rhaella daughter act like a servant. ”But I suppose it is a consolation that Lord Stark didn’t lose his head. Much bloodshed was avoided, though there two other contenders that intend to claim the crown from King Joffrey.”

“Who are these contenders?” Daenerys asked curiously, her eyes wide with curiosity. Sometimes Jon forgot how little she knew about Westeros.

“Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon both challenged King Joffrey for the crown,” Lord Wylis Manderly answered and broke the bread. ”There is no doubt that Stannis has the stronger claim, but Renly Baratheon wed Margaery Tyrell and enjoys the support of the Reach and the Stormlands. I am no seer, but there is no doubt for me that Renly will win this struggle.”

Daenerys looked disappointed. She probably hoped that these claimants were relatives of hers. Well, the Baratheons are kin to the Targaryens, but they would take our heads if they knew about our existence.

“I think you shouldn’t underestimate the might of the Westerlands,” Ser Barristan remarked and put his empty bowl aside.”The fact that Stannis and Renly are fighting each other instead of the enemy will cost them dearly. Renly is a fool. He should have submitted and accepted his brother’s claim. Lord Stannis has only one child, a sickly daughter. With luck Lord Stannis would have been prepared to accept him as his heir, but power has tempted even the strongest of men,” he added, his sad blue eyes coming to rest on Jon.

Jon felt as if his words were not only directed at Renly, but also at Jon.

Does he think I am striving for the crown now that I am aware of the truth?

“I am not Renly Baratheon,” Jon replied bluntly and met the knight’s gaze. ”I don’t claim what is not mine to claim. I don’t care about the Iron Throne. Before I met Daenerys I intended to join the Night’s Watch. Besides, I am a bastard. I have no claim to the throne, even though my father was a prince and my mother was a highborn lady of noble stock.”

Ser Barristan’s expression told him that he disagreed with his assessment.

“Bastard or not,” Ser Barristan said after a moment of silence had settled over them, his blue eyes flickering back to Daenerys.”But you are wed to the Princess. Your marriage legitimizes you,” he added and angled his head to look at Aemon. He sat next to Ghost and threw around his toys. He was babbling, but now as that the knight's gaze fell on him he stopped and grew utterly silent. ”And your son…most of Prince Rhaegar’s former allies would consider him the rightful heir.”

“Aemon is a babe,” Jon replied more sharply than intended. He knew what the knight was trying to say and it may even be true, but he recalled all too well what happened to his half-sister Rhaenys and his half-brother Aegon. Both of them were brutally murdered. ”I don’t see him leading armies anytime soon. And most of my father’s supporters are probably long dead. It has been sixteen years.”

“I have to disagree,” Ser Barristan replied and sounded slightly disappointed. ”The Mad King may be cursed, but your Father Prince Rheager was beloved by many. I know what lies they spread about him, but until my dying day I am prepared to swear that he never raped your Lady Mother. To think that others think him capable of such a vile deed disgusts me. Prince Rhaegar had is failures, but cruelty was not one of them.”

He thinks I am not aware of the truth, Jon realized. He mistook my sharp words for hatred.

“Don’t fret on it, Ser Barristan,” he assured him quickly and forced a smile over his lips. ”I am aware that my father didn’t harm my mother. I know that he loved her dearly.”

Surprise washed over Ser Barristan’s face and Lord Wylis nearly choked on his ale.

“How do you know?” Ser Barristan asked.

“Jon found my brother’s letters. Lord Stark kept them hidden in Lady Lyanna’s tomb,” Daenerys answered and hopped to her feet. Quickly, she rushed to the wooden box in which they kept their coin and other precious possessions. It took only a brief moment before she found the bound letters returned to his side.

“Here,” she said and showed Ser Barristan the letters. ”They are written in High Valyrian, but they are from my brother’s hand. It is the truth.”

“It is true,” Jon confirmed. By now he was able to read parts of the letter. His father’s name and title was the first thing Daenerys taught him how to read and to write. ”And the letters are all addressed to the same person… Aemon Targaryen. He supposedly resides at the Wall…at least that is what I was able to deduce from their correspondence. I also know that he is our Grand-Uncle. I am by no means an expert on Targaryen History, but I know that King Maekar had a son named Aemon Targaryen. He refused the crown in favour of his younger brother King Aegon the Unlikely.”

“This is correct,” Ser Barristan muttered to himself as he started to unfold one of the letters. Swiftly, his blue eyes wandered over the faded paper. Suddenly, he gasped.

“You can read it, can’t you, good Sir?” Daenerys asked and leaned closer.

“I can,” he replied, an elated smile curling on his lips. ”I watched both your brothers when they were learning their letters. I am certainly not as proficient as your brother Prince Rhaegar, but it is enough to decipher the content. It seems the Prince was holding a secret correspondence with your Grand-Uncle Aemon. No wonder, given how wary the King was of his son.”

“Wary?” Jon asked. ”Why was the Mad King wary of my father?”

Ser Barristan sighed and folded the letter.

“King Aerys threatened to disinherit him in favour of Prince Viserys. He feared Rhaegar more than he loved him. Not without reason... Some say the Tourney at Harrenhall was part of Prince Rhaegar’s plan to depose his father, but his plans were foiled.”

“Foiled?” Daenerys asked.”By whom?”

Ser Barristan’s gaze darkened and Lord Wylis Manderly’s frown deepened. He had observed their whole exchange in grim silence.

He is unsure what to make of his.

Jon shared his feelings, but it seemed there are still many things he doesn’t know about his father.

“The same man who sent me here,” Ser Barristan answered, his voice brimming with subdued anger. ”Lord Varys, the Master of Whisperers informed the King about Prince Rhaegar’s plots. He was the reason the King Aerys was able to remain on the Iron Throne. However, he is also the reason I was able to find you. Forgive me, for making common cause with this man, but it was the only way. He asked me to send word if I am able to find you, but I have no intention to fulfil this errand. I don’t trust him nor do I know what his real motives are.”

I misjudged him, Jon realized and felt his mistrust ebb away. He seems honest.

“This Lord Varys,” Daenerys said and broke the silence. ”Do I understand this correctly? First he served my Lord Father and helped to foil my brother’s plots and then he changed sides to serve King Robert? And now he wanted you to find us? I agree with you…this man seems fishy.”

“He only asked me to find the owner of the dragons…a Princess of House Targaryen,” Ser Barristan corrected himself and graced Jon with an apologetic smile. ”And I agree with your assessment, Princess. Lord Varys cannot be trusted.”

Then Ser Barristan turned to look at him and cleared his throat.

“That brings me back to our earlier topic. You say that no one would support you, but I have to disagree. Princess Daenerys shows a great resemblance to her Lady Mother, you are wed to her, you have healthy son and more importantly…you have three dragons, the very symbol of House Targaryen. For you it may sound trivial, but as I told you before…your Prince Rhaegar was beloved and some of his allies yet linger in this world, waiting for an opportunity to take revenge. Surely, your cousin Lord Robb would support you?”

Ser Barristan looked at him, but Jon felt as if the question was meant for Lord Wylis.

The massive man shrugged his shoulders and put away his wooden cup.

“I don’t know my Lord’s mind, but he gave me a letter addressed for you Lord Snow,” he explained and met Jon’s gaze.

Jon felt a gust of warmth washing over him.

“A letter for me?”

“Lord Stark also told me to inform you that you are always welcome in Winterfell,” Lord Wylis Manderly replied and pulled a folded piece of parchment out of his vest. Jon picked it from his hand and felt the urge to read it, but then he decided against it. Later. I need a calm head.

Then he lifted his head and graced Lord Manderly with a warm smile.

“I thank you for coming here. I don’t know what to say.”

Finally, a hint of a smile showed on Lord Wylis’ face.

“It was no bother. Besides, Lord Stark also sent me here to buy corn for the coming winder and to take out a loan from the Iron Bank. Thus I will be forced to return to Braavos within the next weeks. I need your answer in good time if you intend to return with me to Winterfell.”

“I see,” Jon said and nodded his head in understanding. ”But I can give you my answer now. You saw the dragons, didn’t you, my Lord?”

“I did, Lord Snow.”

“Then you already know my answer. I can’t go home without Robb’s approval. At least for now I have to remain here. I will write a letter to my brother to explain our current situation. Will you return to the Free Cities?”

“I will,” Lord Manderly confirmed. ”But my next travel is six moons away.”

“That is enough time,” Jon assured him and patted the letter. ”I will read the letter tonight and write an answer tomorrow. Thus you will be able to leave within the next few days.”

Lord Wylis sighed in relief and rose to his feet. It took him great effort to heave his body in the air, his face flushed red in a matter of a seconds.

Then he dipped his head and graced Daenerys with a smile.

“I thank you for the hearty meal, my Lady,” he thanked her. ”But my head is heavy and I am in dire need of sleep.”

“Of course,” Daenerys said and rose to her feet to open the door. ”I will show you the way to the guest chambers. I asked one of the girls to prepare a bed for you. I hope all is to your taste, my Lord.”

Then Lord Wylis bowed his head to Jon and Ser Barristan and Daenerys closed the door behind her.

Jon took another glance at the letter and was sorely tempted to read it, but then he noticed Ser Barristan’s gaze resting on him.

He is searching my face for a ghost, Jon was sure.

“I don’t have much of my father, do I?” Jon asked him with a wry smile and started to collect the bowls.

“You do have the Stark colouring…nobody can deny that,” Ser Barristan confirmed what Jon already knew. ”But you do have much of Prince Rhaegar’s character. He always had a rather melancholic character. You also have his eyes. It is subtle, but it is there. In truth, I am an old man and my memory is fading. I don’t have a clear painting of him in my head to compare him to you, but I understand now why Lord Stark wanted to sent you to the Night’s Watch. Those who knew Prince Rhaegar, would be able to notice the resemblance. This I can assure you.”

Jon couldn’t help but to laugh. He knew that Prince Rhaegar was his father, but it felt strange for him to think of him as such.

“What does it matter though?” he asked. ”Do you really think they would support us? Do you even know where I found Daenerys?”

Ser Barristan’s gaze darkened, guilt evident on his wrinkled face.

“I heard about it, but the past doesn’t matter. Nobody will care about that once…,” Ser Barristan continued, but Jon couldn’t help but to interrupt him.

“Our enemies would call her a whore and they would call me a bastard. Why should I give up this peaceful life for a crown that nearly wiped out my entire family?” he asked and leaned over to pat Aemon’s curly head. He was sleeping, his head resting on Ghost’s soft fur.

Ser Barristan remained silent.

He simply lifted his cup and drank, before speaking again.

“That is your wish,” the elderly knight said at last.”But what of the Princess? Have you considered her wishes? And you should also consider the dragons. Do you think you can hide here forever?”

“What you say is true,” Jon admitted grudgingly. ”But Daenerys’ knowledge about her family is lacking. I have yet to tell her the truth about her Lord Father and his involvement with my family. She only knows bits and pieces.”

Ser Barristan was stunned.

“And she never asked you?”

Jon swallowed hard and shook his head.

“No,” he replied hesitatingly and leaned over to hoist Aemon into his arms. ”I think she is afraid. Maybe you can help us both to get a greater understanding of our past. Only then will we be able to make a decision. You intend to stay, don’t you, Ser Barristan?”

Hope and warmth washed over Ser Barristan’s weary face.

“Of course,” he said and lowered his head in reverence. ”Nothing would please me more.”

Cersei

The whore of Highgarden was a pretty girl. Pretty, but plain compared to herself and her daughter Myrcella. Margaery Tyrell was a girl of slender built, graced with a heart-shaped face and golden eyes.

Her youth gives her beauty, Cersei knew. There will be nothing left of it once she birthed one or two babes for my glorious son.

Again the girl’s laughter echoed through the spacious solar, the smell of flowers lingering in the air. It was a smell Cersei came to hate over the last weeks. It was a smell she associated with treachery.

She held not much love for the Starks, but Sansa Stark would have certainly made a more pliable Queen than the whore of Highgarden. The girl might feign sweetness and play stupid in front of her glorious son, but Cersei knew a false smile when she saw one.

She is a vile and clever little thing, she knew and watched as she whispered into Joff’s ear. Her son smiled a little, his jade eyes fixed on the fool hopping over the table. He even clapped and the whore and her string of cousins giggled happily.

Father is growing blind and old, she knew and fanned herself fresh air. The Tyrells will betray us the moment they find an opportunity to do so.

“It seems you don’t enjoy yourself, dear mother,” Lady Margaery remarked from her cushioned seat next to Joff. She was garbed in a dream of red silk, obviously meant to emphasis her tiny breasts. Again the smell of flowers filled Cersei’s nostrils as the girl leaned closer. Again she felt a hint of sickness washing over her, but she gritted her teeth and kept her composure.

The little whore surely enjoys calling me mother.

“I am exhausted,” she replied politely and graced her glorious son with a warm smile. ”In absence of my Lord Father it falls to me and my son the King to oversee the council meetings. This is rather tiring task these days.”

“And boring,” her glorious son added. ”But a King has his duties.”

“Of course,” Margaery Tyrell agreed approvingly and took a sip from her silver cup, embellished with golden roses. Roses, everywhere.“ And it is very admirable of you to show such dedication to your subjects, my brave lion. Tell me…What important matters did the council discuss today?”

My brave lion, Cersei muttered to herself. I gave him this name and now the vile little whore dares to taint it.

“A match for the Stark girl,” her glorious son replied and frowned. ”I suggested my Uncle the Imp to show Robb Stark his place, but my Lord Grandfather insists that it has to be a proper match. In the end your Lord Father agreed to wed her to your eldest brother. He is your father’s heir, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Margaery Tyrell replied enthusiastically and stuffed a fresh grape into her rosy mouth.”Willas is indeed my father’s heir. He will be pleased to have such a pretty wife.”

If she was surprised by the news it didn’t show on her pretty little face. She knew it all along, Cersei was sure.

Lady Margaery’s answer seemed to irritate her son, which pleased Cersei. He is finally seeing through the whore’s mask

“Grand Maester Pycelle also mentioned that he is a cripple. Is it true?”

Lady Margaery paled a little, but her smile didn’t falter.

“My beloved brother fell victim to an unfortunate accident. In his youth he was a promising knight, but he was hurt in a jousting match, which left his leg twisted. It pains him still, but my brother endures it bravely.”

“He is still a cripple,” her glorious countered and put the whore in her place. ”A cripple shouldn’t be heir to a prosperous lordship like the Reach. How did keep your father from disinheriting him?”

Lady Margaery was now squirming like a fish pulled out of the water. Her face was slightly flushed and she was tugging on the hem of her dress.

Not even your rosy nipples can thwart him from seeing the truth.

“It is true…my brother has a twisted leg, but he has a good head on his shoulders. My Lord Father trusts him to rule the Reach in his absence and my Lady Mother would be quite cross with my Lord Father if he dared to inherit Willas. He was always her favourite son. He is her firstborn son. I am sure you understand what I am trying to say, your Grace?”

Much to Cersei’s dismay, Joff started to smile and seemed to buy her lies.

“I understand what you are trying to say, my Lady. The wailing of woman never fails to lead men astray. I will not be such a weak King or man.”

“Of course, your Grace,” Lady Margaery agreed and forced a smile over her lips.”A weak King cannot rule. Your Lord Father was valiant man…I am sure they will soon compose songs about your great deeds. Speaking of songs…Does his Grace enjoy music? I have several minstrels in my employ…,” she continued, but the grimace on Joff’s stopped him.

Nobody told the whore of Highgarden that her son is not fond of minstrels. Stupid girl.

“I fear not,” Joff replied coldly and brushed her hand away. ”I hold no love for minstrels. Especially, the last one was a sore disappointment. I cut out his tongue. Keep your minstrels away from me, my Lady.”

Margaery Tyrell didn’t move, though she was still smiling. Even her little cousins stopped their irritating giggling.

“Of course,” Lady Margaery said at last and swallowed hard. ”There is nothing worse than a bad minstrel.”

Then she drowned her goblet as in calm manner. Yet the whore continued to smile as if she was a doll instead of a living girl.

This girl is much  more dangerous than I thought.

“Then let us speak about more enjoyable things,” she declared in an enthusiastic voice and made an attempt to change the topic. ”Our wedding, your Grace. I heard there will be a grand tourney. Will you partake?”

“Of course,” her glorious son replied proudly. ”Of course I will partake.”

“No, it was not,” Lady Margaery replied sweetly. ”I was just just afraid I might be deprived of the honour to see you tilt.”

“Well, then put your fears to rest, my Lady,” her glorious son replied and patted her hand. ”I would never deprive you of such an honour. Everyone will be there to pay witness to the victory of House Baratheon,” he added and craned his head to look at Cersei. ”Isn’t that true, Lady Mother?”

“Of course,” she confirmed. “I have already sent out the invitations, but it is questionable whether Robb Stark will agree to attend.”

Displeasure was evident on her son’s face, but she expected it.

“He would dare to refuse his King?” her glorious son demanded to know. She couldn’t be prouder. My son has the bearing of a true King.

“I have yet to receive an answer, but I heard his Lady wife is heavy with child.”

“Of course,” her son replied through gritted teeth. ”But that is no excuse. I want him here.”

Cersei graced her glorious son with a proud smile.

“Of course.”

Davos

A grey sky spread over Dragonstone as Davos watch the men stacking wooden logs. It was a pyre intended for their King.

Not far from the working men he spotted Queen Selyse and the Princess Shireen. The Queen chose to dress in black as did the Princess, but it gave the girl an even sadder expression than usual. He didn’t see her cry, but not even her fool was able to conjure smile on her lips these days.

Davos shared the girl’s somber mood. He lost three of his sons to the wildfire. Even now he saw the green light blinking before his eyes. Even finding his other son Daveth alive and well didn’t help ease his grief.

I failed to protect them, he thought as his gaze fell on Lady Melisandre. She stood not far from the Queen, her red silken dress fluttering around her. Whenever he looked at her he felt hatred stirring in his stomach.

I should have killed her, he knew and yet he was unable to do it.

She promised them victory, but in end they were defeated by the forces of the Reach and the Westerlands. Victory was in their reach, but in the end the gods decided differently.

Have faith, she had told Queen Selyse not long ago. Have Faith and the God of Light will answer.

Faith is not the answer, he had told the Queen in return. We need to leave, to sail for Essos, to protect the Princess from the Lannisters.

Yet Queen Selyse ignored his council and continued to put her trust in Lady Melisandre. Queen Selyse’s relatives were not different, though that was no surprise to him.

Most of them thought of him as a commoner, who was elevated beyond his status.

What use is their faith, he wondered not for the first time. Do they think the King will return from the dead?

No, the King is gone. All we have left is the Princess. She is the last trueborn Baratheon, the rightful Queen.

Maybe it was just another lie they were telling themselves, for when he looked at the pale and frightened girl, he saw no Queen. He only saw a lonely little girl.

The King ordered me to continue his work. I cannot forsake him.

“Now it ends,” Ser Andrew Estermont remarked sadly and jerked his head at the procession. He was once the King’s squire and like Ser Davos he held little love for Lady Melisandre and her prophecies.

“No,” Ser Davos answered and shook his head. Tears burned in his eyes he watched the men hoist the King’s body on the pyre. Stannis was a grim man and earned himself few friends, but Davos loved him still. ”Now it begins. The Princess Shireen is our rightful Queen.”

“True,” Ser Andrew agreed and nodded his head. ”But she is just a little girl and her disfigurement will always mark her. The King should have listened to your advice and legitimized his brother’s bastard. Nobody can deny that he is King Robert’s son.”

“The King didn’t want to place a bastard above his trueborn daughter, but in the end he made amendments to his will that took my advice into consideration. He named the boy Princess Shireen’s heir. The condition for the boy’s legitimization is Princess Shireen’s natural death.”

Surprise showed on Ser Andrew’s solemn face.

“Nobody knows about the King’s will but me and a few chosen men…I count you now among them,” Ser Davos explained and continued to watch the proceedings. Both Queen Selyse and the Princess Shireen received a burning torch to light the pyre.

Quickly, the flames hopped from log to log, rising higher and higher into the sky. All of this was accompanied by Lady Melisandre’s mournful singing.

The singing made him shiver, but the rising flames only helped to remind him of the previous battle.

At least the flames are not green, he thought and pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. It was raining, fat droplets of rain falling from the sky.

Maybe the gods are weeping, he mused. The gods we burned.

And yet he couldn’t deny the Lady’s powers. He saw her birth the shadow creature that slew Renly Baratheon.

Maybe that is why we lost, he thought. Kinslayers are cursed by the gods.

His only consolation was that the King refused to agree to Lady Melisandre’s last madness.

She wanted to burn Edric Storm, the last known living so of King Robert.

Kingsblood is power, she had told him, but it seemed in the end even the King lost his faith in Lady Melisandre’s god.

It was the first time he saw a hint of doubt washing over Lady Melisandre’s face.

Yet she is still here, he thought and listened to the sound of the rain and the rustling of the flames.

It was a strange combination. Fire and rain.

The pyre had collapsed when the first signs of dusk showed on the horizon. A red and yellow sky spread as far as his eye could see. It had finally stopped raining when one of the Queen’s ladies brought the crown forged for their new Queen.

It was a slender thing of made of red gold wrought with small points that looked like flames.

The smith had worked day and night to forge this crown, but it gave Ser Davos no comfort to see it placed atop Princess Shireen’s head.

Their little Queen didn’t dare to speak. She remained silent as a mouse as her father’s men gave their oaths of fealty.

She is just a little girl, he knew but the crown resting atop her head marked her as his Queen.

At last Ser Davos and Ser Andrew decided to join the others.

Queen Shireen graced him with a sad smile.

“Am I really the Queen?” she asked him, her gentle voice nearly drowned out by the howling of the wind.

“Of course you are,” he confirmed and earned himself a sharp look from Queen Selyse, no Queen Mother Selyse. She never liked him, but even the Queen Mother had to accept the King’s last will.

He named me Hand, Davos knew and felt a gust of warmth washing over him.

“Where have you been hiding, Ser Davos?” Queen Mother Sylse asked sharply. ”Why did you not join us for the prayers? My husband named you Hand and yet you hide in the shadows.

“I was not hiding, your Grace,” he explained and lowered his head.”I was observing the proceedings in company of Ser Andrew.”

“Ser Davos has no faith in our god,” Lady Melisandre added softly. ”That is why he has been hiding in the shadows. But don’ fear, my Queen. The fires finally spoke to me. I saw our Queen seated on the Iron Throne with a King at her side. We will find this King in Essos.”

“Essos?” Queen Mother Selyse. ”You want us to go to Essos?”

“It is the only way, my Queen,” the Lady Melisandre answered and lowered her head, but her eyes were still resting on Ser Davos.

He swallowed hard. He disliked the woman with every fiber of his being, but what she said is true.

He averted his gaze and looked at the young Queen, still clinging to her mother’s hand.

“I have to agree with Lady Melisandre. We should leave as soon as possible. Essos is our greatest hope. I suggest we go to Braavos to speak with the Iron Bank. They could grant us gold to hire a sellsword company to reclaim your crown.”

The little Queen looked at him fearfully.

“My Lord Father named you my Hand. We will do as you say, Ser Davos.”

Touched by her trust, he knelt down and kissed his Queen’s hand.

“I don’t deserve your trust, but I will do my best.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

It took only the blink of a moment before Rhaegon’s flames engulfed the sheep. Sonarys’ followed and turned the second sheep in a steaming piece of black meet. Viserion went about it the bloodiest way. Quick as a snake he buried his sharp fangs in the animal’s neck and tore it apart limps and bones. The whole spectacle never failed to make Dany wince, but it was necessary. The dragons needed to eat. Especially, Viserion tended to grow unhappy when he wasn’t properly fed.

If Ser Barristan shared her discomfort it didn’t show on his face. On the contrary, his blue eyes were filled with awe.

“They are quite fearsome, aren’t they?” Jon asked Ser Barristan.

The elderly knight nodded his head, his eyes still fixed at the dragons occupied with their supper.

“They are fearsome,” he confirmed at last. ”How old are they?”

“More than a year,” Daenerys replied and pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders. It was getting colder. ”It is hard to believe how quickly they continue to grow.”

“And you are training them?” Ser Barristan asked.

“We do our best,” Jon added and graced Daenerys with a knowing smile. ”They learn fast, but they are not like dogs. They are not always obedient.”

Daenerys returned his smile and jerked her head at the dragons.

“Do you want to see Ser Barristan?”

He gave her a confused look and wrinkled his grizzly brows.

Daenerys couldn’t help but to laugh.

“I meant…Do you want to see me fly?”

Ser Barristan’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound could be heard.

Even Jon started to laugh.

“They allow you to ride on them? Are they even big enough for such a feat?” he asked and jerked his head at Sonarys. The dragon had finished his meal lay curled on the ground.

“Rhaegon has yet to get used to it, but training them regularly is the only way to teach them,” she explained and angled her head to look back at Jon.”Jon is still too heavy, but in a few weeks from now we intend to try again. Wait and see.”

Excitedly, she made her way to Rhaegon.

The smell of burned flesh filled her nostrils as she stepped closer. By now it was a familiar smell.

“Rhaegon! Māzigon kesīr!”

At once the dragon opened his ruby eyes and huffed. She felt his hot breath touch her skin and savoured the feeling. It felt like a warm embrace.

Every slowly, she stepped towards the dragon and touched his neck. His rough skin felt hot like a brazier, but to her it was the most pleasant of sensations.

“Ñuha dōna riña, rual nyke naejot kipagon,” she whispered in his ear and waited. This was the deciding moment. Rhaegon disliked carrying her on his back when he was tired, but when he lowered his back she knew that she earned his agreement.

“Kirimvose, dōna riña!” she replied sweetly and grasped one of his scales to pulled herself up. Rhaegon remained still as she continued to climb up his back, but as always Daenerys felt a jolt of fear rushing through her body.

Seated atop Rhaegon’s back she exhaled deeply and leaned down to give the last command.

“Sōvegon!”

At once her child straightened and started to spread his wings. Daenerys huffed and brushed her hair out of her face as Rhaegon flapped his wings. One, twice and a third time were enough to propel them into the air.

She felt as if her heart might jump out of her breast. The first time she nearly emptied her stomach, but by now she had gotten used to the feeling. At least she believed so, but when Rhaegon dipped lower, felt slightly dizzy.

“Paez! Paez!” she whispered to Rhaegon. Then she straightened herself and took a glimpse at the world below. Lhazar looked like a motely of green and brown. Even Ser Barristan and Jon looked like two small ants compared to the endless blue sky spreading above her head.

She wanted to stay like this forever, but she knew that Rhaegon would get grumpy if she demanded too much of him.

“Dōna riña, ivestragī īlva pālegon aril,” she whispered to her child. The dragon seemed pleased by the command and dipped lower. Slowly, they soared downwards and landed on the plain below. Daenerys held close on the dragon’s back as he buried his scales in the ground below, ripping out grass and roots alike.

“Sȳrī gaomagon!” she praised Rhaegon and climbed down from his back.”Kirimvose.”

Rhaegon huffed and threw plumes of smoke into the air.

She didn’t know what his actions meant, but she took it as a sign of agreement.

With wobbly feet she arrived at the bottom and exhaled deeply, the familiar feeling of excitement still tingling on her skin.

“You look a bit pale around the face,” Jon remarked with obvious amusement.

Ser Barristan simply stared at her and cleared his throat.

“Impressive,” he complimented, his blue eyes still fixed on the dragons. ”How far can they fly?”

“Hard to say…it depends on the day. The dragons are like children and they don’t always obey,” she explained and picked her cloak from Jon’s hands.

Carefully, she wound it around herself and sat down. She needed to this to drive a way the excitement. ”Especially, Viserion has a rather volatile temper. He has no rider and it will take years until Aemon is old enough to train him.”

“It is still impressive,” Ser Barristan insisted.”Aegon the Unlikely dreamed of hatching dragons. Now, after such a long time his dream came finally true. You have yet to tell me…How did you accomplish it?”

Daenerys swallowed hard and shrugged her shoulders. She doubted he would believe her if she told him the full story. Even Jon didn’t know the full truth.

“I put Jon’s eggs into a burning pyre and they hatched. That was all.”

Ser Barristan’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“Jon’s eggs…,” he began and turned to look at Jon.”From where did you acquire dragon eggs?”

“I found them in my mother’s grave…I think they belonged to my father,” Jon explained. ”Do you know something about the eggs?”

“No,” Ser Barristan replied and swallowed hard. ”It seems there are a great many things I don’t know about Prince Rhaegar.”

He sounded so distraught that she felt the urge to comfort him. She was also curious to hear more.

She gathered all her courage and asked the question that had been lingering on her tongue since Ser Barristan appeared before her.

“You mentioned during our first encounter that I show a great resemblance to my Lady mother,” Daenerys added softly. ”Is it true or were you just trying to flatter me?”

“Of course not. You do show a great resemblance to the late Queen Rhaella. I have known her since she was a little girl.”

His words made her heart well with happiness.

“My brother Viserys told me that our Lord Father cherished our Lady Mother,” she said, trying to recall her blurry memories. ”He also said that she was kind and very beautiful.”

Ser Barristan paled and exchanged a silent look with Jon, before giving his answer.

“She was very kind and beautiful…above all she loved her sons, but her relationship with your Lord Father was rather strained. Theirs was not a marriage of love, but of convenience. It was King Jaehaerys who forced them to wed.”

“Oh,” she said and tried to hide her disappointment. ”Well, Viserys was a child. I am sure my Lady Mother tried to hide her true feelings in front of him. But what I don’t understand…Why did King Jaehaerys force them to wed? Was he so insistent on blood purity that he sacrificed his children’s happiness?”

Ser Barristan exhaled deeply and nodded his head in understanding.

“It had to do with blood purity, but for a different reason than you might expect. King Jaehaerys insisted on the marriage, because he believed in a prophecy. Prince Duncan, the King’s brother brought a woods switch to court, who prophesised the King that a promised prince will be born from his line. For you it might sound silly, but your brother Prince Rhaegar was also very fond of prophecies.”

Realization washed over Daenerys.

“Rhaegar spoke about such a promised prince with our Grand-Uncle Aemon. He voiced his doubts that my late nephew Prince Aegon could be this promised prince.”

“Well, he is dead,” Jon added sourly. ”I doubt Aegon can be a promised prince if he is dead. Did my father really believe in this nonsense?”

“Sadly, he did,” Ser Barristan confirmed. ”I have no proof for this, but Ser Arthur told me that Prince read something that caused a significant change in his character.”

“What are you trying to say?” Jon asked and crossed his arms in front of him.

“Prince Rhaegar was a very bookish child and he hardly showed any interest in swordplay. At court they japed that Queen Rhaella swallowed books and candles before she birthed Prince Rhaegar. However, one day he stepped out in the courtyard and asked Ser Darry to instruct him in swordplay. From this day on he started to train like a madman and became an accomplished rider and swordfighter. Granted, he was not able to defeat Robert Baratheon, but I doubt even I would have been able to prevail against a mad stag like him. Well, coming back to the topic at hand…most people at court were sure that the Prince’s change in character had its origin in his fondness for prophecies. I think for a time Prince Rhaegar believed himself to be this promised prince. At least that is what Ser Arthur Dayne implied to me. He and Prince Rhaegar were as close as brothers…if anyone knew Prince Rhaegar’s mind it was Ser Arthur Dayne.”

“But how does my brother Prince Aegon fit into all this?” Jon asked sceptically.

“I am not sure,” Ser Barristan replied. ”As I said before…I also believe that Prince Rhaegar thought he was this promised prince. Later, for whatever reason, he changed his mind and even tasked his Maester to watch the skies for signs. Prince Aegon was supposedly conceived when a bleeding star graced the sky. I didn’t know what to make of it, but Prince Rhaegar was very happy after his son’s birth. Even King Aerys was pleased and the bells rang day and night.”

“And then he left my siblings and his wife Princess Elia,” Jon remarked coldly. ”Was it just infatuation or more?”

“I doubt the Prince intended the leave them,” Ser Barristan countered quickly. ”He doted on his children, but I admit his relationship with Princess Elia was rather complicated. He was fond of her, but I never had the impression that theirs was a marriage of passion. My personal impression was that, that Prince Rhaegar resented King Aerys’ choice of a bride. Princess Elia’s frail health and Prince Rhaegar’s dislike for his father’s overbearing nature certainly put a strain on their marriage. Princess Rhaenys’ birth brought Prince Rhaegar much joy, but even this brief moment of happiness was dimmed by Princess Elia’s failing health. She had to keep to bed for half a year and she had barely returned to court when King Aerys demanded of her to provide an heir for his dynasty. The following quarrel nearly led to Rhaegar’s execution…,” he trailed off.

Daenerys felt as if someone had poured a bucket of cold water over her head.

Even Jon looked shocked, his jaw tense like a bowstring.

“What did Rhaegar do?” Daenerys asked quietly.

Ser Barristan didn’t answer immediately. He simply stared back at her with wide blue eyes. He looked conflicted, as if he was not sure if he should give her the truth.

“I don’t know if…,” he stuttered, which only strengthened her need for answers.

“Please tell me…I can take it,” she assured him tensely. Every fibre of her body tingled with anticipation.

“He told the King to keep out of his private business and the King hurt him in the cruellest way possible…,” he continued and stopped for a moment. Then he exhaled deeply, his pale blue eyes still fixed on Daenerys.”The King took the Queen in front of the court and made Prince Rhaegar watch.”

There was nothing to say. She felt only disgust.

Ser Barristan took all her delusions and tore them to pieces.

“And what did my father do?” Jon asked in a trembling voice.

“He watched,” Ser Barristan said plainly. ”That was all he could do. The King threatened to take his head if he dared to even make a noise. You see…King Aerys took great pleasure in torturing his loved ones and Prince Rhaegar was one of his favourite victims. Prince Aegon’s birth a year later was a miracle, but Princess Elia suffered again. For six moons she had to keep to bed. It was quite a surprise to me that she even attended the tourney of Harrenhall. By then everyone knew that she wouldn’t be able to bear another child. I don’t know who spread these nasty rumours, but King Aerys was very displeased and stilled his rage by burning several of his loyal subjects.”

“Maybe Princess Elia’s barrenness was another reason for my brother’s actions,” Daenerys offered and recalled Rhaegar’s words from her vision.

The dragon has three heads.

Ser Barristan frowned and pondered her words for a moment.

“Maybe,” he agreed with a heavy sigh. ”Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia behaved very strangely after the tourney. At first I didn’t think much of it. Prince Rhaegar humiliated Princess Elia. Her anger was understandable, but it was not only the Princess Elia who started to shun Prince Rhaegar’s presence. Even Ser Arthur Dayne started to distance himself from the Prince.”

“Why is that strange?” Jon asked. ”Ser Arthur Dayne was a Dornishman. Surely, he didn’t approve of my father’s actions.”

“True,” Ser Barristan confirmed. ”But he was Prince Rhaegar’s closest friend while the Princess Elia and Ser Arthur were never particularly close. But Ser Arthur’s sister, Lady Ashara Dayne, was very close with the Princess Elia, which makes it even more surprising that it was the Princess Elia’s order that led to Lady Ashara’s removal from court. At first I thought it was the King’s order, given Lady Ashara’s delicate situation, but I heard much later that the cause was a quarrel between Lady Ashara and Princess Elia. These are mere rumours, but something very strange was going on behind the scenes. I doubt we will ever know the full truth, but the situation was more complicated than you can know.”

“Delicate condition,” Jon repeated silently, his dark eyes wide in realization. ”Was Lady Ashara perhaps with child?”

Ser Barristan gave a hesitant nod.

“Who told you?”

“Nobody,” Jon replied and swallowed hard. ”Yet I heard rumours that Lord Stark and Lady Ashara Dayne were involved. That is at least what the servants told me.”

“She was indeed with child and birthed a stillborn girl,” Ser Barristan replied in sad voice and averted his gaze. ”But I heard the child was fathered by Brandon Stark. It seems we heard conflicting rumours. Not that it matters…the Lady Ashara is dead and gone.”

“How did she die?” Daenerys asked quietly and graced Ser Barristan with a soft smile.

When he lifted his head she noticed the tears shining in his blue eyes.

“She killed herself.”

Daenerys found Jon awake, his back turned to her. She shivered as the blanket dropped from her shoulders and she quickly pulled back around her shoulders as she moved.

He was reading Robb’s letter. Lord Wylis left a few days after his arrival, but Jon read the letter almost every night.

She didn’t know what to make of it.

“Jon,” she addressed him in calm voice. ”How can you read without a candle?”

“I know the letter by heart,” Jon answered quietly and folded the piece of paper. “I am now the Lord of Winterfell. Father was accused of treason and forced to join the Night’s Watch. I know the truth and it doesn’t matter to me. You are still my brother, come home. Your lady is also welcome. Your brother, Robb.”

“Do you regret refusing Lord Wylis?” she asked fearfully and braced herself for the answer.

His head snapped around, his dark eyes piercing her through the darkness. She read guilt on his face.

“Going home would only endanger my brother,” he explained softly. ”But I feel as if I abandoned him. That is all.”

Daenerys understood his feelings, but she cared little about Robb Stark. Jon spoke always very fondly of him, but Daenerys only knew him as the boy who sold her to his brother as an “act of generosity”.

She didn’t want to depend on Robb Stark. It felt not right and yet she didn’t want to hurt Jon.

“I am sure he will understand,” she replied and leaned closer to place a kiss on his cheek. ”And you didn’t abandon him. You left, because you thought it was the best way to protect him. One day we will go home.”

“Maybe,” Jon agreed and averted his gaze. ”What Ser Barristan told us about King Aerys about your father and my grandfather…Was it too much?”

She was surprised by his sudden change of topic, but felt touched by his concern.

She shrugged her shoulders, but was unable to conceal her sadness.

“I should have known that he wasn’t a good person when his subjects called him the Mad King,” she added and wound the blanket tighter around her shoulders. Just thinking about her father’s actions made her feel sick.

No wonder Rhaegar had a melancholic temper. Our father was a monster.

She shuddered again.

“Are you cold?” Jon asked her warmly and put his arms around her.

“I rather not think of him as my father,” she added and leaned her head on his shoulder. ”But I have to accept the truth. My father was a monster, which brings me back to our talk with Ser Barristan…,” she trailed off and gathered her courage.

“You once told me that your Uncle and Grandfather were executed by my father’s order,” she forced the words over her lips. ”What did this execution entail?”

Jon tensed, but answered nonetheless.

“I only know what Lord Stark told me. King Aerys had my grandfather burned alive and my Uncle Brandon strangled himself to death when he tried to save him.”

She expected something like this after hearing about her Lady Mother’s “dutiful marriage”; but it still hurt to hear it.

She bit her lips and let go of Jon, her purple gaze searching his.

“That was the reason you were so upset after the battle, wasn’t it?”

He gave a silent nod.

“You are not like the Mad King,” she insisted defiantly. ”I didn’t take pleasure in it and neither did you. That counts, doesn’t it?”

“I hope so,” Jon replied weakly. ”I hope so.”

Daario

Daario felt the sweat running down his neck as he tried to understand the High Valyrian gibberish spoken by the Good Masters of Astapor. He spoke the crudest of bastard Valyrian, tinged with a Tyroshi accent he learned from his mother, a pleasure slave. His father must have been an ugly man, for his mother’s Master had little use for him after her death and sold him off to the fighting pits. He proved himself as a fighter, but was eventually able to flee. Now he was back to face the very man that watched him kill other slaves in the fighting pits.

He told Jokin to fuck himself when he suggested coming here, but in the end he found himself overruled by both Jorkin and the Widower. They were in dire need of gold, even if it meant associating oneself with these men.

Sipping from his golden cup he observed the Good Masters on their gilded seats and clad in their bright tokars of lace and silk. The wine tasted sweet, but didn’t help to wash away the uneasiness he felt in their presence.

He killed hundreds of men and met the cruellest of people, but these men were the lowest of rats. The Widower, who suffered a similar fate like him, shared his disgust, but didn’t mind to gorge on the food in front of him.

The feast laid out for them was almost overbearing. There was roasted duck, heron, catfish and very small pigeons. All of this was flavoured with every spice known: salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, dill and fennel. Just the smell of the food made Daario believe that he stepped in the stall of a spice trader.

Daario was not the kind of man who tended to refuse a meal, but today he kept to the wine.

This very refusal to eat earned him a sharp look from one of the Masters.

His name was Kraznys something. He was graced with an oiled red beard and quite fat. The slave girls serving the wine were almost flat-breasted compared to this man, which was the reason Daario decided to dub him Master fat breast.

Daario couldn’t help but to smile.

You thought you could impress me with your food. Well, I won’t have any of it, but I will empty a few gallons of your finest wine. Just watch.

Kraznys frowned and leaned down to whisper in the ear of the slave girl kneeling beside his seat. The girl couldn’t be much older than ten or elven.

She immediately straightened herself and her large brown eyes met his across the room.

“The Master asks if the food is not to your taste?”

“The food is fine,” he told the girl and lifted his cup. ”And the wine is even better, but I am never hungry when I do business. We are here to do business, are we not?”

The slave girl translated and Master fat breast frowned again. He looked as if the one of his pleasure slaves had pinched his balls too tightly.

“That is indeed why the Good Masters called you here,” the slave girl answered and met his gaze. ”We have need of the Stormcrows. The payment will be abundant.”

“Good to hear,” the Widower mumbled, his mouth stuffed with meat. Both his face and fingers were covered in grime. He looked like pig. ”The enemy better be strong. My axe sings for blood.”

Again the girl translated and again the Good Masters wrinkled their noses in disgust.

“The enemy is a worthy one,” the slave girl spoke for her Master. ”Your enemy will be the sheepmen. They supposedly command three dragons.”

Jokin nearly choked on his wine, the Widower stopped his eating and Daario lifted his head to meet Master fat breats’ face. Daario may not be able to understand their High Valyrian gibberish, but he was able to read falseness on a man’s face. He found none.

Could it be true?

“The Master understands your surprise, but he is not lying. Three dragons burned several thousand Dothraki screamers to ash,” the slave girl added.

Daario poured down another cup of wine as he tried to make sense of this mad tale.

Jokin seemed equally confused and stroked his beard.

“How is that even possible?” he asked in disbelief. ”Several thousand men…” he trailed off.

“We spoke to the survivors of this massacre. The Dothraki horde in question was lured in a trap and the enemy used oil to stir the flames cast by the dragons. The dragons are not bigger than horses. They can be killed. This I can assure you.”

It still sounded like utter madness.

“Still…I don’t see how we Stormcrows could make a difference against dragons,” he replied bluntly. He was the son of a whore, but no fool.

Master fat breast didn’t appreciate his bluntness and tightened his grip on the handle of his chair. Angrily, he grumbled his answer in the slave girl’s ear.

“My Master marvels at your cowardice. We invited the Stormcrows to prove their valor and they thank us with this impertinence. There a dozen of sellsword companies to choose from…,” the girl continued her translation. This was a load of bullshit and he was unable to keep his mouth shut.

“And that is what I don’t understand,” Daario said and poured down his cup of wine. ”Why are we even here if you have other sellsword companies lining up for this mission. Let us be honest here. They refused you, didn’t they? Nobody wants to end up as a pile of ash and you probably weren’t prepared to pay the price they demanded.”

The slave girl looked at him with wide eyes and her Master hit her right over the shoulder.

The answer came promptly.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the girl said and rubbed her shoulder. ”The Stormcrows wouldn’t be the only ones employed for this mission. You would fight at the side of the Dothraki. Khal Drogo is vying for revenge and promised fifteen-thousand Dothraki screamers to do our bidding.”

Daario felt the urge to laugh, but the Widower’s grim silenced him completely.

I went too far.

“Why would the Dothraki accept such a mission?” The Widower inquired. ”They never fight at the side of sellswords. They are far too proud for that.”

“The Dothraki are hungry for revenge. They long to bathe in the blood of the sheepmen to regain their honor. And they will be richly rewarded if they fulfill their task to our satisfaction.”

“Meaning what?” Daario asked stubbornly and met Master fat breasts’ gaze. ”Why do the Good Masters of Astapor care about the loss of a Dothraki horde?”

“A whole harvest was lost to us due to the Dothraki horde’s defeat. Two thousand boy children were promised to us by the Khal, but we received nothing. We have several outstanding orders and we need to replenish the numbers of our young recruits. The Good Masters care not about the sheepman, but they dared to hinder our buisness. They need to be put in their place and the best way to teach them obedience is blood. We employed the Dothraki for this very purpose. Yours is to bring us the heads of these dragons,” the girl replied in a raised voice. She probably tried to intimidate her Masters’ authoritarian voice, but she still sounded like a child, despite the promise of blood echoing in her declaration.

“Dragons…Dothraki…sheepmen,” the Widower grumbled.”How much are you prepared to pay us for this mission?”

The slave girl translated the Widower’s question and Master fat breast whispered his answer in the girl’s ear. Then he slapped her with the whip and she rose to her feet, before rushing down the steps to whisper her answer in the Widower’s ear.

Daario watched the Widower’s face. He was by no means a coward, but the idea of facing dragons didn’t sit well with him.

When the Widower’s eyes widened he knew that there was no escape from this fight. Jokin was a fool. He would do anything for gold, even sell his own cock.

Arya

Arya paced the room back and forth. Sitting still was impossible when her good-sister was enduring her birthing pains.

“Arya…Arya!” Bran’s shouts called her back to the present. She stopped and turned around to find him covered in furs, Summer’s head resting on his lap. ”Your constant pacing drives me mad.”

“This madness has been going on for hours…,” she muttered more to herself than Bran. The very thought made her shiver from head to toe. ”Will the waiting ever end?”

A few hours ago she tried to slip pass the servant girls to see her mother and spotted bloody sheets.

The memory was enough to make her feel sick.

She hardly knew Lady Roslin, but she couldn’t help but to fret about her. She didn’t want to lose another family member. It was enough that her Lord Father, Sansa and Jon were gone.

“Don’t be afraid,” Meera Reed added softly and graced Arya with a smile. It was no surprise to her when she found the young woman and her brother Jojen in Bran’s chamber. ”Birthing a babe can take its due time. My Lady Mother laboured for two days until Jojen was born. She is still with us.”

Arya nodded her head and sat down. Arya knew nothing about childbirth, but her Lady mother’s births were easy. At last that is what she her Lady Mother had told Lady Roslin when they spoke about the matter.

She probably wanted to comfort her.

“But Bran spoke of a bed of blood,” she recounted her brother’s words and turned to look at him. ”Isn’t bad?”

Bran paled and swallowed hard. Jojen Reed remained indifferent as ever. As always, Arya felt the sudden urge to kick him just to see if it would gauge any emotional reaction from him.

“Birth is always accompanied by a bed of blood. At least that is what my Lady Mother told me,” Meera Reed explained sweetly and brushed her hand over Arya’s untidy hair.

She did it in such a sweetly manner that Arya felt a gust of warmth washing over her. She didn’t like her strange brother, but was beginning to like Meera Reed.

“I hope so,” she fretted leaned down to brush her hand through Nym’s fur. She lay sprawled beneath Bran’s bed, her head resting on her pawns. It gave her the comfort she needed.

“It will be a girl,” Jojen Reed said and broke the silence. ”And Lady Roslin will perish. This I know.”

Arya felt as if a gust of cold wind washed over her.

Even Meera Reed, who seemed used to her brother’s behavior, swallowed hard.

“Why are you…,” she began and opened her mouth, but Jojen Reed’s piercing gaze silenced her.

“Stop hiding from the truth, sister,” chided his sister and turned to look at Arya.

“Will this be proof for you to help us?”

Arya knew what he meant. Bran had pleaded with her numerous times, but every time she refused to help him.

I need to go beyond the Wall. Arya, please.

“Help you…You want me to help you?” Arya stuttered, unable to make sense of the sudden feelings of rage stirring inside her. She didn’t answer and met Jojen Reed’s green gaze.

“We do need your help,” Jojen Reed confirmed indifferently as if the rest of the world meant nothing to him. It was the last straw.

She lifted her hand and slapped him hard on the face.

Her knuckles hurt, but it felt so good.

“Fuck your Three-Eyed-Crow!” she snapped back and whistled at Nym. Tiredly, her wolf joined her side as she opened the door. ”I don’t want anything to do with your stupid greensight…,” she muttered, but when she saw Bran’s pleading look she stopped.

“Arya,” he said, his blue eyes wet with tears. ”Jojen didn’t mean it like that. Please help us.”

“No!” Arya returned bluntly. ”No!”

“Arya,” Bran pleaded again. He sounded so desperate. It made her heart clench. ”He can help me…I will be able to walk again. Don’t you want me to get better?”

“Of course, but…no,” she stuttered and remained steadfast in her decision. ”Why do you trust this stupid crow so much? Master Luwin knows much more than a stupid bird.”

“Maester Luwin knows nothing,” Jojen Reed added coldly and rubbed his red cheek.”Winter is almost upon us and the Others are coming. Bran is the last greenseer and we will all perish if he doesn’t learn to master his abilities.”

“I don’t understand you,” she muttered and tightened her grip on the handle of the door.

“That is not necessary,” Jojen Reed countered. ”But we need your help to leave Winterfell. I know this, because I saw it...as I saw your brother…Jon Snow. You are desperate to know where he went, don’t you?”

Arya knew what a game he was playing, but she couldn’t help it.

“Where is he?” she demanded to know. ”Tell me.”

“I see a city with red walls…walls of blood. The name of this city is Astapor. There you will find your brother.”

“Astapor…,” she muttered and tried to recall the name. She only knew that it was a place in Essos.

Maester Luwin’s maps will help me, she knew and exhaled deeply. No, I can’t even think about that. Mother and Robb would never forgive me.

She gritted her teeth and flashed Jojen an angry look.

“I don’t believe you! Leave me alone!”

Then she slammed the door behind her and rushed back into her room.

Tears burned in her eyes as she donned her cloak and slipped through the darkness. The guards were half-asleep and didn’t see her as she made her way to the godswood. It was her place of hiding, her place of comfort. It was the place her Lord Father chose to visit when he wanted to find peace.

Fresh snowflakes were falling from the starry sky as she stepped before the heart tree, its bleeding face a welcome sight. Sansa was always afraid of the face, but for Arya it was as familiar as the face of her Lord Father.

She pulled her cloak tighter and knelt down beneath the tree. Nym joined her side and nuzzled her neck as Arya closed her eyes and touched the white bark.

It came all so suddenly that she barely registered it. It was a tingling sensation that washed over her body and made her shiver. It felt as if someone tried to slip into her mind.

She tried to open her eyes, but she lost all power over her body as the images started to take form before her eyes.

She saw her Lord Father swallowed by a snow storm. She saw a beautiful maid share a kiss with her brother Robb. She saw a girl with silver hair mount a black-winged beast. She saw Joff, his face purple and his jade eyes staring back at her in horror. She saw Sansa riding over a field of flowers. She saw a blue-winged beast that bathed richly-dressed men in a sea of flames…

Their cries echoed in her ears. Terrible cries…that made her blood freeze.

At once the images disappeared and she collapsed. Slowly, she opened her eyes and found herself sprawled in the snow.

Her breathing was laboured and she could hear the pounding of her heart.

She couldn’t stop trembling.

It can’t be true!

Only when she felt Nym’s wet tongue on her cheek did she find the strength to pull herself back to wobbly feet.

It has to be a lie!

She didn’t even find the strength to call for Nym. She felt so cold. She needed warmth.

With clattering teeth she returned to the castle. She was so disoriented that she didn’t even think of using her usual way.

Even the sleep-deprived guards noticed her.

“Lady Arya!” they shouted after. ”Lady Arya!”

She ignored them and fled to the safety of her room. Cold and weary, she wrapped herself in her furs and tried to forget about these visions.

...

Chapter Text

Jon

It took all his concentration to meet Ser Barristan’s blows. Up and down, left and right the blades met, bringing forth a jingling sound. Ser Barristan could be his grandfather, but his blows were powerful and left Jon’s arm aching. It was the wound from his maiden battle against the Dothraki.

Ser Barristan was also incredible quick. Again the blades kissed and parted. Jon gritted his teeth and stepped backwards to gather strength for his next attack. This time he aimed at Ser Barristan’s left side. It was the weaker one.

An old war wound, he guessed and brought down his blade. Jon didn’t know how, but the elderly knight seemed to anticipate his actions and parried the blow easily. Jon considered himself a good swordsman, but the mock battle made him aware how much he had yet to learn.

“I think that is enough,” Ser Barristan remarked and graced him with a smile. ”I think I am in dire need of a break.”

Jon was stunned by his answer and lowered his blade. Ser Barristan’s brow was covered in sweat and his breathing a little labored, but he looked otherwise unaffected.

“I am the one that is sweating like a pig,” Jon replied and sheathed his blade. ”And you are quick like a cat. How did you know that I would aim at the left side?”

“Your footwork,” he replied and sheathed his own blade. ”And your movements. You put too much strength in them. Fight calmer and your enemy won’t be able to anticipate your next attack.”

Jon couldn’t help but to frown. He was sure that Ser Barristan meant well, but he still expected better of himself.

“Don’t fret, my Prince,” Ser Barristan assured him amusedly. He sure loves teasing me with this title. ”You swordplay just needs refinement. Whoever thought you did well. Besides, you are still young. I was no Arthur Dayne at your age. I have years of practice and I have seen hundreds of battles.”

“I have only seen two battles,” Jon answered and brushed his sweaty hair out of his face. Then he craned his head to look at Daenerys.

She was seated next to Larsha and had watched them while preparing arrows for their next hunt.

“Knowing our luck these won’t be the last battles,” Daenerys remarked with a smile. ”But I agree with Ser Barristan. You are still in training.”

Her encouragement helped to ease his disappointment and he returned her smile.

I still need to get better, he knew and his gaze fell on Aemon stumbling after the other children. It is the only way to protect them. I cannot solely depend on the dragons.

“Jon,” Daenerys called out to him and held out his cloak. He picked it from her hands and pulled the garment over his shoulders. She gave him a fleeting smile. ”Are you perhaps nervous? You are a bit pale around the face.”

He shook his head and tried to overplay his fear. He had tried mounting Sonarys before, but his weight made it hard for him.

“I am fine,” he assured her Daenerys and swallowed hard. She nodded her head and leaned closer to pat Larsha’s shoulder.

“Would you take Aemon home?” she asked Tito’s sister. ”The dragons need to be fed.”

“Sure,” Larsha replied and gathered the arrows in her arms.”Aemon is in good hands. Today is the great day, isn’t it?”

Jon didn’t want to admit it, but he was afraid.

It looked so easy whenever Daenerys did it, but Jon wasn’t as confident.

What if Sonarys decides to throw me from his back?”

The sun was sinking behind the hills when they arrived at the dragons’ lair and the sky above was painted in a soft pink color. It promised a cold night.

“Ñuha riñar! māzigon kesīr!” Daenerys called out to the dragons.

It didn’t take long before the dragons made their presence known. Viserion’s silver wings glittered in the dying sunlight as he descended on the ground not far from their position.

Even from afar Jon was able to feel his hot breath. It was the smell of burned flesh and blood.

The sheep started to cry out in fear when they noticed Viserion’s presence, but that was no surprise. Viserion was the most bloodthirsty of the dragons. Even Jon feared him at times.

Next appeared Rhaegon. His dark wings blocked out the sunlight as he descended upon the scorched plain below the hill. His red-black scales pulled out trees and roots as he landed on the ground. The whirled up dust made Jon’s eyes water, but the sheep had it worse. They went mad. Their shrieking grew louder and louder. Jon felt almost like an executioner. He did this every day, but today it felt different. Maybe it was his impending flight that woke these feelings inside him.

At last Sonarys arrived, his blue skin barely distinguishable from the sea. He didn’t roar nor did he throw flames in the air like his two brothers. He landed in the quietest way possible and turned around to look at Jon.

Jon had the feeling that dragon knew about his plans.

Today is the day.

“Jon…it is time,” Daenerys reminded him. He shook his head and brushed away his fears.

“Of course,” he replied and freed the sheep. The animals fled in fear, but their feet were nothing compared to the dragons’ wings.

Viserion roared and hunted one of them below the hill, before he snapped from the sky and caught the animals with his sharp fangs.

The sheep was barely able to squeak, before it was dismembered. Rhaegon was less cruel and gave his meal a quick death. Exposed to the flames there was soon nothing more left, but blackened meat..

Sonarys killed his sheep with a quick bite to the neck and was now disemboweling his supper with great eagerness.

“Don’t be afraid,” Daenerys whispered and touched his shoulder. Focused as he was on the dragons he hadn’t even noticed her approach. ”He will accept you. I am sure of it.”

She looked confident, but even Jon noticed the slight tremor in her hands. Her concern warmed his heart and gave him the confidence he needed. Jon nearly pissed himself in fear when she mounted Rhaegon for the first time. Even now he was afraid when she did it, but there was no other way. It was bad enough that Viserion had no rider. The dragons needed guidance.

“I know,” he replied and lifted her hand to place a kiss on her hand. ”All will be well.”

Then he exhaled deeply and shifted his attention to Sonarys. Ever slowly, he approached the dragon, sitting over the disemboweled body of the sheep.

Noticing Jon’s presence Sonarys lifted his head. Jon saw a speck of his own reflection in the dragon’s eyes. It looked like a dark shadow moving over a golden surface.

He can sense my fear.

“Sonarys,” he called out to the dragon and touched his neck. His skin was hot like a brazier, but the dragon seemed to enjoy the attention, for he leaned into Jon’s touch.

“Kessa ao rual nyke naejot sōvegon aōha arlī?” he repeated the question Daenerys instilled into him and braced himself for the dragon’s reaction.

The dragon shrieked and lowered his back to the ground. Jon marveled at the dragon’s intelligence. Ghost was a quick learner, but it felt as if Sonarys understood every word.

Again the dragon roared, hot puffs of smoke rising in the air. Get on with it, the dragon seemed to tell him.

Very well, Jon muttered to himself and lifted himself up. Slowly, he climbed up the dragon’s back and tried to be as mindful as possible. He didn’t want to burn himself.

Arriving at the top he became aware of the dragon’s pulse. It felt like a powerful heartbeat that filled the dragon’s body with a vibrating sensation.

Again the dragon roared and Jon met his gaze.

He took one last breath before he gave the last command.

“Sōvegon!”

Jon held on the dragon’s back as if his life depended on it when Sonarys started to flap his wings. Once, twice and a third time was enough to propel them in the air.

Jon felt a hint of dizziness as the world beneath his feet shrunk to nothingness. The green and yellow plains of Lhazar stretched as far as the eyes could see. Even the high walls of Lhazar were nothing, but a speck of white. The sky above was reminiscent of the sea, endless and breathtaking.

Jon understood now why Daenerys loved to fly. Seeing the world like this was marvelous. All fear left him in this moment triumph.

He couldn’t help but to laugh.

“Egilkta!” he called out to the dragon and he obeyed his command.

Again the dragon flapped his wings and propelled them upwards. For a moment it felt as if Jon would drown in the pink sky spreading above.

Jon wanted to remain longer, but Sonarys had other plans. He started to roar and threw plumes of smoke in the air.

Enough, the dragon seemed to tell him.

“Very well,” Jon replied with a smile and the Sonarys’ back.”Ilagon.”

Obviously satisfied with his answer the dragon dipped lower, back where his other two brothers dug their resting places deep in the ground.

“Paez!” Jon added when the dragon descended on the scorched plain.”Paez!”

Again the dragon roared and again Jon held onto his back as if his life depended on it.

He closed his eyes for a brief moment, but when the movement stopped he realized that he was still sitting atop Sonarys’ back.

It rode a dragon, he realized in amazement. And I am still here.

Again Sonarys roared and lowered his back.

“You want me gone, don’t you?” he asked in amusement as he started to climb down from the dragon’s back.

His feet felt wobbly as he walked, but he was otherwise unharmed.

“How was it?” Daenerys asked him after he found her seated beneath the hill.

He couldn’t stop grinning like a fool.

“Wonderful,” he replied and pulled her in his arms. She leaned in his touch and smiled up at him. She looked so beautiful, her cheeks flushed and her lips rosy like the sky above. ”I didn’t think flying could be this wonderful.”

“Your fear blinded you,” she answered with obvious amusement, a smile curling on her lips.

“I was indeed a little afraid…,” he admitted openly and brushed a loose strand of hair out of her face.

“Only a little?” she asked and leaned closer, her warm breath tickling his cheek.

“Alright, I was pissing myself in fear,” he finally admitted and leaned down to kiss her lips. Her lips were soft and warm, stirring something inside him he had buried for the last weeks. Robb’s letter brought him only pain and guilt. Even when he was planning to join the Night’s Watch he had been hoping that Robb would ask him to stay. Robb was his brother, but he couldn’t help but to harbor resentment towards him. The Robb he knew would have never defied his Lady Mother. What changed? Was it because he knew the truth? Not that it mattered. That was the past and his place was here.

It was still hard for him to accept, but he was both a wolf and a dragon. He had nursed doubts, but the ride on the dragon helped to strengthen his belief. Sonarys accepts me. Bastard or not, I am also a Targaryen.

“Where is your mind?” she asked him, her lips moving against his.

“Right here,” he replied and pulled her closer, one hand buried in her hair and the other resting on her shoulder.

She chuckled, but was silenced when he crushed his lips to hers. Her hands went to his hair and she pulled hard.

She always liked doing that. It was a pleasant kind of pain. He needed no further invitation.

Then he leaned down and kissed her again. Together they stumbled in the grass. The dragons roared and Jon rumbled with laughter.

Again her hands pulled on his hair. He laughed and kissed her beneath the jaw. His kisses were soft and feather light.

She seemed to like it and giggled happily.

“You definitely have to ride your dragon more often,” she remarked cheekily.

“It’s Sonarys who has to agree,” he whispered against her lips and started to brush up her dress. Her skin was pale and soft like silk.

It was not the first time he did this, but he marveled at her reaction. She gasped and moaned as he tasted her.

“Jon,” she whispered and grabbed his hair. As always, he stopped when it was too much for her and lifted his head. He wiped his mouth and looked down at her, head rolled back and her purple eyes wide and blown.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked breathless and fumbled with the laces of breeches. He helped her, kissing her eagerly.

She stroked him and he gasped against her cheek. She was driving him mad.

“Stop,” he said hoarsely and grasped her hand. “Stop.”

She laughed and did as he asked of her. Her hand wandered back to his cheek and opened her thighs to cradle his body between her legs.

She whimpered against his cheek as he pushed into her. The feeling was too much and he stopped himself for a moment, savoring the feeling.

He moved hesitatingly, but he was unable to hold himself back when her fingers started to dig into his back. By the tenth time he grabbed her hand and thrusted deeper. Daenerys kissed him suddenly, hot puffs of air leaving her mouth.

It was enough to send him over the edge. Stars burst before his eyes and his other hand grabbed the grass beside her head as the last tendrils of pleasure washed over him.

It took him a moment to recover, his head resting on her chest. It was the song of the dragons that called him back to the present.

He wanted to slip out of her, but she grasped his shoulder.

“Stay a while longer. Let me hold you,” she whispered. Her words warmed his heart, though he couldn’t fathom how this position was pleasant for her.

“We should get going. Don’t you need to drink your tea?” he asked, already half asleep. He could have stayed like this forever, but he knew how dedicated she was when it came to this, though it confused him at times.

“I am surprised you remember that,” she said and smiled sweetly.

“You didn’t do that before Aemon and now you are so dedicated. It just confuses me.”

She sighed, her eyes narrowed in irritation.

“I can hardly ride a dragon if I am heavy with child,” she replied jestingly. ”And Tito’s mother told me to wait. That is why I am drinking her tea with so much dedication."

The last part she said in a low voice as if she wanted to avoid talking about it.

Then she loosened her grip from his shoulder and tried to move away. He followed her wishes and rolled away, still confused by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and avoided his gaze.

“Are you telling me everything?”

Her words confused him.

“What do you mean?”

“Every day you are staring at your brother’s letter. Today was the first time in weeks that I saw you smile.”

“My dark mood had nothing to do with you,” he assured her and touched her shoulder. She shrugged him off and turned around. ”I told you the reason and I have been thinking…thinking what we are going to do once Lord Wylis returns…,” he trailed off, struggling to find the right words.

“I don’t want to go to Winterfell,” she said, before she was even able to form a sentence. Her answer was surprising and rather blunt. Why didn’t she tell me before?

He looked at her and she continued.

“I don’t want to go begging to your brother to allow us to stay. Everyone there will think me your whore and the Mad King’s daughter. Besides, neither the Lannisters nor Baratheons would tolerate us or the dragons. You said so yourself.”

She said this in such a quick manner as if these thoughts and feeling had been long simmering beneath the surface of her mind.

“I know that,” he replied quickly. “The only way would be to take the crown. That is why I am waiting for Robb’s answer. We are in need of support and I trust him.”

“But I don’t trust him,” she said almost coldly, but corrected herself quickly. ”I mean…I don’t want to solely depend on him…if we are going to do what you suggested. I don’t even know if I want that. I hate this Twyin Lannister for what he did to my niece and nephew, but I don’t think it is right to pursue the crown for the sole purpose of revenge. Besides, there have to be other people that could Support us. Ser Barristan’s thinks Rhaegar’s former allies could help us.”

“Ser Barristan is an old man…I doubt he has spoken to my father’s so-called allies in a long time. But I agree with you…taking the crown shouldn’t be done out of revenge, but it would be the only way for us to return to Westeros.

“Westeros,” she repeated. ”You call it home, but for me it is a foreign land. Maybe we are meant to be here to protect the Lhazareen from the Dothraki. Isn’t that a worthier goal than to win a crown? Do you understand what I am trying to say?”

“I do,” he confirmed and leaned over to touch her hand. ”And I agree with you. The Lhazareen need protection. I wasn’t aware that you harbor such dislike for my brother. You need to tell me these things. I cannot read your mind.”

"Neither can I," she replied more softly, her purple eyes searching for his. ”It is just...everyone I know left me. I am just afraid that you will do the same."

Her words felt like a slap to the face.

"Leave you?" he gasped. ”I would never leave you. I love you…I just thought you wanted to take the crown as is your birthright. Especially, with Ser Barristan joining us..."

“I appreciate Ser Barristan’s presence, but I am well aware how hard it would be to seize the throne. We have dragons, but no army. Dragons can die. Even Aegon the Conqueror’s dragons were not invincible. But I don’t want to go begging to your brother, because I fear he would only support us to take revenge against the Lannisters. I hardly recall Viserys, but what I do recall is his constant obsession with the past. I don’t want to end up like him,” she replied and tightened her grip on his hand. ”I do love you, but I don’t love your brother…I doubt I ever will. He bought me.”

He swallowed hard, but it was true.

“You don’t want to depend on my brother,” he acknowledged her position. “I understand that. We will stay here.”

When a hesitant smile crossed over her lips he felt a hint of a relief washing over her.

“And you mean that?” she asked.

It irritated him that she didn’t believe him, but he also knew how it felt to be alone. It also hurt him that she thought he would leave her.

“Of course I mean it…Lying was never a habit of mine,” he replied and touched her cheek.

She looked at him with wide purple eyes and bit her lips. She looked unsure as if she was torn on something.

“About the tea…I should have told you a long ago. Aemon’s birth was not easy….stepping into the pyre saved my life. At least that is what I believe.”

He didn’t know what to say. It took him a moment to make sense of her words.

“So you did step in the pyre?” he asked disbelievingly and befuddled by this revelation. He saw her burned off hair, but it was still hard to believe. ”And you didn’t burn?”

“I didn’t burn,” she confirmed and touched his hand still resting on her cheek. ”I don’t know how it happened. I was bleeding heavily. I should have died, but I didn’t… Tito’s mother thinks should wait a while longer, before we attempt to have another child. That is why I am drinking the tea.”

He didn’t know what to say and pulled his hand away. He felt anger, but also fear.

“Are you angry?” she asked fearfully, her voice soft and distant to his ears.

"Of course I am angry!" he snapped and tried to calm his emotions. ”You could die. And this tea…this tea really… works?”

Her eyes widened in fear and he instantly regretted his sharp words, but he couldn't help it. He couldn’t fathom the thought of losing her.

“The tea works.”

When he saw the tears shimmering in her eyes he brushed is anger away and leaned over to embrace her.

"Forgive my harsh words. I didn't mean it...I was just angry."

She held him closer and buried her head in his neck. Then she pulled back and leaned closer, their lips barely touching.

It was the anxious shrieking of the dragons alarmed them.

“I think someone is coming,” Jon remarked and quickly started to lace up his breeches. Daenerys brushed down her dress and came to stand beside him.

Jon also rose to his feet and cast his way in the distance. He relaxed when he realized that it was Tito.

“Jon,” he greeted and climbed from his horse. His hair was windswept and his bearing tense. ”I bring bad tidings. It seems the Dothraki horde has returned.”

Catelyn

Robb looked like a ghost. His face was pale like fresh-fallen snow, his cheeks gaunt and his hair was untidy. Again she found him grouching over his correspondence.

In one hand he held his quill and with the other hand he was tapping a blank piece of parchment. Greywind seemed to share her son’s dark mood. He lay sprawled on the floor, lifeless and devoid of his usual energy.

This madness needs to end, she knew and gathered her courage.

She exhaled deeply and entered. The sound of her footfalls moving on the stone floor alarmed Greywind, but the wolf remained where he was, his eyes following after Catelyn as she passed.

Robb didn’t move either, but he lifted his head and his blue eyes met hers. They were red-rimmed and underlined by dark cringes. The sight made her wince.

“Mother,” he said and finally acknowledged her presence. ”I called for you, didn’t I?”

“You did,” she confirmed plainly and moved closer. ”You look tired. You should rest. It will help.”

He shook his head and brushed a stray lock of hair out of his face.

“This will help…work. Something to distract my mind,” he replied and pulled out several folded papers.

Catelyn sighed in exhaustion. For two days she had sat Lady Roslin’s bedside, trying her best to comfort her, but in the end it was no use. Not even Maester Luwin had been able to stop the bleeding. The old Maester was even more distraught than Robb, though Catelyn had told him numerous times that he had not reason to feel guilty.

It happened to the best of women, her mother among them. Robb was there only at the end, yet he took it the worst. He acted as if he murdered her in cold blood and Catelyn couldn’t accept that.

He has no reason to feel guilty and he has a child to take care of. It is a girl, but a healthy one.

“Distracting your mind won’t help,” she told him and leaned down to squeezed his hand. He pulled away and handed her one of the folded letters.

“I should have shown you this for a long time, but it took me a while to make the all the necessary inquiries. This letter here was written by Maester Aemon Targaryen, but these are father’s words. It seems he entrusted the old man with his knowledge. It concerns a man known to you…Petyr Baelish…now the Lord Protector of the Vale.”

Cat gasped and balanced herself against the table.

“Petyr is Lord Protector of the Vale?” she asked in utter disbelief.”But…,” she stuttered, unable to find the right words.

“It is true. Lord Royce confirmed it in our last correspondence. Petyr Baelish wed our Aunt Lysa a moon ago, but that is not the only interesting fact about this man,” he added and waved the folded piece of paper in front of her eyes. ”Read it.”

Cat picked the letter from his hand read slowly. The Maester’s writing was much more refined than Ned’s, but these were clearly his words.

Petyr Baelish is a traitor. He promised to bring the Gold Cloaks to my side, but he betrayed me to the Queen. Do not trust him. All my confessions were as false as King Joffrey’s birth right. The Queen confessed her crimes to my face. All her children are bastards.

Catelyn folded the paper and handed it back to Robb.

“What do you make of it?” Robb asked and gave her a weary look.

“But why?” she asked. ”Why would Petyr do this?”

Robb frowned and put the piece of paper away.

“I don’t know this Petyr Baelish, but I think I have an idea,” he said and put the parchment back on the table. ”The answer is simple: rejected love. Uncle Brandon fought this Petyr Baelish for your hand. Do you understand what I am trying to say?”

“Rejected love,” she repeated and knew exactly what he was trying to say. The realization left her breathless. ”Do you think he did it to get rid of your father?”

“Maybe,” Robb said and nodded his head. ”But I don’t think this is his only motivation. Revenge perhaps and thirst for power... How do you think did he convince Aunt Lysa to wed him? Lord Royce informed me that the King gave his approval, but nothing more. What do you think?”

Cat didn’t know what to think. Her mind was still mulling over Ned’s words.

Gods, she thought and clutched her chest. I told Ned to trust him.

“Mother,” Robb called her back to the present. ”I need your advice, before I decide on this matter. I have never met Aunt Lysa. Do you think she wed him willingly or not?”

She swallowed hard and sat down in a nearby chair. She closed her eyes for a moment and answered Robb’s question.

“Lysa was in love with Petyr since we were little girls. I have no doubt that she wed him willingly.”

“That is what I feared,” Robb grumbled and brushed his hand over his face. ”And that is why she didn’t help us. She has been under his thrall from the very beginning.”

Cat tightened her grip on the handle of her chair and leaned forward to search her son’s pale face.

“Do you think he planned it all?”

Robb’s grim look told her everything she needed to know.

“I have no proof for this, but I think this Petyr Baelish is the missing piece in our puzzle. However, I don’t think he had anything to do with Bran’s fall. That was clearly the Kingslayer’s work. Yet I think he intentionally mislead you to blame the assassination attempt on Bran’s life on Tyrion Lannister. And there is this letter written by Aunt Lysa’s hands. These are far too many coincidences.”

“Indeed,” Cat agreed, but was still unable to believe it.”Do you think Lysa knew of his plans?”

“I think so, mother,” Robb replied. ”But I have no proof. That is why I want you to travel to the Vale.”

“To the Vale?” she asked in confusion. ”But Lysa would never tolerate me…,” she said, but Robb cut her off.

“This Lord Baelish is now in charge. I think he might very well greet you with open arms. I think he is using Aunt Lysa. I think he is still hankering after you. Why else betray father?”

“Maybe,” she agreed and folded her hands in her lap. ”But what would be the purpose of my visit there?”

“To gather information and to arrange a marriage,” Robb replied promptly.

“You want to marry so soon after…,” she began, but stopped when she noticed the dark expression washing over his even-shaped face. ”Forgive me.”

He shook his head.

“Not for me. I want you to arrange a marriage between Lady Ysilla Royce and Uncle Edmure. I already have his approval in this matter if you are afraid he might be offended. He agreed after I wrote him about father’s accusations against Lord Baelish. The Blackfish is also aware of this arrangement…it was in fact his idea. Lord Royce agrees as well.”

Realization washed over her, but also disappointment.

“Why were you so hesitant to tell me about your plans?”

“I am the Lord of Winterfell,” he replied determinedly. ”I cannot rely on my mother forever. I need to stand on my own feet.”

She felt both proud and sad. My boy is growing too fast.

“I understand,” she replied and lowered her head in acceptance. ”I assume you want me to get Petyr’s approval.”

“Exactly.”

Cat swallowed hard and felt the urge to refuse.

“Robb…I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t think I can look Petyr in the eyes without strangling him to death.”

“I know,” Robb replied more softly. ”But it is the only way to get justice for father and to protect the Riverlands. I doubt my peace with Tywin Lannister will last forever. The Riverlands are vulnerable. I want to make sure that we have the Knights of the Vale at our side. I know that not all of them would be prepared to defy the Lord Protector of the Vale, but Lord Royce cherishes his past friendship with father. A marriage with Lady Royce would secure his help for the next fight and with luck the other lords might follow his example.”

“I understand, but I know Petyr. He will see through your plan.”

“My plan maybe,” Robb said. ”But not yours. Make him believe that it was your idea. You want a worthy bride for your brother who ought to be a long time married. Make him believe that he is doing you a favour. Play the grieving widow…do everything you can do gain his trust.”

Cat couldn’t believe her ears. She didn’t like the idea, but Petyr needed to pay for his crimes. For Ned.

“I understand. I will do as you ask.”

“Good,” Robb said and sighed in relief.”I thank you, mother.”

Then he leaned over and picked up another parchment.

It was made of a fine material, the broken sigil of House Baratheon visible on the front.

“From King’s Landing,” Robb said. ”Dark wings, dark words. The King invited me to his wedding. To humiliate me I suppose. He also informed that Sansa is going to wed Willas Tyrell.”

She nodded and swallowed hard. It is a good match. Why is he so angry?

“You can’t go. Your father…,” she began, but Robb’s sharp gaze silenced her.

“I must go. Tywin Lannister is far too cautious to harm me. He won’t risk a war. I intend to play along to cover our plot.”

“Allow me to go in your stead,” she offered. ”I will go to the wedding.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, mother. It would be an outright insult if I sent you there as my substitute. You captured Lord Tywin’s son. Have you forgotten?”

“I did not,” she said and bit her lips. This rebuke was meant to silence me.”Very well. Go and get yourself killed.”

His gaze softened.

“I know you are afraid,” he declared determinedly. ”But I won’t hide away from King Joffrey.”

“Robb…,” she muttered. ”You bent the knee…you gave your vow.”

“Fuck my vow…it was forced upon me. Stannis and Renly are dead. Tywin thinks his grandson’s position is secured, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When the time comes we will have someone to rally around. I sent Lord Manderly to find Jon…and his lady.”

“Robb...!” she gasped. ”You don’t know what you are talking about. The boy ran away with a whore…he probably married her. The Lords of the Seven Kingdoms would laugh at us.”

“Whore or not,” he replied surprisingly cold. ”I rather see Jon on the throne with his so called whore than a cruel little shit like Joff. And what is Margaery Tyrell other than a whore in a wedding gown? She just gets a crown instead of coin. What is the difference?”

“There is a difference,” she insisted and tried to hide her shock over his crude choice of words. What happened to my boy? When did he become this bitter? ”Lady Margaery Tyrell is a lady of noble stock…” she tried to explain, but Robb didn’t want to listen.

“And Joff is a bastard of incest,” Robb ended for her. ”It surprises me that you are defending him…a bastard.”

She couldn’t help but to feel anger stirring up inside her.

“So that is what this is all about?" she asked defiantly and rose to her feet. ”What do you want me to do? Approve of Snow’s actions? Love him? He may not be Ned’s bastard, but associating ourselves with him could cost us our heads. Ned lied to me for fourteen years...I endured enough. Leave me at peace.”

She had spoken these words with so much bitterness that even Robb stared back at her in silence.

She felt a hint shame, but she remained adamant in her position. Someone has to show reason.

“I am not the Lord of Winterfell and I have any right to tell you what to do, but I am still your mother. I call this madness. That is all I am going to say on this matter.”

She expected another rebuke, but nothing of the sort happened.

“Your objections are noted.” he muttered and fell back into his chair. He looked so weary as he leaned down to stroke Greywind’s head. ”Please leave me now. We will speak later.”

She couldn’t leave like this, even if his words hurt her deeply.

“I am not going to leave. There is another matter that deserves your attention. You have a child…a child without a name.”

“I don’t have time for this,” he excused himself, but she wanted to hear none of it.

“I have no time for this,” she repeated his words and stepped closer. ”Running away from this won’t solve your problem.”

He averted his gaze.

”You know why I can’t do it. I killed her…and the worst. I hardly showed her any attention. I was so occupied with my own problems.”

“That is your guilt speaking,” she said and knelt down next to him. ”But you have child. You owe your wife to take care of the babe.”

When he lifted his head she noticed the tears shining in his eyes.

“Very well…,” he answered in a trembling voice and rose to his feet. Greywind followed suit, but Robb shook his head.

“Stay,” he whispered to the wolf and opened the door for her. She didn’t speak as she followed after him.

They put the babe’s nursery in Sansa’s old chamber. It was still hard to look at the room, without thinking of her little girl. Catelyn feared the worst, but now she felt only relief.

The heir to Highgardnen was a worthy match. Better than King Joffrey.

The nursemaid gave them a surprised look and nearly jumped out of her seat.

She obviously didn’t expect Robb’s appearance.

“I apologize…,” she said, but Robb gave her a weary smile and waved his hand. She nodded her head and slipped out of the room, leaving only Robb, Cat and the babe.

She looked like a bit like Arya. Her hair was brown and her face was always deeply flushed when she started to cry. Only the touch of red in her otherwise brown hair gave an indication of her Tully blood.

Robb didn’t move. He simply stared at the babe.

A long moment of silence passed before he finally moved towards the crib. Ever slowly, he leaned down and touched the babe’s curly hair.

The babe stirred and opened her eyes. They were blue and clear as the sky.

“Lyanna,” Robb said at last and leaned down to place a kiss on the babe’s head. ”That is her name.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

They left before the sun had risen above the horizon. A chilly morning greeted them as they passed rolling hills of Lhazar. The grass was wet and muddy, the sky above covered in dreary clouds. The sun was nothing more than a distant blur of light trying to pass through the thick clouds.

Now and then the light was dimmed by the dragons circling above their heads.

Their sight never failed to comfort her, but she still had a nasty foreboding. Common practice of the Lhazareen would have dictated to they call for an assembly, but this attack was different. The attack came all of a sudden and several towns near Kosrak were attacked and put to the flames.

Come quickly, the carrier of the chief of Kosrak had asked in his letter. Thus they hurriedly gathered three-thousand mounted men. Jon advised against hasty actions, but she also understood that chief Mallor wanted to act as quickly as possible. The more time passed the more towns would fall victim to the enemy.

Daenerys faced the Dothraki only once, but this confrontation was enough to know that they are not pleasant people.

We have dragons, she reminded herself and angled her head to look at Jon. He was riding a few paces ahead of her, Ghost not far behind him. Both Jon and his wolf held their heads raised and watched out for potential enemies.

Before them stretched hilly landscape of pastures, but far off in the distance she spotted small forests, a glimmering river and the pale violet outlines of the Bone Mountains.

They had ridden for hours, but they have yet to find the villages in question.

“Are you sure it is here?” Tito asked the carrier. He was a small, stocky man with peppered hair. His face was littered with scars and his dark eyes narrowed against the sunlight bursting through the clouds. Daenerys tried see what he was seeing, but it proved impossible for her. She saw nothing, but the blurry lines of the horizon.

No wonder they call him Hawk’s eye.

“You must be blind, boy,” the man grumbled and pointed at the sky. ”Can’t you see the smoke?”

Daenerys tried again and saw nothing. Jon seemed share her feelings and shrugged his shoulders. Only Tito’s brother Hibal seemed to see the invisible smoke.

“Finally,” He said and brushed his hand over the tip of his spear. ”We found their trace.”

Tito jerked his head at the forest looming ahead.

“We should ride through the woods…to shadow our approach, though I doubt the horde is still here. They probably moved along the road passing Kosrak. It is the only passable street broad enough for carts and baggage trains.

“That will slow us down,” Hibal countered unhappily, but chief Mallor seemed to agree with Tito’s suggestion. ”We shouldn’t act hasty. We will do as Tito suggested. Let’s move.”

The woods proved dark and chilly. High pine trees loomed over them and threw wide shadows behind them. The cold breeze coming from the mountains made her shiver beneath her wool cloak trimmed with white hare pelt.

“Are you cold, Princess?” Ser Barristan asked. He decided to ride behind her, Larsha and the other women to keep an eye on them. She knew he meant well, but it made her feel like a child. This was the first time she was riding to battle and she wanted to prove that she was one of them.

And yet she couldn’t help but to smile at the elderly knight. She never had a grandfather, but Ser Barristan was the kind of person every child wished for.

“I am fine,” she assured him with a quick smile. ”Have you ever encountered Dothraki, good Sir?”

He shook his head, his white hair fluttering around his weather-worn face like feathers.

“I have not, but I heard enough of them to know that they are not to be underestimated.”

“We have the dragons,” she assured him and he nodded his head in agreement, though she noticed an expression of doubt washing over his face.

“We have dragons,” he confirmed quietly and followed after her.

The sun stood high on the sky when they finally left the dark woods behind them and found the muddy trail Tito had been searching for.

The street was not particularly broad, but good enough to move with mounted men. Next came a ragged landscape of yellow grass and foliage. It looked as if someone decided to paint the entire landscape yellow instead of the green pasture so common to Lhazar.

Soon the landscape gave away to dry hills and dusty valleys. Occasionally she spotted a fig tree or sheep grazing on the dry hills. They looked lost and several of them bled heavily.

The smell lured Viserion from the sky. Quick like a snake he snapped the animal from the ground. It didn’t take long, before Rhaegon started to quarrel with his brother. They had them before their departure, but it seemed they were hungry for more.

It took a lot of shouting on her side, before the dragons stopped their childishness and they were able to move on.

“There!” Larsha exclaimed as she reached the top of a high ridge overseeing a narrow valley. ”Smoke!”

Daenerys’ heart sped up when she heard this and led her horse up the hill to join Larsha’s side. Black plumes of smoke rose from the ruins of a town. Even the fields and the animals were unable to escape the slaughter that befell the town.

It was a grizzly sight, but she tried to hide her shock. I am the blood of the dragon.

“I think the flames have been burning for a long time,” Jon remarked to the other men and narrowed his eyes against the bright sunlight. ”When do you think did the the attack occur?”

“Yesterday,” Hawk’s eye replied. ”They probably attacked yesterday.

Then he craned his neck and pointed at the churned up earth, leading away from the ruins of the town.

“They moved west towards Kosrak,” he remarked and frowned.”But this was a small horde…maybe two-thousand mounted men and no carts.”

“They probably split from the main horde to come here,” Tito suggested.

Jon nodded his head in agreement.

“Could be…that would also explain why they were able to attack this quickly.”

Tito frowned and pulled on the reins of his horse, slowly leading it down the hill.

Jon followed after him and Daenerys followed suit, Ser Barristan close at her heels.

The elderly knight frowned as well, his hand smoothing over the hilt of his sword.

Daenerys herself felt the anticipation rising inside her as they drew closer and closer towards the town.

More and more dead sheep littered their path. Most of them died from arrow wounds, though some of them looked as if someone cut their throats with a blade. Soon they also found the first human corpses.

Daenerys had seen corpses before, but this was different. Most of them were cut down like pigs for slaughter. Among them were children, women and elderly people, who presumable guarded the sheep herds. She also noticed Dothraki among the dead littering the outskirts of the town, but they were like a single drop of water in a wide desert.

I am the blood of the dragon, she whispered to herself. I am the blood of the dragon.

Behind her back she heard Larsha curse. The other women appeared equally tense, their dark eyes glinting with restrained anger. Even the dragons seemed affected, their loud roars echoing over the ruins of the town.

They can smell the blood, she knew and averted her gaze when she spotted the body of a dead woman. She couldn’t be much older than Daenerys herself. An arrow stuck in her head and her clothing was tattered. Numerous cuts littered her naked skin and teats.

Yet that was only the beginning. The worst came when they passed through the destroyed gates. There was hardly anything left from the city walls, but a carcass of blackened wood. Only a few stone houses were left, black and devoid of life.

The sheer amount of blackened corpses on the ground made it almost impossible move forward. Daenerys clung to her horse and was torn between looking away and facing the horror.

There were so many of them that Daenerys soon stopped to count. She wasn’t even able to say whether they were female or male. The heat shrank the bodies to small black figurines not bigger than children.

She was used to the smell of burned flesh, but this was different. These corpses had been lying here for a long time. Most of them were covered in maggots and other animals known to feast on human flesh.

The sweet and rotten smell forced her to cover her mouth with her cloak, least she vomited out her last meal.

They had nearly crossed the town they came across the ruins of a temple. Almost every Lharzareen town had such a building dedicated to the Great Shepard, though here was nothing left of the statue, but a heap of ash. Only the walls of the temple were left, black and papered with dead corpses, pierced by pikes. Among them were elderly man, children, babes and women of all ages. Their faces were pale, blue and grey. Some had no eyes or breasts, some lacked fingers and others even their heads.

It felt as if they were thrown in a nightmare.

Shaking violently, she stumbled from her horse and emptied her stomach on the ground. Her body was wracked by spasms as she tried to block out the terrible smell.

“Dany!” Larsha called out to her and smoothed her hand over Daenerys’ back. Ser Barristan followed suit and Jon stumbled from his horse to join her side.

“Breathe…Breathe!” he whispered to her.

Daenerys tried, but it felt as if her throat was in knots.

She exhaled deeply and closed her eyes for a moment. It felt as if an eternity had passed when she opened them again.

Larsha was holding her and Jon was grouching before her, his face awash with concern.

“Better?” he asked gently.

She nodded her head.

“I think I can breathe again…,” she assured him and pulled herself to her feet.

“Ser Barristan…,” he addressed the elderly knight, his grip tight on her hand. ”I think it is best if you go back to the woods. We have been riding all day…we will soon make camp. We will take care of this.”

Deaenerys knew what he meant to do. Burn the dead.

“Sonarys will be of help,” she told him and frowned. She hated being treated like fragile maid, though she knew he meant well. “And I am well.”

“You look like a ghost,” he told her in a tone that left no room for discussions. “A bit of fresh air and you will feel much better. I know what I am talking about…I vomited at Theon’s boots when I first beheld an execution. You don’t have to feel ashamed,” He assured her and brushed her hair out of her face.

“I agree with Jon,” Ser Barristan added and graced her with a grandfatherly smile.”Allow me to escort you.”

“Very well,” Daenerys agreed shakily and swallowed hard. ”I will do as you say.”

As promised, Ser Barristan led her away from the town. She didn’t want to admit it, but the fresh air helped. It didn’t take too long, before she was helping to set up camp. It gave her something to focus on.

Once she was finished with the basic tasks, Daenerys, Ser Barristan and Larsha chased a handful of sheep down the hills towards the dragons, who had started to build their sleeping place on a distant hill.

It was no late evening and the sun stood low on the distant horizon. Streaks of violet and red dotted the sky. It was reminiscent of a purple wound.

“Princess,” Ser Barristan interrupted her moment of silent contemplation. ”You should rest. It has been a long day.”

She wanted to refuse, but she felt the weariness in her bones.

“You are probably right,” she replied and fastened her cloak tighter around her shoulders.

Silently, she followed Ser Barristan back to the camp and settled before the cackling campfire. The flames swirled before her in colours of red, yellow and orange. The heat tickled her skin and helped ease her nerves, though she was unable to banish away the grizzly sights swirling through her mind.

“Is it always this terrible?” she asked Ser Barristan, who sat on his velvet cloak. She envied him for his calm composure.

“War is always terrible, Princess,” he explained and gave her sad smile. ”There is always pillage, death and rape to be found in times of war. You would have a hard time finding an army that never committed such acts of violence as you saw today, though I admit…this was rather nasty. It didn’t look like common pillage, but more like an act of revenge.”

Ser Barristan’s answer alarmed her more than she wanted to admit.

We gave them a harrowing defeat. Was this the way of the Dothraki to take revenge for it?

“The Dothraki like to kill…it is all they know,” Larsha added in broken Bastard Valyrian.”But he is right. This was an act of revenge. They butchered them to pay us back for their defeat.”

Daenerys accepted her words in silence and angled her head to search for a sign of Jon and Sonarys.

The sun had disappeared behind the horizon when Jon and the others finally returned.

They looked grim and pale, but that was no surprise to her. Burning the dead was no pleasant task.

“You look much better,” Jon remarked when his gaze came to rest on her. He even smiled a little, though she couldn’t help but to notice the glint of anger in his eyes. ”You have my thanks, Ser Barristan.”

Ser Barristan gave him an accepting nod and continued with his work. He was sharpening his blade with some of stone.

“And what will we do now?” Daenerys asked first Jon and then Tito.”Will we fight?”

“That depends on my brother,” Tito grumbled angrily and jerked his head at the chief, surrounded by his men. “And what the scouts are going to tell us. We shouldn’t act hastily, though I want nothing more than to crash a few Dothraki skulls along the way.”

“I agree,” Jon added and grimly. ”This was different than Qohor.”

This roused her interest.

“How was it different?”

“They killed the majority of the women, but there is a great lack of boy children among the victims,” Tito explained.

Daenerys didn’t know what to make of this and narrowed her eyes in confusion.

“What are you trying to say?”

“That they were taken for a specific purpose,” Tito returned and gave Jon a sideway glance. ”The Masters of Astapor are always keen on boy children. They need them to build their armies of Unsullied.”

Unsullied, Daenerys repeated to herself and searched her memory about these Unsullied. They are slave soldiers of the finest sort and bound too strict obedience. That is what she had read in one of her books a long time ago.

“But why leave the women?” Daenerys asked and wrinkled her brows in confusion. ”They could have earned a lot of coin by selling them to the slavers, unless this was really just an act of revenge.”

“It seems so,” Jon agreed through gritted teeth. He looked very tense, his jaw tight like a bowstring. His dark gaze rested on the dragons circling above the camp. ”They came here to take revenge.”

It was hard to deduce Jon’s feelings by the expression on his face, but his anger was palpable by the way he was flexing his hand. He took an arrow wound in his first battle and whenever he overstrained his arm the wound started sting. Flexing his hand gave temporary relief, but only the cooling pastes of Tito’s mother were able to remove the pain completely.

Yet it wasn’t so hard to understand what he was thinking.

He thinks this is the result of our past actions, she believed and felt the sudden urge to pull him aside to speak alone.

“Jon,” she said and forced a smile over her lips. It was hard to smile with those memories still lingering at the edge of her mind. ”The dragons seem anxious. Maybe we should pay a visit to them. Would you care to join me?”

“A good idea,” he agreed and lifted his head to meet her gaze. ”Then let us go.”

Ghost trailed after them as they climbed up the hill to join the dragons. Rhaegon was sleeping while Viserion was circling above their heads. Sonarys was feasting on his supper, but started to throw plumes of smoke in the air when he noticed their presence.

“They look calm enough,” Jon remarked quietly.

She stepped closer and grasped his arm.

“I lied,” she added with a wry smile. ”But I wanted to speak alone. It isn’t your fault…you know. It is as Larsha said…this is the way of the Dothraki.”

“It is not,” he replied grimly and tightened his grip on her hand. He didn’t look at her, his gaze fixed on Sonarys. ”They usually take prisoners. They acted this wantonly because we gave them a harrowing defeat. I always expected they would come back, but I didn’t expect they would retaliate this brutally…I even thought they might stop their attacks temporarily... I was a naive fool.”

“You are no fool,” she assured him. ”And what was the alternative? Should the Lhazareen just tolerate their behaviour?”

“Of course not,” he replied and nodded his head. ”But I still don't know how far I want to to go…”

Sansa

Sansa tried to hide her feelings of shame behind a passive expression. Highgarden proved as lovely as promised, but she took little pleasure in the lavish gardens and the towers of marble touching the blue sky.

A lady knows her courtesy, she told herself and made her way to the aisle. Throughout her childhood she only knew her mother’s small Sept. Not long ago she had the privilege to visit the Sept of Baelor, but this Sept was not less beautiful. It showed the wealth of Highgarden.

This wealth was the reason Joff broke their betrothal. She loved him once with all her heart, but now she felt only hatred for him. Just thinking about him made her ears burn.

Lord Willas will be my husband, she reminded herself and met his gaze. I have to do my duty.

She met him a few days ago and hardly saw anything of him since. He was much older than her, though quite comely. He shared Ser Loras’ soft-featured face, golden-brown locks and honey-coloured eyes. Yet he lacked his fit built and his twisted foot was an ugly sight to behold. Not even his beautiful silken cloak could hide his ailment.

My brother is also a cripple, she reminded herself not for the first time. I ought to have pity for him. I must try to love him.

Yet she still felt the tears burning in her eyes as she took his hand. It was good that her face was hidden by a thick veil trimmed with baby pearls.

The Septon’s singing voice lulled in her ears as her betrothed lifted the white garment. He didn’t smile, his face a mask of seriousness.

He is serious. That was her first impression of Willas Tyrell. So very serious.

She didn’t know what to make of that. Joff was always trying to impress her and showered her with lavish gifts like fine silks or jewels, but Willas Tyrell only gifted her an old dusty book that chronicles the history of his family.

To get to know your new family, he had told her in a gentle voice. It was a pleasant voice, but she would have preferred a kind word or a compliment.

The marriage vows come easy to her mouth. She knew these vows by heart. She had dreamed of this day so often, but now she felt only bitterness.

They used me, she knew and stifled a sob. The Queen and Joff. They used me. All of Joff’s flattery was a lie.

Once the vows were spoken she removed her maiden cloak, made of the purest white, a grey direwolf embellished in the middle. Her husband wasn’t able to do it as he had to lean on a crutch.

It isn’t meant to be like this, but she knew and felt the heat in her cheeks.

Doing her best to keep her composure, she turned around to receive a chaste kiss.

It was the clapping of the guests that called her back to the present moment. She was the only Stark here, a wolf among roses. Again she felt the sharp sting of loneliness. She longed for her mother’s kind words, Arya’s silly japes, Bran’s scary stories, Rickon’s complaints and…father.

I must play my part, she reminded herself again and forced a smile over her lips as she met her husband’s gaze. She noticed now that there were specks of green in his golden eyes.

He is not as handsome as Ser Loras, but he has pretty eyes, she decided.

He gave her a hesitant smile and took her arm, allowing her to lead him out of the sept to the feasting hall.

Even from the distance she heard the sound of music. Sansa loved dancing and felt the urge to join the festivities, but being mindful of her husband’s disposition she forced herself to forget about it and took her seat next to him.

The food rich, but she could hardly stomach anything. She knew what was expected of her, but just thinking about it left her with a queasy feeling in her stomach.

“Is the food not to your taste, my Lady?” Lord Willas asked her after a long moment of silence had passed between them.

She couldn’t help but to blush. I need to get a hold of myself.

“I am just excited,” she apologized sweetly.

A hesitant smile passed over his lips and he called for one of the page boys.

Going by his golden-brown eyes the boy was a relative. Lord Willas whispered something in his ear and the boy grinned from one ear to the other, before rushing off to fulfil whatever task his Lord gave him.

Scarce a minute passed, before he the boy returned with a silver plate.

“The Queen was kind enough to inform me about your tastes,” Lord Willas told her and jerked his head at the lemon cakes.

Sansa was taken back by his gesture, but she couldn’t help but to remain mistrustful.

Joff gave me nothing but lies. I need to be careful.

“I thank you, my Lord,” she replied and nibbled from a piece of cake. It tasted heavenly, but she could take no joy in it.”I thank you.”

The rest of the evening passed in a blur. Most of the guests were deep in their cups when one of them called for the bedding.

Sansa froze in fear when she heard this.

I must be brave, she reminded herself, but her husband seemed to sense her fear and sent the men away.

Silence spread between them afterwards as she undressed. Lord Willas did the same, though not before her. It seemed he felt just as ashamed as her.

It made her wonder if he was ashamed of his twisted leg or just shy in front of ladies. He was twenty, a man grown. It was hard to believe that he never bedded a woman.

Trembling and only dressed in her nightgown she slipped beneath the covers, to seek warmth. She never thought the south could be this cold.

It made her long for the hotsprings. She closed her eyes for a moment, imagining the heart tree and the steaming pools of water.

It was the sinking of the mattress beside her that called her back to the present moment.

“My Lady…,” He mumbled quietly and his golden eyes met hers.

Then he leaned over to squeeze her folded hands.

“I wish I could wait…but my Lord Father commanded me…he commanded me to do this..,” he said in a low and insecure voice.

Sansa was flabbergasted by his answer.

“Am I not pleasing enough for you, my Lord?” she asked, a bit insulted by his lack of interest.

He blushed and lifted his hand to touch her cheek.

“That is not the reason…you are very beautiful, but you are half a child. That is all.”

This answer was even worse, but she tried her best to hide her feelings.

“I am a woman flowered. I am not afraid.”

A moment of heavy silence followed, before he finally moved and joined her beneath the covers. His breathing tickled her cheek as turned to lay on top of her. His body felt warm against hers. It was not unpleasant.

She expected of him to do it quickly, but he proved more than cautious. Ever gently, he touched her cheek, her neck and the curve of her shoulder. He slowly brushed the underside of her breast, before moving his hand further down to come to rest on her hip. His other hands skimmed along her other thigh and slipped between her legs.

She didn’t expect that and gave an unladylike gasp. She closed her eyes, a strange feeling washing over her.

He seemed to sense her feelings and leaned down to kiss her cheek and then her lips. He tasted of the wine mixed with honey essence. It was a pleasant taste, but the knowledge of what was to come dimmed her pleasure.

She grabbed the sheets as he pushed inside her. It left a stinging feeling between her legs that brought tears to her eyes.

She must have cried out, for he stopped immediately, one of his hands touching her face in a soothing gesture.

She touched his neck and placed a kiss on his mouth. It was meant to encourage him.

He returned her kiss and moved inside her, the pain giving away to a dull ache of pleasure. Shortly after, she gasped in his neck as he spent himself inside her, his breathing hot against her cheek.

It took him a good while to entangle himself from her body, his eyes of molten gold staring down at her in a mix of sadness and warmth.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked her and brushed his fingertips over her hand resting above her head.

She shook her head and meant it. She imagined it worse, though for a brief moment she wondered whether Joff would have asked her the same question.

“I am well,” she assured him and he finally smiled. It was a sincere smile devoid of pride.

“Then I am pleased, my Lady. I assure you…we can wait as long as you want until we do this again…you are still so very young.”

“I told you before,” she replied and squeezed his hand. ”I am a woman grown.”

Chapter Text

Jon

The scouts had returned by nightfall and now they were listening to Tito’s findings.

Young Jemshid was their newest addition. He joined them half a day ago with thousand men.

“The Dothraki camp is surrounded by forest to the west and north,” Tito explained and pointed at the circle meant to represent the Dothraki camp.

“To the east stretches a barren plain, crossed by a shallow river and leading to a hilly area. The main horde still camping there and I doubt they will leave anytime soon. It seems they made this place their base of operation. I also saw them bring captives to the camp.”

“Where?” Daenerys asked and met Tito’s gaze. ”Where do they keep the captives?”

“In the northern part of the camp…near their carts,” Tito answered and drew several smaller circles on the ground.

“How many riders are there?” Chief Mallor asked. ”What do you think, brother?”

Tito narrowed his eyes in concentration, before giving his estimation.

“About twenty-thousand riders…it is hard to say.”

“We have about four-thousand men,” Young Jemshid remarked. Then he lifted his gaze and turned to look at Jon.”And three dragons.”

Jon nodded his head in understanding.

“We have dragons, but I can’t just burn the camp. I could harm the captives.”

“Indeed,” Chief agreed and nodded his head. ”That is why our first priority should be to free the captives.”

Jon’s gaze immediately darted to the northern part of the camp.

“You mentioned a forest...” Jon said. ”How would you describe the forest?”

“The woods are thick,” Tito confirmed and bared his teeth, before drawing several lines on the ground meant to represent the forest. ”The woods are thick, but passable by foot. Why are you asking?”

“I see,” Jon said and pondered Tito’s answer.”A smaller group of people could try passing through the woods to free the captives,” he continued. ”Would that be possible?”

“It would be possible,” Tito confirmed, but his serious expression told Jon that it wouldn’t be as easy as he imagined. ”But I doubt we would be able to free several hundred captives without alarming the horde.”

“True,” Daenerys added, her purple eyes narrowed in concentration. ”But it would be possible if we provide them with a distraction.”

Then she lifted her head and smiled at Jon.

Jon knew this kind of smile. It meant that she was planning something.

“What better distraction than a massive dragon?”

No, Jon wanted to say, but they didn’t have much of a choice. They needed to attack within the next few days or their advantage of surprise would be gone. They tried to keep several paces behind the horde, but their time was running out.

“A good idea, ”Jon replied instead and forced a smile over his lips. ”And how do you intend to employ the dragon?”

She smiled proudly, seemingly pleased that he approved of her suggestion. To see her smile warmed his hearth, but it didn’t erase his worry.

“The dragons,” she corrected him. ”I intend to employ both Viserion and Rheagon. Two dragons are more threatening than one. I also intend to ride Rhaegon. This way I can keep Viserion in check. You know how aggressive he can be.”

Jon knew what she was trying to say, but he didn’t like that Daenerys intended to ride Rhaegon. She had been training over the last weeks, but a real battle was different matter.

“Daenerys…I don’t think…,” he began, but her determined expression silenced him.

“I trained hard. I can do it,” she assured him, her purple eyes pleading.

“Very well,” he agreed and sighed. ”But I suggest taking Sonarys instead of Viserion. He is much easier to control. Viserion can stay with me.”.

“Sonarys listens to you, but Viserion doesn’t. Keep Sonarys with you,” Daenerys countered.

“We could help you by placing ourselves before the river. Thus we could provide another distraction.”

“A good idea…they would certainly follow us like rabid dogs,” Chief Mallor added grimly. ”Thus we could lure them to the hilly landscape spreading behind the river.”

“Several mounted riders should be enough to lure them there,” Jon agreed. ”And the hills are easier to defend against the mounted Dothraki riders. I and Sonarys could stay there and help defending this position.”

“Good,” Tito agreed. ”But we also should watch out for the Boodriders and the Khal. Killing him could shorten the battle.

“Forgive me for asking this,” Ser Barristan added quietly. ”Why would killing him shorten the battle? Are the Dothraki solely dependent on the Khal’s leadership?”

“The death of the Khal would split the horde…they would probably return to Vaes Dothraki to decide on another Khal. This would take moons,” Tito explained.

“There is still the matter of the captives,” Jon reminded them and took a sideway look at Ser Barristan.”Who wants to lead the rescue team?”

“I will,” Tito declared determinedly.

“Good,” Jon said and jerked his head at Ser Barristan.”Would you mind if Ser Barristan accompanies you? He is quite experienced at rescue missions…”

Tito’s gaze flickered from Ser Barristan to Jon. Jon read doubt on his face, but he didn’t voice his true thoughts and simply nodded his head.

“Very well,” his friend answered and bared his teeth. ”The old man and I will save the captives.”

If Ser Barristan felt insulted, it didn’t show on his face. He only gave a quiet.

“All of this is good and fine,” Chief Mallor added and swept his dark eyes over the assembled group of people. ”But we need to tread carefully. The Dothraki are fearsome.”

Thus the meeting ended. Only Jon, Daenerys and Ser Barristan remained.

“Jon,” Daenerys whispered and touched his shoulder. ”Jon.”

He grabbed her hand and met her gaze.

“I heard you,” he said and gave her an apologetic smile. ”Forgive me, my mind was straying…What did you say?”

She gave him a concerned look and touched his cheek.

“I was just saying that I am going to feed the dragons,” she explained and placed a kiss on his cheek, before rising to her feet.

“Let me…,” he began, but she silenced him with a warning look. ”Let me help you. You won’t have the luxury to sit on a dragon’s back. You need your dire rest.”

“The Princess is right,” Ser Barristan added in his grandfatherly tone that left no room for discussions.

“At least take Larsha with you. She can be of help to you.”

“I will,” she assured him and rose to her feet, before slipping out of the tent.

Ser Barristan remained, his blue eyes searching for Jon.

“I can see there is something weighing on your mind,” he said and gave Jon an expectant look. ”I am an old man, but I heard talking helps wonders…”

Jon frowned. He didn’t want to bare his thoughts to the elderly knight. He liked him, but he hadn’t known him for more than a few moons.

Yet this problem concerned his family heritage and there was no one who knew more about it than Ser Barristan Selmy.

“I don’t know…I thought the Dothraki horde would back off if I gave them a harrowing defeat. That is why I was prepared to use the dragons and in the end I made everything worse. And now we are relying on the dragons again. Seeing their power was terrifying. I know that war is bloody, but killing with dragon fire feels different than burying one’s blade in an enemy,” he tried to explain his feelings and shrugged his shoulders. ”I must sound like a weak fool to you.”

“On the contrary,” Ser Barristan answered softly. ”You are no weak fool. I think it is not wrong to have a healthy dose of respect for the enemy. People who allow themselves to be roused by feelings of revenge tend to commit fateful errors. However, I also learned that good intentions mean nothing if you are not prepared to enforce them with force and blood. There are different kinds of people…some can be pacified with mercy and others only understand the way of the sword.”

Jon couldn’t help but to laugh.

”I am trying to help the Lhazareen, because I think they are worthy of protection. And to achieve this goal I will have to burn hundreds of people.”

“Indeed,” Ser Barristan added and stroked his beard. ”But that is the way of our world. Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon killed thousands of people to protect their cause. So did your father’s allies. That is the way of war.”

“That is the way of war,” Jon confirmed and grew eerily quiet.

“I fear so, my Prince,” Ser Barristan added and graced him with a sad smile. ”I don’t know of this will help to ease your pain, but your father told me this: Better an end with terror than terror without an end. He intended to depose his father the Mad King.”

Jon nodded his head in understanding.

“I think understand what my father was trying to say, Ser Barristan.”

Daario

Dawn was drawing closer, but the distant horizon was still dark. Daario sat before his tent and continued to sharpen his blade. Now and then he observed his men going about their business, but even that proved rather boring.

He had been a sellsword for as long as he was able to remember, but this was the least eventful mission they had ever received. They had been following after the Dothraki horde for several weeks, waiting to get a glimpse of these so called dragons. The brought with four scorpions, which they kept hidden beneath earthen cloths. They even donned Dothraki garb to remain hidden in the crowd of unwashed savages.

Daario hated this the most. He longed for his armour and wanted nothing more than to shed the smelly garb of the Dothraki. The Widower and Jokin might not care if they smelled like a heap of horseshit, but Daario did.

The only positive prospect of this mission was the promise of coin. Daario already knew what he would purchase. He was in dire need of a new horse, but helping the Dothraki still left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He knew what they did to the villages, though didn’t take part in the butchery. The Dothraki didn’t deem them worthy to partake. Defeating a worthy enemy could be better than fucking, but it was hard for him to understand what kind of satisfaction the Dothraki take from killing wailing women and children.

His companions didn’t care. Off in the distance he saw Jokin running off with a Dothraki woman.

Exhaling deeply, he but his blade away and cast his gaze to the horizon. A pale light lined the hills, rising behind the thin river curling in the distance.

My watch is finally over, he realized and made his way along a row of tents, back to his humble dwelling.

The Widower was also awake and continued to sharpen his axe, despite Daario’s presence.

“Did you see dragons?” he asked amusedly.

“Sadly not,” Daario replied and slipped inside his tent. He hadn’t slept for a whole day and his head squirmed from the smell of horseshit. He plopped back on his sleeping place and searched for his hidden stash of wine. One gulp of the Dornish wine was enough and he felt a stream of warmth washing over him.

This feeling was better than goodnight kiss and soon he drifted off to sleep.

He hadn’t slept for more than an hour when Jokin rushed into his tent to wake him from his slumber.

“Enemy ahead!”

“Fuck,” Daario muttered and pulled on his boots, before rushing after Jokin.”Did you see dragons?”

“Not yet,” Jokin replied and rushed up the hill. Up there they had a better view at the plain spreading towards the river. ”But it seems the sheepmen decided to show their face.”

“Seems so,” Daario agreed when he saw several hundred riders, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. ”But no dragons.”

“No dragons,”Jokin repeated while Daario climbed down from the elevated position. Waiting for him at the bottom he found the Widower, who grinned as if he was expecting a good fuck.

“Stop smiling and wake our men!” Daario snapped and went to retrieve his blade.

In the matter of a heartbeat the camp came to life. Men stumbled out of their tents and in the distance he heard the cries of the Dothraki warriors growling their commands at each other. It didn’t take long, before the first swarm of Dothraki warriors charged towards the enemy.

Daario’s men were busy readying the scorpions while Jokin’s archers prepared their bows and arrows. More and more Dothraki warriors gathered as Daario continued to watch the movements of the enemy. The Lhazareen riders had turned heel and were retreating behind the river. The Dothraki followed after them like rabid dogs.”

Then he heard it.

The roar of the green-golden creature spreading its wings over the sky sounded liked running thunder.

Daario froze, his gaze still glued to the creature.

Suddenly, there was a second dragon. This one was even more terrifying than the first one, its wings made of shining silver.

Their unified roar made the world tremble.

Time to die, he thought in amusement and felt the warm rush of blood. The pounding of his heart even drowned out the cries of the Dothraki warriors, but that was not important. His enemies were the dragons.

“Finally!” he heard the Widower’s enthusiastic voice. Jokin looked less pleased, his eyes as wide as saucers as he watched the approaching dragons.

Again, the silver-winged creature roared. Joking shuddered visibly.

“Shut up and get back to your position!” Daario shouted at the Widower and quickly returned to his assigned position.

By now his men had moved the scorpions up the hill. The plan was simply: to shoot the dragons from the sky, but what happened now woke his doubts.

The golden-green dragon had barely reached the outskirts of the camp when it unleashed crimson flames on the Dothraki warriors.

Daario couldn’t believe his eyes. It looked like a fiery sword cutting its way through butter.

Within a heartbeat a dozen of Dothraki warriors were swallowed by the flames. Their cries made his ears bleed, but were soon drowned out by the sound of snapping arrows.

The majority of the arrows didn’t even reach the intended target or were destroyed by another wave of flames.

The next volley of arrows came from the dragon’s rear, even the few arrows that hit the target didn’t show much effect. The dragon angled his head and unleashed a stream of flames on the Dothraki warriors.

It was a terrifying sight, but it was also what they were hoping for. The Dothraki were dying like flies, but it would provide the distraction they needed.

“Prepare the bolts!” Daario shouted at his men, who were still staring at the dragons. ”Prepare the bolts!”

His shouting roused them from their lethargy, but the dragon was still too far away.

“Jokin!” he shouted, his voice echoing over the camp. ”Send the archers forward to lure the dragons closer!”

Still pale, Jokin did as he was asked and moved his archers forward while the green-golden dragon continued to fly circles above the camp. The silver dragon was not far behind and unleashed a stream of yellow flames on the nearby tents.

Daario watched from his position as Jokin’s archers unleashed a volley of arrows at the green-golden dragon.

Only a handful of arrows hit the target, but it achieved the intended purpose.

The dragon whirled his head around and unleashed a sea of flames in their direction. Jokin’s men had dispersed in expectancy of a counter attack.

“We are nearly there,” he told his men, who looked as if they wanted to get back to their mother’s tits.”Nock!”

The dragon came closer and closer, its roar soon exchanged by the thrumming of his heart.

Holding his breath, he watched and timed the approach of the dragon. Only when he felt the dragon’s hot breath on his skin did he give the command.

“Loose!” he shouted and the first round of bolts was unleashed at the dragon.

It was a crisp, snapping sound that filled his ears. Daario’s head snapped around and followed the bolts, unleashed from their scorpions.

One of the bolts flew a perfect match, before descending at the green-golden dragon, but it didn’t work out as it should. The dragon ducked and the bolt missed, barely brushing his wings.

Daario’s hopes were squashed, but he tried to hide his doubts. Sweat was rolling down his temples as his men readied the next round of bolts. Jokin used the moment to send his archers forward.

The dragon seemed to anticipate their attack and bathed a good thirty men in a thick column of crimson flames.

Their bloodcurdling screams made his blood freeze. Daario always prided himself on his bravery, but this was different.

Daario gritted his teeth as he tried to time the dragon’s movement.

“Nock!” he yelled and raised his hand. The dragon’s breathe felt like a hot furnace. ”Loose!”

That’s it!

All his hopes were dashed when the silver-winged dragon dipped down from the sky. He shrieked when the bolt hit his body. Another bolt brushed his silver wings, even drawing blood.

It was no use. The hit only helped to stir the dragon’s rage.

In the blink of a moment the silver-winged dragon whipped around and bathed the world in a sea of yellow flames.

Fuck!

Ser Barristan

The woods before them were dark and eerily quiet, the howling of the wind their only companion as they made their way through the thick underwood. They counted not more than hundred men, but Ser Barristan remained optimistic. Duskendale seemed impossible, but in the end he managed to free King Aerys.

“This way!” the young man named Tito whispered to him and pointed ahead. They were trudging through the waist-high grass, before ducking under a large tree that blocked the way to a nearby clearing. They crossed the clearing and followed a muddy trail, leading along row of old trees.

The young man named Tito moved like a squirrel while Ser Barristan was slowed down by his age. He would have never admitted it openly, but he felt a hint of jealousy.

“We need to hurry,” Tito added and gave Ser Barristan a concerned look. ”Can you keep up, old man?”

Barristan chuckled. He was not easily insulted, especial not by a youngling like him.

“I will show you how old I am, my boy,” he replied instead and followed after him. ”Wait and see.”

The rest of the path was bridged in silence. Occasionally he heard the whispering of the men walking behind him. To Barristan it sounded like growling. His Bastard Valyrian was passable, but his Lhazareen was still non-existent, though he tried his best to get a grasp of their difficult speech.

Their breathing was ragged from the fast pace when they reached the outskirts of the forest. They found themselves at the edge of a relatively steep path when they stepped out of the forest.

Barristan was surprised by the size of the camp. A sea of tents and cookfires spread before him.

“Look, that’s where we need to go,” Tito whispered and pointed at the outskirts of the camp. The light was still sparse, but even Barristan’s old eyes were able to make out the shadowed shapes of the baggage trains. The carts stood at the furthest edge of the camp and were protected by Dothraki warriors armed with spears. Barristan saw only able to make out their shadowed shapes, but the tips of their spears glittered in the torchlight. The captives were even harder to place, but Tito was quick to provide him with an answer.

Now it was time to wait and to observe.

It would be the first time he saw the dragons in battle. He felt both excitement and worry. The Princess was a capable rider, but still so very young.

Silently, he watched the distant horizon, glimmering in a pale light.

Half an hour passed, before the camp came to life. Barristan could even see the Lhazareen riders crossing the river, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. Below the camp he observed the shadowed Dothraki warriors mounting their horses, before driving them towards the approaching Lhazareen riders.

“There!” one of the men whispered in Bastard Valyrian and pointed at the sky. Accompanied by a loud roar and the swishing of wings the dragon named Rhaegon descended on the camp.

Barristan watched in awe as the creature spread his wings and unleashed a stream of crimson flames.

“We should move on,” Tito reminded him and pointed ahead. ”Our task awaits us!”

Barristan nodded and followed suit.

They didn’t speak and tried to keep their movements as quiet as possible as they climbed down the steep path towards their intended target.

It didn’t take long before Ser Barristan spotted the first two sentries coming their way.

“I will take the right one,” Ser Barristan offered.

The young man named Tito frowned, but didn’t decline his offer. He only lifted his blade and moved through the foliage, towards the second sentry after giving last directions to his men.

I have yet to gain their trust, he knew and unsheathed his blade. The feeling of his blade slipping out of his worn-out scabbard was as familiar as breathing to him.

The sentry didn’t see him coming. Barristan slit his throat before he was even able to utter a sound. The Dothraki warroir stared back at him with wide black eyes, a gush of blood streaming down his corded body, before dropping to the ground like a puppet without strings.

Ser Barristan’s companions didn’t prove as efficient. One of their men must have alarmed the Dothraki, for a handful came upon them a heartbeat later, their curved blades raised in a threatening gesture.

The one coming at Barristan was a hunk of a man. His dark eyes glittered dangerously and a growl escaped his lips as he swung his blade. Barristan moved as surely as a dancer. He parried the man’s blow and buried his blade to the hilt.

The man growled and collapsed half-way as Barristan freed his blade. It took only a heartbeat before he had wheeled around and killed the next one.

When he was done, he noticed Tito’s presence. He stood in the shadow of a cart, his blade bloody and his dark eyes widened in surprise.

Who is now an old man, he wanted to ask the youngling, but there was no time to waste.

They used the carts to shadow their movements, but they were still forced to bloody their blades, before they reached the captives.

With a quick cut he buried his blade in the neck of the nearest sentry. He gurgled and collapsed when Barristan freed his blade.

Their actions alarmed the captives. The sun had climbed higher, but the light was still sparse and Barristan saw nothing more than shadowed faces filled with wear. The majority of the captives were male, ranging from young boys to grown men.

Some whispered in Lhazareen and even smiled, but the young ones cowered in fear. Only after Tito had explained their purpose did they calm down.

Barristan was surprised how efficient the Lhazareen worked. Ropes were cut, the captives assembled and directed while Barristan and the rest kept watch. They had to kill a handful of more warriors, but their enemy was rash. They were no match against a calmly-led blade.

Barristan killed them swiftly, but the young man named Tito seemed to take great pleasure in burying his blade in their bodies.

It was no surprise to Ser Barristan. He recalled the mangled bodies in the pillaged villages all too vividly.

Finished with their bloody work, their next task awaited them: to get several hundred captives up the steep path leading to the forest.

Especially, the younger captives proved problematic. They started to whimper, but the young man named Tito didn’t hesitate to silence them with sharp words. It was so unlike his usual calm temper, but worked like a spell.

Not long after they were climbing up the steep path, towards the dark forest. Far off in the distance he heard the echoes of battle and the roars of the dragons. Only when he had arrived at the top did he turn around and gasped in shock.

The dragon named Rhaegon was bathing the enemy in crimson flames, his roar mixing with the snapping of arrows. Yet it was the cry of Viserion that made him shudder.

His roar sounded like the cry of a mighty lion as he moved through the camp. Left and right, he snapped his head at approaching riders, before tearing them apart limp and bones. Yellow flames leaped out of his mouth as he continued to move in their direction.

The sight confused Barristan.

What is going on, he wondered and smoothed his hand over the pommel of his sword. Why is he coming here…

“Move!” he shouted at the others and turned around. ”Move!”

...

Daenerys

Daenerys trembled when she heard Viserion’s painful shriek. She had been too focused on the enemy to notice the siege weapons placed on the hill.

The bolt flew straight at Rhaegon, but Viserion had propelled himself in front of them. Even in the lingering darkness she was able to see the blood running where the bolt had brushed his wings.

“Gīda aōla!” she shouted at Rhaegon and tightened her grip on his back. Yet that was easier said than done. Rhaegon was out of control and continued to bathe the enemy in curling red flames while the Dothraki warriors continued to litter them with arrows. A few of them were already stuck in Rhaegon’s upper body.

We need to get away, she knew, her heart hammering wildly. Now.

“Sōvegon!” she shouted again and patted Rhaegon’s back.”Sōvegon!”

Over and over again she repeated her command, her voice strained from the effort. She clung to his back, the arrows darting over hear head like a swarm of birds.

She closed her eyes for a brief moment. Her eyes hurt from the smoke. The smell of death and blood filled her nose and made her want to gag. It was a smell reminiscent of the dead bodies in the pillaged villages.

“Rhaegon!” she shouted once more.”Bē!”

She didn’t know what did it, but Rhaegon finally obeyed her command. She tightened her grip on his back as he lifted them in the air.

Once they were back in the air she straightened herself and turned around to make out Viserion’s position.

She gasped in shock when she noticed how far he had gone. He had wandered off north, where the outskirts of the camp met the dark forest.

Gods, I need to stop him!

Alarmed by this, she climbed higher and patted Rhaegon’s back.

“Rhaegon!” she shouted and clucked her tongue.” Geptot!”

Rhaegon changed his direction in such a quick manner that Daenerys was barely able to take a breath.

Her heart was steadily thrumming as Rhaegon followed after his brother, who continued his murder spray through the camp towards the forest.

I need to stop him, she knew and straightened herself. The cool air brushed her skin. Her head was cold and her calves felt hot as if she was sitting atop a volcano.

“Rhaegon! Paktot!” she shouted again.”Paktot!”

Rhaegon obeyed and moved right, flying a curve to cut off Viserion’s approach.

They had nearly reached Viserion when Daenerys straightened herself and cleared her throat.

“Viserion!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. “Henujagon! Keligon ziry!”

Viserion proved blind to her calls and continued his approach. It wasn’t helped by the fact that a horde of Dothraki riders dared to make their way through the flames to attack them.

Their screams echoed in her ears as they hurled their spears at Viserion. Quick like a snake he angled his head and threw a current of flames at the enemy.

She didn’t see what happened to them, because had to direct her attention back to Rhaegon, who continued to fly straight ahead, over the forest below.

We need to turn around, she knew and patted Rhaegon’s back.

“Rhaegon! Geptot!”

Rhaegon roared and flapped his wings, before taking a sharp turn to the left, soaring over the forest below, back to the camp.

“Ilie! she commanded next.” Ilie!”

Rhaegon didn’t waste time and flew straight ahead. Daenerys straightened herself and timed her descend.

“Ilagon!” she commanded.” Ilagon! Pektot!”

Rhaegon obeyed and dipped lower, before landing in a relatively pleasant manner. Daenerys’ gaze flickered over the camp, but found no enemy ahead. This part of the camp was relatively secure and Daenerys had no reservations to keep Rhaegon on the ground. Yet she didn’t dare to crawl from his back. She feared the enemy too much.

“Rhaegon! Naejot!” she commanded and the dragon slithered towards Viserion. Not far from their position the flames continued to spread towards the forest looming ahead. Viserion didn’t help it by continuing to stir them higher.

“Keligon!” she called after Viserion, but he continued to ignore her.

Daenerys gritted her teeth and exhaled deeply.

I have no other choice.

“Rhaegon!” she shouted.”Dracarys!”

Rhaegon roared and angled his head to the side, before unleashing a stream of flames in Viserion’s direction.

His brother shrieked when the flames touched his body. Her heart clenched in guilt, though it was not uncommon that the dragons unleashed their flames at each other when they were quarreling.

He will be fine, she assured herself and commanded Rhaegon to repeat the action. He will be fine.

Finally, Viserion backed away. He shrieked and craned his head to look at her.

She felt the touch of his hot skin and met Viserion’s gaze.

He is angry, she knew and didn’t dare to flinch away. I need to remain calm. He can sense my fear.

“Viserion! Dīnagon arlī!” she commanded and braced herself for Viserion’s reaction.

Rhaegon roared as if to add his voice and snapped his head at Viserion.

Finally, Viserion began to move backwards. He flapped his wings and with much effort he managed to take to the air. He looked like a young bird.

“Rhaegon!” she commanded and patted his back.”Sōvegon!”

Relief washed over her when Rhaegon followed after his brother and it gave her a moment to clear hear head.

She tightened her grip on Rhaegon’s back and directed her gaze westwards, where Jon was fighting at the side of the Lhazareen.

Jon

The blades parted and Jon urged his horse left to wheel around the enemy. This Dothraki warrior was hardly older than him, but a much better rider than Jon.

Robb was always the better rider, he recalled for no particular reason and parried the next blow.

Jon gritted his teeth and searched for an opening.

With a quick movement he buried his blade in the man’s shoulder. Blood trickled down the man’s body and he collapsed from his rearing horse.

Yet he was not allowed to rest. The next warrior was soon upon him, but Ghost was quicker and felled the man’s horse. The warrior was barely able to get up before Jon cut him down.

Jon pulled his blade free and wheeled his horse around to lead it up the hill, where Sonarys was waiting for him. Below he spotted the swarms of Dothraki warriors trying to reach the Lhazareen spearmen and archers.

The Lhazareen continued to litter the Dothraki warriors with arrows, but not even the elevated positions and Sonarys’ flames were able to keep them away.

Like madman they continued to drive their horses up the hill, towards Sonarys. By now he had killed several hundred of them; below them spread a heap of corpses of men and horse alike.

Again the Dothraki unleashed a volley of arrows at them.

As always, the Lhazareen spearmen lifted their shields to protect their own archers. Some of the Dothraki arrows darted over their heads and several others ended up stuck in their shields.

The Lhazareen archers didn’t hesitate to retaliate and unleashed an equal amount of arrows at the enemy below.

“Something strange is going on,” Young Jemshid remarked and pointed at the distant camp. Jon lifted his head and saw Rhaegon circling over Viserion. He was far off from his intended position.

It seems Viserion is out of control, she realized but decided against telling Young Jemshid.

Daenerys knows what she is doing, he assured himself and turned his gaze towards the swarm of Dothraki warriors driving their horses up the hill.

Their shrill cries made his ears bleed, but he ignored it. He gritted his teeth and lifted his sword.

“Wait!” Young Jmeshid shouted and stopped him. ”The bloodriders…the bloodriders have finally come!

“Finally,” Jon replied and felt a hint of relief. It meant the Khal couldn’t far.”Our time has come!”

“Finally,” Young Jemshid agreed and assembled his men. It were his best riders, chosen for this purpose alone: to kill the Khal and his bloodriders.

Jon nodded his head and turned around to regard Sonarys.

“Umbagon dīnagon!” he told the dragon and hoped he was able to understand him. Then he shifted his attention back to the enemy below and whistled.

“Ghost with me!” he commanded and kicked his heels in the sides’ of his horse.

The bloodriders were easily discernable. They wore red war paint, covering their faces.

All he heard was the sound of his pounding heart as he continued to descend down the hill.

His first enemy, a hunk of a Dothraki rider, came straight at him, his curved blade raised for attack. Jon gritted his teeth and parried his quick cuts while trying to remain on his horse. The blades met in another quick exchange of blows, before Jon wheeled his horse to the side and brought down his sword in a savage blow to the rider’s left.

The enemy barely managed to parry the blow, but Jon gave him no time to rest. The blades kissed briefly and Jon didn’t hesitate to bury his blade in the enemy’s horse.

The animal reared and catapulted the enemy to the ground. Jon was about to raise his blade, when Ghost jumped the man and ended his life.

Jon had no time to relish his victory. The sound of snapping arrows alarmed him and made him spur his horse further down the hill. They missed him, but two of their riders were hit. The rest were engaged in battle and continued to cross their blades with the enemy.

Young Jemshid had managed to unhorse another bloodrider when Jon spotted him.

It was the first time he saw him fight. Jon was impressed how easily he kept in the saddle while bringing down his blade at his enemy.

This bloodrider was sleek like a cat as he continued to exchange heated blows with Young Jemshid. His long braid was even more impressive. It nearly reached to his thighs, his many bells ringing with every quick movement.

The realization hit him like thunder.

That’s the Khal, he was sure and urged his horse forward, to avoid their arrows. Ghost was not far, quarreling with another warrior, his sharp teeth bloody and his growls ringing in the air. He wanted to wheel his horse around to aid Young Jemshid, but another bloodrider blocked his path.

This one was not less terrifying than the Khal. He was a strong man, graced with a corded body. He growled at Jon as he drove his horse towards him in a quick pace. Jon was barely able to take a breath before their blades met. There was something rash and aggressive in the way he fought. The smell of sweat and blood met his nostrils whenever he got too close. This one had bathed in blood, so much Jon realized, but tried not to be discouraged by it.

Calm yourself, Jon recalled Ser Barristan’s words. Yet that was easier said than done. The enemy was hammering at him with great strength and his horse was getting anxious. Let and right, the blades met and one cut gracing his shoulder. He gritted his teeth against the stinging pain and tried to calm himself, before making his next move.

Instead of attacking h led his horse to the left, riding a circle around the man. The man didn’t hesitate to follow after him and Jon waited, watching out for an opening. He gathered his strength and timed the man’s approach, before parrying the man’s next cut and slashing his blade in the man’s neck.

A stream of blood rolled down his neck, his black eyes staring back at Jon in shock.

Jon didn’t hesitate to kick his feet in the side of his horse and pulled out his blade.

When Jon had wheeled his horse around, he found Young Jemshid still engaged in battle. Left and right, the blades made as if he was painting invisible pictures in the air. Both of hem sported cuts, sweat and blood running down their bodies.

Jon didn’t waste more time and led his horse back to one his fallen companions. The man was dead, a puddle of blood spreading beneath him.

Jon sheathed his blade and leaned down to pick up the man’s spear.

He had tried his best to improve his technique, but his guts still turned to jelly the closer he got to the enemy.

“Jemshid!” he shouted at his companion and straightened himself. ”Get out of the way!”

It seemed Young Jemshid heard him, for he parried another blow, before urging his horse away from the Khal.

In the blink of a moment hurled the spear at the Khal.

The tip hit straight where it belonged and sent the Khal flying from his saddl. Jon unsheathed his sword and urged his hordes towards the fallen man.

The Khal was close to death when Jon laid eyes on him. The spear head notched itself deep in the man’s chest. He was choking for air and trying to pull out the spear, but it was no use.

He was too weak and the spear went too deep He shuddered once more, before his body went still.

Jon felt a hint of shame for killing this capable warrior in such a degrading manner. Yet then he recalled the pillaged villages. Where was the honor in that?”

“Jon!” Young Jemshid’s shout snapped him back to the present. ”The next swarm is coming!”

“I hear you,” he replied and kicked his feet in the sides’ of his horse, to follow after Young Jemshid. It didn’t take long before he found Ghost, his jaw covered in fresh blood.

Jon whistled, before they returned to join the battle.

Jon killed several more men, before they retreated to the safety of the hills. Their lines had thinned through the constant assault of the Dothraki horde, but the Lhazareen spearmen stood strong and Sonarys had kept off the blunt force.

Sonarys’ roared loudly when Jon approached. At first he thought it was his way of greeting him, but then he heard another roar.

This roar was softer. It was Viserion’s roar. Rhaegon followed suit and a heartbeat later he found his green-golden wings glittering in the morning light. He landed not far from Sonarys and whirled up a cloud of dust.

Viserion’s state was a shock.

There was a bolt sticking in his upper body and his right wing was bleeding.

Jon felt relieved when he spotted Daenerys still perched atop Rhaegon’s back. Jon unhorsed quickly and made his way towards Daenerys.

Daenerys looked pale and shaken when she arrived at the ground. Jon gasped when she pulled her helmet off her head, revealing her burned-off hair. Yet it was the arrow notched in his armor that was his true concern.

“What...,” he muttered and touched her back. ”What happened?”

“The arrow didn’t go deep,” she assured him through gritted teeth and took in the bleeding cut on his shoulder. ”This looks much worse.”

Then she lifted her head to meet his gaze.

“They had siege weapons and managed to hit Viserion. It stirred his rage and he nearly attacked the northern part of the camp. I was barely able to calm him,” she explained and turned regard the destroyed camp.

Thick columns smoke were rising into the sky and blended out the sparse morning light.

The battle was over and the remaining Dothraki warriors were leaving.

“Viserion left nothing, but destruction in his wake,” Daenerys continued to explain and craned her neck to look at Viserion and Rhaegon. “I am surprised how little damage the arrows were able to do to the dragons. Their skin must have thickened over the last moons, but the bolt went through, though not as deep as they hoped.”

Then she noticed the heap of burned and mangled bodies.

“Sonarys kept them away from the hills…just as you said,” he informed her and brushed his hand through her tattered locks.

“Viserion was stubborn,” she explained, but winced when he brushed her shoulder.

“We need to pull out the arrow, before the wound stars to fester,” he remarked.

Daenerys opened her mouth in protest when Young Jemshid interrupted their conversation.

“You should listen to him,” Young Jemshid remarked, a sad smile curling on his lips. ”The battle is done…it’s time to bury the dead and to heal.”

Daenerys

Daenerys continued to watch the dragons circling above her head. She gritted her teeth to blend out the fresh wave of pain surging through her arm.

They managed to pull out the bolt stuck in Viserion’s body, but the wound has yet to heal.

The Lhazareen also about a thousand men or more, but they remained optimistic. Maybe it was simple their nature to endure hardships with a calm composure.

“You should rest, Princess,” Ser Barristan remarked in a weary voice. He took no wound, but his clothes were drenched in blood.

Daenerys had felt as if a heavy weight dropped from his shoulders when she saw him alive and well.

“I am not tired,” she replied at last. ”And I am waiting for Jon.”

“He should rest as well,” Barristan added in a grandfatherly tone. ”He is far too stubborn.”

Daenerys couldn’t help but to agree.

“That is Jon for you,” she added and pulled the cloak tighter around her shoulder. ”He can’t sit idle.”

“No, he can never sit idle…,” Ser Barristan trailed off, his gaze fixed at the distant horizon. He looked as if his mind was somewhere else, maybe in past.

“Ser Barristan…,” she began, but Ghost’s waking roused her attention. He yawned and stretched his paws, before running down the hill towards the approaching men.

“Jon is back,” she remarked and followed after Ghost.

She spotted Tito, Jon and several strangers. Most of them were bound to horses and sported burns of various degrees.

Yet they didn’t look like Dothraki.

The man bound to Jon’s horse even sported bright-blue hair. The nasty burn on his cheek looked painful, but he looked otherwise unharmed.

“Jon,” she began, her gaze still resting on the bound man.”Who is that?”

“A sellsword,” Jon replied with a grim nod.

“My name is Daario,” he added and didn’t hesitate to introduce himself. ”Jon certainly didn’t lie about your beauty.”

She was stunned and gave Jon a questioning look.

“You know him?”

Jon nodded and frowned.

“Sadly, I do.”

“Don’t be shy, Jon,” the sellsword named Daario added and laughed. ”We are old friends, aren’t we?”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

Daenerys watched as Aemon stumbled over to her. Ghost was not far, his ruby eyes following after her boy.

“Dagnon!” Aemon shouted and handed her the blue dragon Jon made for him.”Dagnon!”

“Dragon,” she corrected him with a chuckle and picked the blue dragon from his hand. As always, he grinned and tried to repeat her words, but lacked the ability to do so.

“Dagon,” Aemon tried to repeat her words and stumbled back to his heap of toys. Then he leaned down clumsily and picked up a wooden horse.

“Hose,” he said and handed her the wooden horse. This one was a gift from Tito.”Hose!”

“Horse,” she corrected him again and put extra emphasis on the r-sound. ”Horse!”

Aemon gave her a confused look, but tried his best.

“Hosse!” he repeated eagerly.”Hosse!”

Daenerys chuckled. He didn’t seem to mind her amusement and was about to stumble back to his heap of toys when Daenerys leaned over and caught him with her unharmed hand.

Aemon made a surprised noise, but started to laugh when she patted his cheek.

“Have me,” Aemon stated happily and grasped her hand.

“I have you,” she confirmed and squeezed his small hand. Then she leaned down and put a kiss on his cheek, before taking in his hair. It had grown immensely and curled all the way down to his shoulders.

“We have to cut your hair,” she remarked and twirled one of his pale curls around her finger. ”You look like a little girl.”

“Cut,” Aemon repeated and pulled his head way. It seemed he recalled the last time all too vividly. ”No cut…no.”

Daenerys sighed deeply and patted his head.

“You are worse than Jon…,” she trailed off.

“Are you badmouthing me?” Jon asked, his voice laced with amusement. Daenerys laughed and lifted her head to find Jon standing at the entrance of their chamber. Ghost was already on his feet and licked Jon’s hand.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she replied cheekily and allowed Aemon to return to his heap of toys. ”But Aemon is in dire need of a haircut.”

Jon angled his head and took in Aemon’s appearance. He sat on the floor and arranged his horses and dragons. It was his favorite past-time, besides teasing Ghost.

“His hair looks fine to me,” he remarked and brushed his hair out of his face. It reached easily past his shoulders and was in dire need of a cut. ”And you know what happened last time. He doesn’t like to cut his hair.”

Daenerys rolled her eyes.

“Just like you.”

“I am not afraid to cut my hair,” he defended himself and bridged the distance. Her arm was still bandaged and Tito’s mother urged her to rest as much as possible. Daenerys tried to convince him otherwise, but Jon was stubborn. Her arm hurt a little, but the cooling pastes made by Tito’s mother helped.

“Aye, you are,” she confirmed and grinned at him.

He returned her smile and leaned closer to place a kiss on her lips. Then he regarded her shoulder.

“The bandages need changing,” he remarked and brushed his hand over the shoulder.

“We can do that later,” she disagreed and grasped his hand. ”I want to speak with the captive…this Daario. You have questioned him numerous times…I want to hear what he has to say.”

“Of course,” Jon agreed and squeezed her hand. ”It is just…I thought you could need a few days of rest and you won’t like what he has to say.”

His concern touched her, but she was no weak maid.

“I understand,” she replied. ”But I want to speak with the captive.”

“Very well,” Jon answered and sighed heavily. ”But first we change your bandages.”

“Very well,” she confirmed and touched his hair. ”But only if you allow me to cut your hair. Aemon might agree to cut his hair if he sees you doing it.”

“You really that will work?” Jon asked disbelievingly.

“I am sure,” Daenerys replied and had no intention let him slip away.

The captive was smiling in amusement.

“You came just in time for supper,” he remarked and jerked his head at the bowl of cut vegetables and meat. ”But I doubt that is the reason you came here.”

Jon shook his head. No smile showed on his lips as she regarded the captive.

“Indeed, Jon confirmed.”Daenerys wants to hear what you told me.”

“Daenerys,” the captive repeated. ”Wasn’t that the name of a Targaryen Queen?”

“Princess,” she corrected him. ”The first Daenerys was wed to the Prince of Dorne and I am the second. But you are not wrong…I am a Targaryen. King Aerys was my father. Jon is also a Targaryen…his father was Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, my father’s oldest son.”

Daario’s eyes widened and lifted his head to look at Jon.

“You don’t look like a dragonlord,” he remarked and bared his teeth. ”But it explains your dragons. Can you ride them too?”

“I can,” Jon replied coldly. ”But that is not why we came here. Tell Daenerys what you told me about the Masters of Astapor.”

“Very well,” Daario quipped and angled his head to look at her. ”It were the Masters of Astapor who offered the Stormcrows a hefty sum to kill your dragons. That is why we were riding with the Dothraki…our task was to kill the dragons.”

“I see,” Daenerys said and pondered this revelation. ”But why do the Masters of Astapor care about our dragons?”

“The answer is quite simple, Princess,” Daario explained. ”Coin…the coin you cost them.”

“Coin,” she repeated. The realization hit her like thunder. ”Of course…the young boys…the Unsullied. Did they also hire the Dothraki horde?”

“Exactly,” the captive confirmed. ”They used the Dothraki to do their dirty work. And they did it eagerly. The Stormcrows didn’t partake in the butchery…the Dothraki didn’t deem us worthy of such a task. Not that I wanted to partake. There is not much glory in killing wailing woman and children.”

Daenerys remained skeptical.

“Why should I believe you?” she asked. ”Maybe you are just lying to escape punishment…”

“I don’t trust him, but he is not lying,” Jon added unhappily. ”We questioned the other men. Tito was quite harsh with him…they confirmed his story.”

“I see,” she said and turned to look at Jon.” How many of the Stormcrows survived?”

“We took about a hundred of them captive…the rest is dead or fled after the battle,” Jon answered, his dark gaze still fixed on the captive. ”But the Lhazareen want them gone.”

“Well, I am not fond of them either,” Daario complained. ”Their food is not to my taste and I can see that they want to cut my throat. Allow us to go and we shall trouble you no more…,” he continued and grinned. “Or I could help you.”

“Help us?” Daenerys asked in confusion. ”How could you be of help to us?

Daario bared his golden teeth.

“Simple…I know your enemy and I can help you to defeat them.”

“Defeat them?” Jon asked. ”We defeated them…Surely they will think twice before attacking us again?”

“Are you that naïve, boy?” he Daario asked and howled with laughter. ”Your victory means nothing. The Dothraki mean nothing to the Masters of Astapor nor does the loss of a sellsword company. They have enough gold to hire a dozen of sellsword companies. They won’t forget about the dragons as long as you pose a threat for their business.”

“Business,” Jon repeated and gritted his teeth. ”All of this bloodshed…for a bit of coin.”

“Not a bit of coin,” Daario corrected him. ”A great amount of coin. It costs a fortune to buy an army of Unsullied. That is also what the city is known for…their business with the Unsullied.”

“I already knew that,” Jon quipped angrily. ”And I still don’t trust you.”

“You know nothing,” Daario countered. ”But that is why you need me. Look, my boy. I want to keep my head and I only agreed to the task, because my partners goaded me into this mad mission. Now they are dead and I have a responsibility for my men. I hold no love for the Masters of Astapor…I told you before…I was once a slave fighting in the fighting pits. I would gladly aid you to kill those cunts.”

“Kill them?” Jon asked and his head snapped back to Daario. ”But isn’t Astapor a city with mighty walls”

“So what?” Daario asked. ”Your dragons burned hundreds of Dothraki. I doubt those walls are going to stop them.”

“What you say is true,” she agreed hesitatingly. ”But this city is full of slaves…innocent slaves, she added and brushed down her shawl to reveal her tattoo.

If the captive was surprised it didn’t show on his face.

“Of course,” he replied and laughed as if this was all a joke to him. ”Well, there are other ways to take a city. Deception is another possibility.”

“Deception or not,” Jon said. ”But taking Astapor would provoke a war with the other cities. They would come at us like a horde of mad dogs.”

Daario seemed unimpressed by Jon’s concerns.

“Yunkai is a city full of pleasure slaves. They wouldn’t even stand a chance against your wailing women and children. All they know are the seven sighs. And the Wise Masters know nothing of the way of the sword. Strike quickly and they won’t even be able to hire sellswords to do their bidding. Meereen would be harder to take, but I doubt they would stand a chance against your dragons.”

“And the Unsullied?” she asked. ”The Lhazareen count relatives among the ranks of the Unsullied. I cannot expect them to fight their own blood.

Daario only laughed.

“I already proposed a solution for your problem, sweet Princess,” Daario cooed sweetly. “Deception. Hear my plan and I am sure you will be delighted…,” he continued, but Jon cut him off. He looked annoyed and angry.

Daenerys was perplexed. Jon was usually composed, but it seemed this Daario was getting under his skin.

“Keep your flowery words to yourself,” Jon snapped and grasped Daenerys hand. ”We will speak tomorrow. Rest.”

Daenerys wanted to hear the captive’s plan, but she sensed that Jon wanted to speak alone.

“What is wrong?” she asked him after he had closed the door behind them. ”I don’t trust him either, but we should hear him out.”

“It is not that,” Jon replied and turned face her. ”Daario has enough cunning to come up with such a plan…I don’t know if I want to go that far.”

“I don’t understand,” Daenerys said. ”You heard what he said. The Masters are not going to leave us alone. And it was you who said we should use the dragons to help people. We helped the Lhazareen, because they were kind to us. I want to help those who were like me. It wouldn’t be just an act of revenge.”

“Aye,” he agreed and sighed heavily. ”But Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen are not the only cities practicing slavery…”

“I understand,” she agreed and touched his shoulder. She squeezed lightly and exhaled deeply, before continuing to speak. ”But isn’t it better fight an enemy one by one than all of them at once?”

“Of course it is,” he replied, his voice still laced with doubt. ”But…” he trailed off and averted his gaze.

“Jon,” she said more firmly. ”Nobody asks you to become Aegon the Conqueror, but we can’t wait until the Masters of Astapor sent a dozen of sellsword companies our way. Maybe we already set these things in motion when defeated the first Dothraki horde.”

“Aye,” Jon said and swallowed hard. ”Then let us hear what Daario has to say.”

Margaery

The guests were in good spirits, but Margaery couldn’t bring herself to share their joy.

The last weeks had been more than frustrating for her. She tried her best to win the King’s favor, but he still showed her little attention.

He preferred riding out to the Kingsguard or to judge criminals. He especially liked dispensing justice. Margaery once dared to attend such a ceremony, because her grandmother encouraged her to do it, but the memory alone was enough to make her shudder.

When she was told that she would wed Tywin Lannister’s grandson, she expected a spoiled boy, but not a monster. She didn’t dare to tell her father, but King Joffrey scared her.

Only her grandmother and Loras knew her true thoughts. Her grandmother had told her to play along and Loras swore to protect her, but these well-intended promises were of little use to her.

Neither her grandmother nor Loras will have to share the King’s bed

Her cold relationship with the Queen Mother worried her even more. Margaery was a young, but she knew what “hatred” looked like. She invited the Queen Mother three times, but every time she refused her. Her Lady Mother advised her to seek out the Queen personally, but this attempt proved another disappointment. The brief talk consisted of nothing more than cold looks and snapping remarks.

She would strangle me to death if Lord Tywin allowed it, she knew and forced a smile over her lips as a Lady dropped her head in greeting.

Tonight she was seated next to the King, but he showed more interest in his cup of wine than her. The Queen Mother was not far and donned a dream of red silk. The red rubies braided into her golden locks shone even brighter than her cat-like smile.

At least she avoided speaking with Margaery, because she spent her time pampering her youngest son, Prince Tommen. Not long ago, the youngest boy celebrated his nameday and Margaery gifted him a cat. The Queen Mother was not very pleased, but the young boy was able to change her mind. Now said Ser Pounce lived a King’s life, but her relationship with the Queen didn’t change.

She despises me, she knew and angled her head to get a look at Tywin Lannister. He was seated next at a different table and in deep conversation with her Lord Father. Her grandmother told her much about the old Lion of the Rock, but seeing him with her own eyes dimmed the fear his name instilled. He was no doubt a dangerous man, but to her he looked like any other old man.

Yet he was the most powerful man in the room. It was not King Joffrey who ruled, but Tywin Lannister. The crown meant nothing without Tywin Lannister’s armies.

And my father’s armies, she reminded herself and brought the cup to her lips. It was the finest Arbor, sponsored by Lord Redwyne, but Margaery took little pleasure in it. She always preferred Dornish wine, though she would have never dared to tell her Lord Father. He still held this childish hatred for the Dornish due to her brother’s unfortunate accident in a tilt. It was no wonder that her Lord Father asked Willas to stay in Highgarden. Oberyn Martell was expected to attend the wedding.

“You are so quiet,” the King remarked gruffly and snapped her out of her thoughts. She felt a hint of shame that she allowed her mask to slip in such a manner, but keeping up appearances was quite strenuous.

“I apologize, your Grace,” she replied and graced him with a bright smile. ”Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” the King answered and jerked his head at the crowd of people seated at the trestle tables. ”This feast is boring. I does not surprise me that you are already falling asleep, my Lady.”

Margaery nodded her head in agreement. It was always best to agree with King Joffrey. It was the first thing she learned.

“Indeed,” she confirmed and tried to appear bored. ”But today is only the first night of the tourney. I am sure the jousting competitions will be exciting.”

“Of course,” the King replied. ”I will show these fools how it is done.”

“Indeed,” she confirmed again. Her face was beginning to hurt from the constant smiling. ”You deserve worthy opponents. My brother should serve.”

The King frowned at that and started to circle his cup in an impatient manner.

“Your brother ought to be capable. He will serve as a member of my Kingsguard,” the King said at last and shifted his attention back to the guests.

Then he fell silent again and started to tap his finger on the surface of the table, as if contemplating something.

Margaery felt a hint of dread and when she saw the wicked smile curling on Joff’s lips she knew that her gut feeling proved right.

“Do you care for a bit of entertainment, my Lady,” he asked, his wine-tinged breath tickling her cheek.

She shuddered, her smile still in place.

“It would be my pleasure,” your Grace.”

The King grinned and called for a blond-haired boy garbed in a crimson cloak. It was Lancel Lannister, the King’s cousin.

“Lancel,” the King said. ”Get Robb Stark here. He has yet to greet his King.”

The boy’s jade eyes darted first to Lord Tywin and then to the Queen, but her husband-to-be proved as impatient as ever.

“At once!” he snapped and the boy slipped away. Margaery used the moment to refill her cup and tasted the calming liquid. ”And hurry!”

“I am surprised he came at all,” Margaery remarked. ”Didn’t you mention that his wife is heavy with child?”

“The Frey girl died in childbirth,” the King whispered in her ear and rubbed his hands together. He looked like a little child who got a new toy for his name day. ”It was only a girl and the fool called it Lyanna. Even my Lady Mother agreed that it is a foolish idea to give a child such a cursed name.”

Your father was once betrothed to this woman, she wanted to reply. She didn’t know Robb Stark, but rejoicing over a woman’s death was disgusting. The King might not care, but Margery was a woman and knew what awaited her in the birthing bed: blood and death.

“I agree with your Lady Mother,” she replied instead “A cursed name for a cursed child.”

Her words filled her with shame and she silently sent a prayer to the gods.

May the gods grace the babe with a long life.

Joff cackled in delight and leaned over to touch hear hand.

Margaery shuddered again. His presence brought him no pleasure, though she tried her best.

“He is coming!” the King whispered in her ear. Margaery lifted her head and found him at the entrance of the tent. Not even the ghost of a smile showed on his even-shaped face as he stepped before the King.

His bow was also quite lacking.

“You asked for my presence, your Grace?” he asked and lifted his head. It was then that the light of the chandelier lightened up his face and gave Margaery a clear view of his features.

It surprised her how handsome he was. He had an even-shaped face, fair red hair and eyes of summer.

That he didn’t hesitate to meet the King’s gaze told her that he was also graced with a bold character.

Or maybe it is only his hatred speaking.

“Indeed,” the King replied in a grumbling voice. ”Please take a seat, my Lord. We are allies, are we not? We should get to know one another.”

Robb’s face was like an open book. Margaery read anger and disgust, but no ill word left the young man’s lips.

He even smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his face.

“Of course,” Robb Stark answered and sat down. It was then that his gaze darted to Margaery. The King seemed to sense this and pulled on her arm as if to mark his territory.

He was more like a dog than a lion or stag.

“This is my beautiful bride,” the King introduced her. ”Lady Margaery Tyrell.”

Robb Stark dipped his head and graced her with a fleeing smile. This smile was softer and seemed honest. It made him look only more handsome. His lips were made for gentle smiles.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, my Lady,” Robb Stark replied politely, his blue eyes meeting hers. His eyes were so blue, she feared to drown in them. ”You are lucky, your Grace. They didn’t lie when they said that Margaery Tyrell is the fairest of maids.”

Get a hold of yourself, she chided herself and brushed these feelings away. Grandmother would kick you if she was here.

“And you are lucky to be rid of your Frey wife,” the King complimented. ”I heard all Frey women look like weasels.”

An expression of pure hatred flickered over Robb Stark’s face. The King was blind to it, but Margaery got a glimpse of the wolf residing in Robb Stark’s breast.

“Lady Roslin was quite beautiful for a Frey. She took after her Lady Mother…a Rosby,” he explained in a low voice. ”I was blessed to have her as my bride.”

The King was not pleased and frowned.

“Well, I suppose you will have to find yourself another bride, my Lord,” the King added haughtily and spread his arms. ”Half the realm came here to attend this tourney. I am sure you will find a Lady that suits your taste.”

“My cousins are still unmarried,” she offered, lacking a better answer. She felt the urge to console him for his loss, to give him a kind word, but that would displease the King.

“What you say is true, your Grace…I will have to choose another bride,” Robb Stark agreed politely, but his blue eyes still burned with hatred. Only when angled his head to look at her his anger dispersed. ”And I would be pleased to meet your cousins, but not today. I am tired from the long travel and my bed is waiting. I fear I have to bid you good night, your Grace.”

He gave another bow and left. It was rather impolite, but it seemed Robb Stark was a daring man.

“Look how the coward flees!” the King exclaimed happily and clapped his hands together. Margaery wondered if it was his pride that blinded him so. Robb Stark didn’t flee. He left because he was close to strangling his King.

Benjen

Benjen knew it was time for supper when the flap of the tent opened.

It was the Wildling girl named Val. She had been taking care of him throughout his imprisonment but Benjen tried to ignore her nagging questions.

The Night’s Watch teaches their recruits to hate Wildlings, but it was hard to hate them when they were as pretty as this one. Tall and lithe, the young woman towered over most women. Her face sharp, but her long blond hair softened it and gave her an almost noble appearance.

She is Mance’s good-sister, he knew, but not much more than that. She hardly spoke about herself, though she had spent a considerable amount of time in his presence.

He had tried his best to ignore her, but even Benjen was longing for human contact after moons of imprisonment. And whenever they moved they blindfolded him.

“I bring roasted elk meat,” the young woman remarked and closed the flap of the tent. Today she donned a new pelt; white and soft as it was it must belong to a hare or a bear. It suited her better than he wanted to admit and stirred something inside him he thought long buried by time and duty.

He had served the Night’s Watch for half his life, but even Benjen was not freed from the temptations of the flesh. He might not frequent the brothels of Mole’s Town as often as the other men, but he was still a man. And such a beautiful specimen like this one in front of him was seldom seen at the Wall.

“Did you hear what I said?” the young woman asked in an annoyed manner and brushed her blond hair over her shoulder. ”Did you get deaf overnight, crow?”

Benjen tried to ignore her, but it seemed the silence stirred her on to litter him with questions.

“You look hungry, crow,” she remarked cheekily and bared her teeth. ”But you won’t get the food until you answer my questions.”

Benjen wanted to refuse, but his stomach was empty. He hadn’t eaten all day and was ravenous.

I need to survive, he knew and closed his eyes when the dark memories with these strange creatures came back to him. Whatever attacked him, he had never seen anything like it. Just thinking about it made his blood freeze. One of the creatures had skin as pale as snow and yes as blue as frost. Its blade of milkglass broke his iron-forged blade as if it was made of glass.

He didn’t even know how he survived the ordeal. All he recalled were those pale blue eyes meeting his through the darkness.

“Did you hear what I said?” Val’s voice called him back to the present.

“I heard you,” he muttered and eyed the roasted meat. “As you can see…I am neither deaf nor stupid.”

She grinned, obviously very pleased that she managed to make him speak.

Benjen was not pleased. He was sure that Mance sent her here to speak with him.

“Here,” she said and handed him the bowl filled with pieces of steaming meat and cut vegetables. ”My sister’s meals are best when they are still warm.”

“Most meals are,” he quipped and picked the piece of meat from the bowl. His hands were bound together, but not in a way that made it impossible to ea. It wouldn’t be hard to get rid of the rope, but that would be no use. The Wildlings would hunt him down like an animal. They knew these lands better than him, though he was one of the most experienced rangers.

“You think you are clever, don’t you, crow?” she asked him and rolled her eyes.

He ignored her and continued to eat.

He hoped she would leave, but she continued to watch him.

“Why are you crows always so damn serious?” she asked and searched his gaze. Her eyes were grey, flecked with blue.

Benjen sighed.

“I am not more serious than other men of the Night’s Watch,” Benjen replied and chewed slowly. He savored the taste of fresh meat on his tongue. It gave him the strength he needed. “And I am one of those who joined willingly.”

“You did what?” she asked, her brows wrinkled in confusion.

“Why would anyone in their right mind want to join this miserable lot?”

Benjen put another piece of meat in his mouth and chewed slowly.

Because it is an honor to serve in the Night’s Watch, he wanted to answer. It was what they told him before he spoke his vows, but now after all these years he knew that it was nothing more than a comforting lie the Lord Commander told himself to feel better. The Night’s Watch had grown brittle, like an old rusty sword. It was the reason he advised Jon against joining the Night’s Watch. Benjen was Jon’s age when he joined and even now he sometimes regretted his decision. It made him wonder what kind of person he would have become had he wed the girl Ned intended for him.

I run away from my pain, he knew and brushed these feelings of sadness away. To forget my guilt.

“Aye,” he confirmed. ”I joined willingly. That must sound odd to you, but I was a young boy who didn’t know better.”

“What changed?” she asked in a serious tone.

“Nothing,” he replied and didn’t shy away to meet her gaze. ”I am still a crow and I will be a crow until the end of my days. I know that Mance sent you here to lure me to his side, but I can assure you…It won’t work.”

“You crows are not only miserable, but also stubborn,” she remarked, a hint of anger washing over her lovely face. ”You saw the Others with your own eyes and yet you consider us the enemy.”

Benjen was stunned.

“How…,” he began, but Val didn’t hesitate to cut him off.

“We found your broken sword. Only the blades of the Others can shatter steel,” she explained and picked up the empty bowl. Then handed him the bundle of pelt she had placed near the entrance of the tent.

“I have seen them,” he said and picked he bundle of pelt from her hands. Only when he started to pick the garments apart did he realize that it were fresh clothing. ”But that won’t change the mind of my brothers. For them you are the enemy that needs to be kept behind the Wall. It is part of our vow to protect the realms of men.”

“To protect the realms of men,” she repeated angrily. ”Are we not men? My sister Dalla is heavy with child and the Others will kill her if we don’t get pass the Wall. This stupid vow of yours damns thousands of innocent women and children to death.”

Her swords hit him hard. It was only now that he realized the truth. The Others can raise the dead.

The Others will add the dead Wildlings to their army of dead.

He shuddered and met her gaze.

“How big is their army? Do you know?”

She frowned at that and pondered his question. All the while she played with her plaited hair. She looked almost like an anxious child.

“Thousands,” she answered at last and gave him a piercing look. ”Mance tried his best to unite the clans, but some of them refused to join our cause. And who knows what lurks in the Lands of Always Winter…nobody knows.”

“I understand,” Benjen said and nodded his head. ”But you will only find death if you attack the Wall. Let me go and I will speak for the Free Folk…on my honor as a Stark.”

“Vows are words and words are wind, crow,” she said and jerked her head at the bundle of clothing. ”Mance told me this and I agree with him. But enough of this empty talk…Get dressed, crow. Mance wants to speak with you personally.”

“Why can’t I wear my old clothes?”

An amused smile crossed her lips as she knelt down and cut his ropes.

“Mance doesn’t like the color black and the rest of my people share his dislike,” she added and rose back to her feet, her dagger still in hand.

He frowned and eyed the bundle.

“Very well,” he agreed at last and sighed deeply. ”I will do as you ask.”

She laughed and remained standing there, her amused smile still in place. Benjen knew then that she had no intention to leave.

“Are you going to watch?” he demanded to know.

“You could try running off,” she explained plainly. “Besides, there is nothing I haven’t seen before. Now get dressed…Mance is waiting for us.”

Catelyn

It was the second time she undertook the ascent to the Eyrie, but it was not less frightening. The first time she came here after she took Tyrion Lannister captive, but in the end it turned out to be a folly. Lord Tyrion was deemed innocent.

I should have gone to Winterfell, she knew and brushed away those bothersome memories. I won’t fail again.

She believed Petyr her friend. Yet Ned’s letter revealed the hard truth. The boy she knew that grew up with her was a traitor of the vilest sort.

I told Ned to trust him, she recalled bitterly. Her heart clenched with guilt whenever she even thought about it.

Worse was that he wed Lysa. Even now she recalled Lysa’s tears when she found Petyr broken and bloodied by Brandon’s blade. Catelyn begged Brandon to spare his life, but now she regretted her actions.

I should have let him die, she thought, fresh anger whirling up inside her. I will kill him myself if I get my hands on him.

Yet she recalled Robb’s command.

“We are nearly there, my Lady,” Mya Stone, Robert Baratheon’s bastard daughter, declared. She grinned as she jerked her head at the seven white towers touching the dreary sky.

“Indeed,” Catelyn replied politely. Looking at the girl, she couldn’t help but to think of Snow. His long solemn face had haunted throughout all those years. Fourteen years of fear that this boy might try to usurp Robb’s inheritance.

Now she knew the truth. It was a lie, made up by Ned to fool King Robert. All this lying for a foolish girl, who refused to do her duty.

It wasn’t like she didn’t understand Ned’s reasoning, but the betrayal hurt more than she wanted to admit.

She would have feared the boy’s presence, but she would have tried her best to live with him. Ned never gave her any chance when it came to Snow. Instead he used her to cover up his lies.

That was what hurt the most.

“My Lady,” Mya Stone’s soft-spoken voice snapped her out of her deep thoughts. ”It is time to leave the mules behind.”

“Aye,” Catelyn agreed and climbed from her horse. Catelyn sighed in relief when her feet touched the firm ground. ”Thank you.”

“Welcome, Lady Stark,” Lord Nestor Royce greeted her at the entrance to the Crescent Chamber. It was a small and homey hall meant to receive honored guests.”I hope your ascent wasn’t too perilous, my Lady?”

“The winds were rather chilly,” she replied and picked up a piece of bread from the silver plate, carried by a servant girl. It was warm and soft on her tongue and another servant quickly offered her a cup of wine to wash it down. ”But I am used to worse. The winds in the North are always chilly.”

“Indeed,” Lord Nestor Royce confirmed and led her in an anteroom. Her guards remained behind and Cat pulled off her cloak.”Now come along, my Lady. Lord Baelish awaits you.”

“And my sister?” she inquired politely.

An unreadable expression washed over Lord Nestor Royce’s sharp face.

“Lady Lysa is sick,” he explained and led her through a narrow corridor, before opening a brightly-colored door, leading into a spacious room. A large table occupied the middle of the chamber and a warm fire cracked in the hearth.

“Cat!” a familiar voice greeted her across the room. She recognized Petyr immediately, but just hearing his voice made her skin crawl. It took all her effort to calm herself.

Somehow she managed a smile and dropped a curtsy.

“Your visit is a pleasant surprise!” Petyr added, his grey-green eyes alight with happiness.

“It is,” she replied sweetly. “A wonderful surprise, but I hoped to see my sister. I heard she is indisposed?”

“Regrettably so,” Petyr replied and leaned down to kiss her hand. He lingered longer than appropriate, but it seemed he didn’t notice her discomfort. He beamed like a star as he straightened himself and pointed at the nearby table. ”She will join us tomorrow. It seems we are alone tonight.”

She shuddered and watched as two servant girls started to deck the table with the finest silver. Moments later a page boy brought two golden cups and a flagon of wine.

The food was even better; roasted meat of all kinds and wild vegetables, fresh from the mountains.

“Isn’t that a bit much?” she asked and tried to appear delighted.

“On the contrary,” Petyr replied and took a seat on the opposing side. Then he leaned over the table and filled her cup. ”I hope you like Dornish wine.”

“I do,” she confirmed and brought the cup to her lips. She drank and pondered her next step.

Flatter him, Robb had told her, an idea blooming in her mind. Earn his trust.

Thus she took another hearty gulp and placed the half-empty cup on the table.

“Wonderful,” she declared and flashed Petyr a bright smile. ”We hardly get Dornish wine in Winterfell…only at feast days. Ned never liked to waste coin on such fancies.”

If the change of topic bothered him it didn’t show on his face.

“I liked your husband,” he replied in heartfelt voice. Not even a mummer could have done it better. ”I regret what happened to him, but he should have never ventured into the lion’s den.”

“Indeed,” she agreed and buried in the folds of her skirt. She felt the urge to strangle him. ”And my son is not much better. He is so very young and he thinks he knows everything. In truth he didn’t want me to come here. My visit concerns a matter that is very important to me…Are you willing to listen, Petyr?”

An almost soft expression washed over his face and he squeezed her hand.

“Of course I am willing to listen. I told you before…I am your loyal friend, Cat. Please speak freely.”

“I thank you,” she replied and squeezed his hand, trying to make the gesture as heartfelt as possible. “The matter concerns my brother Edmure. He is still unmarried and I want a proper match for him. I am speaking about Lady Ysilla Royce…Lord Royce’s daughter. I know it is too much to ask for this favor, but my brother spends too much time with his whores. Edmure needs a proper wife.”

If he was displeased by her suggestion it didn’t show on his face.

He continued to smile and pulled his hand away.

“It would be a good match,” Petyr agreed and leaned back, his green-grey eyes sweeping over the table. ”I will think about it. I promise.”

Cat smiled and tried to hide her disappointment.

“Of course,” she answered and tried to appear relieved. ”I can’t expect more. Truly, I am thankful.”

“Oh, on the contrary,” Petyr answered and re-filled her cup. ”It is my pleasure to have you hear. We have much to talk about, don’t we, Cat?”

“We have,” she confirmed and feigned another smile. ”We have.”

Arya

The air bit her skin, but Arya was determined to follow her path. She loved Robb and her Lady Mother, but sitting idle was never one of her greatest strengths.

Bran was the same, though he is plans were different.

I need to become the Three-Eyed-Crow, he had told her not long ago. I beg you. Help me, sister.

How could she not believe him after seeing these horrible visions with her own eyes?

It is for the best, she told herself and angled her head to look at her brother, seated before Meera Reed. Usually, Bran would have insisted to use his special saddle, but this was no normal ride.

Today was the day of their departure, though they first had to take care of their protectors.

These protectors were Hallis Mollen and two guardsmen, following after them like shadows. It pained her to fool them.

It is the only way, she knew and exchanged a quite look with her brother. All wrapped in his thick pelt, he looked like a babe. His thin pale face was hardly visible and now and then she saw the glimpse of a red curl.

Bran nodded his head as if to give her the sign. Meera Reed swallowed hard as their eyes met and her odd brother remained passive as ever.

Arya exhaled deeply and pulled down her pelted hood, before shifting her attention to Hallis Mollen.

“I think we should take a break,” she remarked and jerked her head at the row of trees not far from their position. There were several ironwood trees, all bent and broken, but their thick canopy enough to provide shelter against the light snowfall. ”My brother looks rather pale…a few minutes should be enough.”

“Aye, my Lady,” Hallis Mollen replied and pulled the reins of his horse. The mighty charger huffed and stopped instantly. ”A break should do.”

“I am not tired,” Bran complained, playing the disgruntled child. ”I want to advance deeper into the Wolfswood.”

“But my Lord…,” Hallis Mollen protested hesitatingly, but Bran shook his head, his face a grimace of displeasure. Arya was impressed by his mummery.

“I want to move on,” Bran insisted.

“You look like an ice pickle, brother,” she quipped back. She tried to sound like their Lady Mother. ”We will take a break. I am responsible for you.”

Bran pouted and covered his face with his pelted hood. Arya suppressed the urge to laugh.

Well, done little brother. You should have become a mummer.

Hallis Mollen sighed in relief and climbed from his horse. The two guardsmen followed suit and sat down on a fallen tree. They were wrapped in thick cloaks, though the sun stood high above the treetops.

They will survive it, she was sure and sat down next to Meera Reed.

Meera Reed didn’t hesitate to slip into her assigned role and opened her wineskin. Then she turned around and graced the men with warm smile.

“I have mulled wine,” she offered invitingly. ”Do you want some?”

Hallis Mollen grinned eagerly and took a hearty gulp from the wineskin, before handing it to his other two companions. They drank just as eagerly, completely unaware what they were consuming.

It didn’t take long, before the drought started to work its magic. Hallis Mollen and the two guardsmen started to sway like two young trees bared to a storm, their eyes drooping. The blink of a moment passed and Hallis Mollen dropped from his seat.

Arya and Meera were barely able to catch him. The guardsmen didn’t last longer. One collapsed against the tree and the other one fell face-forward into the snow.

“Damn, this stuff his strong!” Arya cursed quietly and pulled one of the guardsmen to the side. ”What was that?”

“A secret of the crannogmen, my lady,” Meera Reed replied and gave her knowing smile.

“We need to hurry,” Jojen added and helped Arya and Meera to wrap the men in their warm pelts. It was necessary to knock them out, but she can’t have her father’s man freezing to death. “The drought won’t work forever.”

“Aye,” Arya replied and pulled her dagger out of her boots, before bringing the sharp blade to her braided hair. She cut the braids off until her hair was no longer than her smallest finger.

“And what are we going to do with the hair?” she asked her companions.

“Don’t fret about it, my Lady,” Meera assured her and gathered the hair. ”I will burn it. We will leave no trace.”

Arya sighed in relief and pulled the hood of her cloak over her face. Then she shifted her attention back to Bran.

His face was pale as fresh-fallen snow.

It is time to say goodbye, she knew, but it was easier said than done.

“Bran,” she said and enclosed him in a tight embrace. ”Are you sure about this?”

“I know it is the right thing to do,” he told her and regarded her with wide blue eyes. ”Are you sure?”

“Aye,” she confirmed sadly and embraced him again. ”I need to find Jon. I can’t sit here and wait until I am going to wed Elmar the Nosepicker.”

Bran buried his head in her neck and trembled. For this brief moment he was only her little brother.

“You will find him,” he whispered in her ear. ”I saw it.”

“Truly?” Arya asked in disbelief.

“I would never lie to you, sister,” he assured her and freed himself from her embrace.

“I know that,” she said and rose to her feet. She exhaled deeply and shifted her attention to Nymeria, sprawled in the snow next to Summer. ”I know that.”

Arya gritted her teeth and embraced her wolf one last time. It would be impossible for her to board without arousing suspicions.

Besides, Bran was in need of protection.

“Take good care of Bran,” she told her wolf and rose back to her feet. Then she made her way to back to her horse.

A quick goodbye would be best, but she was unable to do it. Against better knowledge she turned around and took one last glance at her little brother and his travelling companions.

Tears burned in her eyes, but she couldn’t help but to wave. Bran returned the gesture and Arya stifled a sob.

Then she turned around and led her horse away.

Chapter Text

Jon

Jon watched with great fascination as Tito’s mother wound the shapeless silken around Daenerys’ body: first around the hips and then under one arm and then over a shoulder to keep it on. Tokar this garment was called, the dress of the slave masters.

This specific one was made of dark silk and decorated with red fringes. Tito’s mother asked her girls to make it from one of her finer dresses.

The tokar suited Daenerys’ slender body perfectly, but watching her make the first clumsy steps made him sceptical. She had a hard time keeping the garment in place as she continued to walk.

It looked ridiculous and Daenerys seemed to share his amusement. Her purple eyes were filled with mirth as she shifted her attention to Jon, Daario, Ser Barristan and Tito, who were seated on the bright-coloured rug.

Daario was not bound, but only for the time being. Not that he would be able to flee. Ser Barristan watched him like a hawke.

“I look like as if I am going to pee myself,” Daenerys remarked. ”Are you sure the Good Masters won’t laugh at me?”

Daario graced her with a bright smile. “Would that be so bad, sweet Princess? Our plan is to fool them into thinking that you are their ally. Laughter helps to bring people together.”

“Maybe,” Tito’s mother added sceptically and regarded Daenerys braided hair. It was still rather short. ”But I think it is better if Daenerys learns to walk properly. This should be no problem…I recall some lessons from my times at court. I had to wear far more elaborate garments than this one.”

Daario’s eyes widened.

Jon was not surprised. Daenerys had told him not long ago that Tito’s mother was once a Princess of Yi Ti, though it was hard to believe seeing her garbed in her dirty robes plastered with pastes from her work as a healer.

“I should have known that such an exotic beauty is more than just a common woman,” Daario complimented Tito’s mother.

Tito’s face darkened, but Jon shook his head. They had no time for in-fighting, even he wanted to do nothing more than to shut the sellswords’ mouth.

“Keep your flattery to yourself, young man,” Tito’s mother chided gently and brushed her hand through Daenerys hair, pulling it forward and backward, as if she didn’t know what to do with it.

“We have to do something about the hair,” Tito’s mother remarked and frowned. ”Have you considered getting a crown?”

“A crown?” Daenerys asked in surprise. “No…I didn’t consider wearing a crown.”

“Well, you intend to act the Dragon Queen and every Queen needs a crown,” Tito’s mother countered. ”We could melt down a bit of gold to make one…it would be cheap a cheap crown, but I doubt the Good Masters would know the difference. What do you think?”

Daenerys fell silent and her gaze wandered back to Jon.

“What do you think?”

Jon couldn’t help but to frown. He didn’t like Daario’s idea, but even he had to admit this was the best way to take the city without shedding the blood of the slaves.

“A crown is a good idea,” he agreed at last and smiled.

“Not only beautiful, but also clever!” Daario added cheerfully and jerked his head at Tito.”You are lucky to have such a mother.”

Tito didn’t smile. He looked like he wanted to strangle Daario.

“And jewels,” Ser Barristan added in amusement. “A Queen should have jewels.”

“Quite right,” Tito’s mother agreed, a smile playing on her red lips. ”You can borrow mine.”

Daenerys opened her mouth in protest, but the smile of Tito’s mother silenced her.

“I have no use for them,” she assured Daenerys and patted her cheek. ”Please, take them.”

Daenerys sighed and helped Tito’s mother to remove the garment from her body. Beneath she still wore her used wool dress. The one she made herself, embellished with the stitching of a wolf and a dragon.

“Thus I have my costume,” Daenerys said and met Daario’s gaze.” And you really think this mummery will fool the Good Masters?”

“The Good Masters are blinded by pride and greed,” Daario declared and sipped from his cup of tea, strengthened with a bit of wine. ”They think they can buy everything and everyone with their coin. Besides, it is not really a mummery. You are a Targaryen and it wouldn’t appear strange if you wanted to retake the crown that once belonged to your family. The abilities of the Unsullied are known far and wide. Why wouldn’t you want to acquire such capable fighters? More importantly, the Good Masters are cowards. They will avoid a fight if it can be settled without bloodshed and I doubt they care about the killed Dothraki.”

“True,” Daenerys agreed, but Jon read doubt on her face as she turned to look at him. ”But that doesn’t mean I like pretending to be a slaver. I also don’t understand why Jon can’t play the role of the King. He should be at my side.”

“A woman is less threatening,” Daario explained. ”Your slave tattoo will also help to strengthen this impression. They will think of you as some stupid girl trying to play the conqueror.”

“More importantly, you look like a typical Targaryen,” Jon added and graced her with an assuring smile. ”Besides, I will be there…to play the role of your sworn sword. Don’t fret about it, Dany. The more important question is…How can we free the slaves?”

Then he turned around to look at Tito.

“I have an idea, but I am not sure if you are up to it, my friend?”

Tito’s eyebrows wandered to the top of his head and he bared his teeth.

“What ploy do you have in mind, Jon?”

“I would need several hundred men, preferably young warriors, who could pose as slaves. I want to promise them as a gift to the Good Masters to cement our supposed allegiance. I also intend to smuggle weapons in the city …I think you understand what I want to do, friend?”

“Aye,” Tito said and nodded his head in confirmation. ”I understand what you want to do, but it will be hard to convince my brother…We lost a lot of man in the last battle. Well, I am sure I can find volunteers…many sons were stolen for the sake of the Good Masters.”

“I thank you,” Jon replied warmly. ”I assure you…we will return.”

Tito frowned at that.

“I will join you on this quest,” his friend insisted.

Jon was not surprised. Tito was not the kind of person who shied away from a battle.

“Of course,” Jon confirmed and smiled. ”Was that ever in question?”

“Well, you didn’t mention my name, did you?” Tito replied with a grin and leaned back to balance himself on his hands. Then he angled his head and looked at Daenerys.

“And the Unsullied?” he asked. ”How do you intend to free them?”

“Unsullied cannot be freed unless you assume command over them,” Daario explained. ”And to do that you need to get the whip.”

“Whip?” Daenerys asked and wrinkled her brows in confusion. ”How can a whip control the will of thousands of men?”

“The Unsullied are not like common men, sweet Princess,” Daario explained. His usual smile had vanished from his lips and the expression on his face could be described as almost serious. ”They cut off their cocks and turn them into will-less fighting machines. An Unsullied would rather impale himself on his spear than to disobey his master.”

Daenerys had listened silence, but Jon read disbelief on her beautiful face.

Jon too heard these grizzly tales, but even for him it was hard to believe that they were true.

“So we need to acquire this whip,” Daenerys said and narrowed her eyes in concentration. ”Do you think the Good Masters would sell us the Unsullied on credit?”

Daario laughed.

“Sadly not, sweet Princess,” he answered. ”The Good Masters will demand payment on hand.”

“Sadly, we have no coin,” Jon added, his gaze still fixed on Daenerys, who was rubbing her hand over the dragon embellished on her dress. Aemon splashed his vegetable pap at her dress.

Yet it was not the stain on the dress that gave him the idea he needed, but the dragon.

He wanted to avoid using the dragons in fear of harming the slaves, but now he realized that there could indeed be a way to make use of them.

“We have no gold,” he confirmed and lifted his head to meet Daenerys’ purple gaze. ”But we have something more valuable…dragons.”

“Of course, we have dragons,” Daenerys said in surprise. Then she turned to look at Daario.

“Do you think the Good Masters would be prepared to accept one of the dragons as a form of payment?”

Daario howled with laughter and threw his head back.

He still grinned after he had regained his composure.

“They will give you everything if you offer them one of your beasts.”

“But that would mean to chain them,” Ser Barristan countered in disbelief.

“I doubt I can bring myself to chain Rhaegon and Viserion would kill me,” she countered and turned to look at Jon. ”Would you be able to chain Sonarys?”

Jon didn’t like the idea, but it was the only way. We need this whip.

“I think so,” he confirmed and exhaled deeply. ”Besides, Sonarys is the calmest of the dragons and it would be a good way to get at least one of the dragons into the city.”

Daenerys paled, but nodded her head in agreement.

“We will do as you say.”

Arya

Volantis stank. It was the only way Arya could describe the pungent smell that seemed to pervade every part of the city. It smelled of sweat, perfume and the spices shipped to the city by the mighty galleys anchoring in the city’s massive port. On such a galley Arya had travelled over the Narrow Sea.

Four weeks she counted. Four weeks of storms and vomiting made Arya glad that she finally had firm ground beneath her feet. To save her coin she had worked as a cabin boy and the sailors took some odd liking to her. Northern boy, they used to call her in their strange dialect of High Valyrian. She learned many more words of this language called Bastard Valyrian, but she soon realized that it wasn’t enough to hold a long conversation when she started to ask around for a ship to Astapor. Most of the captains didn’t understand her or thought her a common street urchin wanting to steel their food.

Thus she had wasted two weeks. She even tried to improve her appearance. She went to wash her hair in one of the numerous fountains littering the city and even stole a finer cloak. Yet she had no luck.

By now she had also used up her coin and her midday meal was a handful of peaches stolen from one of the common pleasure gardens.

No luck, she realized as he spotted the sun disappearing in the east. The hot ball of heat painted the sky in a pale velvet colour that was reminiscent of a soft blanket. It made her think of the North, where the sky always took a similar colour whenever a cold day was looming ahead. To forget her hunger she went to explore the city. By now she had seen every part of it, but still marvelled at its beauty.

She once thought of King’s Landing as a massive maze, but Volantis put the capital to shame.

Volantis spread over the mouth of the Rhoyne like a sea of roofs, towers and twisted alleys. Arya got lost more than once, but she learned soon enough to recall the strange symbols that marked the districts of the city. She couldn’t read them, but at least she was able to find her way.

Not that it was that difficult. One could say the city was separated into two halves, connected by the Long Bridge. This bridge was supported by massive piers once built by the Valyrians or that was what one of the girls working in the nearby taverns had told her. Arya believed her. Nobody else but the dragonlords could have built this beautiful archway made of black stone and carved with sphinxes, manticores, dragons and other beasts yet unknown to Arya.

Arya knew the western part of the city best. It was the only place where foreigners were allowed to move freely. The eastern part, also called the Black Walls, was the home of the rich and noble families of Volantis. As a foreigner, Arya wasn’t allowed to enter, but she once climbed the highest hill overlooking the city to get a glimpse at the two-hundred feet high walls made of black dragonstone.

Arya’s breathing was laboured and the sun had disappeared behind the horizon when she reached her sleeping place, in her favourite pleasure garden. Horonno’s garden it was called, a name of one of the rulers of the city or so one of the inhabitants had told her. Triarchs they were called, but they weren’t like their kings. Every year they were re-elected or that is what she recalled. Not that she cared. What good did kings ever do for her family? The Mad King killed her grandfather and uncle and King Joffrey named her father a common traitor. She only cared about finding Jon.

He ran away with a whore, she recalled what Theon had told her. Arya didn’t care who she was. She couldn’t be bad if her brother liked her so much that he ran away with her.

I will find him no matter how long it takes, she told herself and put the last piece of fruit into her mouth. The peaches were fat, fruity and sweet, but Arya still longed for meat. Only a day ago she stabbed a squirrel that was trying to hide its nuts under the tree she used as her sleeping place. Yet there was hardly any skin on it and thus Arya returned to eat her peaches.

I could go to the taverns, she mused, but hesitated. It was the loud grumbling noise of her stomach that convinced her to go through with the idea.

I need my strength, she thought and gathered her belongings. The night had fallen over the city when she arrived at the bustling square filled with fishmongers. Not far from the square lay several cheaper taverns and brothels. The smell of perfume filled her nose as she passed the first establishment. One of the girls, garbed in a blue dress, winked at her. One girl with massive breasts nearly dragged her in inside, but Arya proved quicker and was able to slip away. Finally, she arrived at a tavern and slipped inside. In passing she was able to steal a few silver coins from a sleeping merchant, but it wouldn’t be enough to buy a rich meal. Stew had to be enough for now.

“Here, boy,” the serving girl told her and handed her a steaming bowl of soup, littered with meat and other leftovers. Arya sat down in the inner-courtyard to watch the sailors. They drank, gambled and whored. Her Lady Mother would have a fit if she saw her among these men, but most ignored her or didn’t even understand her. Now and then she also spotted a rich merchant with his slaves.

Slaves were another thing Arya had to get used to. In the North they had servants, but that was not the same. Every slave was branded with a special symbol and she heard that those brave enough to run away ended up tortured or whipped to death. Arya had yet to witness this barbaric practice with her own eyes, but the thought alone made her shudder.

She licked her bowl when she was finished, but longed for more food. Greedily, she eyed the other guests and her eyes fell soon upon a strange pair of men. One was a tall man, graced with a narrow face and a hawkish nose. His dark eyes glimmered in the candlelight as he devoured a piece of meat with much gusto. The second man had a large belly, but his arms were thick like tree trunks and his left arm was littered with numerous tattoos.

They stood out among the sailors, because their hair was curved into strange forms that shouldn’t even be possible to achieve.

Where are they from, she wondered and moved closer, sliding along the stone wall and their table. The men spoke to each other in Bastard Valyrian.

Arya even closed her eyes to blend out the world around her. Yet she still understood only bits and pieces.

Ship, coin and fighting she heard. The man was even more difficult to understand. He spoke about big breasts and a beautiful woman from a city called Yunkai.

Yunkai, she repeated and recalled that this was the name of a city located not far from Astapor.

Maybe they can tell me how to get there, she wondered and bit her lips. She knew better than to trust strangers, but she was getting desperate.

I need to leave this city.

Thus she gathered her courage and neared the table. She dipped her head in greeting and forced the words over her lips.

“Can you help me?” she asked in broken Bastard Valyrian. ”I need a ship…to Astapor…”

A moment of silence passed between them, before the thin man started to laugh.

“Ship?” he asked her in the Common Tongue and bared his golden teeth. ”You want a ship to Astapor, boy?”

“Aye,” she confirmed and met his gaze. She was a daughter of Winterfell, a wolf. She wouldn’t show fear of these strange men. ”A ship to Astapor. I can work…just tell me where I can find one.”

“Work?” the big one asked and grinned. He had no golden teeth, but his were yellow and rotten. ”We can always use people who can work. And we are indeed travelling to Astapor…Care to come along, boy?”

Arya had a bad feeling about this, but her desperation was greater. I will kill them if they lied to me. Fear cuts deeper than swords.

“I can work,” she confirmed. ”When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow,” the thin one informed her. ”Come with us or you might miss your golden opportunity. Now sit down and have a bit of the leftovers. You are rather thin, boy.”

Arya eyed the bowl with hesitation, but her stomach had a different idea.

I need my strength, she reminded herself and picked a piece of cake from the bowl to stuff it into her mouth.

The big man laughed and said something in Bastard Valyrian she was unable to understand.

It was way beyond the hour of the Wolf when they made their way to the port. Every step was painful, for she hadn’t slept more than a few hours in the past nights. Her body felt heavy and her stomach hurt her from the abundance of food she consumed.

I was too greedy, she realized with shame and waited at the gateway leading to the galley, supposedly the ship of these two odd men. We hail from Yunkai, they had told her, but she remained sceptical.

She waited a full hour, before the thin one returned in company of a stranger. He was garbed in a long silken dress, decorated with golden fringes. It looked like a dress, but the man in front of her was undoubtedly a man, his hands crossed behind his back.

“Can you take me to Astapor or not?” she asked, her other hand resting on the dagger hidden beneath her tunic.

It happened all so quickly. Arya was barely able to act, before the man in the dress revealed his whip. A moment later her dagger slithered out of her hand and hit the ground.

“Let me go!” she whimpered, but the man pulled only harder. She tried to free herself, but the cord of the whip tightened around her hand the harder she tried. ”Let me go!”

I am lost again, she realized later when the bars were closed behind her. And perhaps, on my way to Astapor.

 

Sansa

Sansa watched her ladies go and tried to occupy herself with the book Willas gifted her. She had already read half of it, but she would have to read it again if she wanted to memorize all of it.

The Reach’s history alone was more than her head could take in one day, though the Lady that was assigned to her tried her best to teach her what she needed to know. Only a day after her wedding the Lady led around Highgarden, but even now Sansa had a hard time finding her way. Every corner looked similar and the people that greeted her were strangers.

Four weeks had passed, but her husband hardly spoke to her. She only saw him sparsely, mostly during supper and sometimes he came to inquire about her health.

Sansa felt more like a guest than his wife, but it was also hard to find a moment alone.

Willas Tyrell may have a lame foot, but he was anything but lazy. He rose at dawn and worked late into the night. She was also surprised how much responsibility his Lord Father delegated to his son. He met with the lords, heard petitions and even corrected the accounts. Her brother Robb had his responsibilities, but her Lord Father would have never given him this amount of work.

Lord Tyrell must have a lot of trust in his son, she thought and watched the birds circle over the blue sky. At first she was delighted about the constant sunshine, but now she longed for the dreary skies of the North and the snow. She longed to feel the cold on her skin.

I threw it all away, she knew, but brushed those thoughts away before they were able to overwhelm her. Being gloomy wouldn’t help her to improve her situation. Providing an heir could have, but only a few days ago her moonblood returned.

Her ladies were kind to her and even made her tea to ease the pains, but she also knew what was expected of her.

How can I provide an heir if my husband doesn’t even talk to me, she wondered and turned around to regard her reflection in the looking glass. It couldn’t be her appearance. She took care of herself and even tried to wear the dresses the girls of the Reach favoured, though she disliked the low cleavage.

My Lady mother wouldn’t have allowed me to wear this, she knew and rose to her feet. She picked the shawl from the chair and wound it around her neck, before stepping outside. She usually kept her ladies at her side, but she wanted to seek out her husband. She waited long enough for him to come to her. She needed to make this work.

Like every evening she found Willas in the library and in company of the Maester. He was called Willbald and a chubby man. His green eyes blinked with surprise when he noticed her appearance.

“My Lady,” Willas greeted her with a stunned expression. ”What a surprise…”

“I think I should leave, my Lord,” the Maester suggested, but Willas seemed torn.

“I don’t think …the accounts,” Willas began, but Sansa interrupted him before he was able to find an excuse.

“I am sure you could use a break, my Lord,” she offered and graced him with a bright smile. ”And fresh air. We could take a walk…”

“A good idea, my Lady,” the Maester added his voice and nodded his head in approval. ”You have been sitting here all evening, my Lord. Your leg needs exertion.”

“I understand,” Lord Willas said and graced her with a mild smile. ”We can continue later.”

Then he gritted his teeth and pulled himself up. He balanced himself on the table and tried to reach for his crutch.

Sansa felt the urge to help him, but she recalled his discomfort whenever one of the page boys dared to do it during supper.

Instead she gave him an encouraging smile and offered her arm once he had straightened himself to his full height.

He even smiled a little as he took her arm and followed after. It took a bit of effort to get down the steps, but it helped to ease her anxiety.

“That alone was an adventure,” he remarked as they finally arrived at the bottom of the stairs and gave her a wry smile.

“Indeed,” she confirmed and together they walked along the corridor. Another staircase followed and they stepped out to the gardens. A hint of autumn lay in the air, but for Sansa it felt like spring.

Side by side, they walked while Sansa tried to find the right words.

“I have been wondering for a while now…What are you always working on the accounts, my Lord? Why not find someone to do it for you?”

He looked embarrassed.

“I could do that, but I want the accounts to be proper and exact. Besides, I like calculating…it keeps my mind fresh. It is a bit like sword fighting…you have to do it regularly or you get rusty.”

“My sister Arya…she likes calculating,” she answered, lacking for a better answer. It surprised her that Arya slipped into her mind.

“Are you very fond of your sister?” Willas inquired softly. ”This is the first time you mention her…”

“I am fond of her…she is my sister, but we never really got along,” she explained and tried to be honest. ”We were always bickering.”

It surprised her that he started to laugh.

“Garlan and I were much the same when we were boys,” he remarked amusedly. ”I always wanted to stay inside to read my books and my brother always wanted to get outside to practice with his sword. My Lord Father expected of me to become knight, but I failed,” he added and jerked his head at his twisted leg. ”Now I am correcting accounts.”

Sansa didn’t know what to say. I wanted to be a Queen. Another silly dream.

“I don’t think that is silly,” she replied and smiled. ”You like doing it; don’t you?”

“Aye,” he confirmed and returned her smile. ”I like correcting the accounts.”

Then he stopped and gave her a torn look.

“My Lady,” he said and cleared his throat. ”May I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” she confirmed and gave him an expectant look.

“Forgive me for asking this…,” he began and wetted his lips. ”But do you believe what your Lord Father said about the King?”

She was stunned by this question.

“I am not sure,” she admitted. ”At first I didn’t believe it, but now I am beginning to have my doubts...”

“I see,” he said, his brows wrinkled in confusion. ”It is just…even my grandmother said…Lord Eddard Stark is an honest man. He wouldn’t lie about such things. She said this shortly after my sister wed Renly. That was before we were allies with the Lannisters and now we conveniently forgot about this fac. It is a silly mummery my father takes upon himself to get my sister a crown. I am sorry…I shouldn’t have told you about this, but you are my wife and I thought you might understand my doubts.

Sansa felt as if all air had drained out of her.

I was blind and didn’t see what was happening right in front of me.

“My Lady…,” he began and pulled on her arm.

She swallowed hard and tried to repress her tears.

“Nothing,” she assured him. ”I am well, but you are right. My father was treated unjustly.”

“Sadly, nobody cares about the truth,” Lord Willas added and sighed deeply. ”I know it is treason to speak like this, but I don’t like the fact that my sister is going to be wed to a potential bastard…and a Lannister. Tywin Lannister is a dangerous man…I think my father ought to approach him with more care. I just don’t want to see my sister hurt. Tell me, my Lady. Does the King least have a good character?”

Joff was always kind to her when he had to, but not to others. Arya…her friend and father.

Guilt washed over her. The boy was killed for my lies.

At least now she wanted to tell the truth.

“Joff can be kind,” she admitted. ”But he can also be cruel…he hurt Arya’s friend because it amused him. Arya dared to fight back and Joff even drew his blade, but Nymeria…my sister’s wolf bit him. The Queen Mother had the boy killed and also demanded the head of my sister’s wolf, but Arya sent her wolf away and thus my wolf was killed instead. It all happened, because I lied.”

Poor Lady. She didn’t deserve such a terrible fate.

That was also my fault.

It all came crushing down on her. All I could think of was to become a Queen. They used me. The Queen and Joff used me for their games and I played along.

“My Lady,” Willas’ gentle voice called her back to the present. His hand was squeezing hers in an affectionate manner. ”I apologize for my questions…I didn’t mean to distraught you so…”

“I am fine,” she assured him and dried her tears. ”But I am beginning to realize that I was blinded by my pride. Now I feel only shame.”

He nodded his head and graced her with a soft smile.

“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote for shame,” he told her.

“And what is true humility, my Lord?” she asked, curious if he could provide her with an answer.

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. Then he laughed and shrugged his shoulders. ”I read that in a book…it was written by an old solider who lamented the death of his son in battle.”

“I see,” she replied and felt a hint of warmth washing over her as she touched her hand to his. ”Even if I have yet to discover the secret of true humility.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys

Red stones and blood. That was what Astapor was built on or that was what Dany had once read in a book in her Mistress’ possession. Seeing these red walls with her own eyes it was no longer a surprise to her that Astapor was commonly known as the Red City.

Yet this was only the beginning. Everything in this city was geared towards the business of slavery. There was the Plaza of Punishment here the flesh slaves were brought first to lay eyes on those daring enough to disobey their masters. It was a grizzly welcome.

The numerous fighting pits were another attraction Astapor was known for. Daenerys counted more than fifty, all named in honour of their owners, residing up in the pyramids with their green gardens and colourful terraces.

The hostile looks following them at every step didn’t escape her. They were playing a mummery, but everyone here knew who she claimed to be: the returned Princess, Daenerys Targaryen, who defeated two Dothraki hordes and claimed Lhazar as her own. The Dragon Queen, she dared to call herself, though she felt more like the slaves watching her with wide eyes.

Daenerys rode on a dark horse, her dress in place and the slim silver crown resting atop her head. It was a simple band of silver, but the smith worked swirling flames into smooth surface. Just looking at swirling pattern filled her with warmth and pride. This crown would be worthless to others, but for Daenerys it was a precious possession.

Jon rode beside her, garbed all in black, safe for the crimson cloak draped around his shoulders. The crimson cloak was Daenerys’ suggestion and the garment suited Jon well, though he still considered himself just a bastard.

Ser Barristan rode left from her. He still wore his old armour, but he chose to drape a pale cloak over his shoulder.

Tito rode behind them to lead the supposed slaves, their gift to the Good Masters of Astapor. Just looking at them, devoid of their armour and pride, made her heart clench, but she couldn’t deny that Jon’s idea was good.

Only for a day or two, she assured herself and straightened herself in her saddle as they continued to ride over the Plaza of Pride.

“It should be here,” Tito informed her with a grim expression. ”This Master informed our envoy to meet here.”

“Well, then let’s hope they he will come,” Jon added sarcastically. ”I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet one of the Good Masters of Astapor.”

“One Good Master,” Tito corrected him with a wry smile and smoothed his hand over the pommel of his sword. ”His name is Kraznys mo Nakloz. He owns the largest training pits of the city.”

“How pleasant,” Jon remarked and swept his gaze over the plaza, as if to search for this Master.

True to his word, the man appeared in time, though he was not alone. He was accompanied by several servants and a young dark-skinned girl.

Like most Masters he sported an oiled beard and felt no shame to parade around his massive girth.

Daenerys exhaled deeply and tried to recall what Tito’s mother had told her. To act a queen you need to think of others as dirt beneath your feed. Don’t hide away and don’t hesitate to look in their eyes.

Thus she straightened herself and stopped her horse. Then she climbed from her saddle and met the man’s gaze. She didn’t even lower her head when she greeted him in the Common Tongue.

“Are you Good Master Kraznys mo Nakloz?” she asked haughtily and tried her best to raise her chin.

The man eyed her critically, before he gave his answer in clear High Valyrian, a language she pretended not to understand.

“Tell the whore who I am,” he told the young dark-skinned girl. ”And tell her that I heard of her.”

“Good Master Kraznys welcomes you in Astapor,” the girl answered for her Master and lowered her head in reverence. ”The Master has heard of your deeds…the destruction of two Dothraki hordes and other wondrous tales.”

“And I am pleased to meet your Master,” Daenerys answered politely and didn’t hesitate to meet his gaze. ”I also heard from the mouth of the captured Dothraki that it were the Good Masters of Astapor who sent them to attack the lands I conquered. But know that your actions didn’t rouse my displeasure, because I heard of your reasons. To affirm my good will I bring you three-hundred boy slaves,” she added and pointed at Tito and his men.

The dark-skinned girl relayed her answer and her Master’s head snapped around to look at Tito’s boys as quickly as an arrow taking flight. She read surprise on his face as he turned back to look at her.

“Tell the whore that her offer is appreciated, but that the Good Masters have need of many more boy slaves…three-hundred shall not be enough,” he declared haughtily, as if her offer offended him. It was hard for her to keep her composure and Jon seemed to share her feelings. His jaw was tense like a bowstring and he flexed his gloved hand in an anxious manner.

It seems his study of High Valyrian is showing progress.

“My Master welcomes your offer,” the dark-skinned girl replied softly. ”But the rearing of the Unsullied is a costly process. He will have need of many more boy slaves.”

“And more he shall have!” Daenerys declared with a wide smile, though her stomach clenched painfully. ”I am always interested in a good business deal.”

“Tell the whore that I am interested to receive more boy slaves and show her the Unsullied,” Kraznys replied full of pride and pointed at the row of soldiers arranged in straight lines.

“The Good Master Kraznys would be pleased to buy more boy slaves if the price proves satisfying,” the dark-skinned girl said. ”And the Good Master asks you to behold the magnificence of his Unsullied.”

Daenerys had seen all kind of warriors, but these Unsullied were different. They stood perfectly straight, their empty eyes blind to the world around them. Their gaze was not normal, but the same could be said about their garb. They wore nothing but white-linen clouts wound around their loins and bronze helms topped with sharpened spikes.

“I heard only praise about the Unsullied,” Daenerys replied and smiled sweetly. ”I intend to retake the crown that was stolen from me and thus I have need of capable warriors such as your Unsullied, but I need to hear more, before I can make a decision.”

Kraznys nodded his head in confirmation and his large breasts jutted with every movement of his body as his young translator relayed Daenerys’ answer. It took all her effort not to look at them. Most girls in her Mistress’ place would have killed to have such full breasts.

Kraznys waved his whip and a group of Unsullied stepped forward. They moved as precise and as machines.

Daenerys shuddered. Nothing was human about them. Even their bodies looked like carved from stone.

“Educate the whore about their accomplishments,” he told his young translator.

Stone men, Daenerys wanted to call them. The Good Masters turned thousands of men into stone men.

“They are chosen young…for size and speed and strength,” the young girl explained. ”Every day, from dawn to dusk, they train with the short sword, the shield and the spear. Their training is more than rigorous…only one boy in three survives. This is well known among the Unsullied and it is said that the worst is done on the day they earn their spiked cap, for no fight will ever prove as hard as their training…”

All the while Kraznys continued to bob his head like one of those pet dogs the noble ladies of Volantis liked to keep as their companions.

“These Unsullied have been standing here all day and without receiving food or water. They would endure until their last breath. This great is the courage of the Unsullied.”

“Obedience is no courage,” Jon remarked in a challenging tone. Daenerys was surprised by his action, but not displeased. It gave her courage. ”Even sheep know obedience.”

She eyed Jon from the side and was even more surprised when she spotted the small smile curling on his lips.

When she beheld Kraznys angered face she knew why he was smiling.

“Who is that? The whore’s pet?” he snapped at his young translator. ”Tell the whore what the Unsullied can do!”

“Good Master Kraznys says that these sheep would spill the blood of every know fighter in the Seven Kingdoms,” the girl relayed her Master’s words as Daenerys shifted her attention back to the unmoving stone men.

Many of them sported the copper skin and the almond-shaped eyes common to Lhazar, but she also saw pale-skinned men from Lys, sun-kissed men from Norvos and many more hailing from all over Essos. Some men were tall and some were short, ranging from fourteen to twenty, yet all of them exhibited the same empty expression.

Not only that. Tito had told her that all Unsullied are cut like the eunuchs serving in the God-Emperor’s harem.

“Why do you need to cut them?” Daenerys inquired, unable to hide her curiosity. Jon gave her a concerned look, but she ignored him. She wanted to know why men need to lose their cocks to be worthy warriors. I made no sense to her.

Kraznys smiled and growled his reply at the young translator.

“One of the Unsullied may not rival the strength of your knights, but the Unsullied have something far more precious…discipline.”

“They also say the Unsullied know no fear of death,” Jon added calmly and the young girl translated his words to her Master, who grimaced in displeasure.

“Tell the whore, that she should silence her subordinates. And make clear to her that the Unsullied are not common men.”

“You heard right,” the young girl answered obediently, though Daenerys noticed a hint of discomfort in the girls bearing. ”The Unsullied are not like common men…they fear neither death nor pain…Behold their discipline with your own eyes!”

Then Kraznys snapped his whip across the neck of a young man.

Daenerys was speechless. The young man didn’t even flinch as the blood trickled down his neck like a river of crimson.

Kraznys lifted his whip once more, but Daenerys shook her head, though she tried to appear unaffected by this grizzly spectacle.

“I saw enough,” she declared in thick voice gave the man in front of her a piercing look. ”I believe you. Do not damage your valuable men for the sake of pride.”

“Did I insult the whore’s weeping heart?” Kraznys asked in a mocking tone and spit on the ground not far from Jon’s feet. ”Tell her this: The Unsullied have no need for courage when they have discipline honed by years of training. Tell her how it is achieved.”

“Master Kraznys says that you beheld the true strength of the Unsullied,” the young girl continued to translate. ”It is wine of courage that grants this gift. They drink it with every meal and with every passing year they feel less pain. It is even impossible to torture them. None of your secrets shall leave their lips.”

Daenerys gave a hesitant nod. She felt only disgust and Ser Barristan seemed to share her feelings. He frowned deeply and his gloved hand twitched anxiously over the pommel of his sword. Tito’s expression was equally grim, though less anxious.

Only Kraznys seemed amused and looked as if he won a great victory.

“Tell the whore that not even her pink nipples would tempt the Unsullied,” he added mockingly. Jon looked as if he was ready to burst, but Ser Barristan, who was also able to understand High Valyrian, grabbed his shoulder.

Daenerys sighed in relief and gathered her courage. She exhaled deeply and continued with her mummery.

“Master Kraznys says that no woman, no matter how beautiful, can tempt an Unsullied. They are as pure as a newborn babe. They don’t even have proper names.”

Master Kraznys nodded his head and pointed his whip at a small bronze disk placed on the sword belts carried by each Unsullied warrior.

“There is his name,” the young girl explained. ”This one’s named Grey Mouse, but tomorrow he will go by another name.”

Daenerys nodded her head and tried to understand the need for such nonsense.

“How are they able to remember all these names?” she asked the young girl, who quickly relayed her Master’s boasting answer.

“Those who are not able are punished…they have to climb a mountain, endure the pains of a whip or even slay an infant.”

She froze.

“Why is it necessary to slay infants?”

“To win his spiked cap a recruit has to go to the slave market, find a newborn babe and slay it before its mother’s eye. This way we are able to weed out the weak ones.”

A feeling of sickness washed over her and she bit her lips. She heard enough.

“I think I have heard enough. I understand their value,” she replied with suppressed anger and forced herself to look at Kraznys.

The Master bowed his head and a smile of satisfaction washed over his face.

“Ask the whore how many Unsullied she wants to buy,” he told the young girl.

“My Master wants to know how many Unsullied you intend to buy?”

“How many do you intend to sell?” she countered quickly.

“Eight-thousand fully trained Unsullied are available,” the young girl answered. ”Consider quickly, for there are many more who wish to buy them.”

Daenerys didn’t doubt his words, but she also found greed on his face. Daario was right when he said that these men believe only in one god: coin.

“I heard you,” Daenerys confirmed, trying to appear prideful. ”We shall speak again…in a few days. I need my dire rest.”

Kraznys nodded his head in understanding.

“Tell the whore, that she is welcome to leave her boy slaves here.”

“My Master would be pleased if you left the boy slaves here.”

Daenerys disliked that notion and was quick to answer. She tried to put as much authority in her voice as she was able to muster.

“This gift is meant to be given once the deal is sealed and not before.”

Kraznys didn’t seem to like her answer, but he refrained from voicing his disapproval.

“Tell the whore that she should learn to mind her tongue,” he quipped and the young girl relayed his answer with utmost politeness.

“My Master is disappointed, but you are welcome to return.”

Daenerys lowered her head and sighed in relief.

“I am thankful for your hospitality.”

Margaery

The air was pregnant with anticipation as the next two opponents rode out to test their mettle. For Ser Jon Fassoway, her good-sister’s younger brother, it was his first tourney. Nobody could deny that he looked splendid in his polished armour and yellow silk cloak embellished with a green apple. She also noticed Lynette’s proud smile and sighed deeply.

The King’s armour betrayed the wealth of his grandfather’s house. He wore gilded armour and a cloak of shimmering crimson. Only his horned helmet was reminiscent of his father’s legacy.

It was the last match of this day, but Margaery already knew how it would end. The winner of the tourney was decided for it even began. Her brother Loras weeded out the hardest challengers while the King’s enemies were chosen wisely. Strewn in were a few capable jousters like her good-brother Ser Jon, but even that couldn’t change the planned outcome of this tourney. She was sure that her Lord Father promised the Ser Jon a hefty sum for his shameful loss.

“Jon looks gallant, doesn’t he?” Lynette remarked, a proud smile curling on her lips. She was a beauty like her mother Janna Tyrell, though much shorter and of a dainty stature. Garlan grinned from one ear to the other when his bride was introduced to him. Theirs was a match made in heaven that went far beyond duty.

“Your brother is very gallant,” Margaery remarked with a feigned smile. ”And he has the honour to ride against his King,” she added sweetly, though it was meant as an insult. The King wasn’t bad, but nothing compared to her brother Loras. That her Lord Father expected of Loras to yield his future match against his King angered her even more. A King ought to know humility, she thought as the horn blew, announcing the beginning of the match.

In the blink of a moment the riders drove their horses forward, leaving only plumes of dust in their wake.

The tip of the King’s lance met Ser Jon’s chest without much difficulty, but didn’t manage to throw him from his saddle. Margaery was not sure if it was intentional, but she hoped so.

Thus the two opponents returned to the other side of the tiltyard and exchanged their lances. Lynette covered her mouth in anticipation and the horn sounded again. Margaery felt only shame as the King’s lance hit right where it belonged.

Ser Jon had barely lifted his lance, before he was thrown from his saddle and rolled in the dust.

“How boring,” her cousin Alla remarked quietly. She was still half a girl, but graced with a full face and large green eyes. ”These tourney has been quiet the disappointment. The King’s opponents ride as if they are drunk.”

Margaery agreed with her, but she couldn’t allow that her cousin shamed the King in such a manner.

“Mind your tongue, cousin,” Margaery chided her gently. ”This is our King you are speaking about.”

Alla blushed and fell silent.

“Ser Loras is going to defeat the King though,” Megga added confidently.

“We will see,” Margaery told her two cousins and fanned herself fresh air as she beheld the King’s victory. The smallfolk was eerily quite and their cheers were not as loud as they should be, but it was still enough to make this mummery believable. ”We will see.”

Tomorrow he will crown me Queen of Love and Beauty, she knew and rose to her feet. She shuddered as a cold breeze met her bare neck. She chose a light summer dress that accentuated her shoulders and neck, but now she regretted her choice and longed for the warmth of her chambers.

The rest of the evening passed as slowly as expected. The King revelled in his triumph and Margaery tried to appear the Queen her father wanted her to be.

Stop dreaming, she chided herself and sipped on her cup of wine. The Queen Mother didn’t attend the jousting competition, because the younger Prince Tommen lay abed with fever.

Not that Margaery cared, but she feared the Queen more than the King. She hates me, she knew, but was able to forget these dark thoughts when she spotted Robb Stark in company of her cousin Elinor. She was garbed in a dream of blue silk, her golden curls arranged atop her head and decorated with blue flowers. She looked as lovely as spring maid, but Robb Stark looked as unhappy as ever. This surprised her, because Elinor never failed to charm a man.

Maybe he heard about my cousin’s impending betrothal to Alyn Ambrose, she mused and watched as Robb Stark leaned down to place a kiss on her hand, before returning to his table on the opposing side of the hall. There above his table hung the direwolf of house Stark and beneath it Robb Stark’s feasting companions.

The dark-haired man with the smug smile was Theon Greyjoy, the last living son of Balon Greyjoy, but Margaery would have known that without her cousin’s spying, for the young man proudly carried the kraken of house Greyjoy.

There were several other Northmen, who belonged to the so called Wolf’s Guard, but Margaery only recalled three of them. There was the Smalljon Umber, a man of enormous size. Robin Flint, a quiet man who eyed the other guests with distrust, and Cley Cerwyn, a pale-faced boy of ten and six.

She watched them a while longer, but was soon reminded of her duty to the King. The King paraded her around like a dog and made her smile at every single one of his relatives. By the end of the night she felt as if her smile was frozen in place.

Later she asked her ladies to draw a hot bath for her and soon she and her cousins washed each other in steaming rose water.

“Now tell, Eli,” Alla demanded excitedly. ”Did Robb Stark propose to you?”

Elinor shook her head and brushed her wet hair out of her face. She looked disappointed.

“I don’t think he is going to propose to anyone in the near future,” her cousin replied and met Margaery’s gaze. ”I complimented him as you told me and he hardly showed me any attention. I think he is still grieving for his wife.”

“A Frey,” Alla added shyly. ”I heard they look like weasles.”

“Lord Stark mentioned that she took after her mother…a Rosby,” Margaery countered and splashed a handful of water at her cousin. The young girl giggled and returned the favour.

“Rosby or not,” Elinor added amusedly. ”Robb Stark is a pleasant man. I doubt it would be hard for him to find a new bride.”

“The fact that he is a high lord should help as well,” Margaery added and leaned back, savouring the feeling of the steaming water.

“Alyn Ambrose will have to do,” Elinor confirmed and leaned closer. ”Well, I won’t be Lord Stark’s bride, but I was able to find out where we can meet him without arousing the King’s attention.”

Margaery smiled, but she should have expected that Elinor wouldn’t disappoint her in this matter. Her Lord Father may not perceive Sansa Stark as more than the girl meant to bear the next Tyrell heir, but Margaery had every intention to build a good relationship with the girl’s family. House Lannister and House Stark were once enemies. As a future Queen she needed to quell any possibly enmities. The King showed little promise in this matter and thus Margaery decided take the matter in her own hands.

Admittedly, she was also curious about Robb Stark. She heard he was an excellent rider and warrior, but he neither participated in the joust nor in the melee. Most men in her vicinity wanted to impress her with their abilities, but Robb Stark showed her and the King not more than the barest kind of formality.

This was what intrigued her the most about him; his plain honesty. She has yet to meet another man like him.

“Cousin,” Elinor’s soft-spoken voice snapped her back to the present. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I heard you, Eli,” she confirmed and smiled warmly. ”Tell us…How will we be able to meet Lord Stark?”

Her cousin grinned impishly.

“I heard his men intend to hunt on the morrow,” her cousin replied. ”They plan to ride out to the Kingswood.”

Robb

The cool breeze coming from the forest felt pleasant on his skin. They rode out at dawn, when the first hints of sunlight appeared on the distant horizon, but they had little success in their endeavor.

Robb had asked for the King’s permission to undertake a hunting trip to give his men time away from King’s Landing, but it seemed this plan was another failure.

“It seems your wolf is the only one who enjoys himself,” Theon remarked jokingly.

“True,” Robb replied and smiled. ”I heard you also enjoyed yourself last night…you and Lord Redwyne’s daughter. What was her name again?”

“Desmera,” Theon replied and grinned like a fool. ”Gods, I have never seen a girl with so many freckles…even between her teats.”

Robb couldn’t help but to give Theon a disapproving look.

“And I hope for you that your cock didn’t venture between her freckled thighs,” he replied in a warning tone. ”Mace Tyrell’s mother is a Redwyne and Sansa is wed to his heir. We don’t want to cause him any displeasure.”

Theon’s smile vanished from his lips.

“I didn’t touch her maidenhead,” Theon assured him. ”I fondled her a bit and in return she did the same with my cock. Nothing special, but I have to admit…I would love to venture between those thighs as her lord husband.”

Nobody could deny that Theon had a rather crude sense of humor, but Robb enjoyed his lack of artifice when it came to such things.

He also understood that this was more than just a crude remark. Theon was his father’s hostage, but he proved himself loyal and fought at Robb’s side. And Balon Greyjoy was not getting younger…

“I understand what you are trying to say, Theon,” he replied and graced him with a smile. ”But I am not sure if Lord Redwyne would be interested to wed his daughter to…,” he continued, but Theon cut him off.

“An Ironborn man?” he asked and sounded slightly hurt. ”I might not hold rich lands like Lord Redwyne, but I am still the heir to a great house.”

“Nobody denies that,” Robb assured him calmly. “And you will have my support when the day comes to claim your birthright. You also have my support in pursuing Lady Redwyne, but don’t do anything hasty and allow me first to speak with Lord Tyrell. He might be able to act as an intermediate.”

“You really think this grinning peacock will help us?” Theon asked and wrinkled his brows in confusion.

“Sansa is wed to his son,” Robb countered. ”Surely, that counts for something.”

“Wed to a cripple seven years older than her,” Theon countered and led his horse towards the dusty trail, lined by several large trees, granting them a pleasant shade.

“Bran is also a cripple,” Robb reminded him.

“True,” Theon confirmed and shrugged his shoulders. Then he straightened himself and flashed Robb a bright smile. ”What about you? This Tyrell girl was fluttering around you like a bee around a pot of honey. She also has a rather admirable bosom if I may say so. Did you fondle her as well or was there more?”

Robb shook his head.

“I danced with her and she talked…that was all,” he explained and led his horse pass the small brook crossing their path. The song of rushing water filled his ears and Greywind stopped to dip his head to drink.

Robb wished he could do the same. King’s Landing was a terrible place. It stank and the constant heat didn’t help. Even at night he sweated like a pig.

“Speaking of the Tyrells!” Theon remarked and patted his shoulder. ”It seems the golden roses decided to venture into the Kingswood.”

Robb lifted his head and was stunned to find Lady Margaery Tyrell’s entourage riding along the dusty path passing the outskirts of the forest.

Lady Margaery was seated on a grey palfrey horse and garbed in a pale blue dress. Next to her rode her cousins. Megga, the oldest among them, was a plump lady and enjoyed to stuff puddings into her mouth. Alla was shy and half a girl. And at last Elinor, the girl who had been fluttering around him like a bee.

She had much of Lady Margaery. They shared the same golden-brown hair and honey-colored eyes. And yet Robb felt nothing in the girl’s presence. It was different with Lady Margaery. Her smiles weren’t as bright as Elinor’s, but laced with a certain kind of sadness that filled him with the need to give her a kind word.

He expected her to be proud and haughty, like so many southron ladies, but all he saw was a solemn young woman, pretending to play the happy bride. At least that is what he deduced from the feigned smiles and her tense bearing whenever she was in the King’s presence.

Stop your dreaming, he chided himself and lowered his head in greeting.

Lady Margaery Tyrell didn’t hesitate to halt her horse and flashed him a bright smile.

“Lord Stark!” she exclaimed. ”A pleasant surprise, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed a pleasure to see you again, my Lady,” he replied and meant it.

“May I introduce Theon Greyjoy, the heir to the Iron Islands,” Robb added when Lady Margaery’s eyes fell upon Theon. ”And the men riding behind me are the Lords Robin Flint, Jon Umber and Cley Cerwyn.”

All three of them dipped their heads and muttered a greeting.

“Well met, Lord Greyjoy. Well met, my Lords,” Lady Margaery replied and jerked hear head at the meadow stretching below the hill.

“We are going to have a pickinck and would appreciate your presence if it pleases you, my Lord,” she explained and graced him with another bright smile.

Robb was stunned by this offer, but also hesitant. Lady Margaery was betrothed to a man he considered an enemy and he doubted the King would be pleased to see him in their company.

“My Lady…that would be hardly appropriate,” he informed her politely, but Lady Margaery wanted to hear none of it.

“Not appropriate?” she asked and wrinkled her brows. Even frowning, she was pretty as a summer breeze. Robb blushed when he noticed his straying thoughts. Get a hold of yourself. “Your sister is wed to my dear brother Willas. I know it was a rather hasty arrangement, but I am pleased that my brother has such a beautiful bride. I have yet to speak to your sister, but I heard she is a well-mannered girl. I want to get to know my good-sister’s family…Do you understand, my Lord?”

“I understand,” Robb confirmed and realized that this was his only chance to inquire out about Sansa’s well-being.

Mother wouldn’t forgive me if I don’t make use of this possibility, he knew and crawled from his horse.

“Wonderful!” Lady Margaery exclaimed and threw a smile at his companions. ”You are all welcome to join us.”

“I thank you again, my Lady,” he replied and soon enough Lady Margaery’s retinue went to work.

Robb didn’t believe his eyes as they started to erect a pavillion. They even brought chairs and trestle tables. But the cherry on top was the fool and the minstrel, who played up a jolly tune for the ladies.

His men were soon caught in the net of Lady Margaery’s sweet cousins while Lady Margaery attended to Robb.

“Tell me, Lord Stark,” she said after a moment of silence had settled over them. ”I heard in the North it snows even in summer?”

“Aye, we have summer snows,” he confirmed quickly and met her gaze. ”In fact, we have snow all year. I reckon the Reach is very different.”

“Indeed,” she confirmed and leaned closer. The smell of rosewater met his nose and he felt the urge to lean in, but recoiled instead. “The Reach is green all year, though now the first signs of autumn are becoming apparent. Maybe we will even be graced with snow. The Maesters believe this is going to be a long winter.”

Robb was pleasantly surprised that a lady like her cared about such matters.

“Winter is coming,” he quoted his father for no particular reason. “Maester Luwin said the same. It is going to be a long winter, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t survive this one as well.”

“I like your enthusiasm, Lord Stark,” Lady Margaery complimented and fanned herself fresh air. ”And I share your opinion…our harvest plentiful. We won’t starve…so much I know. Well, back to the topic at hand. Tell me, about your family, my Lord. I heard you have another sister and two brothers…,” she trailed off and gave him an expectant look.

“Three brothers,” he corrected her. ”I have three brothers…Jon, Bran and Rickon. I also have another sister…Arya.”

“Jon,” she repeated, her eyes filled with curiosity. “I forgot…He is your father’s natural son, isn’t he?”

He is Prince Rhaegar’s son, he wanted to answer just to see her stunned face. Her father was once a close ally of the Targaryens and now he was prepared to wed his only daughter to a supposed bastard. How the times can change.

“Jon is my brother,” he replied instead. ”I know it might sound strange to you, but we grew up together and I am very fond of him. His birth is not important to me, though he no longer resides with us. He left for Essos to conduct business on my behalf.

“I see,” she replied, a soft smile playing on her lips. ”And your other siblings? Please tell me about them.”

“Bran wanted to be a knight, but fell from a tower. He will never walk again, but he is clever and I am sure he will make a good lord. Rickon is wild and half a babe. It is hard to say what will become of him, but I will do my best to find a proper match for him once he is old enough. Perhaps, I will send him to squire for my Uncle Edmure. Arya is nearly twelve and still betrothed to one of Lord Frey’s sons, but I am not sure if she will go along with the match. She is rather willful…My Lady Mother thinks she will accept her fate in time, but I am not convinced.”

“Sounds like a spirited girl,” Margaery remarked in an amused tone. ”I hope I will be able to meet her one day. Mayhaps she would like to visit her sister in Highgarden?”

Robb couldn’t help but to laugh.

“I think that wouldn’t be a good idea. Arya and Sansa are like cat and dog. It would end in a terrible fight.”

“That won’t last forever,” Lady Margaery assured him and folded her hands in her lap.”Loras and I often fought when we were children. Now we are very close. Time will take care of these old enmities.”

“I hope so,” Robb replied decided now was the right moment to ask her about Sansa. ”I know we hardly know each other, but I would like to ask for a favor… it concerns Sansa,” he trailed off.

Lady Margaery seemed delighted by his request and clapped her hands together.

“Of course, Lord Stark,” she confirmed and grinned. ”It would please me to grant a favor to you, my Lord.”

He couldn’t help but to return her smile.

“I brought a letter from my Lady Mother,” he explained. ”Would you be able to relay this letter to my sister? It would also please me if your Lord Father could give his permission to establish a correspondence between my sister and Winterfell. I know that the King holds not much love for me, but my sister is half a child. I also hoped I might be able to visit her in time…,” he trailed off, realizing that he was asking too much.

Margaery Tyrell didn’t seem to mind his demands and leaned over to squeeze his arm. Her touch sent a surge of warmth through his body.

And yet he was the Lord of Winterfell. He couldn’t allow himself such weakness.

He pulled his hand away and graced her with a polite smile.

She seemed to sense this and pulled her hand away. He read disappointment on her face, which only woke more inappropriate feelings. His heart skipped a beat and his mouth felt suddenly dry. It made him feel like a little girl.

“What do you say, my Lady?” he repeated his question to be sure. ”Do you think my demands are reasonable?”

She nodded her head.

“They are more than reasonable, my Lord.”

Arya

Arya watched her captors through the bars of her cage. She felt like a songbird and wished now that she didn’t cut her hair. One of her friends in Winterfell showed her how to unlock a door with a simple hairpin.

Yet that wasn’t her only problem. They discovered her secret soon after their arrival in this city and shortly after she was separated from the boys and sent to reside with the girls. Sadly, none of these girls were able to speak her language. She couldn’t even ask them if they finally made it to Astapor.

All she knew was that this place was some sort of market where people were traded like goats. From dawn till dusk, men garbed in rich robes came and went, inspecting captured. Arya didn’t understand what they were saying, but she doubted it was good. One of the girls wept so bitterly that her new Master nearly whipped her to dead. Arya had spent a great amount of her time cursing her captors in the Common Tongue and received several beatings in return. She realized then that it was better to shut up and observe the situation.

She took great pleasure in enraging Joff, but her captors dealt out punishments as if it was a mere formality.

“Come forward, girl!” one of her captors ordered and snapped his whip. It was the thin one, who called himself Pharzen the Hawke. Like so often he was not alone, but in company of one of his customers. Master, one of the girls had called the man who bought another girl.

This one here wore the same type of silken garment decorated with exquisite fringes, though this robe was made of a dark velvet material and his fringes were silver instead of gold. He also sported an oily beard and carried his massive girth with pride.

Arya reluctantly obeyed and came forward, the bright sunlight blinding her. She thought Volantis was bad, but the heat here was almost unbearable and Arya wished for nothing more than to dip her head in a bucket of water.

Arya avoided the man’s gaze, because she learned in a rather painful manner that these men didn’t like it when she stared at them.

Pharzen the Hawke spoke quickly and Arya did her best to understand what he was saying, but she was unable to make out more than a few words. Coin and girl, was all she understood. Once or twice she heard the word Yunkai, but the Master seemed to disagree with her captor after he had eyed her more closely.

After a while he called one of his servants forward. It was a young dark-skinned girl who eyed her with large brown eyes.

“Master Kraznys wants to know how old you are?” the girl asked her in the Common Tongue.

Arya was stunned. She didn’t look like someone from Westeros, but there was not even the trace of an accent in her speech.

“Ten and one,” she replied unwillingly and looked at the girl instead of the fat Master.

The Master wrinkled his brows and leaned down to regard her more closely. Even from afar she felt his warm breath tickling her face. Then he spoke to the girl, who relayed his words to her.

“Master Kraznys wants to know where you hail from?”

“Westeros,” she replied though this should be obvious. ”I hail from King’s Landing.”

The Master nodded his head as the girl relayed Arya’s answer to him. Then he spoke to her captor, who leaned down and grabbed her arm to pull her forward. He was as thin as a spindle, but he had a strong grip. Arya knew that refusal would only bring her more pain and kept still. Pharzen the Hawke showed the Master her teeth and her hands. Why he did that was beyond her understanding, but she was relieved when he finally let go of her.

The fat Master nodded head in understanding and patted his translator’s shoulder.

“Your teeth are good and your hands look untouched by the woes of fieldwork,” the young girl said. ”Master Kraznys wants to know who your parents were.”

“My father was a high lord,” she replied, though she didn’t give him a name. ”I grew up in a castle. That is why my hands are untouched by the woes of fieldwork.”

The dark-skinned girl nodded her head in understanding and relayed her answer to the fat master, who answered promptly.

“Master Kraznys wants to know if you were taught how to read and to write?”

“I can read and write. I can also calculate and know history,” she answered. She hated the fat Master and Pharzen the Hawke, but she also wanted to get out of this cage. Then she could start finding a way to escape this horrid place.

The fat Master smiled after his translator had relayed Arya’s words to him and turned around to speak with Pharzen the Hawke. He also smiled. It seemed as if they found some sort of arrangement that pleased them both.

At last Pharzen bowed deeply and receive a bundle of clinking coin.

“My Master bought you,” the young girl informed her with an incredible calm demeanor. She couldn’t be much older than Arya, but she spoke like an adult. ”You will be my pupil. My name is Missandei. What is your name?”

“Nymeria, but they call me Nym,” she lied.

A soft smile curled on the other girl’s lips.

“Well met, Nymeria.”

Chapter Text

Arya

They scrubbed her clean until her skin burned from the sharp soap they had used on her. Then they took her clothing away and burned it. In return she received a collar with bells and a dark velvet tunic made of a soft wool-like material.

Arya had never felt cleaner and more miserable. She set out to find Jon and ended up captured by slavers. Stupid girl, she cursed herself. You should have known better than to trust strangers. You are almost as stupid as Sansa.

“Please come along, Nymeria,” Missandei told her softly and led her along a corridor decorated with gilded statues. They showed naked women with wings.

Sadly, they were not alone. Behind them walked the household guard all of them armed with spears and swords. And fearsome they were. Especially, the large man looming above Missandei reminded her of the Mountain. ”Over there are our sleeping compartments. We are lodged with the pleasure slaves, but that shouldn’t distract you from your duties. Nobody shall touch you or they shall be gelded like the Unsullied. The Master said so.”

Arya didn’t need her reassurance. She would kill anyone who tried to touch her. She would rather die.

“I understand,” she replied instead and followed after her into the next room.

It was this Mountain of a man who closed the door behind them.

“It is locked!” Missandei informed her when moved back towards the door. Arya stopped abruptly and gave the other girl a disbelieving look. ”Are there times when we are allowed to go outside?”

Missandei gave her a strange look.

“Why would you want to go outside?”

“To catch fresh air,” she offered as a possible incentive. The girl looked back at Arya as if she was mad. ”Don’t you ever want to go outside?”

“It matters not what I want,” the girl replied more firmly.” The Master doesn’t want us roaming around. We are here to serve him and not the other way around. This is your first lesson.”

You can stick your lesson elsewhere, Arya wanted to reply, but kept her mouth shut. It was better to become friends with this girl. She could be useful to her in the future.

Then she took in her new sleeping compartments. It was a long room with high walls. A dozen beds stood near the wall, some of them occupied and others empty. Arya counted nine girls. Two of them sat perched on a bed and played a game. They were very beautiful, both of them graced with golden hair and green eyes. Their bells were silver instead of gold.

Pleasure slaves, she guessed and found three others with the same silver bells. Only one girl, maybe a year older than her, wore the same golden bell like Arya and Missandei.

She had pale skin, but her hair was dark like a starry night sky. She eyed Arya with great interest.

“This is Nymeria,” Missandei introduced Arya and jerked her head at the girl. ”This one is Irlina. She hails from Norvos.”

“A pleasure to meet you.” Arya replied in broken Bastard Valyrian.

Irlina smiled in amusement.

“Your pronunciation needs improvement,” she added and folded her hands in front of her. Then she mustered her from head to toe. ”You are not from Essos.”

“I hail from Westeros,” she informed the girl in Broken Bastard Valyrian.”I was sold.”

“So were we all,” the girl stated and pointed at the bed opposite of hers. ”This is your bed. The bed next to you belongs to one of the pleasure slaves. Her name is Doreah. The Master bought her from a Khal. She doesn’t like it when people stare at her.”

Arya nodded her head in understanding and sat down on the bed. It was soft, softer even than her bed in Winterfell. This whole place reeked of coin and even these pleasure slaves wore golden rings and jewels.

Arya remained skeptical. The memory of the tortured slaves at the Plaza of Punishment was still edged into her mind.

I need to get away, was all she could think and shifted her attention back to Missandei. But first I need to gather more information.

“You mentioned that I will be your pupil,” she remarked and searched Missandei’s gaze. She sat on her bed, a handful of scrolls spread before her. ”What are you going to teach me?”

“Languages,” the girl replied without looking at her, her large brown still fixed on the scrolls. ”Irlina is also my pupil. I have been teaching her for two years. Thus she learned five tongues.”

Arya was stunned and stared at the girl in disbelief.

“But you and Irlina…you can’t be older than me.”

“I am ten and one. Irlina is ten and three. Age is no indication of learning…only discipline. You will learn that soon, Nymeria.”

“And when will we start with our lessons?” she asked.

“Before sunset,” Missandei informed her and finally lifted her head to look at her. ”You will start with Bastard Valyrian. Irlina will instruct you while I am gone to serve the Master. He is going to receive important guests.”

This caught Irlina’s attention.

“Is it the woman with the dragons from yesterday?” the girl asked and spoke in the Common Tongue. She had a slight dialect, but it seemed Missandei taught her well.

“This information is not meant for your ears, Irlina,” Missandei chided her gently and smiled. ”But yes. It is this dragon queen. The Master hopes to sell his Unsullied to her.”

“And the dragons?” Irlina asked. ”Did you get to see them?”

Missandei shrugged her shoulders and was about to open her mouth when the creaking of the door aroused their attention.

The Mountain of a man pushed the door open and a young girl stumbled inside. She couldn’t be older than ten and five. Her hair was golden, but the blue bruise on her cheek tainted her beautiful face.

She carried a sad look as she made her way to the bed and sat down. She was garbed in a pink dress, even finer than Arya’s.

“Doreah!” Irlina said in and changed by to Bastard Valyrian. “This is Nymeria or Nym.”

“Well met,” the girl greeted in broken Bastard Valyrian.”I am Doreah.”

“So I heard,” Arya replied and watched as the girl pulled off her robe. Her neck and shoulders were also bruised. It looked as if some wild animal had attacked her. Naked as her name day she pulled on a simpler tunic. Then she started to pick out the hairpins sticking in her hair and soon her golden hair fell around her shoulders like a shroud of gold.

Yet it was not her beautiful hair that aroused Arya’s attention. The hairpins were also beautiful. Beautiful and sharp, potential weapon.

I need one of those. My first step to freedom.

Jon

The heat was almost unbearable and Jon tried his best to ignore the sweat dripping down his brow. Before them sat the the Good Masters of Astapor, clad in their silken tokars and bedecked with jewels.

Daenerys also wore her silken tokar, her silver crown resting atop her braided hair. She looked a Queen, though all of this was nothing more than a mummery.

A feigned smile curled on Daenerys’ lips as she continued to listen. Jon did the same and was surprised how much he was able to understand. And while he did not understand every single word these men spoke, he saw the greed glinting in their dark eyes.

At last they stopped their hushed whispering and Master Kraznys lifted his head to look at Daenerys. Again his young translator relayed his words to them.

“You will be pleased to hear that the Good Masters are prepared to sell,” the girl informed Daenerys. ”The Good Masters want to know how many Unsullied you intend to buy and what you are prepared to offer in return?”

Daenerys remained silent as if to ponder over the price. It was an act, but the Good Masters were blinded by their greed. One of them, an exceptionally fat man, was more interested in Daenerys’ bosom than her face. Jon wanted to do nothing more than to bury his blade in the man’s stomach.

“I have yet to decide on the number, but the payment should be no problem. I have slaves and gifts from Lhazar, among them the finest sheep wool, pots of firegrass and silver,” she replied vaguely.

The young translator relayed Daenerys’ words to the Good Masters and soon they started to discuss again. To Jon they all looked the same. All of them were sun-kissed, broad-nosed, dark-eyed and fat. Only Lord Manderly, the Lord of White Harbour would be able to compete with them.

“Sheep wool, firegrass and a few hundred boy slaves!” one of the Good Masters scoffed. ”The whore insults us with her offer!”

“Maybe,” another Master added and patted his fat belly. ”But this whore burned two hordes of Dothraki. Who knows what she will do if we refuse her? I say it is better to win her friendship than to make her our enemy.”

“I agree,” Master Kraznys added his voice. ”She is a whore, but her dragons put us in a delicate situation. She seems keen on retaking the Sunset Kingdoms. Maybe we can derive a profit from this allegiance.”

“She has three dragons, doesn’t she?” another Master asked. He was the oldest member of the group, his hair streaked with grey.

“So we heard,” Kraznys confirmed eagerly and bared his teeth. ”One too much I think. We should demand one of them as part of our payment. I am sure the whore would be stupid enough to agree. She thinks her false crown can fool us.”

It took all his effort to keep his composure. Jon had met vile men and arrogant men, but the Good Masters of Astapor combined both these characteristics.

The old Master grinned and patted his fat belly.

“I agree with Master Kraznys. The whore has no need of three dragons. One of them should be our price.”

Master Kraznys laughter was bright and his fat breasts jutted with every movement of his head.

”I agree! I agree!”

Jon balled his fists, but kept his head lowered. From the corner of his eyes he noticed the tremor in Daenerys’ body.

Then all of them started to laugh. Finished with their laughter the young translator spoke to Daenerys, though in a more polite manner.

“The Good Masters agree, but your offered payment is not enough,” the girl explained calmly and folded her hands in front of her.

“Name your price?” Daenerys asked obviously tried to appear displeased.

“The Good Masters heard of your dragons. You may take all six-thousand Unsullied in exchange for one of your dragons.”

Daenerys’ eyes widened and she covered her mouth as if to feign surprise. She remained silent for a good while, probably to increase the dramatic effect. Jon applauded her inwardly and beheld the victorious smiles of the Good Masters of Astapor.

“It seems your words stunned the whore into silence,” the old Master remarked and laughed.

“Why does she not speak?” Master Kraznys asked mockingly.

“Master Kraznys understands that this is not a decision hastily made,” the young translator relayed her Master’s rude question in a polite manner. ”You may take a few more days to overthink this offer.”

Daenerys remained silent and bit her lips.

This seemed to displease Master Kraznys and compelled him to slap his whip over the young girl’s shoulder.

“Tell the whore that Master Kraznys is a generous man. As a token of good will I gift her Missandei. The whore will have need of a translator once she takes command of the Unsullied.”

He wants this dragon badly.

“Master Kraznys is prepared to grant you a gift to prove his good intentions. He gifts you myself, Missandei. You will have need of my translation abilities to take command of the Unsullied. Missandei speaks elven tongues.”

Jon was stunned by this revelation. This girl couldn’t be much older than his sister Arya, but she was supposed to speak elven tongues. It was hard to believe.

Daenerys briefly glanced at the girl and met Master Kraznys’ gaze. She also raised her chin, giving an almost prideful expression.

“I will take the girl and rethink your offer,” she declared coldly. ”In two days you shall hear my answer.”

Thus they left in company of their new companion. The young girl named Missandei.

Daenerys, who had long dropped her cold demeanor, graced Missandei with a gentle smile when the girl’s eyes fell on the slave brand on Daenerys’ neck.

“I was once like you,” Daenerys explained. ”Missandei, right?”

The girl lowered her head and answered in a quiet voice.

“Your slave’s name is Missandei, mistress.”

Daenerys wrinkled her brows and shook her head.

“I am not your…,” she began, but Jon gave her a sharp look. They had to keep up appearances.

“Aye, I am your mistress,” Daenerys repeated weakly and sighed deeply. ”But you shall want for nothing while in my service. Tell me, Missandei…Where do you hail from?”

“From Naath,” the girl replied quietly.

“I see,” Daenerys replied and met Jon’s gaze. ”Where is this Naath? Do you know?”

“Missandei forgot,” the girl replied and shook her head. ”I was too young when they took me away from my home.”

“The Summer Isles I think,” Jon offered. ”But I am not sure.”

The girl lifted her head and stared at him with wide eyes.

“Is there something wrong with my face?” he asked amusedly.

“Forgive me…,” she stuttered and even trembled. ”I didn’t mean to stare at you, Master.”

I am not your Master , Jon wanted to correct her, but reminded himself of their purpose here.

“Don’t be afraid,” he assured her instead. ”But why were you staring at me?”

The girl stared at him in disbelief.

“You look like a girl I know…you have the same hair and the same eyes…” she stuttered.

Jon chuckled.

“Did you hear what she said, Dany?” he asked and looked over to Daenerys. ”It seems I have a twin hiding in this city.”

“It seems so,” Daenerys added with a wry smile and offered the girl her hand. ”Now come and let us return to the others, Missandei of Naath. I am sure I can find an appropriate task for you.”

This seemed to please Missandei, a ghost of a smile hushing over full lips.

“This one is grateful to serve the mistress,” the girl added and took Daenerys’ hand, albeit hesitantly.

Sunset was near when they returned to cam, where Tito awaited them in company of Ser Barristan.

“What did the Good Masters speak, friend?”

“That they are willing to sell us these Unsullied if we are prepared to give them one of our dragons. It seems they are as greedy as Daario foretold.”

“It seems so,” Ser Barristan added and frowned. ”And when will strike?”

“In two days,” Jon explained and watched as Daenerys sent Missandei to the other women. Among them was Larsha, who helped to make arrows.

“And then…” Jon added hesitatingly and gave Tito an anxious glance. ”Will we be able to proceed as planned? Is Jemshid ready to meet us along the way to Yunkai?”

“Aye,” Tito confirmed. ”One of his outriders arrived while you were in the city. Jemshid brings several hundred mounted riders. His father disapproved, but these are men loyal to him. He is prepared to help us in exchange for help against the Dothraki.”

“Good,” Daenerys replied in relief and sat down at the nearby table. Carefully, she pulled the crown from her head and regarded it more closely. ”Though we will also have six-thousand Unsullied at our command.”

“Not six-thousand,” Jon corrected her gently. ”We can’t take all of the Unsullied with us. Someone needs to hold Astapor and protect the freed slaves.”

“Aye,” Daenerys agreed and nodded her head in understanding. ”And who will command them?”

“Tito,” Jon replied and noticed the surprised look on his friend’s face. ”I trust you to hold the city until our work is done.”

If Tito was displeased it didn’t show on his face. He simply nodded his head and smiled.

“I will do as you ask, friend.”

The night had fallen when they finished their talk. Even in the night the air proved stifling and hot. Jon was drenched from head to toe as he pulled off his cloak. Daenerys seemed unbothered by the heat, but that was no surprise. She grew up in the Free Cities while Jon was born and bred in the icy North.

Daenerys eyed him comically and brushed her hand through his hair.

“You smell and you are in dire need of a bath,” she informed him and started to pull off her tokar. Beneath she wore a simpler dress, made of fine wool. Carefully, she folded the garment and fastened her cloak around her shoulders.

Then she stepped towards the opening of the tent.

“Come,” she whispered and gave him a knowing smile. ”I saw a water place not far from the camp. There you can take a bath. You can’t smell like a pig when we meet with the Good Masters.”

He smiled, sure that she had more in mind than to get him clean. It had been weeks since they had last lain together. The thin fabric of their tent didn’t allow for much privacy…

A full moon greeted them as they arrived at the water place. It was a small pond, streaked with grass and foliage. The surface was as smooth as ice and the starlight was reflected back at them as if looking into a mirror.

Daenerys didn’t hesitate to pull off her dress and hoped into the water. She trembled as she re-emerged from the dark waters and quickly returned to his side. It was an amusing sight.

“Is the water too cold for you?” he asked her teasingly.

“A little,” she replied and slapped his shoulder.

Then she helped him pull off his cloak and shirt. Jon helped her eagerly and soon his boots and the rest of his clothing followed.

To him the water was pleasantly and helped to clean the dirt from his body. When he had finished cleaning himself he returned to her side at the shore. She was still undressed, but had wrapped her cloak around her shoulders.

Just looking at her stirred his desire.

He smiled at her and leaned down to kiss her. Her lips were soft and she didn’t seem to mind his attentions. She chuckled as he kissed her neck before moving further down to her breasts. They were full and round like the moon and now he understood why the old Master stared at them so greedily.

Her breath left her mouth in small gasps when he leaned down to kissed her between her legs.

“Come here,” she whispered once she had found her desire, her hand snaking down to stroke him gently. It was all the encouragement he needed. He kissed her again, deeper and with more favor, before slipping inside her with one smooth thrust.

The quick roll of her hips was too much. He didn’t last as long as he wanted, before he spent himself.

They remained like this for a while, listening to the rushing water, his hands combing through her silver tresses.

He smiled at her.

"We should go."

“And what if I don’t want to?”

She smiled.

“Very well. Let us stay a while longer.”

Ned

“We should return,” the leader of their group remarked and narrowed his dark eyes.

Ned nodded his head, his frozen face hidden behind the thick shawl wrapped around his neck. Ned was born and bred in the North, but this wind was much sharper than anticipated. Even now, when the sky was wide and blue, he felt cold, trembling under his pelt like a newborn babe.

He longed for a warm fire and cast his gaze in the distant, where the Fist of the First men rose like a blue fist. There on the top and protected by a ring wall of stones was the camp of the Night’s Watch.

Ned understood why. The hill offered a commanding view over the landscape and offered protection against their invisible enemy, the Wildlings.

They found traces of them here and there, but so far the Wildlings were able to hide their presence.

“It is getting cold,” another man added and rubbed his shoulders. ”We should leave now or we won’t be able to get back before nightfall.”

“And the Lord Commander will want to hear of our findings.”

“What findings?” the other man named Bowen Marsh asked and scoffed. “A few lone animals and not even the slightest hint of the Wildling scum.”

Ned didn’t know why, but something about the man rubbed him the wrong way. All he could do was complain. Ned also longed to find his brother or at least avenge him, but the Wildlings fleeing south were not only men keen on murder and pillage. More than once he heard of half-starved women, children and babes. Even Ned, who had been raised to see them as the enemy, had a hard time hating babes and womenfolk.

I am now a man of the Night’s Watch, he reminded himself again. A swore a vow to guard the realms of men…against women and children and babes.

“I am sure we will find them soon enough, Marsh,” their leader, an old man named Gerold, replied and picked his nose. ”Stark is right. No findings are also findings. Let’s go back to warm ourselves and on the morrow we will set out anew.”

“As you say, brother,” Marsh scoffed and wheeled his horse around. Ever slowly, they made their way through the waist-high snow, the sky above them tinged with the colors of twilight.

The only sound was the whistling of the wind and the croaking of a flock of crows circling above the trees.

It was not the first time that Ned noticed their presence. They had been following them all day.

Nonsense, Ned chided himself and followed the others back into the dark forest looming ahead.

Suddenly, Marsh stopped his horse in an abrupt manner and cast his eyes at the distant row of trees lining the snow-swept path.

“Did you hear that, Stark?” Marsh inquired and grinned, showing his yellow teeth. ”It seems the Wildling scum is coming for us.”

Ned didn’t share his joy and smoothed his hand over the pommel of his sword. It gave him the comfort he needed.

“Are you sure?” Gerold asked and wrinkled his brows. ”Where?”

Marsh grinned and unsheathed his blade, before pointing at the row of trees.

Garth sighed deeply, climbed from his horse and slipped his sword out of its scabbard.

The snow was too high to get there on horse.

Unwillingly, Ned followed after them, stamping through the snow.

Again he heard the croaking crows, louder than before. It felt as if they were trying to warn them.

Ned didn’t know how it happened, but the world around him felt even colder. Suddenly, a sharp wind rolled over them and whirled up snow, leaves and cloaks. Ned shuddered, but not from the cold.

Something was amiss.

“You are slowing us down, Stark,” Marsh grumbled impatiently and Ned followed suit, without commenting on the man’s rude words. It was too cold to open one’s mouth unnecessarily.

“We should make a fire,” one of the younger men suggested, but something or someone moving in the underwood aroused their attention. At first it was only a shadow, but the shrill cry unleashed by the animal or human being made Ned’s blood freeze.

He stumbled backwards and then he realized it was a human being. Quickly, he swung his blade and took off the person’s head. His heart was beating rapidly when he took in the cut-off head lying in the snow.

“Gods!” Gerold mumbled and froze in his tracks. ”Have you ever seen such eyes?”

Ned shook his head in disbelief.

The man’s eyes were blue as frost, like two twin stars. Even man’s body was still moving until Marsh buried his blade deep and started to hack the flesh apart.

“See,” Marsh declared proudly. ”Nothing to be afraid of…”

Then they heard it again. There, off in the distance he spotted more of these shadows, moving through the snow. Pairs of blue eyes stared back at them through the darkness.

“Fuck!” Gerold cursed, but it was already too late. The creatures stormed at them with incredible speed.

Ned buried his blade in the first enemy, but this time he missed the head and the girl’s sharp fingernails grabbed his arm, pulling hard.

He stumbled backwards, gathered his strength and aimed for the head. His blow was too weak and his blade was stuck half-way through. Ned kicked the girl away and freed his blade to prepare for the next blow. This time he was able to take off the girls head completely and she collapsed like a puppet without strings.

Two more of these creatures he had to fight of, before he was able to look around only to find his companions half-dead or in peril.

Gerold’s shrieks could be heard from afar and Marsh’ was fighting off two creatures at once. Ned moved quickly and buried his blade deep. Wrenching the blade free he split the young man’s head in two.

It was a grim sight and the smell was even worse, but Ned had other sorrows. He moved quickly and helped Gerold to fight of his enemies.

Marsh killed the last one, taking its head with several savage blows to the neck.

“This was the last one!” he declared, lacking the usual pride. He trembled and looked afraid. “This has to be the last one…,” he continued, but fell silent when something sharp and glimmering pierced his back.

Ned had never before laid eyes on such an otherworldly creature. It was a tall man with flesh as pale as snow, his blue eyes bright and dangerous to behold.

Quickly, the creature freed its strange blade. It was pale like milkglass, but Ned didn’t doubt its sharp edge.

Gerold lifted his blade, but the creature cut through him like a sword moving through a cake.

Ned’s blood froze as the creature started to move towards him.

He lifted his blade and trembled like a young tree bared to the cold.

“Come,” he stuttered. ”Come and fight me.”

The creature didn’t answer. It moved as quickly as lighting and snapped his blade at him like a whip.

Ned only heard the clinking of steel and stepped backwards, nearly stumbling over his own feet. He was barely able to register the creature’s next movement and lifted his blade to meet the next blow.

Again the blades touched, bringing forth a bloodcurdling sound.

Ned stumbled backwards, his face kissed by the flakes of snow. Back on his feet, he noticed the pain in his lower body.

He didn’t know how it had happened, but his blade shattered and the small shards stuck in his flesh, hot blood seeing into the ground beneath his feet.

Ned tried to move, but the pain in his lower body made it harder than anticipated.

Yet it was already too late.

The creature, whatever it was, loomed above him, its blade raised for attack.

Ned closed his eyes and waited for the death blow that never came.

When he opened his eyes again, he found the creature surrounded by hundreds of crows. Where they had come from was a mystery to him, but he made use of the moment to pull himself to his feet.

With gritted teeth he stumbled through the snow, back to his horse.

He didn’t make it further than a handful of steps.

“Brother!” a distant, rasping voice pierced the silence. ”Brother!”

Ned didn’t believe his eyes when he found this strange man clad in a black cloak calling out to him. That he was seated on an elk made him doubt his sanity.

I am going mad, Ned thought and rose to his feet. Spurred on by his desperation he was able to bridge the distance and grabbed for the man’s gloved hand. I am going mad.

...

Chapter Text

Daenerys

Astapor proved more crowded than expected. Everywhere she noticed curious looks following them at every step.

They came to see Sonarys, she was sure and winced when she looked at his chains. It took more than one try on Jon’s part to chain him, but that was not surprise.

A dragon is not a slave.

This phrase she had once read in one of her Mistress’ books.

It will soon be over, she whispered to the dragon as they continued to walk down the wide dusty street. Along the street curled a river the inhabitants of the city called Worm. It was a wide river, dotted with tiny green islands. Even from the distance she heard the bright laughter of children, echoing over the rushing waters. A handful of them were splashing around in the waters of the river.

It made her think of Aemon, who was far away in Lhazar. It was better that way, but this was the longest time she had been separated from him.

Master Kraznys awaited them at the Plaza of Punishment. It was a more than grizzly place. There atop a wooden platform she found a dozen of flayed and hanged slaves that had dared to rise up against their Masters.

There is no greater crime than disobedience, they had thought her in Volantis, but that felt almost like a lifetime ago. Yet it was still hard for her to stomach the bloody sight in front of her.

Jon looked grim and flexed his hand in impatience, his dark eyes fixed on Sonarys.

Master Kraznys greeted them with a smug smile. Yet he was not the only one who came to behold their dragons. The Good Masters and the well-born Astopori were seated beneath pavilions and sipped on fresh wine and grapes. Some of them even brought their slaves to fan them fresh air. Far off at the edge of the plaza she spotted several hundred lanced riders.

“Here are you promised Unsullied, whore!” Master Kraznys declared proudly and pointed with his whip at Missandei, who stood next to Daenerys. ”Tell the whore!”

Missandei did as she was asked and Daenerys leaned down to whisper her answer in the girl’s ear.

“The Mistress brought the promised payment…the boy slaves and the dragon.”

Then Daenerys turned around and jerked her head at Jon, who led the chained dragon.

Kraznys smiled.

“Tell the whore that Master Kraznys is pleased,” he told Missandei, who didn’t hesitate to relay his answer. Ever slowly, he climbed from his cushioned seat and stepped towards her. ”I agree to our deal.”

“The Master is pleased. He agrees.”

Slowly, Daenerys made her way to Jon’s side to take the chain from Jon’s hands. Sonarys shrieked, but it wasn’t too bad. Jon prepared him well.

Unwillingly, she handed Master Kraznys the end of the chain and took the promised whip from his hand.  This powerful instrument was made of a black shiny material, the gilded pommel wrought in the form of a woman’s head with ivory teeth.

Daenerys exhaled deeply and shifted her attention back to Missandei.”Is it done?” she asked the girl, who promptly relayed the question to her former Master.

He grinned.

“It is done,” he confirmed and Daenerys didn’t even waste time to hear Missandei’s answer.

It was time to reveal the truth.

“Unsullied!” she shouted in High Valyrian and lifted her whip. ”You heard Good Master Kraznys! It is done!”

Master Kraznys gave her a stunned look and Sonarys started to fly circles above their heads. He could have easily freed himself, but Jon had trained his dragon to remain in place.

 “He will not come!” Master Kraznys complained loudly. ”You lied to me!”

“She didn’t lie,” Jon added in broken High Valyrian.” It was just a misunderstanding on your side, Good Master.”

“A dragon is not a slave,” she added and listened as Jon gave the command.

“Dracarys!”

Sonarys spread his wings and roared, before the dragon unleashed a sea of blue flames at Good Master Kraznys. His shriek made Daenerys freeze, but she didn’t avert her gaze. The heat melted his eyes that soon rolled down his blackened cheeks.

The familiar smell of burned flesh was familiar to her, but still unpleasant. Sweet and pungent at once.

She brushed these feelings away and shifted her attention to the Unsullied as the world around her continued to descend into chaos. Tito’s supposed boy slaves had slipped their hidden blades out of their boots and were now fighting the lanced riders.

“Unsullied!” the oldest of the Good Master’s cried out in a panic-stricken voice. ”Take up your spears! Defend us!”

The Unsullied didn’t move. It was the confirmation she waited for.

Thus lifted her whip and raised her voice.

“Unsullied! Hear me! Slay the Good Masters, slay the soldiers and every man who wears a tokar, but harm no child or woman and strike off the chains of every slave!”

Robb

The wedding feast was well under way, but Robb took no joy in it. This was not only a wedding, but a victory celebration for King Joffrey.

At times like these he wished he burned Tywin Lannister’s peace offering, but then even Robb couldn’t say if he could have won against the Lannisters. Allied with the Tyrells they would have posed a formidable enemy.

Robb’s table was not far from the high table, where the bride, the groom and the most important guests took their seats.

Thus Robb spent his time watching the guests. Most of them were nobles from the Westerlands and Reach, but there was one entourage that stood out among the lions and roses. A few days ago an entourage from Dorne took residence in the city and were led by no other than Prince Oberyn Martell, also commonly known as the Red Viper.

He was a good-looking man and didn’t hesitate to show off his beautiful lover, Ellaria Sand. Robb heard before that the Dornish have different customs, but that Prince Oberyn brought his bastard lover to the King’s Wedding was more than brazen.

My mother would have a fit, Robb thought and couldn’t help but to think of Jon. Oberyn Martell was the brother of Princess Elia and had even less of a reason to love the Lannisters.

What would he think of Jon, he wondered and brushed these thoughts away before they were able to take hold of his mind. Instead he shifted his attention to Lady Margaery, garbed in a pale gown made of the finest silk and decorated with small baby pearls.

She laughed and smiled as each of the guests presented their gifts to the King.

Joffrey’s smile was even brighter and his clothing even more elaborate than Lady Margaery’s.

His doublet was woven from a golden thread and his velvet cloak was red like blood. Atop his head rested a heavy golden crown decorated with antlers.

Robb had also brought gifts: fine pelts and golden trinkets from Essos. Robb doubted they meant anything to Joff.

Robb was glad when he was allowed to return to his men, the wine his only comfort in this godless place.

The King seemed to share his liking for the wine and asked his cup-bearer to refill his cup for the third time. It was his first gift, a golden chalice given to him by his father-in-law Lord Mace Tyrell.

“To the Queen!” one of the guests exclaimed.

“And the King! Long live King Joffrey!”

“Long live King Joffrey and Queen Margaery!”

Robb felt the urge to leave, but that would only be seen as an act of hostility. For the sake of his family he had to keep up this act.

“Do you think the royal prick even knows how to use his eleventh finger?” Theon asked in a whispery voice and pointed at Margaery Tyrell.

Robb laughed and his cheeks burned when he recalled his last encounter with Lady Margaery. He shouldn’t feel that way, but he couldn’t help it when she wore such a shapely dress.

“I sure hope so,” Robb replied jestingly, trying to play along. ”Or poor Lady Margaery ought to be pitied.”

“True,” Theon agreed and was about to reply something witty when the King called for the attention of his guests.

“Lords and Ladies!” he called out and rubbed his hands together. His smile was brighter than a star. “I give you the War of the Three Kings!”

Silence reigned as three dwarfs, seated on pigs, rode unto the dancefloor. One dwarf wore a crown of curling flames, one a golden crown decorated with roses and the last a smaller version of King Joffrey’s crown.

Robb blinked once, twice and even a third time, but there was no mistake. This was King Joffrey, who didn’t even know what a battlefield looked like, let alone ever set foot on one.

Soon the dwarfs were engaged in a heated battle and tried to throw each other from their mounts. Robb didn’t laugh, but the guests loved it. They laughed and cheered as the small King Joffrey unhorsed the dwarf impersonating Renly.

It was only subtle and it lasted only for a brief moment, but it was undeniable.

She must have liked Renly more than she let on, Robb thought and felt sadness on Queen Margaery’s behalf. Yet she wasn’t the only one who seemed to dislike the display. The woman had a comely face, golden hair and freckled cheeks. Brienne of Tarth, Theon had informed him not long ago. Whatever her past relation with Renly was like, her blue eyes were wet with tears and her hand flickered over the pommel of her sword as if she was ready to face her next enemy.

Ser Loras, who stood not far from Lady Brienne, seemed to share her anger. His golden eyes reminded Robb of molten gold.

Mayhaps another Kinslayer in the making, Robb mused and drowned his cup.

Finally, King Joff’s impersonator also managed to unhorse the last enemy and received a row of cheers. King Robert would have killed Joff for this, Robb was sure. Good that he died.

The loudest of them all was the King. He was snorting wine from his nostrils.

“Well done!” the King complimented the dwarfs and clapped his hands together.

Then he shifted his attention to his Uncle Tyrion, seated not far from the King’s table. Only hours ago the King showed his displeasure for his Uncle’s gift: a history book of the seven kingdoms.

In that brief moment even Robb had felt a hint of pity for Lord Tyrion.

His own family hates him, Robb had realized then. Joff most of all.

”What about you, Uncle? Why not test your mettle against these brave men? I am sure they have fitting armour for you, Uncle?”

Everyone laughed, even Theon. Robb kicked him and managed to silence him.

Soon Lord Tyrion rose to his stubby feet and cleared his throat.

“I would like to keep what remains of my face. I think you should be the one to grace us with your great abilities, your Grace. This was but a poor imitation of your own valour on the battlefield,” the small man quipped and pointed at the dwarf impersonating Renly. A large cock was fastened around his hips with a leather belt. ”But be careful, your Grace. This one looks mad with lust. It would be a shame if the King lost his virtue only hours before his wedding night.”

Robb stifled a laugh.

Quickly, Queen Margaery called for the minstrels to play up a jolly tune.

King Joffrey was still red-faced when he took his seat, but he didn’t wait long to repay his Uncle for his insult.

Robb felt as if he was forced to watch a very bad play.

Promptly, The King ordered one of his cupbearers to pour a chalice of wine over his Uncle’s head.

“You like the taste of wine, don’t you?” the King asked mockingly and threw his cup on the ground. ”Well, then you should feel honoured that I intend to name you my cupbearer.”

Lord Tyrion frowned, but dipped his head in acceptance.

“Of course, your Grace. It would be my pleasure.”

“Pick up the cup!” Joff demanded. Lord Tyrion remained silent as he picked up the golden cup and handed it back to his nephew the King.

“Now fill my cup!” The King demanded again.

Quickly, Lord Tyrion grabbed a flagon of wine from the hands of a servant girl and filled the cup to the brim.

The King smiled happily and his Queen leaned over to pull on his arm.

“My sweet King!” Queen exclaimed sweetly and made use of the moment to end the tensions that were brewing between the King and his Uncle. ”The cake awaits us! We will have need of your new sword, love!”

“Of course!” Joff exclaimed, obviously delighted by the prospect. Hand in hand they rose to their feet and made their way to the empty dance floor where the servants had placed the massive cake.

With a quick movement of his sword the King cut the crust apart and received jubilant cheers when a flock of doves rose into the sky.

Promptly, one of the servants presented the King with a piece of cake.

Greedily, he shuffled the spiced pigeon pie into his mouth. Truly, it was no surprise that he started to cough.

“Needs washing down,” Robb heard him whisper but he wasn’t sure. The loud music was distracting. ”Bring me my cup!”

Quickly, Lord Tyrion brought the cup and the King took a hearty gulp. Again the King coughed. Yet that was not the end of it.

“I need…,” he stuttered and started to gasp for air. His face was beat red and his chalice slipped out of his hand. Robb didn’t even hear the clinking sound. All was drowned out by the cries and whispers of the courtiers.

Queen Margaery was quickly at Joff’s side. The Queen Mother followed, the old Grand Maester at her heels.

In their desperation they even tried to jam a spoon down the King’s throat, but it was no use.

Robb felt the urge to step closer, but he refrained from doing so. He remained were he was and so did his men. Even Theon was silent.

“My son! My poor son!” the Queen wailed and shouted at no other than Lord Tywin Lannister. The Old Lion whispered consoling words into her ears, but she ignored him.

She pushed him away and jerked her head at the members of the Kingsguard.

“My son was poisoned!” she exclaimed and pointed at Lord Tyrion, who had used the time to pick up the cup, probably to inspect it.”Kingsguard do your duty! My brother killed his King!”

He did not, Robb wanted to say and looked over to Queen Margaery. She stood at her mother’s side, her gaze lowered to the ground. She didn’t make a very sad impression.

I doubt Lord Tyrion planned to be named cupbearer, but the chalice was Lord Tyrell’s gift.

And yet Robb doubted this simple and pompous man planned the King’s death.

Strangely, Robb felt no happiness, only fear.

This game just became only more dangerous.

Arya

They were in the middle of a lesson when the Captian of the Guards stormed into their chamber.

Bahadur, Irlina had called him. Not that Arya cared about his name.

Not that Arya cared. No matter his name, the man was more than dangerous and her only weapon was a hair pin.

Fearfully, the girls hopped to their feet and assembled like a horde of well-mannered sheep.

Arya remained hesitant and shifted her attention to Irlina and Doreah.

“What is going on?” she asked Irlina. The girl looked unusually pale.

Fear cuts deeper than swords, she whispered to herself to calm her nerves. Whatever was going on, it couldn’t be good.

“Captian Bahadur says the city is under attack and that he is tasked to bring us to safety,” Irlina stuttered.

“Safety,” Arya repeated to herself and gave Irlina a questioning look. ”Isn’t that good thing?”

“No, it is not,” Doreah replied in the Common Tongue. ”It is very likely that the slaves of another household rebelled, which means they might end up killing us all for the disobedience of another slave.”

Arya grabbed Doreah’s shoulder and pulled her down.

“Then we need to run away. The chaos in the city can only be to our advantage,” Arya whispered in Doreah’s ear.

Doreah nodded and pulled out one of her hair pins. Her golden curls tumbled down her shoulders, but her innocent blue eyes were filled with hatred as they came to rest on Bahadur. He had raped Doreah more than once.

“I agree with, Nym. I rather died fighting,” Doreah whispered and searched Irlina’s gaze as they continued to follow Captain Bahadur out of their prison. Behind them walked three guardsmen, each of them armed with a spear.

Irlina’s bell rang softly as she shook her head.

“Then we will do it alone,” Arya whispered in Doreah’s ear. ”We need to distract…,” she continued, but fell silent when she heard the flapping of wings. Yet this animal was no bird, but a winged beast that cast a large shadow over the courtyard.

“Gods,” Irlina muttered. ”What is that?”

“A dragon,” Arya added in awe, her eyes fixed at the beast. Its skin was blue and its wings glittered like diamonds. ”It’s a dragon.”

Irlina shuddered and Doreah took Arya’s hand.

“Dragon or not, we should stay away from the beast,” Doreah said and bit her lips. The guards didn’t care about the dragon and commanded them to move down the square-cut courtyard with high walls. Outside she heard cries and the smell of burned flesh filled her nostrils.

This attack wasn’t staged by slaves, Arya was convinced and pulled on Doreah’s arm.

“The dragon is attacking the city,” she whispered to Doreah in an urgent manner as the guards told them to move.”Missandei told us about the Dragon Queen…maybe she is angry with the Good Masters and decided to attack the city. We need to act now.”

“We cannot,” Irlina whispered.”The dragon will kill us.”

Arya pinched her to silence her.

”Didn’t you listen to Doreah! We will stay away from the dragon!” Arya snapped.

“I agree,” Doreah added and nodded her head. ”But how do we get out?”

“Bahadur has the keys,” Arya answered and jerked her head at the bundle of keys fastened on his belt. ”As I said before…what we need a distraction.”

“Very well,” Doreah replied and pulled up the skirts of her dress, before making her way towards the Captain of the Guards. Then she started to sway and stumbled to the ground in the most dramatic way possible.

Fear cuts deeper then swords, she reminded herself and rushed to Doreah’s side. She pulled Irlina along and knelt down next to Doreah.

The Captain of the Guards stopped abruptly, an angry expression taking hold of his face when he noticed Doreah’s predicament.

Yet he did exactly what Arya hoped for.

He growled at the other three guards and they promptly escorted the rest of the girls out of the courtyard.

He thinks us no danger, she realized and tightened her grip on her small weapon. That’s why he sent them away.

Bahadur grumbled at them in an impatient manner. Even now Arya didn’t understand what he was saying, but Irlina did.

“Move!” the Captain of the Guards grumbled impatiently and leaned own to grab Arya’s tunic. “Or I will…,” he added, but Arya moved quickly and slammed the hair pin in the man’s bared neck.

He shrieked in pain and his grip tightened on Arya’s shoulder in a more than painful manner. With gritted teeth she pulled out the pin and slammed it once more in his neck. Hot blood splattered her hands and neck, but his grip on her shoulder didn’t loosen.

Doreah made use of the moment and drove her pin in one of his eyes.

Arya freed herself and moved out of the way, before the collapsing man could squash her beneath his enormous weight.

“Come!” Doreah shouted at Arya. ”Help me!”

Arya didn’t waste time. Together she and Doreah managed to acquire the bundle of keys.  He lay curled on the ground, more and more blood pooling beneath his body.

Arya sighed in relief and shifted her attention to Irlina. She had resided more than a year in the Master’s villa. They would need her to find the way.

“Irlina!” Arya snapped her out of her reverie. ”Where do we have to go?”

Irlina whimpered. Arya had no time for this and slapped her.

Finally, the girl answered.

“There…the eastern gate,” she stuttered and pointed at the courtyard they had crossed. “It’s in the gardens. Nobody will notice us if we leave through the eastern gate…”

“Then let’s go!” Doreah exclaimed and led the way. Arya sighed in relief when she saw no guardsmen blocking their path. Only the sounds of battle echoed in their ears as they made their way through another courtyard, before they slipped into the outer gardens. There they found the promised gate.

“Which key is the right one?” Doreah asked herself while Arya stood guard, armed only with her hairpin and Irlina at her side.”Fuck…”

It felt like an eternity, before the Doreah found the right key and unlocked the door.

Yet that wasn’t the end of their adventure. They had barely stepped out of the mansion when they stumbled over a dead man.

“Come…Come!” Doreah exclaimed and pulled on her arm.”We have to follow this road….I remember the way…the Plaza of Punishment is not far…there we can leave the city.”

“They will kill us…,” Irlina mumbled fearfully, but Arya ignored her and pulled her along.

It was a wide road lined with high buildings. Behind them loomed the pyramids, but Arya didn’t look back.

“Now left!” Doreah shouted at them and Arya followed suit. Thus they turned left into a smaller street that led down a hill, but stopped when they noticed a handful of men armed with spears. They killed one lanced rider after another as if it was mere child play.

Their spiked caps identified them as the famous Unsullied.

“Unsullied!” Irlina shrieked. Arya wanted to kick her, but it was already too late. One of the Unsullied turned around to look at them.

When he saw Arya’s bell he lowered his spear.

“Slave,” he mumbled and returned to his bloody business.

Arya didn’t know what to make of this, but didn’t hesitate to pull Irlina along.

Along the way they found more and more Unsullied, occupied with their bloody business. They killed without mercy and yet Arya couldn’t help but to notice a certain pattern.

There was not a single slave among their victims, she realized. Why are they only attacking the Masters? Aren’t they supposed to serve them?

All these thoughts whirled through her mind as they rushed down the street. Sweat was running down her brows and mixed with the blood on her neck and chest.

Fear cuts deeper than swords, she repeated to herself as they reached the end of the street. Fear cuts deeper than swords.

“Now right!” Doreah shouted hoarsely, her breathing laboured. ”I recall this building!”

Quickly, they rushed down the road and stumbled over dead bodies.

It was a grizzly sight, but her fast-beating heart reminded her that she was still alive.

“We are nearly there!” Doreah exclaimed and pointed at the large statue looming ahead. It showed a naked winged woman. ”Only…,” Doreah continued to speak, but stopped abruptly when the dragon descended from the sky and blocked their path.

Close up the dragon looked smaller, but that didn’t matter when she saw his sharp teeth.

Ever since she was a little girl Arya had dreamed of seeing a dragon, but now she felt fear.

The dragon roared and threw blue flames into the air. Arya felt his hot breath on her cheek as his long snake-like head dipped in her direction.

She expected that the dragon would eat her or burn her, but he did no such thing. He simply brushed his nose against her body.

Arya heard Doreah’s and Irlina’s whimpering, but the dragon ignored them.

He continued to sniff.

Arya was too perplexed to move.

It was a familiar voice that called her back to the present.

“Keligon ziry!” the young man exclaimed and came to stand next to the dragon. Behind him followed a handful of sun-kissed men. They wore no armour, but they had small daggers. Some of them looked similar to the Unsullied.

“Keligon ziry!” the young man repeated. The dragon shrieked and lifted his head and soared away. “Henujagon īlva!”

Arya couldn’t believe her eyes.

Her brother had changed so much. His once pale face was tanned and his hair shorter than in the past. Yet his long face, the dishevelled hair and the grey eyes were still the same.

Jon seemed to recognize her as well, because he stopped in his tracks and his eyes widened in shock. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out of it.

With a fast-beating heart Arya pulled herself to her feet and hurled herself in her brother’s arms.

He caught her, though she hadn’t even told him her intentions.

Not that Arya cared. All that counted was that she found him.

Chapter Text

Daenerys

Sunset painted the sky in a bloody glimmer. The fighting was over, but there was still much to do. It had taken them half the evening to assemble the slaves and to explain their purpose. Some had been horribly frightened of the dragons while others had tried to plunder the city. Luckily, the majority seemed to respect the authority of the Unsullied.

The dragons help as well, Daenerys thought and passed a handful of Unsullied, before she entered the stone building that Jon had chosen as their base of operation.

Yesterday Jon, Tito’s men and the Unsullied had scoured the city for valuables and it didn’t take long before they found vaults filled with gold and other trinkets. Now that they had gathered all this wealth they intended to distribute it to the slaves.

Missandei had counted around two-hundred thousand people most of them women and children. Every able man had been turned into an Unsullied. The only uncut men remaining in the city were the sons of Masters, but most of them were children. Some of the slaves had asked of Jon to kill them, but he put them under Tito’s protection and declared them hostages.

And yet this was only the beginning. Soon they would move on to Yunkai and then to Meereen.

Their temporary home was a beautiful house of pale stone, though Daenerys doubted it was the home of a Master. The tapestries were made of cheap material and the trinkets looked more expensive than they really were.

It looks like the house of an up jumped- merchant, Daenerys had japed with Jon and had even received a smile in return. She had hardly seen him smile since they left Lhazar, but the appearance of his little sister seemed to help.

Daenerys first believed that Jon had gone mad when he introduced the small girl as his sister, but after she had taken a look at her face she realized the truth. This was without a doubt someone related to Jon.

Jon had been beside himself with happiness and had refused to leave her presence ever since. Thus it didn’t surprise her when she found Jon in company of the young girl. Daenerys felt almost like an intruder, though the first thing Arya had inquired in a rather straightforward manner was if she was “Jon’s Lady”. Daenerys understood why Jon hadn’t revealed the truth right there. It would be too much to take in at once.

Jon and Arya were having supper when she entered the small round room furnished with a long table, old dusty statues and several book shelves.

Their supper consisted of olives, dark bread and roasted onions, but Arya Stark didn’t seem bothered. Daenerys always thought that a highborn girl like her would be rather squeamish, but it seemed Arya was really as “unladylike” as Jon had told her.

Not that she considered it bad thing. No other lady would have travelled across the Narrow Sea to find her brother, though it scared her that Jon’s little sister had ended up in the hands of slavers. Jon had been more than displeased, but he obviously tried to hide his displeasure for Arya’s sake.

“I see…you two are having supper,” Daenerys remarked and graced Jon with a warm smile.

“Do you want to join us?” Jon inquired and shoved the plate over the table. ”It is simple food, but good.”

“Thank you, but I am not hungry,” Daenerys replied and sat down next to Arya. The girl’s mouth was filled with bread, but her eyes instantly darted to Daenerys. ”It seems you are enjoying your supper, Arya?”

The girl nodded her head in confirmation and swallowed her food.

Then she washed down her food with a cup of wine.

“The wine is too sweet,” she complained and gave Jon a knowing smile. “I prefer ale.”

“I see,” Daenerys replied in an unsure tone and met Jon’s gaze. ”What have you two been talking about?”

Jon emptied his cup and exhaled deeply, before he answered her question.

“Arya told me about Winterfell,” he replied and lifted his head to look at Daenerys. ”It seems Robb’s wife died in childbirth and Sansa is now wed to the heir of Highgarden. The child survived though…a girl named Lyanna. The rest we already knew. Robb bent the knee to the Lannisters and Lord Stark joined the Night’s Watch.”

“Lord Stark,” Arya repeated and frowned. ”Why did you stop calling him father? You were never that formal in the past…”

Jon winced at her question, but it was time to reveal the truth, no matter how painful it would be.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Jon said at last and re-filled Arya’s cup. ”But I had my reasons for leaving…I should have told you before, but I thought it would be better to wait.

Arya wrinkled her brows in confusion and took the cup from his hands.

She sipped on her cup, before she spoke.

“I already know the reason,” she replied with a knowing smile and jerked her head at Daenerys.”Theon told me that you ran away with a girl, but I didn’t expect that she would be a Targaryen.”

Daenerys couldn’t help but to chuckle. The girl’s bluntness was endearing.

“I didn’t know that I was a Targaryen when I met Jon,” she explained carefully. ”I am aware that there is bad blood between our families, but I hope you can overlook that…you see…Jon and I…we are wed and we have a child.”

Arya started to cough violently. Jon patted her shoulder, but she slapped his hand away.

“Why didn’t you tell me, stupid?” she asked. ”We have been reunited for nearly a whole day and yet you neglected telling me the truth.”

“Does that mean you are happy?” Daenerys asked hopefully.

“Of course I am happy!” Arya exclaimed and beamed at Jon.”Where is your child? Is it a boy or a girl?”

“A boy,” Daenerys replied with a smile. It relieved her to hear that Arya shared their happiness. ”His name is Aemon. He stayed in Lhazar, but you will be able to meet him soon…,” she continued to explain, but Arya cut her off.

“I already told Jon,” Arya said and pointed at Jon.”I am going with you.”

“You will not,” Jon countered, but Arya silenced Jon with a disarming smile and another question. ”So Aemon? I always knew you liked the Dragonknight, but I didn’t think you would name your son after him.”

“It was my idea,” Daenerys explained.”Aemon looks like a Targaryen, though he has Jon’s eyes…your eyes.”

“Really?” Arya asked and grinned and gave Jon a determined look. ”But I am still going with you.”

Jon exhaled deeply and brushed his hair out of his face.

“Arya…there is more…I found out the truth about my mother.”

Arya gave Jon a disbelieving look.

“Really?” she asked. ”Did father tell you? Who is she?”

“Aye,” Jon confirmed and tightened his grip on the table. ”Her name…it was our Aunt Lyanna Stark.”

“Our Aunt?” she asked, her eyes impossibly wide. ”Are you taking me for a fool? Father would never…” she continued, but Jon’s shaking head silenced her.

“No, Lord Stark didn’t father me on his sister…the truth is…Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was my father.”

“That’s a lie!” Arya snapped at him without hesitation. ”He stole her…he…he,” she stuttered, but Jon leaned over and grabbed Arya’s shoulders to keep her still.

“No, he didn’t,” Jon replied in a heavy voice. ”It was a lie…Our Aunt wasn’t abducted. She ran away with my father…she loved him. Your father made me his bastard to protect me from King Robert. He probably feared that he might kill me like Prince Rhaegar’s other children.”

“That is why the dragon listens to you…,” Arya muttered to herself. ”Is that the real reason you ran away?”

Jon gave a hesitant nod.

“I was confused and hurt,” he struggled to explain. ”I thought I had no place in Winterfell.”

“That’s utter horseshit!” Arya insisted and quickly hopped from her seat to crawl in Jon’s lap. ”Winterfell will always be your home!”

“It was my home,” Jon replied in a pained voice. ”But the dragons make it impossible for us to return. Besides, We can’t just leave until our task is completed.”

Arya looked slightly disappointed, but her voice brimmed with newfound determination.

“Even more reason for me to stay!”

Margaery

Her head felt heavy from the wine she had consumed on her wedding.

She should at least feel a hint of sadness, but all she wanted to do was to crawl back into her bed.

“I think the black silk dress would be more appropriate,” Eli remarked, her soft voice nothing more than a distant echo to her ears.

Margaery nodded her head absentmindedly.

“We will do as you say,” she replied. ”But we need to hurry. My husband’s body was brought to the Sept of Baelor and we need to show our grief.”

“Of course, your Grace,” her ladies replied in unison and went to work. They helped her dress, braided her hair and applied lavender perfume to her neck. She ought to give the appearance of a grieving widow, but her husband hadn’t even taken her maidenhead.

By the laws of the Seven we weren’t even wed.

She was deeply unhappy when Renly refused to consummate their marriage, but she didn’t mind that she didn’t lose her maidenhead to Joffrey. These days, she dreamed of another’s touch, though that was just another delusion of hers.

Joff has a younger brother, my next Lord Husband.

She had wed two men, but now she might end up wedded to a child. It was getting ridiculous.

“Your Grace,” Eli’s voice called her back to the present. ”We should go.”

“Indeed,” Margaery replied, gathered her skirt and led the way.

It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue and no cloud could be seen.

Not even the gods weep for King Joffrey, she thought as she passed into the large chamber, where the Silent Sisters had placed the King’s body.

The air was heavy with incense and the sweet smell of death made her want to gag, but she tried her best to keep her composure. She knew that the Queen Mother would be there to observe her closely.

As expected, she stood next to her son’s body. Her long black dress only worsened her pale countenance.

At her side was her last remaining son, Prince Tommen and soon to be King Tommen.

And if my father has his will my future husband, she thought and forced a smile over her lips as she lifted her head to meet the Queen Mother’s gaze.

“We came to keep you company, your Grace,” she said and tried to appear as downtrodden as possible.

The Queen Mother’s green eyes blinked with anger, her smile as feigned as hers.

“Your presence is more than welcome,” the Queen Mother replied in a quiet voice. ”It is good for you to show your grief, my Lady.”

“Your Grace…that’s the appropriate title,” Eli added quietly and promptly received a piercing look from the Queen Mother. Margaery felt the urge to throttle her, but Eli was always to brazen for her own good.

“I see a widow,” the Queen Mother countered and mustered her from head to toe. ”And I doubt my son managed to impregnate you before he choked on his wedding pie, your Grace.”

“Sadly not,” Margaery replied quietly and averted her gaze. It was meant to invoke a picture of sadness, but she only wanted to avoid the Queen Mother’s piercing gaze.

Thus the most tedious task of a grieving widow began. One after another the courtiers appeared to give their condolences. Their eyes were dry and their words lacked any sense of heartfelt grief. Only his mother wept, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks whenever she turned to look at his body. The young Prince Tommen wept as well, though it looked as if he was simply frightened by his brother’s corpse.

Margaery endured this farce as best as possible and hoped she would get a glimpse of the Lord of the North. She hadn’t seen him since their last meeting. She had hoped he might seek her out again, perhaps to speak about his sister. She hardly knew him, but she craved for his presence. That he was a rather good-looking man helped, but that was not the only reason she liked his presence. Renly was a good-looking man, but he saw her as nothing more than a tool to gain her father’s army. Robb Stark didn’t pretend. He said what he meant and it was so very refreshing.

“These were the last ones, your Grace,” Eli remarked. ”Your Lady Grandmother awaits us.”

“I heard you,” Margaerys replied and led the way. ”We shouldn’t let my Lady Grandmother wait.”

“There you are, child!” her Lady Grandmother’s snapping voice greeted her across the room. ”Come here and let me take a look at you.”

Margaery obeyed and made her way over to her Lady Grandmother to receive peck on her cheek.

“How are you feeling? I see no tears…Well, I never expected it. Now sit down and let us speak about the future.”

Margaery sighed deeply and saw down. Her Lady Grandmother didn’t hesitate to pour her a cup of wine.

The wine was bitter, but Margaery took barely a sip before placed the cup on the table in front of her.

“Has father already relayed his wishes to you, Lady Grandmother?” she asked and received an amused smile. ”That was quick.”

“It was planned by me,” her Lady Grandmother whispered into her ear. ”All of it.”

Margaery should be surprised, but she wasn’t. It made all sense now. Who else could have planned the King’s death other than her Lady Grandmother?”

“Did father know about it?” she asked.

Her Lady Grandmother chuckled.

“Of course not. He is far too sensible for such things, but he is already planning your next wedding, sweet child.”

“I am not surprised,” she replied and couldn’t help but to grimace. At least in front of her Lady Grandmother she could let her guard down. ”I only wished he consulted me beforehand. It is not father who is going to spend the next four years of his life as a maid, because I doubt that weepy young Prince is going to be able to fulfil his duties. I am ten and six and still a maid. Has it ever occurred to father that I might want a proper husband?”

Her Lady Grandmother looked stunned.

“I hear your discomfort, child,” she replied and nodded her head in understanding. ”But there is no one else we could aligned ourselves with. The Baratheon’s are dead and this weepy golden-haired Prince is next in line. There is no other way for us than this path…Surely you are smart enough to see that, my child?”

“What does it matter who sits the Iron Throne?” she asked in a whispering voice. ”The Iron Throne hasn’t existed forever…Aegon the Conqueror was just another ambitious man who took the crown because he could. Anyone strong enough to take the crown should take it, regardless of his blood claim.”

Her Lady Grandmother frowned.

“And do I know this person?”

Margaery blushed and felt ashamed for her silly answer.

“I was just speaking hypothetically,” Margaery assured her. ”I just dislike the idea of marrying a child. My position won’t be secure until I bear a son. Still, I am thankful for what you did, Lady Grandmother.”

Her Lady Grandmother gave her a swarm smile and squeezed her hand.

“No need to thank me, sweet child. You deserve better than a vile monster.”

And yet I am still going to marry a child, she thought as she returned to her chambers, where her ladies awaited her.

“Your Grace,” Eli chirped in a way that made her head squirm. ”There is from Lord Stark. He wishes to speak with you…in private.”

Her heart skipped a beat. ”Truly?”

Eli gave her a warm smile.

“Truly.”

Robb

Margaery Tyrell was garbed in a shapely silk dress, her brown hair plaited in an almost austere manner. Yesterday she played the happy bride and now she looked like a perfectly- dignified widow. She should have considered taking up the business of a mummer, he thought as he stepped into the Queen’s solar.

It was a large rectangular room, lightened by burning candles and high narrow windows.

“Lord Stark,” the soft-spoken voice of Margaery Tyrell greeted him across the room. ”I am pleased to have you here.”

He was surprised to find her without her ladies, but what surprised him even more was the presence of her brother, Ser Loras Tyrell. He wore finely polished armour, his cloak dark as the night. Robb himself chose darker colours to show his feigned grief. He wanted to leave, but Lord Tywin bid him to serve as part of the jury meant to preside over Lord Tyrion’s trial.

Now he was here, trying to live up to the task that was handed to him. Robb held not much love for Tyrion Lannister, but he wouldn’t sit by while an innocent man was turned into a scapegoat.

“It pleases me to hear that my presence brings you comfort, your Grace,” he replied and leaned down to place a kiss on her knuckles.

He laughed softly. The sound of it increased her heartbeat, though he tried his best to suppress these stirrings of his heart. He swallowed hard and lifted his head, her honey-coloured eyes fixed on him.

“I am no Queen,” she corrected him gently. ”My marriage wasn’t consummated. I am merely a sad widow, though my Lord Father is already planning the next wedding.”

She had said this in an almost annoyed manner, as if this was more of a burden to her than a joy. Robb couldn’t fault her for it. Two dead husbands in a year would put a damper on every wedding celebration.

“So I heard,” he replied and sat down. The table before him was decked with all kinds of delicacies. There were all kinds of cakes, fruits and plenty of cheese. It looked as if at least forty people had been invited to dine with them. ”Sadly, my reasons for coming here are less pleasant…I am here to prepare for the upcoming trial. Did you hear about it?”

A hint of disappointment was apparent on Lady Margaery’s face.

“I heard about it,” she confirmed stiffly. ”It doesn’t surprise me that Lord Tywin asked you to preside over the trial. It is a great honour…,” she continued, but was interrupted by Ser Loras.

“Great honour,” Ser Loras repeated unhappily. ”I doubt Lord Tywin intended to honour Lord Stark. He wants to show that Lord Stark is still loyal to him…that is all…Don’t you agree, my Lord?”

Robb was taken back by the young man’s vitriol words. He always appeared so calm, but now he only read anger in his molten gaze.

“Loras…,” Lady Margaery chided him, but was ignored by her brother.

“Don’t Loras me…,” he snapped back and stepped towards the table, his gloved hand resting on the pommel of his sword. He looked every bit a knight of the King’s Guard. ”I asked Lord Stark a question and I want to hear his honest opinion on our allegiance with the Lannisters.”

Robb swallowed hard and angled his head to look at Ser Loras.

“Can I speak openly? Can I be sure that my answer will remain a secret?”

“You have my word,” Margaery assured and gave her brother a worried look. ”You are among friends.”

“Very well,” Robb replied and exhaled deeply, before he continued to speak. ”I will answer your question, Ser Loras. No, I hold no love for the Lannisters. The only reason I bend the knee was to save my father’s and sisters’ life. I would have gladly wrapped my hands around King Joffrey’s neck to choke him to death. He tortured and humiliated my sister Arya.”

“Nobody looks down on your for that, my Lord,” Lady Margaery added gently. ”I would have done the same to save my brothers. Forgive Loras, he is just angry on my account.”

Ser Loras’ laugh sounded bitter.

“It was you who agreed to wed the Lannister bastard…,” he countered, but was silenced by Lady Margaery’s sharp look.

“Forgive me…,” Loras stopped abruptly and dipped his head apologetically. Then he shifted his attention back to Robb. ”My anger overwhelmed me. Renly meant much to me…he was the King I chose and loved. I also didn’t approve of my father’s decision to align our family with the Lannisters. In truth, it eases my heart that the King found an early grave. Everyone that has eyes, but my Lord Father, was able to see that he was another Mad King in the making. I would gladly thank the Imp for his vile deed if he wasn’t enemy.”

Robb nodded his head.

“As I said before…I hold no love for the Lannisters,” he added. ”But I also don’t think that Lord Tyrion committed this vile deed, which brings me back to the purpose of my visit…,” he trailed off and looked at Lady Margaery.

“I am here to speak about the King’s death.”

Ser Loras grew silent and Lady Margaery gave him an uneasy smile.

“I am not sure I understand you, my Lord. How could we be of help to you?”

Robb hadn’t known her for a long time, but her demeanour had changed in the matter of a heartbeat. She knows more than she lets on.

“The King’s cup was a gift from your family and Lord Tyrion obviously didn’t plan to become the King’s cupbearer. It was meant to humiliate him. How the King was poisoned remains a mystery to me, but I am sure it was someone from your entourage. It would be best to question the servants…,” he continued to explain, but was promptly cut off by Ser Loras.

“How can you even entertain the thought that someone from my father’s servants could have committed such a dishonourable act? I disliked the King, but my father chose his servants well. Besides, my sister was to be the King’s wife…the King’s death weakens our position,” he grumbled and turned back to his sister, who had remained silent through their exchange. ”Isn’t that so, sister?”

“Of course, brother,” Lady Margaery replied and gave her brother a tense smile. ”The King’s death certainly weakened our position…”

Suddenly, Ser Loras eyes widened in shock.

“Gods…,” he muttered and his gaze flickered from Lady Margaery to Robb and then back to Lady Margaery. ”It is true what he says, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know…,” Lady Margaery protested quietly, but Ser Loras must have seen something in his sister’s demeanour that betrayed her lie.

“You are lying,” Loras muttered, his voice laced with suppressed anger. ”I can see it. Tell me, did father plan it? Or was it grandmother?”

“Loras…,” she tried to appease him, but Ser Loras’s face was blinded by his anger.

“Tell me!” he snapped at his sister.

“Father is innocent,” she admitted at last and averted her gaze. She looked incredibly pale and trembled. Robb felt the urge to squeeze her hand, to do something, but he knew that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Then she lifted her head and met his gaze.

“Will you tell on us, my Lord?”

Robb shook his head.

“I won’t betray your secret, but I want to do right by Lord Tyrion.”

Lady Margaery sighed deeply, folded her hands in her lap and looked over to her brother.

“Grandmother did it...Prince Tommen…,” she trailed off.

“Would make an easier puppet,” Ser Loras finished for her and balled his fists. ”Wonderful…wonderful. First I had to humiliate myself in front of all your wedding guests and now we are going to send an innocent man to his death. The gods will punish us for this, sister. We broke the guest right.”

Robb was stunned by Ser Lora’s reaction. He didn’t take him for the pious kind.

“Well, Lord Tyrion is still alive. I am not asking you to confess the truth, but there are ways to counter these accusations... This might anger Lord Tywin but I am sure he wouldn’t endanger the allegiance with your family. The proud lion would never admit it openly, but he needs you.”

“Sadly, we need him too,” Lady Margaery replied. ”Prince Tommen is the last remaining male claimant of House Baratheon… and the Targaryens are gone. There is no one else we could back.”

Not all of them.

“I understand,” he replied and rose to his feet. “I thank you for your time, your Grace and Ser Loras. We will see each other at the trial.”

Chapter Text

Catelyn

Her Lysa looked as if she had aged several years since she had last seen her. Their last meeting was more than a year ago when Catelyn brought Lord Tyrion Lannister to the Vale to face justice. Now she was back to arrange a marriage between her brother Edmure and Lady Ysilla Royce.

“You are not welcome here, sister,” Lysa muttered, her red-rimmed eyes fixed on Catelyn. She looked as if she had caught a fever or some other sickness. “The war is over. What reason do you have to disturb my peaceful life?”

Catelyn wasn’t surprised by Lysa’s cold greeting. She had long accepted that the woman in front of her was no longer the shy girl she had known.

Catelyn tried to hide her concern and she shifted her attention back to Petyr. He was seated next to Lysa, a knowing smile curling on his lips.

Catelyn forced herself to return his smile, but felt the urge to bury her fingernails in his face.

“Cat came to congratulate us, sweet wife,” Petyr cooed and leaned over the table to cover Lysa’s hand. “And to arrange an advantageous marriage for your brother Edmure. I have to agree with Cat that he ought to be a long time married. The Riverlands are in need of an heir.”

Lysa’s grip tightened on Petyr’s hand and a tight smile hushed over her lips as she met Catelyn’s gaze over the table.

“Who do you have in mind for Edmure?” Lysa asked. Petyr used the moment to refill Lysa’s cup and one of the servants came to serve the first course, a roasted beef accompanied by potatoes, sweet carrot and mushed pumpkin.

“Lady Ysilla Royce,” Catelyn explained and took a sip from her cup of wine. The wine helped to ease her strained nerves. She had wanted to settle this matter as quickly as possible, but more than a week had passed and she had accomplished nothing. Petyr had found one excuse after another to keep her here.

I need to convince her, Cat thought and took another quick sip. I can’t go home with empty hands.

“It was Robb’s idea. He has already acquired Lord Royce’s agreement.”

“What the old fool wants doesn’t matter to me,” Lysa replied and gave her a piercing look. “I am the Lady of the Vale…your son has no right to make such decisions without my approval.”

“Aye,” Catelyn agreed, trying to keep this exchange as civilized as possible. “But you know yourself how hasty young men like Robb can be. They are not always thinking everything through.”

“Well spoken,” Petyr agreed and bared his white teeth. ”Young boys can be quite foolish. Don’t you think we should forgive your nephew’s mistake, sweet wife?”

“Of course, Petyr,” Lysa sighed and twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. It was such a surreal sight that Catelyn had a hard time keeping a straight face. “My nephew is young…We should forgive him. Still, I do not think this Royce girl deserves Edmure. I heard she is quiet ugly.”

“That may be true, sweet wife,” Petyr countered sweetly and picked a grape from the nearby bowl. ”But she is from a powerful family and that counts more than beauty.”

Lysa smiled like a young girl when Petyr placed the grape in her mouth.

“I suppose you are right,” Lysa agreed and chewed slowly. Once she had swallowed the grape she gave Petyr a loving smile.

“Will you feed me again, husband?” Lysa asked sweetly and gave Catelyn an expectant look as if she hoped to see a certain reaction from her.

“Of course, sweet wife!” Petyr cooed as if her sister was a babe and fed her with another grape.

“Does that mean you agree, sister?” Catelyn asked in a quiet voice. She didn’t want to sound too hopeful.

Lysa graced her with a tense smile and started to cough. Catelyn couldn’t say how it had happened, but Lysa’s face had turned as pale as fresh-fallen snow. Sweat was running down her temples and her hand trembled as she picked up the cup.

Something is wrong, Cat thought, but her Lysa’s smile was unyielding.

“I agree,” Lysa confirmed in a croaking voice and started to pound her chest. ”But only…only…because Petyr agreed to it,” she trailed off.

“Here drink deeply, sweet Lysa,” Petyr added almost kindly. “This should help.”

Lysa smiled and drank deeply, but it was no use. The coughing only intensified.

“Petyr…,” she stuttered and touched her stomach. “I…need the Maester…”

“You look rather pale, sister,” Catelyn remarked hesitatingly. “I agree…you should see the Maester. We shall speak on the morrow.”

“Thank you for your understanding, Cat,” Petyr added and graced Catelyn with a grateful smile. ”We shall speak on the morrow.”

“We shall speak on the morrow,” Catelyn confirmed and watched as Petyr led her sister out of the room.

Catelyn finished her plate in company of the servants, before returning to her chambers. Sleep came quickly that night and she woke early. Pale sunlight was already falling through the painted windows when she rose from her bed to wash and dress herself.

She chose a simple wool dress, braided her hair and asked one of the servants to send for Petyr, hoping that they might be able to continue their talk at Lysa’s bedside.

Catelyn was breaking her fast on boiled eggs and hard bread when the servant boy returned.

She smiled at the boy.

“When will I be able to speak to Lord Baelish?”

The young boy paled visibly, his lips trembling as he answered her question.

“My Lady…your sister Lady Lysa Arryn has passed away.”

Jon

Jon watched the city from the slanting sandstone ridge. Behind him spread a birch wood forest, granting them protection against the eyes of the enemy.

Even from afar he could see the yellow bricks of the city walls, its high towers and stepped pyramids. Mounted atop the city gates loomed the great harpy to greet visitors entering the city.

“Five thousand slave-soldiers,” Young Jemshid remarked, his dark gaze narrowed against the bright sun light creeping over the ridge. He had arrived before them and had observed the city from a safe position while Jon and Daenerys were marching towards Yunkai. The Unsullied proved quick and disciplined, but it still took them one and a half week to reach Yunkai.

“And about three-thousand sellswords,” Ser Barristan gave his estimation and stroked his beard. “I know that this Daario and our men infiltrated their circles, but still I can’t bring myself to fully trust him.”

“The gold I promised him will keep him loyal,” Daenerys assured him and straightened herself to get a better look at the movements of the enemy. She had long shed the tokar and was now dressed in brown leather armour, her silver hair kept in a tight braid. “Have trust in me, Ser Barristan.”

“Of course, Princess,” Ser Barristan replied and jerked his head at the enemy. The Yunkish slave soldiers holding the center flew their standard, a whip and an iron collar. At the right flank he spotted the Stormcrows or what was left of them. Before their departure Jon had freed the captured sellswords and had returned the command to Daario, but even that hadn’t been enough to give the appearance of a proper sellsword company. To make it more convincing they had added two-hundred Lhazareen soldiers. It was a gamble, but Daario had assured them that he would be able to “charm” the Wise Masters. On the left flank he spotted the banner of the Company of the Cat, another sellsword company and their most dangerous enemy. They had riders in heavy armour, armed with spears and bows. “But we shouldn’t forget about the slave-soldiers.”

Daenerys swallowed hard and her purple gaze flickered back to the slave-soldiers. Their officers wore bright helms and cloaks sewn with flashing copper.

“Daario says Yunkai is a city filled with pleasure slaves,” Jon added grudgingly. “But their spears look sharp enough. Jemshid’s mounted riders are capable men, but their leather armour is not much use against spears and arrows.”

“But we are faster,” Young Jemshid countered quickly. It seemed Jon’s comment hurt his warrior pride. ”My men could lead the van to lure the enemy from their position. With Daario attacking the rear and the Unsullied positioned at the flanks the enemy would have a hard time beating us, though that doesn’t mean they will give up the city.”

“I understand,” Jon confirmed and exchanged a quiet look with Daenerys. “That is why I intend to give them a demonstration with dragonfire. It is easy to hide behind city walls and allow others to fight for you. More importantly, these slave soldiers might reconsider fighting for their Masters if they witness the dragons first hand.”

“But first we shall invite them to talk,” Daenerys added and received surprised looks.

“Why should we talk to them?” Young Jemshid asked. “We have enough men to fight them…and dragons.”

“You will see,” Daenerys assured him and wheeled her horse around. “Please send a rider to the slavers and invite them to come here. The same goes for the captains of the sellsword companies.”

Young Jemshid remained sceptical.

“What if they don’t come?”

“I am sure they will come,” Daenerys assured him and lifted her head to look at the slate blue sky, where a flock of birds were flying their circles. “They will try to gauge our strength.”

Jon nodded his head in agreement and led his horse back to the forest. Ghost met them along the way, his ruby eyes fixed on Jon.

The woods were full of Unsullied, cutting down trees to sharpen them into stakes. Grey Worm, one of the leading officers had explained to Jon that his men are unable to sleep in an unfortified camp.

Thus Jon was not surprised to find the young man working among lower-ranking soldiers.

“The Wise Masters are expecting our attack,” Daenerys informed Grey Worm, who had stopped his work when he noticed their approach. “A good part of them are slaves.”

Grey Worm nodded his head in understanding.

“The slaves of Yunkai are taught the seven sighs and the sixteen seats of pleasure, but the Unsullied learn the way of the three spears. The Unsullied shall defeat this enemy.”

“Nobody doubts your valour,” Daenerys replied and bit her lips. “But I ask your men not to pursue those slaves ready to lay down their weapons. They are nothing but a horde of sheep sent for slaughter. The harpies leading them are our enemy.”

Grey Worm nodded his head.

“This one will remember.”

“Thank you,” Daenerys replied warmly and together they made their way back to the camp. They first passed the orderly tents of the Unsullied and then the camp of the Lhazareen.

Their own tent was made of a fine silk cloth they had taken from Astapor, but Jon doubted it would impress the Wise Masters.

Arya, who had insisted to join them, was also there, playing with her new sword. Missandei was not far, her dark eyes watching the quick movements of his little sister. There were several other girls, among them Arya’s two companions Doreah and Irlina as well as good thirty Lhazareen women, led by Tito’s sister Larsha.

“Did you see the enemy?” Arya asked excitedly and sheathed her blade. “When will the battle start?”

“You won’t fight,” Jon informed her bluntly and ruffled her hair.

She slapped his hand away and grinned mischievously.

“I know…I know…someone needs to protect the women.”

“Exactly,” Jon replied, happy that she was seeing reason. It was bad enough that she ended up in the hands of slavers. “But there is another way you could help to us…You could help receiving our honoured guests.”

“Guests,” Arya repeated and followed after them into the tent. “What guests?”

“The slavers,” Daenerys explained as she lifted the flap of the tent and held it open to allow Arya and Missandei to slip inside . “And the captains of the sellsword companies…One of them is named Daario…he is an ally.”

“You trust a sellsword?” Arya asked and wrinkled her brows.

Ser Barristan chuckled and Jon silenced her with an assuring smile.

“Trust is a strong word, but he helped us before,” Jon explained and eyed Arya’s sword. “You won’t need that. Daenerys will have to play the Dragon Queen…and every Queen needs ladies to attend to her. We were able to salvage dresses and jewels from Astapor. Would you mind dressing up for this occasion, little sister? Think of it as a game.”

Arya frowned and met his gaze.

“Can I keep the sword?”

“Of course,” Daenerys answered for Jon and clapped her hands together. “But we should hurry.”

Jon was glad that he didn’t have to partake in this mummery and smiled at Daenerys.

“Have fun…I am going to search for the dragons. They must be hungry,” he added and galloped away, Ghost following after him like a loyal shadow.

Daenerys

Daenerys straightened her false crown and tried her best to appear as regal as possible as she sat down on the cushioned seats. The sweet smell of the incense Missandei had lit filled the air with a heavy fragrance that reminded her of her late Mistress’ brothel.

It is a fitting smell, she thought given that Yunkai was a city focused on the business of the flesh.

“What language do the people of this city speak?” Arya asked Missandei, who had put on a dark blue dress that made her look younger than she was. Arya wore a similar dress, though paler in colour. Doreah was garbed in black, a glittering veil hiding her bruised face. Irlina wore a simple wool dress, golden earrings and a jade necklace. Even Larsha had decided to put on a dress. It was as red as blood and suited her sun-kissed skin.

“The Wise Masters speak a different dialect than the inhabitants of Astapor, yet close enough to understand.”

Arya laughed.

“If they are wise they will give up the city and accept our offer of surrender.”

“Let’s hope they will,” Daenerys agreed.

Their first visitor, the leader of the Company of the Cat was a huge man graced with a bushy beard, fiery red whiskers and long braids. Bloodbeard, he called himself.

The other two commanders looked less impressive and kept their mouths shut.

Doreah and Irlina poured them wine while their leader spoke.

“I see…you are the Dragon whore,” he greeted her bluntly. “They say you took Astapor by treachery, but Yunkai shall not fall so easily.”

Daenerys was glad that Jon was not here to hear his insults, but that didn’t mean she liked being called a whore.

Not that she was afraid of him. Ser Barristan was there, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. He may look like an old man, but she had seen him spar with Jon.

“You have more men,” she granted and smiled. “I am young and I might not understand much about the ways of war, but your sellswords cannot compare to the discipline of the Unsullied.”

“We do not stand alone,” Bloodbeard boasted, his lusty gaze wandering over Doreah’s body. “The Stormcrows joined us not long ago and we have five-thousand slave soldiers at our disposal.”

Daenerys took a sip from her cup.

“I wonder what you would do if the Stormcrows changed sides?” she asked and played dumb. The Stormcrows had no more than a few hundred men, nothing compared to the Company of the Cat.

“The Stormcrows are of little consequence. We can hold our own and we have the assistance of the brave men of Yunkai,” Bloodbeard countered and was about to touch Doreah, but Arya had quickly unsheathed her blade and pointed the tip towards his neck.

Bloodbeard laughed, nearly choking on his cup of wine.

“How frightening!” he mocked and gave Daenerys a savage grin. “A little girl with a sword…What comes next? Whores armed with spears to accompany your eunuchs into battle?”

“These two managed to kill Bahadur, Master Kraznys’ priced champion,” Missandei informed him promptly and re-filled his cup, a smile curling on her lips.

Bloodbeard howled with laughter and pointed his cup at Daenerys.

“You are trying to fool me, aren’t you?”

“Arya…please put the blade away,” Daenerys added and smiled. “You are frightening the mighty Bloodbeard.”

Everyone laughed, even his own men. Bloodbeard joined them and rubbed his belly.

Daenerys waited until the laughter had died, before continuing to speak.

“But there is someone you should fear more than the Unsullied,” she added and smiled brightly. “My dragons.”

Bloodbeard gave her a sceptical smile.

“Stop bragging, woman. One among our rows claims to have seen your so called dragons…they are not bigger than horses,” he replied mockingly. “Why not show them to me if they are oh so frightening?”

“A dragon is not a slave,” she informed him and placed her cup on the floor. “They will come once they smell your spilled blood. I will not repeat this offer to you…Join us and I will be generous to you. Help me free the city and a part of the riches of Yunkai shall be yours.”

“Keep your riches, woman!” he snapped and tried to appear insulted. “We of the Company of the Cat do not fight at the side of eunuchs and whores.”

“And yet you fight at the side of trained-bed slaves,” she countered brazenly. “I wonder how loyal they will be once they see the dragons.”

Bloodbeard bared his teeth.

“They are welcome to show us your dragons.”

“Indeed,” Daenerys added and gave him a seductive smile. “Well, since I cannot convince you with words…I wonder if a gift might help to change your mind.”

He laughed and looked around.

“Will you gift me your whores? I want the one with the sword and the one with the veil.”

Daenerys was relieved that Arya was unable to understand what Bloodbeard had said.

“I have a better gift for you,” she countered sweetly and leaned forward. Her dress was low-cut and bared her bosom for everyone to see. “I have a dozen of gallons of Arbor Gold…the finest wine of the Seven Kingdoms. We took it from Master Kraznys’ wine cellar.”

Bloodbeard laughed, his lusty gaze wandering over her bosom.

“I will take the wine, but I will make no promises.”

Daenerys grinned and straightened herself.

“I don’t expect promises,” she assured him and twirled a lock of her silver hair around her finger. “I only want you to rethink your position.”

“First I shall have a taste of this promised wine,” he replied and rose to his feet. Then he left in company of his men.

“You should have allowed me to kill him,” Arya mumbled unhappily. “I hope he chokes on his wine.”

“I think this one is used to the taste of wine,“ Daenerys replied jestingly and sighed deeply. Her face hurt from the constant smiling. “But it will help to taint his senses.”

Only an hour later Daario appeared. He grinned like a fool as he swept his gaze over the room.

“I am blinded by this abundance of beauty!” he complimented and dipped his head in reverence. “And I hope Bloodbeard didn’t insult you with his brash temper?”

“He was quite entertaining,” Daenerys replied and asked Missandei to pour Daario a cup of wine. “But now back to the topic at hand…Are they planning to attack us? Are your men prepared to stab them in the back?”

Daario didn’t answer immediatelly. He took his time to sit down and savoured the taste of his wine, before he gave his answer.

“They plan to attack soon, but not today,” he said and circled the cup in his hands. “And thanks to me they are oblivious to the true strength of the dragons...Don’t you want to thank me, oh sweet Princess?”

Daenerys knew he was jesting, but Arya’s piercing look didn’t escape her.

“So that’s the sellsword?” Arya asked in the Common Tongue. “I thought he would look frightening, but he looks like a fool.”

Daario grinned when he noticed their exchange.

“Ah, a new face!” he exclaimed and eyed Arya closely. It took only the blink of a moment before his head snapped back to Daenerys, his brows furrowed. “There is something familiar about this girl…,” he trailed off.

“She is Jon’s sister…and cousin…it is complicated,” Daenerys explained and shrugged her shoulders. “Not that it matters…you have to leave us now. We will attack tonight.”

“A shame,” Daario sighed, rose to his feet and lowered his head, indicating that he was about to take his leave. ”I shall see you then, my sweet flowers.”

Daenerys sighed in relief, but that was not the end of it. Only a few hours before sunset came the envoy from Yunkai.

About fifty men seated on magnificent horses came to see her. Only one of them was seated on a camel and he called himself Grazdan mo Eraz. He was lean and hard, his smile as bright as the midday sun. His hair was shaped in the form of an unicorn horn that jutted from his brow and his tokar was fringed with golden Myrish lace.

“Ancient and glorious is Yunkai, the Queen of cities,” Grazdan declared proudly. “Our walls are strong, our nobles proud and fierce, our common folk without fear. Ours is the blood of ancient Ghis, whose Empire was old when Valyria was yet a squalling child. You shall not find an easy conquest here, you Grace.”

“Good,” she replied and feigned a smile. “I don’t want to win because the enemy is weak.”

“Your eunuchs are nothing. Freedom means nothing to them,” Grazdan replied. “Those who survive shall be enslaved again to retake Astapor. Your other companions will follow suit. Seeing your precious neck bared to me I think you know the pleasure houses better than others.”

This insult stung deeper than she wanted to admit. She balled her fists as she answered.

“A place I left a long time ago.”

“In Astapor they have the saying ‘Once a pleasure slave always a pleasure slave’,” Grazdan taunted, but spread his hands in the same moment, a gesture of reconciliation. “But this is Yunkai. We are forgiving people. Your quarrel is not with us. They say that you are the last Targaryen…Why fight us if you could use your armies to retake your father’s crown? Why waste your men to take our humble city? To prove our generosity we brought you a gift.”

He clapped his hands together and two servants came forward, carrying a heavy chest bound in bronze and silver.

“Fifty thousand gold coins,” he declared and smiled. “A gesture of friendships from the Wise Masters of Yunkai. So I say to you, take the gold and leave.”

“I have no need of your gold,” she refused their offer and didn’t even open the box. “Though I still intend to take every one of your gold coins just as I did in Astapor…Do you know what I did with the gold?”

She didn’t allow him to answer and brushed her hand over the mark on her neck.

“I gave it to the freed slaves of Astapor,” she added coldly. “You heard my conditions…I give you three days to leave this city. The gold and the slaves shall remain, but you are free to go…unharmed and with your lives. I am sure such wise men as you will find another way to earn their living. What say you?”

“That you are mad, whore.”

“Go,” she replied icily. “See to it that the Wise Masters hear my words.”

No further words were exchanged.

The night had fallen when Jon returned to join them. He looked grim and was garbed in full armour, his helmet in hand and his sword fastened at his belt.

“How are the dragons? Are you sure that you don’t want me to accompany you?”

Jon shook his head and took her hand.

“Last time I sent you into battle…now it’s my turn.”

“I gave Bloodbeard and the slavers a fair warning, but I don’t think they took me seriously,” Daenerys told him. “Let’s hope that Sonarys will scare the slaves enough to lay down their weapons.”

Jon smiled and squeezed her hand.

“I hope so too.”

 

Chapter Text

Arya

A starless sky spread as far as the eye could see. Arya clutched her cloak around herself and watched the small fires flickering in the darkness.

It was time to attack and though Arya would not partake in the coming battle, she still felt the rush of excitement in her blood.

Jon had ruffled her hair one last time, before he put on his helmet.

Young Jemshid, the leader of the Lhazareen warriors, was already mounted on his horse. Daenerys was also there and seated on her pale horse, her silver hair hidden beneath a helmet. The old knight Ser Barristan loomed next to her like a shadow, ready to strike down any enemy that might come their way. Arya wished she could join them, but Jon forbade it and she knew how useless it was to fight with him. He was even more stubborn than Arya.

“Take care,” Arya whispered to Daenerys. “I will protect the girls.”

Ghost whined as if to remind them of his existence.

“And Ghost will help,” Arya added quickly.

“You heard Arya,” Daenerys added, her voice laced with amusement. “You have to protect them, Ghost."

Ghost whined again and Daenerys laughed. Then she exchanged another look with Jon and left in company of the Lhazareen warriors.

Soon everyone was gone, leaving only Arya, the girls and three hundred Unsullied to guard them. She had promised Jon that she wouldn’t partake in the battle, but she still had every intention to see Sonarys in action.

Not long after the others had left she pulled on her cloak and fastened her sword, before joining Larsha. With nothing but a torch to light their path, they hopped over the ditch and passed the sharpened pikes. Then they continued onwards through the thick birch forest until they found the sandstone ridge giving a good look at the enemy blow.

The battle had already started when they arrived. The cries of men, the clinking of steel and the thunder of horse hooves filled her ears.

Then she reared it, the roar of a dragon and the snapping of wings. At first she saw nothing but a shadowed figure moving over the trees and hills.

Then she saw it, a blue flame piercing the darkness like a blade. The flames spread easily over the ridge below and lightened up the night.

Arya was unable to make out the banners, but she saw men engaged in battle, glittering spears and cries drowned out by the roar of Jon’s dragon descending upon the city gates below.

Arya caught her breath as the dragon bathed the city gates in blue flames. There were a hundred different hues of blue hidden in these curling flames. It was a terrifying sight to behold.

Yet Jon didn’t leave it that. He unleashed another torrent of flames upon the city walls. As the walls were burning Sonarys was moving along the walls and through the flames. Arya watched as the dragon waved his massive wings, stirring the flames to unknown heights, before soaring back into the sky and descending at the ridge.

Again the dragon roared, soared over the battlefield below and unleashed a torrent of flames at the sellsword camp, situated beneath the hill.

By now the battle field was so bright that Arya could even see the Unsullied walking in orderly formation. She also saw fleeing men, lost horses, fallen banners and heard the cries of dying men.

It was a terrifying sound, but not as terrifying as Sonarys’ roar.

“We should return,” Larsha whispered to her and pulled on her arm. “Or Jon will be displeased.”

Arya wanted to stay and to watch, but Larsha was right. Trembling beneath their cloaks they climbed back on their horses and rode back to the camp, where she was received by a frowning Doreah.

“Where did you go?” Doreah asked, her voice laced with fear. “Is the battle done?”

“Soon,” Arya replied and slipped inside the tent to warm herself. “Soon.”

Arya’s prediction turned out to be true. Barely a few hours later she heard Sonarys’ roar and the flapping of his massive wings.

Yet it was Daenerys who returned in company of Ser Barristan, Young Jemshid and his mounted warriors. Soon after the Unsullied poured into the camp, their spears tipped with blood. They brought captives and some carried wounded men, but they remained disciplined as ever.

Stone men, she thought. They are stone men.

“Arya,” Daenerys’ soft-spoken voice roused her out of her trance. “It is done.”

Arya sighed in relief when she saw Daenerys’ tousled silver mane spilling to her shoulders. Next to her loomed Ser Barristan, his white cloak splattered.

“I know,” Arya replied. “Jon is not far.”

Daenerys gave her a known smile and jerked her head at the sky. Then she offered her hand to Arya.

“The blood must have lured Rhaegal and Viserion here. I need to find them or they might attack the fleeing men. We should go.”

A jolt of warm washed over Arya and she didn’t hesitate to take her hand. With a quick pull she was seated on Daenerys’ horse and they were galloping towards the dragon.

Sonarys had curled himself between two massive birch trees. His two brothers were not far, the two dragons seeking Daenerys’ presence the moment she had climbed from her horse.

“Thank you for staying away,” she whispered to the dragon and smoothed her hand over his jaw. “You are a good child.”

Viserion roared unhappily.

Daenerys chuckled and smiled at the other dragon.

“You are also a good child.”

“They all did well,” Arya heard Jon’s hoarse voice. She whirled around and found his pale face illuminated by the moonlight. “Though my cloak is ruined.”

Arya laughed when she saw the signed garment hanging from his shoulders. She didn’t hesitate to hurl herself into his arms and buried her head in his neck.

“I saw it!” Arya whispered and noticed Daenerys’ approach. “I was afraid the dragon might throw you from his back.”

Jon ruffled her hair and placed her back on the ground, before making his way to Daenerys.

Daenerys and Jon embraced while Arya cast her gaze to the ground. She was happy for them, but it was bad enough when her Lord Father and Lady Mother did these “embarrassing things”.

“Arya,” Jon called out to her, his voice laced with amusement. “We need to return.”

Arya lifted her gaze and nodded her head.

“I am coming.”

Margaery

Margaery observed with tense anticipation as Lord Tyrion was escorted in the Throne Room.

Hundreds of courtiers came to see him judged, an innocent man. Margaery still recalled Loras’ angered words. It is a crime against the gods, he had told her and yet Margaery felt she had no other choice. What is done cannot be undone, her grandmother had told her this morning as she slipped on her silken mourning dress. And yet she couldn’t help to nourish doubts inside her heart as she directed her gaze at the dais beneath the empty Iron Throne. Behind a table sat her Lord Father, garbed in a gilded cloak and a silken green doublet. Next to him sat Prince Oberyn Martell, garbed in flowing robes of striped orange, yellow and scarlet. To his right sat Robb Stark garbed in his usual boiled leather armour and a brown cloak thrown over his shoulders. And in between these men sat the Lord of the Westerlands and Hand of the King, Lord Tywin Lannister.

As expected, the trial began with a prayer of the High Septon, asking the Father to guide them to justice. When he had finished Lord Tywin leaned forward and addressed his son.

“Did you kill your King?”

The answer came promptly.

“No.”

“What a relief,” Prince Oberyn Martell remarked in amusement and shrugged his shoulders.

“Who did it then?” Her Lord Father asked, completely unaware of the truth. “Everyone knows that the King held a dislike for you, my Lord Tyrion.”

“A great many people dislike me, Lord Tyrell,” Lord Tyrion quipped and swept his gaze over the crowd. “I would have to kill half the court if I wanted to take revenge on them. No, I say the gods killed Joffrey. He choked on his wedding pie.”

Her Lord Father blushed.

“So you blame the bakers, My Lord?”

Margaery blushed as well. How her Lord Father could ask such a silly question was beyond her.

“Them or the pigeons…Just leave me out of this nonsense!” Lord Tyrion replied and laughed about his own jape. Sadly, no one else laughed with him. Everyone around her was tense and looked like stone statues.

“There are witnesses against you,” Lord Tywin interrupted sourly. Lord Stark remained utterly silent, his blue eyes fixed on Lord Tyrion. He looked like a wolf waiting for the right moment to strike. “We shall hear them.”

Lord Tyrion didn’t answer.

The first one to speak was Ser Balon of the Kingsguard. This surprised Margaery, because he had always praised Lord Tyrion’s bravery during the Battle of the Blackwater and even now he didn’t hold back to speak his mind.

“Lord Hand,” he addressed Lord Tywin respectfully after the High Septon had sworn him to speak the truth. “I had the honour to fight beside your son on the bridge of the ships. He is a brave man and I do not believe that he killed the King.”

The people around her seemed just as confused as her, their whispering voices ringing in her ears as Ser Balon recounted a quarrel between Joff and his Uncle.

“Lord Tyrion struck his Grace, but it was nothing more than a fit of wroth. The mob nearly killed us.”

 “In the days of the Targaryens, a man who struck one of royal blood would lose his hand,” Oberyn Martell added. “Did the dwarf regrow his little hand or did you forget your duty?”

“He was the acting Hand, was he not?” Robb Stark asked in a loud and clear voice. “But you are not wrong, my Prince. My Uncle Brandon was strangled to death for merely speaking out against the Mad King and my Grandfather was burned alive. Didn’t Ser Jaime Lannister rid us of this monster when he buried his sword in the Mad King’s back? I see it this way…Lord Tyrion might have lifted his hand against King Joffrey, but I suppose it was done to better his character. I don’t know how other Lords hold it with their own children, but even my Lord Father didn’t hold back to punish us if we overstepped our bounds.”

Then Lord Stark angled his head and met Lord Tywin’s gaze.

“And isn’t that the reason you made Lord Tyrion Hand of the King, my Lord?” Robb asked quickly. “Because you thought him capable of holding this high office?”

Margaery held her breath. She leaned forward, trying to get a better look at Lord Tywin. He looked very unhappy and a tense moment of silence passed before he spoke.

“I thought him capable at the time,” Lord Tywin admitted through clenched teeth. “But it seems I misjudged my own blood.”

“And yet he held the city, didn’t he?” Prince Oberyn asked. Margaery doubted that he really cared for Lord Tyrion’s fate, but that he simply enjoyed playing the jester. “I heard the idea with the wildfire was Lord Tyrion’s idea… It seems his mind makes up for what he lacks elsewhere.”

A round of laughter rumbled through the gallery, but Lord Tywin’s clear voice silenced them instantly.

“Nobody question’s my son’s quick mind,” Lord Tywin said and looked over to Lord Mace Tyrell. “But we are here to speak about his crimes against his King not his clever ploys.”

“And yet it shows that Lord Tyrion held a certain amount of loyalty for his family, Lord Hand,” Ser Balon added in a quiet voice. “I see no reason for him to kill the King in such an obvious manner. A clever man like him would have found a subtler way. All he needed to do was to send him out unto the battlefield and yet Lord Tyrion asked the King to seek the safety of the keep when the fighting grew too dangerous.”

“I think we heard enough!” Lord Tywin silenced Ser Balon. “The next witness may now take your place…Ser Meryn Trant.”

Ser Balon didn’t dare to speak out again and made place for Lord Meryn Trant, who was pleased to elaborate on the quarrel between Lord Tyrion and Joffrey.

“Lord Tyrion didn’t merely raise his hand against his King. He kicked him to the ground and he shouted that it was unjust that his Grace had escaped unharmed from the mob.”

Next came the Kettleback brothers, Cersei Lannister’s creatures. Like a pair of songbirds, Osney and Osfryd told how Lord Tyrion threatened the Queen.

“He told the Queen that he meant to do her harm,” Ser Osfryd recounted obediently.

“He said that he would wait for a day when she was happy and make her joy turn to ashes in her mouth,” Ser Osney added and met Lord Stark’s gaze. “The King himself feared that his Uncle might hurt him one of these days. That brave boy said to me… ‘Good Ser, guard me well, for my Uncle loves me not. He means to be King in my place’.”

“Brave indeed if Lord Tyrion had any claim on the Iron Throne to speak of,” Lord Stark remarked coldly. “I thought it were the Baratheon’s who claimed the Throne through their Targaryen blood? Pray tell me, when did the Lannisters win the crown? Or are you one of those who questions King Joffrey’s legitimacy?”

Ser Osney went as pale as a sheet, but his brother came to his help.

“Says the son of a traitor who.”

If Robb Stark was angered by the man’s vile words it didn’t show on his face.

“Think of me what you will,” Robb Stark replied calmly. “But I kept my vows and I have no reason to love Lord Tyrion Lannister. For a time I even believed that he harmed my brother Brandon. I have nothing to gain by defending his life. I am doing it, because Lord Tywin asked me to preside over the trial and that is what I am going to do whether it means to defend Lord Tyrion or to damn him.”

“Lord Stark speaks true,” Lord Tywin added, his voice laced with displeasure. “I ask you to keep your insults to yourself. We are here to judge my son’s crimes not Lord Stark’s father.”

Ser Osney lowered his head in acceptance and left. By then it was midday and the sound of bells filled their ears.

Thus the trial was interrupted to allow everyone to refresh themselves. Margaery tried to eat, but even the sweet taste of pie had turned sour in her mouth. She was surprised by herself, but she felt pity for the dwarf.

When did your heart grow so soft, she wondered and averted her gaze when Robb Stark’s eyes met hers in passing. What surprised her was Loras’ presence and that he and Lord Stark were speaking in hushed whispers.

Two hours past midday the trial resumed and the Maesters Ballabar and Frenken were called forward. The two of them had opened Joff’s body and swore before the court that they found neither a morsel of pigeon pie nor any other food lodged in Joff’s throat.

“It was poison that killed him,” the two of them declared, clearly relaying the Queen’s words.

Then they called for the Grand Maester Pycelle, leaning heavily on a twisted cane as he tried to walk. He was so frail that he was allowed to sit down near the table, where a dozen of jars had been laid out.

His display of weakness was another mummery. Only recently Margaery had seen him in company of two young girls, walking upright like a young man.

“Greycap, toadstool, nightshade, sweet sleep, demon’s dance, blind eye, widow’s blood, wolfs bane, basilisk venom and tears of Lys,” he croaked and pointed at each jar. “Lord Tyrion must have stolen them from my chambers after he had me imprisoned. It must be so.”

“Pycelle,” Lord Tyrion called out loudly. “Could any of these poisons choke off a man’s breath?”

“No,” the old man replied. “You would need a rarer poison…the strangler is what you are searching for.”

“But this poison was not found, was it?” Lord Stark inquired, adding his voice to Lord Tyrion’s. Fear washed over Margaery when she saw how tense Lord Tywin had grown, his knuckles turning white as he grabbed the handle of his chair.

He is beginning to regret his choice.

“No, my Lord,” the old Maester confirmed. “I suppose Lord Tyrion used it to kill our kind and gentle King.”

“Kind and gentle,” Lord Tyrion repeated and started to laugh. “The whores of Flea bottom are kind and gentle. I would know so, because I had them all…one after another. Joff was cruel and stupid, but I still didn’t kill him.”

“Silence!” Lord Tywin roared. “Or I shall have you gagged and chained like a common criminal.”

Silenced by the Lord Hand, Tyrion Lannister sat back in his chair and lowered his head in acceptance. Lords, Ladies and noble knights that had been present at the wedding feast came to give witness to the dwarf’s vicious character. Some claimed they had heard him threaten Joff and others said they had observed him fill the chalice. One, a woman called Lady Merryweather swore that she had seen Lord Tyrion drop something into the King’s wine. To Margaery she looked slightly familiar, but she was unable to recall where she had seen her before. Not that it mattered, because one word was more damning than the next. Lord Stark tried his best, but it was quite clear that the court was prejudiced against Lord Tyrion. This was no trial, but a charade.

Another break followed and later that evening the court resumed hearing the last witnesses. By then everyone looked weary and she had the feeling that most of her relatives just remained to hear the verdict. Half of her ladies had already fallen asleep and her Lady Mother had excused herself earlier. Only her grandmother continued to listen attentively and tapped her fingers on the wooden railing.

The first one to speak was Lord Varys, the Maester of Whisperers.

Powdered and garbed in his pink robes, he recounted how Lord Tyrion must have brought about Joff’s downfall. He had parchments filled with notes, dates and even whole conversations. By the time he was finished it was late evening and even her grandmother was starting to fall asleep.

Yet he had done so much more. He had confirmed Lord Tyrion’s visit to the Grand Maester and the theft of the poisons, confirmed the threat he made against the Queen and so on.

Even Lord Stark, who had fallen silent half-way through started to yawn, his head heavy and his face rather pale.

“Wonderful,” Lord Stark said in a heavy voice. “But scribbled notes are no proof. Have you been there to hear all of this with your own ears? Gods, even these supposed witnesses of the poisoning could have simply lied to paint Lord Tyrion as the perpetrator…,” he continued, but the Queen Mother cut him off, her shrieking voice echoing through the Throne Room.

“You dare to question the word of these witnesses?”

“And why not, your Grace?” Robb Stark replied icily. He didn’t flinch when he met Cersei Lannister’s gaze. “I sat in the front row, but I didn’t notice anything suspicious about Lord Tyrion’s behaviour. He was heavily drunk and the King made a fool of him, but I never saw him slip anything in the chalice. I know not how it happened, but I see no proof, only lies, your Grace.”

“Lies!” she shrieked and searched her Lord Father’s gaze. “How can you allow him to slander us thus?”

“I think we have heard enough, Lord Stark,” Lord Tywin said in a warning tone. Lord Stark nodded his head in acceptance, but the Queen Mother wanted to hear none of it.

“Father,” she began, but Lord Tywin cut her off.

“Be silent!” he admonished her. “Be silent and sit down. There is one last witness we have to hear.”

The Queen Mother gritted her teeth and did as she was asked.

The last witness turned out to be a young girl of black hair and slender figure. She was garbed in the dress of a servant, her dark eyes cast to the ground.

“Lord Tyrion always hated the King,” the girl whispered. “He felt the King didn’t value him enough. He wanted to throne for himself and first planned to kill his sister, then his Lord Father to become Hand of the King and once Prince Tommen got too old, he planned to kill him too, before taking the crown for his own.”

“I ask again,” Lord Stark repeated in a weary voice. “How would Lord Tyrion be able to claim the crown? He has no claim. He must have been drunk when told you, my Lady.”

The girl barely looked at Lord Stark and answered in a shy and subdued voice.

“He was often drunk, but that doesn’t change his ill intentions towards the King.”

“Well then, mayhaps he harboured ill intentions towards the King, but here is a long path between ill thoughts and murder.”

“I have to agree with Lord Stark,” Prince Oberyn added. “But if not drunk…Why should he reveal such plans to you, a simply maid?”

The girl blushed and lifted her gaze as she looked at Prince Oberyn Martell.

“I was not only his maid,” she explained softly. “I was his whore. On the morning of the wedding he dragged me down where they keep the dragon skulls and forced me to fuck him. When I started to cry he told me I ought to be more grateful that not every girl has the luck to be the King’s whore. That was when he told me how he meant to take the crown ...I never wanted to be his whore. I was meant to be married, a squire he was and a good brave boy, but when Lord Tyrion saw me at the Green Fork he put the boy in the front rank of the van. After he was killed he sent his wildlings to bring me to his tent. He said if I don’t pleasure him he would hand me over to them. Then he brought me here, so I could be close whenever he wanted me. He made me do terrible things…”

The last bits were spoken with so much distress, that even Margaery started to believe her. She was either a very talented mummer or all of it was true, safe for the fact that Lord Tyrion killed Joff.

“May I ask,” Prince Oberyn asked almost softly, his voice laced with curiosity. “What sort of things did he make you do?”

Fat tears rolled down the girl’s cheek. “As I said…unspeakable things…with my mouth…and other parts, M’Lord. All my parts…he used me every way there was …and he used to make me tell him how big he was. My giant, I had to call him, my giant of Lannister.”

The laughter that followed made her uncomfortable. Everyone laughed safe for Lord Stark and…Loras. Margaery shivered when she saw the anger written over his handsome face.

Even Prince Oberyn Martell stifled a laugh and her Lord Father shared in. She never felt more ashamed.

She didn’t know what had caused it, but Lord Tyrion had risen to his feet and spoke.

“My lords!” he shouted. “Get this lying whore out of my sight and you shall have your confession.”

Satisfied, Lord Tywin nodded his head and the girl was escorted away by a handful of gold cloaks.

“You admit then that you poisoned the King?” Lord Tywin.

“I admit to nothing,” Lord Tyrion snarled. “Of Joff’s death I am innocent. I am guilty of a far more monstrous crime. I was born. I lived. I am guilt of being a dwarf. I confess it. I have persisted to survive….A monstrous crime indeed.”

“This is folly,” Lord Tywin replied through clenched teeth. “You are not on trial for being a dwarf.”

“That is where you are wrong, Lord Father. I have been on trial for being a dwarf my entire life.”

“Have you nothing to say in your defence?” Lord Tywin asked and averted his gaze.

“Nothing but this,” Lord Tyrion growled angrily. “I did not do it. Yet now I wish I had killed Joff. I wish I had enough poison for all of you. I regret that I am not the monster you think I am, yet there it is. I am innocent, but I will not find any justice here. You leave me no choice but to appeal to the gods. I demand trial by combat.”

Lord Tywin paled visibly.

“Have you lost your mind?”

The Queen Mother looked more than pleased and named her champion. “He has that right, my Lords. Let the gods decide. Ser Gregor Clegane will stand for my poor Joffrey.”

Lord Tywin didn’t speak.

It was her Lord Father who posed the question.

“Do you have a champion to defend your innocence?”

“Aye!” Loras booming voice broke the silence that had settled over the crowd. “Myself.”

The uproar was deafening and it took a hundred of gold cloaks pounding the butts of their spears against the floor to silence the crowd.

“Loras!” his father’s fearful voice broke silence again, his face beat red. “You cannot…I will not allow it.”

“I am a knight, not your servant, Lord Father,” Loras replied, his gaze fixed on Lord Tywin Lannister, his golden eyes filled with determination. Then he pulled his cloak from his shoulders and slammed the garment on the floor. “I gave my vow to King Joffrey, but he is dead. I have yet to give another vow to the next King. Thus I am eligible to defend Lord Tyrion, Lord Hand.”

Lord Tywin’s gaze could only be described as cold and angry.

“Very well, let the issue be decided on the morrow,” he declared in an iron tone that left no room for further questions. “I wash my hands of it.”

Margaery could only stare in horror.

This is madness…I need to stop Loras.

Chapter Text

Daenerys

 

Meereen was much larger than Astapor and Yunkai, the walls studded with bastions and anchored with great defense towers. High above these mighty walls rose the Great Pyramid, a monstrous monument with a bronze harpy gracing its top.

 

“They do love their harpies, don’t they?” Jon asked Daenerys, his voice laced with amusement.

 

“I agree with Jon,” Daario added with a broad grin. “A harpy is a craven thing. She has a woman’s heart and a chicken’s legs. It does not surprise me that her sons hide behind their high walls. I suggest using your dragons to frighten them into submission. I quite like the blue flames…a truly beautiful sight.”

 

Daenerys frowned. Using her dragons against a horde of Dothraki was one thing, but burning down a city full of slaves another matter. It was bad enough that they had to kill a good hundred slaves to take Yunkai, but Meereen was much larger and the capital of the slave trade. Besides, Jon wouldn’t like it. While they had killed the Masters of Astapor they had shown mercy to the Masters of Yunkai, allowing them to leave the city in exchange for hostages and their gold. They had even left Ser Barristan and two-thousand Unsullied in Yunkai to guard the city. That the defenders had manned their walls with scorpions was another reason they were hesitant to assault the city walls with the dragons. Meraxes, Queen Rhaeny’s dragon had been much older than their dragons and had died a cruel death.

 

Jon frowned as well, Ghost curled beneath his feet. Arya was also there, but as they were speaking in Bastard Valyrian thus the girl had to rely on Missandei to translate what was being said.

 

“You said there might be a way to take the city through deception,” Jon reminded Daario. They sat beneath the open sky not too far away from the city walls. Their camp was protected by a small forest and sloping hills. Far off in the distance she could see the sea, glimmering in colours of green, blue and grey and a bit further east she saw a glimpse of the brown waters of the Skahazadhan river. “Or was that that nothing more than bragging?

 

Daario grinned broadly, his bearing devoid of fear, but then he had faced their dragons in battle and had survived.

 

“I would never lie about such a matter,” Daario replied and stroked his blue beard as his gaze flickered from Daenerys to Jon. “But I think you should take your dragon and burn down the Great Pyramid. Nothing instils more terror in a group of people when you destroy the symbol of their power. I am not only speaking out of a wish for revenge, but because I know these Masters better than you. Do you think the Masters of Astapor will forget the humiliation you dealt them? They have connections far and wide…they will go to Volantis, Lys, Myr and Tyrosh to stir their friends to actions. Show them the terrors of the dragons and they might think twice to fight you. The word mercy is foreign to slavers...Or have you forgotten what you saw on your way here?”

 

Daenerys shuddered when she recalled their week-long travel here. According to Jon’s expectations the Great Masters of Meereen had not met them in battle, but withdrew back behind their city walls. Yet before doing that they had harvested all they could find and burned the rest to cinder. Scorched fields and poisoned wells had greeted them, but worst of all were the slave children they had nailed upon every milepost along the road leading to Meereen. Not even the butchered people of the Lhazareen town had frightened her like this. They had of course retrieved the children and burned them, but Jon had been wroth, which is why she was surprised by his rather calm demeanour.

 

“Your advice is noted,” Jon replied unhappily and exchanged a silent look with Daenerys, before he shifted his attention back to Daario. “Now tell me…How can we get into the city?”

 

“The sewer system,” Daario replied with a heavy sigh. “A friend of mine, a fellow pit fighter, told me about it. He and a group of slaves fled from the city and later served with the Second Sons.”

 

Jon nodded his head and was about to speak when Larsha entered the tent and to interrupted their conversation. Her tousled and she carried a spear. She was part of the outriders tasked to watch the city for movements of the enemy.

 

“A man rode through the city gates,” she informed them, her breathing laboured. “A single man…warrior. He calls himself the champion of Meereen.”

 

“The champion of Meereen,” Jon repeated. “Do you know what he wants?”

 

“To fight one of our warriors,” Larsha explained. “In single combat.”

 

Daenerys was filled with fear when she saw how Jon’s hand brushed over the hilt of his sword. He is eager to fight, she knew right away. Jon always preferred using his blade over dragon fire.

 

“Why does this champion think we will fight him?” Arya asked in the Common Tongue. “We can take the city without fighting him.”

 

“It is a very old tradition,” Daario explained in the Common Tongue. “But I think you should take up his challenge. Killing him will anger the Masters and might lure them out. Let me take care of him…,” he continued, his gaze flickering back to Daenerys.

 

“I agree,” Jon declared promptly, Daenerys greatest fear coming true. “I will fight him. Killing him will lower the moral of the enemy and that is always a good thing.”

 

“Jon,” Daenerys called out to him, but Jon’s piercing look told her that there was no room for further discussions.

 

“I can take care of myself,” he assured her, stubborn as ever. And yet Daenerys could also understand his need to proof himself. He never liked Daario or the fact that they had to depend on his help. If she protested against it he would only take it as an insult.

 

“I know,” she replied, her stomach twisting in fear. It made her wish that Ser Barristan was here. She was sure Jon wouldn’t have refused Ser Barristan’s help. “I believe you.”

 

When she saw the smile on his face, she knew that she did the right thing.

 

They didn’t waste any time to mount their horses and led them up the slope, which gave a commanding view over the city.

 

What Larsha had told them was true. The champion of Meereen was waiting for them below the high walls of Meereen. He was a massive man, armoured in scales of copper and jet and mounted upon a white charger whose striped pink-and-white barding matched the silk cloak flowing from his shoulders. The lance he carried was immense, mayhaps fourteen feet long, swirled in pink and white. Stranger was only his hair shaped into two great curling ram horns.

 

After he had spotted them, the champion of Meereen dismounted his white charger, pulled out his manhood and started to piss on the ground.

 

Even from the distance she heard the cheers of the crowd standing atop the city walls. Soon they joined their hero and started to piss from the ramparts. It was a more than a queer sight, but Daenerys had seen far worse. She was oddly amused as was Arya.

 

“This hero looks massive,” Arya told Jon and squeezed his shoulder. ”He reminds me of the Mountain.”

 

“But not his manhood,” Daario added mockingly.

 

Jon’s face was unreadable as ever, but the flexing movement of his hand told her that he was not as confident as he appeared.

 

“Where have you seen the Mountain, little sister?”

 

“At the tourney of the Hand…he nearly killed Ser Loras Tyrell over a lost joust…he is terrifying,” the usually so fearless girl admitted. “Even father was afraid of him.”

 

“I see,” Jon replied and climbed back on his horse. Then he smiled down at Arya and Daenerys. “But this is not a joust. Don’t fret, I have an idea. Even a giant can be brought down with a bit of trickery. Do you recall Old Nan’s story about the giant of Skagos?”

 

“Aye,” Arya confirmed. “But this one doesn’t look as if he is going to sleep anytime soon. Do you want to pick out his eye like in the story?”

 

“I wasn’t speaking literally,” Jon replied and pulled on his helmet. “But if the giant of Skagos could be defeated, this champion of Meereen shouldn’t be much of a problem. Proud men like him are easily blinded by their own prowess…like the giant in the story.”

 

“Giant or not,” Daenerys added quietly. “Take care.”

 

“I will,” Jon confirmed again and spurred his horse down the hill, armed with shield and sword.

 

The shouts and cheering from the walls grew only louder as Jon approached the champion of Meereen. The champion had long mounted his horse and eagerly awaited Jon’s attack, his lance in hand. It looked as if a mere boy was riding to confront a giant bull.

 

Jon kicked his feet in the sides of his horse and drove it towards the enemy, leaving only a cloud of dust in his wake. The cheers of the spectres rang through the air as Jon placed himself right in front of the enemy, the champion’s lance pointing at Jon’s chest. As the enemy attacked, Jon moved his horse out of the way, the lance missing him barely.

 

Daenerys gasped, but Arya grabbed her arm, as if to assure her.

 

“Jon has been playing these games with Robb since he was able to walk,” the girl whispered in her ear. “It seems the champion also likes to play.”

 

“The giant was a pit fighter,” Daario added in the Common Tongue. “I can see it by the way he fights. He is more concerned with entertaining his eager crowd than killing his enemy, thought that doesn’t mean Jon shouldn’t be careful. I say it again…best would be to mount your dragon and burn the fools on the city walls.”

 

Daenerys would have gladly done instead of seeing Jon fight, but among these fools several thousand slaves.

 

Again the giant charged at Jon, but missed again. Jon had managed to move his horse out of the way and had parried his enemy’s blow with his shield. It was made of shiny metal and it reflected the sun light a mirror. Not holding himself back, Jon bombarded the champion with a barrage of cuts, before curving his horse around the enemy, to put distance between them.

 

Once he had wheeled his horse around he dismounted, shield and sword still in hand.

 

“What is he doing?” Daenerys asked.

 

Arya shrugged her shoulders while Daario remained silent, his eyes fixed on the two opponents.

 

“Jon always preferred to fight on foot,” Arya explained, her grip tightening on Daenerys’ arm.

 

The champion didn’t seem to care and charged at Jon with full speed. Only in the last moment did he swing his lance sideways, but Jon proved faster. He had ducked out of the way, the lance darting over his head like a lost arrow. Within the blink of a moment he had buried his blade in the charger’s chest and the giant of Meereen tumbled from his horse.

 

Silence reigned on the walls as the angry bull hopped back to his feet and freed his blade. Up and down, left and right, the swords met, filling the air with the song of steel. The champion was skilled, but Jon was swift and didn’t provide much room for attack. Yet he still managed to get to Jon, drawing blood.

 

Still, the fighting continued, the champion’s sword missing Jon’s head, their movement whirling up a fresh cloud of dust. Again the champion brought down his blade in a perfect arch, but Jon managed to parry the blow in time. He shuddered beneath the champion’s strength, but didn’t falter. Instead he backed away, the enemy storming after him like an angry bull. Yet it was only a feint. Jon stopped abruptly and bashed his shining shield in the champion’s face. The champion faltered and Jon moved to the side, dropping his shield. The champion quickly lashed out at Jon with his blade, like a blind man trying to catch a fly. Jon didn’t waste anymore time and freed his dagger, plunging it deep in the man’s neck.

 

The champion tumbled to the ground and Jon, who had long retrieved his blade, dealt him a fatal blow to the head.

 

No more cheers and sounds came from the city gates, but a handful of bolts were promptly unleashed upon.

 

Again Daenerys half-wished she had called the dragons here. Then Jon could have fed the champion of Meereen to Sonarys and the defenders of Meereen wouldn’t have dared to unleash their bolts at him.

 

Jon’s didn’t smile when he pulled the helmet from his head, his sweaty hair sticking to his head and blood running down his left arm like a river of crimson.

 

“I was not quick enough,” Jon admitted unhappily as if this whole had been some sort of mock fight he had lost against Ser Barristan. “And I doubt that will help to bring down the walls of Meereen and my departure.”

 

“The idea with the dagger was nice touch,” Daario teased. “I always thought you a green boy. Mayhaps I misjudged you.”

 

“Mayhaps,” Jon confirmed grudgingly and together they rode back to the camp. The sky was still blue and wide, but judging by the height of the sun the dusk would be upon them in a few hours.

 

They returned to their tent, Grey Worm joining them along the way, his spear and shield in hand. Daenerys was thankful when Missandei and Doreah brought water and white linen to take care of Jon’s wound. Doreah was even so kind to sew his cut.

 

Jon gritted his teeth against the pain, but it were not more than ten stiches before Doreah was finished.

 

“So what are we going to do?” Young Jemshid asked and broke the silence. “How are we going to take the city?”

 

“Daario knows a way inside…through the sewer system,” Jon replied and sipped from a cup of wine, probably to banish away the pain in his shoulder. “But we should wait until nightfall.

 

Young Jemshid frowned. Crawling through shit was probably not his idea of battle.

 

“Are you sure?” Young Jemshid asked sceptically, dark eyes darting to Daario. “Have you ever trespassed these sewers yourself?”

 

“A friend of mine did,” Daario replied. “He loved to tell this story. I know it by heart. The great brick sewers empty into the Skahazadhan, carrying the city’s waste. The mouths should be right below the walls and closed with iron gates, though my friend claimed that some of them are rusted. To get inside shouldn’t be much of a problem, but inside awaits a maze and the shit apparently reaches to the waist. Ben also claimed that he saw rats bigger than elephants.”

 

Jon wrinkled his nose in disgust and so did Young Jemshid. Only Grey Worm seemed impassive as ever.

 

“I shall do it,” Grey Worm declared and dipped his head. “I will lead the Unsullied into the city if it pleases you.”

 

“You cannot go alone,” Jon added sourly and shifted his attention to Daario. “Would you be prepared to lead them or are you afraid of a bit of shit?”

 

Daenerys read the displeasure on Daario’s face, but it seemed his pride didn’t allow him to refuse.

 

“I am not afraid,” Daario replied in a challenging tone. “Are you afraid?”

 

“I am not afraid,” Jon replied coldly and lifted his bandaged arm. “But even I know that it is no good idea to drench a fresh battle wound in shit.”

 

“Jon speaks true,” Daenerys agreed and realized that she had been far too passive. “And I shall help you…I won’t burn down the Pyramid’s, but what Daario said earlier…I think destroying the bronze harpies would serve as a good distraction and I could stay out of range from the scorpions placed at the city walls. I am sure Rhaegal will be pleased to fulfil this task.”

 

Jon nodded his head in understanding and grimaced in pain as he moved his shoulder.

 

“I will help you,” Jon offered, but Daenerys didn’t hesitate to cut him off.

 

“You will rest,” she told him determinedly and jerked her head at Arya. “Arya will make sure of it. You did enough. Besides, someone must remain here to look out for Sonarys and Viserion or they might wantonly attack the city gates.”

 

A moment of silence passed between them, before Jon lowered his head in acceptance.

 

“I understand.”

 

 

Robb

 

Robb broke his fast in company of Theon Greyjoy and his men, yet even Theon’s japes couldn’t help to ease the tension in his body. He had hoped that he would be able to ease the accusations against Lord Tyrion, but he should have known better than to underestimate the Lannisters. This trial was set against him from the beginning. In truth it was nothing more than a silly charade and he had wasted his time needlessly. At least that is how it felt to him.

 

That Ser Loras had offered himself up as a champion didn’t help to ease his fears. He had heard that Ser Loras was a capable swordsman, but even a sword could do little against a giant of steel.

 

“You look like someone kicked you in the balls,” Theon remarked and drowned his cup. “Soon it will be over and then we can finally go home. Even I am starting to miss Winterfell.”

 

Robb didn’t believe him. Only yesterday he saw him in company of a dozen whores, enjoying himself greatly while Robb had to listen to Lord Varys’ pile of lies.

 

“Aye,” Robb confirmed. “At least we can finally leave this damn city behind us.”

 

He was indeed relieved, but also sad. I had come to like Lady Margaery and if she wasn’t betrothed to Prince Tommen he might have even tried pursuing her, though he doubted the proud Mace Tyrell would have approved of it. The Lord of Winterfell was not good enough for the Lord of Flowers. “The steward” or “the Fat Flower of Highgarden” the Dornish liked to call the Lord of Highgarden and Robb couldn’t help but to agree with them. Mace Tyrell would wed his daughter to a pile of shit if it brought her a crown. Robb hadn’t been a good father to Lyanna, but he decided right there that he would prove better than the Lord of Highgarden.

 

Once they had finished eating, Robb sent Theon and the rest of his men on their way and promised to join them soon. Then he took the time to wash and dressed properly, but then Lord Varys, wishing to speak to him.

 

“What can I do for you, my Lord?” Robb asked, trying to hide his mistrust. He had seen Lord Varys more than once, but this was the first time the Master of Whisperers decided to seek him out. “It is almost time for the trial…” he trailed off.

 

“Of course,” Lord Varys tittered, the smell of rose water wafting off him as he moved closer. “But I feared you might disappear before I have the time to speak to you. I assume you intend to leave this city once the trial is over, my Lord?”

 

“I intend to leave in two days,” Robb confirmed, but said not much more. He didn’t trust this man in front of him. “Why do you even care?”

 

If Lord Varys sensed his hostility it didn’t show on his face.

 

“I quite liked your Lord Father. He is of a rare breed…honourable to the bone,” Lord Varys replied sweetly. “I regret what happened to him. I warned him more than once of the dangers surrounding him, but he was blind to my warnings.”

 

Robb heard enough and clenched his teeth.

 

“Spare me your flattery, Lord Varys. I have no time for this…,” he continued, but Lord Varys ignored his displeasure and interrupted him.

 

“I know your time is precious,” Lord Varys said and folded his hands in front of him. “But I wonder if you heard about the rumours from across the Narrow Sea?”

 

Robb froze, wondering if he was perhaps speaking about Jon. Why else seek me out? There is no one else from my family who left for Essos and Lord Varys once served the Mad King.

 

“What rumours could that be, my Lord?” Robb asked, trying to keep his voice low, to sound uninterested.

 

“The return of dragons,” Lord Varys replied and stepped closer. Robb didn’t know what to say to that. The last dragon died more than a century ago.

 

“Spare me your lies,” Robb grumbled in disbelief. “There are no dragons.”

 

“Then my informants must be lying,” Lord Varys said in an artificial tone of sadness and shrugged his shoulder. “Well, I thought you might be interested to hear about it. In truth, I came here to speak about a different topic.”

 

Robb exhaled deeply and balled his fists.

 

“Then speak, my Lord.”

 

“Very well,” Lord Varys said and chuckled, his pink robe swishing on the ground as he moved. “But not here…this discussion demands secrecy.”

 

“Very well,” Robb confirmed went to bolt the door. “But not longer than necessary.”

 

“Forgive me for remarking upon it, my Lord, but I couldn’t help but to notice that you have taken a keen interest in Lady Margaery Tyrell. I understand why…she is a sweet girl and smart too, but I fear her brave brother will not find and kind fate. The Mountain’s strength is known far and wide…,” he continued to babble, making Robb’s head squirm. He hadn’t had found much sleep and he felt the sudden urge to strangle the man in front him.

“The battle has yet to be fought…Isn’t it a bit early to speak of defeat? But yes, Lady Margaery is a gracious woman, but I have no interest to steal the King’s bride if that is what you are trying to accuse me of? Think of my father what you will…call him an honourable fool if you like, but I am no fool. I would never endanger my family in such a a manner.”

 

“A war is coming anyway, “ Lord Varys replied with smile. “And I doubt you will be the reason for it, my Lord. King Baratheon’s daughter yet lives and if the rumours are true the dragon lords have not completely perished. Mayhaps in time one of them will occupy the Iron Throne…,” he trailed off.

 

Robb didn’t know what to make of his words. Jon was the only remaining Targaryen, but he doubted that he had a dragon or that Lord Varys was referring to his brother. Mayhaps he is right and another of them survived.

 

“Wonderful,” Robb replied. “Now please tell me what you really want from me? I am sick and tired of these games. Speak your mind or leave.”

 

Lord Varys gave him a knowing smile and lowered his head as he walk backwards to the door.

 

“I shall speak my mind to you soon, my Lord.”

 

Then he left, leaving Robb confused and only more frustrated. Fuck this city and its people, he thought and left to pay witness to Lord Tyrion’s trial.

 

To Robb’s dismay, he had to fight his way through a sea of people to find Theon.

 

“You came just in time,” Theon whispered in his ear and jerked his head at Lord Tyrion Lannister who was accompanied by Ser Addam Marbrand and six gold cloaks. “They have just brought the Imp.”

 

Robb couldn’t help but to frown, but allowed Theon his amusement. His head was hurting too much and the recent encounter with Lord Varys had greatly unsettled him. What was he trying to accomplish, he wondered and shifted his attention to Ser Loras Tyrell. Well, he promised me answers. I guess I will have to wait and see.

 

What surprised him was the lack of attendance by the Tyrell family. He only saw Lady Margaery, her ladies, Lady Olenna Tyrell and Ser Loras’ older brother, Ser Garlan Tyrell. Especially, the sight of Lady Margaery shocked him. Her face looked as if she had covered it in ash and her eyes were red with tears. Ser Garlan, a usually very composed man, looked very tense.

 

“Look, the Viper also decided to remain in the city!” Theon whispered to him and jerked his head at the man. “I heard he was very upset that Ser Loras decided to fight for Lord Tyrion.”

 

The Mountain killed Princess Elia and her children, Robb recalled and pondered over the matter. And the Tyrells and Martells dislike each other. Why would he be upset? Unless…the Viper intended to fight himself…

 

It was the outer ward that had been chosen for the trial and the ground had been covered in sand. It was a round field, surrounded by what looked like thousands of people who came to see the fight between Ser Gregor Clegane and Ser Loras Tyrell. Many lined the castle walks and others watched from the stable doors, from windows and bridges, from balconies and roofs. Some had even brought chairs to watch more comfortably while others sat on barrels. Some fools had even brought their children, who were hooting with excitement as the two champions took to the field.

 

Garbed in full armour, Ser Gregor Clegane looked bigger than any man had any right to be. Beneath his yellow surcoat, bearing the three black dogs of house Clegane, he wore heavy plate an over it chainmail. He also wore a great helmet, with breaths around the mouth and a narrow slit for vision.

 

The sight made Robb realize again why Lord Varys had been so sure that Ser Loras stood no chance. The pretty son of Lord Mace Tyrell looked like a little child compared to this steel giant.

 

“Loras!” Lady Margaery called after her brother. “Please….be reasonable…Do you really want to fight that?”

 

“I gave my word,” Ser Loras replied determinedly and picked his blade from his squire’s hand. “Mayhaps it will be a valuable lesson for father.”

 

Ser Loras armour was much lighter. He wore polished plat-armour, but less heavy than his enemy’s, a simple green cloak and a proper helmet, but not much else. He carried a sword and a shield, but Robb also noticed a dagger fastened beneath his cloak. Killing a knight in full plate was difficult, but not impossible. There were gaps to be found in every piece of armour, even a thick one like he Mountain had donned.

 

Not far off from the Tower of the Hand stood a platform, where Lord Tywin and his younger brother Ser Kevan Lannister had taken their seats.

 

The Queen Mother chose to watch from the side-lines, admiring her champion.

 

She must really hate her brother, Robb thought as the courtyard was filled with the sound of a dozen trumpets. Once the crowd had fallen silent the High Septon stepped forward, his crystal crown resting atop his head. He spoke a quick prayer and then Ser Osmund Kettleback brought Ser Gregor Clegane his shield, a massive thing of heavy oak rimmed in black iron. What shocked Robb was that Ser Gregor bore the seven-pointed star, the symbol of the Seven. Robb didn’t know if he should laugh or feel disgusted. Only someone as vile as Cersei Lannister would defile a religious symbol in such a manner. Someone like Ser Gregor Clegane was destined for the deepest pit of hell or mayhaps, if Lord Varys’ rumours turned out to be true, as supper for a real, breathing dragon.

 

A clinking sound filled the courtyard as both Ser Gregor and Ser Loras moved forward. Ser Loras advanced quickly and didn’t hesitate to attack his enemy. He dealt the giant a barrage of quick cuts, which were promptly parried, both by sword and shield.

 

The Mountain promptly retorted, his sword flashing forward. Ser Loras moved out of the way, curved around the giant of steel and aimed at his enemy’s left side. Metal screamed on metal as the sword darted off the man’s steel gauntlet, leaving a visible scratch on the surface.

 

The giant grunted, but for him it must have felt like nothing more than a tickle. Without hesitating he charged at Ser Loras, aiming for the young man’s head. Ser Loras lifted his shield in time, but the blow was so savage that the young man nearly lost his footing.

 

Even afar, Robb heard Lady Margaery’s gasp. He avoided looking at her, opening and closing his hand as the two opponents exchanged blows left and right. It wasn’t like Ser Loras could miss, the Mountain was a big enough target, though the points he needed to hit were hard to get to.

 

Yet he certainly kept the giant occupied. He forced his enemy to turn left and right, like a dog trying to catch its tail. Ser Clegane was strong, but he seemed disoriented, which was no surprise considering that his narrow eye slit severely limited his vision.

 

And so it continued. Back and forth they moved, dancing around each other like a maid around a massive bear. The Bear and the Maiden Fair, came unfittingly into Robb’s mind. They had played it on his wedding to Lady Roslin.

 

 Then they went round and round in spirals, Ser Gregor pouncing at Ser Loras, but missing him every time while Ser Loras was at least able to hit his enemy. Once he was able to leave a scratch on his arm, once at his leg and once close his neck. Ser Gregor’s wooden shield also took its fair share of damage.

 

It was an odd sight to behold. The giant of steel was fighting the air and Ser Loras was fighting against an impenetrable wall of steel. Now and then the giant grumbled, but continued to fight.

 

Robb believed to know what Ser Loras was trying to do. He wants to tire him out, he was sure and it seemed to work. Maybe it was only his imagination but Robb believed that the Mountain’s movements had slowed down.

 

“Do you recall the Tourney of the Hand?” Ser Loras asked the giant, his voice muffled by the visor of his helmet. “Do you recall how you lost against a green boy like me? What will they say about the Mountain once I have defeated you? They will laugh at you!”

 

“Shut up!” the Mountain grunted angrily and aimed at Ser Loras’ head. Again he curved around the giant, his blade raised, but it turned out to be nothing more than a feint. Instead of dodging he backed away and wheeled around the Mountain from the other side, his sword nearly finding the gap beneath the giant’s armpit.

 

Realizing that the Mountain was not affected by his attack, he backed away the grunting giant rushing after him in an unknown speed. Suddenly, Ser Loras was fleeing, his shield raised before him. The Mountain bashed his shield against Ser Loras’ and sent the young man rolling to the ground. With a roar the Mountain lifted his blade, but Ser Loras managed to rise back to his feet and escaped barely.

 

“Ser Loras is doing better than I expected,” Theon whispered, but Robb kicked him to silence him, his eyes still fixed on the men before him.

 

“Did you miss again?” Ser Loras taunted in a hoarse voice. He must be tired, Robb surmised, but he continued to mock his enemy. “I have seen squires with a better aim!”

 

Angrily, the giant moved forward, his sword raised in attack. Ser Loras seemed to anticipate the attack and made a step forward, his own blade raised for attack. It turned out to be another feint and Ser Loras backed away. Surprised by this the giant lost his balanced and stumbled forward.

 

It was then that Ser Loras tilted his polished shield, blinding the giant momentarily. The Mountain stumbled around like a man too deep in his cups and Ser Loras raised his sword, finding the joint near the calf. The giant gave a choking sound, but promptly hacked at the young man. Metal met metal and Ser Loras was sent fling backwards like a mere child. Again and again, the giant bashed his shield against Ser Loras’ shield, the song of the metal deafening to the ears. Somewhere in the midst of struggle Ser Loras’ sword must have slipped out of his hand. Without a weapon he grouched on the ground, bracing his whole weight against the onslaught of his enemy. Yet there was also a change in the way the Mountain walked. His knee buckled as he took another step.

 

For the blink of a moment, Robb had believed that the Mountain would go down, but he remained standing, though the moment of reprieve allowed  Ser Loras to retrieve his sword.

 

He stumbled around the Mountain and time his blade found its way through the back of the giant’s knee, right through the layers of chain and leather between the plates on the thigh and calf. And this time the Mountain went down and soon looked like a turtle of steel struggling to roll unto its back.

 

His breathing laboured, Ser Loras dropped his shield and turned the pommel of his sword upwards, clutching the blade between his gloved hands. Then he started to bash the pommel of his sword on the Mountain’s helmet, using it like a club or axe. He repeated this action over and over again, making the steel on the Mountain’s helmet scream.

 

By now the crowd had fallen completely silent and the Mountain had stopped moving.

 

“Loras!” Robb heard Ser Garlan’s voice echoing over the courtyard. “Stop playing around! Make it end!”

 

As if woken from a deep slumber, Ser Loras turned around his sword and drove the blade through the Mountain’s other armpit. The giant gave a choking sound and Robb felt as if all air had left his body.

 

That’s the end of it, Robb thought in relieve, but then it was not. The Mountain’s hand shot up and grabbed Ser Loras’ knees. Desperately, Ser Loras brought down his blade, but he missed and the Mountain grabbed his shoulder, pulling him down on top of him. They wrestled in the dust, Ser Loras’ blade slipping out of his hand. Somewhere in between he must have lost his blade, because with his dagger he drove the sharp edge in the giant’s neck. The Mountain roared in pain and slammed his fist in the boy’s head with such a force, making the ladies in the crowd wail and sob like little babes.

 

 

Suddenly, Ser Loras Tyrell was as limp as faded rose, the bloody dagger slipping to the ground with a clanking sound. Again the Mountain raised his steel fist and slashed it in to the boy’s covered head. Again the steel screamed, but then a choking sound left the Mountain’s mouth and the two opponents sacked to the ground and moved no more.

 

Ned

Around him was only darkness and he felt the exhaustion in his bones. He had barely survived his encounter with this creature. He still recalled its sharp blue eyes piercing him through the darkness and the coldness.

The Others bring death and winter with them wherever they go, the man who had saved him had told him not long ago. He had not given his name, but Ned was nonetheless thankful for his help.

“You must eat,” this strange girl, graced with large gold-green and almond-shaped eyes, told him. “Or you will die.”

Ned did as he was bid and shuffled the bitter acorn paste in his mouth. In truth he was very hungry, but the soup was hard to digest. He longed for something simple as broth or even the disgusting stew they served at Castle Black. Yet he still ate, filling his empty stomach. He had always wondered how Stannis Baratheon managed to eat rats. Now he knew. A man with an empty stomach does not care what he puts into his mouth.

When he had finished his meal another child appeared, carrying a burning torch to lighten the darkness of the small round chamber that had served as his sleeping place. These Children of the Forest had not only fed him and given him shelter but they had also taken care of his wounds.

“The Three-Eyed-Crow will see you now,” the other child announced. “Come along, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell.”

Ned was stunned.

“You know my name?”

“The Three-Eyed-Crow told us about your arrival,” the child replied quickly and led him along a narrow corridor. Along the way Ned nearly stumbled over a large root jutting out through the ground. “He knows many things.”

Ned nodded his head and banished away his fears. Whoever this Three-Eyed-Crow was he couldn’t be so bad if he saved Ned’s life.

“I shall be pleased to meet him,” Ned replied and continued to follow after the child. As he passed the walls he saw that they were made of thick tree roots an earth. The roots of the tree were white as snow, twisting through the whole cave.

This must be a weirwood tree, Ned surmised as they passed into the next chamber. He stopped when he heard a crunching sound beneath his feet. When he cast his eyes to the ground he saw bones strewn over the ground. Some looked as if they belonged to animals and others looked like they might have once belonged to humans.

Ned froze. What place have I come to?

What followed was a steep trail and. It took all of Ned’s concentration to avoid falling into the dark abyss spreading below him. He only felt relief when he finally reached the other side.

“Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell!” the child announced, its words echoing back at him through the cavernous room.

“Welcome…,” a thin and dry voice aroused his attention. It belonged to a pale man seated in a tangled nest of roots. The sight of him made Ned shiver. His body looked like a skeleton and his rotten clothes gave him the appearance of a living corpse. “Welcome… the hour is late, but you are very welcome, Lord Stark.”

Ned didn’t know what to make of this strange man, but lowered his head in greeting.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

“I have watched you…Eddard Stark,” the old man replied. “You were born the second son, but fate decided that you became the Lord of Winterfell. I must also thank you for protecting my blood.”

Ned was utterly confused.

“Your blood?”

“In my time they called me Bloodraven…for the bloody mark on my face. I was brother to a King, a kinslayer, a wizard and later I became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The boy named Jon Snow is my blood through his father Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.”

Suddenly, everything made sense, though this should be impossible.

“You must be more than a hundred years old, my lord,” Ned stuttered. “Or I am going mad…”

The old man chuckled.

“You are not mad, Lord Stark. I am very old, but you have seen much stranger things beyond the wall, have you? The Others are on the march and the Wildlings are desperate to escape them. Someone has to help them and warn the Night’s Watch of the coming danger. I have watched you…I know you will do your duty as you have always done.”

Ned was not convinced.

“How? I have barely survived my last encounter…If you know a way to defeat them you need to tell me…,” Ned continued, but the old man cut him off.

“The Others fear the sun, fire and dragonglass. Currently, they are not able to cross the Wall, but the day will come when the spells woven into these ancient walls will lose their power.

“Dragonglass?” Ned inquired. “I have never heard of such a substance…”

“Obsidian or frozen fire,” the old man explained. “My children will provide you with weapons made from this material. Once you return to Castle Black you should scour the vaults…there you will find accounts on dragonglass. The Citadel also has a vast amount of information on this topic, among them maps detailing where this dragonglass can be harvested. Dragonstone is such a place, but there are others…”

Ned had a hard time digesting all this new information.

“I will keep that in mind,” he said at last and exhaled deeply. “What now?”

“You will leave today to fulfil your task,” the old man explained cryptically. “One of my children will lead you back to the Wall, but before you go…I have a gift for you…or better said for your nephew…the boy named Jon Snow. The day will come when he returns and will have need of this weapon.”

Ned nodded his head and felt a hint of relief when he heard about Jon’s potential return. There was so much they needed to speak about. That is if I survive…

Promptly, the children came forward and presented a sword to him.

“Take look at it, my Lord,” Bloodraven prodded gently. “It’s beautiful…”

And it was beautiful. As Ned freed the blade from its’ dusty scabbard he found an unblemished smoky surface. Valyrian steel, he knew at once and lifted his head to meet the old man’s single red eye.

“That’s Darksister…a blade once wielded by Queen Visenya Targaryen and later Ser Aemon the Dragonknight…”

Chapter Text

Jon

 

Jon watched the dragons circle above the Great Pyramid. Their large wings cast massive shadows against terraces overgrown with persimmon, lemon and peach trees. Atop the pyramid had once sat a massive bronze harpy that had been melted by dragon fire into an unrecognizable piece of metal. This time Jon had watched the battle from afar, suffering from a fever that had been caused by the wound he took in the battle against the champion of Meereen. Unknown to Jon the champion had dipped the tip of his sword in poison that had given him fever and chills in equal measure. Luckily, Larsha had learned enough from her mother to help him overcome the effects of the poison.

 

This poison is not meant to kill, the young woman had explained to him. Only to torture your mind.

 

And torture it had been. For three days he had continued to suffer until he finally woke, his mind suddenly clear. One week had passed. Now that Jon was better he had offered to help Daenerys, but she had ordered him to rest and he knew better than anyone that refusing her would rouse her anger. That Arya was keeping a sharp eye on him didn’t help.

 

“Why the frown?” Arya asked, her voice laced with amusement as she took her seat next to him. The terrace gave a breath-taking view over the city they had conquered or liberated as Jon preferred to call it. Despite the dragons and his progeny he felt no longing to step in Aegon’s footsteps. He had killed enough people for a lifetime, though the battle in the city had cost far less lives than against the Dothraki. Not that he regretted killing the Masters of Astapor and exiling the Masters of Yunkai, but here in Meereen they had yet to find a solution. They had taken plenty of them captive to keep the peace while others had fled the city before their arrival, boarding ships to flee to friendlier harbours. Those that had remained still resided in the smaller pyramids. Jon certainly intended to punish those that had given the order to murder the children and those that weren’t prepared to accept the new laws would be sent into exile. “I have yet to meet Aemon, but I am sure you are to see him.”

 

“I am eager to see him,” Jon confirmed and swept his gaze over the eastern part of the city. There spread twisted narrow alleys and wide brick streets, lined with temples, granaries, hovels, palaces, brothels, gardens and fountains and the of course the great red circles of the fighting pits. Behind these walls he saw the sea, glimmering in colours of blue and emerald green, mixing with the dull brown colour of the Skahazadhan.

 

“But I do not think this city is a safe place,” he added and shifted his attention to Arya. “Neither for you nor for Aemon. Lord Wylis had promised to return to the Free Cities and will most likely return to Lhazar to bring news of Robb. When this happens I will ask him to take you and Aemon to Winterfell.”

 

“I won’t go!” Arya protested loudly. “They will force me to marry this stupid Frey boy! Besides, what does Daenerys think of your idea?”

 

“She doesn’t like it, but she also fears for Aemon’s safety. We made many enemies and I doubt this fight is far from over. Aemon is one of the last living Targaryens and there is a chance that I and Daenerys could die. He must be protected at all costs. I never knew my blood father, but I cannot allow that the Targaryen line dies out,” he explained his reasoning and met Arya’s gaze. “I am also sure that Robb won’t force you to marry this Frey boy and if he does I am going to feed Walder Frey to my dragon. However, I owe him to send you back. I am thankful that you came here, but Aemon needs someone to protect him. Who else could I entrust with such an important task other than you, little sister?”

 

Jon knew that he had chosen the right words when Arya’s lips twisted upwards.

 

“I understand,” she replied and brushed her short hair. ”But that doesn’t mean I like leaving you again.”

 

“I hope to go home one day,” Jon added and smiled warmly as he noticed Missandei’s appearance. She was a dainty girl to carry such a tray full of food and wine. Jon hadn’t asked for food, but he was sure that Daenerys had tasked her to send it anyway. A few hours ago she had gone to inspect one of the fighting pits in order to decide if they would make a good sleeping place for the dragons. Over the last week both Rhaegon and Sonarys had holed themselves up in one of the deserted pyramids while Viserion was growing more restless with passing day.

 

“But for now I need to remain here. I have a responsibility as does Daenerys,” he added and stumbled over to Missandei. “Let me help you.”

 

“No, there is no need,” the girl stuttered, but Jon took the tray anyway and placed it on the nearby table. It was simple food: dried bread, roasted meat, fresh peaches and olives accompanied by a flagon wine.

 

“Stop protesting and sit down,” Arya chided Missandei. “You are no longer a slave. You don’t have to serve my brother.”

 

“But the Mistress,” the girl stuttered, her eyes wide as saucers. “She said to bring you food.”

 

“You should also take care of yourself,” Jon added gently and filled the cup, handing it to Missandei. “Please drink. You earned if after taking care of me for these last days. I have already rewarded Larsha with a new horse, but you have yet to ask for something.”

 

The girl blushed and took a sip from her cup. Ghost must have been woken by the smell of the roasted meat, for he was suddenly there, his ruby eyes meeting Jon’s across the table. Missandei watched him with great curiosity while Arya started to kill the flies hovering above their heads. They were a true plague, though the scented lamps the Masters kept in their sleeping chambers helped to drive them away.

 

“Daenerys told me you are from an island named Naath?” Jon asked and poured wine into his cup. “Do you miss it?”

 

“I don’t remember much,” the girl replied. “But there are no flies. I think we have butterflies in Naath.”

 

“Do you want to back there one day?” Jon asked. The girl couldn’t be much older than Arya, but surely she had family that would miss her.

 

“There is nothing there for me,” the girl explained and placed the cup on the table. “My family is here….among the Unsullied.”

 

Jon gave her a confused look and brought the cup to his lips. His hand was still trembling, a side-effect from the poison, but Larsha had promised him that the symptoms would subside soon.

 

“How so?”

 

“Three of my brothers serve among the Unsullied,” the girl explained. “Home is where the heart is and my brothers are my heart.”

 

Jon nearly choked on his wine. All these weeks the girl had resided with them and not once had she mentioned her brothers. He tried to imagine his own reaction if someone had dared to harm Robb, Bran and Rickon like the Masters of Astapor had harmed Missandei’s family.

 

There will be no more Unsullied, he swore to himself, though the former Slaver Cities’ would need more than just the Unsullied to guard them. The slaves would have to learn how to fight and to defend themselves against future aggressors. He had no doubt that the other slavers were already plotting their revenge, though Jon had known then when he had allowed the slavers of Yunkai to go free and unharmed. Daario had called him naïve, but Jon had learned as a young boy that the best way to find the hive was to follow the swarm of the bees. Soon they would stir up their friends and allies to action and this time Jon wouldn’t show the same mercy. At least then he wouldn’t have to feel regret about killing them. It wasn’t like he didn’t give them a fair chance to keep the peace.

 

“I see,” he replied at last and leaned over to stroke Ghost’s furred head. “Your brothers don’t have to stay either.”

 

“They are Unsullied,” the girl countered. “They won’t leave until you order it.”

 

Jon sighed in frustration. “I think I understand.”

 

“I see, you have already started,” a familiar, soft-spoken voice filled his ears. Ghost immediately lifted his head and gave a whine, but Jon grabbed his neck, keeping him from jumping Daenerys. She smiled at him, but Jon couldn’t help but to notice the weariness in her face. At first he had believed it was the exhaustions from the last weeks showing its effect on her, but now he was beginning to think that there was something else she was no telling him. “You look much better.”

 

“You think so?” Jon asked in a teasing tone made space for her to sit down. “Is the fighting pit suitable?”

 

“It is suitable enough,” Daenerys replied and took a bite from the dried bread. It was no big bite, but Jon was not surprised. Daenerys had been eating like a bird since they had ridden through the destroyed city. Daario and their men had managed to cut the chains of the slaves and soon after they had taken their revenge upon their Masters. Many had died and many more had been captured. Most of them were now their captives and Jon had yet to decide what to do with them. It was not an easy decision to be made. “But the dragons will grow bigger and bigger…”

 

“But surely they will stop growing one day?” Arya asked and munched on a piece of fruit.

 

“Dragons never stop growing,” Jon countered in amusement. “Balerion the Dread was massive. The only reason he stopped growing was, because he died. Still, Viserion’s restlessness is starting to worry me.”

 

“The battle and the blood stirred his bloodlust,” Daenerys countered and gulped down the piece of bread with her cup of wine. Suddenly, she grew very pale and started to choke. With a trembling hand she placed the cup back on the table, covering her mouth with her other hand.

 

The sight filled Jon with fear and he immediately rose to his feet to join her side. Yet by the time he had arrived at her side she had already straightened herself and gave him an assuring smile. “I am well.”

 

“Didn’t look like it to me,” remarked and took in her good-sister’s appeareance. “You look very pale. I think you should lie down and rest.”

 

Daenerys grabbed Jon’s arm and graced Daenerys with a warm smile.

 

“Mayhaps you are right.”

 

“Not mayhaps,” Jon confirmed and touched her brow. “Arya is right. You are burning.”

 

“I am a dragon,” she japed and touched Jon’s cheek. “But you are right. I think we should rest. It is getting late and I need to rise early.”

 

“We,” Jon countered. “I am well enough and we have much work to do.”

 

Soon after they had taken their leave from the others they retreated to the lower quarters of the pyramid. As they walked they passed a large audience chamber, an echoing high-ceilinged room with walls of purple marble. It was a chilly room and the throne placed there made him think of the Iron Throne. He had seen paintings of the throne in one of Maester Luwin’s books when he was teaching them Targaryen history. His mad grandfather’s seat had been made of hundreds of molten blades forged by dragonfire. As expected, this particular throne was a thing of carved and gilded wood in the shape of a savage harpy, the symbol of the Masters. Jon decide right there that this chair needed to be destroyed as well. While he had taken the cities he had no intention to crown himself King. No, what he imagined was something in the shape of the Free Cities, a city ruled by the slaves they had freed, though he knew that this was easier said than done. Even among slaves, there were those more capable to lead than others and even men kept in servitude stood not above corruption. Just thinking of it made him long for his peaceful life in Lhazar. At least Aemon will soon return to us, though I will have to part from him again.

 

The chamber they chose was not the most spacious one in the Pyramid, but it had a proper bed, not as soft as the others. Jon was not used to such luxury and it felt wrong to sleep like a king when there were slaves walking the streets without purpose. Like in Astapor they had searched the vaults and had distributed the wealth, but they hadn’t found as much gold as in Astapor and Yunkai. The Masters had taken most of their gold with them. The same went for their food, but the worst was that they had burned the fields surrounding the city. Granted they had been able to secure the fields belonging to Astapor and Yunkai, but Meereen had far too many inhabitants to feed them all. I will have to ask for the help of the Lhazareen, Jon knew and helped Daenerys pull off her clothes. She was garbed in baggy wool breeches, a loose felted tunic and a woollen cloak. She didn’t protest and soon helped him undress as well.

 

“You are trembling,” he remarked as she slipped beneath the bedding. “Are you cold?”

 

She nodded and snaked her hand between his legs, touching him. It was not hard to stir his desire, but Jon grabbed her hand, stopping her.

 

“Not tonight,” he told her and brushed her hair out of her face. “What is wrong? You have been acting so strangely?”

 

She sighed deeply and turned away. Then she sat up, the bedding sliding from her shoulders down to her waist.

 

Then she brushed her hand over her stomach and graced him with a trembling smile.

 

“I think I am with child.”

 

 

Robb

 

The morning dawned with a clear blue sky, but nobody in the city seemed to appreciate it. Only now Robb Stark realized how many people had respected and admired Ser Loras Tyrell. Most ladies wore black gowns, squires wore no colourful badges and even Ser Balon, his former brother, had offered to stand vigil next to the boy’s body. Naturally, his brother Ser Garlan had offered to do it instead and thus it was no surprise to see the young man’s sleep-deprived face.

 

Robb didn’t dare to look at Lady Margaery as he gave his condolences. Her gaze was empty, tears glittering in her eyes, even though her face was hidden behind a black veil. Her Lady Mother was also there, garbed in black and her face hidden behind a veil, though Robb had been able to hear her soft whimpers. Lady Olenna was also there, her old wrinkled-face unreadable as she whispered comforting words in Lady Alerie’s ears. Lord Mace Tyrell and the Lannister family were missing, besides one, namely Ser Jaime Lannister. He had donned his golden armour, his white cloak wrapped around his shoulders as he watched how the Septon recited blessings for the young man wrapped up in the silken-green cloak of house Tyrell. Once the Septon was done the Septas entered, filling the room with the smell of sweet incense, their soft songs filling Robb’s ears. At last, and to Robb’s astonishment, Ser Jaime emerged from the crowd and pulled his white cloak from his shoulders to place it over the boy’s body. Gasps filled the hall as Ser Jaime fled from the hall. Soon, after the corpse was led out of the Sept, probably to be sent home to be laid to rest in their family grave.

 

It was the first time that Robb felt a hint of sympathy for the man, though he could never forgive him for what he did to Bran.

 

“A travesty isn’t it, Lord Stark?” a familiar voice asked him, though Robb and Prince Oberyn had never exchanged more than a few words. He had donned a black cloak and carried an unusual grave expression. His Paramount was also at his side, a sad expression washing over her face as her dark eyes followed the corpse. “My family never held much love for the Tyrells, but the boy didn’t deserve such a fate. He was a fool, but a brave one and bravery is something I admire. Do you agree, Lord Stark?”

 

“I agree,” Robb replied, mistrustful of the man in front him. He had no reason to like Robb and this was the first time he sought him out voluntarily. “Ser Loras fought well and according to my views it is more than a miracle that the Mountain survived. It is a pity that Ser Loras’ sacrifice was for nought. It is quite clear that Lord Tywin wants to see his son dead.”

 

“Poor Imp,” Prince Oberyn agreed. “He will soon be a head shorter. Well, I doubt it is much of a concern for you, my Lord. I assume you are going to leave?”

 

“As soon as possible,” Robb confirmed. He had enough of this stinking city. He had enough of their lies and their games. He longed for the touch of snow on his cheeks and the sight of the weirwood trees. He longed to hold his siblings, Arya, Bran and Rickon and most of all, his little Lyanna. Before his departure he had been relieved to leave Winterfell, to run away from sorrows, but now he wanted nothing more than to return home.

 

Soon, Robb knew and forced a smile over his lips as he met Prince Oberyn’s gaze. “I assume you are also pleased to return home, my Prince?”

 

“Indeed,” Prince Oberyn replied tensely and dipped his head, indicating that he intended to take his leave. “I shall be pleased to return home, Lord Stark. Good day.”

 

Once they were gone, Robb returned to his chambers and gulped down a cup of wine. He was contemplating to join his men, to go down to the port and drown himself in wine and song. Perhaps he would find himself a girl for one night. Robb couldn’t compare to Theon when it came to the conquest of girls nor was he prone to go to whores, though he had lost his maidenhead to Ross, the pretty red-haired girl Theon had once been infatuated with. Mayhaps, it was only his longing for Lady Margaery that stirred his desire. He was after all, only a man, no matter how much his father had emphasized to be honourable. In truth, he had never been as honourable as he wanted to be. He had never told his father that he had taken Jon to the brothel to lose his maidenhead…

 

Not now, he reminded himself and decided that he would not throw away his honour for a cheap night of pleasure. Instead he drank three more cups of wine and went to bed. What is done cannot be undone.

 

Not long after he was woken by a loud knock on the door. With a squirming head he rose to his feet and pulled on his tunic and boots. He didn’t even bother with a cloak as he opened the door.

 

It was a young girl, clad in tattered clothes and her feet bare.

 

“Who are you?” he asked, but received no answer. Instead of speaking the girl opened her mouth and showed him the stump that must have once been her tongue. Robb felt the sudden urge to vomit, but he realized now who the girl belonged to.

 

“You serve the Spider, don’t you?” he asked.

 

The girl nodded her head.

 

Lord Varys had promised him to reveal his intentions to him after the trial, but Robb had hoped he would refrain from doing so.

 

“Will you show me the way?” Robb asked the girl and received another nod.

 

He quickly fastened his cloak and followed after the girl. The night air was warm and humid, but the cool breeze coming from the Blackwater helped to ease his discomfort.

 

The girl led him along a maze of streets and corridors, before they slipped into a dimly-lit anteroom. There they found a passage, leading in a cobweb-infested passage that led down a swirling stone steps. They had no torch, but the girl took his hand and led him along, as sure as a blind man, though their pace was rather slow.

 

Once they had reached the bottom of the steps, a heady smell filled his nostrils. It was the smell of piss and shit, as if he had stepped right into the sewers.

 

“Welcome, Lord Stark,” a familiar voice tittered. It was Lord Varys, who chased away the darkness with the torch in his hand. For a change he was garbed in a brown cloak and smelled of sweat and piss, instead of the heavy rose water. “Forgive me, for bothering you at such and late hour, but someone asked, no pleaded with me, to get you here. Besides, I promised to reveal my intentions to you, didn’t I, my Lord?”

 

“You did,” Robb confirmed. “Speak.”

 

“First you should meet our friend,” Lord Varys added and waved his torch at the curved door leading into another dark corridor. “Do you trust me, Lord Stark?”

 

Robb nodded his head and followed him through the darkness, wary of every shadow moving along the walls. The smell was also fading away, giving away to a cool breeze as they stepped into a large cavernous room.

 

“What is this place?” Robb asked in awe.

 

“Maegor the Cruel built these hidden passages,” Lord Varys explained. “The Lannisters are unaware of them. You are safe, Lord Stark.”

 

“You may join us now, my Lady,” the Spider added softly and as if conjured from thin air appeared a young woman, garbed in a blue wool dress, the hood of her dark cloak concealing her face. Only after the young woman had lowered the hood of her cloak was he able to recognize her.

 

“Lady Margaery!” he gasped.

 

She gave him a pained smile and stepped closer, her hands hesitatingly touching his shoulders. He should have brushed them away and left her, but he couldn’t. Not when he saw her red-rimmed eyes and her pale lips.

 

“I can no longer stay here,” she explained in a trembling voice and devoid of her usual composure. Her golden eyes met his, tears glittering in her eyes. "I need to leave this city. I beg you. Please, take me with you.”

 

Robb froze, unable to comprehend what she had just said.

 

“I can’t just take you away, my Lady,” he said at last after he had somewhat regained his composure. “It would start a war.”

 

“A war is coming anyway,” Lord Varys added softly. “And the Queen Mother has set her eyes on Lady Margaery. She suspects her of having a hand in the murder of King Joffrey. Lady Margaery will not be safe in this city.”

 

“He speaks true,” Margaery added in a pleading tone and seized his hands. “My Lord Father won’t approve, but Willas will support me in my decision. I only ask of you to take me North. Nobody shall know who I am. I shall no longer be Margaery Tyrell.”

 

“My Lady,” Robb wanted to protest, but when he saw her tears, he couldn’t force the words over his lips.

 

Again, Lord Varys used the moment to speak.

 

“I shall arrange your safe passage, my Lord,” Lord Varys assured Robb and grinned at him. “You would be gone before the Lannisters know about it.”

 

It sounded all so easy, but Robb harboured only mistrust for the man in front of him.

 

“I have learned that such generosity usually demands a price,” Robb replied. “Name it?”

 

Lord Varys graced Robb with a sweet smile and stepped closer.

 

“I told you about the return of the dragons, didn’t I?” he asked. “What if I told you that Aegon Targaryen didn’t die?”

 

Robb froze. This was the last thing he expected, but then it had never believed that Lord Varys had been speaking about Jon, though whether this was the truth, was hard to say.

 

“My Lord Father saw his butchered corpse,” Robb countered and tightened his grip on Lady Margaery, who was as silent as death. “How could he have survived?”

 

“He was exchanged for a tanner’s son,” Lord Varys informed him. “Or do you think Princess Elia Martell would have allowed her only son to be butchered by Lannister hands?”

 

It was certainly possible, but why was he telling this to Robb? His father had supported the enemy. It made no sense.

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Robb countered. “I would never support a Targaryen on the throne. My father supported…,” he continued to lie, but Lord Varys cut him off.

 

“The Baratheons,” Varys finished for him and smiled. “Well, it should please you to hear that Prince Aegon intends to wed Princess Shireen to end the quarrel between House Baratheon and House Targaryen once and for all.”

 

A clever ploy, Robb thought as his gaze darted from Lord Varys to Lady Margaery. Her calm face told him that she had known about this.

 

“Awfully convenient, isn’t it?” Robb asked. “Have you been planning this all these years?”

 

Mayhaps he deems himself another Littlefinger, Robb mused and searched his face, but was unable to read his emotions.

 

“You are correct,” Lord Varys confirmed and smiled at Lady Margaery. “I have been planning this for a long time, but what does it matter to you? All I ask of you is your promise to support Princess Shireen’s and her future Lord Husband’s ascension to the throne, something I am sure even Lord Stark would have approved of.”

 

Robb couldn’t even deny that. Father would have supported Stannis’ daughter without hesitation.

 

Yet Robb couldn’t bring himself to trust Lord Varys. He had served too many Kings to come this far. He was a man of lies and shadows.

 

He wanted to refuse him, but then he saw Lady Margaery’s sad smile and felt the touch of her hand on his cheek.

 

“We could support him, Robb. You could take your revenge against the Lannisters and I mine. I admit…I once dreamed of being a Queen, but no crown is worth my brother’s blood. I was foolish…please. Take me away.”

 

Robb exhaled deeply and averted his gaze, trying to find the right words. She wants me to give a promise I will most likely break, he knew. Father did the same, to protect Sansa and Arya, he recalled and lifted his head to search Lord Varys’ face. The less he knows about Jon the better. Who knows how many more Targaryens are lurking out there?

 

“Very well,” Robb replied and lowered his head in acceptance. “I agree to your price, Lord Varys.”

 

The Tiger’s daughter

 

A salty breeze stirred the cape of her cloak as she walked along the port. Drunken sailors, merchants and singers lined the harbour, their loud voices echoing in her ears. It was a familiar sound to her, but it also reminded her of her home Volantis, a place she had always despised. Garbed in a fine linen dress, her hair perfumed and with pearls woven into her dark locks most would have taken her for the wife of a rich man or at least a merchant. Only when she had passed the barracks and the high wall, separating the port from the small district full of taverns and pillow houses, she pulled down her cloak and hid her pearls inside her breast band. No, common woman would dare to come here to this place in fear of being captured and sold like so many girls of Lys, but wearing the riches of a merchant’s wife bought her some sort of safety. Yet now that she had entered this place, she couldn’t help but feel afraid.

 

The street of flowers, as this place was called, was lined with numerous hovels, made both of wood and stone. It was a place of debauchery and pleasure. It was a place of song and drunkenness. It was a place of misery and pain.

 

As she passed, she kept her head low, mindful of every step. She felt the eyes of two sailors following after her as she rounded the corner, where she found the place she had been searching for, one of the better pillow houses in Lys called the Blue Bird. It was housed in a two-storied building, made of red bricks and painted- red windows. The roof was covered in broken tiles of many colours, but the smell was always pleasant, a mixture of sweat, flowers and other liquids.

 

She was glad that no men were loitering outside and thus she quickly slipped through the door, loud music filling her ears. It was the gay sound of a fiddle mixed with the sweet sound of a harp. As always, she received warm smiles from the girls and soon they were swarming around her, asking her if she brought them the ordered pastes and droughts. Some also told her about their new conquests, mostly merchant sons or other fools, who mistook beauty for love. Most of these girls were raised to look beautiful, to say sweet words and to sing pleasant songs. They didn’t know how to love, only to serve. They were not much different than birds, kept behind golden cages. And yet she knew that many of them desired to leave this bondage behind them and to live a different life. One in a hundred girls tried to run away, but those usually ended up flocked and quartered for their disobedience. She certainly understood why they chose to stay rather than to fight.

 

“You are late,” the owner of the pillow house greeted her. She was an elderly lady of great beauty. In Lys everyone knew her as the Black Swan of Lys, who had once served the richest merchant in the city. The King of the Merchants, they had called him, though now most called him the King of Whores. They say he had died with his cock between the Black Swan’s legs, his seed still dripping down her thighs as he choked his last breath. Some said she had poisoned him, because shortly before he had bequeathed on her a great sum of coin, though Talisa had a hard time understanding why the lady hadn’t been able to afford a finer tavern when she was as rich as everyone said. Still, Talisa had learned much from her. Her knowledge about poisons had increased ten-fold since arriving here scarcely three years before. “We thought you died, sweet girl. What kept you away?”

 

“My husband took ill,” she explained and dropped her cloak on the nearby sofa covered in washed-out silks and stuffed with plush and goose feathers. “But I brought your ordered tea, my Lady.”

 

The Black Swan smiled, her teeth golden instead of the white colour they must have once been. She must count around fifty years or so Talisa had estimated her age upon their first meeting, but her face could have been taken for the features of a young woman. It was incredibly pale, but showed hardly any wrinkles. Especially when she smiled at people, her dimples tended to show, but they only enhanced her beauty.

 

“Let me see,” the Black Swan prodded and indicated to come to a nearby table, covered with a red cloth. She also noticed the cups and plates covered with cakes. Talisa felt her mouth water, for she hadn’t eaten anything all day. She had gone to the Temple of Light in the morning to tend to the sick, before returning home to work on her teas and then hastily came here to deliver her work.

Carefully, not to smash her belongings she put the small bundles of herbs on the table. The Black Swan smiled and lifted her wig to scratch her short-cut silver hair. Like most women of Lys, she was graced with the silver hair and the purple eyes of the dragonlords of old Valyria. Talisa felt almost out of place among these silver-haired girls. Though her grandmother and her mother could trace their blood back to ancient Valyria like so many families hailing from the Black Walls of Volantis, none of this ancient blood showed in her features. She had inky black hair, tanned skin and jade eyes that she had inherited from her father. While her father had been the only son born from her grandfather’s loins, he had never held much affection for Talisa or her father. Only her brother, who had been born with the features of ancient Valyria and was graced with the bloodthirstiness of a tiger, had won her grandfather’s favour. According to her grandfather she had been destined for one purpose only, to be sold off to some old man, to form a political allegiance. Well, Talisa had refused and was disinherited for it. She had found comfort in the Temple of Light and had learned how to tend to the sick and downtrodden, an occupation that brought her much happiness.

 

“Very good,” the Black Swan said at last and waved her hand at one of her girls, who brought a bundle of gold coins. “One hundred silver coins for your service, my girl.”

 

“I thank you,” Talisa replied and slipped the bundle of coin into the vest of her cloak. Judging by the weight it should be the right amount, but she couldn’t simply pull it out and count the coins, because that would be seen as an insult. Lys was a city of merchants and they prided themselves on their truthfulness. Nobody would give you a false amount of coin unless he wants to be banished from the city forever. “I hope everything will be to your satisfaction.”

 

“I am sure of it, sweet child,” the Black Swan replied and poured white wine in one of the cups, before shoving it over the table. “Now drink up and stay with us a while. By the way, you have also received a letter from Volantis.”

 

Talisa froze, nearly dropping the cup. Nobody, but her father knew that she was in Lys. It must be important if he decided to write her.

 

“I see,” she replied and brought the cup to her lips. “I thank you.”

 

“Have you heard about the rumours from Slaver’s Bay? They say dragons burned Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen to ashes.”

 

Talisa had heard the rumours as well and didn’t think much of it. Barely two years ago had they heard from a red priestess that dragons had been reborn in Braavos. The news had agitated her husband greatly and he had promptly wanted to travel to Braavos, but they had been low on coin and had been forced to remain here in Lys. Her husband’s health, more mental than physical, had not been the best and then there was her little daughter, who needed to be fed. No, there was no other choice but to remain here.

 

“And are these rumours true?” Talisa asked in return and picked a piece of grape from the nearby plate. “Or just embellished tales from drunken sailors?

 

“The rumours say that they belong to someone called the Dragon Queen,” one of the other girls explained in an excited manner. “They say she was once a courtesan who came to take her revenge upon the Masters. Others say she is a lost Princess of the Blackfyre line…whatever is true…the dragons have returned.”

 

Talisa smiled and emptied her cup. Then she rose to her feet, took the envelope from the table and fastened her cloak. “It is getting rather late, my ladies. My husband is expecting me and my bed.”

 

The girls giggled and gave her a round of kisses. Only the Black Swann remained seated in her, her grin as bright as a star.

 

“Men are bothersome creatures,” she remarked and waved her fan in front of her face in the most graceful manner possible. ”Yours must be a special one if you are so loyal to him. Your beauty could make you as rich as a Queen, my sweet child.”

 

Talisa smiled. This was not the first time the Black Swan had offered her to enter into her services, but by now even the elderly woman knew that she had no intention to sell herself into a pillow house.

 

“I thank you again,” she replied and bowed her head, before stepping outside. She made haste to avoid the drunken sailors and was relieved when she reached the better parts of the habour. By now even the merchants had abandoned their ships and were streaming into the taverns and finer lodgings of the city.

 

It was past the ninth hour when she returned to their humble lodgings, a two-storied house near the western market. It was a pleasant house and belonged to a merchant’s widow who had no children. The widow’s dead husband had been a good friend of Talisa’s father and had employed her husband in handling the widow’s correspondence. Vis may think himself above this kind of work, but it was the only kind of work he could do given his disfigured face.

 

The smell of roasted meat filled her nostrils as she entered the kitchen, where one of the slave girls stirred the flames in the hearth. The girl belonged to the old widow, but Talisa was fond of her and graced her with a smile as she climbed up the wooden staircase to reach her chamber.

 

As expected, she found her husband at work, a fresh parchment spread over the workdesk and a candle flickering next to him.

 

“Mama,” a sweet voice greeted her across the room. It was her daughter, who sat perched before the hearth and was playing with her cat. She was a wee girl, graced with her father’s sharp features and Talisa’s inky hair. “You were gone long?”

 

“I was, my little girl,” she replied, embraced her little Rhae and placed a kiss on her cheek. “But you should be long abed.”

 

“The little scoundrel refused to sleep,” her husband complained, his back turned to her. He grouched over the parchment, his feather moving over it in circles. Talisa had been thought High Valyrian from early an early age, but even she couldn’t compare to Vis. He spoke the finest High Valyrian, but that was no surprise when he had been thought by an expert from the Citadel. Looking at him, garbed in a simple dark tunic, dark breeches and old boots he looked nothing like the dragon prince he had once been. Not that he often spoke about the past, but when he did he never failed to tell her about the splendour his family had once known. “Thus I gave up. I leave it to you, love.”

 

Talisa sighed and picked up Rhae, before carrying her off to bed. She frowned of course, but her daughter stopped complaining after she showed her one of the pretty hairpins one of the girls had gifted her. Soon, her little girl was abed and Talisa was allowed to extinguish the oil candle. She slipped the letter out of her vest, read it carefully and then returned to her husband’s side.

 

“My father wrote to me…read it,” she informed Vis, who finally turned around. Talisa was no surprised to find his face covered with the mask he used to hide the ugly burned scar that spread from the brow of his right side all down to his neck. It was an ugly thing to behold, all pink, red and bluish when the candlelight fell upon it, but Talisa was used to it. She hadn’t been drawn to him, because of his blood or beauty, though there was a certain amount of it to be found in his, bright lilac eyes, he had given to their daughter. When she had found him the Temple of Light he had been living like a beggar and allowed the red priestesses of the temple to leech him in exchange for a roof above his head. With his blood they had performed miracles and soon after Talisa had found out who he was, a Prince of House Targaryen, the unfortunate son of this mad King that had been deposed over a decade ago in some distant war in Westeros. Talisa knew their history from old dusty books, but seeing the blood of old Valyria reduced to the station of a beggar had reminded her of her own fate. She had once been the granddaughter of the Triarch of Volantis and now she was a healer for the poorest of the poor, though contrary to her husband she felt no shame in her occupation.

 

Vis frowned deeply, picked the letter from her hand and read. Talisa observed as his expression of confusion changed to an expression of wonder. She had tried to hide the rumours about the happenings in Slaver’s Bay from him as long as possible, but her father was calling for her to return, a command she could hardly refuse. Without him she would have never made it alive out of Volantis.

 

“Dragon Queen?” he asked, his pale lips twisting into smile as he folded the letter, his lilac eyes meeting hers across the table. “I always thought your father a weakling, but now I have the urge to pull him to my breast. These are wonderful news, my love. It seems my beliefs were not just mad ramblings.”

 

With mad ramblings he was referring to his quest to find his lost sister, Princess Daenerys Targaryen.

 

Talisa smiled, trying to share his happiness and touched his shoulder. “I hope it will be not another disappointment for you, my love. Anyway, it seems we must return to Volantis. My father has need of me.”

 

Vis nodded his head and bared his teeth. His bright smile scared her more than his frowns. He always had something mad about him, something obsessive, but then that was also what had drawn her to him. She had made it her task to save him from himself and his obsessions. She didn’t want to imagine what would happen if this turned out to be another lie.

 

“I have waited for this,” Vis repeated in a quiet and determined voice. “I have waited for my revenge for seventeen long years. The Spider will rue the day he woke the dragon.”

 

 

The Spider

 

A crimson sky spread over the harbour as the sun started to rise in the east, bathing the sea in a bloody glimmer. Varys smelled blood, the beginning of a struggle that was about to engulf Westeros. The conflict between the Lannisters, the Baratheons and the Starks had been shorter than anticipated, but in the long term nothing had changed about his plans. Now that Robb Stark had fled the city with the Tyrell girl the allegiance between the lions and the roses would soon break apart and leave nothing but chaos and strife in its wake.

 

It is the only way, he reminded himself and thought about the blood he had spilled to reach the goal that had its origin in his terrible past as a pleasure slave. Varys could not even recall his father, but he had always known that he and his sister had stemmed from the last branch of the Blackfyre line. Varys had been a boy shy of twelve when he had been sold to rich a magister with a taste for little boys. Especially, boys with silver hair had stirred the magister’s desires. The magister had loved to play with Varys’ manhood, but that was not the worst part of his life as a slave. Once, during a stay in the magister’s mansion in Myr, a man had offered the magister a large sum of money for Varys’ pretty manhood, an offer even the magister found far too tempting to refuse. Beguiled by this offer Varys had been sold to said man, who had forced upon him a blood ritual that had robbed him of both his manhood and dignity, before throwing him out onto the streets. Vowing revenge, Varys had managed to survive and had soon after followed in the footsteps of his mother. He resorted to begging, prostitution, and thievery and eventually became the best thief in Myr, until a rival forced him out of the city and he had to flee to Pentos.

 

Pentos had been worse than Myr until he had met his old friend, a poor sellsword named Ilyrio Mopatis. Soon after Varys started to steal objects from lesser thieves while Illyrio would get the objects back for their original owners in return for a small fee. Soon everyone in Pentos who ever had valuables stolen from them knew who to ask if they desired to have their belongings returned to them. Thus Varys had grown rich, but he hadn’t stopped at that. By that time Varys had long realized the value of information and had started to train a spy network to acquire letters, ledgers and charts from the wealthy and powerful of city. His mice as he had called them had won him and Illyrio much coin, but it had been not coin that Varys had wished for, but to find his sister Serra. Like many beautiful girls she had been sold to one of the many pillow houses in Lys until Illyrio had finally managed to find her. Enchanted by her otherworldly beauty he had wed her shortly after, buying her from her master. For Varys she had been a stranger, but he had loved her nonetheless. That was two years, before King Aerys had taken him into his employ. Varys had welcomed this change of fate and soon had started to prepare his revenge against the Targaryens by serving the Mad King.

 

In truth, Aerys had not always been mad. The loss of his many children, a courtesy brought about by Lord Tywin’s lapdog Pycelle, and the Defiance of Duskendale had broken the King’s prideful mind beyond repair. And all this time Varys had joyfully observed everything from the front row and had moved his pieces into place. He had known about Lord Darkly’s plan to take the King hostage and had allowed the tragedy to take its course. He had also thwarted Prince Rhaegar’s plans to depose his father, but then the young love-struck prince had brought about his doom without Varys’ help. Like Prince Duncan he had fallen in love with Rickard Stark’s only daughter and had run away with her. His deeper motives, beyond foolish love, had always confused Varys, though that was no surprise. Varys had never been in love or known the stirs of desire. Yet over the years he had nursed his own suspicions. The marriage between Princess Elia and Prince Rhaegar, like so many political arrangements, hadn’t been graced with much affection. The birth of Princess Rhaenys should have solved this, but the contrary had happened. The birth of the Princess had revealed Princess Elia’s sickly condition to the world, a fact the Dornish had hidden from the King, when they offered the Princess as a bride. The King had felt betrayed and Prince Rhaegar henceforth refused to share the Princess’ bed, fearing to kill her. Of course, the King couldn’t accept such defiance from his blood and told his son in plain words to take his wife to bed. Unknown to the King, the Princess was barren, which drove her and Prince Rhaegar to hatch a desperate plan. An heir needed to be conceived and her choice fell upon one of her most trusted ladies, Lady Ashara Dayne. A year later, the babe was finally born, a healthy boy named Prince Aegon Targaryen. Born under a fallen star, Prince Rhaegar had declared, though nobody really knew what that really meant, namely that the babe hadn’t been born from Princess Elia’s womb. In truth, he was a bastard, though he was without a doubt of Prince Rhaegar’s blood. Sadly, the birth of the boy also led to an estrangement between Lady Ashara and Princess Elia. Not long after Lady Ashara had been dismissed from court Prince Rhaegar ran off with the Stark girl, throwing the realm into chaos.

 

Not that Varys had cared about Prince Rhaegar or for that matter the Dornish Princess, but the death of the boy Aegon gave him the opportunity to put his plans into motion, for only a few moons after Prince Aegon’s birth his sister Serra had also given birth to a boy with silver hair and purple eyes…

 

That Robert Baratheon had proved himself a poor choice for a King had only made it easier for him. In the matter of a decade he had squandered the wealth of the Seven Kingdoms and had managed to destroy what the Targaryens had built. At times it had even been hard for Varys to watch the Fat Stag soil the seat of his ancestors. Truly, another Aegon the Unworthy had risen to occupy the throne and though Robert Baratheon had arguably lacked the cruelty of said King, he had been nevertheless a blind fool. Not only had he been blind to the Lannisters’ machination, but also to the smallfolk’s suffering. Robert Baratheon had destroyed the Targaryen dynasty, but instead of ruling he had preferred to roll from one whore to the next, wasting away in luxury as so many Kings had done before him. His two brothers had been even greater fools. Stannis had believed in the false prophecies of a red priestess and Renly had died because he had challenged his older brother’s claim to the throne.

 

Stannis’ daughter was just another piece in Varys plan, but it would be all worth it in the end. Yes, all the bloodshed would be worth in the end to give the Seven Kingdoms a ruler worthy of his crown; another King Jaehaerys or perhaps even someone greater than him. A truly virtuous ruler beloved by his people was what Westeros needed to rise from the ashes of war that were sure to come…

 

It was the ringing of the bells that roused him out of his deep thoughts and made his skin prickle with excitement. Upon his departure the Imp had told him about his bloody deed. That he had murdered his father in cold blood. Varys had been surprised, but thinking deeper about the matter it could only be to his advantage. Tywin Lannister had been one of the two knots holding everything together. Now only Kevan Lannister remained, but his fate was already decided.

 

Soon, sweet sister. Soon your precious boy will have his golden crown.

 

...

Chapter Text

Margaery

The Lord of White Harbour greeted them with a generous feast, but the people of White Harbour greeted them with even more enthusiasm. They all seemed elated to have the Lord of the North back.

Robb seemed also happy to be back, a warm smile gracing his lips as he placed a kiss on Wylla Manderly’s hand. She was a pretty maid, her dyed-blue hair kept in a long braid, though her eyebrows betrayed that her hair was naturally blond. She wore a sea-green dress of silk and a necklace made of seastones graced her neck. Her sister was even prettier and Margaery soon had a hard time keeping her jealousy at bay. Her dress was almost plain compared to these northern ladies fluttering around Robb like a swarm of bees.

She had hoped that Robb would make the first step, but throughout the whole travel he had treated her like a Septa. She also doubted his hesitation derived from a lack of desire, but from another reason.

The fools is trying to be honourable, she knew and forced a smile over her lips as Lord Manderly’s small grey eyes took in her appearance. At first Robb had wanted to hide her identity, but Margaery had convinced him otherwise. It would be hard to hide her identity as the only female travelling companion among these Northmen and she still had enough pride inside her that she didn’t want to be perceived as Robb’s whore. In fact, she didn’t particularly fear her father. She was sure that her brother Willas and her grandmother would eventually accept her reasoning.

“I have to say, it is a pleasure to have you here, my Lady,” Lord Manderly remarked later after they had retreated to a private solar. “I know it is not my place to ask this, but are you and Lord Stark wed?”

Robb nearly choked on his cup of wine.

“We are not wed,” Robb informed Lord Manderly after he had regained his composure. “My actions were honourable. Lady Margaery feared for her life and so I was forced to act.”

“Of course,” Lord Manderly agreed and gave Margaery a knowing smile. He doesn’t buy it, she was sure and returned his smile, bringing her cup to her lips. It was summer wine, though the taste was different, strangely sour. “I would never presume anything else. I am just surprised at Lord Stark’s restraint.”

“Oh, he showed much restraint, my Lord,” Margaery confirmed teasingly. “And concerning a potential marriage…well that depends entirely on Lord Stark.”

“A good woman you found yourself, my Lord,” Lord Manderly complimented. “I hope I will be invited to this future wedding.”

“Very funny,” Robb replied, his cheeks crimson red as he directed his attention to Ser Wylis, who had joined them only moments ago. “But I rather hear about your son’s findings. Did you find Jon, Ser Wylis?”

The man’s jolly demeanour changed immediately, which made Margaery instinctively grab Robb’s arm. Robb had told her that his brother had travelled to the Free Cities. Whatever had happened to him it must be bad, if Ser Wylis looked so distraught over this matter.

“I do not think I should speak about this matter in front of Lady Margaery,” Ser Wylis remarked.

Yet Robb shook his head. “Lady Margaery needs to hear the truth.”

“My Lord,” Ser Wylis replied sceptically. “I know about Lord Stark’s secret,” he continued, his grey eyes darting to Lord Manderly. “As does my father. I hope you can forgive me, but it was unavoidable. However, nobody else knows about it.”

Whatever this secret was it seemed to upset Robb, because he grabbed the table.

“Robb,” she said softly and touched his arm in a comporting gesture. “Are you feeling sick?”

He exhaled deeply and angled his head to look at her. His eyes were incredible wide, but then he gave her one of his warm smiles. The sight of it sent tingles down her spine.

“I am well,” he said at last and shifted his attention back to Lord Manderly. “Please, tell me everything you know.”

“Very well,” Ser Wylis replied and met Robb’s gaze across the table. “I found your brother in Lhazar, a land that belongs to the so called Lhazareen, peaceful sheepherders that granted him and his wife asylum.”

Understanding showed on Robb’s face.

“So my brother did wed the girl from the brothel?”

“He did,” Lord Manderly confirmed with an amused smile. “But the girl is no whore. It seems that said girl is a Princess…a Targaryen Princess.”

Margaery nearly pushed over the cup when she heard this, but managed to grab it in time.

When she angled her head to look at Robb she realized that he shared her disbelief.

“A Princess?” Robb asked, his mouth wide open. He swallowed deeply, his brows furrowed. “How the fuck did a Princess end up in a brothel in the North?”

“This I do not know,” Ser Wylis replied apologetically. “But during my travels I came about Ser Barristan Selmy and he identified the girl as Queen Rhaella’s daughter. Surely, a man like him would not be mistaken. However, there was evidence that brushed away all my doubts at once, my Lord.”

“What could it be?” Margaery asked curiously. It wasn’t that hard to find a girl with silver hair and purple eyes in the brothels of Westeros and the similarities to the late Queen Mother Rhaella could derive from a different reason altogether. Besides, this Ser Barristan wasn’t the youngest man anymore. Mayhaps it was a mistake.

“Dragons,” Ser Wylis replied. “It seemed Jon Snow and his wife managed to hatch three dragons.”

“Gods be good!” Robb exclaimed and clutched his chest, his blue eyes impossible wide. “Gods, Jon has dragons! I can scarcely believe it!”

“I didn’t believe it either,” Ser Wylis confirmed in amusement. “But it is true. I saw them with my own eyes.”

“Wonderful,” Robb added suddenly, a smile lightening up his whole face. He looked like a little boy on his nameday. “And Jon is well?”

“He is well,” Ser Wylis confirmed and pulled a letter from the vest of his cloak. “He seemed happy with his wife and son. I relayed your massage and he asked me to give you this letter in return.”

“A son,” Robb repeated with a smile and nodded his head. “Gods, I am relieved to hear that he is well. I was afraid he might be angry with me.”

“He made no such impression on me, my Lord,” Ser Wylis assured him.

Margaery herself was completely starstruck. Dragons. A hidden Targaryen Princess.  Ser Barristan Selmy. Gods be good. Could it be true?

“I think your Lady is confused, my Lord,” Lord Manderly remarked, who had listened to the exchange in silence.

Robb paled and exhaled deeply, his blue eyes searching for hers as he touched her hand.

“I know I should have told you,” he replied apologetically. “The whole truth is…Jon isn’t really my brother. He is the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lady Lyanna Stark.”

Robb

Robb was roused from the sound of the creaking door. Weary from the long day, he lifted his head and found an illuminated form standing over his bed.

“It is me,” a familiar and sweet voice replied at once. Robb’s heart skipped a beat when he saw Lady Margaery stepping into the steam of moonlight falling through the windows.

She was breath-takingly beautiful and garbed in a flowing white nightdress, her brown hair falling around her shoulders like a river of gold.

“I must be dreaming,” he whispered to himself as he sat up. Only hours ago, he had told Lady Margaery the truth about Jon and all he had received in return was stark silence. I was a fool, he knew and realized how unfairly he had treated her. He should have told her about his plans beforehand and now it was too late. She had every right to be angry with him. He had taken her away from her home, believing that he would support Lord Varys while hiding his truth intentions from her. I am a scoundrel. I am not better than these liars residing in King’s Landing.

“I am no dream,” she replied teasingly as she moved towards him and sank deep into the bedding as she sat down at the edge of the bed. “I came to speak. Forgive my earlier reaction. I was just stunned. All of this…it sounds so absurd.”

Robb sighed in relief, but she had every right to be angry with him for lying to her.

“It is absurd,” Robb confirmed and leaned closer to touch her cheek. “I was shocked when my father told me the truth about Jon’s identity, but then I also understand why he did what he did. King Robert rejoiced over Prince Aegon’s and Princess Rhaenys’ deaths. Making him his bastard was meant to protect him but lying to him was not fair. Father should have told him. Now that I know the identity of the girl he wed his actions make even more sense. Perhaps she revealed her identity and he felt the need to help her and as it happens, he fell in love with her. And now they have dragons too. I hope you can forgive me for imposing this upon you, my Lady.”

“Margaery,” she corrected him softly and moved closer, leaning over him, her curled brown hair falling over her shoulder, revealing her cleavage. “My name is Margaery.”

Robb swallowed hard, his cock stirring to life.

“Margaery,” he repeated and lifted his hand to touch her shoulders. “And you are not angry with me? You asked me to support Lord Varys…,” he began, but she sealed his mouth with a kiss, nibbling on his lips.

It took all of Robb’s self-control to stop her, his blue eyes searching her molten gaze.

“Please, I need to know,” he insisted.

She sighed deeply and sat back, her hands cradling his face between her hands.

“I don’t give a flying fuck about Lord Varys. I only wanted to get away. I couldn’t bear to say any longer in this rotten city. Tywin Lannister has my brother’s blood on his hands. That is why I agreed to Lord Varys plan, not because I care about this Aegon Targaryen. Under other circumstances I would have agreed to wed him, but I no longer care about having a King in my bed,” she declared in a determined tone and smiled at him. “The Lord of Winterfell should suffice.”

Robb shook his head, though his body was prevailing against all reason. His cock grew only harder as she moved closer, brushing her fingers over his lips.

“That would not be appropriate.”

She chuckled and brushed her hand through his hair.

“Let me judge what is appropriate or not,” she whispered and settled herself in his lap. Robb should have thrown her off, but instead he wrapped his hand around her midriff and pulled her closer. Her breast brushed against his chest after he had helped her pull off her nightgown, revealing her nakedness to him.

Robb stared at her in awe and she leaned down to kiss him fiercely. It was all the encouragement he needed. He returned her kiss, her tongue brushing against his as his hands fondled her small round breasts. She bit his lips, drawing blood, but that only increased his desire. It was a sweet pain.

Swallowing the blood, he lowered his head and attacked her neck, before pressing her down into the bed. Breathless, he kissed her breasts and littered her stomach with kisses, her soft moans filling his ears as he curled his fingers between her thighs.

Soon, she was pulling on his shoulders, her fingernails buried in his skin.

“Robb, please,” she gasped, which made him stop.

“Are you sure?” he asked in a trembling voice as he searched her face through the darkness. She had already told him her real reasons for coming here, but he wanted to be sure, to hear it again. “What about your future?”

“Lord Manderly is a follower of the Seven, is he not?” she asked in a breathless voice. “I suppose we shall celebrate a wedding on the morrow. What do you say?”

Robb didn’t answer anything. Instead he sealed her lips and parted her thighs, one hand resting on her hip and the other on her cheek.

“I suppose that is a yes,” she whispered against his cheek as he settled himself between her thighs. She was slick with desire when he slid inside her, though the gasp of pain leaving her mouth made him freeze.

“Are you well?”

She nodded her head in confirmation, her lips parting his as she wound her hands around his neck.

Robb lost himself to her warmth all too soon. A good dozen of thrusts and he was done, spilling his seed inside of her, before collapsing on top of her.

He felt ashamed for his lack of endurance.

Margaery didn’t seem bothered and stroked his sweaty hair.

“That was quick,” she teased him gently. “But it hurt less than I expected. Some ladies make it sound as if losing one’s maidenhead means to bleed a river.”

“Like everything else it takes practice,” he replied and placed a kiss on her brow. “Sadly, I am very much out of practice. Next time should be more enjoyable.”

“I hope so,” she whispered and touched his cheek. “Well, first I want to see a Septon then we can try again.”

“Good,” Robb said in relief and felt the weariness in his bones. “I am quite tired.”

Daenerys

Daenerys emptied her stomach, her body wrecked by painful spasms. She had suffered from the same ailment when she was carrying Aemon, but this time it was worse.

As she turned around, she found Aemon snuggling close to Ghost, who had made the bed his own.

Quietly, Daenerys leaned over to regard her sleeping son. She hadn’t seen him in moons and marvelled at every change. Only a week ago her little boy had been escorted here by the Lhazareen and ever since he refused sleeping elsewhere other than near Ghost. Jon had even slept on the ground in the last few days to make space for the boy and Ghost.

Not that he slept much anyway. Day and night, he spent bringing order to the city. Daenerys had tried her best to be of help, but at times she felt exhausted. Yesterday had been such a day and judging by the pale sunlight falling through the windows it was already morning.

She felt a hint of shame for her laziness as she leaned over to brush her hand through Aemon’s silver hair. It had grown back to its old length and curled all the way down his shoulder. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to cut it either, because she knew how much it would upset him.

Ghost’s soft whine made her lift her head and promptly the wolf opened his bright ruby eyes.

The sound caused Aemon to stir, his dark eyes soft with sleep and his silver hair tousled. A small smile curled on his lips as he noticed Daenerys’ presence.

“Have you slept well, my sweet?” Daenerys asked him and placed a kiss on his cheek. “What did you dream?”

“I was a dagon,” he piped back, suddenly awake.

“Dragon,” Daenerys corrected him gently and pulled him into her arms. Then she started to smooth his hair and pulled off his clothing. “Aye, you are a dragon, but a little one.”

Once she was done dressing Aemon she put on a white wool dress and fastened it with a yellow sash. Her sandals followed and then she called for Doreah, who helped to braid Daenerys’ hair. Not much to Daenerys’ surprise Arya had accompanied her and started to occupy herself with Aemon.

Soon she had emptied his box of toys on the bed and Aemon was sending one of his wooden dragons into battle against an army of toy wooden soldiers. The dragon won, but when Arya picked up one of the dragons to fight against Aemon’s dragon he started to frown.

“Mine,” he complained and pointed at the dragon. “Mine.”

Surprisingly, Arya started to laugh and patted his head. “Here,” she said and handed the dragon back to Aemon.

Then she shifted he attention back to Daenerys who had observed their play.

“That was not nice,” she chided Aemon. “Arya only wanted to play.”

Her words must have moved something in Aemon, because a moment later he dropped the dragon in Arya’s lap. ”Yours, Alya.”

“Arya,” she corrected him with amusement.

“The letter R is still a problem for him,” Daenerys explained with a smile.

Arya shrugged her shoulders.

“I have two younger brothers, but I don’t understand much about babies.”

“You could say the same about myself,” Daenerys replied. “Where I grew up the girls drank moon tea to prevent such unwanted conditions. Courtesans have no time for children.”

Arya paled.

”So you really grew up in brothel?”

“I did,” Daenerys replied bluntly. She felt no shame anymore. It wasn’t like she had chosen this life. “But it was different from the brothels in Westeros. My mistress was kind and I never wanted for anything.”

Arya gave her a sceptical look.

“And you never wanted to run away?”

Daenerys pondered over her question, before giving her answer.

“At times I wanted to do that, but then I had no other place to go,” she tried to explain her reasons. “But after I had been dragged to the North I only wanted to get away. It was a horrible place and I was desperate to get away. Back then I didn’t even trust your brother all too much.”

If Arya was bothered by her openness it didn’t show on her face.

“Speaking of Jon,” Daenerys added and brushed her hand through Ghost’s fur as he nudged her shoulder. “Where is he?”

“He is taking a look at the dead man,” Arya replied hesitatingly. “He told me not to wake you.”

Daenerys was thankful for her kindness, but the mention of the dead man worried her.

“What dead man?”

“One of the Unsullied,” Arya replied and Daenerys was immediately on her feet, fasting her cloak around her shoulder.

All the while Arya continued to explain. “They were stabbed while patrolling the streets. One had more than a hundred stab wounds and above the dead corpses someone wrote in bloody letters…The Sons of the Harpy.”

“The Sons of the Harpy,” she repeated and made her way back to Aemon to kiss his brow.

“I shall speak to Jon,” she told Arya. “I hope you don’t mind taking care of Aemon.”

“Of course not,” she heard Arya’s voice echoing in her ear.

When she arrived at the spacious purple hall that now served as the council chamber, Jon was surrounded by several men, most of them familiar, each of them seated on a cushioned seat placed on the ground. There were Shavepate, Narcos, Teos and the Green Grace and this man that had come here already five times. Hizdahr zo Loraq was his name.

Shavepate was a beetle-browed man with oily skin that was often more yellow than the amber skin tone so common among the Ghiscari. He had once belonged to one of the noble families of Meereen, but had shaved his beard after acknowledging the freeing of the slaves. Those who had refused to accept this were forced out of the city and those who had a hand in the killing of children had been punished. For two weeks they had heard eyewitnesses and when all was said and done Jon had suggested to give the guilty over to the slaves who had lost their children.

And now they are seeking revenge, Daenerys knew, though she hadn’t expected anything less. Even in Braavos Mella hadn’t be safe from the hands of the slavers. Why should it be here any different?

No, this was only the beginning of another struggle.

Teos had been a house slave teaching the sons and daughters of the Masters High Valyrian, though that was the least of his talents. Contrary to Jon and Daenerys, he had a vast amount of knowledge about the laws and customs of the Free Cities, which was no surprise to her. He counted more than sixty namedays and his beard was white as snow.

Narcos, had also been a slave and had served a merchant. Daenerys had wanted him as an advisor because he knew every merchant from Lys to Pentos by name. Most of the cities that still practiced slavery had cut their trade relationships with Meereen. Their good relations to the Lhazareen had been able to ease the tensions, but they could not depend on them forever. The former slaver cities needed to find trade partners and needed to become at least partly self-sufficient.

The Green Grace or Galazza Galare was the head of the temple of Graces. She was a graceful-looking woman and counted nearly eighty namedays. As always, a shimmering green silk veil covered her head, except for her piercing green eyes. Jon mistrusted her, but Daenerys had argued that it is better to keep one’s potential enemies close.

Jon smiled at her when he noticed her presence and asked Missandei to bring her a cushioned seat, so she may sit down next to him.

“This is Hizdahr zo Loraq,” Jon informed her promptly. “I think you met be before.”

“I remember,” she confirmed. “What have you been talking about?

“He wants to reopen the fighting pits,” Shavepate answered bluntly as ever. “He thinks it will help to ease the tensions in the city.”

Daenerys frowned and her gaze darted to Jon. The first time Hizdahr zo Loraq had come here Daenerys had headed over the council and it seemed he returned to play his game with Jon. Jon and Daenerys had of course discussed the matter of reopening the fighting pits, but she hadn’t thought that Hizdahr zo Loraq would return so soon.

“And have you come to a decision?”

“We have,” Jon confirmed, his gaze still fixed on Hizdahr zo Loraq. “You may reopen the fighting pits, but only if certain conditions are met: No boy below the age of ten and six will be permitted to fight. Only blunted weapons will be allowed and every fighter will receive a proper contract.”

Hizdahr zo Loraq managed to feign a smile.

“I think you misunderstand the meaning of these fights. The fighting pits have been part of Meereen since the city was founded. The combats are profoundly religious in nature, a blood sacrifice to the gods of Ghis. The mortal art of Ghis is not mere butchery but also a display of courage, skill and strength more pleasing to our gods. Victorious fighters are pampered and acclaimed, and the slain are honoured and remembered. By reopening the pits you would show the people of Meereen that you respect their customs. The pits are also far-famed across the world. They draw trade to Meereen and fill the city’s coffers with coin.”

“We have s similar custom in Westeros,” Jon explained. “We call such fighting competitions melee, but commonly men do not need to die to win. I see no sense in allowing capable warriors to kill themselves for fun. If they want to fight they should do so by defending their cities on the battlefield. To sum it up, you can either accept these conditions or leave. I am sure a capable man like you will find a way.”

Jon’s words were met with silence.

“I humbly accept these decisions,” Hizdahr zo Loraq replied at last and left.

“You shouldn’t have angered him thus. He could have been a friend and ally. His connections reach far and wide and he could have helped re-establishing trade with the Free Cities that have stopped trading with us,” the Green Grace argued.

“We are going to find new trading partners,” Daenerys countered quickly and jerked her head at Narcos, who was quick to explain what he and Daenerys had been working at.

“Braavos has always frowned upon the practice of slavery. I shall soon lead an envoy to meet with a member of the Iron Bank, a certain Tycho Nestoris, whose wife is a supporter of the anti-slave movement. This should help to ease our problems for the near future.”

If the Green Grace was displeased by this suggestion it didn’t show in her eyes.

“I see,” the Green Grace said at last. “But I fear the attacks will continued. Men like Hizdahr zo Loraq could have helped us with this problem.”

“You do not have to fret about this, my Lady,” Jon assured her gently. “I think I know how I am going to deal with this matter.”

The Green Grace lowered her head in deference.

“As you please,” she replied and gathered her skirts, indicating that she was about to take her leave. “You have to excuse me now. I am needed at the temple. May I leave?”

“Of course,” Jon confirmed.

Once she was gone Jon asked Missandei to bring them a small meal, consisting of olives, bread and figs dipped in honey. Daenerys ate little, least she vomited all over the table where Teos had spread the blue-prints of the laws that were meant to govern the former slaver cities in the future. Most of these laws were based on the Laws of the Free Cities, though here and there he had tried to adapt them to the customs of the former slaver cities.

Daenerys eyed them curiously and soon found herself very impressed with the writing. This was a man who spoke better High Valyrian than her and had also easily translated it into the barbed dialect of Meereen. “The Green Grace cannot be trusted,” Shavepate grumbled and drowned his cup of wine. “She plays the holy woman and plots against you behind your back.”

“Her relatives are my hostages,” Jon countered quickly. “I doubt she wants to see them harmed.”

“So you have,” Shavepate replied. “But you have yet to spill the blood of one of these hostages to demonstrate your willingness to harm them. The attack on the Unsullied could serve as such a reason. I recommend starting with one of lower standing hostages and work yourself up the hierarchy. That should serve to drive the point home.”

“An eye for an eye,” Daenerys summed it up. “Is that what you are suggesting?

“That is what I am saying,” Shavepate answered, not hiding away from the truth. “They should know that you are prepared to shed blood if they disobey your new order. Laws mean nothing without a sword to enforce them or in our case I would say dragons.”

“For the time being I shall keep the hostages unharmed, but should the murdering continue I might be inclined to follow your advice. For the time being I intend to send some of the Lhazareen fighters under Tito’s command with the Unsullied. I shall call for them immediately and send him the exact number of Unsullied in exchange.”

“We could also ask Ser Barristan to send some of the freed slaves he has been training,” Daenerys suggested.

“A good idea,” Jon agreed and shifted his attention back to Shavepate. “I think this should solve or problem for the time being.”

Shavepate looked sceptical as ever. “If you say so.”

The rest of the evening was wasted on details of the future laws governing the cities or discussing potential trade contracts they could form with the Braavosi traders. Another topic were the loans they intended to take out from the Iron Bank, though Narses recommended utmost care when it came to this matter. It is obvious that the Iron Bank would demand high interests from an unknown customer like them and that given their unstable situation wouldn’t receive a particularly good rating. The fact that Daenerys was the daughter of the Mad King and Jon his grandson, could also lead to conflict with the current rulers of Westeros, who might ask the Iron Bank to forgo any business relationship with the former slaver cities.

When they were done, it was late in the evening.

Daenerys felt still exhausted, but the figs dipped in honey helped to regain her strength. Aemon and Arya seemed to share her taste for the dish, but Jon winced at the oversweet taste, preferring to eat the figs without the honey.

“When do you think will Ser Wylis return?” Arya asked curiously as she tried to rub away the sticky stain of honey that Aemon had left on her tunic. Only moments ago, he had dropped a fig in her lap and was already munching on the next one.

“More,” Aemon demanded once his plate was empty, his dark eyes seeking Jon’s across the table.

“What do we say if we want something?” Jon asked gently.

Realization washed over Aemon’s face and a smile curled on his lips. “Please, one more.”

“Well done,” Jon replied, dipped the fig in the bowl of honey and placed it on Aemon’s plate. “Next time you say it before demanding something.”

Yet Aemon was already occupied with his fig, the honey running down his chin as he chewed. When he was done he turned to Daenerys, giving her pleading looks. It was hard to resist when he made this puppy face.

He counted only two namedays, but he was clever enough to know that he wouldn’t get another fig from Jon.

“Please, one more.”

Daenerys chuckled and placed her last fig on Aemon’s plate, which earned her a frown from Jon.

“Traitor,” he replied teasingly and shifted his attention to Arya, who was still waiting for an answer.

“I suppose he will return in the next moons,” Jon gave his estimation. “And given the appearance of these Sons of the Harpy I hope it will happen soon.”

Arya frowned and emptied her cup. Her expression seemed to say. I hope he takes his time.

Daenerys could only agree. She understood Jon’s reasoning, but she didn’t like the idea of sending Aemon to Winterfell. If they had to go then they should go together, but given the current situation it was hard to say when that will be.

Later that night, after Daenerys had settled Aemon for bed, she decided to address the matter.

“So, you are serious about sending Aemon to Winterfell?”

Jon nodded his head in confirmation and whistled at Ghost, who lay curled next to Daenerys. The first week they had allowed Aemon to sleep in their bed, but today they had managed to convince him to sleep in Arya’s and Doreah’s chambers, with at least a dozen of guards placed before the door.

“Not today, boy,” he told the wolf, who reluctantly hopped from the bed and lay down on the colourful carpet spread over the floor.

“Was that ever a question?”

Daenerys had hoped so.

“Does that mean you want to take the throne?”

“That depends on Robb’s reply,” Jon explained as he pulled off his boots and slipped beneath the bedding. “I know you don’t like him, but we have a common enemy…the Lannisters. I am hopeful that he is going to support us.”

Daenerys was still confused.

“Why do you want the throne? I thought you are happy here?”

“I am thinking about our future,” he explained tensely and met her gaze. “Had we stayed in Lhazar the Lannisters might not have heard about our dragons, but now that we have taken three cities, they will hear about us. Soon the Sons of the Harpies will be the least of our problems. The Lannisters will never tolerate or existence. We will have to fight, whether we like it or not. Besides, if we take the throne we could make use of our position to stabilize the former slaver cities. The Iron Bank would also take us more seriously if we take the throne.”

“Or do you have a better idea?” he asked and graced her with a soft smile.

Daenerys nodded her head and snuggled closer, placing her head on his chest. “We should go together once we have accomplished our goal here. The blueprint of the new laws is finished, Narcos will soon depart for Braavos and in good time Ser Wylis will return to bring news of your brother. Until then we might have stabilized the cities well enough to appoint rulers who will oversee the work of the elected councils. Tito is doing fine work in Astapor and Daario could take Ser Barristan’s position in Yunkai. We will need Ser Barristan if we want to take the throne. He knows our families’ allies better than anyone.”

“You want to give Daario such an important position?” Jon asked sceptically and played with one of her silver locks. “He is a sellsword.”

“He has proven himself,” Daenerys insisted. “And I am sure he will remain loyal as long as we repay him handsomely. Promise him gold and beautiful women and he will strip naked for you.”

Jon nodded his head in agreement.

“I suppose so.”

Septa Lemore

As always, they found Magister Illyrio lounging in his litter and nipping on a piece of food served to him by one of his many pleasure slaves. This one was a particularly beautiful girl. She had golden hair and green eyes, but the smile on her lips was artificial at best.

The stranger seated on a cushion next to the Magister was even stranger to behold. At the first glance Ashara believed him to be a small child, but when she beheld his ugly features, she realized that he was no child, but a dwarf. Yet the strangest about him were his mismatched eyes. One eye was green as jade, and the other was black as obsidian.

“Welcome back, my Prince and Lord Connington!” the fat magister exclaimed with feigned cheerfulness. Ashara had never liked him, but his friend Lord Varys had saved her boy from the Usurper’s swords and for whatever reason he had also promised them to help her boy reclaim the throne.

“Keep your flattery to yourself, Magister,” Lord Connington grumbled. “Tell us why you called us here all the way from Volantis?”

If the Magister was insulted, it didn’t show on his face.

His smile was as bright as ever.

“I called you here, because it is time to act,” he explained, lifted his cup and grinned at her boy, Prince Aegon Targaryen. “It is time to reclaim your crown, my boy!”

Officially, he was the son of Princess Elia and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, but that was another lie. In truth, he was Rhaegar’s seed, but it was she, Lady Ashara Dayne who had carried him for nine moons and had brought him into this world.

“So it is true? This Dragon Queen is my Aunt Daenerys, isn’t she?” Aegon asked.

“She is in Meereen and has three hale dragons,” Magister Illyrio confirmed with a sly grin. “But I would recommend against seeking her out for the moment. She seems occupied in fighting slavers.”

Ashara frowned at that.

“But Aegon needs her.”

“Perhaps,” Illyrio replied. “But Varys thinks we should aim for another allegiance. He thinks it is best if Prince Aegon weds Princess Shireen Baratheon. That way we could win both the Stormlords and the former rebel kingdoms to our cause.”

Connington looked displeased with this answer and spoke bluntly as ever.

“What about Dorne and the Reach?”

“Dorne will surely follow the son of Elia Martell and the Reach shouldn’t be much of a problem either. According to recent rumors Margaery Tyrell ran away with Robb Stark, who promised pledge his support to Prince Aegon if he were to wed Princess Shireen or at least that is what Lord Varys assured me in his last letter.”

Aegon’s demeanor had changed the moment he had mentioned the name Stark. For Ashara it was the first time in many years that she thought of the name Stark. Brandon Stark had asked on behalf of his brother Ned to dance with her hat the tourney of Harrenhall. Ashara had liked him immediately, because he had been so very different from her other suitors. For some time, she had hoped he might come to Starfall to court her, but then the Rebellion had happened and all her dreams had been shattered. Only the news of the survival of her boy had given her a purpose to continue living.

“I do not want to ally myself with the Usurper dogs,” Aegon muttered angrily. “House Stark deserves to be eradicated. I shall make them all pay for their betrayals.”

“So spoke the Mad King as well or that was at least what Jaime used to tell me,” the dwarf remarked, his face a grimace of anger. “And without dragons it will be hard for you to subjugate a kingdom like the North. King Aegon only managed to bend the Northmen to his will, because Torrhen Stark beheld the destruction of dragonfire. Unless, your Auntie lends you one of her great beasts you should listen to Magister Illyrio and bury your little cock between Princess Shireen’s thighs. Surely, the fact that she is a Princess will make it easier for you to forget that her face is infested with Greyscale.”

In the blink of a moment Aegon’s faces had changed to a bright crimson color, but Ashara Dayne’s tight grip on his shoulder kept him back from attacking the dwarf.

Yet it didn’t keep him from speaking mind.

“How dare you speak to me like this!” he snarled full of contempt for the dwarf. Who are you anyway, dwarf? The Magister’s new pet?”

“Prince Aegon speaks true,” Jon Connington grumbled and brushed his hand over the pommel of his blade. “I should cut out your tongue and your cock, dwarf. I heard the slave traders pay a high price for tiny cocks like yours.”

The dwarf snickered.

“Very well,” he said and spread his hands wide. “Kill me. I have nothing to lose.”

“Enough,” Ashara interrupted coldly her gaze darting to the Magister, who had watched the exchange with an amused smile. “Who is this dwarf?”

“I am Tyrion Lannister,” the dwarf introduced himself cheerfully and even dipped his head a little. “In Westeros I am known as Tywin Lannister’s cursed son and recently I have acquired the titles kingslayer and kinslayer. I poisoned my nephew Joffrey and I also murdered my Lord Father with a bolt to the groin. As you can see…we both have the same enemy, my Prince. I want my sister’s and brother’s heads. I also owe Lord Varys my life.”

“Well-spoken,” Magister Illyrio added cheerfully and even clapped into his large hands. “See, there is no need for hostilities. Lord Tyrion can be a bit hostile, but he has also valuable information that would make it easier for us to reclaim your crown.”

“Nonsense!” Connington exclaimed, but Ashara interrupted him, her gaze searching for Lord Tyrion’s face.

“What is your price, Lord Tyrion?”

“Casterly Rock.”

“Not a small price,” Lord Connington grumbled. “But it is possible.”

Aegon seemed displeased.

“You agree with this?” he asked. “His father killed my sister and mother.”

“And his small hands killed King Joffrey and Lord Tywin,” Ashara countered. “I know you are proud, my Prince, but we will have need of every help we can get. I also think it is better for us to pursue the match with Princess Shireen.”

Aegon paled.

“You want me to bed this Greyscale-infested girl?”

“Who said something about bedding?” Lord Illyrio asked in an assuring tone. “The girl is not even old enough to be bedded. She is our key to the Stormlands and the rebel kingdoms, but much can change once you are seated on the Iron Throne. By then your Aunt may have heard of your valor and realized that the only way to reclaim her family’s legacy is to wed her brother’s trueborn son.”

Ashara didn’t like the sound of that, but Illyrio was the only one who could give them the Golden Company. How he managed to do it was still a mystery to her, but then he was an immensely rich man and had many connections.

Not that it mattered to her.

Elia and Rhaenys will have their revenge, even if it is the last thing I do.

“Magister Illyrio’s plan has merit,” Ashara said at last and searched Lord Connington’s gaze. “We have waited long enough.”

Lord Connington remained skeptical, but didn’t protest.

Instead he nodded his head in confirmation.

“Where will we find this Princess?”

The Magister smiled.

“In Braavos.”

Chapter Text

Margaery

Massive grey stone towers loomed in the distance, casting long shadows against the snow-swept landscape. Two weeks they had spent travelling from White Harbor and now they had finally reached Winter town. Said town consisted of nothing more than rows of small and neat houses built of log and undressed stone. There was also a market square, a local inn and an alehouse called the Smoking Log as Theon Greyjoy had been pleased to inform her.

And while Margaery was not particularly impressed with Winter town she couldn’t help but to stare in awe at the massive walls and towers dusted with a soft blanket of snow. Highgarden was a place of flowers and beauty, but even her father’s castle couldn’t compare to the size of Winterfell.

Margaery was sure that she would need time to get used to her new home, but it could have been much worse.

“Please come along, my Lady,” Robb’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts.

Margaery smiled and lowered her pelted hood, before she graced her new husband with a smile. The ceremony had been brief and the feast rather plain, but the nights that had followed had been more than pleasant. Just thinking about it was enough to warm her cheeks against the sharp wind. Lord Manderly’s granddaughters had been kind enough to borrow her a pair of wool dresses, proper boots and this warm pelt, but even now she felt the cold creeping into her bones.

Fresh snowflakes whirled from the sky as they rode through the main gate, the eyes of the smallfolk following them. Margaery had always liked to bask in the attention of the masses, but here she received no cheers, only quiet and hushed whispers.

“Don’t fret, my Lady,” Robb assured her again and led his horse closer to hers. “They will get used to you.”

“I don’t mind,” she replied, trying to hide her insecurity as they rode unto a large courtyard, covered in mood and snow. Above them soared a flock of ravens and not long after a dozen of guards appeared, following a group of strangers.

One of them was a stout man, broad, with large white whiskers. At his side was an old man, garbed in a robe of grey wool and voluminous sleeves. The Maester, she guessed and as her gaze darted to the young boy and a woman carrying a babe. Said boy had a round face like Robb, but his hair was a touch redder. The babe couldn’t be much older than a year, its round face still plump and fat. Its hair was red, peaking forth from the cap that was wrapped around its head.

“Ser Roderik,” Robb greeted the man with the white whiskers. “I am pleased to see you hale and I am pleased to be home.”

“So are we, my Lord,” the Maester agreed and dipped his head. He looked uncomfortable as if he wanted to say more. “I am also glad that your lady made it. The North is not pleasant place for those hailing from the south. I hope you had a pleasant travel, my Lady?”

“I am well, good Maester,” Margaery confirmed and returned the greeting. “But I long for the warmth of a hearth.”

“So, do we all,” Theon chimed in, which earned him a round of laughter from the other men.

Robb smiled as well, but a hint of confusion washed over his face as he fell to his knees to take in the young boy.

This must be one of his brothers, she guessed as her gaze flickered to the babe. And this must be his babe…Lady Lyanna.

Yet it confused her that there was no sign of his other siblings. Robb had told her that he had another brother and a sister. Arya and Brandon.

“Rickon,” Robb greeted the boy and spread his arms wide. “Will you come to greet me, brother?”

His brother Rickon frowned, but did as he was asked. Hesitatingly, he walked into Robb’s embrace and buried his head in his shoulder.

“You look sad, brother,” Robb remarked and let go of his brother, before touching his cheek with his gloved hand. “What happened?”

Rickon remained tongue-tied, his gaze darting to the Maester and Ser Roderik.

Something is wrong, Margaery realized and stepped closer, her hand brushing over Robb’s shoulder in passing. She wasn’t quite sure how she should act in front of these people, but she didn’t dare to be too affectionate. She was still a stranger in these lands.

“What is going on?” Robb asked again. “Where are Arya and Brandon?”

“They are gone!” Rickon shouted suddenly. “Gone! Gone!”

Robb looked stunned and grabbed Rickon’s shoulder, pulling him close to his chest.

Rickon continued to rage, tears falling from his cheeks like raindrops, but eventually he calmed down, his breathing still slightly labored.

After a moment of silence had passed, Robb shifted his attention back to Maester Luwin, a dark expression taking hold of his features.

“What happened? Where are Arya and Bran?”

“I think we should speak in private, my Lord,” Maester Luwin replied and exchanged a quiet glance with Ser Roderik. “I am sure Lady Margaery wishes to retire…,” he continued, but Robb cut him off.

“I have no secrets from Lady Margaery, but first I need to greet my little girl,” Robb explained, rose to his feet and made his way over to the nursemaid. If the babe recognized him it didn’t show in her bearing, her grey eyes fixed on the nursemaid’s curled blond hair.

“She looks well,” he remarked, a ghost of a smile curling on his lips as he patted the babe’s head. “Does she eat properly?”

“She does, my Lord,” the nursemaid confirmed and clutched the babe closer to her chest. She seemed to like the babe, because she smiled when the babe’s hands grabbed the collar of her dress. “ She eats properly and sleeps through the night. When she is awake she likes to play, but she is never loud.”

“That is good to hear,” Robb replied and leaned down to place a sloppy kiss on the babe’s head, before he shifted his attention back to Margaery and offered his hand to her.

“Shall be go inside?”

Margaery smiled and nodded her head.

“We shall,” she said and took his hand, following him inside.

Winterfell warmer than expected, the cackling hearth a balm for her frozen skin. Instead of joining the rest of the household to take their supper, they retreated to a private solar.

It was a round room, furnished with a large wooden table, pelts, tapestries and a large stone hearth that was soon stirred to life by the hands of the servants.

Margaery enjoyed watching them at work, her pelt tightly wrapped around her shoulders as they waited for supper. They hadn’t eaten anything since the last day and Margaery felt quite famished. Robb seemed to share her plight, because he had immediately sent for the servants to bring them food.

A small flame was simmering in the hearth when a servant girl placed a steaming bowl of broth on the table in front of her. The old Margaery would have scoffed at such a simple meal, but her stomach was empty.

The broth tasted of honey, leaving a sweet aroma in her mouth. She sighed and ate in silence as Maester Luwin and Ser Roderik told Robb what had transpired in his absence.

“We apologize for our incompetence, but both Lady Arya, Lord Brandon and the Reed siblings have disappeared after taking a ride in the godswood. We have searched far and wide, but we found no sign of them.”

Robb nearly dropped his spoon, the expression on his face grave.

“How is that even possible?” he demanded to know, his voice laced with anger. “How can a crippled boy disappear? What were the guards doing?”

“We did,” Ser Roderik confirmed guilty. “But they were drugged. When they woke they found the children gone. Hallis Mollen believe it was the work of the Reed children.”

“Why would Howland Reed’s children take my siblings?” Robb asked and broke the bread, dipping it into the bowl. “Did you send word to Greywater Watch? Mayhaps they went there.”

Maester Luwin nodded his head and pulled up his sleeves, roaming through one of the many pockets sewn into his robes. Finally, he pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Robb.

“Lord Reed denied this,” Maester Luwin explained and shrugged his shoulders. He looked so helpless and sad. She felt pity for him. “The children are not in Greywater Watch, my Lord, but I believe to know where they went.”

“Where?” Robb asked and pushed his empty bowl aside. “Where did my crippled brother go?”

“The Wall,” Maester Luwin suggested hesitatingly. “I overheard Jojen Reed saying that someone is waiting for Lord Brandon beyond the Wall. We sent men to search the Kingsroad and the nearby castles, but so far we had no success.

Robb exhaled deeply and brushed his hands over his face. He remained like this for a long time before he lifted his head.

“Do I understand this correctly?” Robb asked in a strained and distant voice. “My crippled brother ran away, because someone is waiting for him beyond the Wall? You are jesting with me, aren’t you?”

“It is not,” Ser Roderik added in a serious tone, his arms crossed in front of him. “Lord Brandon has been acting strangely ever since he fell from the tower and this Reed boy…He is a strange child. And Lady Arya clearly disliked the notion of wedding this Frey boy. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the reason she decided to accompany Lord Brandon to the Wall…Perhaps they want to seek out Lord Stark.”

“But then why haven’t you found?” Robb asked with great impatience. “Why?”

“The crannogmen are known for their ability to disappear into nothingness,” Ser Roderik countered. “I doubt they used the Kingsroad. They must have taken a different path.”

“We also wrote to Castle Black, but they have yet to give us a positive answer,” Maester Luwin answered and again started to search the pockets of his billowing robes.

Robb and Margaery watched in silence while Ser Roderik tapped his fingers on the table. He seemed as impatient as Robb.

“But the Measter of Castle Black informed us about another troubling fact,” Maester Luwin continued and unfolded a piece of paper, before handing it to Robb. “The King-Beyond-the-Wall is marching for the Wall. He asks for our help.”

Margaery shuddered and Robb paled visibly, the letter nearly dropping from his hand.

Margaery caught the letter in time and leaned forward to touch his shoulder, trying to comfort him, though she doubted it would help.

Robb been so happy to return home, to introduce her to his siblings, but now he had found out that they were missing and that an army of Wildlings was marching towards the Wall.

“Gods be good,” Robb muttered to himself and searched Ser Roderik’s face. “This is an utter mess.”

“Robb,” Margaery added softly and patted his shoulder. “You are the Lord of Winterfell and if it is true what Ser Roderik told us your brother will be riding straight towards an army of Wildlings. We need to go to the Wall. We need to help the Night’s Watch.”

“We,” Robb repeated in surprise and took her hand. Then, he shook his head and kissed her knuckles. “No, my Lady. I cannot endanger you in such a manner, but you are right. I have to go to the Wall.”

Then, he shifted his attention back to Ser Roderik and Maester Luwin.

“We need to call the banners,” he explained and brushed his hand over his face. “And I need to inform mother…,” he trailed off, but Maester Luwin cut him off.

“I have already send a message to the Eyrie, but so far I have received no reply.”

Robb gave him a grim nod.

“I understand, but we need to hurry. The Wildlings cannot be allowed to cross the Wall.

The Tiger’s daughter

The Temple of Light was still as impressive as she recalled, but even the familiarity couldn’t ease the discomfort she felt. The Red Priests may show more interest in the common people than others, but even that was just means to an end. There was a dark side to their god. More than once she had seen the Priests use blood sacrifices to work their magic. Yet most of these spectacles were solely meant to attract follo