The crown sat heavy upon Robb’s head. His twentieth nameday fast approached and though all of his years had been spent in the summer, he bore the coming winter with dignity. Yet he did not like the bronze and iron crown that was delivered by Riverrun’s blacksmith soon after the lords of the North named him their king. It itched his scalp and left marks upon his forehead but he still wore it when necessary. Catelyn wished that his shoulders did not bear the weight of his position but there was no other way.
Ned would be proud of him.
She watched as he bent over the table, tapping his finger on a wolf figurine that was set at Riverrun. Ser Rodrik was in the room as well as her uncle and brother. They watched as Robb sat back in a chair, rubbing at his jaw for a moment before reaching out to slide his hand into Grey Wind’s fur. The direwolf simply rumbled where he lay without lifting his chin from his paws.
“Lord Tywin is at Harrenhal,” he said, his eyes sweeping over to one of the lion carvings. “If we focus our attacks in the Westerlands, it may lure him into the west and away from King’s Landing.”
“It may,” Ser Brynden said, leaning forward with his hands braced upon the table. “But we cannot simply approach King’s Landing with footsoldiers. We need ships.”
“Even then, Stannis or Renly may beat us to it by the time we can surround Tywin and eliminate his threat,” Robb said.
Catelyn thought of her girls then. Sweet Sansa and bold Arya, trapped in a den of lions waiting to be rescued. There was no guarantee that if Stannis or Renly laid siege upon the capital that they would make it out alive.
“I need to send a messenger to Pyke,” her son decided, straightening in his chair. “Balon Greyjoy may be convinced to offer us aid. I hear that there are thousands of ships at his disposal.”
She stared at him, wondering if anyone would speak against this ill-conceived plan.
“Balon Greyjoy cannot be trusted,” she said, her voice more hoarse than she realized.
Her days were spent being as strong as she could for her burdened son and ailing father but her nights were spent weeping over her lost husband and captive daughters.
“He may be our only chance at a fleet,” Robb said, frowning at her.
“He rebelled. Your father fought against him.”
“Now we are the ones rebelling.”
Catelyn needed no reminder of that and could see the frustration in Robb’s eyes as she disagreed with him.
“Who will you send?” her brother Edmure asked.
“Perhaps Theon, as a show of good faith,” Robb suggested.
Before she could argue again, Ser Rodrik spoke up.
“I would send another,” he said, standing from his chair. “Perhaps several men. Jason Mallister and Tytos Blackwood can be trusted to deliver your words to Lord Balon.”
“I trust Theon,” Robb said.
“Your mother has the right of this,” Ser Rodrik said, earning Robb’s silent listening due to the respect her son had for the man who taught him to fight. “I fought by your father’s side in the Greyjoy Rebellion. I stood in the presence of Balon Greyjoy and I know his kind. He can twist any man with his words and thus giving him his son and heir will only enable him to do so. Theon you may trust but I counsel you against doing the same with his father.”
Catelyn watched as Robb considered this, chewing on the inside of his cheek before nodding once as he reached up to remove the crown from his head. Olyvar Frey, his squire, darted forward to take it from his hands.
“If you wish to put the Greyjoy boy to use, there is another alliance we may seek,” Ser Brynden spoke again.
Everyone’s eyes fell upon him, wondering who was left unless he thought to join them with Stannis or Renly, a prospect that the Northern lords rejected wholeheartedly when they named Robb as their king. When he pointed at the last kingdom that anyone expected, they all stood for a moment thinking on it.
“They do have equal reason to despise the Lannisters,” Catelyn said at last, thinking that her uncle may have the right of it now.
It was impossible not to remember Ned’s retelling of the horrors that were presented to Robert Baratheon as he took the throne. Three mutilated bodies, a kingdom only part of Westeros in name, and a broken trust between brothers in all but name that took years of distance and fighting a war together to mend. That was the legacy of Tywin Lannister’s part in Robert’s Rebellion. They all looked to Robb, waiting for what he would say.
“We can offer Lord Balon what he sought before and name him King of the Iron Islands,” he said, rubbing at the red marks on his forehead. “But what can we give to Dorne?”
“A marriage alliance,” Ser Brynden said.
Catelyn immediately knew who her uncle meant. Word had reached them from King’s Landing that Sansa’s betrothal was broken soon after Ned’s execution. Arya was betrothed to one of the Freys but they could promise Sansa’s hand to another. As much as she hated to do so, wanting nothing more than both of her daughters safe in her arms for a long time before they were sent off to marry, she knew that it was a necessary consequence of war, just as her own marriage was so long ago.
“So Lords Mallister and Blackwood will go to the Iron Islands to extend an offer of alliance with Lord Balon,” Robb said, his eyes flitting from the Iron Islands towards the south, even below Casterly Rock and Highgarden. “And Theon will go to Dorne to extend an offer of alliance with Prince Doran.”
“And all the while, we focus on the west and bring Lord Tywin out of Harrenhal,” Edmure said.
Everyone stood in solemn agreement at the plans but beneath it all, there was the faintest air of hope around them.
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Chapter 2: Theon
Thank you for the amazing response to the first chapter! I hope you all like what I have in store!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
For all that he’d heard of Dorne, Theon expected far more. From a distance, he could see the sun glinting off of two gold-tipped towers that tricked the seer into thinking that they were riding up on some extravagant city. Instead, the beauty ended with two towers, as the rest of the palace and the Shadow City surrounding was rather ugly and plain to his eyes. It wouldn’t have been too much of a disappointment if Theon hadn’t imagined some magnificent place that fit tales like Nymeria and her thousand ships. Sand and sun were all that he’d experienced until now and, as far as he could tell, that wasn’t about to change.
Curious looks greeted them as they rode through the Shadow City. Theon knew that the smallfolk’s eyes went to the banner that one of his companions held and he wondered if they knew anything of House Stark. Several bright spots of color met them at the Threefold gate. Four Dornish riders wearing orange silk cloaks and strange armor of overlapping copper disks greeted them with solemn, hard looks that would have fit perfectly in the north were it not for their olive skin. They hardly said anything, one man welcoming Theon to Dorne on behalf of the ruling prince before they turned to lead them through.
From there it was a straight ride to the Old Palace. If Theon expected to be greeted in the courtyard, as he’d seen Lord Stark gather his own household to do so on many occasions, he was doomed to disappointment once more. Only a steward greeted him, offering to escort him to a chamber so that he may wash up before giving his intended message to Prince Doran. How they knew he delivered a message, Theon could only guess. He’d been accepted into several different holdfasts of Dornish nobles along his journey and assumed that one of them sent a fast rider ahead to inform House Martell that they should expect his visit.
The room he was given was nice enough, with mostly open space and cool water to soothe his heated skin. Theon washed quickly, knowing that there was little time to waste. Robb sent him to deliver his message as quickly as possible but there was hardly a fast route to Sunspear. He didn’t have any news from Riverrun and wondered if they’d pushed west towards Casterly Rock yet. Had Lord Tywin taken the bait? Was he following Robb west or remaining at Harrenhal? Theon wanted to know but he had been given this solemn duty. Why he hadn’t been sent to Pyke, he did not know. And no matter how many times he asked Robb, he never received an answer.
Perhaps his bitterness at the situation soured his attitude towards Dorne from the start. But to him, the wine they offered him was too strong and he could feel sand rough upon his skin even when he shed his clothes and scrubbed away the grime. The palace was nice enough with marble instead of stone in many areas. He couldn’t help but admire the beautifully constructed ceiling of the Tower of the Sun as he was allowed entrance. It did not escape his notice that, of the two high seats at the other end of the hall, only one was taken. Yet he did not get much of a chance to dwell on it as his eyes fell upon the dark hair and Rhoynish features of the Martells of Dorne as he was announced by a herald.
“Prince Doran,” Theon said, bowing low a few paces from the steps that led to the seats. “I thank you for your hospitality.”
“It is happily given.”
There was a cautious sound to the quiet voice that greeted him and as Theon straightened up, he was met with the pensive gaze of a man who looked older than he expected. It was the figure who stood just beside Prince Doran’s seat that drew Theon’s eye much quicker. He looked just as expected, dark eyes sharp and observant and a dagger at his belt. Though there was no spear in his hand, Theon could guess his name easily. After all, the Red Viper of Dorne and his fearsome reputation spread even as far as Winterfell, where Theon and Robb used to speak of his deadly fights with awe. He never thought to stand before the man.
“What is it that brings Theon of House Greyjoy here?” Prince Doran asked.
Theon wrenched himself from the momentary boyish delight that took hold, schooling his features into a mask of diplomacy.
“I come with a message from Robb Stark, the King in the North.”
The brothers before him exchanged looks before the younger spoke.
“We heard rumors,” Oberyn Martell said, looking curious. “They call him the Young Wolf, do they not?”
“They do,” Theon said, lifting his chin proudly. “He hasn’t lost a battle yet.”
“Victory in battle does not mean victory in war,” the Viper said, looking down at Theon in a way that made him feel rather small. “And I doubt your king feels your same triumph with the loss he so recently suffered.”
Theon didn’t say anything as the ghost of a stern face with dark grey eyes clouded his mind for just a moment. People hardly remembered that the loss Robb suffered was one that he felt as well. Lord Stark was as much a father to him as anyone.
“What message do you bear?” Prince Doran asked.
From within his cloak, Theon produced a letter written in Robb’s own hand.
“An offer of alliance,” he declared, allowing a broad-shouldered guard to come forward and take the letter.
The longaxe that the guard carried was somewhat intimidating but Theon did not let it show, watching as the message was carried to the sitting prince. Doran did not yet open it, keeping his eyes upon Theon.
“Dorne and the North have little in common,” he said carefully, almost as if he was testing Theon.
“King Robb has vowed to wet the ground with Lannister blood. Is that not in the interest of Dorne?” Theon asked, knowing from both Maester Luwin and Lord Stark that it was.
Oberyn did not wait for his brother to answer.
“What is it that stalled the northern armies in the Riverlands? Why not march on King’s Landing right away?” he asked.
“Jaime Lannister laid siege to Riverrun and held Edmure Tully, King Robb’s own uncle, as a prisoner. A good chunk of the Riverland armies were held far away by Gregor Clegane, who was burning crops and raiding villages at the command of Tywin Lannister,” Theon answered.
Something about his words caused Prince Oberyn’s gaze to grow hot with anger just before he looked to his brother.
“What will be asked of Dorne?” Prince Doran questioned before Oberyn could say a word.
“Whatever you are willing to offer,” Theon said, nodding at the letter in his hands. “That was written in his own hand.”
“Very well. I will read it and speak with my brother. You will, in the meantime, be afforded every comfort as an esteemed guest of House Martell. I bid you to enjoy what Dorne has to offer.”
It was a clear dismissal and though Theon wanted to hear his thoughts on the alliance here and now, he knew better than to push for it. Having seen pillow houses in the Shadow City, Theon intended to do as the ruling prince bid and enjoy himself. He didn’t take so much as two steps back before Prince Oberyn spoke again.
“I’ve heard other rumors,” he said, stopping Theon in place. “That your king’s sisters are hostages in the Red Keep while Jaime Lannister is held deep within the northern camp.”
“Yes, Prince Oberyn,” Theon said, wondering why it mattered to the man.
“Does he intend to make a trade? The Kingslayer for his sisters?”
He nearly laughed before remembering himself. Neither of the princes looked at all amused and Theon wouldn’t risk this alliance by angering them. He may occasionally be hotheaded and arrogant, as Ser Rodrik cautioned him not to be on this venture, but he knew how to control himself.
“The northern lords would never support such a trade,” Theon said, recalling Robb speaking the same words to his mother, much to Lady Catelyn’s ire.
This time, Prince Oberyn’s gaze was unreadable. Theon did not quite know what to make of it, especially when he looked up and saw a weary resignation upon Prince Doran’s face. After an uncertain bow, he waited a few moments to be delayed again but neither prince spoke. So he turned and allowed himself to be led from the room, wondering if perhaps this plan of Robb’s wasn’t such a good one after all.
The next morning he awoke to find that he’d pushed the covers off entirely and it was still not enough to cool him as sunlight streamed through the window he’d left open the night before in the hopes that a breeze would come through. Once he stood from the bed and loosely laced himself into a pair of breeches, Theon crossed to a window to peer out at the gardens of the palace, picking up an apple from the table along the way.
The first sound that reached his ears was laughter and he saw two dark-haired little girls running round and round a fountain. They wore breeches and tunics rather than dresses. If it weren’t for their silken dark hair streaming behind them as they ran, Theon would think that they were boys. They reminded him of Arya, who would have given anything to set aside her dresses.
There was a woman watching the girls from where she sat on the fountain, a faint smile upon her face, and another younger woman sitting next to her. The pale gown of blue samite and the modest manner in which she styled her golden hair made her look as sweet and innocent as Sansa did in his memories but there was something in the slight smile on her lips as she embroidered something in her lap that made him wonder if her appearance was deceiving.
It was only when he saw movement just below his window that he glanced down and saw Prince Oberyn himself pushing his brother through the gardens in a curious wheeled chair. Theon had been warned that Prince Doran was rumored to have gout but did not see the man so much as flinch as he sat upon his high chair the previous day. The same guard with the massive longaxe accompanied them and Theon assumed that he was the ruling prince’s personal guard since it was unlikely that Prince Doran could defend himself like Prince Oberyn so clearly could.
“Papa!” one of the young girls yelled, darting towards the approaching men as soon as she noticed them.
Theon frowned, feeling rather confused for a brief moment. As far as he knew, Prince Doran’s only daughter was a woman grown. When Prince Oberyn stepped away from his brother’s chair and caught the girl in his arms, Theon immediately understood. It was rumored that the second son of Dorne fathered numerous bastards, called the Sand Snakes, and these girls must have been among their number. His suspicions were confirmed when the golden-haired young woman stood and greeted Prince Oberyn with a daughter’s kiss upon his cheek while the older woman pulled him into a far more passionate embrace.
He swore to remember all that he saw, knowing that it may be valuable information later. A good ambassador, since that was apparently all that he was at the moment, should learn about the people around him. If he could not speak with Prince Doran and he could not leave Sunspear quite yet, he could at least watch. Let Ser Rodrik and the rest who doubted him eat their words when he came back and proved that he was worthy of such a mission in spite of all of them. If he succeeded, Theon Greyjoy may just bring them a Dornish army with the Red Viper himself at their lead.
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