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Of Love and Death and Duty

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Visenya had warned Queen Daenerys of the frost-like welcome she would receive from the North. Her travels had only taken her as far North as White Harbor but the northmen’s reputation was something fearsome to behold firsthand. While the fanfare had been quickly halted with the chair-bound Stark, Visenya kept herself out of the Great Hall of Winterfell.

She stayed outside, watching the Unsullied and Dothraki acclimate themselves to the harsh chill and unfamiliar terrain. Her ships had been left at White Harbor, leaving her land-bound until further notice. A few of the smallfolk of Wintertown stared at her as they passed. Her silver-blonde hair and mismatched green and purple eyes had given a few of them pause, thinking she was the Dragon Queen.

They are strange here,” one of the Unsullied captains murmured to her in Valyrian. He had taken the name Loyal Spear after Daenerys had burned the Good Masters.

They are,” Visenya said. “But our queen has answered their call.”

I do not like how they stare at her or you or us.”

I don’t either. Hopefully we will be victorious soon and on our way.” She reached out and touched his arm, squeezing once. “Be sure to wrap yourself in furs, dear friend. I would not see you freeze.”

Loyal Spear nodded and wished her good luck as he was called away by one of his men.

They had received a Raven before setting out toward Winterfell that Olenna’s grandsons, Willas and Garlan, had retaken Highgarden. The two had been ordered by their grandmother to stay at Dragonstone while she ‘dealt’ with the Lannisters. When word of her admirable demise and Highgarden’s sacking reached Dragonstone, the brothers knew what had to be done. They retook their ancestral seat with the five hundred men they’d brought to Dragonstone when only a skeleton crew of Lannister men had been left to defend Highgarden. Queen Daenerys had given them their blessing and found comfort in the fact that The Reach was still under her command. Willas, now Lord of Highgarden, had sent word to Visenya that he and his finest men would ride North as soon as they were able.

(“No other words of love in the scroll? I do miss your sweet-”

“Lord Tyrion, do be quiet.”)

Visenya knew that her queen and a few of her court had thought there had been an attraction between Visenya and the newly-minted Lord Tyrell. She, however, quickly dismissed it. She hailed from House Velaryon of Driftmark. Once a naval power during the Targaryen dynasty, it had been reduced to barely more than rags when Robert Baratheon took power. Visenya had taken to the sea to find gold and care for her family while her brother, Monford, played the dutiful peon to Stannis Baratheon. When Monford died in the Battle of Blackwater, it left his son, Monterys who had barely six years of age, on the throne of Driftmark. The plan Monford had always pretended to have was finally put into motion.

She would go find Daenerys Targaryen and help her take back the Iron Throne. She wouldn’t see little Monterys used and abused by Lannister or Baratheon.

She had hardened herself to the ways of the world with her near-decade at Sea, smuggling for almost anyone who would pay the correct price and earning riches in the far east at places like Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Her crew was loyal. When she had asked them if they’d follow her to Slaver’s Bay and help Daenerys Targaryen take the Iron Throne, most agreed and followed.

“My lady,” Ser Davos said, stepping to Visenya’s side. “I did not see you inside.”

“The world of political alliances has always been too dangerous for me, my lord.” She smiled. She had liked Ser Davos when she had first met him on Dragonstone, acting as Hand of the King to Jon Snow. They had found a strange kinship in how smuggling had landed them among royalty. “I would prefer to sail through the Smoking Sea than step foot inside that snake’s den.”

“I do believe you are not alone in that sentiment.” He leaned against the wood post beside her and also watched the Unsullied and Dothraki make camp. “Do they have enough furs? We are far from the deserts of Astapor and the Great Grass Sea.”

“Queen Daenerys was certain. But I will ask if a few require more.”

The pair traded a few pleasant anecdotes about their smuggling pasts before he excused himself when he spotted something among the courtyard. And she was left alone again. She knew her time in the North would be largely spent alone. Her crew was protecting the boats they’d left at White Harbor and Daenerys, Missandei, and Grey Worm would likely all be busy with political intrigue and battle planning. The handful of Unsullied she’d befriended during her time with Daenerys would be consumed with fortifying the castle and strategy. For a few moments, she wondered why she had been asked to come to Winterfell at all.

Horns blew in the distance. The commotion it stirred behind the gates was comical, almost. Surely all of Daenerys’s army had already come. Was it the Lannisters, as promised? White Walkers? The questions were asked quickly by passersby.

As the sun set over the fortress, the gates were opened again and a splash of color bled into the courtyard. Visenya felt her heart lodge itself in her throat when she spied the tattered green and gold banners of the Tyrell forces. The last horse, a midnight black palfrey, was a familiar sight. Atop it sat Willas Tyrell. His dark hair was pulled back with a black ribbon and his dark blue eyes were tired but still sparkled. Shellacked wood and polished metal bound his leg and he winced when he pulled himself from the saddle. A thick, brown fur cloak was pulled tight about his shoulders and dark gloves covered his hands as he pulled his familiar cane from behind the saddle and quickly settled his weight upon it with a grimace.

Ten carts filled with barrels were parked outside the gates and being inspected by Winterfell guards.

Visenya stifled a smile when she saw a few of the North men grumble about how ‘these southron men always make a fuss’ but they seemed impressed and the slightest bit thankful that The Reach had come bearing food. She pushed away from her hiding spot and walked toward Willas’ side. “Lord Tyrell, your speed from Highgarden to Winterfell is unmatched.”

Willas turned and stumbled in the snow. She knew better than to help him, his pride was a fearsome beast. “My lady, I didn’t expect to see you this far North. I thought you would be in White Harbor with Her Grace’s ships.”

“Lord Snow convinced her we needed all the fighters we could get. And thus, I am here.” She waved her hand at the dark stone and snow.

The pair was quiet for a moment as they looked at each other. It had been months since they had seen each other last. Their relationship had always been fraught with an odd tension. They had first met when Olenna had needed a poison to get rid of the Brat King Joffrey and Petyr Baelish had heard of a smuggler who could be discreet. Thus, Visenya had been sent to Lys to retrieve The Strangler. She delivered it to Olenna Tyrell at Highgarden and had made Willas’ acquaintance. She had smelled of horse and had blood caked in her hair from a scuffle on the road and he had been dressed in the finest forest green brocade jack and tunic and looked every bit the highborn man she knew him to be.

“I have missed you,” he whispered. Slowly and hidden by the shadows of the dying sunlight, Willas reached out to brush his fingers against her own.

“I have missed you, too.”

“After this is over, I-”

A flood of light pulled them away from each other and the lords and ladies of the assembly poured out into the courtyard. Sansa Stark was amongst them, as was Lyarra Arryn, the redhead’s cousin. Both highborn, beautiful ladies worthy of Willas’ attention.

Visenya stepped away from his side as Sansa spotted them and quickly changed course to greet him.

**

Torrhen Bole sighed as she finally stepped out of Winterfell’s Great Hall. There had been too much tension in the room for her to ever settle and being able to breathe in fresh air had calmed her nerves. Night had risen over Winterfell and she stared up at the moon, trying to press it into her mind in case it would be the last time she saw and enjoyed the simple sight. There was no guarantee the Night King wouldn’t win the upcoming war. She wanted to revel in the easy pleasures while she could.

She liked Queen Daenerys. While it should be expected that whomever wanted to call themselves the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms would help defend the realm against the Long Night, it was still appreciated (at least in Torrhen’s eyes) that the Dragon Queen did come North. She had never been farther South than Winterfell. Seeing the Unsullied, Dothraki, and Dragons were dreams come true.

But her brother had always said she was too curious and kind. ‘You must be hard, Torrhen. The world is not soft.’

As most of the lords and ladies busied themselves with seeing to the newly-arrived Tyrell forces, Torrhen slid away to the godswood and sunk into the silence. It was short lived, however, when Lord Snow stepped in behind her.

“Lady Torrhen, it was a pleasure to see you here. We didn’t expect anyone from the Wolfswood to answer the call.”

Torrhen smiled and tipped her head. “Lord Glover may command the houses of the Wolfswood but we are stubborn. He is a coward and an oathbreaker. My brother was there when you were crowned king. We said we’d fight for you—we answered your call.” She had arrived only the prior morning with twenty five men, all that her house could spare. Each one of them had a battle axe strapped to their backs with worn brown leather straps. She adjusted her inky black fur cloak as a gust of wind ripped through the forest. “My brother sends his regards. He had to stay behind and hold Bole Hall. Lord Glover threatened to take all the lands and titles of anyone who left to fight.” She shrugged. “Treason before dishonor seemed like a better crime.”

Jon chuckled. “I thank you for it, my lady.” He turned toward the castle as a boisterous shout reverberated through the night air. “Food is being served in the Great Hall, you’ll be joining us, won’t you?”

“In a moment. I need the cold to settle my bones a little longer.”

Jon excused himself and let her be as she turned back toward the Heart Tree. Her gloved hand reached out and touched the carved face, fingers sweeping over the drooped eyelids and pronounced nose. It was nothing like any of the faces she had back at Bole Hall. House Bole held a part of the Wolfswood containing a large number of weirwoods, the greatest number south of The Wall. Dozens had faces and all of them were jovial, happy. Her mother used to tell her that the Children of the Forest had felt at peace here and the trees showed it. At least this wasn’t the snarling, gaping maw of the Heart Tree at the Dreadfort, the former hall of the Boltons.

Torrhen bit the finger of her glove to more easily remove it and then again pressed her hand to cold, smooth bark of the tree. It gave her a sense of peace, just to be this close.

And she knew that might the last remnant of harmony she may ever experience.

She lingered for a few moments longer, just until the tips of her fingers started to ache with a chill, and then set off toward the Great Hall. The scent of warm meat and roasted vegetables did set her mouth to water as she slunk into the background of the congregated masses. She found a spot toward the back and helped herself to a bit of everything and smiled at the serving girl who filled her cup.

Torrhen’s dark eyes flitted across the room, taking in the various different houses that had amassed for the upcoming battle but stopped as she noticed Missandei. The regal woman was looking over the tables, possibly for a place to sit. The people of the North were known to be distrustful of outsiders, Torrhen knew this. But she had not seen any sort of ill-will from anyone in Daenerys’ retinue and Missandei had a kind heart, she was sure of it.

The bench beside Torrhen was empty so she smiled and waved Missandei over. The other woman slowly approached. “You are Lady Missandei, yes? Advisor to Her Grace?” Torrhen scooted over to allow Missandei extra room.

“Yes, my lady,” she said, taking the seat with a rigid back.

“Oh, I’m just Torrhen. How are you finding Winterfell?” Torrhen asked, sipping at her wine. She had never been a fan of titles.

“It is very different than Dragonstone or Essos. But it has its charms, I suppose.”

Torrhen laughed but dropped her voice. “It is a fortress, hardly anything beautiful about it. You can be truthful with me.”

Missandei just smiled but a bit of tension left her shoulders.

“I have heard whispers of the great adventures you and Queen Daenerys have gone on—could you…” Torrhen bit her lip. “I’ve never been further South than this. A bit pathetic.”

“It isn’t.” Missandei said it with such a soft intensity that Torrhen instantly took it to heart.

“Is the world as beautiful as I’ve been told? What does the sea smell like?”

Missandei smiled again, relaxed. “Like salt and water. Sometimes it smells sweet and others it smells like a horse’s decaying corpse.”

“Truly?” Torrhen asked, eyes wide. She had devoured every book in her small Hall’s library about the world outside the north, but nothing had mentioned little details like that, or had such a frank way or stating it.

“Truly.”

Torrhen shook her head and fought a smile. Then, an intrusive thought crossed her mind. Heat took over her cheeks as she regretted even asking Missandei to sit near her. Her brother would be so embarrassed; she’d let her stupidly curious mouth run away from her mind. “I am so sorry. You have much more important matters to attend to than telling some small minded girl about the world.”

“I do not mind it. It is a welcome reprieve from battle strategy.”

“Are you certain?” Torrhen asked, still ashamed.

“I am.” Missandei smiled again and Torrhen thought there should be songs written about how lovely she was.

Torrhen then noticed how the other woman rubbed a hand up and down over her arm, as if trying to keep herself warm. “How are you faring in this weather? Do you need anything? More furs?”

The pair talked for the remainder of the meal, happy to trade small stories about their vastly different backgrounds or questions about unfamiliar things and places. When the meal drew to a close, Torrhen smiled at Missandei, a bit bashful but encouraged by the amount of wine she had imbibed. “I do hope I’ll be able to speak to you again, Lady Missandei. If you would find it agreeable.”

“I would,” the older woman said, softly. “I’ll make sure of it.”

**

Lyarra Arryn had slipped out of Winterfell’s Great Hall after one of the wildlings had started telling a story about fucking a bear. The story was probably entertaining but her innards were still a mess of nerves. She’s barely sipped at her wine and ate a single carrot before telling her handmaiden she was retiring for the night. The younger girl tried to leave as well but Lyarra told her to enjoy the rest of the night and filled her goblet with more wine.

The halls were chilled and Lyarra sighed as she spied her chamber door. Sansa had been kind enough to set her up in one of the larger chambers and Lyarra had reveled in the peace and quiet that came with the separation.

“My lady?”

Lyarra turned at the sound of the voice and stared down the dimly lit hallway. Only two of the eight torches were lit, casting dark shadows that moved with the wind.

“My lady?” Podrick stepped into the light.

Lyarra released a long breath quietly. The small dagger she’d hidden away in her sleeve remained unmoved. “Podrick, how can I help you?” Truthfully, Podrick was a welcome sight. While they’d only been briefly introduced when Lady Brienne and he returned from Riverrun, Lyarra knew him to be kind and honest. His dark hair and full cheeks were an added perk to seeing him.

“Your, um, handmaiden was worried for you.” He scratched as his head as he took a few steps closer. “Is everything-”

“You are too kind and she too worrisome. I’m simply tired.” She smiled and felt her lips lift even higher as pink dusted the squire’s cheeks. “Goodnight, Podrick.”

“Goodnight, my lady,” he said in return, words hushed. He tipped his head as she turned and let herself into her chambers.

She quietly locked the door and pulled at the fastening of her long braid. Her blonde hair fell about her shoulders in messy waves as she bit at her lip. Before she lost her nerve, Lyarra undid the lock and opened her door again. “Podrick?” She called out, looking for him in the dark hall.

“Yes, my lady?” He said, running back into the light, almost as if he had lingered in the hallway after she had shut her door. “Is there something you need?”

“No. I simply wanted to thank you for your concern. Your kindheartedness is strange in times such as these, but I welcome it.”

His cheeks pinked again. “My-my lady, I… I hope you have a restful night.”

Lyarra tipped her head, hiding her smile. “You as well, Podrick.”

Podrick looked at her for a few moments longer, a strange, soft smile on his face before shaking himself, like a dog free of water, and then bowed again. “Goodnight, again, my lady.”

“Goodnight.”