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The Last Bastion

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THE FIRST SWORD – BRAAVOS

 

The First Sword of Braavos, Qarro Volentin, has seen many wondrous things in his life.

He has seen the Long Bridge of Volantis.

He has seen the Five Forts guarding the YiTi empire.

He has seen the Great Wall in the North of the Sunset Kingdoms.

He has seen all sorts of beasts in the Sealord’s menagerie and in his many years spent sailing the seas: pouch tigers, walking lizards, spotted horses with necks as long as stilts, giant apes, basilisks, or wyverns.

Once he has even seen a massive kraken pulling a war galley underwater as easily as if it was just some floating twig.

But neither of them inspired so much awe in him as the two large dragons flying the skies of Braavos these days. Beauty and destruction, power and grace came together to create one glorious creature.

And these glorious creatures could mean their salvation.

 

When Lord Stark sent word that Princess Rhaenys and Prince Jaehaerys will be joining him on his trip to Braavos, Farrego Antaryon, the Sealord of Braavos was beside himself in excitement.

Qarro knew better than most of the Sealord’s frustration with the Westerosi. Farrego has sent countless offers and gifts, all but begging for an alliance with the Sunset Kingdoms, but he was always refused.

The First Sword struggled to understand the position of the Western Kingdoms.

Didn’t they understand that the Ghiscari Empire was not only a problem for the few Essosi cities still standing? That they were the whole world’s problem?

How long until the slavers became so strong that even their dragons couldn’t protect them?

It was said that the Ghiscari harpies could disable entire armies. The slaver empire has never lost a battle when their armies had the support of one of their gods.

Luckily the harpies rarely ventured too far away from their black stone and Braavos together with the other northern cities in Essos have managed to survive thanks to the Sealord’s fleet and the Iron Bank’s wealth.

But how long would that last?

Once Braavos fell, the harpies would surely set their eyes on the Sunset Kingdoms.

 

There have been a lot of frustrations between Braavos and Westeros, but now two of their three dragonlords were here. And not any dragonlords, but Prince Jaehaerys who was rumored to have a cold and distant relationship with his brother the king and Princess Rhaenys who, according to the Sealord’s spies, was the only one advocating for helping the Stepstones lords defend against the Ghiscari invasion.

 

The first thing Qarro noticed was that they didn’t look like one would expect a Targaryen dragonrider to look. Neither of them had the silver hair of the Valyrians. They both had dark hair and dark eyes, but they did possess the famous Targaryen beauty.

The Dark Prince and The Scared Princess.

He expected Princess Rhaenys to be a woman full of scars, a woman that one would have trouble looking at without wincing, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. If she had scars, they were well hidden by her long sleeves and satin gloves. What blessed the eye was a woman who made even the Sealord’s daughter look like a commoner. And Lady Essi was seen by most as one of the greatest beauties in Essos.

 

Qarro was leading them through the city now, towards the Isle of the Gods, at Prince Jaehaerys’ request.

He was responsible for the safety of Prince Jaehaerys, Princess Rhaenys, Lady Arya Stark - Lord Stark’s daughter, and also Lady Essi, the Sealord’s own daughter.

Lady Essi was acting as their host now, as her father and Brandon Stark were busy negotiating a deal for importing wood for their war galleys from the North.

 

At first, the Sealord hoped that Prince Jaehaerys would take a liking of his daughter, who was a tall, slender beauty with hair the color of dark gold and eyes bluer than the deepest sea, but they quickly gave up their scheming when they noticed the prince’s lack of interest and Princess Rhaenys’ possessiveness over her brother.

It was well known that the Targaryens married each other to keep the dragon blood pure, and unfortunately, it looked like those two were no exception.

 

They might not get them to join their war against the slavers and their gods for now, but even if they managed to cultivate a friendship between the royals and Lady Essi it would be a big win for them.

It was going well so far, the Sealord’s daughter seemed to be getting along well with the two western women.

Essi was a bit of a wild girl, and while she loved a pretty dress as much as any girl, she also spent many hours with Qarro training her sword, or in the lagoon, sailing. But her father insisted that she must act like a perfect lady in front of their guests.

Which amused Qarro greatly. The First Sword could see from the start that Lady Arya cared little for the ladylike pursuits too, the girl couldn’t take her eyes off his thin sword.

Even now the Northern girl was walking next to her large grey wolf looking bored out of her mind.

Princess Rhaenys was listening to what their guide was saying, but Qarro thought that she did it more out of politeness than out of interest. The princess was much more well mannered and graceful than the Stark girl, but no less wild, Qarro strongly suspected.

 

It was only the prince who truly paid attention to what the guide provided by the Sealord was saying. The Targaryen prince was a serious sort, with a stern long face that gave little away and black eyes that were always focused and rarely missed anything.

Jaehaerys was always flanked by his two guards - his golden shadow, Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer and his massive red-eyed snowy wolf.

The guide brought them to the Sept-Beyond-the-Sea, where most Westerosi prayed, assuming that that’s why the prince asked to visit the Isle of Gods.

It was amusing seeing the smug high septon welcoming them loudly and inviting them inside for a prayer, only to be completely ignored by the princess and Lady Stark and flatly told by Jaehaerys that he doesn’t follow the Seven.

The prince set his eyes on a shrine close to the sept instead. It was a shrine built around a man-sized bronze horse statue. The place of worship for the small amount of Dothrakis left who still prayed to their ancient horse god.

Jaehaerys listened carefully to the guide’s explanation. Qarro noticed their other two guests didn’t seem so interested, though. Lady Arya especially looked like she wanted to kill herself from boredom.

 

The Targaryen prince noticed his cousin’s boredom too and exchanged a few looks with Princess Rhaenys. Qarro couldn’t understand what those looks meant, but he knew that they decided something between them.

“Lady Essi!” Prince Jaehaerys called.

“Yes, my prince!” the golden-haired lady answered, startled to be addressed by the prince.

“I heard that you have some great shops around here, your dressmakers are renowned even in the Seven Kingdoms,” Jaehaerys said.

“That is correct, your grace, you won’t find better in the whole world,” Essi answered, pride obvious in her voice. The girl loved the sword, but she loved a pretty dress just as much.

The Stark girl looked at her cousin with narrowed eyes.

“Maybe you can take my cousin there, she loves buying new dresses, but there is little talent in the North for dressmaking,” he added, and Qarro noticed what he assumed was mischief in the prince's dark eyes. “She is just too shy to ask.”

Princess Rhaenys pursed her lips, trying not to laugh, while Arya looked at her cousin like she wanted to cut him into a thousand little pieces then stab each and every single one of them a hundred times.

“It would be my pleasure, your grace,” Essi smiled brightly. If Arya’s eyes could throw spears, Jaehaerys would look like a hedgehog.

“Come on, let’s enjoy ourselves,” Princess Rhaenys said and pulled Arya after her. The Stark girl looked as if she was going to her own beheading, not to a dress shop.

“Why did you do that?” Ser Jaime Lannister asked after the girls left, in what Qarro could only describe as a whiny voice. “Now I have to stay awake all night to make sure that she won’t sneak around and stab you in your sleep.”

The prince just ignored his guard’s jape and set his eyes on the shrine of the Weeping Lady of Lys.

“Tell me about that,” he ordered the guide, who proceeded to explain the history of the nearly lost Lyseni religion.

This was what Braavos stood for, freedom and acceptance. Their city was the last bastion for many cultures and religions, if Braavos fell, many customs and ways of life would disappear with it.

Every time the Ghiscari Empire conquered a new city, the first thing they did was to kill all the noblemen, destroy all places of worship and raise temples dedicated to their harpies instead.

Sometimes some of the priests from the destroyed temples came to Braavos and the Sealord gave them a small place around the Isle of Gods to build a shrine and keep their religion and customs alive.

 

They spent the next couple of hours walking around the Isle of Gods, with Prince Jaehaerys listening to the guide’s explanations. They visited all sorts of temples and shrines: the Gardens of Gelenei, the House of the Great Shepherd, the Three Turret Tower of Trios, and many others. Most of them were unique to Braavos and belonged to civilizations conquered and with their cultures ripped away by the slaver empire.

 

As they passed by the Temple of the Moonsingers, which was the largest temple in Braavos, their guide explained to Jaehaerys how the moonsingers were the ones to find the spot where Braavos was built, so that was why they had the largest temple in Braavos. It was then when Qarro noticed a pointy-headed moonsinger quickly and determinedly approaching Prince Jaehaerys from the crowd gathered around them.

The First Sword moved swiftly and his thin sword was at the Jogos Nhai’s throat in a heartbeat. Ser Jaime, Jaehaerys guard, must have noticed the woman too because the sharp tip his golden sword was pointed at her belly, ready to spill her guts at the prince's order.

The prince himself and his giant white wolf didn’t show much concern and were looking calmly at the moonsinger, who looked a bit uncertain now, with two swords ready to send her in her gods' realm.

The moonsinger was a golden-eyed middle-aged woman, wearing sunburned orange Jogos Nhai robes. All the hairs were shaved off her head, even her eyebrows, which only served to draw more attention to her bright golden eyes.

“What is it that you want, my lady?” Jaehaerys asked in an even voice, slowly pushing away Qarro’s sword from the woman’s throat and ordering Ser Jaime to stand down.

“The moon sings of you, dragonlord!” the priestess spoke in a harmonious voice, her words coated in a thick eastern accent.

“And what songs does it sing, my lady?” the prince indulged the moonsinger, but he didn’t sound particularly curious, in Quarro's opinion.

“It sings about ice and fire, about a dragon and a wolf, about a king and a servant, about a champion of death and a protector of life, about a savior and a kinslayer, about a ruler of darkness and a bringer of light. All those songs are about you, dark prince!”

The First Sword noticed the prince stiffening at the priestess words. “What are you about, moonsinger?” Qarro asked angrily. The Sealord would not be pleased if he learned that one of his important guests was upset under his watch. “Stop bothering the prince with your senseless words, or I’ll have your tongue!”

“I only listen and sing what I hear, First Sword,” the moonsinger answered in her weird melodic voice. Qarro thought that her golden eyes were glowing as she spoke, but it was likely just the afternoon sun mirrored in them.

“Thank you for your words, my lady,” Jaehaerys said in his usual even voice and threw a gold coin at the woman, which she greedily caught.

If Qarro learned something in his life, it was that no matter what god people followed, they all worshipped gold.

 

They walked for another half an hour visiting all sorts of sites until the girls returned.

Arya Stark was looking at her cousin with a smug look on her face, her clothes were all dusty and a thin Braavosi sword, just like Qarro's, was hanging on her belt.

Rhaenys, who was grinning widely, had a magnificent dragonbone bow strapped on her back, her satin gloves and her dark colored dress were dirty with some sort of powder. Qarro would bet three of his fingers that it was feather powder.

Even Essi’s dress was covered in dust and judging by her messed up hair and flushed cheeks, she likely exerted herself by sparring.

If those three went anywhere near a dressmaker, The First Sword of Braavos, Qarro Volentin would eat his own boot.

Qarro looked at the Targaryen prince, expecting him to be angry or at least annoyed, but he only looked amused and rolled his eyes at the three young women before moving to the next site.